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Text of speech by PCC Chairman Lord Hunt in today’s House of Lords debate on the Leveson report

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on the Leveson report today, 11 January 2013, Lord Hunt, Chair of the PCC, said:

I must first declare an interest, as Chairman and sole owner of the Press Complaints Commission, and a partner in the international, commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft, and the other interests set out in the Register.

I was appointed as PCC Chairman in October 2011, specifically to lead the "renewal and regeneration of the system of self-regulation".

It will not surprise noble Lords to learn, that this is a subject close to my heart, which will dominate this short speech.

I welcome this debate, and this opportunity to listen to the views from all sides of this House, and also to bring noble Lords fully up to date with developments since the publication of Sir Brian Leveson's report.

May I start by echoing the many others, in this House and elsewhere, who have rightly welcomed Sir Brian's remarkably comprehensive, thoughtful and far-reaching report.

That report reminds us all too vividly of the horrors of the past and it is also replete with excellent and positive ideas for the future.

I have been through the entire report and I hope others have too.

I was delighted that Sir Brian Leveson decided not to recommend a system of press regulation established by statute.

Like many others I would have regarded that as a step too far and an unacceptable imposition upon freedom of expression.

It is also, I believe, unnecessary.

A truly effective but non-statutory regulatory system can and must be created, to establish once and for all, the highest possible professional standards right across the newspaper and magazine industries and amongst digital-only news publishers too, all underpinned by law but civil contract law.

As a consequence of Sir Brian's wise judgement, there is already a far wider consensus on the way forward than many of us had thought possible, across the political parties, the newspaper and magazine industries and now beyond.

All the parties are now fully signed up to seeing the regulatory structure recommended by Sir Brian Leveson up and running, as soon as is practical.

It must satisfy the principles of the Leveson report.

It should be buttressed by incentives and its independence and effectiveness must be verified by an authoritative, independent body of some kind.

Yesterday, I hosted the third of three meetings, each of which brought together editorial and non-editorial figures from right across the newspaper and magazine industries, and from right across the United Kingdom.

It is clear to me that the industry now understands that, between the existing and inadequate system of self-regulation and what Leveson proposes, there is no acceptable "third way".

So I have a dual role.

First of all, it remains my responsibility, and that of my two fellow directors at the PCC, to ensure that, until the new structure is fully up and running, the PCC continues to deliver its fast, free and fair service to the public.

Every year the PCC does help many hundreds of people, who feel they have a legitimate complaint against a newspaper, magazine or on-line article - and have no one else to whom they are able to turn.

I have to tell the House that in the most recent survey of complainants to the PCC, 86 per cent of respondents who gave an opinion said that the staff were either very helpful, helpful or satisfactory.

I pay tribute to the excellent staff and Commissioners at the PCC for remaining on board to help deliver that first-class service.

But my other role is to establish the new regulatory architecture, as called for by Sir Brian Leveson, who, on page 1769 of his report, says it is worth repeating that the ideal outcome is:

"A satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry, that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry and thus able to command the support of the public."

He repeats that ten times in the Report.

I am confident that, together with the industry, I can deliver that new structure, with comprehensive "sign up" from right across the newspaper and magazine industries, by the middle of this year.

It will then be for others, here and in the other place, to decide whether any form of statute is required, either to guarantee the independence of the new regulator, or to underpin the proposed incentives to membership.

In view of the remarks of my noble friend Baroness Bonham Carter of Yarnbury I refer her to pages 1760 and 1761. I acknowledge that I have approached the present Chair of the Advertising Standards Authority and the Environment Agency, Lord Smith of Finsbury. Also Sir Simon Jenkins who was a member of the Calcutt Committee and the immediate past President of the Supreme Court Lord Phillips of Worth Maltravers to assist me and I am very grateful to them for that.

Under the chairmanship of Paul Vickers, of Trinity Mirror, an implementation group from the industry itself is seeking to close that ever-smaller gap that remains between the industry and full compliance with Leveson principles.

A group of lawyers is developing the contract upon which the new system will be based, and fleshing out how the proposed arbitral arm might function.

This will require a delicate balance to be struck.

I am optimistic of a good outcome.

We shall see a profound change of culture and an end to sloppy journalism ruining the lives of innocent people, without losing all that is good in our press.

We shall demonstrate that, for a good journalist, freedom of expression and professional principles can and must be inseparable - indeed symbiotic.

To the victims of unacceptable press behaviour in the past, which has been so forensically exposed by Sir Brian Leveson, to the McCanns, to Chris Jefferies, to Margaret Watson, to the Dowlers, the clear message must be:

Never, never, never, never, never again.

11 January 2013

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