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Mike Wood: I intend to speak only briefly, as this is a strong Bill that will empower people to take control of their data. I am pleased to see such broad support for it receiving its Second Reading, but I am not able to support the provisions in the Bill that would implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It seems that I am one of the few Members speaking in this debate who has not had to declare an interest as a former journalist—unless, Madam Deputy Speaker, you count four days’ work experience with the Stourbridge News 25 years ago, just to put that on record. A lack of journalistic experience, however, does not mean not understanding or appreciating the importance of a strong and free media for our political, community and social lives.
The relationship between politicians and the media ought to be uneasy. It is safe to say that the press and the media more broadly can be something of a pain in the neck. On occasions, that sensation may be felt in an area a little lower down, and I know that from personal experience. Shortly after I was elected, I stayed at the Carlton hotel at the back of Victoria station. No one could describe it as luxurious, yet The Guardian reported this as claiming on expenses to stay at the Ritz. If I could negotiate a room at the Ritz for £119 a night, I feel that the Prime Minister might find a role for me in the current negotiations. Clearly, people will have different levels at which they feel the need to respond to such inaccurate claims.
Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)
The hon. Gentleman says that some sections of the media can be a pain in the neck. No one should take exception to that. Setting aside any pains anywhere, the problem many of us have is that on occasions some sections of the media are exceptionally unfair. They do not seek balance and they do not seek equity in terms of the various parts of any debate. That is why many of us have a problem, particularly with the broadcast media, including certain sections that we pay for.
Mike Wood: I understand exactly the hon. Gentleman’s point, with which I have a little sympathy. However, when the media are behaving unfairly and something is inaccurate, distorted or misleading, it is of course right that there are proper procedures for redress. I have absolutely no problem with greater access to justice but, on the measure’s own terms, it would fail in this regard.
Clearly the hope is that the proposal would somehow pressure the media into signing up to a state-approved regulator, but for those who remain outside such a system, changing the basis for awarding costs would not improve access to justice. It would not prevent our libel and defamation laws from being the preserve of the already rich and powerful. All it would do is deter proper, quality investigative journalism. It would deter community and local reporting, where, shall we say, conflict within communities is not unheard of. If, when a claim is brought, there is an assumption—not quite but almost without regard to the merits of the case or who the claimant is—that the defendant will have the costs awarded against them, that is an enormous disincentive to continue with a story, even when doing so is clearly in the public interest. It must be the case, when there is criminal behaviour and when something is actionable—
Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mike Wood: I am just concluding. When something is criminal, the full weight of the law should fall on those who break it. When something is actionable, we need streamlined procedures that actually work—an array of alternatives, not just the one-trick pony in this proposal. However, when publishers are confident that their story is accurate, fair and proportionate, the only proper response is to publish and be damned.