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Press Regulation

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in press regulation in the year since the cross-party Royal Charter for self-regulation of the press was agreed.

My Lords, the appointments process for the Recognition Panel is now under way. This is an independent process being followed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and is not a matter for the Government. The panel will be formally established from the date when the chair and the initial board members are appointed. I understand that applications for the chair of the panel closed on 7 March, and I also understand that the industry is making progress with establishing a new self-regulator.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether it is still government policy that all press regulators should seek recognition from the independent Recognition Panel, as set up under the royal charter? If so, does he share my regret that the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the regulator set up to replace the discredited Press Complaints Commission, insists that it will not seek recognition and is therefore unlikely to achieve public confidence?

My Lords, as I think is very much part of the principles of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, the issue of seeking recognition is a matter for the self-regulator and the industry. The Government hope very much that the industry and the self-regulator will look at recognition. Through the Crime and Courts Act 2013, Parliament has made clear the incentives there are in looking at recognition, and I hope that with the passage of time and the Recognition Panel being set up, an application would be made.

My Lords, perhaps I may remind my noble friend that 12 months ago, on 18 March 2013, the Prime Minister announced that there was cross-party agreement for a new system. He said:

“My message to the press is now very clear: we have had the debate, now it is time to get on and make this system work”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/13; col. 636.]

Will the Government now do all they can to bring this ridiculously long debate to an end? Most important, will they give an assurance that Parliament will have the opportunity to judge whether any arrangements that are agreed will be truly effective and will effectively guard the public interest?

My Lords, the whole purpose of what we have sought to achieve is that it will be in the public interest. That is because one of the things that is very clear from what has happened is that we want any new system to command the confidence of the public. My noble friend has said that the debate has gone on for too long. In fact, I think that we have gone beyond the debate because we now have a structure in place. As for Parliament considering these issues, part of the whole issue of why we think it is important that the Recognition Panel, through the royal charter, is the body that considers whether the self-regulator meets the criteria, is that this is very much a matter for the Recognition Panel which is independent of Government or Parliament.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm who runs Britain? The question is whether it is run by the rule of law and will of Parliament, both of which have determined that the PCC replacement must be audited by the royal charter’s independent Recognition Panel, or by the press barons themselves. They seem to think that, despite everything that the Leveson inquiry uncovered, they can ignore the recommendations of a public inquiry, which has been overwhelmingly endorsed by this House and the other place and which has the support of the general public.

I understand what the noble Baroness and your Lordships are implying, but one of the key facets of Leveson was precisely that there should be a voluntary self-regulatory system. However, Parliament has obviously put in place incentives whereby we very much hope that there will be recognition through the Recognition Panel for whatever self-regulator there is.

Does my noble friend agree with the conclusion of Sir Brian Leveson that the “ideal outcome” to this process would be,

“a satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry”?

If he does, will he therefore welcome the progress that is being made by Sir Hayden Phillips and his appointment panel in selecting an independent chair and a new board for the Independent Press Standards Organisation?

My Lords, as I said before, I think we are all seeking an outcome to command public confidence that there is a means of proper redress and that we also ensure the freedom of the press. The principles of Lord Justice Leveson’s report are based on independent and effective press self-regulation. I therefore welcome the progress in setting up a self-regulator, as I do the formation of the Recognition Panel.

Does the Minister consider that the Leveson recommendations will be adequately implemented if the only self-regulatory body declines to seek audit by the royal charter body?

Your Lordships may be able to crystal-ball gaze but I certainly cannot. As I say, I very much hope that the self-regulatory body will apply for recognition. There is nothing to stop another self-regulator being formed, as the royal charter caters for a further self-regulatory body coming forward for recognition.

My Lords, thank you. Has the Minister seen the Media Standards Trust report, published late last year, which assessed how the IPSO proposals measured up to the Leveson recommendations? It found that IPSO failed to meet 26 of the 38 recommendations. Has the Secretary of State pointed out to the IPSO representatives that their model is a very long way from complying with Leveson? At what stage is the Secretary of State going to intervene to put the Leveson proposals and the royal charter back centre stage going forward, which is where they ought to be?

My Lords, I have, of course, studied the Media Standards Trust report. The whole basis of the design of Lord Justice Leveson’s report is precisely for the independent Recognition Panel to opine on whether the criteria in Schedule 3 of the royal charter have been adhered to. That is the key point of the independence: it is for the Recognition Panel to decide. The idea that the Secretary of State should intervene misses the point about the independent arrangements that we have put in place to ensure that we get a decision that is independent of Parliament and government.

Is it not appalling that the irresponsible tabloids have completely forgotten the victims, whom they promised they would help first of all, as did the Prime Minister at the outset of this long debate?

I am very clear that the country and your Lordships have not forgotten the victims. If one takes oneself back as to why the Prime Minister asked Lord Justice Leveson to produce his report, it was precisely so that the things that had happened would not happen, but if they unfortunately did happen there were proper means of redress, and that is what we want to achieve.