Lord Watts debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 23rd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading
Wed 22nd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stageLords Handsard
Wed 28th Feb 2024

Media Bill

Lord Watts Excerpts
Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Portrait Lord Watson of Wyre Forest (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 1 and to echo some of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in her Amendment 8. It is a very great honour to speak to her amendment. I congratulate her on her very important recognition with her BAFTA award last week. She has been a tireless campaigner for children’s television, which is why these two amendments are perhaps the most important that we are discussing today.

To put at the heart of the Bill the notion of public service broadcasting and to modernise it for the digital age should surely be what we are trying to achieve today. I am a member of probably the first generation of comprehensive school children who were taught using terrestrial colour television—creative programmes such as “Words and Pictures” and—dare I say it?—“Play School”. I still remember “magic e” when I write speeches for the Lords. What is sitting here is a failure to realise that we are the generation that lived in information scarcity and our children are swimming in an ocean of information abundance. That notion at the heart of public service broadcasting—good, thorough content creation that is age-appropriate and relevant to the educational journey that we ask our children and their families to go on—is what we should be addressing.

I hope that all Front-Benchers will be able to take the comments made by the movers of those amendments very seriously when they respond to the debate.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 9 because the quality of news in total has deteriorated over the last few years, and we definitely need more regulation to deal with this.

As far as local TV is concerned, there is a suggestion that it should be put under Ofcom and monitored. In Liverpool, for example, we have a local TV service, but most of the time it is not local at all. It is GM News. Anyone who knows Liverpool knows that it is probably one of the most left-wing cities in the country. To have thrust on it GM News as the major contributor to local TV is very strange indeed. You need some understanding that there needs to be far more local content than there has been in the past and it needs to be regulated.

I have a problem with Ofcom because even if we put it under Ofcom, as the amendment suggests, Ofcom has failed to do its duty on a number of occasions. It is still allowing GM News to put out propaganda, to allow one Tory MP to interview another Tory MP, and we see no action on this.

Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Portrait Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row (Con)
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Does the noble Lord mean GB News? He keeps saying GM News.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Correct: GB News. It allows one Tory MP to interview another Tory MP, which is against the rules, as everyone knows, and yet Ofcom sits on the fence because it does not want to take action. It is not surprising because we are dominated by the Conservatives; the chairman and director-general of the BBC are both Tories; the chairman of Ofcom is a Tory; we are overrun by Tories in every area of the media, and we need to address this because there is no balance. This means that people do not stick to the rules that Parliament has laid down. Ofcom has a lot more to answer for and it needs to address some of the shortfalls that it has now if it is going to take on more responsibility.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I will bring the House to the safe harbour of the Cross Benches and take us away from the world of politics—we will have quite enough politics in the next month or so without starting it now.

I spoke in Committee, so I will not say any more, but I endorse everything the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said. She knows how I feel, the Minister knows how I feel. We were all on an Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme trip to Bahrain over the weekend so, apart from having lots of hummus, he also heard quite a lot about Reithian principles. I will follow up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, and I would like to do so, very appropriately with this Minister, on the basis of the alternatives that young children are now exposed to in the online world. The majority of young children will not necessarily benefit from the sort of children’s public sector broadcasting that I suspect most of us are familiar with but have probably not watched a lot of recently, unless we have been babysitting our grandchildren and have nodded off beside them and whatever it is they are listening to.

The reality is that what children are accessing now is very different from what happened before. This is slightly similar to the discussion we had recently about the Government’s new proposed regulations around personal, health and social education in schools. Many children are educated in a way that is pretty much invisible to much of the adult population. I ask the Minister to work very closely with the Department for Education; schools and teachers know very well, having picked it up from them, what their students are exposed to and the degree to which that is good or bad. The Children’s Commissioner should also have a lot of input into trying to understand the firmament of content that children are gaining access to; now is a very important watershed time to do that because every month or year we lose in understanding what children are gaining their knowledge—or lack of knowledge—from, the more time we lose.

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Because my noble friend was not in Committee, as he said, he will not have heard my offer for officials to discuss this with the trade body responsible for it. I am very happy to extend the invitation to that discussion to him, or to offer to keep him informed about it. I hope with that he will have the reassurance that this has been considered in another place and he will be able not to press his Amendment 9.
Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Can I take it from those comments that the Minister actually believes that there should be far more local content in TV, from regions, towns and cities, and that those these services should not be dominated by GB News in the way they are now? It would be interesting to know if the Minister actually believes in local TV or not. Also, would he like to comment on the fact that—

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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I am asking a question. Would the Minister like to comment on the fact that the BBC and Ofcom are dominated by card-carrying members of the Tory party? Does he think that is healthy?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord will not be surprised that I do not agree with his final points. But I agree on the importance of local television, which we have heard about in our debates. Local television services continue to play an important role in the wider broadcasting system, adding great value to communities, including during the pandemic as well as in normal times. The Government remain committed to securing the most effective framework for local TV operators going forward. I hope I can reassure him that we very much care about them.

On Amendment 10 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, we are in complete agreement with her on the need to protect children and vulnerable audiences from harmful and inappropriate video on demand content to which they might be exposed. I wish we had more time to continue the discussions on the important matters she raised; my noble friend Lord Bethell and others would have looked forward to that. I reassure noble Lords that the concerns they raised are already well covered by the Bill as drafted. Ofcom will be given extensive powers to set standards, assess video on demand services’ audience protection measures and take action that it considers appropriate. If audiences are concerned, they can complain to Ofcom, and the regulator can, in the most serious cases, set sanctions such as financial penalties or even restrict access to that service in the UK.

The noble Baroness’s amendment looks to set specific standards for services that use age ratings. The Bill already gives Ofcom the power to set these standards and others through the new video on demand code. Ofcom must keep these rules under constant review so that they can be adapted to take into account changes in technology and audience expectations. I am grateful to her for reiterating this important point today, and I hope I can reassure her that the Government are proposing effective and proportionate regulation that covers this and other issues.

With that, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments—other than the Amendments 1 and 4 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which I am pleased to be able to support.

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Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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My Lords, my name appears on all three amendments in this group and therefore it is very tempting to make a long speech on all of them. But I will not do that; I am going to confine myself to the absolutely ghastly procedural and constitutional hole we are in.

I think that for a lot of this stuff to go through wash-up is a breach of the constitution and the understanding of the constitution that we all hold firm to. If this is not looked at in future, we will get into this hot water yet again and burn our toes.

I will take a couple of points, although I could say a number of things. One of the reasons why this House always accedes to the will of the elected House is that it is an elected House. One of the reasons why a manifesto pledge is regarded as game over is that it is the clearest reflection of the will of the people as expressed at the last general election. But we are about to have another general election. The people could have been given another chance to express a view on whatever is in the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem manifestos, but instead this tag-end of a Government—going down their smoke-rising hole and out of the people’s memory, thank goodness—are still able to make decisions on this. I really am sorry that my noble friend Lord Bassam, who knows what a great admirer of his I am, and the Labour Party as a concerted whole have not put up more of a fight on this.

Secondly, this was avoided in one of the earlier speeches, but wash-up is meant to be about consensus. The Minister said that he would discuss this with the Opposition, but in this House we have more than one opposition. We also have the Liberal Democrat opposition, who take a wholly different view on Leveson and Clause 50 from the Opposition or the Tory party. When going through a procedure designed to achieve consensus, is it fair to exclude from that process an extremely important group of people whose knowledge and experience in this field is as great as that of any other party in the House? I do not find that procedure acceptable.

Some of the consequences of this are becoming known to us as we go through the Bill this afternoon. The Minister, with an apparently serious face, said: “We might have been able to sort these things out, Lady Bull, if only we had had more time”. I do not know what conversations he has had with the noble Baroness over the last few days, but I hope they have been extensive. It is because this thing has been rushed through and wash-up is being used as a cover. I do not know why the Whip is making noises. He tried to shut somebody else up before, but he will not shut me up.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Whips should be seen and not heard.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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That is right. He has succeeded; I have lost my thread.

If we had had more time or if the phrase “extended consensus” had been interpreted more widely, these matters could have been dealt with. In the end, we will end up with an unnecessarily flawed Bill and a subject to which an incoming Government—as long as they are not a Conservative one—will have to devote their time. We could have wrapped all this up today and adopted the compromise put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. If necessary, we could even now improve that compromise by amending it at Third Reading. But we will not do so. The will is not there.

We are now seeing an elected dictatorship of two parties—my own, alas, and the Conservative Party—pushing through things that have not achieved consensus support simply, as I explained at Second Reading, for political advantage. This is a sad day not only for press regulation but for Britain’s democracy.

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Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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The noble Earl knows very well indeed that I cannot possibly have any knowledge of the circumstances of his complaint. I am sure that if the noble Earl takes up the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, he will—as Ministers say—write to the noble Earl with an explanation. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, will be very happy to place a copy in the Library of the House, but I cannot answer that.

Let us be realistic: we all have complaints about the press. Sometimes, they say nasty things about me; I am not as important as the noble Earl, so it is much rarer, but we are all aggrieved by the press. The fact that the press sometimes—maybe often—say foolish, unjustified things is the price of press freedom. There needs to be a regulator. However, there does not need to be an authorised regulator that has special protection, unless he and other noble Lords say that the unauthorised regulator does not do its job—but that is not the case.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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If the noble Lord had been in the House yesterday, he would have heard my account of a woman whose daughter was run over in a hit-and-run accident. The Mail sent a reporter down to the scene of the crime, secured the CCTV camera footage and put the link to that story in its paper. She complained but, after six months, she had made no progress whatever. When she said she was stressed out, she was told by this independent regulator that that, if she was stressed out, perhaps she should drop the case. Is that the sort of justice the noble Lord is looking for?

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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Again, the House cannot possibly know all the circumstances. I very much doubt it, but IPSO may have made a mistake. I am sure that there are also many complaints to the authorised regulator that do not result in the complete satisfaction of the person who is complaining. It is absurd to suggest that that is so. We have to look, do we not, at the structure—at whether there is an independent, non-authorised regulator? I do not for a moment suggest that there are not people—I am sure there are—who have complaints about the press, and perhaps even complaints about IPSO. However, there is a system, and it is a perfectly proper, effective system under independent management. In those circumstances, it cannot possibly be right that we give special legislative protection to an authorised regulator.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I want only to reflect slightly on some of the comments that have been made about the tone of the debate, and in particular the attack against the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I have been shocked by the tone of the debate against the points of noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The argument seems to be that this is a Tory conspiracy theory, that the Tories are in bed with the press barons, and that there is all sorts of skulduggery going on. I am genuinely shocked that this is being allowed to pass. I want to at least mention that there are some of us who worry about an authorised regulator, and the politicisation of regulation, who are not in bed with press barons. I spend most of my time reading newspapers that write rubbish about me, so I am not keen on press barons—let me put it that way. I also happen to believe in media independence and freedom, which is an important point.

I want the Bill to get on and pass, but, first, there was an earlier discussion about local TV news channels. For the sake of the public and accuracy, one noble Lord sitting close to me said that GM News—he meant GB News—is constantly played on local TV news channels. It is not GB News; it is TalkTV that is played on all those channels, including in Liverpool. I get it and watch it, and that is what is played.

Secondly, the accusation was made that Ofcom, because it is run by evil Tories, is not doing anything about GB News and the way that it presents itself. It is worth reading the papers and the press on this, because then we would all know that Ofcom is in fact accused of overregulating GB News for exactly the things that the noble Lord mentioned it was ignoring—to such an extent that GB News is beginning a formal legal process against Ofcom, which it considers to be overly political in its involvement in the editorial independence of GB News.

I make these statements of factual accuracy because what is at stake is not which political party you are in. We talked about Reithian principles before, but has anyone explored Reith’s politics at any point? He was not a socialist or a Lib Dem, but I agree that Reithian principles matter. I do not care who is arguing for press freedom or who is trying to overturn Section 40. I do not think that it is a conspiracy to establish an independent regulator for the media, which is not a threat to the British public. The threat to the British public is a politicised, misinformed, ill-informed discussion that tries to suggest that the only people who care about press freedom are working with press barons. That is nonsense.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords—

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the convention of the House is that, on Report, a noble Lord has only one bite of the cherry.

This has been a long debate and we had a long debate yesterday. I listened to all sides of the argument and have set out the Labour Party’s viewpoint on the current situation. There is one argument with which I strongly agree, and that is that it is unfortunate that we are having this debate, on this Bill, at the end of a Parliament. It is a great shame, because this part of the Bill does not really sit easily with the rest of it, which is primarily about broadcast and audio media. We should have stuck to that subject matter.

With that said, we do not support the amendments that have been tabled by my noble friends behind me, and we are unable to give them the backing they wish. We now have a settled position and things have moved on since Leveson. I do not disagree with some of Leveson’s conclusions, but I think that the issue has moved forward. I do not think that sufficient weight and seriousness were paid to the arguments that are being made that we need to look closely at the press and examine how it works. I heard the passion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and of my noble friend Lord Watts, and I understand their concerns, but I do not think that this is the best way for us to continue to approach matters. That is the Labour Party’s position, and we will not support our colleagues if they push this to a vote. We are content for the Government to conclude business on this group, which we hope will enable us to make progress on the Bill.

Media Bill

Lord Watts Excerpts
Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Portrait Lord Watson of Wyre Forest (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and say to him that, while he unwisely backed the wrong horse, I know he is a very skilled and wise politician—too skilled to back the outcome of an election on day one. As I will talk about transparency today, I should declare an interest to the Committee, albeit a left field one: I am a current claimant in a voicemail interception litigation against News Group Newspapers.

To add to the surreal nature of this debate, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, I will address directly the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on the wash-up. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, was a fantastic substitute for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whom we wish well with his back procedure, particularly because he appears to be the only senior leader of any political party who has shown spine in this basket of amendments. I hope to convince both Front Benches to follow in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, this evening.

It is appropriate to ask both Front Benches whether they intend to follow the convention of Parliament to not rush through controversial clauses in Bills in the wash-up procedure. We are probably all united in the Committee that, whatever we think about Clause 50, it is certainly controversial. I will offer two other arguments about why we should proceed with caution in the wash-up procedure on this. First, much of the Bill will interfere with a regulated market, and in doing that we owe it to the consumers and providers within that regulated market to give full parliamentary scrutiny at all stages. I warn the Front Benches that the last time I remember Parliament deciding to interfere with regulatory matters in a wash-up was in 2005 with the Gambling Act, of which the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, will be aware. Some 20 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences of that rushed-through legislation. There is a third reason why we should proceed with caution in the wash-up. To add to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, about washing up: the electors now have us under the microscope, and if these clauses and amendments are rushed through by the Front Benches of both main parties, they will be airing their dirty linen in the wash-up, and that is a terrible start to a general election.

I have had sight of the letter from Sir Brian Leveson, quoted in this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others, and I can confirm that it is damning about the disingenuous arguments employed by the opponents of reform on this issue—and, it must be said, the Government. I speak to this group of amendments to make the case that, despite two manifesto pledges, in light of recent evidence not easily available to the Government at the time, the Government should pause to reflect on their proposal of Clause 50.

Many failures have been attributed to IPSO in this debate. I add one other: it failed to protect ordinary people thrust into the media spotlight after a bereavement. IPSO was recently found by the independent Press Recognition Panel to be failing children and the victims of crime caught up in newsworthy events. The Press Recognition Panel was set up by royal charter, under a system backed by all parties in both Houses where there is no input whatever from politicians in its appointment. It is far more independent than Ofcom or any other regulator. Do not forget that IPSO members are appointed by a panel that it appoints itself, and it is chaired by a former Government Minister. The IPSO board also has former editors appointed by the industry who have the power to veto, just like the old PCC. It is no wonder, then, that it sits idly by while some newspapers are still neck deep in disinformation, inaccuracy, intrusion and the monstering of innocent individuals.

As noble Lords have said, in its 10-year history IPSO has done a total of zero investigations of the type that Ofcom does all the time, and thus there have never been any sanctions—no investigations and no sanctions ever. It is true that the PCC did not have the power to investigate; IPSO has been given that power but has never used it. Nobody is holding these hugely powerful people to account. They do exactly as they like, with scant respect for basic human decencies, let alone their own codes, and there are no consequences. They have no predators, and that cannot be good for our country.

We know that some newspapers were hacking the phones not only of well-known people and their friends, employees and relatives but of murder victims and politicians, not because of some tip-off of corruption or wrongdoing but for two reasons, neither of which has a shred of public interest justification. The first of these was to sell newspapers: the privacy of thousands of people was sold for profit by newspapers systematically. The second was to manipulate politicians, as we appear to be seeing in the wash-up of this process today.

We now know that serious allegations have been made against News UK that members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, including me, were hacked while it was investigating the company from 2009 to 2011. Gordon Brown has recently said that he believes he was hacked while Prime Minister and, even more egregiously, that News Corporation claimed, absurdly, that he and I were involved in conspiracy to acquire stolen company emails, which was why it deleted millions of emails and scratched its back-up disks during the police reinvestigation in 2011. Some newspaper groups have treated Parliament, the Leveson inquiry, the public and their own readers with contempt, and no one can have any confidence that IPSO, just a rebranded version of the discredited PCC, has the powers, or even the inclination, to identify and expose wrongdoing such as phone hacking or illegally obtaining private medical information or itemised phone records.

There is another serious issue that has come to light since Parliament set up Section 40: the way that some newspaper groups were found to have misled Parliament or lied to a public inquiry—or stand accused of doing so—and appear to have done so with impunity thus far. In the recent judgment of the High Court in the case of the Duke of Sussex and others v Mirror Group Newspapers, which is now owned by Reach plc, the judge found that members of the board and then legal department egregiously knew about, concealed and allowed to continue the industrial-scale criminal hacking and blagging that took place from the mid-1990s until at least the end of 2011—that is, during the Leveson inquiry and the Select Committee inquiries themselves.

The legal department was found to have lied to Leveson, and the evidence in the 2023 trial was rejected by the judge, who also found that the editors at the time knew about wrongdoing and concealed it—“without doubt”, in his words—and many lied to the Leveson inquiry.

As for News UK, in 2011, it was exposed as having lied for years, claiming that phone hacking was by only one rogue reporter on the news desk in 2005 and 2006. It was found in 2014, the year after the legislation that we are proposing to repeal today, that from 2000 to 2006 the whole news desk and the features desk were involved.

In 2014, after a public inquiry and passing that Bill, we learned that scores of people who had been convicted in stings by Mazher Mahmood, the “fake sheikh”, could have been innocent, when the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos collapsed and he was later convicted of trying to frame her. Dozens of his victims are appealing their convictions, and many bring hacking claims. Mr Mahmood was instructed to tail me for days when I served on the committee that started investigating phone hacking.

In 2016, the Privileges Committee of the Commons found that two senior executives had lied to the CMS Select Committee. Only yesterday, the managing judge in the News UK and News Corp hacking litigation allowed amendments to the claimants’ case to allege—these allegations are currently untested and denied or not admitted—that two very senior executives and several others lied to the Leveson inquiry and gave misleading evidence to Parliament.

I could go on, but I hope I have demonstrated that the suggestion that the press has cleaned up its act is for the birds, and that there remains a rotten core to many of our newspapers and a culture of impunity when it comes to their illegal behaviour.

For those reasons, I have tabled Amendment 87A and support the others in this group. They are compromises, all intended to move us closer to universal press membership of an effective, independent regulator which would protect the public from press wrongdoing in all its forms. Amendment 87A would introduce a new right of reply for the British public against misrepresentations in the press where the publisher is not a member of a truly independent and effective regulator.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that speech from someone who has had direct contact with the media over many years and has been abused by them himself, but there are many other people who have been abused in a similar way. I support this group of amendments, but I must be clear that I would prefer Section 40 to be maintained and to cover the issues that we are all addressing now. It is better than nothing, but it is not really the sort of protection that we should offer the public.

The press barons say that there is no need for regulation. They point to IPSO and the courts, and ordinary people are supposed to use one of those organisations. Quite frankly, as we have heard, IPSO offers no protection. In the investigations it has carried out, 0.3% cases are upheld, so the accountability is non-existent there. It can fine up to £1 million, but it has not fined anybody so far. It is quite clear that it is not effective for anyone who has a case of abuse.

I will not talk about celebrities, but I will talk about a woman called Mandy Garner. I have done this before and will again. Mandy’s daughter, unfortunately, was the subject of a hit-and-run accident. That is a tragic affair anyway, but it was made worse when the Daily Mail got involved. It sent a reporter down to the area and secured CCTV coverage of the child’s death from one of the shopkeepers. It then carried the story and put the link to that child’s death online for its readers. When Mandy objected to that and took a complaint to IPSO, it told her to go and see the Daily Mail. She contacted it and, after six months, she had made no progress with her case at all and went back to the regulator. She told it that she was even more stressed out now because she had made no progress whatever over six months. What did IPSO say to that woman? It told her that, if she was stressed, perhaps she should drop the case and not proceed with it. That shows the level of independent calculation going on with that body.

We need protection not for celebrities, because they can go to court and can afford to spend millions of pounds on legal fees, as we have heard, but for Mandy and many hundreds of people like her who cannot. I ask the Minister, the Government and our Front Bench this: what protection are they going to give to the public—to a future Mandy? Quite frankly, in what is proposed today, there is no protection for Mandy and people like her. It is a disgrace on Parliament that politicians are bullied and threatened to act in a way that is counterproductive to having justice in our society.

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We then come to the question of SLAPPs and Section 40. I think there is agreement across the Committee that SLAPPS have been a remarkable evil. There is a great deal of cross-party agreement for a Private Member’s Bill that has government support, which was originally an amendment to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, and I hope it will continue whatever Government are in power. All that I can say is that if I were one of the people identified in an excellent book by David Hooper about the problem with SLAPPs, if I was inclined to bring one of these strategic cases, I would be reassured by the provisions of Section 40, even the modified provisions suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, knowing that newspapers would be trembling at the possibility of a Section 40 provision or something similar, or the right to reply in the circumstances put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Watson. We should not automatically assume that those who publish newspapers, whether local or national, have bottomless coffers. We must get away from the concept of powerful press barons against the poor minnows who sue them. It is not as straightforward as that.
Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Is it not the case that 80% of our media is owned by five billionaires?

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks
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I am not precisely sure of the figures. Certainly, the ownership of the press is a matter of record. I am not in a position to respond to that. It is perfectly true that it is a relatively minor group of people. I am not sure quite what that has to do with Section 40. We are talking about whether someone can make a complaint adequately and whether that regulator is independent. I ask the Committee to express the view that it is an independent regulator. There is a manifesto commitment. It is time that this provision is repealed. I understand from what I have read in an interview with the shadow Secretary of State that the Labour Party does not intend to amend the current system of press regulation. I look forward to hearing reassurance that this important Bill, including this provision, will be the subject of discussions in the wash-up.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind words; he might be getting a little ahead of himself. It has been a pleasure to serve as Minister and I hope to continue to do so. I look forward to campaigning in defence of the arts and creative industries in the general election ahead. He will appreciate that I have been in the Chamber since the announcement was made, so I will have to disappoint him by saying that the discussions will be had in the usual channels and announcements will be made in the usual way.

Like other noble Lords, I was sorry to hear about the operation that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is having. I am sure we all wish him a speedy recovery, so that he can be on the campaign trail soon. His amendment, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, seeks to remove Clause 50 in its entirety. I refer noble Lords to the comments I made earlier on why the Government do not believe that an incentive to join a PRP-backed regulator is needed. The failure to repeal Section 40 in its entirety would be at odds with the Government’s manifesto commitment. For this reason, it is important that this clause stands part of the Bill.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Can the Minister deal with the question I raised on how poor people can pursue a case if they do not have the legal means to get satisfaction through the courts?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The landscape has changed a great deal since these debates were had. There are multiple routes for people to do it, and we think that that is right. The debate is one that has gone on for a great deal of time. Passionate though the contributions have been today, they have not significantly added to the debate that has gone on for a long time. I have little more to add.

TV Licence Non-payment: Women

Lord Watts Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, the BBC does very important work through the Local Democracy Reporting Service. Local radio stations provide hugely important information and news to their local communities, as I set out in our Second Reading debate on the Media Bill, where I know we will talk about these important matters further.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that at present we are seeing an increase in the amount of propaganda that comes from areas such as GB News? Can the Minister assure us that the BBC will be left with the revenue needed to counteract that, and the problems of social media as well?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Ofcom, not the Government, regulates the provision of news, whatever channel people receive it on. The BBC receives some £3.8 billion in licence fee income; that income allows it to provide its important and impartial news, both at home and around the world.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, this is an important Bill and it is much needed after 20 years, but some outstanding issues need to be addressed. I very much support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about foreign ownership; there is the issue of SLAPPs, which are used to silence journalists who are doing legitimate stories; and we do not seem to have any long-term strategy for the media in this Bill.

National newspapers urge us to resist any amendments that would lead to some form of independent regulation. They claim that such regulation would stifle our free press. That is despite the fact that 200 papers have already signed up with it and do not seem to have any problems with that regulation.

People think sometimes that newspapers do not count, and they point to the decline in the number of people buying newspapers on a daily basis. That decline has to be looked at against the online content and the amount of people who are seeing that, and the effect that newspapers have on the media the following day—they set the agenda for the rest of the media, which follow without any question.

Some people in Britain believe that we have a free press, but our press, by and large, is owned and controlled by the rich and powerful—individual corporations and their executives. They control the editorial and political direction. They are answerable to nobody and are not accountable; they should be.

When the hacking scandal broke, the Government set up the Leveson inquiry. The report was supported by all political parties. What they did not say at the time was that they would support the recommendations as long as the press barons agreed to everything that they wanted to do. So there is a cynicism that has been created by the fact that, after Leveson produced his report, every politician and every political party got behind the recommendations and slowly the press barons were able to water it down so that it did not mean anything any more.

The press tells us there is no need for Leveson now because it has improved its practices and complaints procedures. It is not so. I went to meeting three weeks ago and heard from a woman whose child was knocked down and killed in a hit-and-run accident. A national newspaper sent a reporter to the scene of the crime. The reporter managed to get CCTV coverage of the event from a local shop. The national paper followed the story up with an article on the issue and provided a link to the CCTV footage so that people could watch what had taken place. When the woman complained to the regulator, she was told to take the matter up with the newspaper first. She did. After six months, she contacted the regulator again and informed it that she had made no progress over the six-month period and that she was even more stressed due to the lack of action by the newspaper. She was informed by the regulator that, if she was that stressed, perhaps she should consider dropping her complaint. That does not seem to me as though it was being investigated properly.

If we look at the facts about the regulator, only 0.3% of complaints are upheld. It has the ability to fine its members up to £1 million if they are found to have broken the rules and regulations. Not one national newspaper has been fined. I think that says a lot about that regulator and shows a lot about why we need to change the system. Many individuals and families continue to face intrusion, harassment, abuse, sexism and discrimination against different groups. There are still more than 1,000 legal cases of hacking that are being dealt with by the courts. These are people who do not want to be regulated. I suggest to Members that it is crucial that there is some sort of independent review of how they manage their affairs.

I do not believe that Parliament should have direct involvement with regulation, but it is surprising. People say that they do not want politicians to be involved in this decision, but they are quite happy to have political appointments. There are a couple of people who are ex-Tory Ministers on that body. If we look at how the public would see that, they would see the performance and the appointments and would know what is going on. There is too close a relationship between major newspapers in this country and one political party. They are not unbiased; they are politically motivated and they have their own agenda. I urge Members to support amendments that do something about this. It is a national scandal. It was a national scandal when Leveson was set up, and it has not changed yet. There has not been any improvement in the way that daily newspapers conduct their business or deal with complaints.

Football: Abuse and Violence

Lord Watts Excerpts
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is indeed for the FA to make sure that good behaviour is promulgated throughout the football pyramid. Where behaviour is criminal, such as assault, incidents should be reported to the police and appropriate action taken. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have a range of legislation they can use to address serious incidents of other sorts. However, it is up to everybody in leadership positions in football to ensure that good behaviour is promoted at every level.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is this not yet another example of domestic football not being managed properly? When do the Government intend to introduce a regulator to start to deal with some of these problems?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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These issues were looked at as part of the fan-led review conducted my honourable friend Tracey Crouch, and it was clear that the Government need to take action. Leaving certain things to the sector has not worked for decades, and fans have been let down by certain owners not acting responsibly. We will be setting out our plans to reform club football governance in the White Paper that is coming soon.

London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012: Legacy

Lord Watts Excerpts
Monday 10th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Volunteering did increase in the years after London 2012, halting what had been a long-term decline, and more than half of the 70,000 London 2012 Games makers continue to volunteer in their communities. One of the things I am very happy about, having moved departments, is that I am now the Minister for Civil Society, and one of the things I am talking about is how we encourage more volunteers and more local champions who want to set up a project in their local community. One of the ideas we are looking at is that you can put your postcode into a civil society portal, for example, and offer yourself as a volunteer or have your hand held while you set up a local community project.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, do the Government think they have got the priorities right? We seem to spend an awful lot of money on elite sports, but grass-roots sports seem to be neglected. Should we not put more money into the grass-roots rather than elite sports?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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A variant of that is that we want to see elite sports themselves put money into grass-roots sport. We are working in partnership with Sport England, for example, and its 10-year strategy called Uniting the Movement. That reinforces a commitment to more participation in sport. Sport England has also invested an additional £20 million in the together fund, previously known as the tackling inequalities fund, to reach underrepresented groups in many communities. It is also investing money in multi-use grass-roots facilities between 2022 and 2025. The important thing is that this should not be just about elite sports but should reach right down to local communities.

Channel 4: Annual Report

Lord Watts Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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No, I am not. According to PACT, only 7% of the total independent production sector revenue came from Channel 4 commissions. Channel 4 spends less on commissioning than ITV, which is of course privately owned. We think the things that Channel 4 does are what make it so successful. We are convinced that any future owner would want to continue to build on those things.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government continue to say that they do not like to interfere with board decisions, and here is a board that has been very successful. The reason members had that salary increase was that it was linked to the company’s productivity, yet this Government think they know better than the board about the future of the Channel.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As I say, this year’s report shows that Channel 4 is performing well. It is doing well in the current climate but, as the responsible owners of Channel 4, the Government are looking to the decades to come to make sure that it can continue to do that for the next 40 years and beyond.

Gambling White Paper

Lord Watts Excerpts
Wednesday 20th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is always a pleasure to see my noble friend at cultural events. To quote the musical:

“Every duke and earl and peer”


was there last night. We are committed to ensure that video games are enjoyed safely by everybody, and we undertook the call for evidence to look at loot boxes. We believe that the games industry can and should go further to protect children and adults from the risks of harm associated with loot boxes. If that does not happen, we will not hesitate to consider legislative change. As my noble friend points out, we will pursue our objectives to get better evidence and research and improved access to data through the technical working group led by DCMS and through the development of a video games research framework.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, many people are disappointed by the Government’s decision to defer this matter again. The Lords committee that looked at this made some strong recommendations, which I think that most people agreed with, and which struck a balance between allowing people who want to have a flutter to do so and protecting vulnerable gamblers. Will the Minister look at whether the Government can use their existing powers to implement some of those changes now?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I had the pleasure of serving on the committee which the noble Lord mentions. As I say, we have not waited for the publication of our review—the most extensive review of gambling laws since 2005—to take action where needed, including banning gambling on credit cards and raising the age for playing the National Lottery. We are taking action while making sure that we give the issue the thorough consideration that it deserves.

English Football: Independent Regulator

Lord Watts Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord makes an important point. There are lessons to be learned for other sports from the work that is being done here. The fan-led review had its origins in some of the challenges facing a number of football clubs, which is why the Government set it up. We are grateful to Tracey Crouch and to everyone for their thoughts. This review does have a wider application.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful for this government initiative. It is overdue. Will Ministers talk to people in Europe and around the world? Given the problems we have seen in recent years, the same regulation is needed for both the European and international game.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The focus of the fan-led review is on men’s football in England. This is where the Government’s response, which is being set out today, is focused. There is work to be done internationally. We are discussing this with the international bodies, as well as with those at home.

Channel 4 Privatisation

Lord Watts Excerpts
Tuesday 5th April 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Of course they can coexist. What we want to make sure of is that Channel 4 is existing, competing and able to continue to attract the viewership it deserves for its excellent programming. Netflix, Amazon and many others are increasingly competing, particularly among a younger audience—who make up such an important part of Channel 4’s current viewership. The way people consume television is changing rapidly. Netflix spends two and a half times as much as Channel 4 does on original content. We want to make sure that Channel 4 has the ability to borrow and invest so that it can compete and continue to attract viewers.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that the Government do not like criticism? They have cowed the BBC over the licence fee. Now they are taking on Channel 4. Can the Minister explain how the privatisation of Channel 4, which will have to pay dividends to shareholders, will give Channel 4 more money for programmes?