The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR MICHAEL ANDREW GOVE (sworn).

  • Your full name, please, Mr Gove?

  • You very kindly provided us with a witness statement dated 30 April 2012. You signed and dated it. There's a standard statement of truth. Is this the formal evidence you're tending to this Inquiry?

  • As with many other witnesses, Mr Gove, thank you very much for the time and trouble you've taken in compiling this material. I'm grateful.

  • Not at all. Thank you.

  • Mr Gove, you have been a Member of Parliament since 2005. You are currently Secretary of State for Education and in a previous life you were a journalist?

  • Yes, that's absolutely right. I used to work for the Times.

  • May I ask you about journalism, first of all, since this chronologically is most relevant. Lord Mandelson spoke of a transactional sort of relationship between journalists and politicians. Do you agree with that formulation?

  • I don't entirely. I can quite understand why Lord Mandelson thought that the relationship between politicians and journalists was a purely transactional one. I prefer to think of the relationship between politicians and journalists as being nuanced and multi-layered. Sometimes it will be the case that some politicians will regard their interactions with journalists in a transactional fashion, but it can also be the case that friendships can arise and it can certainly be the case that politicians can understand the pressures that journalists face in trying to make sure that the public are informed and it can also be the case that journalists can appreciate the pressures that politicians face in trying to make sure that their policy is presented fairly.

  • Thank you. In your view, have we reached the point where the current state of relationships between journalists and politicians is poisonous or close to it?

  • No, I don't believe it's poisonous.

  • Have we reached anywhere near that point?

  • No, I don't believe we have. Of course there's acrimony between some journalists and some politicians as a result of wrongs or perceived wrongs, but I think that the idea that the relationship is poisonous is an overstatement.

  • Are there any aspects of the relationship, if one doesn't like the word "poisonous", one might characterise as unhealthy?

  • I think it's certainly the case that there are sometimes elements of the relationship between politicians and journalists that can be a little rough-edged. I think that's certainly true. And it is also the case that there are some politicians and some journalists who develop, over time, a close relationship, which may not altogether be in the public interest. But in my experience, most politicians and most journalists have a proper sense of the boundaries between each.

  • So a close relationship which may not altogether be in the public interest, why not altogether in the public interest?

  • It may be the case sometimes that a relationship between certain journalists and certain politicians will involve a journalist or a politician relying one upon the other for confidences which are not always shared with the public at an appropriate time.

  • Is there any implied trade-off for the sharing of such confidences?

  • Sometimes it can be the case that journalists will respect particular confidences in order to maintain a relationship with politicians which they believe to be, in the long term, in their interests.

  • Is this a phenomenon which, to the extent to which it exists, you've seen across all political parties?

  • I think it's a phenomenon that's existed across generations. I think that it's in the very nature of journalism as it's been practised for decades, that there will be some journalists who will respect confidences, others who will play fast and loose with them.

  • Do you have a view, Mr Gove, about a point which has come across strongly through three witnesses now -- Mr Blair, Lord Mandelson, Mr Campbell -- that at the heart of the problem lies the fusion of news and comment?

  • I can well understand why they express that concern, but actually news and comment have been fused in newspapers ever since the first public prints appeared. The best and most scrupulous newspapers strive to ensure that readers are clear what is news and what is comment, but if you look back to the 1950s, 1930s, before then, you will find that the boundaries between news and comment were very porous in lots of journals.

  • So what does that make of clause 1(3) of the code:

    "The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact."

    What does it make of that?

  • Well, the press strive to. There are some pieces which are clearly comment. The op-ed page of the Times, or, for that matter, the leader page of the Daily Mail, is strongly comment. It's also the case that there reports and dispatches which will clearly be fresh from the front line or from an event, but it's also going to be the case that there will be feature pieces, colour pieces, in which a reporter will intermingle both a documentary fact and also their perception and that perception, of course, inevitably will be subjective and what we rely on is the common sense of the reader to discern the difference between that which is straight reportage, that which is reporting with colour or a view or an accent, and that which is comment or polemic.

  • So actually, you would really require 1(3) to be slightly differently drafted, because I understand what you've just said but it doesn't fit with 1(3) of the code:

    "The press must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and press."

    You've just said they can't, really.

  • Well, I think a lot of the discrimination between the comment, conjecture and fact relies upon discriminating readers and one of the merits of having a plural press is that discriminating readers can tell the difference between those newspapers whom they trust, over time, to give us a reliable account of affairs and those newspapers whose reportage may be more highly coloured.

  • I understand. Does that mean the answer to my question is: "Actually, yes, this doesn't represent what happens"?

  • I think it's an ideal.

  • So we're left at the point where the discrimination of the reader is likely to be one of the main yardsticks; is that right?

  • It's certainly a factor, yes, and the experience that they have over time, as they come to trust the reliability of certain accounts in newspapers and then raise a sceptical eyebrow towards others.

  • Or maybe because the reader is attuned with a particular world view he or she is imbibing through a particular paper, he or she doesn't feel if necessary to undertake that discrimination because there is a complete harmony between what the paper says and what the reader wants to read. Is that an issue?

  • It's certainly the case that people tend to read newspapers whose outlook on the world they find congenial, but it's not invariably the case. There are Daily Mail readers who vote Conservative and some readers who vote Liberal Democrat, so simply choosing to read a newspaper doesn't mean you buy into the mindset or the editorial line that that newspaper has at that point.

  • You've made it clear, Mr Gove, that the term "poisonous" is a far misrepresentation from the true position, and you've made it clear that you prefer some aspects of "an unhealthy relationship", to put it at its highest but go no further. In terms of where we are at present, do you place any responsibility on what might be called the machinations of the political classes over the years, wrapped up in the term "spin"?

  • "Spin" is a term that's been interpreted in many different ways. For some, it simply means the professional presentation of a government's case. For others, it might mean playing a little bit fast and loose in order to try to ensure that your case is presented favourably, irrespective of its merits. But I think there have been spin doctors ever since the time of the Roman Republic. It's always been the case that politicians have employed individuals who are there to put a favourable gloss on their activities. I think any judgment about spin should be placed in its proper historical context.

  • So has it been a continuum throughout or do you think that in the last years it's taken a different hue?

  • I think it has been a continuum throughout. I think that when you had politicians in the early 18th century employing people like Daniel Defoe or Jonathan Swift in order to publish pamphlets putting forward a particular gloss on their politics, that was spin after a fashion, and I think at different times the activities of some of those who were working for politicians in the interwar years, in the 20s and 30s -- there whether undoubtedly spin doctors operating then.

    Of course, the changing nature of the media means that the techniques employed change over time but the principle that there are individuals who are propagandists or who attempt to tailor perceptions of the news, that's been, I think, something that's been a historical continuity ever since politics has emerged.

  • And it's not got worse or better?

  • I can't make that judgment. All I can observe is that it's been a factor throughout history.

  • I think it's clear from your evidence already, Mr Gove, that the characterisation we've received from some witnesses -- to be clear about it, Mr Blair, Lord Mandelson and Mr Campbell -- of a state of affairs which is close to being toxic, with language like "feral beasts" being employed, and those with the contrary view, that it's all the fault of the political classes' spin -- you're asking us to tone this down, that in your view this is an exaggeration about where we are at present. Have I correctly summarised your opinion?

  • What about Mr Blair's point -- and this is a slightly different point -- that in relations with proprietors or -- I suppose you would say in one case, with an editor -- there's a strong undercurrent of power, undertow of power, which is -- I don't think he said exactly "unhealthy", but that may be the sense of the message he's seeking to convey. Do you recognise that phenomenon or not?

  • I'm not sure quite what he meant by that. I didn't have the opportunity to see Mr Blair's evidence or to read it. I would observe again that over time, newspaper proprietors have attempted to imprint their will on the political sphere. Some politicians have resisted that, other politicians have bent to it. But in that respect, newspaper proprietors are like others who have wealth and wield influence. From time to time, they will attempt to influence politicians. Robust politicians will know when to listen and then when to tell them, I hope politely, that they won't bend.

  • I'll come back to that point shortly. We're still on your career as a journalist, as it were. You were a leader writer at the Times for, I think, about a decade; have I got it right?

  • Yes. I started as a leader writer at the Times and I held a few other posts but throughout my time at the Times I was writing leaders, yes.

  • Was there any editorial influence on your leaders, to your knowledge, exerted by Mr Murdoch or anybody acting on his behalf?

  • In terms of the editorial direction of the Times, insofar as one can discern one, could you assist us, please, from where it derives?

  • It came primarily from the editor. The editor would convene a leader conference after the main news conference in the morning and he would discuss with the leader writers and sometimes with executives from other parts of the newspaper which we thought were the most relevant stories of the day, of greatest interest to Times readers, and what the Times' view should be of them, consistent with the position that the Times had taken in the past.

    The editor who hired me, Peter Stothard, had a particular world view. One of his predecessors, Simon Jenkins, an equally distinguished editor, had a slightly different world view, and on some occasions those views would overlap and, as I say, on other occasions diverge.

  • Did you regard it as your role, when writing leaders, to represent the world view of the editor or were you in any event given a degree of latitude as to how precisely to express any opinion?

  • It was my role, when writing the leader, to represent the world view and the stated view of the editor, but before that view was arrived at, there would be a free and open discussion, and there were a number on occasions on which I argued vigorously against the view that I thought the editor might hold, and then, if the editor was unconvinced, which was usually the case, I would knuckle down and write the leader in accordance with the line that he decreed.

  • And in terms of the editor's world view -- I appreciate this is difficult to work out from precisely where that might come -- did you get the sense that that was genuinely the editor's world view or did you get any sense that someone else might have been contributing to that world view?

  • I got the sense that it was emphatically the editor's world view. Every time that I heard Peter Stothard talk, or subsequently his successor, Robert Thompson -- or indeed when I had an opportunity to talk to predecessors like William Rees-Mogg or Simon Jenkins, it was clear to me that they were men of decided views who were reflective individuals who came to their leader view only after a great deal of thought.

  • May I move to the role of proprietors in general. You make it clear -- and I think you have already made this point in paragraph 52 of your statement, our page 01252 -- that media proprietors, in your experience and from your reading of history, tend to be intellectually curious and politically engaged figures whom it is always fascinating to. In relation to your own experience -- and without looking at historical examples, which plainly would be outside your experience -- could you assist us, please, with whom you're referring to there?

  • Rupert Murdoch, Viscount Rothermere, Richard Desmond are all three newspaper proprietors whom I have had the privilege of meeting and each of them operates in a different way. All of them it was fascinating to meet.

  • Were you surprised to hear Mr Rupert Murdoch say that you'd always be able to find out what his opinion was on any subject by reading the editorial in the Sun?

  • I wasn't too surprised by that because I think there's a distinction between the Times and the Sun. The Sun is a newspaper which in most, but not in every respect, reflects Rupert Murdoch's world view. The Times is a newspaper put together in a very different way.

  • The role of the Sun is very different as well, given its size, its mass penetration, as it were, and the fact that it's seen as a floating voter and has been historically, certainly in 1997 and again in 2010, although some have argued it was simply returning to its roots. Do you see any dangers inherent in that?

  • I think it's right that individual newspapers should have individual characters and their decision about the political positions that they adopt should be matters for proprietors, editors, the editorial team, and I think the pluralism of the British press is a strength. The fact that there are so many national titles, each with a different character and flavour, is something that enhances British democracy.

  • One has to agree with that at a level of generality, but does one not have to analyse as well -- and tell me if you agree or disagree -- whether there is a preponderance of support for any one political party over time which might therefore have influence on the democratic process?

  • With respect to the Sun?

  • No, with respect to all newspapers in the plural universe you are describing.

  • I think that given any individual has a free choice over which newspaper to buy, then the political balance of the press, I think, reflects the success of newspaper proprietors and editors both in providing information that's congenial to readers and also commentary that they find favourable.

    So if one newspaper -- forgive me, one political party, over time, benefits, then that's a consequence of the free decisions of individual and it shouldn't be seen as the exercise of power on the part of newspapers; it should be seen as the exercise of millions of individual preferences by readers.

  • You have to be a bit careful about that. One witness gave evidence to the Inquiry that actually the newspaper he bought was entirely, as it were, genetically driven. That's what his parents bought and actually he quite liked the sport, or the crossword, and no inference should be drawn whatsoever about his political persuasion from the fact that he always bought this particular paper. So that's a different --

  • That is one individual's view, and of course, given that there are millions who buy newspapers, there will be millions of different reasons.

  • But I merely observe that the Socialist Worker and the Morning Star are freely available on the news stands. They have both sporting and literary cover but they sell rather less than the Sun and the Daily Mail.

  • You say in paragraph 40:

    "There are always potential risks in any relationship between politicians and those (I note not only media persons or entities) who might benefit commercially or otherwise from government decisions."

    What are the potential risks that you're referring to there?

  • I think anyone who exercises a degree of influence, who has power, who has wealth and who might be pursuing a particular agenda can, if they exercise an influence over a politician which is unfortunate or unethical -- they can derive advantage from that. But I think I made the point earlier that of course newspaper proprietors are individuals of wealth and influence, but there are also other owners of other organisations who also exercise wealth and influence and it's appropriate that politicians, ministers and shadow ministers reflect on their relationships with all of those individuals.

  • The proprietor you know best, of course, is Mr Murdoch.

  • Wherein lies his fascination?

  • I think that he is one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years.

  • That's a lapidary statement. Can you expand on that?

  • I think that the changes that he made to newspaper publishing as a result of his decision to relocate his titles to Wapping lowered the barriers to entry for newspapers and meant that like the Independent, which would never otherwise have existed, existed, and as a result more individuals have been employed in journalism. It's also the case that his investment in satellite television has also created jobs as well, and I think that it's undoubtedly the case that there are few entrepreneurs who have taken risks in the way that he has and therefore generated employment, but also controversy in the way which he has.

  • And the generation of controversy, how does that arise or how has that arisen?

  • It's often the case that successful people invite criticism. He has been successful in a particular industry, where there are others who are only too happy to criticise, and they have exercised their liberty to do so.

  • You described him, consistently with the evidence you've just given, as a force of nature, a phenomenon and, I think, a great man. That's right, isn't it?

  • Yes, it is. I enjoyed meeting him when I was a journalist, I subsequently enjoyed meeting him when way a politician and I would also say that as well as having been a successful businessman, I think that the position that he took on, for example, the European single currency, has been vindicated by events.

  • Have you ever expressed a view on the merits of the BSkyB bid, Mr Gove?

  • Never to any of my political colleagues, no.

  • So insofar as you held a view about it, by definition it would have been a private view?

  • Can I ask you, please, 72 and 73 of your statement, where you deal with your discussions with Mr Murdoch -- at paragraph 72, 01255, you say you never, to your recollection, discussed the BBC licence fee, Ofcom, BSkyB or media policy issues with Mr Rupert Murdoch or anyone representing his interests since becoming an MP.

  • That is correct. Yes, absolutely.

  • And in paragraph 73 -- this deals with government policy or decision-making -- to the best of your recollection, you do not recall any specific discussions not already mentioned?

  • Your colleagues presumably would know your view anyway, wouldn't they, on these matters?

  • I think they could legitimately infer what my view would be.

  • Thank you. Your specific interactions with media organisations, you provided us with a schedule, which is your exhibit MG5.

  • You'll see it under tab 7 of the bundle which has been prepared. Again, if one were to attempt an overview of this document -- it starts at our page 01224 -- we can see that you have interactions with a number of newspaper groups. It's probably right to say that News International titles are the most prominent. Would you agree with that as a sort of generalisation?

  • Yes, I think it's entirely fair.

  • But on the other hand, we see you having a meeting -- at least two, and there are possibly others -- with the Guardian?

  • There are several meetings with Lord and Lady Rothermere over dinner, but the implication might be that those are more social occasions than formal political occasions; is that a fair inference?

  • Yes, I think that's entirely fair.

  • But nonetheless political matters would arise during the course of such occasions, no doubt; is that fair?

  • Yes. Lord and Lady Rothermere are, as you might expect, interested in politics, as any informed and intelligent observer of the scene would be. Yes, absolutely.

  • I don't think that there's anybody or any national paper which has been excluded from this table, but there have been limited occasions when you've been with the Northern & Shell group. There was a lunch with Mr Desmond on 7 June 2011, we can see, but I think only one occasion with Mr Yevgeny Lebedev, which was 28 June 2011.

  • Yes, that's right. I think I've lodged with the Cabinet Office an update and I hope that that will be shared with the Inquiry shortly. Subsequent to that, I have had dinner with Mr Lebedev on one other occasion, with my wife.

  • It's very difficult, Mr Gove, if one were to alight on a particular meeting -- the most ancient, I suppose, is two years old. Obviously we have more recent ones, but even two years it may be difficult to remember a particular conversation. Let's see how far we get with this. 19 May 2010.

  • There was a meeting with Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks plus more than ten others. It's described as a "dinner and general discussion". It's within two weeks of the formation of the Coalition government. It may be reasonable to infer that you're discussing very recent events at that dinner; is that a reasonable inference?

  • Yes, it was a dinner party held at Mr Murdoch's flat in St James', to the best of my recollection, and I think there was at least one other minister there, although I couldn't swear to it, and it was a relatively straightforward dinner in which one would speak to the individual on one's right and one's left, and then, I think just after the main course, there was a general discussion involving most of the participants.

  • So the general discussion was about recent political events and nothing more?

  • I think that it touched specifically on education, because Mr Murdoch is interested in -- and I think his evidence to this Inquiry reinforced that -- education reform worldwide.

  • If we can move forward to 10 June 2010. This is described as "dinner and general discussion". Rebekah Brooks plus several others.

  • What do you recall about that occasion?

  • It was a social occasion and my wife was present and also present were another couple who were mutual friends. Rebekah Brooks and her husband were there, and it was a general social discussion. Inevitably, because Rebekah Brooks had been an employee of News International when I was working at the Times and because my wife continues to work at the Times, some of the conversation was about mutual acquaintances in the world of journalism, some of it general political observation, some of it commentary on current affairs which wasn't explicitly political.

  • It's fairly clear from the evidence you're giving that you have a fairly sound recollection of these events. Is that a reasonable deduction?

  • I recollect quite a lot of the general circumstances surrounding that. I've been helped by my private office, who provided me with details of what I was doing immediately before and afterwards, which has helped jog my memory. But I don't have a verbatim account, I'm afraid, of every issue we touched on.

  • On 17 June, the lunch and general discussion on this occasion is with News International executives and senior editors, including Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. Again, can you remember or assist us with what that general discussion was about?

  • Yes, absolutely. My private office have helped me here. I had just returned from giving a speech to the national college of school leaders in Birmingham and the board of News International had gathered at the Wapping site to have a board meeting. It was generally the case that over lunch they would invite a guest speaker from the world of politics to speak to them. On this occasion, I was -- rather than speaking directly to them and giving a sort of pre-arranged oration, I was interviewed by my former colleague, Daniel Finklestein, who asked me a series of questions, mostly about education reform and what the coalition was attempted to do in order to improve schools.

  • In terms of the background chronology, we know that the BSkyB bid was launched on 15 June -- and this is two days later -- so the obvious question is: was the bid discussed or mentioned at that lunch?

  • Not in my view. I arrived after the board had been having their discussions, and my interaction with any members of the board were limited because I arrived, was ushered to a sort of Parkinson style seat, where Daniel Finklestein asked me a series of questions and then I was able to thank my host and then leave.

  • So you were only there for a self-contained part of the occasion?

  • Yes. It was a -- I hesitate to say "staged", but it was a staged interview with Daniel Finklestein asking me a series of questions.

  • When did you first learn of the bid?

  • I honestly can't recall.

  • It was launched on 15 June, so in terms of that date frame, was it before or after 15 June?

  • I have to confess to the Inquiry and to others that I have not followed the progress of the bid with the same interest as many others, so of course at various different points there were twists and turns in the narrative of the bid that would pop up in the newspapers, but I have to say I did not give it any particular attention. There are any number of news stories that you might ask me about and I sort of remember the broad narrative of the story but I couldn't remember when the story broke on public consciousness.

  • Do you think that you were told of the bid before it was formally launched?

  • I don't believe I was, no. I have absolutely no recollection of having been informed other than having read about it in the newspapers or seen it reported on television.

  • I think the question is, Mr Gove, that if you learnt of the bid after its public announcement, one can see that, okay, you wouldn't necessarily remember precisely when that was in terms of everything else that was going on, and this was only five or six weeks into a new Coalition government, but if you learnt of the bid before it was announced publicly, then that might stick in your mind because of the slightly unusual circumstances in which you acquired that knowledge. So may I try again? Do you think that you learnt of the bid before it was publicly announced?

  • I do take your point, and absolutely I have no recollection of anyone telling me about the bid before it was launched and I think your point is well made. I imagine that it would have been significant if someone had taken me into their confidence and I have absolutely no recollection of any such conversation of any kind.

  • So 10 June, the dinner and general discussion, is it possible that it was mentioned on that occasion or not?

  • I think it highly unlikely, and I certainly have no recollection.

  • Okay. We're going to go fairly quickly now through the rest of this list. We're still on tab 7, Mr Gove. There's a lecture on 21 October 2010, which is at the centre for policy studies, and one draws the inference that that was a semi-formal event, obviously a lecture given and maybe a discussion afterwards. Is that so?

  • Exactly so. Mr Rupert Murdoch gave a lecture, quite wide-ranging. A significant section of the lecture touched on education reform. Afterwards, there was a dinner for, I think, 40 or 45 of those who had attended.

  • Thank you.

    Now, 17 December 2010, top of the page, Rebekah Brooks plus several others. This is described as a social event. Can you assist us, please, with the circumstances of that, where it was, for example?

  • Yes, it was an invitation to a concert at the 02. My wife and I joined Rebekah Brooks and her husband and other guests.

  • Is it conceivable -- I've been asked to put this to you -- that the BSkyB bid was mentioned on that occasion?

  • I think it highly unlikely, certainly in my hearing. We arrived just as the concert was beginning, and we had an opportunity for a few friendly words, but it certainly wasn't the sort of atmosphere or environment which was conducive to a business discussion, and I don't believe that anything like that was raised at all, no.

  • And what about 31 January 2011, which is a dinner sponsored by academy sponsor Mr Dunstone. Can you assist us with that occasion?

  • Yes, Charles Dunstone is a friend who has, at the invitation of the last government, sponsored an academy in the northwest of England. Rebekah Brooks was one of the governors of that academy and the conversation was a general conversation about politics and we naturally touched on education.

  • The possible coincidence in the dates -- one can't really put it higher than that -- is on 21 January Mr Coulson resigned as Director of Communications. Do you think that matter was discussed on 31 January 2011?

  • I have pretty clear recollection that we did touch on Andy Coulson's resignation. It's understandable. Andy Coulson had been a colleague of both of ours, and I think both of us felt a degree of human sympathy for him having had to resign twice.

  • Were there any other occasions on which Mr Coulson's resignation was discussed with executives of News International?

  • Not that I can recall, no.

  • Over the subsequent months throughout the early part of 2011 -- you see there's another discussion, 19 May. Mr Harding and the two Murdochs are there and Rebekah Brooks. 16 June and 26 June. Do you think phone hacking as a topic was ever discussed?

  • Not at any of those events, no. On 19 May, I was due to have breakfast with James Harding to discuss News International's involvement in education, which we may come onto. Both Mr Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks joined us at that breakfast. I hadn't expected them to. It was a pleasant addition. On 16 June, I joined a group who had dinner with Mr Murdoch after the News International reception. The conversation then was very general, and on 26 June, again, the conversation touched primarily on education.

  • Education seems to be -- unsurprisingly, given your position -- the most important topic which was raised at these various interactions; is that right?

  • Yes. I do recall that on breakfast on 19 May we did touch on one or two sort of general political issues: state of the European Union, issues like that.

  • On any of these subsequent occasions, was the stage or progress of the BSkyB bid ever mentioned?

  • And outside what we see here, which may not cover informal interactions by phone or email or whatever, were there any communications either about the BSkyB bid or phone hacking issues, to the best of your recollection?

  • To the best of my recollection, no.

  • As a former journalist who is married to a journalist, it is not in the least bit surprising that a large number of your friends are journalists or work in the business.

  • Have you found it necessary, whether formally or at least in your own mind, to erect a Chinese wall between what might be called the development of social relationships and the normal human action that all of us get involved in, and the business side of what you now do for a living? And if you have, how have you worked it out? And if you haven't, how did you work that out?

  • I try to exercise appropriate judgment on all occasions. It's not simply former journalists or current journalists whom I know and with whom I have social interactions with whom I have to exercise a degree of caution. As a journalist, I became friendly with politicians in other political parties and individuals in public life.

    Now, as a minister, I have to be careful that natural human interaction, friendship and regard don't lead me to make any judgment, politically or with regard to the dispersal of public money, that would embarrass the government or put them in an invidious position. So certainly with respect to journalists, I try and operate a set of common sense rules which apply also to others whom I come into contact with as a politician.

  • And do you think that the common sense rules that you put in place for yourself are always shared by those others, whether of your present Parliament or former Parliaments, former politicians, in their relationships with the media? Or have you learnt from what you've seen have been, in your view, mistakes by others?

  • I prefer to allow others to account for their own actions. I wouldn't want to sit in judgment on any other politician.

  • I'm not asking you to sit in judgment on anybody. What I'm asking you to do is to tell me whether you have developed your own rules by reference to what you've seen, and you've decided you really don't want to go in that sort of direction. I'm not going to ask you to name names.

  • I think that the common sense rules that I've applied are the rules that any politician sensibly should apply, taking advice from Parliamentary colleagues and from civil servants and so on, but I don't think I could point to any political predecessor -- and I recognise that you're not inviting me to name any individual but I don't think I can point to any political predecessor and say, "I don't want to go down his or her route." I think that there are certain common sense judgments which would apply to politicians, to judges, to barristers, about exactly when you make your excuses and leave, and when you say, "That's a very kind offer, but I fear I can't accept."

  • Do you think the public understand these judgments or do you think the public are concerned that things have become -- let me use a word that has been used -- rather cosy?

  • I think the public are very sensible and I think that they are perfectly capable of making a judgment about individual politicians or indeed politicians as a class, and I don't think that they need steering, nudging or coaxing towards a sensible view.

  • Well, why is it then that there is such disregard apparently expressed?

  • Both journalists and politicians.

  • So it just goes with the territory?

  • I think it does. I don't think there's any time that I know of when politicians were held in uniquely high regard. I think if you look back at the caricatures of politicians in the early 18th century or the commentary on politicians in the 1920s or 1950s, you will find that they were held in pretty low regard then.

    As for journalism, it's always been a rough old trade which has tended to attract non-conformists and rebels and for that reason, while it has a certain romance, it hasn't always attracted respectability.

  • So your reaction is that the suggestion that I think I've received from more than a few people over the last few months that actually public regard for both has gone down is misplaced?

  • I think it's always wise to look at the historical context. It was a Latin author who said, "O tempora o mores!" as they were lamenting the slack morals of their time. I think that human nature doesn't change much over time and politicians and journalists have always tended to be held in relatively low regard.

  • That's not quite the question, but never mind. Right.

  • A slightly jaundiced view of human nature, but maybe that's the message you're --

  • Can I ask you, please, about one individual who doesn't feature on your list, at least to the best of my scrutiny of it: Mr Dacre. Is he someone you've met with or spoken to on any semi-formal basis?

  • I have met Paul Dacre on at least two occasions.

  • How would you describe the nature of your relationship with him, if any?

  • I respect him as one of the most impressive editors of our age.

  • Influence on policy. You deal with this at paragraph 64 and following of your statement, 01253. You make the point, under paragraph 67, that it's foolish, indeed self-defeating, to abandon politicians to make sense in the long term to win necessarily ephemeral good headlines. Although many politicians do precisely that, don't they?

  • In paragraph 68, you say:

    "The views of journalists should be given no greater or less weight than the views of people in other professions or occupations."

    Well, as a prescription for action, I'm sure that's right, but as a statement of fact, is that right? In other words, might I gently suggest that the views of journalists are given greater weight because of the power they exercise through the megaphone they possess? Would you agree with that?

  • I generally think that those journalist who are influential are journalists who articulate a strong case consistently and with intellectual authority, and journalists who plough a particular furrow and do so without style, elan or intellectual consistency don't have their views taken particular account of.

  • I think what you're effectively saying is it's the market which determines the weight which should be given because the stronger the ability of the journalist to put forward a cause or an argument, the greater weight will be accorded to that journalist. Surely it doesn't work quite as simply as that, Mr Gove, because there are certain section of the press where views are put across without necessarily that degree of elan, elegance and intellectual weight but a disproportionate impact is conveyed. Do you at least see the force of that point?

  • I'm not sure I do. I think the best journalists are those who can construct -- if we're talking about opinion journalists who are attempting to persuade politicians or even the public of a particular course of action, the best are those who certainly write with elan but also marshal facts in an effective way, and -- you mention the word "market". I think it's fair to say that there are some journalists who write for relatively low circulation newspapers but whose opinions are taken seriously, much in the same way as there are academics whose papers would not be read widely but the quality of whose argument certainly weighs with me and other politicians.

  • Then in paragraph 70, you say:

    "Principle campaigns by responsible newspapers on particular issues can significantly advance the public interest."

    In a sense, though, you've defined the right answer by referring to a principle campaign to responsible newspapers and to particular issues, but there are examples of campaigns which may be lacking in principle, at least to the viewpoint of some, that may be full of stridency and noise, and such campaigns might, in certain sections of the press, have a disproportionate impact. Do you accept that?

  • Yes, that's certainly true. Historically the campaign that Horatio Bottomley ran when he was an MP and a sort of a sort of newspaper impresario, that was irresponsible, and I think we can argue that the Beaverbrook Rothermere campaign against Baldwin at the turn of the 20s and 30s, that was irresponsible. So yes, there did be irresponsible newspaper campaigns, but there can also be irresponsible campaigns from pressure groups and there can be irresponsible campaigns from charismatic politicians.

  • The last two are no doubt outside the terms of reference of this Inquiry. We're only concerned, I suppose, with campaigns generated from newspapers. But maybe this goes back to the issue of the fusion of news and comment, or maybe it goes back to the issue of the highly influential proprietor or editor, that the newspaper not just a voice, it is an amplified voice, and the dangers which flow inherently from that. Do you see the risk of vice there?

  • I do see your point. It is certainly the case that if you have a proprietor who has a strong view, if you have gifted journalists who can make a case compellingly, and if a newspaper manages to strike a chord with the public, the momentum behind a particular campaign bay grow. But it's up to politicians to decide whether or not they will listen to that campaign and admit the logic of the case that's being made, or say that it's wrong.

    Baldwin recognised that the campaign for Empire free trade was wrong. Other politicians recognised that the campaign which the Sun and others ran to keep us out of the single currency was right, and I think if we're reflecting on other newspaper campaigns, I think we can undoubtedly say that was a campaign in the public interest.

  • Well, some people might still disagree with that proposition, Mr Gove, but I'm not going to take you on on it.

  • I'm sure -- well, a dwindling number may.

  • Perhaps these two general questions. Either as a journalist or, since 2005, as a politician, have you seen, observed or heard any evidence of an express deal or arrangement made between a proprietor or an editor, I suppose, and a politician?

  • If I was to substitute in that sentence for "express deal or arrangement" "implied deal", what would your answer be?

  • Is there no difference between the likely impact on a politician of the wealthy person who owns substantial media interests and the wealthy who exercise power in other ways, whether as captains of industry but who don't have what has been described as the megaphone that the press provide them?

  • I think that undoubtedly it's the case that if a wealthy individual has a newspaper that might be another reason to be polite and to be interested in their views, but it's undoubtedly the case that whether they're captains of industry or spokesmen for organisations with influence in other ways, politicians will always listen to different voices in the debate. I sometimes think, however, that disproportionate attention is paid to what newspapers may say, for example, during an election campaign. I think the public are shrewder in making up their mind about which parties to support than is sometimes imagined.

  • But do you think disproportionate attention is paid to what newspapers say generally? Is too much time spent by politicians on what is appearing in the news? Perhaps not by you, but what's your experience?

  • I think there are some politicians who do spend too much time worrying about newspapers, and there are others who show a proper insouciance.

  • May I move on now to a specific topic, because we asked you in your witness statement to deal with the issue of schools and Mr Murdoch and the free academy and school issue. Could you first of all, please, explain to us the nature of free schools and academies in the context of what became new legislation in office, the Academies Act 2010?

  • Yes. I'll try to be brief. Academies are schools which operate outside local government control. They were created by the last government, by Tony Blair, and they were explicitly modelled on city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools, policy initiatives that originated under the predecessor Conservative government.

    An academy, under Tony Blair, was an underperforming school which would be taken out of local authority control and linked with a sponsor, either a philanthropist or an institution of educational excellence, and given the support required in order to improve.

    We've carried on with that policy and extended it. We've allowed existing schools which have demonstrated the capacity to improve themselves and to improve others, to enjoy the freedoms that come with academy status, freedoms not just from local bureaucratic control but also from the national curriculum. Free schools are essentially a new form of academy where, rather than central government either suggesting that a school should become an academy or permitting an existing school to become an academy, invites a new organisation, often a group of teachers, often philanthropists, to set up a new state stool school.

  • The funding arrangements, to be clear then, in relation to free schools and academies, they will usually be a philanthropist?

  • But the secondary or parallel funder will be central government; is that right?

  • Yes. With all academies, the recurring costs of making sure that the pupils are educated are supplied by central government. The money is calculated to ensure that the academy enjoys almost exactly the same funding as other schools in that local authority area. In the past, when there was rather more capital around, government would often provide capital to ensure that either a new building was built or an existing building was refitted as part of the academy's programme. That is, for regrettable reasons, much less common now, simply of course because of the economic situation that we inherited.

  • And for free schools, are the funding arrangements broadly similar?

  • What, if any, then is the role of the local authority in terms of the funding?

  • The local authority can be a willing partner and there have been some local authorities that have co-sponsored academies. There have been other local authorities that have said that they wish to play no role in the governments of an academy or a free school, but they would welcome that additional provision and have gone out of their way either to provide sites or to smooth the planning process.

  • You've provided details of model funding arrangements. I don't think we're going to look at the detail of those, however.

    Can I ask you, please, about the detail of paragraph 30 and following. You say in paragraph 30 that you discussed your education reform progress, by which you mean the government's educational reform programme --

  • -- with representative of the management of Pearson and the Daily Mail general the Trust.

  • In the context of Mr Murdoch and paragraph 31, there was a meeting of which you've provided details in late November 2010 at a site in Newham, and this related to the possibility of News Corporation investing in an academy; is that right?

  • And the attendees were James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Will Lewis, James Harding, Mayor of London, various others, you and your PBS; is that correct?

  • There's a note of that meeting, which isn't particularly illuminating, under tab 9 but it's clear the meeting took place on 30 November.

  • Can we understand, in the context of the general evidence that you've given, the philanthropist in the model you describe was obviously going to be News International or News Corporation --

  • I think News International but precisely who doesn't matter. Who was to provide the rest of the money?

  • Well, a building, it was mooted, might be provided by Newham or land might be provided by the London Development Authority, which is the Mayor of London. The point that we made is that if a school were established we would certainly ensure that the pupils were funded on the same basis as any new academy, but I hope I made clear then, and I certainly made clear subsequently, that the department for education could not provide the capital costs for a new building.

  • So the running costs would be supplied by central government but that presupposes that the capital costs became available?

  • We know that they didn't, unfortunately.

  • But the capital costs, were these a sort of joint venture between News Corporation and Newham and/or some other quasi-governmental body? Have I correctly understood?

  • We took a decision to stand back and to say, "We cannot provide the capital. Of course it's open to you to have discussions with anyone you feel appropriate, whether that's Newham, the Mayor of London or others." I don't know all the details of those discussions but at different times, News International were seeking support from Newham and they were certainly seeking to use a site which was owned by the London Development Authority. I don't believe the plans ever reached the stage of maturity where these preliminary discussions moved towards the establishment of a proper joint venture, as it were.

  • Did you see it in your role, though, to facilitate the provision of funding by others in some way, in particular the local authority or some other party?

  • I saw it as my role to do everything possible to ensure that we could benefit -- and the children of the east end could benefit -- by a philanthropist investing in a new school, but it was the case that I couldn't lean on any individual or local authority in order to release land or to provide a building. All I could do is present it to them or have the department present it to them what I thought was an opportunity.

  • I think the project fell through early in 2011.

  • We'll come to that in a moment. At about the same time, but no doubt coincidentally, in paragraph 32 of your statement, you explain that on 5 November 2010 you invited Mr Gerald Klein, who at that time was chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, to come to London to address a conference hosted by your department for those interested in setting up free schools. That conference was due to take place, indeed did take place, in January 2011; is that correct?

  • Yes, that's absolutely correct.

  • But four days after you extended the invitation, Mr Klein joined the board of directors of News Corp on 9 November, and that was something which you had no previous knowledge of; is that right?

  • I didn't know it. When the news came through, I have to confess that I wasn't entirely surprised. Mr Klein is something of an educational superstar, so while we were anxious to get him to talk, it didn't surprise me that others were anxious to work alongside him.

  • Were you given any advance notification that he might be joining the board of directors of News Corp?

  • Did he remain, out of interest, at the same time chancellor of the New York Board of Education, or did he have to give up that post to become a member of the board of directors of News Corp?

  • He gave up the post. I think there was a sort of transition period, and quite a lot of the our correspondence I think with him was originally with the New York schools department.

  • At the conference which took place -- you describe what happened generally between paragraphs 33 and 35 of your statement. There were, I think, at least two dinners. But this was all in the context more generally of education reform and free schools widely. It wasn't specifically to do with the project which we've been talking about five minutes ago; is that correct?

  • That wasn't raised at all during the conversations that we had. We were anxious to learn from Mr Klein about his experience in raising standards, particularly for the poorest children in New York, and there were a range of other speakers from the United States of America who were involved in that work, including those who run the inspirational Knowledge is Power programme set of charter schools.

  • Did you understand it to be News International or News Corp's position that if the first free school in Newham were successful, this was going to be the start of several, or did you understand the position to be different from that?

  • I understood it to be the case that they had limited ambitions. Obviously setting up a school is a significant exercise, but I believe they wanted to set up one school in the east end in order to ensure that their sense of corporate social responsibility was fulfilled. There was some talk at one point about whether or not another school might be located in west London as well but that was the limit of their ambition.

  • Can I just deal with the point whether this was pure philanthropy, Mr Gove?

  • Do you agree that although there is and was no scope for immediate profit, it was generally thought that the free school would only thrive if profit were obtained at some time in the future, as in the Swedish model?

  • That's a view that a number of people hold, yes.

  • Was it a view that you held?

  • No. I believe and believe to this day that the free school movement can thrive without profit.

  • But it would be desirable, I suppose, if profit were generated, although I suppose that would always be the position?

  • There are some of my colleagues in the Coalition who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit. I have an open mind. I believe that it may be the case that we can augment the quality of state education by extending the range of people involved in its provision.

    But I apply one test: are we improving education overall and improving the lives of the poorest most of all? And in particular, when I have been pursuing either Mr Murdoch or others, my aim has been to get money from others into the state education system for that end.

  • According to a piece in the Guardian on 3 September 2011, under tab 28:

    "State sources close to [you] admitted last night that the education secretary had been hoping to allow free schools, which are set up by local people but still funded by the state, to make profits in the second term of a Tory-led government."

    Is that an accurate statement of your aspiration?

  • It's my belief that we could move to that situation, but I think at the moment it's important to recognise that the free schools movement is succeeding without that element, and I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it.

  • Was that aspiration or that bridge which you haven't yet come to a matter which was ever discussed with Mr Klein or anyone else on behalf of News Corporation?

  • The other aspect which I'd like you to consider is in the United States of America, News Corp's profit in the education sector does not come from running schools but from its subsidiary business called Wireless Corporation, which it acquired in November 2010. Do you know anything about that?

  • I didn't know anything about that company until I read about it in the Guardian.

  • And that was therefore late summer of last year, was it?

  • I can't remember when the Guardian article first appeared that mentions Wireless Generation. I was aware that both Mr Murdoch and others had an interest in the way in which technology would change education, but I wasn't surprised by his interest because I'd had a number of meetings with organisations like Pearson and Microsoft in which they too had explained to me how the nature of education would change as a result of new technology.

  • Were these issues, in particular the technological issues, discussed by you and anyone in or within News Corporation, News International?

  • We never discussed anything specifically to do with Wireless Generation. I do remember discussing, both with Mr Klein and Mr Murdoch, among other things how new technology would change the shape of education, but as I say, those discussions were no different -- in fact, probably briefer -- than discussions that I had with individuals from other companies that were engaged in this area, specifically Pearson and Microsoft.

  • So were these discussions in the context of a possible commercial venture?

  • Not in the UK, no. They were discussions about the way in which -- styles of pedagogy and assessment, how children learn, how we monitor their progress, and also how we improve professional development for teachers who change as a result of technology. I became interested in the subject as a result of visiting Singapore and seeing how technology had made a difference there, and also reading from a variety of sources, including the Livingstone Hope report commissioned by my colleagues at the DCMS. I'd been interested in the prospect that the technology offered to transform education for the better.

  • The final question before we take a short break: was it your assessment, Mr Gove, that commercial considerations were entering into News Corp's thinking at any stage or was it your assessment that they were purely philanthropic?

  • I believe that Rupert Murdoch was only interested in establishing a school for purely philanthropic reasons. As he made clear, I hope, when he was appearing as a witness to this Inquiry, he cares passionately about improving education and feels, as I do, that it's rather a pity that this country and America have fallen down international educational league tables relative to our competitors, and for that reason I think that he wants to make a contribution here to improve educational standards and I think that's a good thing.

  • We'll have a break, Mr Gove. Thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • Mr Gove, may I move off schools. We've covered that topic. I move on now to the transcript of your speech to the press gallery on 21 February 2012, which is exhibit MG11, under tab 13. Did you clear this, as it were, with Downing Street or not?

  • So you were speaking entirely -- well, not ex cathedra, obviously, but in your capacity as Secretary of State for Education but personally?

  • Yes, I was. I had been invited to speak to the press gallery, as politicians often are. I had spent most of my speech cracking a few jokes, as is the way of these things, and then I made a couple of points. I was speaking without notes but these were reflections that I'd been turning over in my mind for a wee while.

  • I may have misunderstood the position then. So what we see as the transcript is literally a transcript?

  • It is not a briefing note or a speaking note?

  • You were speaking entirely off the cuff?

  • I spoke entirely off the cuff and without notes, and this is a transcript that was recorded at the time.

  • Thank you. May I take the issue in stages, if I may. The first issue maybe is what your analysis, if any, of the problem is, because in relation to our discussion about the relationship between politicians and the press and vice versa, you saw the problem as being really of a lower scale of magnitude of seriousness than others have seen it. But in terms of the culture, practice and ethics of the press, looking more widely at what we were considering in Module 1 of this Inquiry, may I understand what you analysed the problem, if any, to be, how serious it is? In your own words, first of all, could you assist us with that analysis, please?

  • Yes. I think that the revelations that there were individuals who were breaking the law in order to secure stories are disturbing. There is evidence that the practice went beyond those who have already been convicted and that raises undeniable concerns, I think, in all our minds. The question -- one of the questions is: are the existing laws sufficient to punish those who have been responsible for wrongdoing and to provide a suitable deterrent in the future to those who may be tempted to follow them?

  • You're moving immediately on then to prescription and prognosis. We're still to diagnosis. May we just go through the various stages of diagnosis of the problem?

  • We also heard evidence from DAC Akers in April, I believe, as to the possible extent of the problem in relation to bribery in the context of Operation Elveden. That presumably equally gives rise to concern in your view; is that right?

  • I think it does, and I think, again, there are a number of activities that you or I or anyone here might consider to be inappropriate, unethical, even illegal, which can, in certain circumstances, be justified because they're in the public interest and they expose a scandal. But certainly both phone hacking and the bribery or corruption of public officials are crimes.

  • May I just park those matters now and consider all the wider issues, the evidence the Inquiry received in its first module between -- I think it was 15 November and 9 February. It seems a long time ago now, but we've seen a lot of evidence. Presumably, Mr Gove -- I am not asking you to say that you followed every single piece of evidence but you were keeping a weather eye generally on the evidence coming out before this Inquiry; is that right?

  • From time to time, I would see the Inquiry's deliberations and the evidence put before it reported in the newspapers, yes.

  • The evidence was -- and I stress the evidence; no findings have been made -- of a range of unethical, immoral, harmful behaviours which went far beyond the scope of corruption of police officers and phone hacking. I can give you plenty of examples, if you wish. It's just your assessment of that. Are we looking, in your view, at a miniscule problem, which is atypical, really, of the culture, practices and ethics of the press, or are we looking at a problem which is capable of being regarded as serious?

  • I think it is a problem that is capable of being regarded as serious, yes. The purpose of the remarks of my speech, however, was to ask the question: might the cure, in certain circumstances, be worse than the disease? The fact that I used the word "disease" I hope conveys that I can -- I believe that there is a serious problem, but I subsequently -- and I suspect that we may go on to this -- came up with examples of processes where what had been put in place in order to deal with the problem was arguably worse than the pre-existing situation.

  • So when we're looking still at diagnosis, we have a problem in terms of its quality and extent, although the extent may be difficult to judge, which is serious, which causes harm and therefore is, at the very least, worthy of significant consideration. Is that where we are?

  • I think it's entirely legitimate and appropriate to have a public debate and to ask serious questions about how individuals have used and perhaps in some cases abused freedom of speech. Quite right also to ask what action, if any, should be taken, but the balancing item in the scales is what would be the costs in terms of the infringement both of liberty and the culture of freedom that might come about if that regulation went too far.

  • Your argument almost proves itself by definition, because if you use terms like "if you go too far", then by definition one's gone too far into an area of overregulation. But can we see where we are in terms of regulation? You're not in principle, presumably, opposed to what you describe as a proportionate, reasonable degree of regulation to address a problem, a serious problem, which undoubtedly exists. Are we in agreement about that?

  • Not entirely. I have a prior belief that we should use the existing laws of the land and individuals and institutions should be judged fairly, on the basis of the existing laws of the land --

  • And that the case for regulation needs to be made very strongly before we further curtail liberty.

  • I'm not seeking about curtailing liberty but let me give you the speeding example. Speeding is a crime. If a person driving the car in excess of the speed limit were to say, "Actually, this is all a problem of enforcement. I'm not to blame for trying my car too fast; you, the police, are to blame for not stopping me", you would dismiss that argument as pretty specious, wouldn't you?

  • It would strike me as a weak argument, yes.

  • Is that as far as you're prepared to go?

  • It would certainly be one that I imagine probably wouldn't stand up in court. We might admire the audacity of the individual making it but certainly wouldn't be inclined to acquit him.

  • Hm. But what we require of everybody is an obligation to the rule of law, to obey the law, and we have to recognise, have we not, that the police, with their limited resources, cannot necessarily devote as much time or attention to certain crimes as they would wish in an ideal society, perhaps. The consequence is that decisions are made and people are trusted to obey the law. But doesn't there have to be some mechanism to ensure that they do, or must it only be the police?

  • I think the best way of making sure that people obey the law is making sure that the police are appropriately resourced to investigate crime, that the courts hear the case for the prosecution and the defence and then, if someone is found guilty, that they face the consequences. I fear for liberty if those principles are eroded.

  • Would you say the same about other industries and professions which are subject to regulation, that their liberty is being eroded by reason of the fact that they have to observe a higher standard of behaviour than that imposed by the criminal law?

  • I think each case has to be looked at on its own merits. I think if you look, for example, at the bar, then it is entirely understandable that there should be a system of public examination before an individual can plead a case in court and offer their services as a barrister. It's entirely appropriate that if someone behaves in an unethical manner that the bar should say that they are no longer capable of practising.

    But there's a difference between offering your services as a barrister and publishing something, because whether or not it's an individual author of items on a blog or the editor of a newspaper or a particular journalist choosing either to tweet or to contribute to a newspaper, I think what they're doing is exercising a precious liberty, and I'm concerned about any prior restraint on their exercise of free speech.

  • Maybe there won't be a prior restraint but there will be a requirement that they pay rather more attention to the standards of their profession, if that's what you call it, than perhaps they sometimes have.

  • The question again is -- when you say that they should pay attention to particular standards, if it's the case that they should obey the law like everyone else, absolutely, but I think the burden of proof is on those who wish to regulate and who wish to introduce some method of regulation to make the case that that regulation would be effective, rather than a curtailment of the freedom of individuals to express themselves and to engage in public debate, and I think the general case for free expression has to be restated in every generation, because we all collectively benefit from a feeling that we are and shouldn't be inhibited in stating our views on whatever platform is available to us on matters that engage us.

  • Mr Gove, I don't need to be told about the importance of free speech. I really don't. But I am concerned that the effect of what you say might be that you are fact taking the view that behaviour which everybody so far in this Inquiry has said is unacceptable, albeit not necessarily criminal, has to be accepted because of the right of free speech. Is that right?

  • I don't think any of us can accept that behaviour necessarily, but there are a variety of sanctions. There is social ostracism, disapproval. There is the penalty that someone pays who chooses to use a commercial outlet to publish that which is inappropriate or distasteful. But by definition, free speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time.

  • Don't you think that some of the evidence that I have heard from at least some of those who have been the subject of press attention can be characterised as rather more than "some people are going to be offended some of the time"?

  • I'm sure that there are cases where journalists and others will behave in ways which are deplorable. The question remains, however: what is the most effective means of ensuring that individuals do not behave in a deplorable fashion? It's often the case that individuals reach for regulation in order to deal with failures of character or morality, and sometimes that regulation is right and appropriate, but some of us believe that before the case for regulation is made, the case for liberty needs to be asserted as well.

  • Well, I think I've spoken about liberty and I'm not going to repeat myself. I am concerned that over the last 50 years, there have been repeated concerns about the conduct of the press, repeated chances, opportunities, last chances, to quote a former secretary of state, then further incidents -- the death of Princess Diana -- then further problems -- and I've passed Calcutt 1 and Calcutt 2 -- and here we are, yet again, with a real public concern about how certain parts of the press are behaving. Now, do you dismiss that public concern as something which should be put entirely subject to the freedom which I absolutely endorse, the freedom of speech?

  • No, I think there is undoubtedly real public concern and I think you are quite right to say that that public concern has existed over the last 50 years. I think that that public concern pre-dates the last 50 years. I would simply say that when we're thinking of what the means of addressing that concern should be, that we should think carefully about the effects of regulation in the same way as a legislator, when any particular proposal is put before them to deal with a particular evil, thinks: is this legislation necessary or proportionate? Is it the right remedy for the particular problem that's been identified? And I'm unashamedly on the side of those who say that we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation because the cry "Something must be done" often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise.

  • Well, I am prepared absolutely to agree that I should think carefully about the effect of anything I suggest, and believe me, I am thinking very carefully. I equally accept that one can't knee-jerk react. The dangerous dogs legislation of which several people have spoken may be thought to be an example. I'm not saying it is, but it may be thought to be an example. But would you agree that in the context of the repeated concern, time after time -- and it may be more than 50 years, you may be absolutely right -- does suggest that where we are now is not entirely fit for purpose?

  • I think the situation now is certainly not ideal and there are abuses. This Inquiry has heard about them. They have caused widespread public disquiet. My instinct is, if we look over time at how we have reacted to other abuses and errors and crimes that have been identified, there has been a tendency -- it hasn't applied in every case but there has been a tendency to meet that particular crisis or scandal or horror with an inquiry. That inquiry has come up with recommendations, some of those recommendations have been wise and thoughtful, others perhaps less so. But what has subsequently happened is that the regulation or the intervention which has flowed from that inquiry has then been gold-plated and applied in such a way as, in the terms that I used in my speech to the press gallery, to be a cure worse than the disease, and in my speech to the press gallery, I mentioned the way in which the vetting and barring scheme had grown and the way in which the Every Child Matters agenda had grown, and the way in which the Food Standards Agency had grown to interpret its brief in a particular way.

    Now, those were three examples where I believe -- and it's perfectly open to others to disagree with me passionately, obviously -- but where I believe that an unfortunate tendency arose, which is a belief that we could, you know, mitigate against the evil which is inherent in human nature by setting up bureaucratic bodies or enacting regulation.

  • Right. Well, in the same way that you recognise others are entitled to their view, you are absolutely entitled to your view and I welcome it, and I was keen to make sure that it was appropriately discussed by the Inquiry. I would further agree that bureaucracy is extremely unsatisfactory and that laws don't necessarily solve problems. But if some sort of regime is to be in place -- and you may say that we don't even need a PCC, that it should just be a free-for-all. But if you don't take that view -- and I'll be interested to know if you do -- then there has to be some structure -- not corrected to content, I entirely agree -- that permits those who wish to complain that their liberties are being interfered with, that their rights have been infringed in order they can obtain redress, hasn't there?

  • Yes, I do believe -- the first thing that I would say is that there is a case for reform of the law itself and certainly for reform of the law of defamation. I think it's also the case that there's an evolving jurisprudence as a result of the ECHR as we balance the right to a private life and the right to free expression, and I follow that debate with interest. And it's certainly the case that there may be room for improved regulation.

    All I would say, and sought to say, is that the experience that we have of regulation over certainly the last three decades is that sometimes good intentions can result in the curtailment of individual freedom and they can also result in an unrealistic expectation of how individuals behave.

  • So are we clear then, Mr Gove, from your speech, that you were throwing up ideas for consideration and making it clear that in your view there was a burden of proof to be discharged before freedom of speech was impeded or restricted by regulation, rather than setting up a final position which effectively said, "Freedom of speech is preeminent, touch it at your peril"; is that it?

  • Yes. I have a strong -- some might call it a bias, a prejudice, a predisposition to favour free expression, but by definition, one of the reasons that I favour free expression is that I believe that it is through public debate, the clash of ideas, that we can arrive at a better form of governing ourselves, a better method of helping the next generation and it's entirely possible -- it's happening often enough -- that I will be proven wrong in open debate and it may well be that the fears that I gave expression to in this speech prove to be phantoms.

  • Because, of course, under the ECHR, as you mentioned, if you're outside the realm of Section 12 and interim injunctions as you well know, Article 8 and Article 10 have the same status, don't they?

  • Again, you're more of an expert than I am. I have followed the debate but I cannot follow it with the degree of authority that you can, Mr Jay. But it is the case, yes. I have seen people wrestling with the equal weight given, as I understand it should be, to both articles.

  • One might be forgiven, reading these words, that -- not that I mean this abusively; this is straight out of JS Mill -- that Article 10 is being given a predominant status, particularly the last paragraph of your speech. Would you agree with that observation?

  • Yes, I would agree with it except in one regard. I don't think it's at all abusive to be compared to JS Mill.

  • No, I wasn't intending to convey that. I reassure you of that.

    I think that's probably as far as we can take this, Mr Gove. You're expressing a cautionary view and that's where we are, is it?

  • I think we can go a little bit further.

    Let's just test a couple of those ideas. One of the possible ways forward that I have been considering is to reflect upon the very real cost of litigation and to reflect also upon the inability for those who are not of substantial means to obtain redress for sometimes destructive invasions of privacy or libels. That has led me to consider and to suggest -- and I've not reached any conclusions as yet -- that some sort of mechanism could be devised which allows for small claims to be resolved outside the court and to enable people to obtain swift redress. Of course, that would require consensual submission but it would enable both the individuals and the press to save a great deal of money, and it might also encourage responsible titles to join a new regulatory regime that enforces the code. Would you consider such an appropriate desirable or not?

  • At first blush, it seems fair, but the devil would be in the detail.

  • I recognise that issue, but I'm not dealing with the detail at this stage. If one did visualise such a system, which also provided redress by way of apology or publication of a correction, as the PCC presently does, would you agree that it would be sensible, if not imperative -- but let's say sensible -- that all responsible titles signed up to it?

  • I think there is a lot of merit in newspaper titles that consider themselves to be responsible, holding themselves publicly to a high standard. Absolutely. The only additional note that I would enter is that as the nature of the modern media changes, the definition of what is a title inevitably changes with it.

  • No, no, I agree with all that and I've had the debate of everything from the conversation in the pub, through Twitter, through blogs. I'm on top of that additional complication. No, that's not the true. I'm aware of the additional complication. But assuming that such a system could be devised, where the detail did not create the concerns that you are obviously wary of, as you identify, and assume also that one could articulate a respect for the freedom of expression which is your fundamental starting point, in the same way that, as I explained, section 3(1) of the Constitutional Reform Act recognises the importance of the independence of the judiciary -- it's a statutory recognition of that fact, so one could equally have a statutory regulation -- wouldn't one need, in order to provide the form of small claim redress court, some statutory framework not to touch what's happening, not to touch content, not to touch the decision-making but simply to permit enforceable decisions to be made in this not formal -- ie not court system -- set-up?

  • I can see the merits in the case that you're putting forward. I'd have to give it appropriate consideration. A couple of thoughts occur to me.

    The first is that part of the case that you make is a case for reform of the law of defamation in order to make it easier for people to have access to the redress that that can give.

    There's another concern as well. There must inevitably be a grey area where you or I might consider that something was inaccurate or indeed offensive or intrusive, but the newspaper, journalist or blog concerned would disagree, and I'm not sure how such a dispute would be easily resolved.

  • Well, we have that today, don't we, with the Press Complaints Commission?

  • And they resolve it, and it's resolved by a body that is, at least in part, entirely independent of the press and, speaking for myself, I don't immediately see a problem. There will always be issues and provided one is being careful to respect the importance of freedom of expression, but equally to weigh the importance of privacy rights or other Article 8 rights, then that balance has to be made by somebody. Somebody has to make a decision. If you come to court, it's a judge. It could equally be, in an arbitral system, a combination of those who represent the industry, those who are independent, bringing a different judgment, a public judgment, to bear on where the line is, bearing always in mind the importance of free expression. But balancing. That's what we do all the time.

  • It may be the case that some titles would willingly join in such an arrangement, and that they would consider it to be a badge of pride that they were willing to abide by such an arrangement, but it may be the case that there are other titles or writers or websites that may say, in a way: "We regard that as a cartel arrangement and we wish to be buccaneers, outside it." Would such an arrangement apply to a journal like Private Eye, for example?

  • Well, Private Eye would have to decide. What I might suggest to them, or to such a buccaneer -- I don't know whether Mr Hislop would call himself a buccaneer; perhaps he would -- that if you deprive the public of the opportunity cheaply of obtaining redress and you say, "No, if you want to obtain redress, you're going to have to start very expensive proceedings, and if you can't afford it, that's just too bad", then it may be the court could then say, "Well, fair enough, if the paper is right, if we agree with the paper on this particular occasion, fine, then they succeed, but if we don't agree with the paper, then there is a risk that, for example, exemplary damages might flow because the paper could have had this resolved very easily in a different system", and then Private Eye would have to decide: do we want to be inside the system or outside the system?

  • Absolutely, but Private Eye might decide that this system is a less effective and speedy way of giving redress to those who legitimately have concerns about what we've written than our editor, exercising his own judgment, and in that sense we're saying that a particular method of organising one part of an industry is preferable to a different method, within that broader industry, of co-ordinating their affairs.

    Now, it may be that we decide that that is appropriate, but it's undeniably the case that people who take a libertarian view would be sceptical.

  • Yeah, well, they may be sceptical and that libertarian view, they must accept, if they're wrong and so they've created additional cost, they'll have to pay for it.

  • It's arguable. What I infer from what you've said -- and I'd have to give it proper consideration -- is that the law would punish those who chose not to enter a voluntary method of regulation.

  • I don't use the word "punish" actually quite in that way. What I say is that if there is a sensible, approved system cheaply for resolving complaints, those who choose not to take advantage of the system must expect to be visited with the additional cost that is as a consequence created.

  • All I would say is that -- sensible to whom? Approved by whom? If the court says that you must be part of this voluntary association, otherwise you pay a particular price, then the law is making the judgment between one method of remedying problems, which is -- by its definition, it has to be a voluntary arrangement if it's going to work -- and other methods.

    As I say, I think it's an interesting idea which clearly deserves careful consideration, because I can see the merits behind the case, but I can also see some dangers, and those dangers would be the creation of a club of which you have to be a member if you are not to face more serious punishment in the courts if you happen to make a mistake.

  • Or more serious cost, certainly.

  • Quite. Costs as a punishment.

  • The whole point is to avoid everybody -- I mean, it's not actually my mission in life to deprive lawyers of money, but it's not a bad idea in this field, where a lot of people actually can't afford to take on the press.

  • Well, I think you're absolutely right, and the prior point that I made is that we do need to look at the law of defamation. There are at least two problems with the existing law of defamation. One is that it costs a great deal for the average citizen to bring action. The other is that the wealthy can use the courts to silence dissident voices, and we have had situations where citizens from other jurisdictions have used the English courts in order to silence people who have been drawing attention to wickedness, tyranny, corporate malpractice and all the rest of it.

    So I absolutely accept that the law of libel is inadequate at the moment, both in terms of redress and in defending free expression. The proposition that you put forward is undoubtedly a thoughtful -- it's not for me to say it's thoughtful; it's manifestly a thoughtful and significant way of addressing the problem, but I'm not certain that the case is made.

  • Well, we'll have to see. Everybody will approach these issues from a slightly different perspective and reach their own conclusions as to the way forward, but I do not hear you suggesting that there should be a complete free-for-all.

  • No. I think that it's important that we ask ourselves: what are the means, whether it's changing the existing law or looking to other remedies, for dealing with this issue? My point is not to argue for a specific end-slate, to say that there should be a free-for-all or that there should be this method of regulation. Quite properly, this Inquiry will come forward with recommendations, having taken time to listen to the evidence from many witnesses. My intervention in this debate was a reflection of my view that when faced with the case for regulation, the case for liberty sometimes needs to be asserted as well in order to ensure that the public debate around the Inquiry's deliberations is as plural as possible.

  • That's precisely why I was keen that you have the opportunity to develop your thoughts in the same forum as everybody else.

  • And I'm very grateful to you for that invitation.

  • It's obviously not straightforward. If there was an easy answer to any of it, then there would be an easy answer. Actually, the solution that I'm talking about might also help in relation to the attempts by the very wealthy to muzzle, but we'll have to see. Mr Gove, thank you very much.

  • Not at all. Thank you.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)