Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Yesterday, I momentarily hesitated before rising to support the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but only because I was unfamiliar with the procedure—I did know that he was doing the right thing. I, too, congratulate him, and not only on bringing this debate to this House. I congratulate him also because I believe that a consensus is forming across this House, and that is to be welcomed.
I thought also yesterday that our newspapers had sunk to the darkest moment in their history, given the revelations about the tapping of Milly Dowler’s phone. It is important that we get the language right; we are talking about the theft of evidence, the destruction of evidence, the impeding of the investigation into the disappearance of a child and, as it turned out, a murder investigation. I might have misheard the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), but if I heard him correctly and he is right in what he was saying, all of that was known by the Metropolitan police back in 2002. For reasons that I cannot comprehend, no investigation was undertaken by the Metropolitan police at that time into what were undoubtedly extremely serious criminal offences. I am absolutely confident that this new inquiry will look into the dealings of the police, because the spotlight is rightly now not just on our newspapers; it is moving on to our police. What has been going on concerns me greatly.
Yesterday was also a bleak day for our newspapers, because we saw the Attorney-General prosecute two of them for contempt of court for their coverage of the arrest of a man in Bristol in relation to the murder of Jo Yeates. I wholeheartedly congratulate the Attorney-General on taking that prosecution, as it was a courageous move. The hon. Member for Rhondda talked about the need for politicians to be courageous and I absolutely agree. We must be not only courageous, but honest. I will be honest and say that I am not sure that I was as courageous as I should have been with my private Member’s Bill in February. That is because any politician treads exceptionally cautiously when they stand up in this place to criticise the press and ask for it to be curtailed. As the hon. Gentleman said, we know the possible consequences of making that sort of move.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
Have not the words of Stanley Baldwin some 70 years ago, when he described the press as having
“power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”
been brought to bear by this most grotesque example that we have discussed today?
I concur absolutely, and I am sure that that sentiment is echoed across the House.
Such is my concern—I have been persuaded by much of what I have heard today—that I think there must now be a pause in the consideration of the matter that has been referred to and will be determined by Ofcom. I urge the Secretary of State to consider whether we should pause things, given what has happened.
In the time remaining, I want to return to the subject of my private Member’s Bill. I am not sure whether it falls within the remit of the public inquiry, but I hope that the Government will consider changing the law. I believe that the press has lost the moral plot and I say that with a heavy heart because before I went back to the Bar I trained as a journalist and worked as one for many years. I am proud to be a member of the National Union of Journalists and I was mother of the chapel at Central in Nottingham. I look on my brothers and sisters at a national level with, frankly, despair. It is important to remind ourselves that small local papers are very different from national papers—
Any in particular?
I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman’s sedentary intervention, which is probably a good thing.
In all seriousness, it is right and fair to say that all of us know from our considerable experience that local papers act properly and responsibly. We all enjoy a perfectly proper relationship with them—a relationship that has not been enjoyed between other politicians and national newspapers, which is a situation that must change.
It comes down to this: if people did not buy these newspapers, we would not have this problem. Too many people have an insatiable appetite for gossip, trivia, scandal and the scum of life and that is why we have found ourselves in this position. If people did not buy such papers—I hope that on Sunday the News of the World will get its real punishment through a complete and total slump in its sales—we would effectively see the sort of regulation and change that we all want. There must be a huge cultural shift not only in how we deal with newspapers but in how they conduct themselves. They should act in a much better and more responsible manner in future.