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Press Regulation — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:29 am on 5th December 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 11:29 am, 5th December 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect the new system of press regulation set out in the royal charter agreed on 30 October to be implemented.

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

The appointments process for the chair and initial board members of the recognition panel can begin following the sealing of the charter, which we expect to occur shortly. The panel will be formally established from the date on which the chair and the initial members of the board of the recognition panel have been appointed. It is for the newspaper industry to design its own new self-regulator.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

Is the Minister not concerned that, more than a year after the Leveson report, we seem no nearer an improved system of redress and apology? Does he agree that the Government are presiding over an impasse? We have the worst of both worlds: there is no effective press regulation at the moment and, because of the undemocratic use of the royal charter as a tool, input and scrutiny into the system by this House have been blocked.

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

The noble Baroness made a number of points. To start with the last one, the royal charter was felt in the end to be the appropriate route by all the parties, and by others more widely, precisely so that there was not seen to be any intrusion into the very valuable tenet that we should have a free press and freedom of expression. The architecture of Lord Justice Leveson was designed to have a new, independent, self-regulatory body and a recognition panel to oversee that body and to make sure that it adheres. It is for the self-regulatory body to apply or not—it will be voluntary. However, I do not think there is an impasse because there is an understanding that what we had before must never return.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

People have questioned whether the Government are very serious about the issue at all. It is imperative that action is taken very quickly. There is no adequate reason for not doing so.

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

I understand what the noble Lord is saying. It does seem some time since Lord Justice Leveson reported—a year. However, during that time, many things have happened. The royal charter, which has now been agreed, is about to be sealed, which will enable the Commissioner for Public Appointments to start the process of finding a chair and members for the recognition panel, which is clearly important. It will then be for the press to set up its own self-regulator. Yes, it will be voluntary, but part of Lord Justice Leveson’s architecture is that there are incentives to encourage the press to join.

Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, David Yelland, an ex-editor of the Sun, has said of the PCC’s IPSO proposal that,

“they can’t simply set up a system that has many of the flaws of the old one, run by the same people that ran the old one”.

Does the Minister agree with the sentiment behind that and will he reassure the House that he believes the PCC proposals to be fatally and irretrievably flawed?

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

The most important thing about the recognition panel is that it will be for the panel to opine on any body that applies to it for recognition. That is part of the whole architecture that Lord Justice Leveson proposed: the recognition body and an independent self-regulator. Therefore, it is not for the Government or the Executive to opine whether an application from a new body is to be recognised. That is precisely why we set up the recognition panel. That work is now in progress.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, following the last question and given that there have been, shall we say, a few doubts in the recent past about certain public appointments, in what way will the Government ensure that the appointment of members of the recognition panel is fully open and transparent?

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

That is precisely why the Commissioner for Public Appointments is ready to start work on ensuring that all the requirements in terms of transparency, openness and fairness are absolutely key to the appointments process that he is taking charge of very shortly.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

Is my noble friend worried that the bulk of our British newspapers—all of them owned, I think, by those who do not pay UK personal tax—have still not apologised to the victims of hacking and other malpractices?

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

I hope it is a reflection from the press that they can never go back to what happened and that the work they are doing on a new, self-regulatory body is an indication, at least, that what happened was unacceptable to everyone—unacceptable to the public. So much of what we have been discussing, and the talk about parliamentarians, indicates that the public want us to do something; and we have a responsibility to do it.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

Is not one of the most important reforms that the press and the media should accept—or have imposed upon them—that when they libel someone in very large letters, all over several pages, they should be forced to carry the apology in exactly the same dimension, for exactly as many days, as they did when they made the original mistake? Would that not concentrate their minds somewhat?

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

The noble Lord has raised something that is very much part of what Lord Justice Leveson referred to in the corrections and apology part of what would clearly be one of the key features, for a recognition panel, of deciding whether a body should be recognised.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the existing body that upholds the editors’ code and as the person instructed to set up a new body. Does the noble Lord recall that in his very valuable report Lord Justice Leveson said on many occasions:

“It is worth repeating that the ideal outcome is a satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry”?

Will he therefore welcome that on Monday my application to set up a new community interest company, to be known as the Independent Press Standards Organisation, was approved, and will he urge the industry now to support that initiative and sign up to a new body—a regulator that will be independent, effective and in accordance with Leveson principles?

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

I think it is in the public interest that any body that the press sets up is independent and a self-regulator that adheres to Lord Justice Leveson’s principles. It is obviously for a body to apply for recognition, because of the incentives—particularly the Crime and Courts Act, which was all part of Lord Justice Leveson’s architecture. I very much hope there is an application to the recognition panel at some stage.