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Clause 39 — Code of practice on local authority publicity

Part of Mental Health Outcomes (Measurement) – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 17th December 2013.

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Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government 4:15 pm, 17th December 2013

I suspect that deep down inside, the hon. Gentleman—we almost became hon. Friends in Committee—probably realises that there is a world of difference between a template press release sent to independent local journalists and a municipal taxpayer-funded newspaper that takes away the competition of a local independent press. None of the provisions in the Bill makes any changes to the publicity code.

Let me give a very clear example of how the process might work for a local authority publishing a weekly newspaper—such as Nene Valley News, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—in direct competition to the local independent press that is so important in holding councils to account. Under the provisions, the Secretary of State, after advising the local authority that he intends to do so and giving it time to make any representations it wishes—such as that there is no other local paper—may, if he thinks fit, issue a direction requiring that the local authority comply with some or all of the code, but particularly, let us say, the part advising local authorities that council newsletters should be issued no more than quarterly. If the Secretary of State considers that a group of local authorities, or even all local authorities in England, should be required to follow the guidance in the code, he must of course make an order, which would need to be debated and agreed by both Houses of Parliament.