Amendment 14

Media Bill - Report and Third Reading – in the House of Lords am 5:30 pm ar 23 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Viscount Astor:

Moved by Viscount Astor

14: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—“Consultation on incentivising recognition by the approved regulator(1) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a call for evidence seeking views on alternative incentives to encourage publishers or regulators to seek recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter for the Self-Regulation of the Press.(2) The Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a report setting out the Government’s formal response to evidence submitted in response to the call for evidence required by subsection (1).(3) The Secretary of State may not make an order under section 55(3)(ga) bringing any part of section 50 into force until the report specified in subsection (2) has been laid before both Houses of Parliament.”

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, yesterday we debated my amendment, and in normal circumstances I would not have moved it again today, but yesterday there were extraordinary circumstances because our debate was overshadowed by a certain announcement. At the very moment when the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, stood up to make what I thought was an important contribution, both Front Benches were attached to their mobile telephones, looking at the news. My noble friend the Minister is the most attentive Minister, and I commend him on all the work he has done on the Bill, but in those circumstances I was somewhat off the ball, as was almost everybody in the Chamber, in listening to what the noble Baroness said. I regret that, which is one of the reasons I thought it was important to speak today.

Neither did your Lordships have a chance to see the letter from Sir Brian Leveson, in which he made some important points. I recommend that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, might read it, so that he can have a good old-fashioned legal row with him. Sir Brian Leveson made two important points, as I will reiterate. He absolutely debunked the contention that the Press Recognition Panel is a state regulator. I will not go into the details, because I do not think it necessary; noble Lords who wish to read the letter can find it in the Library. He also pointed out that Section 40 would not require publishers to pay costs even if they won; it is simply not the case.

It is a pity that we have had such truncated proceedings, because in normal circumstances we would have had Committee, and then everybody would have had a chance to read Sir Brian’s letter and either agree or disagree with it—at least they would have better understood the issues that are raised. Sadly, that will not be the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was originally somewhat sympathetic to some of these ideas, but with the announcement of the election no Front Bench will put itself on the wrong side of the press—so there we are. But I have to say that noble Lords who oppose my amendment might rue the day because, whoever wins the next election, I suspect that something else might come, and it might be somewhat different. My amendment does not change government policy; it is the Government who are changing their policy. Section 40 was put in by a Conservative Government; it was a Conservative policy. It is no one else’s policy.

It is disappointing. I think the question that always has to be asked is this: are publishers and newspapers going to be the only industry in this country to mark its own homework? That question will be asked again and again; whatever one thinks of Impress and IPSO, there are questions. That is an issue that will come back again and again.

I want to make it clear that I am not going to press my amendment today, so my noble friend Lord Black need not come up with his usual diatribe against me. I enjoy his diatribes, because when one moves an amendment, one sometimes wonders whether one has got it right. When I listen to my noble friend Lord Black, I know I have got it right, and that is an enormous help to me.

It is disappointing that the Government could not consider more carefully the points made by Sir Brian Leveson. I hope future Governments will and that this is not the end of the debate. I make it clear that this is not an attack about press freedom. I agree with my noble friend Lord Attlee. I am trying to make sure that those who are not in a position to have some comeback when they are treated unfairly are protected better than they are now. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor for outlining his amendment today. We debated much the same amendment yesterday. I will speak to it and the other amendments in this group.

The Government are committed to a free and independent press which, as I said, is vital to our democracy. There now exists a strengthened, independent, self-regulatory system for the press. The majority of traditional publishers are members of IPSO. Some publishers have joined Impress, while others, including the Financial Times and the Guardian, have chosen to stay outside either regulator, with their own detailed self-regulatory arrangements. These regulators enforce codes of conduct which provide guidance on a range of areas including discrimination, accuracy, privacy and harassment. If they find that a newspaper has broken the code of conduct, they can order corrections.

Given our commitment to independent self-regulation, it is not government policy to review the efficacy of press regulators. The Government have committed to independent self-regulation of the press. This extends to not intervening in or overseeing the work of the press regulators. Accepting Amendment 15 would amount to government regulation of the press and I am not able to accept it.

Turning to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Astor and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, the Government do not interfere with what the press can or cannot publish. That extends to endorsing regulators of which publishers should become members. Consulting on, with a view to creating, other incentives to the press to join a Press Recognition Panel-backed regulator that a consultation might identify would conflict with the Government’s clearly stated position. Indeed, the Government consulted on the repeal of Section 40 in its entirety in 2016—eight years ago—and the vast majority of respondents backed repealing it. That was reflected in our previous two manifestos, as I pointed out. For those reasons, I am afraid I am not able to accept Amendments 14, 17 and 18.

I shall say a bit about Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watts and Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, which would introduce a requirement on publishers that are not members of a Press Recognition Panel-backed regulator to publish a reply or correction where they have published information containing a “significant factual inaccuracy”. The requirement would be triggered by a demand made by an individual to whom the information relates. In practice, this amendment would incentivise membership of Impress, as I think the noble Lords know, and, as with the commencement of Section 40, could disadvantage publishers who choose not to join Impress. I think I have made my views very clear, so for those reasons I am not able to accept that amendment either.

I hope noble Lords will not press their amendments.

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and for the way that he has conducted the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.

Clause 55: Commencement

Amendments 17 and 18 not moved.