Mr Whittingdale: Does my hon. Friend recognise that the revelations that have streamed out over the past six months have probably led to a greater loss of confidence in the self-regulation of the press than there has been at any previous time? I strongly support self-regulation, but if the public are to regain confidence in that self-regulation, the PCC will have to be seen to have stronger powers. My Committee strongly recommended that it was not sufficient for the PCC simply to require a newspaper to publish an adjudication. In cases of serious breaches of the code, there should be some sanction available to the PCC to demonstrate that the breach was unacceptable and to ensure that newspapers take seriously the requirement to abide by the code.

Mr Vaizey: I have run out of time, but I would say in conclusion that the PCC and the press will have heard hon. Members’ remarks in the debate. The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be aware that the PCC is conducting its own review following the phone hacking allegations. As well as being a criminal offence, phone hacking is of course a breach of the code. The PCC is reviewing the matter to see whether it can make its recommendations stronger, but it will have heard the important—

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Although I welcome the moves to increase the NAO’s access to the accounts of the BBC, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Comptroller and Auditor General has written to him to say that he will still not have the ability to decide what to do and when to do it. Does he agree that that ability is essential if the NAO is to have the genuinely unfettered access that he has promised?

Mr Hunt: I agree that the NAO should have unfettered access to the BBC accounts. I take heart from the comments that the incoming chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, made to my hon. Friend’s Committee, when he said that he wanted the NAO to have full, unrestricted access and to be able to go where it wished to ensure and scrutinise value for money at the BBC.

Mr Whittingdale: I welcome the report from the committee of the Master of the Rolls, which contains a number of sensible recommendations, and also the Prime Minister’s decision to establish a Committee to examine all the issues surrounding the granting of injunctions and super-injunctions. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept, however, that matters are developing very rapidly? Does he accept that the revelation on Friday of some of the details of the injunction granted to Sir Fred Goodwin raised important issues of public interest, and that that raises the question of why the injunction was granted in the first place? Does he agree that he would virtually have to live in an igloo not to know the identity of at least one premier league footballer who has obtained an injunction, and that the actions by thousands of people who posted details of it on Twitter are in danger of making the law look an ass?

In the report by the Master of the Rolls, doubt is cast once again on the right of the press to report the proceedings of Parliament. Does that not have worrying implications for the rights of Members of the House of Commons, and for parliamentary privilege?

More than a year ago, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport called for the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 to be replaced by a clear and comprehensive statute upholding the fundamental rights of the press to report what is said in this place. Will he ensure that that, too, is considered by the Prime Minister’s Committee as a matter of urgency?

The Attorney-General: Let me respond to my hon. Friend’s reference to individual cases by saying that he will not be surprised if I am not drawn into commenting on the matter. What I can say is that widespread public interest and, indeed, disquiet have been expressed about the events of the past few weeks and days, and that—as the report by the Master of the Rolls clearly showed—they raise the question of how a person’s privacy can be balanced against the requirement for the public to be properly informed, and also the question of how injunctions may be enforced. I would add, however, that the courts have power to punish those who breach injunctions, and those who decide flagrantly to do so should bear that in mind when they embark on such a course.

The question of parliamentary privilege is not a new issue. While it is fully recognised that we have complete privilege in this Chamber to say what we like—and the Lord Chief Justice reiterated that in the clearest and most unequivocal terms in his comments last Friday— the question of the extent to which communication between a constituent and a Member of Parliament is covered by parliamentary privilege remains uncertain. What is entirely clear is that—from the judiciary’s point of view as much as those of the Government and Parliament—that is an undesirable state of affairs, which is undoubtedly susceptible to both clarification and rectification if the will is there for that to be done.


John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the key determinants of the success of the creative industries is the strong protection of intellectual property? Is he considering following the example of President Obama and appointing a champion for intellectual property, which would send that signal? Does he agree that what would send precisely the wrong signal is any suggestion from local authorities that the enforcement of actions against pirate or counterfeit goods by trading standards officers should not be seen as a priority?

Mr Vaizey: I met President Obama’s copyright tsar, Victoria Espinel, when she was in this country last week. We had a meeting with the IP crime group, which is very effectively taking forward the enforcement of measures to tackle IP crime. The Minister, Baroness Wilcox, is also an extremely effective champion of the IP industry.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the meticulous care that he has shown in his handling of this matter? Can he confirm that every single concern that has been raised by the regulatory authorities has been addressed? On the wider question of impartiality, does he agree that the value of Sky News is not because it makes money—it does not—but because of the benefit to the overall reputation of BSkyB that comes from the integrity, objectivity and the quality of its news gathering, and that it would therefore be madness for any new owner to seek to change that?

Mr Hunt: I completely agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. The regulatory authorities have both confirmed, both on 3 March and today, that they are satisfied that the undertakings I am putting before the House address the concerns that were raised about media plurality. I have taken that advice very seriously indeed.

My hon. Friend’s second point about Sky News is particularly important today because in the revised undertakings that we have published there are two things that particularly strengthen what the public value about Sky News. First, News Corp undertakes that it will not do anything to cause Sky News to contribute less to media plurality in this country if this deal goes through. Secondly, it agrees that it will continue to cross-promote Sky News on the Sky platform at the same level it currently does. In terms both of financial viability and of that all-important contribution to media plurality I am satisfied that if I proceed with the undertakings as published today, we will continue to have a free and plural media.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I rise to speak in the debate with considerable sadness. I am a passionate believer in the freedom of the press, but like other freedoms, that freedom must be exercised within the rule of law. Many of us here were appalled when we discovered, in the course of the expenses scandal, what a small number of Members of the House had done. They were rightly prosecuted and several have now gone to prison, but that scandal tainted all of us. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) referred to the fact that journalists throughout the country are equally appalled at the revelations that have come out about the activities of some members of their profession, and they too feel that they have been tainted by them.

The latest revelations mark a low point in the saga of phone hacking, but I fear they do not mark the end point. There are likely to be further revelations still to come. The matter was first looked at by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in early 2007, following the conviction of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. At that time I asked the chairman of News International, Les Hinton:

“You carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry, and you are absolutely convinced that Clive Goodman was the only person who knew what was going on?”

Mr Hinton replied:

“Yes, we have and believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new editor, continues.”

Read more ...

Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what his policy is on the future administration of the Public Lending Right. [65210]

Mr Jeremy Hunt: The Government recognise the importance of the Public Lending Right (PLR) to authors. We have made assurances that PLR payments will still be administered by a body operating at arm's length from Government and with the same independence and impartiality currently awarded to the PLR Registrar. We are working to resolve as quickly as possible the issues associated with the transfer of the Public Lending Right's functions to another body.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and thank him for consulting me, and my two fellow Select Committee Chairmen, about the terms of reference last night. Although there is no doubt that we need a stronger system of regulation of the press in this country, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that although it was newspapers that were responsible for these wholly unacceptable and often illegal activities, it was also newspapers that exposed them? I hope he will agree that a free press is a fundamental cornerstone of a free society, and that we must do nothing to jeopardise that.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks very good sense about this matter. Ultimately, we want not just a free press, but a free and vigorous press, which can make our lives miserable a lot of the time. That is absolutely vital. There will be those in the press who will be made nervous of a judge-led inquiry covering all the aspects of this matter, and I stress the importance of the panel in assisting the judge to ensure that the changes proposed are based on evidence of what matters and what works.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of the biggest questions during the whole of the phone-hacking saga relate to the failures on the part of the police to investigate as well as to what has been going on in newsrooms, particularly why the police appeared never to interview a single journalist who was named as a client of Steve Whittamore in the Motorman case and why they did nothing to look at the enormous amounts of material seized from Glenn Mulcaire? Does she agree that it would be unsatisfactory if these matters could not be looked at until the beginning of the second part of the judicial review? Will she consider inviting the IPCC to begin examining these questions now?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he says, part of the inquiry that is led by Lord Justice Leveson will involve looking at the first investigation by the Metropolitan police. It is not impossible for it to start doing some work while the current investigation is going on, but that would have to be done carefully in order not to jeopardise the current investigation. I am sure that we all want to see a proper investigation and a proper inquiry with answers about what happened in that first police investigation and about why matters were not taken forward in a way that people now feel they should have been. We also want to ensure that the current investigation is not in any way prejudiced by that work because we want people who have been guilty of criminal offences to be brought to book.