2 Lord Trimble debates involving the Department for Work and Pensions

Leveson Inquiry

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Friday 11th January 2013

(11 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I listened with great interest to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Low. It reminded me of the times that I enjoyed sharing a Bench with him before finally the politician in me recovered control of my actions.

This has been a marvellous debate. A lot of very good speeches have been made and, as they were, I struck out various things in my notes. In terms of striking things out, particularly galling was the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. My notes started off by referring to the elephant in the room that was largely ignored by Lord Justice Leveson: the internet. After my noble friend’s speech dealing with the internet, there is little left to say, so my comments on that will be a little tangential. The internet is obviously hugely important. It and broadcasting have already changed the nature of the print media hugely. The internet and broadcasting now do almost all that is necessary to disseminate news as information. The newspapers do not really do that, although they carry some news. They are always behind the ball when chasing both the internet and broadcasting. The newspapers now are into news as entertainment and into comment.

The print media are also declining. I found very interesting the speech about that by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, as well as that by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. Some noble Lords worry that we will be back in the last chance saloon in another 15 or 20 years’ time, but I very much doubt if the print media will be here then. With print we are dealing with the weakest element of the media and one that is rapidly declining. The really important element—the internet—has a much looser framework. That is putting it very mildly and vaguely. None the less, because of what has happened—which is important—there is pressure now for a journalism that is more ethical and conducted properly. There are a couple of difficulties with that because the terms “proper behaviour” and “acting ethically” are easy to enunciate but start defining them in terms of newspaper operation and they become extremely difficult.

Then we have the point, with which I agree, made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty: that one of the valuable things that the press does is sometimes to act unlawfully and unethically in order to bring attention to really important stories. We want that to continue, so we have to reconcile ourselves to it—although it may be said that it could be covered by public interest defences, which are developing. One little thing I have noticed while thinking about this is that examples of unethical behaviour would of course involve the reception by the Daily Telegraph of stolen property, for which it paid a bribe. There might be legal issues with regard to that but, none the less, it was an important story and worth bringing to our attention.

I disclosed my general approach to this issue on 15 February, when a Question came up on it and I asked whether there was not,

“an overriding public interest in the continued existence of a free press”.—[Official Report, 15/2/12; col. 790.]

Of course, there is an overwhelming interest in the continuation of a free press, but the press is not entirely free. There are legal limits, the most important of which is the law of defamation. Other provisions could be mentioned: for example, hacking is an offence. To some extent, the interesting story about hacking is why the police did not take action earlier and why cases were not brought. That is not the only area in which there was a failure to enforce the law, so there is an important existing legal framework around the activities of the press.

The question we are looking at is whether there should be fresh, tougher regulation of the press. On that matter, I have to declare that I am a sceptic about press regulation. I will add that to my other scepticisms, of which there are already quite a few, but I will not go into those. I will not spell out in detail why I am a sceptic about this but, if there is regulation, particularly tougher regulation, it will have a very significant chill factor on the operation of the press. That is going to be bad for it. It also does not sit easily with the nature of the press, which is intensely competitive. If people are competitive in a declining market, it is possibly part of the reason why they are striving for more and more sensation. They are trying, as it were, to preserve themselves in that situation.

The argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, is deserving of attention, as is the excellent contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who spelt out in detail the huge problems there will be in providing any form of statutory underpinning to this regulatory system. I am doubtful as to whether regulation is the right way to go. I realise that I am very much in the minority in this House today on this matter but I felt it would be important to pick it up and to say that. I am glad to discover that it is not my phone that is making the noise I am hearing, by the by.

What would I do? I would like to see a review of the legislative framework that already exists. I have mentioned defamation; there is also the Bribery Act and the criminal offences there. The big question then would be: do we want a law of privacy? That is where this is heading, whether it is by regulation or by a law of privacy, which, having looked at it again, I am doubtful about.

I will finish by mentioning something that I had intended to say at the outset. I do not think that I have been at any time victimised by the print media—I emphasise “print”. However, I should mention that my elder daughter was, in that she was twice put on the front page of the Daily Mirror’s Northern Ireland edition. It concerned things that were embarrassing to her but had no reason to be there and nothing to do with my public life, yet because of my public position she was there. I see that a petition is going around in the United States to send Piers Morgan back here. He should know that if ever my wife gets within range of him, his life will be in danger.

Welfare Reform Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2012

(12 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Hollis of Heigham Portrait Baroness Hollis of Heigham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister is encouraging us to defy all the conventions of the House. Perhaps I may say gently that he really should not go down this path. First, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, is absolutely right: you cannot amend regulations. If you could, you would be in the game of primary legislation, because you would be toing and froing. Equally, if the House of Commons were to pass those regulations and we decided to overturn them, then the non-elected House would be overturning the will of the elected House. Both major parties have respected—I repeat, respected—that convention for the full 20 or so years that I have been in your Lordships’ House.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
- Hansard - -

Before the Minister replies to that intervention, perhaps I may suggest that we are getting bogged down on the question of amending or rejecting regulations. I thought that the Minister indicated that, before we get to the point of regulations, he will look at this closely, consult people and speak to people. That is where the conversation should be and where the attention should focus at the moment.

Lord Freud Portrait Lord Freud
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend Lord Trimble for that. That is the position. I have heard strong arguments here and very great concern. I will talk to noble Lords before we get the regulations out to make sure that they find the regulations acceptable. I give that undertaking now. I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.