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Rolling blog on the release of the Leveson Report

6pm Before we close this rolling blog, it’s worth highlighting the passage from the Leveson Report saying there is “no evidence” that Jeremy Hunt was biased when overseeing News Corp’s bid for BskyB. Here’s how it reads in the Executive Summary, with the key line in bold:

“The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP also had strong views as to the merits of the bid. He too was entitled to have these, if for no other reason that media policy fell within his DCMS portfolio. The transfer to Mr Hunt was a decision the Prime Minister was fully entitled to make. In these circumstances the bid came to DCMS and its Secretary of State in a crisis not of their making.

Mr Hunt immediately put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency, all in line with his quasi-judicial obligations. His extensive reliance on external advice, above and beyond the minimum required, was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test and to engender confidence that an objective decision would be taken.

In every respect bar one, the bid was commendably handled. Unfortunately, there was a serious hidden problem which, had the bid ultimately gone through and that problem come out, would have had the potential to jeopardise it altogether. Mr Hunt’s Special Adviser, Adam Smith, was the known point of contact between DCMS and News Corp’s professional lobbyist, Frédéric Michel. Mr Smith already knew Mr Michel, and, when faced with the intimacy, charm, volume and persistence of Mr Michel’s approaches, he was put in an extremely difficult position. The processes that were put in place to manage the bid did not prove to be robust enough in this particular respect. Best practice of the kind subsequently encapsulated in the Cabinet Office guidance on quasi-judicial decision-making was not followed.

I have concluded that the seeds of this problem were sown at an early stage, and that the risks were, or should have been, obvious from the outset. I doubt the wisdom of appointing Mr Smith to this role. The consequential risks were then compounded by the cumulative effects of the lack of explicit clarity in Mr Smith’s role, the lack of express instruction that it was clear that he fully understood, and a lack of supervision by Mr Hunt.

I have concluded that there is no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt. However, the voluminous exchanges between Mr Michel and Mr Smith, in the circumstances, give rise to a perception of bias. The fact that they were conducted informally, and off the departmental record, are an additional cause for concern.”

And here’s another passage that David Cameron quoted in his statement earlier — from the third volume of the Report — on the Tory leadership’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Again, the key line is in bold:

“The results of Mr Cameron’s media strategy in Opposition were successful in winning the support of the centre right press and the endorsement of News International. The circumstances in which Rupert Murdoch and his close advisers decided to endorse Mr Cameron are complex. Mr Cameron went to great lengths to secure meetings face-to-face with Mr Murdoch and other News International executives and editors. The benefits of this may have played some part in the outcome but should not be overestimated. As Mr Osborne fairly observed, the Conservatives were not the only politicians dining with the Murdochs and their executives.321 There were many factors other than personal contact.

The evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours. All of those involved strenuously deny that there was a deal whether express or implied. The documents do not gainsay them. Nor do the Coalition Government’s actions in Government.”

5pm Nick Clegg’s statement can now be read here. And, now that it has been delivered, we know how the three main party leaders line up against each other. Basically, we have Mr Clegg and Ed Miliband fighting from the same corner: they back the idea of an independent system of self-regulation, backed up by statute. And in the opposite corner is David Cameron: he has “misgivings” about the statutory elements of the Leveson report.

Such unity between the Lib Dem and Labour leaderships, contra the Tory leadership, has been rare in the past few years — perhaps the last significant example was during the AV campaign. And while I doubt this will properly loosen the ties that bind the Coalition together, it may still worry No.10. After all, Ed Miliband may end up gaining from these moments of cross-party cooperation should the next election yield another hung parliament.

But the real concern now is whether a solution will ever be reached. There are three factors, in particular, counting against a speedy result:

i) It’s a matter of principle. As the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman tweeted, it’s striking that Mr Cameron’s spokesman is pointing out that his boss didn’t actually rule out a statute — so perhaps there is room for compromise. But the principled tone of the PM’s statement, as well as those by the other party leaders, suggests such compromise won’t come easily. It is, after all, very hard to horse-trade principles.

ii) The party leaderships aren’t their parties. It has to be remembered that the party leaders’ views won’t be shared by all of their party colleagues. Even if they can come up with a solution between them, they may still have some party management to do to have it sail happily through Parliament.

iii) Mission creep? In its discussions of the media, Parliament has often stretched beyond those issues considered by Leveson — particularly when it comes to the Internet. It’s possible that politicians may want to shoehorn some of that into the current process, which would only stretch it out further.

As we said on ConHome last night, the politics of this are likely to rumble on and on. It may actually take the media to push this process ahead of Parliament, and organise themselves as much as they can.

4.15pm Ahead of Nick Clegg's statement, David Cameron has just tweeted:

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4pm Here is the full text of David Cameron's statement. It's rather long, so prepare to scroll. The key passage is in bold:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on today’s report from Lord Justice Leveson.

As we consider this report, we should consider the victims.  We should remember how the parents of Millie Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked and were followed and photographed.

How Christopher Jefferies’ reputation was destroyed by false accusations. And how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer.

These victims – and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight – have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine.

That is why last Summer I asked Lord Justice Leveson to lead an independent inquiry.

It had the power to see any document and summon any witness under oath, to be examined by a barrister, in public.

It has been, as Lord Justice Leveson says, “the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen”. 
 
And I would like to thank Lord Justice Leveson and his entire team for the work they have undertaken.

Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson makes findings and recommendations in three areas: on the relationship between the press and the police; on the relationship between the press and politicians; and on the relationship between the press and the public.

Let me take each in turn.

First, the press and the police.

Lord Justice Leveson makes clear that he doesn’t find a basis for challenging the integrity of the police.

But he does raise a number of areas which he felt were a cause for public concern such as tip-offs, off-the-record briefings and more broadly, “excessive proximity” between the press and the police.

He makes a number of recommendations including national guidance on appropriate gifts and hospitality; record-keeping of contact between very senior police officers and journalists and a 12-month ‘cooling-off’ period for senior police officers being employed by the press.

These are designed to break the perception of an excessively cosy relationship between the press and the police and we support these recommendations.

Mr Speaker, when I set up this Inquiry, I also said there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation.

This second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded – but we remain committed to the Inquiry as it was first established.

Next, the relationship between politicians and the media.

As Lord Justice Leveson has found “over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way that has not been in the public interest”.

I made this point last summer when I set up this Inquiry – and at the same time I set in train reforms to improve transparency.

This is the first government ever to publish details of meetings between senior politicians and proprietors, editors or senior executives, as Lord Justice Leveson recommends in his report.

He also recommends disclosing further information on the overall level of interaction between politicians and the press.

This would apply to all parties – and on the Government’s behalf I can say that we accept that recommendation.

Mr Speaker, during the course of this Inquiry a number of serious allegations were made and I want to deal with them directly.

First, that my party struck a deal with News International.

This is an allegation that was repeated again and again on the floor of this House – and at the Inquiry itself.

Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail – and rejects the allegation emphatically.

Let me read his conclusion: “the evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours”.

Those who repeatedly made these allegations – including Members of this House and I have to say the former Prime Minister – should now acknowledge they were wrong.

Second, it was alleged that I gave my Rt Hon Friend, the then Culture Secretary, now Health Secretary, the responsibility of handling the BSkyB bid in order to fix the outcome.

Lord Justice Leveson states clearly “the evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process”.

Another allegation repeatedly made – and again shown to be wrong.

Third, there was the criticism that the then Culture Secretary had rigged the handling of the BSkyB bid.

Again, today’s report rejects that as well.

My Rt Hon. Friend “put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency…”

Indeed Lord Justice Leveson goes further, concluding that My Rt Hon Friend’s “extensive reliance on external advice… was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test”.

And he concludes “there is no credible evidence of actual bias”.

Of course as My Rt Hon Friend has said himself, there are lessons to learn about how quasi-judicial decisions are made and we must learn those lessons.

But let me say this: My Rt Hon Friend has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity.

The Report confirms something that we on this side of the House knew all along – we were right to stand by him.

And let me also say this Lord Justice Leveson finds in respect to my Rt Hon Friend the Business Secretary that he “acted with scrupulous care and impartiality”.

Next – and most important of all – let me turn to what Lord Justice Leveson says about the relationship between the press and the public.

As he says very clearly, even after 16 months of this Inquiry, he remains “…firmly of the belief that the British press – all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time.”

But on the culture, practices and ethics of some in the press, his words are very stark.

He finds that “…there have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist”.

He cites “press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous”.

He catalogues a number of examples of such behaviour, going wider than phone hacking.

He refers to “a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected”.

He finds that “when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy”.

And he reports “a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course”.

Mr Speaker, in a free society, the press are subject to criminal law, civil law and requirements for data protection.

But there should be a proper regulatory system as well to ensure that standards are upheld, complaints are heard and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged.

That is what the current system should have delivered. It has not.

And as Lord Justice Leveson says: the Press Complaints Commission is “neither a regulator, nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility”. And that is why changes are urgently needed.

Mr Speaker, we welcome the fact that the press industry themselves have put forward their own proposals for a new system of regulation.

But we agree with Lord Justice Leveson that these proposals do not yet go far enough.

Mr Speaker, in Volume IV of the Report, Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media.

He details the key “requirements” that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including: independence of appointments and funding; a standards code; an arbitration service; and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism – crucially it must have the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose million-pound fines.

These are the Leveson principles.

They are the central recommendations of the report.

If they can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country. I accept these principles and I hope the whole House will come behind them and the onus should now be on the press to implement them and implement them radically.

In support of this, Lord Justice Leveson makes some important proposals.

First, some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data.

We must consider this very carefully – particularly the impact this could have on investigative journalism.

While I have only been able to make preliminary investigations about this since reading the Report, I am instinctively concerned about this proposal.

Second, he proposes changes to establish a system of incentives for each newspaper to take part in the system of self-regulation.

I agree that there should be incentives and believe those ones that he sets out – such as the award of costs and exemplary damages in litigation – could be effective.

He goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those incentives and also – crucially – provide: “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body”.

This would, he says, “reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and would continue to be met”.

Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation.

They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity.

The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.

We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.

In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.

On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would I believe become more complicated.

Paragraphs 71 and 72 in the Executive Summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation if refers to, for instance, validating the standards code and recognising the powers of the new body, for example.

And if you turn to page 1772 in Volume IV of the full report, it says this about the new law: it “must identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them”.

The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press, something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.

Third, on the grounds of necessity – I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives.

I believe there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place and these options must be explored.

Mr Speaker, there are questions, including those on data protection, which are fundamental questions we must resolve in order to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s report.

I have therefore invited the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to join me in cross-party talks, starting immediately after this statement.

Let me be clear: a regulatory system that complies with Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do this. They do not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson’s Report to be implemented.

While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress: the status quo is not an option.  Be in no doubt – we should be determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented.

Mr Speaker, there is much that we in this country can be proud of: the oldest democracy in the world; the freedom of speech; a free press; frank and healthy public debate.

But this Report lays bare that the system of press regulation we have is badly broken – and has let down victims badly. Our responsibility is to fix this.

The task for us now is to build this new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and of free speech but that protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent and commands the confidence of the whole country.

And I commend this statement to the House."

Ed Miliband's statement can be read here. The short version is that the Labour leader believes the Leveson recommendations should be implemented in full. Given that this seems to be a matter of principle for both sides, it's unlikely that agreement will be reached swiftly in the forthcoming cross-party talks — if it can be reached at all. 

3.30pm We have just posted an article by Lord Ashcroft: "Make no mistake, the Leveson Report will mark a watershed for the Press, whether or not its recommendations are adopted"

3.15pm David Cameron says, in his statement, that he has "misgivngs" about the statutory elements of Lord Justice Leveson's report. Here's the relevant passage:

"I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation ... The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing press regulation into the law of the land ... We should think very, very carefully about crossing this line."

We shall have more on the leaders' statements, as well as the Parliamentary debate, later.

3pm Lord Justice Leveson has given his statement — which can be read here — and the report is now in wide circulation. There are 2,000 pages of this stuff, so it will take some time to sift through it properly, but here are five very quick points and responses:

i) How independent is independent, how non-statutory is non-statutory? So, Lord Justice Leveson has called for a "genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation" — but he also adds that "it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes". The big question now is: how much political  involvement does this entail? Lord Leveson himself describes his proposed system as "non-statutory," in that it doesn't involve a new regulator set up by statute. What it does require is legislation aimed at achieving three things, the third of which is mostly designed to incentivise press participation:

"First, it would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Second, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met; in the Report, I recommend that this is done by Ofcom. Third, by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed; these could relate to data protection and the approach of the court to various issues concerning acceptable practice, in addition to costs consequences if appropriate alternative dispute resolution is available."

It's all designed to sound very reasonsable: a middle-ground that all sides can sign up to. But some will worry about Ofcom — a body whose board, let's not forget, is appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport — overseeing some of the process. And some will also worry that any statute, even one just designed as a "support", gives politicians an excuse to involve themselves even futher, through amendments and the like.

ii) And what if publications say they don't want to play? The Report doesn't seem to be terribly clear on what happens if certain publications don't want to sign up to this new system of self-regulation. But what it does say might concern the media. One of the options it moots is "requiring Ofcom to act as a backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme.

iii) Politicians and the press. In terms of individual politicians, Lord Justice Leveson says that there is “no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of [Jeremy] Hunt” in News Corp’s bid for BskyB, and that there is no evidence, either, that the Tory leadership did a “deal” with Rupert Murdoch for favourable newspaper coverage. In more general terms, the Report also says that, over many years, politicians “have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”

iv) Police and the press. The police get off quite lightly, with the Lord Justice Leveson saying that "the Inquiry has not unearthed extensive evidence of police corruption nor is there evidence ... that significant numbers of police officers lack integrity in one or more of the respects I have examined." So perhaps it’s strange that the Report seems to take more care about the communications between the press and the police. It’s this section of the report that recommends some rather superficial changes around “off-the-record briefings,” as well as that records be kept of meetings between journalists and senior police officers.

v) Where's the Web? There's only one-page devoted to the Internet in the entire report. Lord Justice Leveson doesn't really see blogs and social media as part of his remit because "the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity". This may gladden those who enjoy the untamed wilderness of the Web, but it does rather seem to overlook the Internet’s growing influence. And it may make the press worry about two-tier system: a traditional media that’s shackled by tighter regulations, and a new media that doesn’t have to bother. 

1.45pm The full report can be read here. The executive summary is here.

1.30pm The top lines are now emerging from the Leveson Report, but few will top this recommendation:

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The Report itself says that "this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press" — a line that will no doubt colour the political debate in Parliament.

Apparently, politicians are accused of having become "too close" to the media, but there is "no evidence" that David Cameron reached some sort of "deal" with Rupert Murdoch. We shall cover more of the detail once Lord Justice Leveson has finished his statement.

1.15pm Welcome to ConservativeHome's rolling blog to cover the release of the Leveson report. That report will be released in about 15 minutes, and then we shall cover David Cameron's statement to the House at 3pm and Nick Clegg's statement after that. And, yep, that's right: there are to be two separate statements from the two Coalition leaders. The Lib Dems are putting it about that the differences between their man and Mr Cameron are "nuanced" and that we shouldn't get too excited by it all — but we shall see if that holds true later this afternoon.

In the meantime, you might care to catch up with some of our other Leveson-themed coverage today. We have posts by Andrew Lilico, Philip Davies MP and George Eustice MP.

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