With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement. In recent days, the whole country has been shocked by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal.
What this country – and this House - has to confront, is an episode that is frankly disgraceful. Accusations of widespread law-breaking by parts of our press. Alleged corruption by some police officers. A failure of our political system over many, many years to tackle a problem that’s been getting worse. We must keep front and centre the real victims.
Relatives of those who died at the hands of terrorism, war heroes, murder victims, people who have already suffered in a way that we can barely imagine being they have been made to suffer all over again.
Mr Speaker, we all want the same thing: press, police and politicians that serve the public.
Last night the Deputy Prime Minister and I met with the Leader of the Opposition. And I also met with the Chairs of the Culture Media and Sport, Home Affairs, and Justice Select Committees to discuss the best way forward. Following these consultations, I want to set out today how we intend to proceed.
First, on the public inquiry. Second, on the issues surrounding News International’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. And third, on ethics in the police service and its relationship with the press.
But before I do that, Mr Speaker, let me update the House on the current criminal investigation into phone hacking.
I met with Sir Paul Stephenson last night. He assured me that the investigation is fully resourced one of the largest currently underway in the country and being carried out by a completely different team from the original investigation. It is being led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who I know impressed the Select Committee yesterday.
Her team is looking through 11,000 pages containing 3,870 names, including around 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers. They have contacted 170 people so far - and they will contact every single person named in those documents.
The Commissioner’s office informed me this morning that the team have so far made eight arrests and undertaken numerous interviews.
Mr Speaker, let me now turn to the action the Government is taking. Last week in the House I set out our intention to establish an independent public inquiry into phone hacking and other illegal practices in the British press.
We have looked carefully at what the nature of this inquiry should be. We want it to be one that is as robust as possible. One that can get to the truth fastest and get to work the quickest. And one that commands the full confidence of the public.
Clearly there are two pieces of work to be done.
First: a full investigation into wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the failure of the first police investigation.
Second: a review of regulation of the press.
We would like to get on with both these elements as quickly as possible, while being mindful of the ongoing criminal investigations. So after listening carefully, we have decided the best way to proceed is with one inquiry in two parts.
I can tell the House this Inquiry will be led by one of the most senior judges in the country, Lord Justice Leveson who will report to both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Inquiry will be established under the 2005 Inquiries Act, which means it will have the power to summon witnesses including newspaper reporters, management, proprietors, policemen and politicians of all parties to give evidence under oath and in public.
Starting as soon as possible, Lord Justice Leveson, assisted by a panel of senior independent figures, with relevant expertise in media, broadcasting, regulation and government, will inquire into:
The culture, practices and ethics of the press.
Their relationship with the police.
The failure of the current system of regulation.
The contacts made, and discussions had, between national newspapers and politicians. Why previous warnings about press misconduct were not heeded. And the issue of cross-media ownership.
He will make recommendations for a new, more effective way of regulating the press. One that supports their freedom, plurality and independence from government but which also demands the highest ethical and professional standards.
He will also make recommendations about the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press. This part of the Inquiry we hope will report within twelve months.
The second part of the inquiry will examine:
The extent of unlawful or improper conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers. And the way in which management failures may have allowed this to happen. This part of the Inquiry will also look into the original police investigation and the issue of corrupt payments to police officers. And it will consider the implications for the relationships between newspapers and the police.
Mr. Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson has agreed to these draft terms of reference. And I am placing them today in the Library and we will send them to the devolved administrations. No one should be in any doubt of our intention to get to the bottom of the truth and learn the lessons for the future.
Next the issue of News International’s bid to takeover BSkyB. By the day we are hearing shocking allegations. Allegations that Royal Protection Officers were in the pay of the News of the World – and that they handed over the contact details of the Royal Family for profit.
Allegations that the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had his personal details blagged by another News International title. Mr. Speaker, as both the alleged nature of the malpractice, and the scope of the newspapers involved widens serious questions must be asked about News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB.
Added to this, News Corporation has withdrawn its proposed undertakings in lieu of reference to the Competition Commission. That’s why on Monday, my Right Honourable Friend, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport referred their bid to the Competition Commission.
The relevant independent authorities will have the time to take an exhaustive look at all the relevant issues and come to a considered decision on whether this takeover should proceed.
It will then be up to the Secretary of State to make the final decision in a quasi-judicial capacity. Mr. Speaker, in every way, we are following the law with respect to News International’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB.
But let me repeat what I said on Monday. In my view, this business should not be focused on mergers and takeovers, but on clearing up the mess and getting their house in order. And this is what the House will be voting on tonight.
And let me also say this. The people involved whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up however high or low they go must not only be brought to justice they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country.
ETHICS IN THE POLICE
Mr Speaker, now let me turn to the issue of ethics in the police and in particular, their relationship with the press.
Of course, it’s important that there is a good relationship between the media and the police. Police often use newspapers and other media to hunt down wanted criminals and appeal for information.
However, allegations have been made that some corrupt police officers may have taken payments from newspapers. And there are wider concerns that the relationship between the police and the press can be too close.
Mr Speaker, when I spoke to Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday, he made clear that he is as determined as I am that all aspects of the police relationship with the media should be beyond reproach.
On the allegation concerning improper payments to police officers, I can assure the House the Met Police immediately referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Since then, the IPCC’s most senior Commissioner has been supervising the Met’s work to identify the officers who may have taken these payments.
As soon as any officers are identified, the Commission have made clear publicly that it will move to a fully independent investigation drawing on all the available expertise necessary to reassure the public.
My Right Honourable Friend the Home Secretary has been assured by the Commission that they have both the powers and the resources they need to see this through. They will go wherever the evidence leads them and have full powers to investigate fully any police wrong doing that they might uncover.
The Home Secretary has also today commissioned a report from the IPCC on their experience of investigating corruption in the police service and any lessons that can be learnt for the police service. The initial findings of this will be delivered to her by the end of the summer.
I can also tell the House that, in addition to the work of the Judicial Inquiry on the wider relationship between the police and the press Sir Paul Stephenson is looking to invite a senior public figure to advise him on the ethics that should underpin that relationship for his own force, the Metropolitan Police.
In particular, this figure will advise him on how to ensure maximum transparency and public confidence in how the arrangements are working.
Mr. Speaker, if we are calling for greater transparency from the police, I think it is only right we provide it in government too.
After all, as I have said, one of the reasons we got into this situation is because over the decades politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems.
So I will be consulting the Cabinet Secretary on an amendment to the Ministerial Code to require Ministers to record all meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, senior editors and executives – regardless of the nature of the meeting.
Permanent Secretaries and Special Advisers will also be required to record such meetings. And this information should be published quarterly.
It is a first for our country, and alongside the other steps we are taking, will help make the UK Government one of the most transparent in the world. I will be discussing this with the Opposition as they might also want to adopt this practice.
Mr. Speaker, after this Statement I will be meeting the family of Milly Dowler. None of us can imagine what they have gone through.
But I do know this: They, like everyone else in this country, want their politicians – all of us – to bring this ugly chapter to a close and ensure that nothing like it can ever happen again.
It is in that spirit that I commend this statement to the House.