John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

It is a pleasure to follow Yvette Cooper. I did not agree with everything that she said, but the one thing with which I most certainly did agree was her congratulations to my hon. Friend Dr Johnson who made an excellent first speech in this House. It is probably the case that she will never speak in a more important debate in this House no matter that she has, I am sure, a long career ahead of her here.

My first political act was to take part in the referendum campaign in 1975. I put leaflets through doors calling on people to vote yes in that referendum. I did so because I believed in free trade, and because I believed the assurances that were written on those leaflets that the decision taken would not affect the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

I was working for Margaret Thatcher when she first delivered the Bruges speech, which highlighted the fact that that assurance was being steadily eroded and that the European Community was heading in the wrong direction. As a result, when I entered this House I opposed the Maastricht treaty, the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and indeed the Lisbon treaty as it was becoming steadily clearer that, although there may or may not have been economic benefits from our membership, this was a political project that was heading in the one direction of ever closer union.

It was a project on which the British people had not been consulted and which they did not support. I had hoped that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would negotiate an arrangement that allowed us to opt out from the elements that we did not want. He tried valiantly, but what he came back with was insufficient, which left us with no alternative but to leave and then to seek new arrangements allowing us to co-operate in those areas where there was a benefit. The result of the referendum was clear. In my constituency, it was nearly two to one, and people did understand what they were voting for. It does not matter that a majority of younger people may have voted to remain, that a majority of those with degrees may have voted to remain, or even that some parts of the UK may have voted to remain. This was a nationwide referendum of the British people, and the British people spoke. I agree with the Prime Minister that we have no alternative but to leave the single market, as it is essential that we have control over our borders once more and that we are no longer subject to European Union law.

Charles Walker, Conservative, Broxbourne

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

I really am sorry, but I do not have time.

We have to leave the customs union if the condition of remaining in it is that we are unable to negotiate our own trade agreements. There are precedents, although I would not necessarily want to follow them completely. The new arrangements, for instance, between the European Union and Canada, and between the European Union and Ukraine, offer no application of European law in those countries and no free movement, but do give them access to the internal market and allow them to negotiate their own trade agreements. Ultimately, the European Union is flexible and an arrangement is perfectly possible.

The negotiations will be complicated. I am concerned, for instance, that we must have recognition of the adequacy of our data protection, so that data can continue to flow across borders. I would like us still to be recognised under the country of origin principle. However, it is vital for European businesses still to have access to our markets, so they will be putting pressure on their Governments to reach a sensible deal. The one thing I have found most astonishing is that when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the reaction of other member states has been more to seek to punish Britain than to ask the question why. The European Union is a flawed—

John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I call Geoffrey Robinson.

 

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon  

I had not intended to take part in the debate, but I want to say a few words about Lords amendment 24. A lot of the debate so far seems to have been about whether section 40 should be implemented, but that does not actually have anything to do with Lords amendment 24, which is specifically about whether there should be a further inquiry into the behaviour and performance of the police in relation to their dealings with news organisations.

Leveson 2, as it is now colloquially known, has been put on hold until the conclusion of all the criminal cases, and the amendment rightly recognises that it would be wholly wrong to have any kind of inquiry that could jeopardise criminal prosecutions. However, most of those prosecutions have now been concluded and it is worth looking at the outcomes of those prosecutions when deciding whether there is a case for proceeding. Operation Elveden, which was the police investigation into corrupt payments from newspaper organisations, overwhelmingly resulted in the acquittal of the journalists who had been charged with those offences. I think only two journalists were convicted; the vast majority were acquitted. We need to bear that in mind, because the suggestion that there was a massive corrupt relationship has not proven to be the case.

Chris Bryant talks about the importance of weeding out police corruption and of having confidence in an institution of the state. I completely agree with him on that. I want to refer briefly to the case made by the relatives of Daniel Morgan when considering whether there should be a further inquiry. I have every sympathy with the family of Daniel Morgan, who was murdered, because there was considerable evidence of police corruption. I can entirely understand their wish to have his killers brought to justice. A Home Office panel is examining that case at the moment, and we await its conclusion. It may well be that further action needs to be taken to deal with police corruption, and I shall wait to see what the panel concludes. Let us bear in mind that the Leveson inquiry was an inquiry into the culture, ethics and conduct of the press. It was not an inquiry into police corruption.

The main issue that has dominated the debate has been the implementation of section 40, which is not covered by this amendment. I share the views that have been extremely well expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster). However, the Secretary of State has set up a consultation. It concluded today, but it will take some considerable time before the results are made public. I believe that there has been a very substantial response to the consultation, so I do not expect the Government to be in a position to announce any conclusions about the implementation of section 40 or about whether there should be a further inquiry until that work has been done. I suspect that it will take several weeks, if not months. It seems entirely premature to table an amendment requiring the Government to commit now to a further inquiry when we have not even begun to assess the results of the consultation. For that reason, I strongly oppose Lords amendment 24.

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, contrary to the assertion of Edward Miliband in The Guardian, Sky’s share of the television news market is actually 5%, not 20%? Although there may well be a case for asking the regulator to look at this bid, does she recognise that it represents a £12 billion investment into a British company, and is a vote of confidence that Britain will remain a centre of international broadcasting after it leaves the European Union?


Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 


My right hon. Friend has significant interest in this area, having been an exceptionally good predecessor for me, but will, I know, understand the position I am in and that I cannot comment

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


As my right hon. Friend knows, more than 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the Russian-backed conflict, and progress on Minsk appears to have stalled. Does she agree that, as signatories to the Budapest memorandum, we have a special responsibility? Will she look into what further pressure we can put on Russia, and also what additional assistance we can give the people of Ukraine?


Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 


We do consider what more we can do. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced recently that we would undertake an extension of the training of Ukrainian forces, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking into whether there are other ways in which we can ensure that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, I think it important for us also to work through the European Union, and to put the pressure of the EU behind the process.

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the event of a bid there is a strong case for asking the regulators to provide advice about any concerns on competition or plurality grounds? Does he agree that this bid would essentially be an investment decision rather than an acquisition, as 21st Century Fox already has effective control of Sky? Does he also agree that since the last bid, which was approved by Ofcom subject to certain remedies, there has been a considerable increase in competition in the pay TV market?


Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy) 


The decision has to be taken in the context of the world as we find it. The situation, as we find it, in terms of ownership is that 21st Century Fox owns 39% of Sky, and the notification to the stock exchange on Friday was about the proposal to buy the other 61%. Those issues will be taken into account when the decision is made.