Leveson Report — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 1st July 2013.

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Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 2:36 pm, 1st July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish, on a regular basis, the number of times since the publication of the Leveson Report the Prime Minister or other Ministers responsible for bringing forward legislation on its recommendations have met editors, owners or senior executives of newspapers, and what was discussed on each occasion.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as was made clear in the Written Answer given to the noble Lord on 6 June, details of Ministers’ meetings with editors, proprietors and senior media executives are published on a quarterly basis and can be accessed on departmental websites on gov.uk.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

I am not sure whether I am grateful for that Answer. I tabled my Written Question in early May. It took four weeks to get an Answer, which came only after I had tabled this Oral Question. I cannot imagine how that happened.

I put it to the Minister that what is being suggested about looking at Cabinet documents is not in either the spirit or letter of the Leveson report, which says very clearly in recommendation 83 that these ought to be published on a quarterly basis and details given—not intimate details—of what was discussed and so forth. They are not there, nor are they likely to be. Frankly, more and more of us are taking the view that the press is so powerful that it can defy the will of Parliament.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I have that section of the Leveson report in front of me. I note how much the fact and general nature of any discussion of media policy issues at these meetings raises questions of how far we go in that direction, including—as is discussed in my briefing—whether the exchange of text messages ought to be included in that. As the noble Lord will know, so far we have included the existence of meetings and the record of meetings between January and the end of March this year, which should be published within the next week.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, is not the position on Leveson that almost four months ago, in March, Parliament overwhelmingly agreed a way forward that protected the freedom of the press but also protected the public from the abuse of press power? Is the Minister aware that many people are suspicious of the long delay in implementing those proposals? We believe that we have had the debate and that, basically, we should now just get on with it.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the strength of feeling on all sides. Some elements of the agreement of 18 March have now been implemented, as the noble Lord will know, including within the Crime and Courts Bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The noble Lord will also know that on 13 April the Press Standards Board of Finance petitioned the Privy Council with its own draft royal charter, which is now being considered. When it has been considered, the conclusions will be published, and the question of the submission of the Government’s own royal charter will come up again.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a meeting of the Privy Council on 10 July. On 18 March, as has just been said, Parliament agreed to send the royal charter to the Privy Council in time for the May meeting. Could the Minister confirm that Parliament’s Leveson-compliant royal charter will be submitted to the Privy Council for approval on 10 July?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, my briefing says that it is not appropriate for the Privy Council to consider more than one royal charter at a time on the same issue. The noble Lord may consider that the Press Standards Board of Finance has therefore been extremely clever in what it has done and may draw his conclusions from that—and that accounts for some of the delay.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, in March, in the debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has referred, there was an understanding that there was a cross-party agreement about the way forward on the Leveson recommendations. What is the state of that agreement now?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there is a cross-party agreement on the way forward. However, as those who have lived through this debate in even more detail than I have will recall, we are attempting to build a much tougher self-regulatory principle of regulation for the press with the support of a royal charter. This is a very delicate process. Pulling the press along with a tougher system of self-regulation is not proving as easy as it might.

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

My Lords, since the DCMS consideration of consultation responses to the royal charter sponsored by the Press Standards Board of Finance has finished, when will my right honourable friend the Secretary of State publish her advice about whether that royal charter should go forward to the Privy Council? I should point out that no less a person than Sir Tom Stoppard has said that a free press needs to be a respected press. It is about time that that was so.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are well aware of the battle between the press and politicians, with deep and entrenched mistrust on both sides, which is not doing much good either for the reputation of the British press or that of British politics. I have to admit that the subtlety of the process whereby the Privy Council considers royal charters is something that I ought to have dug into much more deeply in preparing for this Question. I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on the timing of the consideration of both these royal charters.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

May I gently suggest to the Minister that if he sees this as essentially a problem between the press and politicians, he misrepresents or misunderstands where the whole genesis of the Leveson inquiry came from? It came from a profound mistrust between the press and the public. Surely, the job of democratically elected politicians is to do their utmost, preferably on an all-party basis, to reflect the wishes and concerns of the public.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government well understand the strength of feeling among the public on the misuse of press freedom in recent years. We have not yet reached the end of the story—we are still moving and there are some hiccups on the way.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, what is the procedure for determining the precedence as between the two royal charters which are going before the Privy Council?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Press Standards Board of Finance submitted its petition to the Privy Council before the Government had presented their own royal charter. My understanding is that that therefore gives it precedence over the Government’s royal charter, but that the consideration of the draft royal charter nominated by the Press Standards Board of Finance should shortly be finished, and at that point we will consider how we move further.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, will my noble friend explain how the Government got behind in the queue on the presentation? Will he also explain how they ended up second in the queue to the Privy Council on a matter of this importance?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I suspect that it was the result of some very fast footwork by the press board.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, is the noble Lord seriously telling the House that the order in which the Privy Council considers these matters is that in which they are submitted to that body? If that is so, it is the most incredible position. Anybody could submit an application sharpish, which would then hold up consideration of all the major issues which might be submitted by other people. Is there no way in which the Privy Council can draw up a list of priorities of what it wishes to consider first, or is it solely bound by the fact that whoever gets his head through the door first is considered first? That is ludicrous.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord expresses his amazement extremely well. I am very willing to take back the strength of opinion in this House and ask in more detail exactly what the procedure should be.