Oral statement to Parliament

Opening statement to parliamentary debate on Leveson Inquiry

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Monday 3 December 2012 **Speaking today in the House of Commons to open a debate on Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards, Secretary…

Monday 3 December 2012

**Speaking today in the House of Commons to open a debate on Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller said:
**
“Mr Speaker Lord Justice Leveson’s report marks a dark moment in the history of the British press.

“In the words of the judge the press ‘have wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained-not just the famous, but ordinary members of the public.’

“Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson’s report shows in detail the breadth and range of this abuse: acts of despicable intrusion into people’s lives, many of whom had already suffered extensively.

“And in the days to come, this must remain at the forefront of all our thoughts.

“We must also remember that Lord Justice Leveson falls well short of criticising the whole industry. He offers praise for its important role in our society.

“At the heart of our democratic traditions is an irreverent, opinionated and yes sometimes unruly press. We live in a country where the press can hold people to account. Where free speech is a right and not a privilege.

“Yet with this, comes a clear responsibility, a responsibility that Lord Justice Leveson found had not been honoured.

Our responsibility today:

“As Members of Parliament, discussing this report today, we have a heavy and profound duty: to put forward our views, with passion and force; to set aside I believe party politics and to discuss the fundamental issues and questions that this report poses. 

“The debate today will send I believe a loud message to the press of this country: and that message is the status quo is not an option.

“The Prime Minister is clear, we will see change.

“That change can either come with the support of the press  OR  if we are given no option, without it.

“Be in no doubt that if the industry does not respond, the Government will.

“I do not under estimate the differences of views that will be expressed today-but I ask all Rt Hon and Hon members to consider first what is clear to me, that there’s more that unites us than divides us.

More unites us than divides us:

“Mr Speaker the Prime Minister in his statement accepted in full the  principles set out by Lord Justice Leveson: that a new independent self regulatory body has to be set up;  that it’s truly independent in appointments and funding; giving real access to justice for the public; setting the highest standards for journalism through a code; with teeth to investigate and hold the industry to account.

“Rightly, Leveson has set out that it’s for the press industry itself to determine how this self -regulatory system is delivered.

“This is not about the press coming up with a model that suits its own ends. The day of a PCC mark 2 are well and truly gone. We will not accept a puppet show with the same people pulling the same strings.

“I will be meeting editors tomorrow to hear how they will take this forward.

“But Hon gentlemen and ladies in the chamber today, we must not allow this debate to polarise us.

“We all agree on the need for a tough and independent regulator for the press.

“We all agree that the suffering of the victims and their families can not be allowed to happen again.

“And we all agree that the status quo is not an option.

“It’s the responsibility of this house to ensure that whatever is put in place, is effective.

“This is common ground. Let us put to one side the politics and let’s turn our focus on the principles.

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Right to ask questions:

“Mr Speaker it’s right that we look at the detail of how we deliver those principles in practice.

“And Lord Justice Leveson’s  report underscores the importance of protecting the freedom of the press.

“The Prime Minister, myself and other Hon Members on both sides of the chamber see that there are clear and practical difficulties in drafting legislation without providing an amendable legislative framework.

“There are many in the House today on both sides of the Chamber who have a deep seated and grave concern that such legislation could have a profound affect on our ability to completely safeguard the freedom of our press in the future.

“Who can say what amendments could be made to such a legislative framework in the future?

 ”Who can make promises for the politicians and the political parties in years to come?

“The action that we take will have consequences that will be felt for generations to come and we must make sure that whatever action we take, it is not just for now but it’s for the coming years as well.

OFCOM:

“Remember the Leveson report isn’t just about statutory underpinning, which actually I think we could be forgiven for thinking it is by the debate thus far. To reduce it to that does a disservice to Leveson. There are other recommendations that I believe we have to carefully consider.

“And I hope that in the debate today Hon members will raise the role of OFCOM as set out in Lord Justice Leveson’s report.

“He clearly states in his report Lord Leveson, that it’s his preference to see this organisation overseeing the efficacy of the self regulator. He also suggests that if no independent self regulatory system can be agreed, then the government could have to turn to OFCOM to act as a regulator as well. I think that this is something that the House really does need to reflect on, and certainly this is something that we have put at the heart of the discussions that we’re having with the Party opposite.

Data protection:

“There are questions to also be asked I think in this debate around the report’s data protection proposals and their potential impact on investigative journalism.

“We need to give careful consideration as to whether it’s appropriate for the Information Commissioner to investigate and then decide on public interest, which would in effect be what would happen if this report was implemented in full.

“As Lord Justice Leveson himself says, changing exemptions for journalists would be very significant. It would go to the heart of the balance between the freedom of the press and the individual’s right to a private life. These are issues that require serious thought.

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Momentum:

“But Mr Speaker, I hope that we can bring out that and other elements of the report today and not only focus in on that very narrow issue of statutory underpinning.

“Mr Speaker we haven’t wasted time since last Thursday. And following the publication of the report we have already acted.

“Lord Justice Leveson recommended that there should be cost protection in defamation and privacy cases. To ensure that ordinary people are not put off from using the courts because they are afraid they cannot afford it.

“The Justice Secretary has already asked the Civil Justice Council to look at this issue, and the Government will implement the changes at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Additionally, some of Leveson’s recommendations build on work that the Home Office and ACPO, on behalf of the police, have already done. The report recognises that because of this work, the policing landscape is changing.
“The PCCs took office on 22 November, and indeed the College of Policing comes into being this week. The IPCC is being given new powers and HMIC have greater independence and a new, non-police chief to head it.
“There is increasing transparency which will support stronger systems for whistleblowing and both will contribute towards a culture of openness and responsiveness and will increase public confidence in the police. These are all important actions already taken, and indeed my Rt Hon friend the Home Secretary will report on all of this to Parliament in January.

Foreign office:

“We have to look not just today at each other within this chamber, but beyond this chamber, beyond these shores, as a country which champions free speech, champions democracy on this world stage. And can we credibly question and challenge others on issues of liberty and freedom if, we’ve placed our own press in a legislative framework? 

“Today, is not about what is right here and now or indeed this week,  or this month, or even in this parliament.

“It is about a profound set of issues for our democracy that will have real and lasting consequences.

Conclusion:

“Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson has published his report into the future of press regulation last Thursday.

“The debate today, demonstrates the Government’s commitment to finding a swift way forward. We’ve already held two cross party meetings and will continue to hold more.

“Today in the chamber we have the opportunity to discuss the findings of this report in full, and it’s an opportunity that we can use to hear from all sides of the House.

“What we are debating today has profound implications.  And we should remember the weight of that responsibility in the days to come.”