• Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will take heed of your reminder about the time limit.

       

      It is now over 10 years since the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I was Chair at the time, first conducted an inquiry into phone hacking. We conducted several subsequent inquiries, which helped to bring out the truth about the extent of phone hacking and other illegal practices. Without the work of the Committee, those would not have been revealed, although I pay tribute to The Guardian’s brilliant piece of investigative journalism. A lot of this debate concerns investigative journalism.

       

      I think all of us were shocked by the revelation of phone hacking and we were determined that action should be taken to prevent anything like that happening again. In the 10 years that have passed, however, a lot has changed. The News of the World closed down as a result of the revelations. There were prosecutions, with 10 journalists convicted for illegal practices, although it is worth bearing in mind that 57 were cleared.

       

      Obviously, we had the Leveson inquiry. Even if it did not complete all that it originally wanted to complete because of the ongoing criminal cases, it still took over a year and cost £49 million. It produced a swathe of recommendations, although the royal charter was not one of them. My right hon. Friend the Member for  West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) had the brainchild of the royal charter and accompanying that, sanctions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for newspapers that did not sign up to a regulator recognised under the royal charter.

       

      Since that time, two major changes have taken place. When the royal charter was designed and the recognition panel was established, I do not think anybody in Parliament ever expected that not a single newspaper—certainly no national newspaper and virtually no local newspaper—would be willing to sign up to a regulator that applied for recognition under the royal charter. It was not just the usual whipping boys; the News International papers, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror. The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and all the local newspapers refused. I have met the publications that have agreed to join IMPRESS, but they are micro-publishers. No major publisher was willing to go along with the royal charter. We originally invented the idea of sanctions with the view that one newspaper, or perhaps two, might stand out against the rest. We never intended to bring in a sanction that would punish, in what seems an incredibly unjust way, every single publisher. Their refusal to join is on a matter of principle, and we have to respect that.

       

      What did happen was that they created a new regulator called IPSO, which has steadily evolved. To begin with, it was deficient in some ways. I had talks with IPSO and pointed out to it the areas where I felt that it needed to make changes, particularly through the introduction of an arbitration scheme, which was one of the key requirements under Leveson and which did not exist. However, IPSO has now made a lot of changes, including, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, the inclusion of an arbitration scheme, which is compulsory for members who sign up to it. Those that are outside it are the local newspapers, against which virtually no complaint has ever been made, and which face the greatest peril from the economic situation that exists for newspapers.

       
       
    • The Select Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a wonderful Chair, recently recommended unanimously, cross-party, the partial commencement of section 40 to give those publications protections—to protect investigative journalism—if they joined the approved regulator. That was one of the options in the consultation. What is wrong with that course?

       
       
    • The hon. Gentleman is an old friend—we sat together on the Committee for 10 years—and I have some sympathy with what he says. When I talked to the publications that had joined IMPRESS, they said that one reason they had done so was because of the possible protection offered if they were part of a recognised regulator, in that they would not have to pay costs even if they lost. That is a separate matter, but in this debate we are talking about the introduction of an amendment to provide not the carrot, but the stick—the punishment for newspapers that do not wish to sign up to a Government-approved regulator.

       
       
    • Does my right hon. Friend think, deep in his heart, that anything has changed since IPSO was introduced?

       
       

 
  • Deep in my heart, yes I do. As I was about to say, I believe that there is a different climate. Of course, it does not mean that no newspaper ever does something that is a cause for complaint or invades people’s private lives—I have suffered at the hands of the press, but that is the price we pay in this place. However, I believe that the imposition of sanctions of the type that are proposed under the amendments would be deeply damaging to a free press.

     

    In terms of what has changed, I challenge those who criticise IPSO to say where it now fails to meet the requirements under the royal charter. I have been through the royal charter, and there are perhaps three tiny sections where we could say that the wording of the IPSO codes is not precisely in line with the royal charter, but those are incredibly minor. They make no substantial difference whatever. IPSO has not applied for recognition under the royal charter, not because it does not comply, but because there is an objection in principle on the part of every single newspaper to a Government-imposed system, which this represents.

     
     
  • The fundamentally worrying thing is that this seeks to make a connection between local media organisations having to join the state regulator and their facing, if they do not, the awful costs that they might have to pay even if they win a court case. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) described that as an incentive, but it is not—it is coercion. It is only an incentive inasmuch as a condemned man on the gallows has an incentive not to stand on the trapdoor.

     
     
  • Of course, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I am glad that he focused on local newspapers, because I referred to two changes. The first is the establishment of IPSO, which I believe in all serious respects is now compliant with what Lord Leveson wanted. The second is the complete change in the media landscape that has taken place in the last 10 years.

     

    My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the number of local newspapers that have gone out of business. We are seeing more continue to do so. There is likely to be further consolidation within the newspaper industry and the economics are steadily moving against newspapers. That is a real threat to democracy, because newspapers employ journalists who cover proceedings in courts, council chambers and, indeed, in this place. The big media giants who now have the power and influence—Google, Facebook and Twitter—do not employ a single journalist, so my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to have established the examination into the funding and future of the press. It is about looking forward, and that is where the House should be concentrating its efforts. It should not be looking backwards and going over again the events of more than 10 years ago; the world has changed almost beyond recognition.

     
     
  • My Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly)—I call him my hon. Friend—raised the recommendations of the Committee last year. One was that for IPSO to be considered compliant in any way with the spirit of Leveson, it should have a compulsory industry-funded arbitration scheme. While IPSO might not be perfect, does my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) agree that this is one of the most significant areas where IPSO has responded to pressure to try to make itself more compliant?

     
     
  • I agree very much with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I would have found it far harder to make the argument that IPSO was basically now compliant with Lord Leveson had it not introduced the scheme that is now in place. That was the biggest difference between the system as designed by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset in the royal charter and IPSO, and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, has rightly been removed.

     

    What we do in this debate is being watched around the world. This country is seen as a bastion of freedom and liberty, and a free press is an absolutely essential component of that. I say to those who are proposing these amendments: do not just listen to the newspaper industry, which is, as I say, united against this—that includes The Guardian, despite the efforts of Labour Front Benchers to somehow exclude them. Listen to the Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists—campaigning organisations that are fighting oppression of the press around the world. They say that if this House brings in this kind of measure it would send a terrible signal to those who believe in a free press. I therefore hope that the amendments will be rejected.