Harriet Harman

Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election and I am no longer an MP

Urgent question on a Royal Charter for press regulation - 13/02/

Today I asked Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, an urgent question about her Department's proposals for a Royal Charter on press regulation.

You can read the full exchange in Hansard, and my own contribution below:

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will she acknowledge that, as they stand, the Conservatives’ proposals do not implement the Leveson report recommendations? We called for cross-party talks and have been engaging in them in good faith, with her and with the Minister for Government Policy. Does she agree that what Leveson proposes is fair and is reasonable? It protects free speech and protects people from abuse and harassment by the press. There can be no justification for watering it down. The most straightforward way of implementing Leveson is by statute, rather than by royal charter and statute, but whichever route is chosen, we must implement the full Leveson, not Leveson-lite.

Leveson said that the system must be independent of Government, yet, through the Privy Council, Ministers would be able to tamper with the royal charter at any time. Will the Secretary of State address that problem with clauses in statute providing that, once established, Ministers cannot tamper with the charter? Leveson said the recognition panel must be independent of the press, yet the royal charter as drafted will allow the press to be part of the appointment process to the very body whose job is to guarantee the independence of the system. Will the Secretary of State take the press out of the appointment system, and will she undertake to come forward with changes to the recognition criteria, so that what is in the royal charter matches, rather than dilutes, Leveson?

Leveson’s report was published in November and there is growing impatience for it to be implemented. The December debate in this House made that clear, and the vote in the Lords on the Defamation Bill last week showed that there will be no acceptance of Leveson being watered down or kicked into the long grass. We will be reasonable on this, but we will be robust. We have an opportunity to make an important change that has been needed for decades. We must ensure that what the press did to the Dowlers, the McCanns, Abigail Witchalls’s family and to so many others, who suffered so terribly and whose lives were made a misery, can never happen again. Their heart-rending evidence to Leveson is the unanswerable case for lasting change. A big responsibility falls on us, and history will judge us as having failed in our duty if we do not implement Leveson now.

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