RESEARCH TOOLS


Afternoon Hearing on Thursday, June 14, 2012

David Cameron gave a statement at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(2.00 pm) MR JAY Is there an addition you want to make to one small aspect of this morning's evidence?
A. Yes, thank you, Mr Jay. There was one answer, I gave rather a vague answer about this issue of social contact between myself and my wife and Rebekah and Charlie Brooks. Mrs Cameron keeps perhaps a better weekend diary record than I do and she points out that we were only in the constituency 23 weekends in 2008, 23 weekends in 2009 and I think 15 in 2010. And she reckons we probably didn't see them more than on average once every six weeks, so that is a better answer than what I was able to give you earlier.
Q. According to her diary, that is?
A. Yes. Because in 2008 and 2009 we were basically doing alternate weekends in London and in our house in the constituency for all sorts of reasons, and so that I couldn't recall that when you asked me the question, but seeing that, I can then think once every six weeks, you know, perhaps a little bit more, is probably about right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The great value of wives, Prime Minister.
A. Indeed. MR JAY May I move forward, please, in time, paragraph 235 of your statement, Mr Cameron. You're now in Downing Street and there's a conversation with Mr Clegg.
A. Yes.
Q. About Mr Coulson. How strongly did he express his concerns to you about Mr Coulson?
A. I do not remember it being particularly strong, but he did raise the question and I'd worked with Andy Coulson for a good period of time, I thought he would do the job well, and had no hesitation in recommending him. That's how I remember the conversation going.
Q. What was the basis if any for his concerns, at least as he expressed them to you?
A. As far as I recall, it was just, you know, there has been controversy about this; are you, you know, convinced he's the right man for the job?
Q. Did he elaborate on the controversy or not?
A. I don't remember. I don't remember the conversation in any great detail. I think it was just he wanted to register the point.
Q. Was it part of a wider conversation about other matters or was it a conversation devoted to this one issue?
A. I don't recall that. I think it was, I think, a specific conversation. It may have been bound up in us wanting to make sure that people were, as it were, sort of Coalition-friendly, so that may have been an additional concern.
Q. Okay. Were similar concerns expressed to you directly by anybody else, to the best of your recollection?
A. There were you know, some people did have concerns. I can't remember exactly who and when, but as I said, this was a controversial appointment. I've read in some of these books about a number of people who have made these points, but I don't recall many specifics, but clearly some people did have concerns, yes.
Q. And were they concerns expressed from within your own party?
A. I think there might have been one or two, I think there might have been a specific MP, I think Andrew Tyrie. That's not something I recall directly but something that has been pointed out to me, but he may have expressed concerns to me, but
Q. In terms of quantity, approximately how many people fall into this group of expressing concerns to you?
A. I couldn't put a number on it, but not you know, a handful of people, I think it would be.
Q. Did you have any private conversations with Rupert Murdoch in 2008 and 2010 about this issue?
A. Not that I recall, no. I mean, I was very happy with Andy Coulson's work, and I had been planning on the basis that if we won the election, he would come into Number 10 Downing Street, and I don't recall any conversations with Rupert Murdoch about it.
Q. You deal with the issue of security clearance and vetting procedures at paragraph 240 of your statement, page 04173 and following. There's also a letter which is in the addendum bundle we've prepared for you under tab 34. It's from the Cabinet Office. The letter from the Cabinet Office is not very specific, but it says: in respect of both Directors of Communication and PMs' official spokesmen (6 postholders between January 1996 and May 2010). Three previous holders of the posts (civil servants) already had DV That's developed vetting?
A. Yes.
Q. granted by their previous department on taking up their post Of the others, two (one special adviser and one civil servant) had DV granted around 3 months after taking up post and one (special adviser) had DV granted just over 7 months after taking up post." So Mr Coulson, of course, wasn't a civil servant, he wasn't already DV'd, obviously, so he fell within the special adviser category, so far as there is a category here; is that right?
A. I think that's right. And I think what this letter shows is that it wasn't in any way unique that he wasn't immediately DV'd, and I've looked at this quite closely. I mean, I wasn't involved the issue about who is vetted to what level is an issue for the Civil Service, not for the Prime Minister. The decision was taken I think by the Permanent Secretary at Number 10, Jeremy Heywood, not by me. But having looked at all this, I'm absolutely convinced this is a complete red herring. The decision was made properly by the Civil Service. It wasn't abnormal, as we find from this letter. A similar person in a similar position from a similar background wasn't DV'd immediately. And the reason why he then was DV'd was a perfectly rational and sensible one, which is when we had the East Midlands bomb plot, it was clear we needed more people who were in the communications job, specifically Andy, to have the highest level security clearance so they could help us deal with these issues. I know it's one of these things where people are sort of looking for some abnormality. I think there is none, and I think Gus O'Donnell gave a very clear explanation of this when he came in front of the Inquiry.
Q. I think we can short circuit it in these terms: in terms of security clearance and developed vetting, that has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with the Civil Service?
A. Correct.
Q. And here the Permanent Secretary; is that correct?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And also there was nothing inappropriate about somebody who had not undertaken or undergone developed vetting from having occasional access to top secret material. That's also clear from the letter.
A. I think the letter is important. The lower level of vetting, SC, and it says here: allows long-term frequent access to secret material or occasional/controlled access to top secret material." So again another thing that's been put around has been, I think, dealt with by this. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm grateful. I raised it with it was raised with Lord O'Donnell and he offered to ensure that we got the information. I'm grateful to have it. MR JAY The New York Times piece, 1 December 2010. Were you made aware of it at the time or shortly thereafter?
A. I can't remember the exact sequence of events that day, but yes, I was made aware of it, and I think the key point is that Andy Coulson directly denied and a statement was put out on his behalf by Number 10 Downing Street about this accusation. So that, I think, is pretty clear.
Q. Although the accusation, which we can't go into in detail for obvious reasons, related directly to him?
A. That's right, yes, but there was an instant and immediate denial.
Q. You didn't return to him for any direct assurances, did you?
A. I don't recall exactly the conversations that took place. It was on the day I moved into Number 10 Downing Street after the birth of our daughter, so that's the memory I have from that day rather than anything around this, but I'm absolutely clear he made an outright denial and that was that.
Q. Were you aware that in September 2010 and this is a question coming from another core participant DAC John Yates had offered to brief you about the nature of the Metropolitan Police Service response to the article in the New York Times?
A. Yes. Ed Llewellyn made me my Chief of Staff, who received this offer from John Yates, made me aware of it as he was responding, and he responded, I think, quite properly saying this would not be appropriate, and I think John Yates has accepted that explanation in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, so I think that's pretty clear.
Q. But so we understand it, why was it not appropriate?
A. Well, I think because there was the potential of an investigation following this allegation in the New York Times article, I think in terms of just the perception that there would have been if I was offered a special briefing by the Metropolitan Police, I think that would be inappropriate. I'm sure the Metropolitan Police wouldn't have done anything inappropriate, but it would have given the appearance of at least being inappropriate, and so Ed Llewellyn declined the request. John Yates said, and I think the words are that that was understandable and sensible, I think he said, and Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, looked into this and he's judged that Ed Llewellyn responded absolutely correctly to this.
Q. Did you have any further conversations with Mr Coulson before his
A. I think, sorry, John Yates said: "The offer was properly and understandably rejected." Those are the words that he used. So I think he understood that while it can be appropriate to brief ministers on operational issues, it wouldn't have been on this occasion. Sorry.
Q. Did you have any further conversations with Mr Coulson about these matters before his resignation or not?
A. I had a number of conversations with him about his impending resignation and what followed from the New York Times article, which I know you've looked at, is the police then had an initial look to see if they should investigate again and said they shouldn't, then they had another look and again concluded that they shouldn't, and then the Crown Prosecution Service on 10 December said they weren't going to take it any further. So again, these weren't just assurances accepted by me, as it were, there were others that took this view. Then, really, this was the start of the process whereby Andy Coulson was becoming clear that, as he put it, when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on. He was finding his job was impossible to do because of all these stories and the rest of it, and obviously I had a number of discussions with him about his departure.
Q. Mrs Brooks told us in evidence that she had a conversation with you about phone hacking, but not about Mr Coulson, in late 2010. Do you remember anything about that?
A. I don't really remember the specifics. I saw in her evidence that this was perhaps something to do with me asking a question about some of these civil cases and what was happening. I suspect it could have been that. This was an issue that was obviously being discussed. It was a controversial issue with all the civil cases and the rest of it, and I expect I could have asked some questions about that, but I don't recall the specifics.
Q. Without dealing with specific individuals, we heard Mr Miliband say that the whole hacking saga was, I think in his words, a failure of the establishment. Is that a view which you share or not?
A. I think it's there are lots of failures involved. There was the failure of the newspaper to prevent it in the first place. There was the failure of the police properly to investigate it. There was the failure of Select Committees and the like to get to the bottom of it. You know, I think there was a series of failures, and it took, if you like, a sort of more cataclysmic event, which was the appalling revelations about what happened to Milly Dowler's family before the whole thing really got opened up in the way that it should have done.
Q. Do you see this saga as an illustration perhaps in microcosm of the issue we discussed much earlier on today, namely overcloseness between politicians and the press?
A. It's difficult, that, because, to be fair to Parliament, it did hold an investigation. The Select Committee looked at this. But, for whatever reason, neither the Select Committee nor the police nor the Press Complaints Commission got to the bottom of it, and I think, you know, all of those organisations have to ask, well, why not? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's probably right to say that the ball started to roll rather faster when the police and the CPS decided that they would, as it were, reopen the entire case and so Operation Weeting started.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That got the ball going.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It overcame the initial momentum. Of course, the revelations of July created the mushroom that it has become, I agree, but it's probably fair to say to the police that actually they had started before that revelation occurred.
A. That is absolutely right, yes. That is a good point to make. MR JAY Mr Cameron, may I move on to a separate matter, that's the whole issue of the BSkyB bid.
A. Yes.
Q. And we're now at paragraph 158, please, of your witness statement at page 04145.
A. Yes.
Q. Can I ask you, please, about your own personal attitude to the bid. Were you in favour of it or not?
A. My view about this and about all these sorts of things is in a free market enterprise economy, you should allow mergers, takeovers, acquisitions to go ahead unless there is a public interest in them not going ahead, so I could quite understand why News Corporation would want to make this acquisition, but there are important processes that had to go through. Competition processes, plurality processes, and the rest of it, so that was my view. It was very important that that happened.
Q. But from a policy perspective, were you broadly on side? Would that be a fair characterisation?
A. Well, I wouldn't put it like that. As I say, I don't think you should stand in the way of sensible corporate moves unless there's a public interest against it. From a political point of view, as I think the Chancellor said, from a political, not a policy point of view, from a political point of view, this was a hot potato. We had half of the Conservative press against it and the other half in favour, and whoever was going to adjudicate on this had a very, very difficult job to do.
Q. From your media background, it was the sort of issue with which you'd be familiar. Were you of the school of thought: well, they already own 39.1 per cent. If it raises any issue, it's a competition issue, but it doesn't on the face of it raise a plurality issue?
A. I think my sense was that the European Union had ruled that to all intents and purposes Sky was already controlled by News Corporation, and certainly from my experience at Carlton, when we were competing with Sky, you certainly felt that Sky was pretty much controlled by News Corporation. So that wasn't so much the issue, it was: what does this mean for media plurality? What does it mean for the provision of news? What does it mean for those considerations. It's very important they were properly gone into, and that in the end is what happened.
Q. Do you recall having discussions with Mr Osborne about these matters?
A. Well, obviously we discussed it on the day that Vince Cable's remarks were made public, and so there was a discussion of the what we were going to do as a government to deal with that. In terms of other discussions, I don't recall any, but we discussed lots of things so I wouldn't be at all surprised if we hadn't talked about it in passing.
Q. Are you sure in your mind that the date of the formal announcement of the bid, which we know to be 15 June 2010, was the first you heard of it?
A. That is my recollection. As I say in my witness statement, I can see there was some press speculation in advance of this, but I don't recall any discussions about it or any knowledge about it in advance.
Q. As for the Culture Secretary, this is paragraph 176 of your statement, you say you don't remember any specific conversations with him, but are we to understand by that that it's possible that in general policy terms the merits of the bid might have been discussed with him?
A. Well, I don't recall discussing it with him, but as I'm sure we'll come on to, he did send me some notes about it. But I don't recall specific conversations.
Q. The notes you referred to, there's one of 18 June at paragraph 181 at the bottom of page 04151, and you've kindly set out the text of it on the next page, 04152.
A. Yes. That's right.
Q. It's not particularly revealing. He says: "I steered clear of commenting on News Corp's plans to buy out the 61 per cent of Sky they do not own on the grounds it was a competition issue for regulators and not for ministers." That, of course, was right, although there were, of course, additional plurality issues. It's the memorandum of 19 November 2010 LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just before you move on from that, I hadn't really spotted this, but it might be worth picking up. One of the things Mr Hunt says in this it goes back to the issue about whether your view about the BBC changed in opposition to government: "Following a steer by Nick Clegg, I am sending out signals publicly and privately that our rhetoric will be more generous to the BBC than it was in opposition." That suggests that there had been discussion about that general topic, presumably as part of the Coalition discussions.
A. Yes, I think that's probably correct, although what we actually achieved in government was quite a long-term licence fee freeze, and actually the rhetoric about BBC salaries, particularly the Director General's that has been very high, I think we've kept that up because I think that's important. I would say that the note, even if it is a sort of you know, it was a personal note to me, it's interesting that he says he "steered clear of commenting", "competition issue", "not for ministers". He was demonstrating the difficulties and dangers of being a minister in dealing with this. MR JAY At that stage, of course, the bid lay with Dr Cable and not with DCMS.
A. Yes.
Q. On 19 November 2010, that, of course, was still the state of affairs.
A. Yes.
Q. The private memorandum which he sent to you we've looked at very carefully already with two other witnesses.
A. Yes.
Q. Is it the position that it was received on your email system but you simply don't remember reading it, or what?
A. No. It wasn't received on my email system. As I said, really, the notes I get all go into my box. The issue here is I don't particularly remember this note, and crucially, I didn't recall its existence on the day of 21 December when we were making this decision, and I say that frankly. Obviously if I had recalled it, I would have fed it into the system, as it were, but as I'm sure we'll come on to, it's pretty clear from the legal advice we have that that wouldn't have actually made any difference to the outcome.
Q. Moving forward then to 21 December, we're going to look at the events of that day in more detail in relation to this note, but had you recalled the note, is it your evidence, Mr Cameron, that you would have drawn it to a lawyer's attention?
A. Yes, because what happened on the day of the 21st was obviously we were I was presented with a situation I didn't want. I had the Business Secretary, who had been recorded saying something that was, you know, not acceptable in a quasi-judicial position, to say he declared war on one of the participants in this deal, and so I had a problem which I had to deal with, which was: what do you do? And I had a relatively short period of time in which to deal with this issue. As we went through the process of trying to work out the correct answer, someone raised the issue of what Jeremy Hunt had said publicly because of what Vince Cable had said publicly and we went and checked his public statements. Of course, at that moment if I'd recalled the private note, we could have put the private note into play as well, but my contention is that what's in the private note is not very different to what he said publicly. Indeed, what he said publicly is more effusive. And I think it is noteworthy that we now have this witness statement from Paul Jenkins, the government lawyer, who says very clearly: "I'm quite clear that my advice to Sir Gus would not have been any different had I seen the note at the time. Jeremy Hunt appears to have been providing his personal opinion to the Prime Minister at a time when he had no decision-making powers in respect of the bid." So I do think I know this has been an area of great controversy, but my argument is that we reached the decision to transfer that part of Vince Cable's department to Jeremy Hunt, it was suggested by the Permanent Secretary at Number 10 Downing Street, it was recommended by the Cabinet Secretary, and it was cleared by the legal advice received by the Cabinet Secretary that's now been clarified even further. So I accept there is controversy, but I think the backing of, as it were, two Permanent Secretaries and a lawyer is quite a strong state of affairs.
Q. We'll come back to the events of that day, but it may be said the reason why you don't remember the note of 19 November is that it said nothing remarkable. In other words, it said that which you knew anyway, which was that Mr Hunt was in favour of the bid. Is that a possible explanation?
A. Not particularly, no. I think it's unremarkable in that the job of the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, when he wasn't adjudicating bids, was to stand up for his sector and reflect the views of his sector, and that's exactly what he's doing in this note, but he's adding into it: "It would be totally wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arm's length." So even in this personal note, again he's making clear an understanding of the limitations of what a sponsoring department should do.
Q. But he's also expressing keen support for the bid on policy grounds, isn't he?
A. Well, he's reflecting the views of a large British media company. As I say, I think that that is part of the job of the Culture, Media and Sport Department, is to speak up for the BBC, to speak up for television production, and the point about BSkyB, what are everyone's views about it, it's a big British company, a large employer, and part of the job of the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary is to understand the players as it were in that sector and to reflect and understand their views, but I think he was doing it actually in a responsible way, adding the point about it would be wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue.
Q. I'm not saying it was inappropriate in a private note to you to express strong support for BSkyB, but that's what he was doing, wasn't it?
A. Yes. The note is there for everybody to see. He's expressing his concern.
Q. I think my point was simply, well, this would not necessarily have resonated with you such that you remember it because it's, after all, the sort of thing which you knew anyway in relation to Mr Hunt. Is that a fair observation?
A. I don't know I did know, particularly, what Jeremy Hunt's I discovered on 21 December what his public views were, but this was not high up my list of issues.
Q. We can also see from the note that he was suggesting, notwithstanding the penultimate sentence, "totally wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue", he was suggesting a meeting between the four of you to discuss the policy issues, wasn't he?
A. That's true, but that meeting never took place, which I think is important to note. But I don't think there's anything inappropriate about the minister for a department that covers the media trying to understand and reflect the views of businesses in that sector and some of the policy implications that flow from that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It does raise a question, and I won't take it out of order because I anticipate that Mr Jay might return to it, as to the desirability of putting a minister responsible for this type of decision in the position of Mr Hunt, who had his own views, who has developed his own policy, who would obviously have all sorts of extrinsic concerns and ideas, in the position of having to step outside all of that, and that raises a question.
A. It does. I think the difficulty I mean, of course all of this was a set of circumstances I didn't want to come about. I was very happy with Vince Cable adjudicating on this decision. That became literally impossible, with what he had said, and so we had to make a decision and we had to decide, well, what is the best answer to that? And the answer reached on, you know, the advice of Permanent Secretaries and the rest, was transferring that part of Vince Cable's department to Jeremy Hunt was a sensible thing to do. I don't think it's the case that you can't if you take planning, for instance, you are probably more expert in it than I am, but the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has some pretty strong views about planning, nonetheless has to step outside his views about planning in general and adjudicate sometimes on issues in particular, and that's, I think, what Jeremy Hunt was being asked to do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that, but the point is slightly different where it concerns the media, because you might have a planning policy and then be able to make a perfectly sensible judicial decision I'm not sure in this context there's a difference between quasi and judicial without difficulty. Of course, if it's in your constituency and you're going to be involved, then you would recuse yourself and somebody else would do it.
A. That's right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But the point is that everybody, and it's abundantly clear from all the politicians who have given evidence, has very strong views indeed
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON about the
A. About I mean, I've made the point in the past, it's a bit like asking football fans about Manchester United. Everybody has a view, and that is a difficulty. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And that's the concern. I raised yesterday the question: was this just one-off? And I was told: well, it shouldn't be assumed that it was one-off because there will be situations, and therefore, given the terms of reference, which I have no apology for or blaming you, it is something that I have to think about.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Jay, you'll deal with it in your own time, but
A. There may be a case for taking politicians and I mention this in my evidence taking politicians out of these decisions altogether, and you've had evidence both ways, I think, on that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Correct.
A. My point here is that what I decided to do was a perfectly sensible, straightforward and rational thing to do, given the circumstances, and I did it on the advice, as I say, of the Permanent Secretary at Number 10, the agreement of the Cabinet Secretary, with the legal backing of the Cabinet Secretary's lawyer. So I think it was a perfectly rational decision. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON My question wasn't directed to that at all.
A. Sorry, sorry. I'm banging on. MR JAY We can see Mr Hunt's overall view from the minute. It's a topic, isn't it, like Marmite or Manchester United, where everybody has a view one way or the other, isn't it?
A. Largely speaking, I think that's probably right.
Q. You say Mr Cameron, going back to the chronology, paragraph 160 of your statement, page 04146, you're confident that you had no inappropriate conversations on this subject, including with Rebekah Brooks and/or James Murdoch, in November or December 2010. Can we start off by taking away the adjective "inappropriate" and just say whether there were any conversations at all on this subject?
A. As I say here, I can't remember every conversation I've ever had, but the point I'm making here is that partly because I knew this was controversial, I had I wasn't involved in making the decision anyway, but I'd gone even further than that, and I put it here, I'd recused myself from the decision altogether. I even said that I didn't want to know when particular decisions were going to be made, and that was proved. One morning I woke up and heard on the radio the next stage of the decision, I can't remember if it was undertakings or whatever, and so I was completely out of the decision-making. I can't remember every conversation I've ever had with everybody, nobody can, but I am clear about this conversation I had with James Murdoch on 23 December.
Q. And the gist of that conversation was what, to the best of your recollection?
A. Well, the gist was, as I explained, what Vince Cable had said, albeit privately but made publicly, was very embarrassing for the government, and I wanted to make clear, I think appropriately, that this shouldn't have happened, that it was wrong, and that this issue would now be dealt with entirely properly, and I thought that was quite an important point to make.
Q. One of our core participants, admittedly rather late, wants me to put this question. If you're able to deal with it, fine. If not, we'll find another way. The question is this: why did Downing Street repeatedly decline to confirm the fact of this encounter, namely supper on 23 December 2010?
A. I think what would have happened here is that before we became totally transparent about all these meetings, if Downing Street press office was asked about any social engagement or private engagement they wouldn't normally answer those questions, and I think that's what happened on this occasion. So they said, "We don't comment on the Prime Minister's private or social engagements". I think the issue was pressed and in the end, I can't remember if it was me or someone else, suggested, "Come on, there's nothing to hide here, just answer the question", but we're now in a different world where all these sorts of meetings would be declared in the normal way, but at that stage we weren't routinely giving out private and social engagements.
Q. On Boxing Day, I think there was a picnic or something similar. Everybody wants to know about that as well, but only insofar as it's relevant to our Inquiry. So was there a conversation about the BSkyB bid on that day?
A. No, I don't think there was. My memory is that Boxing Day was actually Charlie Brooks' sister's house, there was a party, I think Rebekah was there briefly. I don't think there was certainly I don't think there was a conversation about BSkyB. I'm not even sure there was much of a conversation at all, but that's my recollection.
Q. Okay. So we wind the tape back just a little bit to 21 December.
A. Yes.
Q. We heard from Mr Clegg yesterday that there was a joint press conference at Downing Street, Mr Cameron, and it was leaving the margins of that conference that you learned of Dr Cable's remarks through one of Mr Peston's blogs or something similar, is that your recollection?
A. That is absolutely my recollection. I remember walking down the stairs from the first floor of Downing Street and we'd just done this press conference and someone telling me, "Look, you have to see these remarks that have come out about what Vince Cable said", and, you know, it was quite an important moment, because these were you know, these were important and significant remarks.
Q. So if we can focus on the highlights, really, of what happened over the following few hours. We know from paragraph 161 of your statement that you had a meeting with Dr Cable. Mr Clegg told us that this was after his meeting with Dr Cable, which would obviously be appropriate. Is there anything material which arises out of that meeting?
A. I think what happened 3 o'clock, the press conference concluded. The news then hit the wires. I then had a series of meetings with the Deputy Prime Minister, with my Chief of Staff, with other members of staff, including the Permanent Secretary at Number 10 Downing Street, Jeremy Heywood, and we had a series of conversations about what are we going to do about this, because obviously Vince Cable could not continue adjudicating this bid. But there was a broader question of the damage this would do to the government, to our reputation of dealing fairly with business and all the rest of it. So there's a conversation involving all of these people and then also involving the Chancellor, who, as he said, would have been coming over to the 4 o'clock meeting at Number 10 about what steps to take, and there was a pretty wide-ranging debate; Jeremy Heywood, I think it was, who made the suggestion about moving the part of the department across to Jeremy Hunt, and that, I thought, was the neatest and most straightforward way of dealing with this issue.
Q. Was he the originator of that idea, to the best of your recollection?
A. To the best of my recollection yes, that is my memory.
Q. It wasn't a politician, was it, who came up with the idea?
A. No.
Q. It was a civil servant?
A. No, it was a civil servant.
Q. Did that idea immediately attract you?
A. I thought it was attractive because, as I say, I was facing a difficult situation. Vince Cable was an extremely good Business Secretary, very leading member of the Liberal Democrats. We're in a Coalition. I want the government to be coherent and to work well together. He's the second-most sort of important and significant Liberal Democrat. I didn't want to lose him as a colleague. But I had a problem, and so I was a Prime Minister in search of a solution, and this seemed to me a relatively neat and straightforward solution. As I say, I think we did consider the issues around it.
Q. According to a text message which we've seen from Mr Osborne, the solution, as he put it, had been alighted on by 16.58 that afternoon, so subject, of course, to legal advice, which we'll come to, it appears as if the decision was made rather quickly. What was the reason for the haste?
A. I read this in some of the evidence that was or perhaps it was your line of questioning. The haste was that it was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the Business Secretary had said something that couldn't stand, this was a major problem for the government, and in this 24-hour news environment in which we live, you cannot just spend hours or half days working out what you're going to do next. You need to come up relatively rapidly, not overly hastily, but relatively rapidly, with a good answer. And we took a good two hours, I think, in discussing the issue, and then I met with Vince Cable and we made the announcement. But I don't think it was particularly rushed. I think we had to make a decision relatively rapidly. This was a very important issue and our reputation for competence, for not dithering and for dealing fairly with business was at risk.
Q. In a bygone age, perhaps, this sort of decision would have been made in a more reflective manner, perhaps by the following morning or the following afternoon, but almost we're the victim of the relationship between media and politicians, 24/7 hour news cycle, you're forced to jump in the deep end with this sort of decision I'm not saying instantaneously but within a couple of hours in an area which is, on anybody's view, sensitive. Is that a fair observation?
A. I think that is a fair observation, but, you know, I can perhaps give you examples where governments have been slow to take important decisions like this where it really affects the wider reputation of the government.
Q. The legal advice, I think, was sought after the "solution" which Mr Osborne referred to had been decided on. Is that right?
A. That's not my understanding in that my understanding, my recollection is that we were having this discussion, the solution was suggested, I was attracted to the solution. Because Vince Cable had got into trouble by what had been reported publicly, someone I can't remember who said we must check the public statements of Jeremy Hunt. That took place and there was a legal view expressed before the decision. But I will check that. I definitely asked the Cabinet Secretary's view, and my memory is that he sought legal advice. But we now have even more legal advice, as it were, which is this witness statement from Paul Jenkins.
Q. We get some sense of when the legal advice started to be obtained from tab 52, Mr Cameron, which is page 08108 in these files. It's an email from the legal director at DCMS timed at 17.24 on 21 December. It was then forwarded to your Chief of Staff at 17.30, which of course is after the time of Mr Osborne's text. It's pretty clear looking at it that this is Mr Hunt's public statement, which is recorded in the Financial Times interview. Do you see that?
A. Yes. I do see that. But looking again at the timesheet of the day, I had a meeting, five to 5, with the Cabinet Secretary and I think it was at that point he said that he thought this was a good solution, but he wanted to seek rapid legal advice. I think he then did that, and of course the announcement was then made at 17.45, at 5.45 pm. So my recollection was there was time for him to look at the legal advice, but as I say, I think this is all slightly academic, as we now have a much fuller position of the government's legal advice.
Q. Although, if you look at Mr Jenkins' advice he of course is the Treasury Solicitor himself paragraph 5, he tells us he was on annual leave on 21 December but he was frequently called on to provide advice and assistance when on leave. His telephone records showed and he recollects that he was in contact by telephone from approximately 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm from a number of senior officials, including Sir Gus. So the advice he was giving was, it might be said, a little bit on the hoof, on holiday and in a rush. Isn't that fair?
A. I am not sure that is particularly fair. I think he says and we now have this evidence from Paul Jenkins, and he says: "My telephone records show and I recollect I was in contact by telephone from approximately 4.30 to 5.30 with a number of senior officials including Sir Gus dealing with the issues arising from the publication of Dr Cable's comments." He then goes on, paragraph 9: "I was provided with the gist of the comments made by Jeremy Hunt by Sir Gus over the telephone. And for the reason subsequently stated by Sir Gus's note to the Prime Minister of 22 December I advised that the comments that I was made aware of did not in my view constitute a legal impediment to Jeremy Hunt discharging the Enterprise Act 2000 functions in relation to the bid in a proper manner." So that would support what I'm saying, which is I met with Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary. He said he thought this was a good solution, to transfer the responsibilities of that part of the department to Jeremy Hunt. At his suggestion, legal advice was sought. The legal advice was sought, albeit by telephone, but to one of the government's senior legal advisers. That legal advice was played back, which is to say that it was perfectly acceptable for Jeremy Hunt to carry out this role, and it's now been confirmed in a long piece of legal advice that everybody can now see. So it seems to me, yes, we had to make the decision relatively rapidly, for the reasons we've discussed, but it was not some rushed, botched political decision. It was a suggestion by one senior official, confirmed by the most senior official in the land, and backed by that senior official as legal advice.
Q. But to be clear, Mr Cameron, the long piece of legal advice is Mr Jenkins' witness statement, which isn't his legal advice itself. The only legal advice he gave was orally by telephone on the day, and it related only to the piece in the Financial Times, didn't it?
A. Well, it was related to, as I understand it, the public statements of Jeremy Hunt. The point is, I would argue, that Paul Jenkins has now had time to think about the legal advice he was asked for, the public statements of Jeremy Hunt that were made, and he's now been able to compare them with the points in the note to me of 19 November, and he is very clear that, as he says: "I have reviewed the relevant sections of this note as set out at paragraph 182 of the Prime Minister's witness statement, and to the extent it may assist, I will comment on whether my advice would have been different had I known about it." Then he says: "I am quite clear my advice to Sir Gus would not have been any different had I seen the note at the time."
Q. Yes, that's his retrospective view of what his advice would have been, but
A. It is, but he is the government's legal adviser. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You're entitled to make the point, Prime Minister, that actually two very senior civil servants had taken a view. They'd gone to the Treasury solicitor, who is the most senior lawyer in the government, and he'd expressed a view, and that was subsequently reduced into writing. I'm not talking about the statement, I'm talking about in the memorandum that Sir Gus later wrote, and nothing that's happened or nothing that thereafter has happened, so it seems from this statement, caused Mr Jenkins to change his mind.
A. I suppose I would make the additional point I don't know whether it helps that if anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn't do the job, I wouldn't have given him the job. MR JAY We don't have Mr Jenkins' view on the text message which Mr Hunt sent to Mr Murdoch about "congratulations Brussels, only Ofcom to go", or words to that effect, but there we are. Paragraph 170 of your witness statement LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Jay, can I just ask, is Mr Jenkins' statement yet on the system? MR JAY I believe it is, yes.
A. I think it's on our screens now. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. No, no, no, I can see it, but by "the system" I want to make sure that it's in the public domain, because it wouldn't normally be in the public domain until it was either formally read into the record but I now identify that it should go into the public domain so that everybody can see the whole context in which Mr Jenkins has spoken. MR JAY I just wanted to make one point, Mr Cameron, on paragraph 170 of your witness statement, which is page 04149, where you said four lines down: "The key point was not whether Jeremy Hunt had expressed a personal opinion about the bid privately or publicly in the past, but rather how he would conduct himself in the future." That, on my understanding, was not in fact the advice of Mr Jenkins or indeed the advice we see from Lord O'Donnell on 22 December. The point was: had he expressed an opinion which disclosed actual or apparent bias; do you follow that?
A. I do, but obviously what I'm putting in my evidence is what the Cabinet Secretary's advice was, and that key point was, I believe, a point that he made. I would I mean, perhaps it's not directly relevant to this question. I would argue, backed up by what the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, that when you look at how Jeremy Hunt did handle the BSkyB merger, that he did deal with it properly, by taking independent advice and publishing independent advice at every important juncture.
Q. But Lord O'Donnell's advice, or rather a reflection of legal advice which he received on 22 December under tab 25 of the addendum bundle, was: "Having taken advice from lawyers, I am satisfied that no previous comments by Mr Hunt of which we are aware constitute a pre-judgment of the case in question or thereby disqualify him from taking the statutory decision in that case." So the issue was looking at what had he said which might disqualify him, not how might he conduct himself in the future. Would you agree with that?
A. I would agree with that, but, as I say, my paragraph 170 was written based on what the Cabinet Secretary said, but I'm also very happy with what the Cabinet Secretary says, as you say, in tab 25. I think perhaps well, I'm happy with either version.
Q. Would you agree that if we go forward in time now to July 2011, when everything of course blew up, that for political reasons you were very keen to derail the BSkyB bid to avoid an adverse Commons vote on it?
A. I wouldn't quite put it like that. I mean, the point was, with all that was emerging in terms of the dreadful news about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, that the public was rightly very angry about what had happened, and while there was, quite rightly, a quasi-judicial procedure taking place, there was a broader issue of the views of the House of Commons, the views of the country, and the need to reflect those. And this obviously was difficult. I've looked back over the statements I made and what I tried to do I was in Afghanistan when the story about Milly Dowler's phone being hacked broke. Both what I said then and what I said when I returned to the House of Commons was to try and say: look, we have to follow these processes and procedures that are set out, but I think the way I put it was: if I was running this company, I wouldn't be considering a corporate move. I would be cleaning up the mess that there is. I thought that was just about consistent with there being a quasi-judicial process, but the House of Commons can vote on these issues, and rightly so. You shouldn't try and fetter that, in my view.
Q. Mr Hunt, of course, was still acting quasi-judicially. In a funny sort of way, probably everybody was trying to move towards a position where the wheels would fall off the bid for political reasons. Is that not fair?
A. As I say, I think and there are emails that show this I think everyone was asking the question: what are the options that exist that are consistent with maintaining the proper procedures and legal processes? I think that's a perfectly reasonable question to ask.
Q. Okay. May I move off BSkyB to the fourth section of your evidence now, Mr Cameron, and this is the area of any lessons to be learned for politicians. First of all, would you agree with Mr Miliband's view that the events of July of last year were liberating, to use his word, in the sense that, I paraphrase, Mr Murdoch's power had already been substantially weakened?
A. I think I'd put it in a slightly different way, that I think because of all the issues that it has raised, in terms of press conduct and police conduct and the relationship between politicians and the media, that some of the distance and better processes that are required are already being put in place. Now, as I think Lord Justice Leveson has said, that's not enough just to say, well, lessons are being learnt as we go along, we need to do better than that, but it's a start.
Q. I think what he might have meant, that whereas before some politicians were operating under a self-imposed constraint, that they weren't prepared to speak out against News International, the chains have come off and now everybody feels that they can. I may be putting words in his mouth. I may accurately have caught the sentiment he was wishes to impart. If I have caught it accurately, would you agree with that?
A. I would just put it my own way of saying that the debate that needs to take place about how we regulate the press, including News International and all those titles, that is now properly being had.
Q. The transparency, which everybody agrees is a key principle, I think it's clear from your evidence earlier that you believe it's necessary but not sufficient, but can we be clear now, please, Mr Cameron what else we would add to the mix to create a sufficient situation?
A. I think there are really two areas here. One is we need to get right the regulatory structure. I think the current self-regulatory structure hasn't delivered. When you re-read the press code, it's a great document. It's many of the things we'd want to see. But it just hasn't delivered, so we need to find a way, and I know you're spending a huge amount of time on this, to deliver the sorts of things that are actually in the press code but aren't delivered today. That seems to be one part, and the second part is, I think I was talking about this earlier, is in terms of how governments deal with quasi-judicial processes, the role of special advisers, the contacts that we have with the press when commercial issues are raised, I think there's a set of things that we can do to improve the handling of those issues. So I think those are the two areas I would identify.
Q. I have down three. The quasi-judicial
A. Well, one is about the regulatory system, that's obviously the big question: what's the future for self-regulation, how do we make sure it's independent, how does it work, how do we make it robust, how do we make it compulsory, how can we make sure there are proper penalties and the public have confidence in it? All consistent with the free, vibrant, rigorous, challenging press we want to see in our country. That's set of issues number one. I think set of issues number two is about some of the processes and procedures where, you know, for instance, the Ministerial Code doesn't really mention quasi-judicial procedures. Well, it needs to. We need to improve that. And I think there's a set of procedural changes, as it were, on special advisers, on quasi-judicial procedures and the like, where we can make some improvements in the procedures we have. So, sort of, if you like, two sets of issues, but with some subsets.
Q. But we're really on the second set of issues, which I am putting under the heading of lessons to be learned for politicians, and we'll come back to the first set of issues in the fifth section of your evidence. As regards the quasi-judicial process aspect of this, you mentioned possible changes to the Ministerial Code. Has any thought been given to that already?
A. Yes. The first thing is that on my asking the Cabinet Secretary has written round to departments to remind them of some of the salient points, but as I say, my understanding is it's not properly dealt with in the Ministerial Code and perhaps we can write to the Inquiry with some suggestions. I want to consult about that to try and make sure we get it right. And I think also the role of special advisers in quasi-judicial proceedings, I think we need to get that right, too.
Q. So what are the weaknesses, the flaws, which may have been detected already regarding the role of special advisers in the quasi-judicial process?
A. I think there needs to be adequate training so that people are properly prepared for what these decisions do and don't involve, and that, I think, is the main improvement we could make. I think that both applies to make sure that ministers, who may have these decisions to make in their departments, have proper briefing about them, and also special advisers as well.
Q. And what about adequate supervision of special advisers when they are acting on behalf of their minister in a quasi-judicial process?
A. I think that is important. I think that in terms of the management of special advisers, as I've said, we've made some steps forward already by making sure that special advisers are clear under the code they work for the whole government, not just a minister. We're also looking at the better management of special advisers, both centrally through my Chief of Staff and Number 10 Downing Street, but also making sure they are properly and adequately managed by the minister and by with the advice of the Permanent Secretary. So I think there's some improvements we can make there.
Q. Responsibility for the discipline of special advisers resides with the minister and with no-one else
A. Ultimately it resides with me. They all in the end are there at my appointment.
Q. Certainly, but I think the relevant special advisers' code places the responsibility with the minister. Theoretically, yes, with you, but obviously you're not going to supervise all these people
A. No.
Q. on a day-to-day basis. Has not an issue arisen, if I can put it in that way, in regard to the supervision of special advisers acting where there is an underlying quasi-judicial process?
A. Yes. I think there has. I think in this specific case you've heard all the evidence, I've looked at all the evidence. As I see it, the Permanent Secretary was aware and content with the role the special adviser was playing, but in the event, the special adviser the level of contact and the extent of contact was inappropriate, and that's why he resigned. So I think there are lessons to learn from that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There's a question, I ought to actually say generally about this whole from now on, as Mr Jay discusses these issues and the later issues, I'm very conscious that it might be thought by some to be a bit rich for you to have asked me to make recommendations and then for me to ask you what the answer is. And I recognise that dilemma. But that's not to say, provided you're content, that you shouldn't feel able to identify areas that concern you, solutions that could likely be sketched out. I'm not trying to create
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON a difference between the ultimate view you take and the recommendations I make. I have no doubt my recommendations will be better informed with a word we've used a great deal in the last few months appropriate input. I'm not trying to ask you to straitjacket me, and I'm certainly not going to try and do the same.
A. I understand that. What I'd like to do is I've made a number of suggestions on the interaction between politicians and the media, which we discussed earlier, on how we make sure there's adequate training on quasi-judicial proceedings and how we make sure that special advisers are properly briefed and prepared for their role. What I'd like to do is consult with Sir Alex Allan, my adviser on the Ministerial Code, on those, and then perhaps write to you with some sort of combined advice from the Cabinet Secretary, my Permanent Secretary at Number 10 and Sir Alex Allan about I think they're not enormous changes because I think some of this is, as we talked earlier, is about culture and the rest of it. But if there are specific alterations we can make, we should make them. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm very content to adopt whichever procedure you find is most likely to help me, but I want to make the general point, there's a specific point in relation to special advisers which I'll share with you, and that is a slight concern that these comparatively young men and women, obviously highly intelligent, devoted to the work they're doing, abundantly clear I have seen Mr Smith unlike civil servants of an equivalent age and rank, who have all sorts of mentoring and monitoring and appraisal, it seems that there doesn't seem to be anything in place that really helps and that's not just for a quasi-judicial question, because it might turn into a different problem in a different context. So I share that concern with you for you to think about, or for you to say to me, "Thank you very much, I'm not terribly bothered about any of that."
A. No. I'd make two points. First of all, when I was a special adviser, there was, as far as I can remember, no annual appraisal at all, and certainly not by your ultimate appointed person, which is the Prime Minister and his office, and we have introduced annual appraisals and there is a role for my Chief of Staff to make sure that the special advisers are working in a co-ordinated fashion for the whole government and we're going to look at whether we can improve that. But the second point I'd make, which is slightly from the other side, I do think there is a value in having special advisers to this point, which is that special advisers, because they undertake a lot of political work for ministers, they actually make sure the Civil Service can go on being impartial. You know there are certain things you can get your special adviser to do on a political front that you wouldn't want to ask permanent officials because you might be compromising their impartiality, so I'd hate it if out of all of this we killed off the idea of good special advisers helping their minister and helping to keep the separation of politics and sorry, it's rather a long answer but it's an important point. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I take the point entirely, because what you've done is to identify why there is a difference, why there are special advisers and there are civil servants. They do different things. And I'm not saying that the sort of assistance or monitoring or mentoring that I'm suggesting should necessarily come from civil servants. It may be that the party from which they came has to think about whether it has some role in providing some support for these bright people who want to do the right thing, who obviously they have very, very close links with the ministers for whom they're working, but who may not want to trouble them because the whole idea is they are a buffer.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just to provide some check. Now, this is, you may say, an uninformed, loose guy thought.
A. No, I think you've got it. There's a combination of those two things: to keep the role of special advisers with the good work they do and the fact they help prevent the politicisation of the Civil Service, but to make sure there's a bit more training and structure and appraisal, to make sure they're all pointing in the same direction, which is obviously in my interest, but also to make sure that when it comes to things like quasi-judicial procedures they have the necessary training to know what they should and shouldn't do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And the support to check, if they're bothered.
A. Yes. Yes. MR JAY Could it be suggested that there may be some sort of a priori suggestion here, that owing to the good political work that special advisers do, and they are adept, some of them at least, as working as an effective back channel, that those very attributes make them inherently unsuited for operating in a quasi-judicial domain? Do you see the force of that?
A. I can see the point, but I think that I don't see why, if they're following a proper set of procedures and the rest of it, why they can't soak up a bit of the pressure and information a minister would otherwise be bombarded by. So I think they can play a role.
Q. But that would require them to acquire the same quasi-judicial attributes as the minister. The minister could arguably just about be expected to do so, a person of greater experience, but nobody expects someone quite junior to do something they're not really suited or trained to do. Is that not a reasonable point?
A. I am not sure, because part of this role is simply to soak up information from it might be a if it's a planning dispute or a merger or a takeover, it's to listen to the arguments that come from both sides so that the participants feel they've had a say and I think they can play that role.
Q. Mr Cameron, you also mentioned about ten minutes ago the issue of lobbying of the press.
A. Yes, lobbying of or lobbying by the press?
Q. Sorry, I think it's by the press, particularly in areas where they have a commercial interest. They are particularly parti pris and they have a particularly loud voice. It's just whether there are any ideas you could share with us in that respect?
A. I think this is difficult because you if you have a note taken of every single meeting, every time a politician meets with an editor, I think it would be a very overbureaucratic response. The point I think I mentioned this this morning I think if it's clear that a media business is coming to talk to you about media business issues, then it's appropriate a private secretary is there to take a note. If they are coming to have a chat about policy and your general approach but they throw in a nakedly commercial point, then perhaps that's something under the Ministerial Code, arguably it should happen already, the minister should mention to their private secretary. I gave the example this morning of regional newspapers and the lobbying they do. I mean, the BBC can be quite an aggressive lobbyist on issues like licence fee or charter renewal and what have you, and we must make sure this is treated properly.
Q. The social/professional boundary and the context where journalists become friends of politicians will naturally occur, but how do those friendships impinge, if at all, on the press's duty to hold politicians to account?
A. How do they impinge on the press's duty to hold?
Q. Mm.
A. What, you think these people might go soft on you because they're your friends?
Q. Well, that's one possibility, yes.
A. I think this is just people having to police the boundaries between friendship and professional relations. It's something that happens in lots of walks of life. I'm sure it happens in the law. You've got friends who you're sometimes slugging it out with in one of these courtrooms, I guess.
Q. It's clear from the advice Lord O'Donnell gave in July of last year we can turn it up, actually, it's under tab 65 of this bundle, when he was advising you on the Ministerial Code
A. Is this in a supplemental set?
Q. No, it's in the original.
A. I don't seem to have 63.
Q. It's page 05294. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, you'd better look for a tab.
A. I have it. MR JAY I don't immediately have it. Just bear with me. Oh, it's in the other bundle?
A. Yes. This is the memo from Gus O'Donnell to me and this is where this is about how wide to draw the net of people you should be transparent about.
Q. Certainly. It's paragraphs 7 and 8 of that advice. It's page 05296 where he addresses these matters.
A. Yes. I think I mentioned this earlier. My view is that if you try and say every time you meet socially a friend who a really good friend who falls into one of these categories or perhaps just below, you have to make a declaration, I think we'll get ourselves into a complete mess and some declarations won't be made, it will then come out that A met B, that will be splashed all over a newspaper and the public's confidence in this system will collapse. I think the right way of dealing with this is to have what we've set out, transparency about meetings, which is far in advance of anything a government has done in the past, but then to have to make sure ministers have a proper conversation with their Permanent Secretaries about friends and friendships and jobs that people do, so that they are effectively covered if it then subsequently comes out that there's been some conflict. I think that that helps with this issue.
Q. I think Lord O'Donnell's advice in paragraph 8 was that purely social interactions with personal friends needn't be recorded, but if there's any overlap with an official role, it would seem unreasonable to pardon me, "but where there could be any overlap with their official role, I think we should advise them to record the interaction." So that would cover, I suppose, the 23 December 2010 conversation you had with Mr James Murdoch, which, to be fair to you, you have recorded?
A. Absolutely. He would be covered by this. He would definitely be covered by this, absolutely. Newspaper owners, chairman, senior editors. I think I was making a slightly different point which relates to the question you asked me earlier about old personal friends who are somewhere around that level or just below. MR JAY Is that a convenient LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Certainly, we'll take the afternoon break. (3.17 pm) (A short break)s (3.29 pm) MR JAY Mr Cameron, when Sir John Major gave his evidence, talking about the culture, practice and ethics of the press, in an eloquent passage in his evidence he blamed, if blamed it is the right word, the culture which had been established by those at the top, and he particularly identified proprietors, without necessarily naming any individual culture. If we're looking at the political culture on this topic, we're obviously looking to those at the top perhaps to change it, because that is how cultures change, so if we can move away from the detail of ministerial codes and SpAd codes and whatever, how are we going to change the political culture, and indeed I have to ask the question of you because you're not responsible for creating it, but you have the best chance of changing it.
A. Well, I think that there are the rules that need to change, but a lot of it will be trying to get a proper respect between politicians and journalists, journalists and politicians, trying to create some of this distance that we've spoken about, and I think that's going to be the key to this, but it needs to be backed up by these frameworks and the way we provide transparency and get regulation right at the same time.
Q. Trying to get it, I'm sure, but how are you going to go about doing it insofar as it's within your power to do so, Mr Cameron?
A. It's partly how you behave. It's partly as I said, when I got into Downing Street, I did try to create a bit more distance. I think I need to go back and do that again, and, you know, yes, you're still going to have meetings with editors and proprietors, you're still going to try to get your message across, but a bit more distance, a bit more formality, a bit more respect on both sides that has to be earned and the politicians are going to have to do their bit to earn it.
Q. As far as there's a quid pro quo, what do you expect, if anything, from the press, from journalists, in order to do their bit, as it were?
A. I think part of this is going to go to the issue of regulation. When I said earlier that self-regulation has failed, what I mean is that this system we have at the moment is not working, and we have to put something in its place, and what we put in its place will in part depend on how newspapers respond to this challenge, and that is obviously what this Inquiry is doing, but newspapers are currently trying to respond to the challenge through the work that Lord Hunt is doing with the Press Complaints Commission. So there are obviously behavioural changes that politicians and media need to make, there are rule changes we need to put in place, but what's taken a long time to go wrong I suspect will take quite a long time to be put right.
Q. Those behavioural changes relate more, it could be said, to the relationship between the press and the public, which was Module 1 of this Inquiry, quite a long time ago now, but if we're on Module 3, the relationship between the press and politicians, how or in what respects should the press modify its behaviour so that the relationship between press and politicians specifically is enhanced or at least moves away to the position it's in now?
A. That's very difficult. I mean, that is in a way that's a question I think you have to put to the press. I mean, me saying to them, "Well, we must have more separation of news and comment and more respect", that's not going to work. In a relationship like this, the politicians have to take their actions to earn respect, which is the distance, the formality, the transparency. Perhaps we should look at, as Gordon Brown was talking about, some of the issues around the lobby, perhaps we should look at those issues and see if there's more than can be done there, but I think the question for how the press should respond has to be a question for them and I don't think it's for me to sort of lecture them on that.
Q. Although the press is very happy to tell politicians how they should comport themselves, but you're not going to return the favour?
A. I think the responsibility, first of this Inquiry and then of politicians, is to rise to the challenge of putting in place a set of relationships and a set of regulations that are going to work, and in the past what's happened is there's been a crisis, someone suggests some changes, the politicians don't really get together and sort it out, they play a kind of game of regulatory arbitrage, one with the other, and the mess continues. Now, the last thing you want is a sort of stitch-up by the politicians who sort of rub their hands and think this is a great opportunity to get together and clobber the press, and I totally understand the press's nerve about that. You know, I say in the House of Commons a lot: this must not be kind of revenge for the expenses scandal. The expenses scandal was a scandal, and it was good the press revealed it, however painful that might have been. So what we need to do is for the politicians on a cross-party, long-term, sensible basis try and work out what needs to be done with obviously the results of this Inquiry.
Q. That moves nicely into the fifth and last section of your evidence, lessons to be learned for the press. The Inquiry has received a vast amount of evidence about the culture, practices and ethics of the press. Obviously you haven't followed all of it, but do you have any general impressions which you can share with us about the culture, practices and ethics of the press or a section of the press?
A. I've read some of the evidence that's been put forward, and frankly some of that evidence is incredibly shocking. Some of it is really heartbreaking. The test of a regulatory system is not does that make the politicians happier? The test of the system is: is it going to provide proper protection to ordinary families who, through no fault of their own, get caught up in these media maelstroms and get completely mistreated? And the evidence of the Dowler family and the evidence of the McCann family is incredibly powerful in that regard. I will never forget meeting with the Dowler family in Downing Street to run through the terms of this Inquiry with them and to hear what they had been through and how it had redoubled, trebled the pain and agony they'd been through over losing Milly. I'll never forget that, and that's the test of all this. It's not: do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get? It's: are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process. That's what the test is.
Q. On 6 July of last year you explained to Parliament that in your view the PCC had failed. Does it follow from that that you believe that self-regulation has failed?
A. Not necessarily. I mean, I what matters is that the system that's put in place passes a series of tests, in my view. It must be independent and be seen to be independent. It has to involve all of the newspapers. It can't be opted out of. It has to have real teeth in terms of penalties that, you know, where mistakes are made and bad practice happens, there are real penalties as a result. It has to have an ability to get out and find out what happened rather than just have sort of self-reported problems. If those things can be and it has to have the confidence of the public and it has to stop, as I said, the scandals that we've seen. If it can do those things, that's the test. Now, I totally understand why the press and people who, like me, care about a free press, have a real concern about sort of full-on statutory regulation. I worked in television where we had statutory regulation. It's a different beast, because television, because of its power, because of the limited amount of bandwidth, you have to have, in my view, regulation for impartiality, and that requires statutory backing, which is what we have. Newspapers are different, and we have to respect that and understand that, so if we can make a self-regulatory system work that is genuinely independent and the "self" sort of disappears, that would be fantastic, but what matters is the outcome rather than the title, as it were. I've looked carefully at what David Hunt is suggesting. I think he has some very good ideas there. I think they have to be rigorously tested as to whether they can deliver independence, penalties, compulsion, toughness, public confidence and all the rest of it. And I think that's I'm sorry to have given you this hot potato, but I think that's the test. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I don't think you sound sorry about doing that at all, actually. But there are some contradictions in there, because if it has to involve everyone, and it has to involve everyone
A. Yes, absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON if it has, then it's quite difficult to see how you can have a system that doesn't have some sort of framework because any system that is entirely self-regulatory, use of the word "self" means opting in and opting out.
A. I think it can't be self-regulation, it has to be independent regulation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Agreed.
A. The question is: does it need statutory backing or not? And obviously, in a free society, it would be much better if we could deliver it without statute, but that's the difficult thing we have to examine. But it must be as I say, I think the key the interim stage is how you get there. What we actually have to deliver is that it is compulsory and has all those things that I said, and I think that's the challenge that you've laid down, quite rightly, to David Hunt and others: show me how you can satisfy those terms. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, that's indeed the point, and one could say that one of the concerns and I don't know how the idea has developed in the months since Lord Hunt and Lord Black outlined it to the Inquiry, but a contract with a long notice period has its own problems because it's not necessarily compulsory, you don't have to sign it, and signing it under the umbrella of this Inquiry because of the threat that something worse will happen doesn't look at though it's a very good start for a system. I'm not ruling on it, I'm not deciding it, but I'm merely identifying some concerns. Do you feel that
A. I share those concerns, I completely and I don't want to be categoric, because I want this is a challenge that's been laid down to this government. It's not you know, we have all sorts of challenges we want to meet, but this, I recognise, it's our duty to sort out this set of relationships that have gone wrong. We want to do that. So I don't want to be too categoric today because I want to throw in my ideas and see your result and see if with other political party leaders we can deliver a proper change that will serve the country well. That's the aim of all this. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Absolutely. To that extent I hope that you, like I, feel encouraged by Sir John Major making the political point that without a consensus this is very difficult.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Then Mr Miliband coming along and Mr Clegg coming along I appreciate you're in Coalition with him.
A. Yes. Doesn't always mean we agree, but LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So I hope that you can agree with the same broad need for consensus
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON and a principled response in the way they identified it.
A. I agree with every word of that, and it was particularly important that when I set up established this Inquiry, we sought political consensus on its terms of reference. I think that consensus is very important, and I thought John Major's evidence about what went wrong with the Calcutt process and the outcome of that in not being able to deliver the changes was instructive, and we have to do better. MR JAY Mr Cameron, you've identified certain essential attributes of the desirable system: independence, all newspapers required to participate, real teeth, et cetera. I think we're also agreed it's also an essential attribute that government should not be permitted to interfere in matters of content, contrast the position of broadcasters; is that right?
A. Correct.
Q. But if any statute specifically prevented government from interfering in matters of content and, moreover, possessed a number of constitutional safeguards which underscored that, would there be any objection in principle to having such a statutory underpinning?
A. I think the as I say, I don't want to commit myself too deeply. I think as we go at this, we have to understand the real concern there is about statutory regulation. That doesn't mean you rule it out, but it means try and make everything that can be independent work before you reach for that lever. But, of course, if you had to undertake it, the more undertakings, the more safeguards would obviously be better. That would be my view. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think what Mr Jay is really getting to is not suggesting any form of statutory regulation, but perhaps a system whereby what was required was described by a statute which similarly provided the same constitutional independence for the press that section 3(1) of the Constitution Reform Act provides the judiciary, and if I occasionally peddle that particular provision it's because it was an idea I had some months ago.
A. Right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Which provides the structure onto which a system that is entirely independent of government, of politicians and carries with it perhaps not serving editors but those who have got the experience of the industry as well as independent members would satisfy the criteria which we've been discussing.
A. Well, obviously not obviously, it's not obvious, none of this is obvious. I suppose it could. I just come back to the point, you know, what are we trying to deliver here? We want to know that if an individual suffered press intrusion, has an inaccurate article written about them, has their life turned around in some way, all these things that have happened, that it really is worth their while going to this regulator, however established, and they know they're going to get a front page apology, they're going to get the newspaper brought to book. That's what doesn't happen at the moment. People just feel: I don't have that ability. So what happens is the legal remedies this was the problem I think with the Calcutt Act the legal remedies seem to be there for the wealthy, that they could get redress, they could take out a libel action, hire an expensive lawyer and the rest of it. We want a system that's simple, understandable, that ordinary people can use to get redress. That's the key to it, and of course if you do something statutory you can put in rights and points, but as you were saying, I can sort of see that we might end up in a lot of judicial review cases and what have you rather than what we really want to see, which is rapid, swift action for proper redress LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I am absolutely opposed to trying to create a system that generates more work for lawyers.
A. Right. That's a great relief. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You can trust me on that. And I entirely agree that swift redress is extremely important. Of course, that redress must be capable of being enforced.
A. Yes. Yes. You can't opt out of it. You can't have a situation now where people don't go to the PCC because they feel they're going to have to relive the nightmare all over again and probably not get a reasonable outcome at the end of it. But I think this is the space we're in. How do we deliver that? Is it possible to do it without statutory backing, with statutory backing, with statutory backing with guarantees? That's I'm afraid the LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's quite difficult to see how it can be dealt with purely contractually, because contracts by definition can be stepped away from.
A. We've set you've set I think David Hunt the challenge. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, well
A. And let's see what he comes back with. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not ruling it out.
A. No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not ruling any possible solution out. I made it abundantly clear to the editors and to Lord Black and Lord Hunt that it is the problem of the press just as much as it's my problem, but their solution has to work for me.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And what you essentially have identified in slightly different words, but with exactly the same fervour, are the criteria that make it work for me, and if it doesn't satisfy the type of requirements that you've just spoken of, then it doesn't work for me, whatever.
A. It doesn't work for me either. But the point is it doesn't work for the Dowlers, or the McCanns. That's the test. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand.
A. I'm sorry I don't have the whole answer, but I think the question you've challenged the industry with is the right one and we have to see: is there some way of saying, "If you're not part of this, you're not in the lobby, you don't get any information from government, you don't get this or that", and is there a way of making it that it becomes effectively compulsory? Because I totally accept we can't say it's the last-chance saloon all over again. You know, we've done that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's quite difficult to see how the government can withdraw favours, as it were, like the lobby, unless you tell me differently.
A. Well, I'm just, you know, trying to think of are there ways of encouraging a system that everyone takes part in, but short of this quite understandable neuralgia people have about statutory regulation when we're talking about a free press. So that's the challenge. I don't think I have the answer, but David Hunt knows what the question is and if he can't convince you or the political leaders who all know we have to sort this out, then that's going to be the problem, but that's the challenge. MR JAY Mr Gove expressed some views in February of this year about the chilling effect of this Inquiry on freedom of speech and the dangers of regulation. Are those views which you associate yourself with or not?
A. Well, we have a slightly different view. I mean, Michael comes from a print press background. He was news editor of the Times. I think he's right to make the point there is a danger if we don't get this right, that you could have a chilling effect. We don't want that. But we all put our points in our own way.
Q. Okay. As for the future of press regulation, you've adumbrated your ideas. Is there anything else you would like to add to that, Mr Cameron?
A. I think that is I think we've discussed the overall challenge and that's what we need to meet, and we should, as I say again, bear in mind who we're doing this for, why we're here in the first place, and that's the real test. If the families like the Dowlers feel this has really changed the way they would have been treated, we would have done our job properly.
Q. Is there any aspect of your evidence which you feel we haven't covered? Obviously you've supplied detailed evidence in writing. I haven't gone to every single paragraph, but if you think there's a salient omission, we will address it now.
A. No, I think we've covered the waterfront. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Could I suggest that it's not just the Dowlers, but really encompasses all those whose privacy or rights have been intruded upon without any sufficient public interest. Would that be fair?
A. I agree with that, but I think those of us who put ourselves in the public eye that doesn't mean you give up all your rights to privacy, of course it doesn't, but I think it is different, and politicians have to accept a greater level of questioning and all of that, and that's why I think focusing on the regulatory system is better than focusing on privacy laws or other legal remedies, which can tend to favour the powerful rather than people who just get caught up in this storm, and it completely changes their lives. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON On the basis that they don't have the resources or the equipment to take on the press.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's actually why I used the phrase "sufficient public interest", because you'll be the first to recognise that being in public life, the threshold for what might be an invasion of privacy for somebody who isn't a politician is going to be different for somebody who is.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Or somebody who has celebrity status for some other reason. There is still a threshold. It isn't zero, but it's a different threshold.
A. Totally. They could probably safely leave their child in the pub and not have the same attention focused on them, which I don't complain about at all, I think a perfectly legitimate point has been made. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it was rather interesting, the number of those in the newsrooms who reported it who said, "Well, actually that happened to me", or "I did it to my child".
A. I heard a number of stories from Members of Parliament who had been left in motorway service stations, outside butchers' shops, and it helped me understand some of my colleagues a lot better. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I suppose that's a very convenient place to leave it. Prime Minister, you've mentioned that there were some ideas that you wanted to pass to me. I'd be very interested in seeing them, and indeed any thoughts that you might have that you want to convey. I would welcome them, not merely to play back your thoughts, but because it's obviously going to be easier if I have had the chance to consider the possible traps that from my background I might not see, which you, from your different perspective, might well appreciate.
A. Okay, I will certainly do that. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much. Right. Mr Jay, what else? MR JAY Nothing today. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We read in the evidence of the Treasury Solicitor so he can go on today's website. Fine. We're deliberately taking a pause, although we shall return to parts of Module 3 in a week's time, but so that it's understood, it's not so that we can have a holiday. There's a fair amount of work to be done, but it's rather so that we can consider in measured time the very important evidence that we've heard from the politicians, and in particular this week to have had the benefit of four Prime Ministers and any number of Secretaries of State puts the onus on getting it right rather high. Thank you very much indeed.
A. Thank you. (3.57 pm) (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock on Monday, 25 June 2012)

Witnesses

Gave statements at the hearings on Thursday, June 14, 2012 (AM) and Thursday, June 14, 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 7 pieces of evidence

Themes

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

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