DCMS – PRESS CHARTER AND PRESS FREEDOM – 4 December 2013

Richard Drax: The press is unwilling to sign up to the Royal Charter. Instead, the newspapers have gathered all the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into their own set of regulations for the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which I have here ... Most newspaper editors and publishers are willing to sign up to the IPSO regulations. They are tough, and they are independent of both politicians and the press. For example, no editor would be allowed on the arbitration panel, and potentially crippling financial penalties of up to £1 million could be placed on titles that step out of line. Far from being toothless, the regulations would bring swift and fair redress to those who have been badly treated.

Lord Leveson called for a system that all sides could agree to – I ask hon. Members to note the use of the word "all" – and evidently the Royal Charter fails in that regard. It seems as though the Government have seen that for themselves. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was reported to have said last month that the press charter could be redundant if newspapers produced an effective system of self-regulation. They have done so, and I have it right here ...

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): ... we are coming to the end of the generous time that I have been allocated for responding to the many points that have been put to me –

Dr Julian Lewis rose –

Mr Vaizey – but of course I recognise an old friend ...

Dr Julian Lewis: The Minister is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. I would like to suggest a way forward by drawing, I hope, a not-too-tortured parallel. We had a vote, which was referred to in the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), on Syria. If that vote had gone the other way, I doubt whether the chemical weapons would have gone, or whether we would have had the deal with Iran. The Government are now claiming credit for those things having happened, even though they were defeated in a vote. Can the Minister see where I am going with this?

Mr Vaizey: No.

Dr Lewis: Well, it will become clear. I doubt whether we would have had on offer anything like as tough a regime as that constituted by IPSO without what the Government have done up till now. Would it not be an idea to give it a trial and see whether it works? The Government could then legitimately claim credit for having brought it forth, when otherwise it would not have come forth.

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend tempts me, perhaps uncharacteristically, to claim credit where it might not be due, but I recognise the force of the point that he makes. It is important to stress that the independent self-regulation body that is being set up by the press is welcome. It is also important to stress that it is entirely a matter for the press whether they choose to seek recognition for that body. As I have said, the benefits that come through being recognised by the recognition panel are entirely voluntary. I do not think it is any secret, and I am sure that my Secretary of State has put it on the record, that we are delighted with the progress that the press has made in this area.