RESEARCH TOOLS


Morning Hearing on Monday, June 11, 2012

Gordon Brown MP gave a statement at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(10.15 am) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I am today handing down rulings in relation to the application made concerning Operation Motorman and in relation to costs. When this Inquiry was established last July, it was extremely important that it had the benefit of cross-party support and it is equally important that it conducts its work so as not to undermine the basis upon which it was established. Two weeks ago, the former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, gave evidence. This week, I shall be hearing from others who are or who have been the leading politicians of the day. They come from different parties, with different political allegiances, and already there has been demonstrated intense public interest in what they will be asked and what they will have to say. It is vital to bear in mind that the Inquiry is grounded in the terms of reference announced when it was set up. These include: "1. To enquire into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, including (a) contacts and the relationships between national newspapers and politicians and the conduct of each And 2: "To make recommendations (b) for how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including, among others, the government; (c) as to the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press." The present focus is on the press and its relationship with politicians. I am specifically not concerned and am very keen to avoid inter-party politics and the politics of personality. I am simply not interested in either. Further, however much some might want me to investigate all manner of issues, I know that all of this week's witnesses are equally keen to ensure that the Inquiry itself remains on its correct track. That track relates not only to the undeniable importance of the role of the press in a democratic society and the ways in which the press serve the public interest, but also the privileges that are claimed as a consequence in the way in which that role is fulfilled in practice. It also relates to the other side of the coin, which is the extent, if at all, to which proprietors, editors and journalists have treated politics and politicians in ways that are designed to keep or have the effect of keeping the press insulated from criticism, from being held accountable by anyone, so as to ensure that there is no political will to challenge their culture, practices or ethics. To be more specific, the purpose of this Inquiry is not to challenge the present government or the decisions taken in the recent past, but to look at the much wider sweep of history across party political boundaries in order to discern any patterns of behaviour that could not be recognised as fitting with the open, fair and transparent decision-making that our democracy requires. Inevitably, as I've already explained, the way in which the BSkyB bid was addressed is a small but significant part of the story. To the extent that there are political questions that Parliament wishes to investigate, I repeat that nothing I say or do is intended to limit or prevent that investigation from taking place. I do hope, however, that it will be appreciated that this issue is merely the most recent example of interplay between politicians and the press, and that it will be recognised by everyone that failure to address the impact of press behaviour or the consequences of press interests is not confined to one government or one political party. For that reason, it remains essential that cross party support for this Inquiry is not jeopardised much. So far as the terms of reference are concerned, in the same way that I recognised in Module 2 that there are bound to be entirely acceptable social and professional relationships between police officers and journalists, so my aim for this module is first to recognise that there are entirely appropriate social relationships between politicians and journalists, doubtless borne of friendship and equally entirely appropriate professional relationships between politicians and journalists as the former seek to promote their policies and their message while the latter seek to ensure that politicians and their policies are held fully and properly to account. Secondly, it is also to recognise the risk that in an effort to keep the press onside, supporting promoted policies that are firmly believed to be in the public interest, rather too much attention may be paid by governments to the power that the press can exercise pursuing its own agenda, particularly where that agenda is agreed by the entire press or at least a significant powerful section of it. That might include questions relating to the provision of redress, particularly for the weakest in our society. In that regard, I anticipate questions will be asked about the draft criteria for a solution which has been published on the Inquiry website, not to commit any of the party leaders giving evidence but rather to hear their perspective on the problems to be addressed in relation to problems culture, practices and ethics of the press and in relation to any unintended consequences which they have spotted but I may not have considered. Nothing I say shall be taken as expressing any concluded opinion: testing ideas with witnesses is doing no more than testing ideas. I add only this. It may be more interesting for some to report this Inquiry by reference to the politics of personality or the impact of the evidence on current political issues. That is not my focus, and as ever, I'll be paying attention to the way in which what transpires is in fact reported. This week will not conclude the evidence for Module 3, although we will not be sitting next week, thereafter it is intended to call further witnesses from the media to deal with the relationship between the press and politicians, not least to see if, in their perception, there are issues that need to be resolved and changes made. We will then turn to Module 4, which concerns ways forward for the future. During the course of that module, I look forward to hearing how the industry has progressed with the plans that Lord Hunt outlined as long ago as 31 January 2012. I also look forward to considering the various other suggestions for the replacement of the PCC that have been submitted in detail to the Inquiry. It was on 17 May that I sought to provide some assistance for those intending to make submissions by publishing on the Inquiry website what are possible or potential draft criteria for an effective regulatory regime that is why they are called draft along with some key questions for Module 4, relating to public interest and press ethics. The purpose of doing so has been and remains to encourage everyone to consider the issues that I must think about and to welcome comments and suggestions. I repeat that I retain an open mind as to the future. All ideas will be subject to scrutiny and I have no doubt will help to inform the conclusions that I reach and the recommendations that I ultimately make. Thank you. I'm sorry for the delay in commencing the proceedings. MR DAVIES Might I raise a point, sir? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR DAVIES It's simply this. We would like to see the questions which those which some of the witnesses are answering in the cases where they have not quoted the questions in their witness statements. What has happened is this: most of the witnesses who have given evidence recently have been responding to Section 21 notices from the Tribunal. Most of them have chosen to set out the questions in their witness statements and then to answer them. In one or two cases, I think they have exhibited the Inquiry's notice. In either case, one can see exactly the question being answered and relate the answer to the question. However, there have been a handful of cases where the witnesses have chosen to answer the questions without setting them out or exhibiting them. That is no criticism at all of the witness, but it does make it very difficult for those seeking to understand in detail what their evidence is to reach a full appreciation of it. A particular example of this was in fact Mr Blair, whose statement has a heading, "Turning to the particular questions", which then runs on for several pages, but he doesn't set them out and he says things such as, "I do not recognise any of the quotes I have been asked about", so we don't know what they are. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right, I understand that. MR DAVIES We've been in correspondence with the Inquiry about this and the answer we've received is that correspondence the Inquiry's correspondence with witnesses is confidential. Now, it does appear to us that that simply cannot apply in this instance, and given that the vast majority of witnesses have set out the questions their answering, there can't be anything confidential in the remaining cases. And there arises to a lesser extent but also with Mr Brown, whose evidence we're about to hear, so we would ask for the questions in those two matters and any others where it arises. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right, thank you. MR CAPLAN Might I just support that, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR JAY I'll think about it and come back to you at a convenient moment. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Very good, thank you very much. Right. MR JAY Sir, may I call this morning's witness, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much. MR GORDON BROWN (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Mr Brown, your full name, please?
A. James Gordon Brown.
Q. You've provided us with a witness statement dated 30 May 2012. It has the standard statement of truth and you've signed it. Is this your formal evidence to our Inquiry?
A. Yes, it is. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Brown, thank you very much for the work that's obviously gone into the Inquiry. I'm sorry that our start this morning has been slightly delayed.
A. It's fine by me. Thank you very much, Lord Justice Leveson. MR JAY Mr Brown, may we start your general comments, which I'm going to ask you to elaborate. On the bottom of the first page of your statement, our page 14207, you refer to securing the right balance between the freedoms of the media and the privacy of the citizen. Implicit in that is the premise that there is an imbalance at present, but how do you rectify the imbalance without impinging on the freedoms of the media?
A. I think the starting point of all this has been the cri de coeur, if you like, the complaint that has been made by a family like the Dowler family, and they would support, I have no doubt, the freedom of the press, but they're worried about the threat that was made to their privacy as inspaniduals, and I think Lord Justice Leveson put it: who will guard the guardians? was a question which he wanted to address. I will say: who will defend the defenceless? We have to provide answers in a situation where we have two freedoms that are competing with each other. Perhaps I've had some time to reflect on these matters. You might call it a period of enforced reflection courtesy of the British people, but I've had a chance to look at some of these issues, and I would still hold to the view that really came from my religious upbringing, that the media, one of those institutions in society that have not only a right but a duty to speak truth to power, that they should continue to shine a torch on those dark secret recesses of unaccountable power and that, for example, in the great Sunday Times campaign on the thalidomide was proven to be the right thing to do. I would say that at its best, the media in this country is indeed also the best in the world, and I would defend the right of the media to exercise a freedom, even when there is a political bias. I was phoned up by a prime minister during the period I was in Number 10 when he was having great trouble with his other colleagues around Europe, and he I said, "Is there anything I can do to help?" and he said, "Yes, there is", and the next day the editor of the best-selling daily newspaper in this country arrived wanting an interview about how this man was the greatest statesman in the world, and so that is not, I think, the best way that the press exercises its freedom. I would defend the right of the press also, even when it gets things wrong, as it does on occasions and in circumstances. I remember when I started off as a Member of Parliament, I was plagued for the first two years with a story in the Times that was then in every one of the cuttings that said I was a new MP, of course, I was only in my early 30s. It said I had been born in 1926. It said I was a veteran, a stalwart, and then I was getting letters from pension companies saying that you had entered a new job late in life and were about to retire", and would I want to make provision for that? And the Times had gone into the House of Commons and had a photograph of me at the age of 19 and said that I was 57 years old. That was an honest mistake. Where I think we have a problem is in two respects. The freedom that the press has has got to be exercised with responsibility. Rights in our society can only come with responsibilities attached to them, and in two very specific areas in Britain today, we have a problem. The first is the conflation of fact and opinion, which is of course totally against the Press Council guidelines, and I think we ought to explore that, how standards in journalism could be upheld in a situation where there is a tendency for newspapers in particular to editorialise outside their editorial content. And the second is the thing is the question that the Dowlers put to us: how can we defend the privacy of a family who at their moment of greatest grief and at a time when they're at their most vulnerable have their privacy invaded by the press in a way that splits the family apart and makes everybody in that family suspicious of each other, and particularly so since it's been done by unlawful means, which include telephone tapping. You can deal with the legal issues by enforcing the law. I don't think the complaint system has ever worked properly, so I don't think the Dowlers could have expected to get redress from a complaints system, but I think and this is where I suppose I part company with some the statements that have been made so far to the Inquiry I think there is an issue not just about rooting out the bad and how you discipline and sanction where mistakes are made that are injurious to family life. I think we have to have some means by which we incentivise the good as well. In other words, if the standard of journalism declines, and I think there is an issue in the Internet age about declining standards, we must have a means by which we incentivise the good.
Q. Thank you. You mention freedom with responsibility, you mentioned it in your witness statement as well. How does one instill or ferment the necessary cultural change in the press to create that responsibility?
A. I think in the first case it is a matter for the press. I think it's a matter about of upholding standards of journalism. I was funnily enough when I was very young, editor of my student newspaper at Edinburgh University and it was successful, we had as rector of our university at that time Kenneth Allsop, who was one of the greatest journalists, I think, of that period, and I used to debate with him this issue about the responsibility of the press and I'd rely on him because he influenced my judgments very much on this issue. And he said very clearly that the press had to exercise its judgment about what it published, how it framed its coverage but also how it conflated fact or opinion or avoided doing so with responsibility. I don't think we do enough to encourage the good. If I can say what I think the problem is and it may be that we're dealing in some cases with the problems of yesterday and not the problems of tomorrow we are now in an Internet age, there's a massive flow of information available to everyone. I think it's true that in the 1930s, the BBC would have its news coverage and some days it would say, "There is no news to report today". Can you imagine a situation in 2012 in a 24-hours news, 7-day-a-week media where something like that could be said? We're about to see a flood of information on to the internet. We're moving from the ordinary web to the semantic web, from the web of linked files to what is called the web of linked data. So the amount of information on the internet is going to increase exponentially, the amount of information about you and me, the amount of information about people is going to increase exponentially. There is a zero cost for publication in the Internet. I can become a publisher overnight at almost zero cost. There is a new citizen journalism that is developing. We have all these things that are happening, and that is putting pressure on the quality of ordinary journalism because the advertising and business model of today's newspapers, today's print media, is being shot through as advertising gravitates from the ordinary news media to the Internet, and the question arises then: who is going to sponsor, who is going to pay for, who is going to be the person that underpins quality journalism? And I believe therefore that we have to look not only at mechanisms by which we deal with abuses in the press, we have to look at mechanisms by which we can enhance and incentivise good standards. The BBC found a way to do it in the 1940s when they introduced the licence fee. Perhaps that licence fee should be available for the internet and for publications that go beyond broadcasting. I think there's a huge debate to be had, but you cannot ignore a fact that the holder for the coverage of news now is intimately related to the development of the Internet, and if standards are not there on the Internet, then the print media can rightfully say that they're being asked to observe standards that in no circumstances are being applied to the Internet. So the issue, I think, is a new one, and it's one that we have to deal with the transformation of the technology that is now available to us and the information flow that is absolutely massive for the ordinary member of the public.
Q. You refer to the conflation of news and comment.
A. Yes.
Q. And you rightly refer to clause 1 of the code which directly addresses that, but how in practical terms would you, if one wished to, segregate news and comment so they fall into clear compartments?
A. We've gone into the practice, have we not, of editorialising outside the ordinary editorial. We used to talk about the editorial as the chance for the newspaper to reflect its views. Perhaps I could illustrate this best by giving you an example of what happened during the period of government. Perhaps it's good you could take a number of examples, but perhaps I could take one that is controversial: the coverage of Afghanistan. During the period I was Prime Minister, we had incredibly difficult decisions to make. This is a country of 35 million people, 135,000 troops at the maximum. You have nothing like the coverage that you have, for example, in Kosovo or East Timor, where you had 1 in 50, a peace-maker for every 50 people in Kosovo, and therefore you're dealing with a very complex set of circumstances in a country that has never been subject to effective law and order, and at a time when an army of occupation is that started as an army of liberation is becoming an army of occupation, and you're making very difficult and complex decisions about how you deal with these problems, and so we increased the number of troops from 4,900 to 9,500. We increased the money spent on Afghanistan six fold, from 600 million to 3.5 billion. The chief of the defence staff said that these were the most effective defence forces that we had ever had, given the resources we were putting into them. You could have an honest debate about whether we made policy mistakes. You could have, in fact, a very effective debate about what was the right judgment about troop numbers and everything else. We happened to have the biggest troop numbers of any country apart from America. But what, I think, one newspaper in particular decided to do and this is my point by way of illustration is it didn't want to take on the difficult issues so it reduced their opinion that we were doing something wrong to a view that was an editorialising position that we simply didn't care. So the whole weight of their coverage was not what we had done and whether we had done the right thing; it was that I personally did not care about our troops in Afghanistan. And that's where you conflate fact and opinion, and when you descend into sensationalism, you make it not an issue about honest mistakes or matters of judgment, but about evil intentions. So you can laugh about it now, and I do laugh about it sometimes. If you pick up a newspaper and you find that you've failed to bow at the cenotaph and then the quote is: "That is an example of how he doesn't care about our troops in Afghanistan", first of all, that isn't true, and secondly that's not the conclusion that should have been drawn. You have then a story before that that you fell asleep during the service of remembrance, but you were actually praying and you were bowing your head, and one newspaper decides and this was the Sun and I will name it this is an example of someone falling asleep and dishonouring the troops and again, you don't care. You then have a letter which you send to someone on which is a mark of respect to someone who is deceased and you are told that you have 25 misprints and then a handwriting expert appears to say this shows as lack of empathy and it goes on and on and on, and that is the idea. So here is a difficult issue that the press really, in the interests of the British public, have to treat seriously. There are very few war correspondents in Afghanistan actually reporting what is happening on the ground. All the reporting in these newspapers is being done from Westminster, and the issue is not the facts of what is happening or even an honest disagreement. That is the tragedy of all. The issue is reduced to: "This person doesn't care." Now, that is where I find you see, if the media only had a political view and said, "We are Conservative", you could accept that because that's in their editorials and that's part of freedom of speech, but to use the political view to then conflate fact and opinion of course that's the opposite of the press rules and at the same time to sensationalise, to trivialise and in a sense to demonise, it's what Professor Onora O'Neill, who I think gave the Reith lectures in the early years of the century talked about as a licence to deceive, and I think that is where the danger arises. It's too easy, following, of course, the citizen journalism of the Internet, where there is unresearched items, where people put their views very fiercely, where you have right wing and left wing bloggers, then to sensationalise in the print media, to distort fact and opinion and mix them together, and then, of course, to make it an issue not of policy difference but an issue of motive, an issue of intentions, an issue of character, an issue of personality, an issue of evil practice, and I think that's where the press has failed our country and I think on this particular issue of Afghanistan I could give you an example from the economic crisis or what was called Broken Britain, I could give you examples, but this conflation of fact and opinion and the way it is done is very damaging to the reputation of the media and I find it done differently in other countries.
Q. Okay. Mr Blair's "feral beast" speech, which was on 12 June 2007, days before he left and you took over. Did you agreement with the sentiments he expressed in that speech?
A. I think Tony was saying exactly what I'm saying today, that this issue of fact conflated with opinion I've never used these words, nor would I, and I think my sentiment about the importance of the press has been expressed in my earlier remarks to you, that we both need a free press and should support and try to defend and uphold the best of standards in a free press, but I think his remarks were exactly what I'm saying, that if you set out to editorialise beyond your editorial column, if you conflate fact and opinion and put it on the front page of your newspaper, if you then sensationalise it by alleging that the opinion is not about the policy that you're supposed to be discussing but about the person that you are now attacking, then that's not a healthy sign for a democracy. I do note on Afghanistan that and this is what makes me very sad indeed I'm afraid that half the country is falling into the hands of the Taliban. I'm afraid that, as we reduce troops, we're just handing over power not to the Afghan army but to the Taliban, but the very newspaper that wanted to make the issue were we doing enough for our troops, has been virtually silent since the day of the General Election in 2010, and I have to conclude, as Mr Blair concluded, that these were not campaigns that were related to objective journalism exposing the facts. These, unfortunately, were campaigns that were designed to cause discomfort to people who were politically unacceptable.
Q. Okay. What's your analysis, Mr Brown, for the failure to address this issue, the fusion of fact and comment, the "feral beast" issue, put it as one wills, between 1997 and 2010?
A. Tony gave evidence as few days ago, and he rightly said that a decision was made that there would be no manifesto commitment to reform of the media. When I came in in 2007, we had no mandate in our manifesto to propose reform of the media. I did want to make a change, and I did try to move away from what I thought was the excessive dominance of what is called the lobby system, and what really has led to these allegations of spin by the way, spin assumes that you got success in getting your message across, even if it's superficial and I don't think anybody could accuse me of having a great success in getting my message across. But I tried to move away from that. One, we moved from having a political chief of communications to having a civil servant doing the job. That was to send the message that we were not trying to politicise government information; we were trying to give the information that was necessary for the public to understand what was happening. We then tried to move back to a system where announcements were made in Parliament. They were not pre-briefed, they were made in Parliament, and therefore that moved away from a system where, to be honest, there were a selected group of people who previously could expect to get early access to information, and I think that's been a problem with the way the media system has worked, but I'm afraid it was wholly unsuccessful, and I see that the current government have moved back to having a political appointee as originally, of course, Mr Coulson as the head of the communications operation, and the lobby system remains intact. It's not the lobby system per se that's the problem, it's this small group of insiders who get the benefit of early access to information, and I think that is one of the problems that prevents the greater openness that we have to see. Yes, we should have made changes a lot earlier, and yes, the changes that eventually we tried to make we didn't make successfully, I'm afraid, because there was a huge resistance to them, and to be honest, if you announce something in Parliament or announced it in a speech, it was not being reported. Unless it had been given as an exclusive to a newspaper, they tended to put it on page 6, rather than page 1.
Q. Wasn't part of the reason for the inaction simply this, that until September 2009, your government had the support of the Sun, or certainly didn't expressly not have the support of the Sun and therefore the political will did not exist to take on the feral beasts?
A. I think that's a completely wrong impression about what was happening. I don't see us having the support the Sun for almost all the time that I was Prime Minister. You have to remember that when I started off as Prime Minister, the first thing the Sun did was try to ruin my first party conference but launching their huge campaign about how we were selling Britain down the river and demanding not only a European referendum but demanding that I support it. Then they ran, I think, a huge campaign on Broken Britain, which was taken up by the Conservative Party but was simply an attack on the government. So at no point in these three years that I was Prime Minister did I ever feel I had the support of the Sun. I think what really changed, however, and I have to be honest about this, is when News International decided that their commercial interests came first, and I have to be absolutely clear about that, and I've submitted a note to you about that. There was a point in 2008 and 2009 where, particularly with James Murdoch's speech in Edinburgh at the MacTaggart lecture when he set out an agenda, which to me was quite breathtaking in its arrogance and its ambition, and that was to neuter the BBC, it was to undermine Ofcom, the regulator, and it was a whole series of policy aims, which I've itemised for you in evidence I've given you, which no government that I was involved in could ever agree to. So the BBC licence fee was to be cut, they were to be taken out of much of the work on the Internet, their commercial activities were to be reduced, Ofcom was to be neutered, the listing of sporting occasions was to benefit News International, product placement was to be allowed. A whole series of issues. The impartiality of news coverage should be removed as a requirement on the need, and it should be like Fox News and not Sky News. The remarkable thing about this period in government and I say this with regret, and I say this with a great deal of sadness is that we could not go along with that sort of agenda. We could not go along with the neutering of Ofcom or the BBC seeing its licence fee cut in real terms as I think has happened now by something in the order of 15 per cent by 2016, plus a whole series of other responsibilities put on them nor could we see a case for the BBC being taken out of much of its work on the Internet because that's a valuable media service for the future, but while we resisted that and were not supported, on each and every one of these issues, I'm afraid to say and I think this is an issue of public policy the Conservative Party supported every one of the recommendations that were made by the Murdoch group.
Q. There's possibly the slight danger there, Mr Brown, of straying away from the ambit of the question.
A. I want to make the point, Mr Jay, if I may
Q. I was going to come to?
A. it was suggested that somehow relations with the Sun newspaper or with Mr Murdoch broke down because he decided that he wanted to support the Conservative Party. I want to suggest to you that the commercial interests of News International were very clear long before that and they had support from the Conservative Party.
Q. May I move off the general comments now, Mr Brown, onto your own experience, which is page 14214, or page 8 on the internal numbering of your statement. Can I go back to 2006 and the story in relation to your younger son in the Sun newspaper. May we start off, please, by establishing the facts as you know them to be in relation to this story. In particular, do you know the Sun newspaper's source for that story?
A. This is very difficult for me, if I may say so, because I've never chosen and never wanted my son or my sons and my daughter ever to have been across the media. I do think there is an issue and I hope that you will address this about the rights of children to be free from unfair coverage in media publications. But because this issue was raised and became an issue for me, I've had to look at what actually happened at the time and it's only, in a sense, latterly that the facts that I think are necessary to a fair examination of this have become available. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Brown, let me make it clear, I don't want to cause you or your family any distress unnecessarily, but I hope you will see the value of the example, in the same way as I apologised to those who complained about press intrusion last November when they gave evidence, because I do think it's an important part of the story.
A. I'm very grateful to you, Lord Justice Leveson. I have never sought to bring my children into the public domain, but I do think if we don't learn the lessons from this, we'll continue to make mistakes. In 2006, the Sun claimed that they had a story from a man in the street who happened to be the father of someone who suffered from cystic fibrosis. I never believed that could be correct. At best, he could only have been the middleman, because there were only a few people, medical people, who knew that our son had this condition. In fact, for the first three months that our son was alive, I just have to say to you, we didn't know, because there were tests being done all the time to decide whether this was indeed his condition or not, and only by that time, just before the Sun appeared with this information, had the medical experts told us that there was no other diagnosis that they could give than that this was the case. So only a few people knew this. I have submitted to you a letter from Fife Health Board which makes the National Health Service in Fife, that is which makes it clear that they have apologised to us because they now believe it highly likely that there was unauthorised information given by a medical or working member of the NHS staff that allowed the Sun, in the end, through this middleman, to publish this story. Now, whether medical information should ever be hounded out without the authorisation of a parent or of a doctor through the willingness of a parent is one issue that I think it addressed, and I know the Press Complaints Commission code is very clear, that there are only exceptional circumstances in which a child's or information about a child should be broadcast, and I don't believe that this was one of them. I find it sad that even now, in 2012, members of the News International staff are coming to this Inquiry and maintaining this fiction that a story that could only have been achieved or obtained through medical information or through me or my wife leaking it which we never did, of course was obtained in another way. I think we cannot learn the lessons of what has happened with the media unless there is some honesty about what actually happened and whether payment was made and whether this is a practice that could continue, and if we don't root out this kind of practice, I don't think that we can sensibly say that we've dealt with some of the abuses that are problematical for us. I would say this about any child. I don't think any child's medical information, particularly at four months, has any interest for the public and should be broadcast to the public. MR JAY Could you tell us, please, Mr Brown, the circumstances in which you or your wife were told that the Sun had this story and were minded to print it?
A. I think again, if I can be very specific about this, because it is something that I believe you've been given information in this Inquiry that is not strictly correct. Our press office was phoned by a journalist from the Sun and said that they had this story about our son's condition and they were going to publish it. I was then contacted. I was engaged in the pre-budget report. I immediately, of course, phoned my wife, Sarah, and we had to make a decision. If this was going to be published, what should happen? We wanted to minimise the damage, to limit the impact of this, and therefore we said that if this story was to be published, then we wanted a statement that went to everyone that was an end to this, and there would be no further statements, no days and days and days of talking about the condition of our son. Unfortunately, this was unacceptable to the Sun newspaper. The editor phoned our press office and said that this was not the way that we should go about this, and to be honest, if we continued to insist that we were going to make a general statement, the Sun wouldn't, in future, give us any chance of advance information on any other story that they would do. It was at that time that the editor of the Sun phoned my wife, whose aim then, having accepted that this was a fait accompli there was no thought that the Press Complaints Commission could help us on this. I think we were in a different world then. Nobody ever expected that the Press Complaints Commission would act to give us any help on this, and we were presented with a fait accompli, I'm afraid. There was no question of us giving permission for this. There was no question of implicit or explicit permission. I ask you: if any mother or any father was presented with a choice as to whether a four-month old son's medical condition, your child's medical condition, should be broadcast on the front page of a tabloid newspaper and you had a choice in this matter I don't think there's any parent in the land would have made the choice that we are told we made, to give explicit permission for that to happen. So there was no question ever of explicit permission, and I think if my son were to read, at a later stage, on the Internet that his mother or I had given permission that all his medical information or medical knowledge should be broadcast in a newspaper, he would be shocked at our failure as parents. So I just cannot accept, as a parent, that we would ever put ourselves in a position where we gave explicit permission for medical knowledge about our son to be broadcast to the press. We had, I'm afraid, had previous experience of this when our daughter died, and we were very aware that this was a problem, but when you're presented with a fait accompli, there's nothing you can do other than to try to limit and minimise the damage. I may say we had not told relatives about this. This is a hereditary condition and therefore there were some relatives who actually were directly affected by it and we had to tell them. So there was no question of us being willing or complicit or anxious or, as one of your core participants has said this morning, desiring that this information be made public. No question about that at all. You could never imagine a situation. If people are able to say, in the aftermath of something like this, that they've had explicit permission when they haven't, and they can claim ex post facto that permission was given when there's no evidence that there was, then this practice will go on and on and on and children's information and information about people will go into the public arena with this idea that you can claim afterwards that you had explicit permission for something you never had permission for. I think this is important because we have to learn lessons from this, and I think there are more general lessons to be learned, but surely the rights of children must come first.
Q. Thank you, Mr Brown. Another core participant has required me to put some questions to you, of which I know you have advance notice. I might just run through them. Mrs Brooks has stated on oath that the Sun had consent from your wife to run the story in November 2006. Do you deny that consent was given?
A. Absolutely. My wife has issued a statement to that effect.
Q. If no consent was given, you and your wife must have been extremely upset and angry. If so, why was no complaint made by either yourself or your wife until June 2011?
A. That's not correct at all. Again, I think the trivialisation of this is really unfortunate. When we found out that this had happened and we had had our previous experience, when information, medical information about our daughter, had been made public before she died we thought the only way to deal with this was to get the Press Complaints Commission in this case, but through the editors of the major newspapers, to reach an agreement that they would not publish information or photograph our children. Before I became Prime Minister, I set in motion, and Sarah and I set in motion, this procedure that we would ask the editors of all the newspapers. We felt this was a structural problem. It wasn't simply a problem associated with only one newspaper. We wanted them to agree that our children would not be covered while they were at nursery school and primary school. They're very young, as you may know. We didn't want our children to grow up thinking that they were somehow minor celebrities. We'd seen the effect of this in other countries. We wanted our children to grow up just as ordinary young kids that went to school with everybody else and were treated just like everybody else. So it was important to us that we had this agreement with the press, but that is how we went about changing the way things had been done, and to be fair to the media and I say this in my written evidence, that we did have only two incidents where this was breached. So it was possible, after this, to hold a voluntary agreement, but the idea that we did nothing after this incident is quite wrong, and I'm afraid it's offensive. We took action to deal with it in the best way we could without any fuss and without any noise, but to get an agreement that children would not be covered in this way, and I hope it is of help to others in similar positions.
Q. Thank you. Why did your wife in particular remain good friends with Mrs Brooks, to the extent of arranging a 40th birthday party at Chequers for her in June 2008, attending her birthday party in 2008 and Mrs Brooks' wedding in June 2009, if what you say is correct?
A. I think Sarah is one of the most forgiving people I know, and I think she finds the good in everyone. Look, we had to accept that this had happened, and we had to get on the with job of doing what people expected a politician to do, to run a government. My wife had a massive amount of charity work that she was engaged in, and in fact, if I'm being accurate, I think it was Wendi Murdoch, Mrs Murdoch's wife, who joined her in the White Ribbon Alliance and in the campaign to cut maternal deaths, the maternal mortality campaign, which was incredibly successful in cutting maternal mortality by 30 per cent. And it was Wendi Murdoch and I think it was her 40th birthday as well and Sarah that had campaigned together on this maternal mortality campaign. So my wife's charity work is something that she was engaged in quite separately from my political work. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't allow what had happened to me to become a huge issue when I had a job to do.
Q. Are you aware that your wife wrote Mrs Brooks a number of personal notes and letters between 2006 and 2010 in which she expressed her gratitude for "the support given to us"?
A. Well, I think my wife, as I said, is a person who is forgiving and would be kind to people irrespective of what had happened in this particular incident, and I don't think that that is evidence that we gave explicit permission for a story to appear in the Sun.
Q. The last question, if I can turn to you: the records show that there are 13 meetings between you or your wife after Mrs Brooks had caused the article to be published in November 2006. Why did you have those meetings?
A. Well, I'm not sure that there were 30, but I think that we had regular meetings what is the role of a politician, particularly someone who is a prime minister? You have a duty to explain. You have to engage with the media. They are a medium by which the concerns of the nation are expressed. We were a country at war in Afghanistan, and before that, in Iraq, at the time I was Prime Minister. We were a country that faced a grave economic crisis. I would have been failing in my duty if I had not tried and I've listed all the meetings with the Telegraph, with the Mail. They're hardly Labour supporters, are they, and hardly people that actually did a huge amount to promote my premiership? I met them all to try to explain because I believed I had a duty to try to build a consensus in this country about how we approached what was the most difficult problem that took, after the global economic crisis, most of my time, Afghanistan, and how we approached the economic crisis. I think people would be criticising me if I had failed to talk to the media and failed to engage with them, but I may say to you: there was a red line in everything I ever did, and there was a line in the sand across which I could never cross. If there was any question that a vested interest was trying to promote something that was against the public interest, then I could have nothing to do with that, and I think you can serve up dinner but you don't need to serve up BSkyB as part of the dinner. You have to have a clear spaniding line between what you do in politics, and for me there was never a point we had issues related to the takeover or attempted takeover of ITV. We had News International were very annoyed about what was happening in Ofcom to sporting rights. We had other news media concerned about different things. The BBC, of course, was concerned about the licence fee. But at no point in my premiership would I ever allow a commercial interest to override the public interest, and I've looked at all the records of what happened, including the records of our ministers in this matter, and we would never allow the public interest to be subjugated to the commercial or vested interests of any one company.
Q. Did you sense, though, in your dealings with News International, that they were trying to persuade you to pursue media policies which were favourable to their interests but contrary to the public interest?
A. News International had a public agenda. What's remarkable about what happened in the period of 2009 and 2010 is that News International moved from being I think it was under James Murdoch's influence, not so much Rupert Murdoch's influence, if I may say so to having an aggressive public agenda. They wanted not just to buy BSkyB, of course; they wanted to change the whole nature of the BBC. They wanted to change Ofcom, they wanted to change the media impartiality rules, they wanted to change the way we dealt with advertising so that there was more rights for the media company to gain advertisers. They wanted to open up sporting events so that Sky could bid for them in a way that they were perfectly entitled to put this agenda. That was the agenda they were putting publicly. I think what became a problem for us was that on every one of these single issues, the Conservative Party went along with the policy, whereas we were trying to defend what I believe was the public interest.
Q. So is this the gist of your evidence: that the agenda they pursued was done publicly but not privately?
A. I think their agenda was very public, and I don't think that they should be criticised for having a view about events. I think, however, it is the duty of the political system to distinguish between what's a vested interest and what's a public interest. I did so, and I think we did so at a cost.
Q. Was not part of your reason, Mr Brown, for continuing to have dealings with Mrs Brooks that you correctly perceived her to be a powerful women and it would have been against your interest to have taken her on?
A. I don't think I had a conversation with Mrs Brooks in the last I think I had one conversation in the last nine months of our government. It became very clear in the summer of 2009, when Mr Murdoch junior gave the MacTaggart lecture, that News International had a highly politicised agenda for changes that were in the media policy of this country, and there seemed to me very little point in talking to them about this.
Q. Okay. Page 9 of your statement we're just going to note this, Mr Brown. This is our page 14215. You identify a number of breaches of your privacy, whether assaults, as it were, on your build society account, the national police computer was entered to check your name on police files, blagging, et cetera. We've heard evidence in relation to a lot of that already, but you formally draw this to our attention.
A. Yes. Let me say, politicians must expect scrutiny. I have no doubt that the level of scrutiny that is going to happen in a modern technology age is going to be very, very great indeed. I think the question is whether you can justify what you might call fishing expeditions, based on nothing other than a political desire to embarrass someone, and I think the evidence that I give you is in relation to fishing expeditions where newspapers Look, if you take everything that is personal about your life your bank or building society account, your medical records, your tax affairs, your lawyer and what he his legal records, your accountant in every area during the period that I was chancellor, there was either a break-in or a breach of these records. In most cases, I can show now that that happened because of an intrusion by the media. Now, I have been the first to say that there is a public interest defence if people are looking for information where they feel that there's a crime being committed and that the police or someone else is not investigating it, or where there's a security issue that is vital to the safety of the country and it's not being properly looked into, or, as the Press Complaints Commission rules themselves say, where there is an inspanidual who is lying and who is deceiving. But I look at these instances, and I give you one as an example. I just give it to you. I was accused of buying a flat in an under-the-counter sale by a Sunday Times Insight team. They suggested that I'd bought this flat and it hadn't appeared on the open market and I got it at a knock-down price, and they would not accept that the starting point of any investigation was something that they would not acknowledge, that this very flat that I was supposed to have bought in an under-the-counter sale had first of all been advertised in the Sunday Times itself. We had impersonating me to get bank information, we had blagging by lawyers, we had what's called reverse engineering of telephone. Someone sent me a tape which I passed on to the police, where the Sunday Times Insight team reporters are talking about how they're going to use these what I think are underhanded, perhaps unlawful techniques and tactics. But there was no public justification for this because there was no wrongdoing, and even now, I'm afraid the editor of the Sunday Times has come to your Inquiry and said that he had evidence of something that he was never able to prove and there was no public interest justification for the intrusion and the impersonation and the breaking into the records. I accept a huge amount has to be tolerated in the interests of a politics that is free of corruption, but I don't think a newspaper, when it resorts to these tactics and then finds that there's nothing to report, should hold to a story which they know patently to be absolutely wrong. If you can laugh at it now, that they were claiming something that actually was advertised in their own paper was not correct, we have lessons to learn from that. It's about freedom being exercised with responsibility and where irresponsibility is the way that freedom is exercised, it casts a doubt on the motives of the media.
Q. May we look now at your exhibit GB3, which is a list of your meetings with the media between 2007 and 2010. It's under tab 5 of the bundle we've prepared. Just so we get the flavour of this.
A. It's it was a duty of office, if I may say so. If I had not met media owners and editors, I would be failing in my duty. We had to explain to them what was basically two huge national issues, and the reason that calls are greater in some parts than others is because Afghanistan and the economic crisis were bigger issues at the time.
Q. We can see the range of people you were seeing, Mr Brown. The Barclays at the Telegraph on the first page, Mr Paul Dacre on the second page. Quite a few interactions with him, mainly over breakfast. We'll be coming back to that. Mr Dan Cone(?) of the Telegraph, the editor of the Telegraph, them some meetings, quite limited, with the Guardian. Mr Harding of the Times. One meeting with Mr Hinton, one with the Lebedevs. It's a full range, really. Would you agree?
A. Yes. I tried my best to meet everyone. I think probably yes, I met everyone where I could, and I did it sometimes at events that they had organised, sometimes at events that we organised, but I did it as regularly as I could. Not, I may say, with a great deal of success.
Q. In relation to the Murdochs, on the internal numbering of this document on the top right, page 12, we see that there are only two relevant meetings with Mr James Murdoch. The last was on 19 January 2009. Do you see that? And then there's a list of your meetings with Mr Rupert Murdoch. You've put in a revised schedule quite recently, which
A. I did so, if I may say so, because the Cabinet Office gave me the information, and I gave you what information they'd given me originally and I now give you the information they've given me subsequently. So that if there has been
Q. We will publish the revised schedule. It removes the meeting of 5 October 2007 which you say didn't take place. According to exhibit KRM 27, the exhibits to Mr Rupert Murdoch's witness statement, there was a meeting on 6 October. I thought there was also a phone call on 4 October, but that may not be right. No, his meetings start on 6 October so there's nothing for 4 October. If we can deal with one point which was floated in evidence. This relates to the snap election, if you recall that, in 2007. An interview was pre-recorded by Andrew Marr with you on Saturday, 6 October. We know that there was dinner at Chequers with Mr Murdoch and his wife and others on the evening of 6 October 2007.
A. That's right. I think there was a misunderstanding, that people thought that I'd met Mr Murdoch and then done an interview with Mr Marr, and that somehow that would have influenced what I said to Mr Marr. In fact, I did the interview with Mr Marr and was very careful to do it before I had any meetings. I spoke to Mr Marr, did the interview, it was recorded the day before, so when I went for dinner with Mr Murdoch later on, I'd already recorded everything I was going to say about these issues and he had no influence on that interview or any decision I made, and he wasn't consulted about it, nor should he have been, nor, to be fair to him, would he have expected to have been.
Q. I think there's also a correction of the dinner with President Bush was 15 June, not 15 August 2008. There are a couple of other meetings which you've added to your schedule but I don't think much turns on those. We'll publish the revised schedule in due course, Mr Brown.
A. Okay.
Q. There's also a list of phone calls at GB3B, which we'll come to in a short moment. In relation to Mr Rupert Murdoch, Lord Mandelson has told us that relations were closer than was wise, and he included you within that statement. Do you agree with him?
A. No, I don't, actually, and I'm sorry, because I think Mr Mandelson is perceptive about events normally. I think I obviously came from a Scottish Presbyterian background. Mr Murdoch himself was the grandson of a Scottish Presbyterian minister. I always found it interesting that his grandfather had gone out to Australia and immediately been put into prison because he had defended church against state, so the same Presbyterian interest in the freedom of conscience and the, if you like, speaking truth to power was I think very much part of what Rupert Murdoch's view of the media was. So I understood, I think, quite a lot about his Scottish background, but the idea that I was influenced in what I did by Mr Rupert Murdoch's views is faintly ridiculous, because Mr Murdoch would have, if he had had the chance, persuaded us to leave the European Union, not just stay out of the euro. He probably would have had us at war with France and Germany. He probably would have had us as a 51st state of America, and Scotland, of course, which he wants to be independent, he would have had as the 52nd state, with probably a Republic in Scotland. So the idea that I went along with Mr Murdoch's views is quite ridiculous. Mr Murdoch has very strong views. He's entitled these views. The idea that I was following his views is just absolutely nonsense.
Q. Mr Murdoch himself describes a warm relationship he had with you. Is that a fair characterisation?
A. Yeah, I think the similar background made it interesting because I think I understood where many of his views came from, and I do also think he's been, as I said, I think, publicly, a very successful businessman, and his ability to build up a newspaper and media empire, not just in Australia but in two other continents, in America and Europe, is something that is not going to be surpassed easily by any other inspanidual. But I think you have to distinguish again between the views that you have about him as an inspanidual and the red line that I would draw, the line in the sand I talked about, between that and any support for commercial interests.
Q. But Lord Mandelson, when stating that relations were closer than was wise, also made it clear that neither Mr Blair nor you crossed that line, so I think his point was more about perception than the reality. On that basis, do you accept his observation?
A. No, because the implication is that I would be influenced by what Mr Murdoch was saying about these big issues. I mean, I thought that it was wrong to join the euro and I think we'll come back to that when you talk about some of the issues relating to the media later, but I didn't agree with him on most of these other issues, and the idea that Mr Murdoch and I had a common bond in policy is, I'm afraid, not correct. Mr Murdoch was probably more on the flat tax school of policy than in the school of policy that was identified with what we were doing. But I don't detract from the respect that I think he deserves for having built up a very strong media empire, starting from a view about the importance of a free media.
Q. Between 1997 and 2007, were relations closer than was wise?
A. No, I don't think so. I rarely met Mr Murdoch, to be absolutely truthful. I don't think he was in the slightest bit interested in what I was doing
Q. Yes.
A. and I can't remember many meetings with him at all. I don't know if you have a record of these meetings but I think you'll find them few and partner between.
Q. Speaking more generally of the government of which you were part, do you think that government was too close than was wise to Mr Murdoch?
A. I don't think so, but I don't know all the details of what was discussed at the time. I had very few dealings with Mr Murdoch and not many dealings with News International. They had their own views on issues of policy, and they weren't, in many ways, similar to mine.
Q. But weren't you aware of policy from the very top, as it were, courting, assuaging and persuading the media, including, in particular, News International. Was that something (a) that you were aware of and (b) that you assented to?
A. My efforts were to persuade every media group that what we were doing was serious. Look, we were trying to rebuild the National Health Service, improve our education system, get more police onto the street, legislate for freedom of information. We had agendas on civil liberties, on issues like gay partnerships. All these issues, you needed to have an understanding, at least, on the part of the media, and you needed to talk to them. As for any particular media group, I don't think that I was involved in any sort of way that I would feel uncomfortable about now with any particular media group at all.
Q. You must have been aware, though, of the pieces in the Sun newspaper in March and April 1997 which we're told adopted a rhetorical position but not one of substance. Didn't those pieces cause you any qualms or distaste at the time?
A. Are you talking about the articles about the euro or about Europe?
Q. Yes.
A. It's a strange coincidence that I, while supporting the idea of a single currency in principle, was always doubtful and dubious about its benefits to Britain in practice, so I have found it of no great difficulty to me that people were questioning the euro. I think this goes to the heart of what happened during a period of 13 years of government, that the euro was a huge, huge issue, because some people argued that if Britain did not join the euro then its future was always to be on the periphery of Europe, and that was an issue that had to be taken seriously. I, however, argued that the economics of the euro made it almost impossible that Britain could benefit from joining, and we did a whole series of studies in detail showing that in fact it may not be of great benefit to Europe to have the euro.
Q. Even looking back on this period I'm looking now at the period 1997 to 2007 do you think that there are any lessons to be learnt from the relationship the Labour government, of which you were a part, fostered with the media, in particular News International?
A. Definitely. I hope I'm not misunderstood, because my original point was this: that we accepted too easily a closed culture where it was possible for stories about political events to be told to a few people rather than openly by Parliamentary announcement or by speech, and we should have reformed that system earlier, and the system, I'm afraid, is still waiting to be reformed announcement. It is too closed a system. It relies on too small a number of people. Of course, it has its heart in the lobby system, but it is actually the exclusivity for some people within the lobby that people rightly, I think, resent. But when we tried to change it after 2007, we found it example impossible to do so, and this openness of culture that we should have really encouraged earlier is something that I think still eludes us.
Q. In 1997, did you believe that the support of the Sun newspaper was important or not?
A. Well, I wasn't involved in that particular issue. I wasn't involved in talks about that, but clearly, if you'd been in opposition for what has been 18 years, and a newspaper that has previously been Conservative comes to you or is prepared to come to you, that is a bonus, that is something that you would welcome. But it's not the be all and end all, and it's not something that dictates the future of politics in your country, but it's an important element of building a coalition for success.
Q. Going forward 12 years to 2009
A. Yes.
Q. were you not concerned at the runes, as it were, the signs of the Sun moving away from you to support the Tory Party?
A. I think that had happened from the time I became Prime Minister. I'll be honest. I think they had severe reservations that were expressed in the European campaign, the Broken Britain campaign, their Afghanistan campaign, and I think, as I said, also there was a new agenda that Mr James Murdoch was promoting about the future of the media policy in Britain. So I was not surprised at all when the Sun I perhaps was surprised about the way they did it, which was a strange thing to do, but the act of deciding to go with the Conservatives, I think, had been planned over many, many months.
Q. But Lord Mandelson's account in his book was that the shift of support stung you, to use his words, and in the weeks and months that followed, it grated on you more and more. Is that an accurate observation or not?
A. No, I don't think so, because I had accepted that I never complained to the Sun about us losing their support. I never phoned them up. I have never asked a newspaper for their support directly and I've never complained when they haven't given us their support. I don't think that you should be dependent on people by begging them to support you in this way, and perhaps it's a failing on my part that I never asked them directly, but I never asked them directly, and I never complained to them directly when they withdrew support from the Labour Party.
Q. I'm not sure that Lord Mandelson is saying that. He's making a personal observation, that you were personally stung and that's something that
A. No, I don't think the word "stung" is correct, because I expected it. It was something that you could read for months previously. I think the manner in which they did it was offensive, but that was their choice, but I don't think that I was stung by it at all.
Q. Many commentators have said, rightly or wrongly, that you're someone who is obsessed by the news and therefore from that obsession, if correct, more likely to be stung by this sort of change of support. Is that a fair observation or not?
A. Well, you may say I'm so obsessed by the newspapers that I barely read them, so I have to tell you that that is not even in Downing Street, I didn't spend a great deal of time reading newspapers at all. Obviously if you're in a job where you have 24-hour questions about what's going on, you have to be able to answer them, so you have to have someone that's telling you: "You have to answer this question and that question and that question", but as far as the editorialising of the different newspapers, whether it be the Mail, the Telegraph or the Sun or whatever, I can tell you I didn't spend a great deal of time reading them.
Q. Are we to interpret your evidence then and we're going to come to a particular event in a moment that really you received this news in relation to the news with complete equanimity?
A. It was very strange, because I had phoned up the editor of the Sun on the afternoon of my conference speech. You know, every time I did a conference speech, or did a budget, I used to phone the political editors or the editors of the newspaper to ask if they had any questions arising from your speech, and sometimes they had more questions than others. If it was an unpopular budget, they would have lots of questions. If it was a popular budget, less so, and when it was a conference speech, I would phone them up. I phoned the editor of the Sun up that afternoon, as I phoned the editor of the Times, of course, that afternoon, and he had one or two questions for me about Afghanistan, and I think this may be 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and he didn't mention at all that the Sun was making this decision and it was to be announced in two hours. So if the editor of the Sun, you talk to him and he doesn't tell you what's happening, there doesn't seem to be much point in phoning anyone else at the Sun after that. So I just left it. MR JAY Is that a convenient moment? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. Mr Brown, periodically we give the shorthand writer a break.
A. Thank you very much. (11.30 am) (A short break) (11.39 am) MR JAY Mr Brown, we're onto the issue of a phone call that Mr Rupert Murdoch says took place. You'll recall his evidence in relation to that. Can we look, please, first of all, at exhibit GB3B, which is the last page of tab 4, which is a list of telephone calls with Rupert Murdoch.
A. Yes.
Q. Can we understand, first of all, who has compiled this list or what is the source of it?
A. Any call I would have made with someone like Rupert Murdoch would go through Downing Street. In other words, there was a switchboard at Downing Street which would take calls wherever I was in the world and would link me up to whoever I wanted to speak to. So any calls I had with Rupert Murdoch, or indeed anybody else in this list, would have gone through Downing Street and it is their list.
Q. Thank you. Does this list include calls in, as it were, as much as calls out?
A. Yes. It would include a call that he had placed with me, or anybody had placed it me, and a call that I had placed to speak to anybody else, and it would include calls that were transacted through a mobile phone as well as through a fixed line phone, so it would include any telephone conversation I had with someone like Mr Murdoch.
Q. When you were out of London, Mr Brown, was it ever your practice to call out directly to someone, either from your mobile phone or perhaps from a hotel phone?
A. Not someone like Mr Murdoch. I would always go through Downing Street because you would always want someone on the phone call. You would want to have a record of what was being said, and you would want to know exactly the time you did the call and everything else. There's no question that any phone call could have been made without it going through this procedure.
Q. May I turn that on its head and say that if for some deliberate reason you didn't want there to be a record of what was said, that might be a reason for arranging the call to take place without going through Downing Street?
A. Well, I would never have done that. If I was calling a newspaper proprietor or I was calling a political leader around the world or calling someone about a policy issue, I would always go through Downing Street because I would always want someone on the call to verify what happened. I don't think there's any doubt that that's the way that I did things, and that's the way that I think most people I know had been in the office that I'd been in would do things. So no call could have been made without it going through Downing Street in this way.
Q. I'm just seeking to cover all possible options, Mr Brown.
A. I understand that.
Q. Did you have his number on your mobile phone?
A. No. I wouldn't know Rupert Murdoch's phone number. I didn't engage in emailing or anything like that. There was one letter sent to him through an email, but it was sent through Downing Street. I wouldn't have any of the proprietors' numbers on my mobile phone. They would be mainly personal.
Q. If we go to GB3B, we can see that there are two recorded phone calls in the year 2009, one in March, which is not relevant for our purposes, but one on 10 November 2009, which was 12.33 in the afternoon. Can you remember, was Mr Murdoch in New York on that occasion?
A. I don't know where he was. I suspect he was in New York. I think he may have just come back from Australia. It was a call I placed because of what was happening over Afghanistan.
Q. There's other surrounding evidence which bears on that call. In your exhibit GB1, under tab 2, at our page 14228, there's an email which you caused to be sent to Mr Murdoch on the evening of 10 November, which refers expressly to a telephone call you had earlier that day in relation to Afghanistan. Do you see that?
A. Yes, that's absolutely right. I decided to follow up the phone call about Afghanistan with information that I thought would be of use to him about public support for the war in Afghanistan and what was actually happening to it, and I think it was originally sent as an email so he got it that day, but it was also sent as a letter to him. And there were two follow-up letters on Afghanistan, because there was a correspondence three letters, one of which I think he submitted to this Inquiry, but three letters on Afghanistan over the next few months, and I may say that's the only time in government that I've ever had any letter communication with Mr Murdoch.
Q. Yes. There was an email on 24 December 2009 in relation to Afghanistan, which is under our tab 2. Under our tab 14 this is Mr Murdoch's exhibit KRM 33
A. I think that's mine. The famous handwriting, yes, which someone said could be almost is totally illegible, yes.
Q. Yes, although we have a transcription of it. I'm pretty sure I've seen one somewhere. The version we have at 01917 is typed. There's another one, though, Mr Brown. 26 April, under tab 14 at page 01921.
A. That's the handwritten one, I think. Yes. There's only three. One was November and the other two followed.
Q. One was 5 April, which is only typed, one 26 April, which was handwritten, and the earlier one was December 2009, so I think we've covered the three you've mentioned. Are you clear, Mr Brown, that you had no conversation with Mr Murdoch shortly after the withdrawal of support for you in the Sun, which was 28 September 2009, in which you threatened to declare war on News International or uttered words to that effect?
A. This is the conversation that Mr Murdoch says happened between him and me that where I threatened him and where I'm alleged to have acted in an unbalanced way. This conversation never took place. I'm shocked and surprised that it should be suggested, even when there's no evidence of such a conversation, that it should have happened. There was no such conversation. I decided after September 30, when the Conservative Party gained the support of the Sun, that there was no point in contacting them. As I said earlier, I'd never asked them for support directly, nor did I complain to them directly when they decided to support the Conservatives. So I didn't phone I didn't return calls to News International, I didn't phone Mr Murdoch, I didn't talk to his son, I didn't text him, I didn't email him, I didn't contact him. This was a matter that was done. There was no point in further communication about it at all, and I'm surprised that, first of all, there's a story that I sort of slammed the phone down on him, and secondly, there's now a story from Mr Murdoch himself that I threatened him. This did not happen. I have to say to you that there's no evidence it happened, other than Mr Murdoch's, but it didn't happen, because I didn't call him and I had no reason to want to call him, and I would not have called him, given everything I've said to you.
Q. Finally on this point, so we're absolutely clear, one might say Mr Murdoch could be mistaken about the date and the call happened later. Is it possible that you might have uttered that sort of language during such a subsequent call?
A. No, there is only one further telephone call and that is in November. And if I may say, the sequence that led to that call was on the Monday, the Sun had said that I'd disrespected our troops by not bowing at the cenotaph. On the same Monday, they said that I'd written a letter with 25 misprints and had been discourteous to a woman for whom I have the utmost sympathy, who was the mother of a deceased soldier, and I could understand that she was upset but they had claimed that I'd done things I hadn't done. Then on the Tuesday, I had taken a phone call I'd wanted to phone this lady to sympathise with her and to explain that we thought a huge amount about her son and his contribution to our country, that it may be little comfort to get letters but it was important that she knew how much the country valued the service of her son. The Sun had printed a partial version of that conversation, which they had clearly had a mechanism for taping which they shouldn't have had. The tape was in their hands and it's very surprising for a conversation with the Prime Minister and an ordinary member of the public to appear in the Sun newspaper, but to appear in this distorted way, with these headlines, "Bloody shameful" and everything else I had concluded that the Sun were damaging our effort in Afghanistan and they were now persuading people who were actually in favour of the war that there was no point in supporting the war. And Mr Murdoch had always told me that he supported what we were doing in Afghanistan and I felt he should be aware of the facts and how we were losing public support at a difficult time, when we were trying to persuade the Americans and the rest of Europe that we had to have a collective effort not just to get more Afghan troops on the ground but also to get more European troops supporting these Afghan troops on the ground. So it was a very delicate political moment, so I phone him on that basis and that was what the call was about. There was no reference to threats or Conservative parties or anything. I'm quite surprised. In fact, the conversation ended in a quite different way from what he says, because he asked me, given that he said that there should be no personal attacks by the Sun due to Afghanistan, which he supported he asked me would I phone Mrs Brooks, the editor of the would I have a phone call with her, where she would, he hinted, want to apologise for what had happened, and I said I saw no point in phoning her because the Sun was pursuing this course of action and it was for him to talk to her. He then asked me again, and for a third time, to phone her, and I said, "Well, look, out of respect to you, I will contact her", and that's how the conversation ended, with me agreeing that I would talk to her, and at the same time me sending the letter that explained as you can see, it's completely and entirely about Afghanistan and what was happening to Afghanistan and that's what the call was about. You see, the problem about this is that I can see why it may suit people to say now that there was some pre-orchestrated campaign against News International and that I was threatening on a phone call and this is the justification, so this is nothing to do with telephone hacking, it's all to do with some political campaign against News International. But this call did not happen. The threat was not made. I couldn't be unbalanced on a call that I didn't have and a threat that was not made, and I found it shocking that we should get to this situation, sort of some time later, when there is no evidence of this call happening at the time that he says it happened, and you to be told under oath that this was the case and to be backed up by other people from News International who had been continuing to make comments about such a position. Now, I think, because we're dealing with a very important issue, about the freedom of the press and about the responsibility of the press and about whether people had been either too hostile to News International or too favourable to News International, it's important that this is obviously cleared up. There is absolutely no evidence for this phone call or for the threat or for the judgment that Mr Murdoch made as a result of something that he was never party to. The only call that ever happened was in November, and it was about Afghanistan, and it was weeks after when people allege the call took place.
Q. Mrs Brooks' account of the call that you mention, which eventually you had with her on 10 November 2009 of course, she was no longer editor of the Sun; she was now chief executive of News International was that you were angry and aggressive. Is that right or not?
A. No, I don't think so, because I had come off a call with Rupert Murdoch. I had written a letter to him about Afghanistan, and out of respect to him I was phoning her to hear what she had to say. Unfortunately, she wanted to tell me that the Sun had got this tape of my phone call with Mrs James, who was the very sad case of a lady whose son had died, and she had a lot of questions to ask about this that I was trying to help her with. But she tried to explain that they had got this tape which, of course, was very unusual circumstances, as I say, for a tape of a conversation from Downing Street to appear suddenly in the Sun newspaper and she wanted to tell me that they'd got this entirely lawfully and everything else had been checked and so on and so forth, and that was really what the nature of the call was, but I didn't get the sense that there was an apology coming from the Sun and I decided that there was no point in continuing the conversation. But it ended without acrimony. It was simply a conversation where she tried to tell me that they'd got this information in totally appropriate ways.
Q. It sounds as if, Mr Brown, you had every reason to be angry and aggressive but you managed not to show it. Is that the message you're communicating?
A. I think that when things are very difficult, you tend to be very calm indeed, and it was difficult because we were going through a period where the whole Afghanistan war effort was being, in a way, undermined by what I thought was a campaign on the part of the Sun that was alleging that we didn't care at all about our troops, and it was this distortion of fact and opinion that worried me, but on the other hand, I felt that the Sun's position was that they should be supporting the war in Afghanistan, and as my letters to Rupert Murdoch show, I tried to persuade him by argument that this was the right way to move forward, not by anything other than by putting the facts to him. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think that if I'd been persuaded to phone somebody to listen to an apology and to be greeted with the opportunity, as it were, to investigate further a private conversation, I think I'd be rather irritated.
A. I think in these circumstances, when you're surprised at what comes back to you look, Mr Murdoch had given me the impression that an apology was forthcoming. He also gave me the assurance that the Sun were going to remove this personal element of their attacks over Afghanistan. I didn't ask him for these assurances; he offered them. And I didn't discuss other issues with him, and therefore to some extent that was where the conversation lay, but it was really finding out that this was not necessarily how the Sun was going to proceed that was the surprise to me, but I don't think I was aggressive. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, you might have a thicker skin than I might have had.
A. I think when you're dealing with some of these issues, you tend to be calmer when you're dealing with them. MR JAY The last letter you wrote to Mr Rupert Murdoch, the handwritten one of 26 April 2010, was in the General Election campaign. You had other things to do. Why did you take time to write him this personal handwritten letter at all?
A. Because Mr Murdoch had replied, and for the first time Mr Murdoch had said, which he had never said to me before, that he disagreed with the management of the war effort. All my conversations with Mr Murdoch were perfectly civilised and were courteous and, as you can see, I wished him and his family well at the end of my letters and everything else. And then suddenly, out of the blue in our correspondence, he says, "I disagree entirely with the management of the war effort", and I felt that merited a reply. This was the first time he'd said to me personally that this is what he thought. I didn't understand what he meant by "the management of the war effort", because we had put extra resources in, and equally I've heard very little about complaints of the management of the war effort since, and it seemed to me that he was making a political point and I wanted him to know that he had never said this before and that I asked him to reconsider it. If you look at the letter, it says, "I'm surprised to hear these views from you personally because you've never said them to me in any conversation we've had and would you like to reconsider these views?" And I said to him, "Look, no matter what the Sun and the Times does, I'm afraid I would rather have been an honest one-term Prime Minister than a dishonest two-term Prime Minister." Whatever happened, I said, "Look, we are pursuing a campaign in Afghanistan that I believe is right. If the Sun is undermining it, even though it says it's supporting it, I have to tell you that that is the case, but given that this is the first time you've criticised the management of the war effort as an inspanidual, I'd like to know what you were thinking of when you did so", and I didn't actually have a reply to that letter. He didn't think it necessary to reply.
Q. But isn't it obvious, Mr Brown, that you cared very much about this? It was a personal attack on you and it might be said to show that you do care deeply about what newspapers write about you and about ad hominem attacks of this sort.
A. Look, there were two big issues during the period I was Prime Minister. One was the global economic crisis, which we had to deal with and we took extraordinary action in Britain and I believe that we led the way, and I feel that international leadership is something that is needed. The second one was Afghanistan, where we dealt with a hostile media, but at the same time we were trying to prevent Taliban control in areas where the Taliban are now in charge, I'm afraid, and it mattered to me what was being done on Afghanistan and it mattered to me that we got the policy right of persuading other countries to contribute to the war effort and to persuade people that we had to get the Afghan army and police up and running. So these were not issues about me personally that I was really trying to take up with Mr Murdoch. These were issues of policy. So if you look at the letters and I suspect that they could only be looked at now because the sequence of them is now presumably available to people you'll see that none of these letters refer to the political views of Mr Murdoch or to the Sun or to the News of the World or the Sunday Times. None of that. It was all about the management of the war effort, and I still feel to this day that huge damage was done to the war effort by the suggestion that we just didn't care about what was happening to our troops, which clearly had an effect on public opinion and clearly was something that I felt, as you can see, strongly about.
Q. I move off Mr Murdoch onto Mr Paul Dacre now and your relationship with him. Some have described that as personally close, although you weren't, of course, very often on the same page politically. Is that a fair description?
A. I didn't see Mr Dacre that much, as you can see from the records. Mr Dacre and I disagreed about many things on politics. I think he, like me, believes that there should be an ethical basis for any political system and that that is an issue that is not properly addressed both in our media and in our politics, so there is sort of common ground on that, even though we may disagree about what that means in practice. He was personally very kind, as Rupert Murdoch could be personally very kind, when we had difficulties with our child, our first child, and I have not forgotten that. But to be honest, I got no support from the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail was totally against the Labour Party, and when it came to the election, you may see that I had a meeting with Lord Rothermere, as I talked to Paul Dacre, and I said, "Look, you're entering a situation where you have a party that's got a relationship with the Murdoch empire and their commercial interests and you should be very wary of it", and I did warn them that that was one of the problems that was going to happen.
Q. Some have said, including Mr Alastair Campbell, that the Daily Mail was less hostile to you personally when you were chancellor, owing in part to your position on the euro. Do you think that's a fair comment or not?
A. I don't know whether it was. Look, one of the huge spaniding lines in British politics over the past 10 years has been the euro. Most of the newspapers, of course, were against it. I was in a minority within our government for a very long period of time of being sceptical about the euro. My colleague, Ed Balls, who was the economic adviser to the Treasury at the time and was later a Member of Parliament, did this enormous amount of work that proved to my satisfaction that the euro couldn't work, but it was a hugely spanisive issue. But if the Daily Mail supported the objections that I had to the euro, then that's absolutely understandable, but I'm afraid to say on just about every other issue they were wholly against us and they wanted to see a Conservative government, as you know.
Q. Were policies such as the u-turn on casinos, reclassification of cannabis and the retreat on 24-hour drinking attempts to appease the Daily Mail in your view?
A. No. If you look at each one of these inspanidual issues and I don't want to bore you with them I personally have strong opinions, as an inspanidual, about the evil of excessive gambling. I thought that the 24-hour licensing was causing us problems, and on cannabis, you know, I don't hold what is probably the more conventional view about the effects of soft drugs, so I was against the reclassification of cannabis and in fact we reclassified it back. These are views that I hold personally and I hold them quite strongly and I may say that probably I used my position to persuade members of the government who were not as keen on that policy was I was.
Q. Can I ask you, please, about section 55 of the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner's two reports in 2006. At that time, when you were still Chancellor of the Exchequer, it didn't fall directly within your policy area, but do you recall considering the issues raised by them or not?
A. Not in huge detail at the time, but it became an issue after I became Prime Minister and we had to make a judgment. It comes back to this very important point that I think we discussed at the beginning about the protections that are available for the press where there is a public interest defence for actions that they may have taken that might initially sound unacceptable. And, you know, in the press complaints code there are these three public interest defences. One is about exposing criminal wrongdoing, another is about threats to the security and safety of the realm, and another is a bit more, I think, difficult, about whether deception by an organisation or inspanidual is being exposed, and I felt quite strongly and still do that there has to be a public interest defence available in these circumstances, and that was what the is basically my own view about how you must have institutions outside the state who have the power to question and hold accountable the state, and no matter what we think about the way that the media behaved in certain instances, there is, in my view, a right to a public interest defence. That's what we were debating after the Information Commissioner made a number of proposals about data protection, and I could understand the strength of feeling that he brought to this, and therefore I was anxious not to overrule him, but I could understand also my own instinct that there had to be at least a public interest defence in favour of the media where they had ventured into areas where, for good public reasons, they were exposing something that was wrong.
Q. But following the consultation on the proposal to introduce custodial sentences, the government's original position and this is when you were in charge was to introduce such custodial sentences, and Mr Jack Straw gave us evidence about it.
A. Yes.
Q. There was a dinner you had with Messrs Hinton, McLellan and Dacre on 10 September 2007.
A. That's right.
Q. Which we have in tab 34 of this bundle. Do you remember the issue being discussed on that occasion?
A. I remember the issue. I told them, as we started the dinner, what my own view was. I didn't ask them for their view, I'm afraid. Maybe I should have. I told them what my view was, that there should be a public interest defence, and therefore it wasn't a question of them lobbying me. I was informing them that this was my view, but that Michael Wills, who was an excellent minister, and Jack Straw, who was doing a great job on this, were consulting people about how we could implement this in a way where there was a public interest defence but we weren't going to back off entirely the potential need for legislation.
Q. Mr Dacre's account doesn't quite match that, Mr Brown. Under tab 34, he gave a speech to the Society of Editors conference on 9 November 2008. So it's about 16, 17 months after the relevant date.
A. Yes.
Q. He says: "About 18 months ago [he means on 10 September 2007] I, Les Hinton of News International and Murdoch McLellan of the Telegraph, had dinner with the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. On the agenda was our deep concern that the newspaper industry was facing a number of very serious threats to its freedoms." Then he said: "The fourth issue we raised with Gordon Brown was a truly frightening amendment to the Data Protection Act." This is the amendment
A. I don't think there's any disagreement in these accounts. He had it on his agenda for the meeting. They raised it, but I told them as they raised it: "Look, this is my view." I didn't say, "I'm waiting to hear your view"; I told them: "This is my view." I remember this distinctly. I had already made up my mind before I went into the meeting, and I told Jack and Michael that there should be a public interest defence and that we should probably postpone the implementation of this clause. Look, at that time, of course, we didn't have all the information we now have about the abuse of this of data by the media. At that time, there was no suggestion that there was anything other than what was called the rogue hacker. But again, my instinct is still the same, that there ought to be a public interest defence. I know it's uncomfortable, because you are balancing off two freedoms, as we said at the beginning. You have this right that I would defend for people to have privacy, and you have this right of the media, I would say the inspanidual, to express themselves and for the media to do this through a freedom of speech and therefore a willingness or ability to investigate things that are wrong, and you are balancing off these two freedoms. It seemed to me that we may end up with the custodial sentences, and that was an option that was left to us. We said we'd come back to this, but at that time we thought that let us look at whether a public interest defence can be introduced into this legislation, which is what we did. Now, these are very, very difficult issues, and I thought about them at the time, I've thought about them since. I would still hold to the idea of a public interest defence, but I think we're now on a course where there will almost certainly be custodial sentences. But I think as the government of the day has said, they want to rely on your final judgment on this as well, before they make a decision. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, it's quite important to be quite careful about this. What the data protection amendment did was to introduce a public interest defence to data protection offences.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But it wasn't for a moment suggesting in relation to other breaches of the criminal law that there should be a public interest defence.
A. No, it was in relation to Data Protection Act; you're absolutely right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Correct.
A. I hope I'm not overelaborating on the argument, but it seemed in that instance there was a case for a public interest defence. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand. But you're not suggesting or are you suggesting, an open question that there should be a public interest defence in relation to any crime?
A. No, I'm not saying that, but what I am saying is that I do think that the press you're looking again at the Press Complaints Council guidelines and one of these guidelines I think it's the editors' rules LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Code.
A. suggests that there is a public interest at stake where three things are in issue that have to be taken into account when judgments are made. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's
A. Yes, of course. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON entirely right.
A. And I bore that in mind as well when I was looking at this issue. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's a defence to an allegation of breach of the code.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Let me ask you this, again in an entirely open way. Of course, in relation to any criminal offence, if a journalist is acting in the public interest or reasonably believes that he or she is acting in the public interest, then that must be an important feature. It's why I asked the Director of Public Prosecutions whether he would be prepared to consider publishing a policy on his approach to the public interest in relation to prosecution of journalists for a crime where there is no statutory defence, and as you know, he's done so and he's consulted on it.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm just keen to know whether you would suggest going further than that. Of course, the fact that the defence can't be made out doesn't mean that everybody who is convicted then goes directly to jail. There are an enormous number of variations that will always be taken into account.
A. Yes. I think maybe I've been misunderstood. My position was in relation to the Data Protection Act, but I was conscious that there was a public interest set of issues raised in the Editors' Code and it seemed to me this was reasonable. MR JAY Mr Dacre's account is that you were hugely sympathetic to the industry's case and promised to do what you could to help. It sounds as if the industry, through Mr Dacre, Mr Hinton and Mr McLellan, were allowed to put their case and you were persuaded by it; is that fair or not?
A. I distinctly remember this conversation and I think Mr Dacre, if you asked him under cross-examination, would confirm that at the beginning of that discussion, I said, "Look, I am persuaded that we need this public interest defence and we've been talking about how we can do this." I'd also, I think, either before or after, made a speech on liberty. I think I've sent you an extract from it. I felt that the debate in Britain had become coloured by what we'd had to do in relation to terrorism, and you know that it was very controversial, that we wanted to have, for example, a longer period of potential detention for people who were terrorist suspects. But I felt, on a whole range of other areas where liberty was an issue, we could do better. We could do better about the freedom of assembly, we could do better about the freedom of speech, we could do better about the freedom of the press. So I made a speech on liberty. Now, these were my views. These were not the media's views. These were not Mr Dacre's views. These were not anybody else's views. These were my views. It was an issue that I felt strongly about. I felt that America branded itself to the world as a country of liberty and was able to persuade people that liberty was invented in America. In fact, the ideas of liberties that lay behind the British constitution and some of the things that we valued greatly had originated in Britain and I wanted to make that clear. So these were my views and I think any suggestion that I was under pressure from the industry and yielded to it is quite ridiculous. I was prepared to say that this is my view and I'm still prepared to say that it's my view.
Q. Were you aware that there already was a public interest defence in Section 55 of the Data Protection Act?
A. Yes.
Q. The speech you referred to, 25 October 2007 under tab 3 this obviously postdates the dinner we're referring to by about six weeks.
A. Yes.
Q. Arguably, if you look at the second paragraph of the speech
A. What tab is that?
Q. It's tab 3, page 14235.
A. I think I remember what I said.
Q. You're still referring there to taking into account LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think it is behind tab 3 of volume 1.
A. I have the wrong volume. That's a fundamental mistake. MR JAY Confusingly, Mr Brown, although it's the second page of the speech, it bears the number 6 on the top right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think it's an extract from the speech.
A. It's not the full speech. I wouldn't want to bore you with all the detail.
Q. Towards the bottom you say: "But Jack Straw has asked the Information Commissioner to produce guidance in consultation with the PCC to make sure we take into account concerns about the new rules which allow for a prison sentence of up to two years." So at that point, was your thinking still that will a custodial sentence was appropriate?
A. Yes, I think the issue was whether we would trigger the two-year sentence at a later stage, while leaving it in the legislation.
Q. That didn't come as an idea until March of 2008
A. Yes.
Q. from documents we have at tab 28.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What you're saying here is that clear guidance will make sure legitimate investigative journalism is not impeded. So you're very keen to protect legitimate investigative journalism, but where that is not triggered, then there should be a sanction to protect inspanidual privacy?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's precisely what you're saying.
A. I say: but the sanctions provide a strong deterrent to protect inspanidual privacy." Yes. MR JAY It's also noteworthy in this speech that you said, towards the top of this same page: "No case for statutory regulation of the press. Self-regulation of the press should be maintained."
A. Yes.
Q. In other words, the status quo is adequate. Is that correct?
A. We had no mandate for that. We had never proposed that that should happen. I think Tony Blair explained in his own evidence that we had decided that this was not a priority for us, so it was not part of our mandate and therefore it was obvious that that was not what we were doing.
Q. So is your evidence that you didn't respond to the lobbying of you at dinner on 10 September 2007 and modify the government's existing proposals to take into account of a powerful press view?
A. I felt strongly about this myself. I'm not sure that every other minister felt as strongly as I did, but I've explained the background to my own views. So I really didn't need persuading by Mr Dacre about this. This was or by Mr Hinton or who else was there, I don't know.
Q. But is it your evidence that you had a conversation with Mr Straw before 10 September 2007 in which your scepticism was communicated?
A. I think we were having conversations quite a lot about some of these things. I mean, these are things that arise from time to time. I don't think there was any formal meeting about it, but I think we were having conversations.
Q. But his evidence was along the lines that, owing to time pressures with the criminal justice and immigration bill it had could come in before 7 or 8 May 2008 a rapid compromise was carved up, as it were, and that process started in March 2008. Do you recall that?
A. I recall conversations with Mr Michael Wills, who was the minister, and Jack Straw, who was the minister, and I had this view that we could find a way forward and I think in the end we did.
Q. We turn now to the issue of special advisers.
A. Yes.
Q. I'm asked to put to you a number of questions about them. Mr Campbell, in his second witness statement at paragraph 64, suggested there was a real problem with a Treasury special adviser, and by that he means Mr Whelan, who was one of your appointments. Do you agree with his analysis?
A. Look, there was tittle tattle, rumour, gossip. Political advisers, there's lots of them around, they're having debates and arguments. The one thing I insisted upon and I think this deals with this point about Mr Campbell is our political advisers worked through the head of communications, who was a civil servant, so anything that they did in relation to the press they had to report to and through the head of the civil the civil servant head of our communications, and that's how we dealt with these issues.
Q. But were not Messrs Whelan and McBride systematic perpetrators of selective anonymous briefings, either at your instigation or with your knowledge?
A. No, I wouldn't say that at all. I mean, I operated or asked them to operate under these rules, that they would work to their head of communications, who was a civil servant, and he would have to report to me if things were wrong.
Q. So if they did indulge in this behaviour, that would be, by definition, without your knowledge; is that correct?
A. It would be without my knowledge and without my sanction.
Q. Okay, we'll come back to that. Mrs Brooks, in her witness statement, paragraph 61, states that Tony Blair and his aides were convinced that Gordon Brown and his aides had conspired together in order to force his early resignation. Do you agree with that analysis?
A. I don't think that's Tony Blair's view and it's certainly not my view. This is again, you're relying on second-hand conversations that are reported by people who are not participants in the events, so I don't take that as a serious comment about what happened.
Q. But were your aides involved in using the media to force or attempt to force Mr Blair's resignation? This was in 2006.
A. I would hope not.
Q. But were they involved?
A. Well, I would hope not. I have no evidence of that.
Q. Mr Blair said that he didn't know whether you, Mr Whelan, Mr McBride and Mr Balls were briefing against him in the media. Did you authorise your aides to brief against Mr Blair?
A. No.
Q. Do you think they may have done so without your explicit approval, even with your knowledge?
A. If they did so, it was without my authorisation.
Q. But it's the role of an aide or special adviser only to act with your express or implied authority; would you agree?
A. No, I made it clear I mean, I'm trying to explain why we changed the system when we went to Number 10 and why I thought it was better to have political advisers were a new development from the 1970s onwards. You had always worked with civil servants without political advisers. You bring in political advisers and they're obviously party people with their own views about what should happen. They had to find a way of working with the Civil Service, and my insistence was that the political advisers, who were doing a job, had to work under the auspices of the Civil Service head. This is what we tried to enact in the Treasury, and this is why, when I went to Downing Street, I removed the order in council, I said that we would not have a political appointee as head of communications, I appointed a traditional a conventional civil servant as the head of communications and then, when he retired and went back to the Treasury and incidentally went back to perform a policy job which he now does for the new government, which is of a different political colour I appointed the person who had been previously head of communications at Buckingham Palace, who was not, in a sense, a career civil servant, but one who was trusted absolutely for both his discretion and his propriety. So I wanted to send a message that we wanted to work within these traditional channels and political advisers were instructed to do exactly that. Now, if they failed, as happened in a terrible instance where Mr McBride had to resign, then they had to go.
Q. Did you instruct your special advisers at the Treasury and at Number 10, while you were Prime Minister, to conduct off-the-record briefings with the press?
A. No, but if the Civil Service head of communications was informed, then that was the way that anything would have to be done in relation to briefings. So there would have to be some communication between him and any political advisor if the press was being talked to. It's unrealistic to expect that a political adviser is never going to talk to the press. I think they had to go through the Civil Service head.
Q. Lord Mandelson's book, page 461, states, describing Mr McBride as your attack dog: had developed a reputation for briefing against anyone who was perceived to threaten his boss' interests, not only the Tory opposition but those of the Blairite persuasion." Is Lord Mandelson correct or incorrect about that?
A. This is what I mean about tittle-tattle. You know, you have gossip, rumour, innuendo. You have people saying something about someone else. I don't know the truth of all these things, but what I can say is that the people that worked for me were under specific guidance about what they had to do, and I think that's an important point in this. Were the rules there? And there were rules. Were they observed? In one very bad case, they were not observed and the person had to go.
Q. He also notes a conversation he says he had with you in October 2008, when you invited him back into government, when he specifically raised the issue of Damian McBride with you and reached what he thought was a clear understanding that he would be transferred to the Cabinet Office as a stepping stone to departing altogether. Is Lord Mandelson's recollection correct about that or not?
A. I think Peter was did not like Mr McBride. I don't think there's any doubt about that from this is the first time I've read this, by the way. This appears to be in his memoirs. But I can't remember Mr McBride was pushed back from a front line role and he was given a new role, but unfortunately in this new role he made a very bad mistake and he had to go. That's, I think, what happened. He wasn't doing his original role; he'd been pushed back to another role. I don't think it was in the Cabinet Office, I think it was still at Number 10, but he had to go.
Q. But I'm back on October 2008 and I was just wondering whether you agree or disagree with Lord Mandelson's recollection in his memoirs of what he says
A. I don't think there's any doubt that Mr Mandelson didn't want Mr McBride, but I don't think there was any talk about Cabinet Office. I think we probably talked about how Mr McBride was moving back from what you might call the front line and he had a different role, but in the end it was only a few months later that he had to go.
Q. Did either or both of Gus O'Donnell and Jeremy Hayward warn you specifically about Mr McBride?
A. I don't remember in specific documentation or letters. They may have said something in conversations.
Q. But did they, in the course of conversation, warn you about Mr McBride?
A. I don't know whether you're talking about what happened in the leaking of these emails. They certainly would have talked to me about that when it happened, but I was very clearly of my I own mind that he had to go.
Q. No, I'm talking about an earlier warning
A. I don't recall other conversations. Perhaps you have better information from these people than I have, but I don't recall any conversations about that. There was a general view that some of them had that Mr McBride had to change his role.
Q. You were also warned by Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander about Mr McBride?
A. When I say there was a general view, I'm not excluding the fact that one or two people might have talked about it to me, but the fact is he was moved from his original role and he was moved back and then we had this incident where he had to go. I may say that Mr McBride was a career civil servant. He had worked his way up through Customs and Excise and the Treasury. He only became a political adviser in 2005. He was originally a fast-track civil servant.
Q. There's also evidence that Jacqui Smith warned you about him as well. Do you remember that?
A. Oh, I can't remember all these things.
Q. It sounds as if a lot of peopling warning you about Mr McBride, but did you heed their warnings?
A. What is material to this, I suspect, is you're wanting to understand what the relationship between political advisers and ministers is and how it worked itself through. I can only say this: that I was aware that we had to move Mr McBride from his original role to a new role. He had been moved into that new role and then we had this incident and he had to go. That's how it worked.
Q. Did you instruct Mr Whelan to brief specifically against Mr Darling when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer?
A. Not at all. Not under any circumstances.
Q. You've seen the extract from Mr Darling's memoirs called "Back from the Brink", in which he's convinced that you did. Are you aware of that?
A. Yes, but I didn't. I think this issue about "Back from the Brink", which again, I only read for the first time yesterday, this extract, is about an interview that Alastair gave to the Guardian, and I think the issue was he had been quoted as saying that he thought this was the worst crisis for the British economy for 60 years, when actually what he wanted to say or had said was that this was the worst global crisis for 60 years, and he told me that he wanted to go out and tell the media that that was the case. I mean, that's the incident. I don't think there was any disagreement about the interpretation.
Q. Do you remember a conversation that you had with Mr Darling, which is noted in his book at page 108, where he told you specifically that he knew where the anonymous briefings were coming from and that they had to stop?
A. I don't know. There may have been a conversation like that. I you know, this conversation within government, everybody worries about who is saying what about whom and so on and so forth. The one thing I can say to you, which is absolutely clear and I'm not sure how relevant this is to your conclusions, but the one thing I can say to you definitely is that nobody in my position would have instructed any briefing against a senior minister, and Alastair Darling was a friend of mine as well as a colleague.
Q. There's reference as well it's not clear that these were the words he uttered to you to Henry II's utterings about Thomas Becket: "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Then he says: "He didn't order his knights to go and kill Becket but they believed that they had his blessing to do so." Is that near the mark or not?
A. These sound very dramatic comments. No, they're not near the mark at all. Quite wrong and quite the opposite of what actually happened. I think, if I may say, on the incident that you're referring to, there was an interview given to the Guardian and it was about the economic crisis and Alastair was sure that he'd talked about the global economic crisis and the Guardian had reported it as being about the British economic crisis, and of course the distinction was important but there was no tape of the interview, the Treasury had no tape of the interview, and that was the source of the problem, that we couldn't get to the bottom of it because the Treasury had not taken a tape, and I think that was the source of the issue.
Q. I've also shown you a letter from Sir John Major, who of course is giving evidence tomorrow. It's dated 30 June 2008. He will, of course, give evidence about it but it relates to the withdrawal of the Mugabe knighthood. He makes the specific allegation that you briefed or you instructed either Mr Whelan or Mr McBride he isn't named specifically to brief against Sir John Major. Is that correct or not?
A. Mr Whelan was not, working for us at that time at all, and Mr McBride I don't know which year you're referring to.
Q. This was June 2008.
A. This was before he had gone. I don't know anything about this, because I don't think, despite the fact that my name is mentioned in this letter, Gus O'Donnell and I talked about this in any detail, and I don't really know much about this incident. I mean, I know that Mugabe lost his knighthood. I doubt that when Sir Fred Goodwin lost his knighthood, I was the person who was blamed for giving him it. These things happen in politics. People say things and do things and the press says things. I don't recall anything about this at all and I've never sort of been involved in a briefing operation against John Major.
Q. Is the position this, Mr Brown: that a sort of mythology has built up around these special advisers, described in certain quarters as paranoid attack dogs, or whatever, but there's no evidential basis for it? Or is it the position that if they did act in this way, it was without your authority and instructions?
A. Look, you have special advisers. They're part of the government machine now. They're a new innovation. They have a role to play in defending the minister and defending the policy. You have competition between special advisers in different departments because that's the nature of politics. You have competition, unfortunately, between ministers and departments, and that's the nature of politics. The question is what you read into this, as whether there's an abuse of the constitution. I asked my political advisers to operate under very distinct rules, and I actually had tougher rules than was the general rule that was applied to political advisers. After Mr McBride left, we toughened up the rules even more about the use of equipment and everything for personal purposes, and I was determined that we could integrate the political advisers into the Civil Service system. If it didn't work on occasion and if people behaved badly on occasion, then that is not because there were not rules that were there and instructions that were given by me that should be followed, but I think we now know enough about the nature of politics to know that there's rumour, there's gossip, there's innuendo, there's gossip and so on and so forth. The question is what you conclude from this. My conclusion is that you need tough rules that people have to follow, and if people don't obey the rules, then then have to go. I'm not sure if gives us a general insight into the way the media was behaving.
Q. Well, the focus of this Inquiry is rightly, under its terms of reference, the culture, practices and ethics of the press.
A. Yes.
Q. But we're also looking at the conduct of each and therefore the culture of the political class.
A. Yes.
Q. Are there any lessons to be learnt at all, if one looks at the period 1997 to 2010, which is a 13-year period, as to the culture of the political class?
A. Yes. As I said right at the beginning and I don't know if you picked me up in the way that I might have expected. I said that we should have changed the lobby system and changed the system where people relied on exclusive briefings and had a far more open and transparent system of addressing the country through the press than we have even today, and I obviously have to take some responsibility for this. My only defence in this is that I tried after 2007 to change the rules. We actually have a consultation, by the way I didn't mention this about the future of the lobby, which Simon Lewis, who is a very honourable man, led, but we could find no consensus amongst the media about what could be done, and of course it was getting very near a General Election. But I would have preferred to have open briefings that were given by ministers to inform the press day by day. I'd looked at the White House system, I'd looked at other systems. So yes, there needed to be more openness. We inherited a system that was based on, if you like, exclusivity. It was also based on insiders winning over outsiders, so a lot of people were excluded from that system. The political advisers ought to and had to work under specific guidance and I believe they should have worked under Civil Service leadership and we changed that when we went into Number 10 as well. So these are the lessons I learned about what some people call the spin culture. I come back to the point that it assumes a great deal of success in dealings with the media that I don't feel that I had. You know, in the 1970s, when I was a student, I read once that it was said the Shah of Persia, when he was still the Shah of Iran, had the worst press relations in the business and a British politician had raised an objection because his were somewhat worse than that, and I felt that if that had been said in the 1990s and up to 2010, I would have raised that objection. I did not have, unfortunately, good relations with the press, and I used to say myself about spinning when people said, you know: "You guys are got good at getting your message across", I used to quote Shelley when Shelley was talking about a relative of his. He said he had lost the art of communication but not, alas, the gift of speech. I felt that I had got myself into a position like that before I finished office.
Q. Did you, incidentally, issue any guidelines to your special advisers, either at the Treasury or at Number 10, or were they just left to get on with it?
A. The guidelines were, as I said, that they had to go through the official head of communications, who was a civil servant, and this is an issue that will have to be resolved at some stage because we've had political appointees as press offices and you cannot say that it's worked in its entirety. We've had civil servant appointees and it hasn't been wholly satisfactory because of what the press expects of the head of communications. I don't think we have an answer yet to what is a real problem about how you deal with the press on a day-to-day basis, but I would prefer a more open system, and I think that we will get to that at some point, and if your Inquiry, sir, can take us further on these roads and call for greater openness and transparency, I would welcome that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Have you thought about how that might manifest itself?
A. I would have thought that you move away from the daily briefings that is to what's called the lobby this will be very unpopular with people who are now in the gallery listening to me, some of whom are in the lobby that you would have someone who was briefing with the television cameras there, so it would be completely open. You would have to allow in press that are not part of the lobby system at the moment and that includes, of course, the new Internet media that is developing and I think the Civil Service and the politicians have to work out a better relationship so the danger is you have a Civil Service head that people think does not speak to behalf of the Prime Minister or the minister because he's not close enough, but the danger is you have an overpoliticised head who looks as if he or she is pushing the Civil Service in a particular direction. So I think you have this dilemma about how you organise the management of information, but I think the openness of it is much to be welcomed, and as I say to you, we did try to return to a situation where when you made an announcement in the House of Commons it was new information, and we did try to return to a situation where you made a speech and you were giving the information for the first time. But I'm afraid that the way things worked, these things were not reported. They were not seen as news in this highly competitive business in the media unless someone either had an exclusive or a group of people had an exclusive to these stories and felt that that was something that was news. So this competition between the different media outlets is intensifying, obviously. 24-hour news is a reality. Newspapers are in danger of being left behind because they publish at a certain time, whereas the Internet is going all the time, and this will only intensify. Therefore I think more openness is an essential element of it, but of course the trustworthiness of participants is important to this as well. MR JAY May I just touch on Mr Watson now, a different topic.
A. Yes.
Q. You address this at page 16 of your statement, our page 14222. Can I just be clear what your evidence is about this. You say that you can recall telling Mr Watson that the government had been under pressure from News International to sack him. Are we, back here, in 2006 in relation to the plot to dethrone Mr Blair, or are we
A. I think we're talking about a conversation that you've asked me about that Mr Watson had with me in 2010 Mr Watson has phoned me up and he's asking me what's happening, and I remind him of what happened in the past. I'm not giving him new information, as far as I'm concerned, about something that happened in the last week. I'm telling him: "Look, you know when you were in government that News International had editorials, that they wanted you sacked, but you also know" and I did say that Mrs Brooks had made her feelings about Mr Watson pretty well-known to my wife. That's all the new information I think I brought to this.
Q. Yes. There may be a misunderstanding. That's why I was trying to tease this out. Did the text message you refer to relate to earlier events or did it relate to phone hacking? Can you remember?
A. No, this was look, News International had taken the view that Tom Watson was to be held culpable for anything that had happened in 2006, I think, and this was still the line that they wanted to pursue. I don't want to get involved in this because I don't understand everything that happened. There was a legal case taken about defamation by Mr Watson and for all I know, there are still proceedings I don't know, but there was an animosity between News International and Mr Watson, and I was merely reporting to him, when he asked me about these things, that I was well aware that News International had wanted to get rid of him when he was a minister.
Q. This was because of alleged machinations against Mr Blair, not because of his persistent pursuit of the phone hacking issue; was that correct?
A. But you are putting words into News International's mouth. I don't know. All I reported to him was that News International had made it clear that they wanted they didn't like him, of course, and I think they had editorials saying that Tom Watson had to go. I can't remember the detail of this.
Q. Can you remember what the text says or is it still available?
A. Well, they're not my texts. They're my wife's texts. I think you would have to ask her
Q. She might have communicated this to you.
A. if you thought it was important. I think it communicated, if I'm right and this is all I remember, and I haven't asked for a text to be disclosed but it's your right to ask for them if you need them but I think it communicated a feeling about Mr Watson and that was it.
Q. I don't think the issue is so important we're going to ask to see the text. Anyway, it's on your wife's phone. I have been asked to put to you this other question in relation to Mr Watson. In 2006, the media reported that he visited you at your house in Scotland before his resignation. Did you discuss any political matters at all with Mr Watson on that occasion?
A. No. Our baby had just been born. He was bringing a present for our baby with his wife and his family, and we were talking about children. I mean, if I had known that he was planning any political initiative, I would have told him not to do it, but I knew nothing about it.
Q. And the follow-up question was: did you discuss Mr Watson's subsequently published round-robin letter calling for Mr Blair's resignation
A. I think I've already answered that. If I'd known that he was planning anything like that, I would have told him to desist from this. This was a bad mistake, it was a wrong thing to do, and I told him so once I found out about it, but I didn't find out about it from a conversation with him.
Q. So your evidence is this was entirely a social call to deliver a present for your baby; is that right?
A. Entirely, because he had his family with him and they were talking to Sarah and they were talking about we were all talking about our children.
Q. Mr Brown, you called for a judicial inquiry in September 2010, in the sense that I think you wrote a letter to Lord O'Donnell. We have it at tab 35.
A. Yes, I remember.
Q. Sorry, he was Sir Gus then. Obviously, the context was, although you don't refer to it, the piece in the New York Times which was published on 1 September 2010; is that correct?
A. Yes, and the report that was being done by the culture and media committee. That was the prompting for asking whether something had to be done. Look, we did not know about as I said in my speech in the House of Commons about this matter, we did not know about the extent of this phone hacking, and it only gradually became known to me that it could be considerably more than what had been reported and that this rogue hacker or rogue reporter was not a proper defence, but as the information became available and as I realised that this was a bigger issue than people had imagined, it seemed to me we had to look at what needed to be done. Now, the Home Secretary had looked at whether the police investigation should be extended to or be carried out by another body. I had to look, given that there was some media speculation at this time that there was a case for a public inquiry, as to whether there was a case for a judicial inquiry. Unfortunately, when I asked Sir Gus O'Donnell to look at this, he did not look at other evidence than simply the report of the Culture Select Committee I think that probably was an unfortunate decision and therefore we had a report back that basically reflected the minimum amount of information that was available to the Select Committee and said nothing about any further information that was actually known within government at the time, including the Home Secretary's examination of this on his own bat.
Q. To be fair to Sir Gus, the letter he wrote back to you on 10 September 2010 simply stated that the issue is now under review by the Metropolitan Police and also subject to an inquiry by the standards and prejudicial committee.
A. You're talking about the second letter. My first request to him was before we left office.
Q. Yes.
A. And that was a request that he answer with a memo that I think you now have about the various pros and cons of taking action. It's at that point that I think we might have looked at the other evidence available within government and that's the point I'm making. When I wrote to him in September 2010, it was because further knowledge was available and that is the New York Times
Q. I'm focusing on the September 2010 issue because, as you rightly say, we've looked carefully with Lord O'Donnell at the March 2010 consideration. Can I ask you this: we know that Mr Miliband was not elected leader of the opposition until I think 25 September 2010. Did you discuss these issues with him at any stage, either before or after his election?
A. This letter was independently done by me. I didn't consult anybody before I sent that letter.
Q. No, I'm not suggesting that you needed to consult.
A. Yes.
Q. Did you discuss your concerns about the issue with Mr Miliband?
A. I had expressed my concern to a number of people about what was happening, but I can't remember a specific conversation with Mr Miliband. Perhaps there was one, perhaps there wasn't. I did raise it with Mr Clegg, I remember, at one point.
Q. Okay. Now may we look to the future, Mr Brown, and recommendations.
A. Yes.
Q. We know what you said in 2007 and we've seen that speech, the extracts of which you've kindly provided us with. In your witness statement, at page 14212, you set out some ideas for the future.
A. Yes.
Q. On the internal numbering, it's page 6, which we've carefully considered but can I just pick up some themes on where we are. Statutory backstop. Could you elaborate on that and differentiate between that and state regulation of the press?
A. Can I just say, by way of introduction to this section, that I would make a distinction between two roles that this Inquiry might have, and indeed the way that further self-regulation or regulation may go. I think there is the issue of dealing with wrongs that have to be righted, redressed for inspaniduals who have a complaint to make, and I've said, I think, pretty clearly in my evidence that I don't think the present system, much as it may be the better part of the complaint commission, the dealing with complaints is satisfactory. The second aspect, however, that I would urge you to look at is not just how we can deter the bad, but how far we can incentivise the good. If I'm right, there is a problem developing in this but also in every advanced country in the world about the quality of journalism and the commercial basis on which it can proceed, and if, in the 19th century, you had big proprietors and if, in the 20th century, you had advertising that managed to finance quality journalism, there is a big issue now about what can incentivise or give support to quality journalism in the future. So I would just want to make, by way of introduction, if you're dealing with this, that yes, we can look at a better complaints system and you have, sir, put on the website I think very, very good guidelines for how we might proceed in sorting that issue out, and I believe there will be all-party support for doing so, and I know that that is important to you, that there is all-party support but I think we have to look at a second issue, about the quality and standards of journalism and how that can be improved, and what we can do to help good journalists actually be able to survive, based on their ability to sell their content across the media and not just across newspapers. That may demand quite radical thinking about how we incentivise this for the future, including what happens to the BBC licence fee, what happens to spectrum auctions and the fees that come from that, and I think these are all issues. There is going to be a real problem in the next 20 years about how quality journalism can flourish. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. When you made that comment at the very beginning of your evidence, I wrote in the margin: "How?" If you can answer that question, even with some ideas, I will be very interested to hear them.
A. I have tried to give some thought to this. When the BBC was set up in the 1920s and then developed its licence fee system in the 1940s, it was clear that there was a market failure. In other words, the finance that was available for supporting quality broadcast journalism and quality content was simply not there. There was a market failure. So it had to be dealt with. Despite what James Murdoch says in his MacTaggart lecture, it had to be dealt with by taking action, and the action which was chosen, which was popular for at least some time, was the creation of the licence fee. And the licence fee was to support quality journalism, and of course, the argument in favour of it was that there were great extra novelties, if you are an economist there were great benefits from high quality journalism, from the educational effect of that, from getting trusted information, and that there was a public good to be supported that the market itself would not necessarily support in broadcasting. Then, of course, there were further benefits, because once you put it on a broadcaster network, the marginal cost of delivering it to millions of people as against thousands of people was minimal. Now, some of these arguments, in my view, now apply to the Internet. There is a problem about the lack of quality journalism. Most internal journalism has not got the resources to be as, if you like, persuasive or to be as trusted information as you would like it to be. There is a problem now developing in the newspapers because their advertising model has collapsed, basically, and therefore they're finding it more and more difficult. I mean, every week, I see a local newspaper going under. So we have a problem about how we finance quality journalism for the future and there are journalists who are sitting here today who are in employment today, but I think the quality journalism that we need and that they represent for the future will have to find new ways of financing it. Is the BBC model of any use to us? I think we ought to look at that. It certainly deals with this issue that there is a public good that the market cannot supply, and it certainly deals with the issue about how you might apply this to the Internet, as well as to broadcasting, because there is a zero cost in getting to millions of people once you get to the first thousand of people, and I would think that if we are genuine in trying to root out the bad but also trying to encourage the good, I think we to have to say something about how quality journalism in this country can be financed, supported and really sponsored in the future. This is a problem which is even greater in America, and there's a huge debate now in America about how quality journalism can survive, and there's some very good people joining that debate, but all I'm saying, sir, if you forgive me for doing so, is that you can deal with this issue about what I think was a terrible injustice done to the Dowler family, innocent people who had their rights trampled over, and we need to have a complaints system that deals with that and we need to have proper penalties and proper fines for dealing with that, but we also have to look at how we not just discourage the bad but encourage the good. And that's not making a judgment about what's good and bad in journalism; it's making a judgment that you will need trained journalist and you will need medias like the internet to be able to support that in future. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But one needn't just look at the journalism of the national newspapers. You've commented and indeed it's been the subject of evidence that local journalism is very much suffering from the lack of advertising
A. Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON and the consequence is that local issues therefore aren't reported as once they were, and as more newspapers find it difficult to survive, the loss of local information will be a very serious blow to the development of local politics, the development of holding local health boards, local countries to account
A. Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON because nobody else will report it.
A. This is why I defend the freedom of the press and the right of the press to have the powers that they have, because without shining the light on potential corruption or maladministration or the abuse of power and that's true at a local level as well as at a national level people get away with doing things in an unaccountable manner that are completely unacceptable, and that's why you need a local press. I mean, there was a study done in America about what happened to a town where they were faced with I think it was a flooding or something, and because there was no local journalism in place and because the information could not flow properly, then citizens were being deprived of the means by which they could deal with this particular difficulty. This will continue to happen. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON At least one of the witnesses who has given evidence has brought my attention to the development of the concept of free local authority newspapers, which then deprive the independent journalists of an opportunity to investigate their product.
A. As you know, there's a debate about whether the BBC should be in local radio, whether it should simply be commercial radio, and how the integration of local newspapers with local broadcasting, with local television and local radio should happen. It's clear to me, however, that without some underpinning and it may be financial then there is a market failure here. There is not enough resources now to support the quality journalism that you are talking about. My own local newspaper has just had its editorial staff merged with the next door newspaper. They're running down the numbers of staff that are providing this local service and I think you would find this in every part of the country that you go into, and more than that, you're finding it all across the world now, because an internet journalist, who is someone who's sort of doing their own, if you like, self-journalism, can put their views up on a screen and put their views across the world, but if they're not resourced and they're not doing proper research and there's no investigative journalism, then we're diminishing the quality of the output that is available to us. So it's not a strict answer to this problem that there's more people communicating on the internet that's a good thing when you don't have the research that is being done and the investigation that is being done to bring quality journalism. My point to you is that we can deal with the issue of complaints, and I think you have got excellent suggestions and I do applaud what you are trying to move to there, and I would emphasise, when I talk about the Press Complaints Commission, that without an investigative arm, it cannot be successful. The one thing you go to the Press Complaints Commission to get is a judgment on whether something is accurate or not, and when they reply to you, they say, "We cannot make a judgment on the accuracy of these statements", and therefore the one thing you ask them for, they cannot do because they have no investigative arm. That's one thing, but encouraging quality journalism is, I think, something that I hope that in your next set of evidence you might be able to consider. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'll take that point very, very much on board.
A. I may say I think there's quite a lot to learn from America, where this is a live debate. Sorry, I moved from the initial point of your question about self-regulation. MR JAY Not at all. Mr Brown, the Prime Minister, as you know, has said that the relationship between press and politicians needs to be reset. What, if anything, would you recommend in that regard?
A. There has to be greater openness and transparency, as I've said, and I just repeat that. I don't think I do want to answer you previous question about regulation because I think it's important. I've never been one and this may sound surprising to people. Despite my discomfort with the press, I've never been one that has favoured heavy regulation or even regulation of the press. I've always looked for solutions that would avoid the idea that there was some form of interference in the press by politicians and I've always been very careful when we've talked about the BBC to make sure that we safeguard the independence of the BBC. So I start from this I said before it was a religious upbringing but the idea that people should be able to speak truth to power and the idea that the inspanidual conscience is respected, free from state power, is very important to me. Now, what do you do in circumstances where you have a recalcitrant newspaper which will not join the Press Complaints Commission? This is a problem which I know, sir, you face. What do you to in circumstances where you have a Press Complaints Commission that actually is not able to deal and has proved itself unable to deal with these big issues? In Ireland and Australia and New Zealand, they have found a way to do I think in one case they call it statutory underpinning, is recognised in legislation but not LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's the Irish method.
A. not decreed by legislation, so I think there is a way but I think we have less to fear from the proposals that you're talking about, about a statutory underpinning, than people think, and certainly if there are recalcitrant members of the press who are not prepared to join, I think your case is strengthened. But I share your views that this has to be independent of the politicians, it has to be independent of but it also has to be independent of the newspaper editors. It has to be independent of both and it has to be genuinely looked to and trusted as a source of fair and balanced investigations and judgments. MR JAY Mr Brown, those are all the questions I had. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Brown, thank you very much. It's all very easy to say; rather more difficult to seek to achieve it, but thank you very much indeed for your assistance.
A. I don't envy your job, but I know you're doing a great job. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. Oh, one moment, Mr Brown. Yes? MR DAVIES It relates, I'm afraid, to the disputed call between Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes? MR DAVIES The position is you may recall that Lord Mandelson gave some evidence about that. Mr Brown hasn't addressed that and I think he ought to be given the opportunity to deal with it, or at least, we would like to know what he says about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do you want to put what Lord Mandelson said? Do you have it to hand? MR DAVIES Yes, I have. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Then by all means, let Mr Brown respond.
A. Anybody else who wants to put questions as well, I don't know. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no. The position is, Mr Brown, that the system permits core participants to put questions through counsel and Mr Jay, I think, several times has said, "I've been asked to ask this question", and that's how he's done it, but if he declines to put a question, then the core participants are entitled to ask me for permission to ask the question. As I know what's coming, I don't think this is going to take you by surprise.
A. I don't know what's coming but I'm happy to take the question. Questions by MR DAVIES
Q. Mr Brown, my name is Rhodri Davies. I appear for News International.
A. Yes, I understood that.
Q. I think you're probably familiar with this. It's behind tab 8 of your bundle. If you'd like to go to it, it's
A. Tab 8 of my bundle?
Q. Yes.
A. The new bundle or the old one?
Q. That's a transcript of the evidence that Lord Mandelson gave.
A. What day is it referring to, please?
Q. It's 21 May.
A. What day?
Q. Day 74.
A. No, what day is Mr Mandelson referring to? He was referring to a call that took place when?
Q. He was. He was asked about whether or not there was a call between you and Mr Murdoch shortly after the Sun had announced that it was no longer going to support the Labour Party on 30 September 2009, I think it was.
A. Mm.
Q. This is Day 74 in the afternoon.
A. I find this very difficult to read because of the light type here. Perhaps you can just read out the section that's relevant.
Q. I will do that.
A. I'm grateful.
Q. The questions are from MR JAY "Question: "The allegation is, or rather the evidence was from Mr Murdoch that Mr Brown said or uttered the words 'declare war on News International' or words to that effect. From your own knowledge, Lord Mandelson, can you assist us as to whether there was such a call? "Answer: Well, I wasn't on the call. I hadn't been patched into the call. "Question: No, of course not. "Answer: I assumed that there was the call because I seem to remember the Prime Minister telling me that Rupert Murdoch was not at all happy with the method and timing of James and Rebekah's action. "Question: What did the Prime Minister tell you, Lord Mandelson, about the call? Did he communicate to you that's what he told Mr Murdoch? "Answer: No, he didn't say that. He told me what Mr Murdoch had said to him. "Question: So there was nothing about what Mr Brown said to Mr Murdoch; is that your evidence? "Answer: Yes, it is. I cannot remember being told by Mr Brown what he said, and I have no way of knowing, but I know but I know what he said to me about Rupert Murdoch's reaction, which was to say, basically: 'I don't like how it's been done and I think it's a bad day to do it and I wouldn't have done it this way myself, but that's life and we have to get on with it.' "Question: Mr Murdoch's reaction to what, though, Lord Mandelson? "Answer: The decision of the Sun to switch support from New Labour to the Conservative Party, which he has said, if I recall correctly, was James and Rebekah's decision, not the editor's, incidentally."
A. First of all, there was only one call with Mr Murdoch, and it was on November 10, and that was a call that was related to Afghanistan and you have five letters that are affidavits from people who were on that call four of them on that call, one of whom who had to report to the press what happened afterwards and they make it absolutely clear that that call was about Afghanistan. Whatever you're reading out, and whether you are referring to that call I don't know, but the November 10 call is the only call I had in a year with Mr Murdoch. I don't know if you're in a position to confirm that that is the case on behalf of News International or not. As for what happened on September 30, when the Conservative Party was given the imprimatur, if you like, of the Sun, there was no call. There was no discussion, there was no text, there was no conversation with Mr Murdoch at all, and I don't know how I notice that questions have come in from core participants, and the suggestion is that somehow there was a mobile call that hasn't been registered in Downing Street. I really think News International is doing itself a great deal of harm by trying to suggest that a telephone call took place which never happened, and trying to suggest that comments were made on that call that never were made, and trying to suggest also that the attitude of the person on the call was unbalanced when there was no call at all. So you must tell me whether you want to refer to a call that was made on November 10, or a call that you are claiming was made after September 30 which never happened.
Q. Mr Brown, the only question I want to ask you is this: did you have the conversation with Lord Mandelson that he said that you had in the evidence I've just read to you?
A. I don't remember a conversation with Mr Mandelson about this specifically, but if a conversation took place, it would have been about a call on November 10, and it was nothing to do with the support of the Conservative Party; it was about support for Afghanistan. There was no call on September 30. You're allowing me the chance to make this absolutely clear, and News International have produced not one shred of evidence that a call took place, not one date for the call or time for the call. You're not able to tell us what happened, except you have these statements from Mr Murdoch that this happened, and I do find it very strange that we're being asked to debate a call that never took place, for which you have no information about when it took place and where Mr Murdoch was at the time and who was also on the call. MR DAVIES Thank you very much, Mr Brown. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. Thank you. Mr Brown, thank you very much indeed. (1.09 pm)

Witnesses

Gave a statement at the hearing on Monday, June 11, 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 12 pieces of evidence

Themes

Understand all the key topics and the context behind the Inquiry's findings

Journalism & society
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Regulation
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Politics
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Future of journalism
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Background & history
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Subsequent developments
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Ethics & abuses
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