Iain Duncan Smith rejects need for rerun of Leveson inquiry

15th May 2018

Iain Duncan Smith highlights the importance of a free press and rejects the need for a rerun of the Leveson inquiry as the self-regulation under the IPSO formula is better than anything in place before, particularly with the low-cost arbitration process.

I rise briefly to support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his submission today from the Dispatch Box. I do not believe that moving to Leveson 2 would in any way resolve any particular problems. I have no idea, even yet after all the answers I have heard in the debates undertaken, what exactly it is that everyone expects Leveson 2 to produce that we do not already know. I suspect that in many cases it is about carrying on and grinding that wheel further and harder and eventually almost getting even with the media.

I, like my right hon. Friend and most Members, have had cause to deal with the media over things that have been said or done incorrectly. I do not take that as the reason to pursue this beyond where it is at the moment. I agree with my right hon. Friend that self-regulation under the IPSO formula is infinitely better than anything that was in place before, particularly with the low-cost arbitration process, which he extolled the virtues of. I would have thought that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends accepted that that was one of the last sticking-points in terms of how the press regulate themselves.

Does my right hon. Friend not accept that one of the purposes of examining what went wrong in the past is to establish how such extensive criminality was allowed to grow in our press and exactly where the responsibility for that lay so that it is not repeated? Would he also apply the argument that there is no point in looking into the past to, for instance, the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, which was held to ensure that we minimise the danger of great errors being made in future such situations?

I believe that most, if not all, of that was done in the original Leveson inquiry. My right hon. and learned Friend and I will not necessarily agree on this point, but, as has been pointed out time and again, since that period the courts themselves have vigorously pursued individuals who have breached the law. It was argued at the time that the courts could not do that, but they have demonstrated that they can.

The courts have shown that anybody who breaks the law can be pursued. They are being, and have been, pursued by the courts—and not all of them successfully, by the way. It has been demonstrated that independent courts can pursue and find fault with such individuals, and many have gone to prison as a result. So I am not sure that Leveson 2 would advance the sum total of our knowledge about what we need to put right. I think we know that that is the case. The question for us is whether this is best done in statutory form by a Government insisting that they can define exactly what those regulations should be, or whether it is best done by a media and press that recognise that those abuses now have to be dealt with, otherwise their own reputation will fall by the wayside.

Reference was made earlier to the campaign in which the Daily Mail was involved, in which it broke the law by naming people who had not been convicted or even charged. It took risks in that regard, and it is that kind of risk that I want to see continuing, because that is the hallmark of our rather rude and often aggressive and abrasive media who get to the truth more often than they fail.

An important correction is that it was not actually breaking the law. It exposed itself to substantial challenge in the civil court.

I take that correction. Maybe I was going a bit over the top. None the less, that is itself a measure of how far some of our media are sometimes bound to go.

I do not agree that we should go further, although I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled further amendments. In recognising those, it is also important to recognise that I think that this issue is settled. I shall simply end by saying that freedom is not always perfect and that those who fight for it often need to be held to account because they go too far and abuse that privilege. That notwithstanding, I believe that we are beginning to meet the challenge. It will not be perfect, but I would prefer the mistakes to be made by a free press, knowing full well that they regulate and chase authority, and if for one moment they look over their shoulder and believe that this House has caught them and put them in a statutory bind, that would be worse for our own freedoms.

Hansard

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Interventions in the same debate

There is a slightly wider constitutional issue, which I hope he will get on to a minute. We passed the Bill in the House and sent it to the other place, having chucked out the new clauses, and the single argument that was made by the noble Baroness was that we do not have enough of a majority, which is why it was justified in returning the Bill to the House. Does my right hon. Friend not think that that is a rather absurd argument to make?

I think it is very important that the elected House, having considered the question and supporting a manifesto commitment of the party in government, should have its say. That is absolutely right. It is a very important constitutional argument, but I am also making an argument of substance. The approach that we are proposing is the right one—that we do not have statutory regulation of the process, but that we in this House can debate a report on what is happening in the press and the self-regulation of it. I think that is the best way to take this question forward.

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This is a fundamental point. The big difference between this and the way we regulate agencies and others out there is that the latter do not in turn regulate and watch over this place. The press must be free from the idea of statute specifying how they are to be regulated. I completely agree with the Secretary of State that it is better that the press set up the process and we watch over it.

Furthermore, IPSO has now been granted powers to require front-page corrections—we saw it recently flex its muscles and use this power. When two years ago Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Sir Brian’s recommendations, the one major omission was compulsory arbitration. IPSO has now introduced compulsory low-cost arbitration, which the major national newspapers have signed up to, so that claims can be made for as little as £50. With the five further concessions today, we are clear that this will be the start of a tougher regime, not the conclusion.

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I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I put this point to him. Does he not agree that such a case as he extols is not the sort of case that should now prove or test the IPSO process? In other words, if the media are as they say they are, such a case will, when evidence is brought, immediately bring opprobrium and retribution down on the heads of those journalists and possibly result in their being banned as journalists. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should test it in that way, rather than looking for another inquiry, which might come up with nothing more.

I have two answers to that. First, this has been tested, and there were no fines, no systematic investigations and no equivalent front-page corrections. Secondly, there is no substitute for a systematic look at these issues and for asking why that culture was allowed to exist and why in certain cases it is still allowed to exist.