Leveson Inquiry: Report — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 13th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 3:01 pm, 13th May 2013

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the proposals put forward by a number of newspapers in response to the Leveson inquiry report.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Press Standards Board of Finance petitioned the Privy Council Office with a draft royal charter on 30 April. A royal charter of this kind, submitted to the Privy Council, must go through due process. It has been published on the Privy Council website for people to offer views. Thereafter, it will be considered against the criteria published by the Privy Council Office. The Government's view on the cross-party royal charter has not changed.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, so that we can be absolutely clear about the position, is it that the delay has been purely to allow the Privy Council to consider the newspapers' alternative proposal for a royal charter but that the Government remain absolutely committed to their own charter, which was approved unanimously by MPs in the other place? Surely the point is that in a democracy it is the will of Parliament that should take precedence over any interest group, however powerful.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as I mentioned, there will need to be due processes for the Pressbof royal charter to be considered. However, the royal charter published on 18 March continues to have cross- party support, and the support of all party leaders. It was the subject of 21 weeks of discussion and negotiation. The Government believe it would put in place a system of independent self-regulation with a robust system of redress, while protecting the freedom of the press.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

Will the Minister convey to the Secretary of State for Culture and, through her, to the Prime Minister the sense of outrage that is felt, not just by victims, at the way senior members of the press are trying to override the will of Parliament? They claim press freedom, but they were the ones who closed the News of the World rather than sacking the chief executive and chairman. Why are we listening to them when they ought to be showing a bit of humility and recognising the will of Parliament?

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, of course I understand what the noble Lord has said. We must indeed remember why the Leveson inquiry was held. Innocent people suffered tremendous harm and we owe it to them to ensure that this does not happen again. However, that should not and does not conflict with the important place we have for protecting freedom of the press.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, has the Minister seen the response from the NUJ to the publishers' and proprietors' charter? The NUJ represents journalists and utterly condemns the charter as showing contempt for parliamentary democracy. Who does the Minister think supports the publishers' charter? Does he not agree that the proposal would not create a self-regulator that was genuinely independent or impartial, which is what the people of this country, and in particular the victims, want and deserve?

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am aware of the representations of the NUJ and, indeed, other interests. I have to repeat that there are due processes for any submission of a royal charter. I checked the website at the Privy Council Office and I can work out how one can put across one's views during this period of openness. There will be 15 working days for a period of openness, when people can put their views to the Privy Council as to the Pressbof royal charter.

Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour

My Lords, I confess not to being a full supporter of the royal charter, although I was quite prepared to accept it if all three parties got together, and it embodied the Leveson proposals. I am pleased to hear that that is now going ahead. Will the Minister confirm that, even under those proposals, there will have to be legislation before these Houses to determine the issue on damages and costs for those editors and papers that refuse to co-operate with any form of charter? Can he confirm that there will be legislation here? If that is the Government's policy, why was it not in the Queen's Speech, which we are now debating?

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, my understanding is that all outstanding matters were dealt with in discussions not only of the royal charter but of the Crime and Courts Bill before the House rose for prorogation. So my understanding is that all outstanding matters vis-à-vis the matters that the noble Lord has raised have already been handled.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the Minister's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on the issue of the chronology of what has occurred. It seems very strange that, although the all-party supported royal charter was agreed before the one put together subsequently by the press group, the only one being put forward to the Privy Council is the press version, which was agreed after the one that was originally put forward on an all-party basis. I really do not understand why that has been allowed to happen. Why is not the Privy Council also considering the one put forward on an all-party basis?

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I can understand the point that the noble Baroness has made. I asked the question myself. I understand that you cannot have two royal charters relating to the same sort of subject dealt with in parallel. It will have to be, because of the due process, that there is one royal charter from Pressbof, which is a professional, body-based version, and then the state-sponsored royal charter, which this and the other House agreed on 18 March. Therefore, the first process is that there will have to be a consideration of the Pressbof royal charter. Once that has been achieved and the Privy Council has dealt with it, my understanding is that you cannot have two applications at the same time.