• Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the decline of local newspapers and the consequences for local democracy? Will she welcome the launch by the BBC of the local news partnership, which will support the employment of local democracy reporters? Does she agree that, perhaps now, Google and Facebook, which also profit from local journalism, could support that initiative?

     
     
  • My right hon. Friend deserves great credit for the work that he did on the BBC charter, which included this local news initiative now being carried out by the BBC. The idea that we might lose our local newspaper—the voice for local people—is of great concern to all Members of this House. I have regular discussions with the internet companies on precisely the point that he has raised.

  • I welcome the announcement of the consultation, particularly as there is now information about the effect of category B2 machines that did not exist when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked into the matter around five years ago. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s position remains that any future decisions will be evidence-based?

     
     
  • I can confirm that to be the case. The call for evidence brought in many people’s views and made the need to take action very clear. The consultation sets out four options for the reduction in stakes, but the call for evidence makes it certain that the status quo will not be maintained.

 

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon  

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the workforce at Bradwell-on-Sea in my constituency? They are doing a magnificent job in decommissioning the power station there. Will he confirm that nothing in his statement will prevent that work from continuing? Will he also listen to their concerns about the effect on their pension entitlements of certain changes that have been made regarding the cap on exit payments?

 

Greg Clark, The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy   

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the workforce. As he will be aware, good progress has been made in decommissioning the site in Bradwell, with the underground waste vaults containing intermediate level waste having been cleared and decontaminated. That is a reflection of the hard work. There is a separate set of discussions and consultations going on with regard to the pension arrangements, which is not related to today’s announcement.

 

 

 

John Whittingdale, Conservative, Maldon 

On the establishment of inquiries, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is considering whether to reconvene the Leveson inquiry, which has already sat for 15 months, at a cost of more than £5 million, to examine events approaching 10 years ago. What advice would he give to the Secretary of State?

Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee                

 As perhaps should have been done with the child sex abuse inquiry, I suggest that the Secretary of State comes to this House to ask for a Committee to be set up. Let us have an inquiry into the inquiry before we get stuck on the tramlines of legality and appointing people. She should look before she leaps and accept that Governments should not be able to establish inquiries to get themselves out of inconvenient difficulties. . The House is here to assist such scrutiny, and it should be here to provide oversight so that an inquiry is properly conducted in a timely fashion.

 

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

Although it is clearly sensible to ask the regulator to examine this bid, does my right hon. Friend recognise that this transaction represents a £11.7 billion investment by an international company in a British broadcaster and is, as such, a fantastic vote of confidence in the UK’s remaining an international centre of broadcasting long after we leave the European Union?

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

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend has significant experience in matters of culture, media and sport. He is right to say that the UK is global Britain, open for business to the whole world, and that it will remain so after we have left the European Union.

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s recognition of the importance to the creative industries of their ability to license on an exclusively territorial basis. Will she ensure that that message gets across to the UK permanent representation in Brussels so that it argues that case as strongly as possible while we remain in the EU?

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

I can say categorically yes. My right hon. Friend’s point is one reason why people were concerned about our membership of the EU and one of the things that led to the vote on 23 June last year.

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

What recent assessment she (The Lord Chancellor) has made of the extent to which local media report on court proceedings.

 

Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 

We are committed to upholding and strengthening the principle of open justice, in which local reporters play an important role.

 

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my concern that more than half of local newspaper editors have said that they think the courts are no longer being reported properly? Does he agree that justice needs not only to be done but to be seen to be done, and that the decline of local media represents a real threat to that principle? What more can be done to address this issue?

 

Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 

Yes, I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. This is an important area. We are committed to upholding open justice, and local reporting of court proceedings is a key part of that. Under our reforms, we will publish lists of forthcoming criminal cases and their outcomes. We will also allow access to virtual hearings via video screens in local courts, so that reporters can see those proceedings anywhere in the country. We hope that that will make a contribution to the important principle that my right hon. Friend highlights.

 

Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham 

Does the Minister support the BBC’s proposals to work with local newspapers and local websites such as the excellent Wrexham.com to improve the coverage of court proceedings and local coverage generally?

 

Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 

In fact, my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale was the initiator of that scheme, which we do support.

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 

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.