Cross party cabal – press regulation

Baroness Deech

Normally the mention of a “cross party consensus” is reassuring: it means that the parties are reaching agreement on a big venture, for example transport infrastructure, or (if only!) the NHS or pensions, that necessarily spans many years.  In this way, abrupt changes of policy are avoided when there is a change of government.  Today however, I have had a very different reaction to the announcement that there is to be a Royal Charter on Press Regulation, reached by cross party consensus, and available to be seen on the web. According to the news, senior ministers from the three main parties reached agreement, including certain small concessions to the newspapers.  We know that the original draft was drawn up in similar fashion but with input from the lobby group Hacked Off.

Does anything strike the reader as odd about this? Our system of making new laws is based on discussion, analysis, and voting by MPs, and a great deal of input and amendments from the House of Lords.  It does not seem as if we parliamentarians will get a say about this new “law” at all.  It is presented as a done deal, albeit that the document has been laid before Parliament. I am unaware of any opportunity to discuss it in the House this month, although it may be that at the last minute there will be an addition to the business  timetable of the House. There is an oral question about press regulation on 24th October,but that is just a 7-minute question time. Even if we get a chance to discuss it, we will not, it seems, have a genuine opportunity to amend it.

Regardless of the substance of the Charter, which may well be beneficial, we seem to have the worst of both worlds from a legislative point of view.  There is no statute relating to regulation, so none of the usual democratic input.  It is a process contained in a Royal Charter, theoretically emanating from the Queen and the Privy Council, but in reality put together by Ministers (the same is true of the BBC Charter). But there is also some statutory “underpinning”, in the form of an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, passed by the Lords on 18 March this year. That amendment is now s.96 of the Act, and it says that where a body is set up by a Royal Charter with functions relating to industry, it may not be changed unless the conditions set out in the Charter for recommending a change are met. In the case of press regulation, today’s Charter says it may not be changed without a two-thirds majority of each House approving the change, this approval preceding a request to the Privy Council to change it. This a constitutional dog’s dinner.

No Parliament can bind its successor.  It is not possible, under our unwritten constitution, to tie a future Parliament to the requirement of a two-thirds majority. So if in a few years’ time the government decides to change the Press Charter, but cannot obtain, or does not want to obtain a two thirds majority, it can repeal s.96 by a simple majority in primary legislation and make a recommendation to the Privy Council to change the Charter. The Privy Council might refuse to do this, either on the ground that the terms of the original Charter are not being adhered to, or on the ground that it is for the Privy Council to make up its own mind about altering its Charters.  I am no expert and I expect there are others who know the answer to this, but I believe the Royal Prerogative is an independent power and not to be constrained by Parliament. And it is the Royal Prerogative being used in the case of press regulation.

I asked the Minister a few days ago whether he had taken legal advice on this, but got no reply.

There is, oddly, a link with the Syria intervention question here. Although in August the Prime Minister put the question to Parliament of whether or not thre should be armed intervention, in theory he, representing the Crown, can take the decision to go to war as a matter of Royal Prerogative, without needing a Parliamentary majority.  But he preferred to take Parliament’s advice in this instance.  I wonder if the ancient Royal Prerogative power is now on its way out, or is in the process of change?

11 comments for “Cross party cabal – press regulation

  1. Honoris Causa
    12/10/2013 at 8:50 am

    Royal Prerogative is an independent power and not to be constrained by Parliament. And it is the Royal Prerogative being used in the case of press regulation.

    I am sure that it is much better not to involve the crown in any aspect of government . A Charter is a reactionary method. A Labour government would certainly not use one, under any circumstances.

    I don’t quite recall the method of the left, but it is definitively not ‘charter’.
    Sign of the times.

  2. Gareth Howell
    12/10/2013 at 9:15 am

    Normally the mention of a ”cross party consensus” is reassuring: it means that the parties are reaching agreement on a big venture

    It seems to me to be a successful endeavour by the conservatives to outwit their coalition partners, ‘cross party’ having nothing to do with Labour…. or Respect! The key word is prerogative. Labour governments strive to reduce prerogative power and conservative ones to increase them. In the Baroness’ example of press regulation, it is the notion and practice of prerogative which is important and not the press regulation.

  3. 13/10/2013 at 7:22 pm

    Hitherto, the press has been regulated by a succession of bodies created without any input from Parliament. It may not be ideal that the next one will also have been decided without full Parliamentary scrutiny, but we have at least moved a step closer by having cross-party agreement.

    I can why, as a Parliamentarian, you might feel something is amiss that you and your colleagues will not be given a vote in a matter this important. But the leadership of the three main parties has chosen not to move forward without a vote because they don’t trust their fellow Parliamentarians. This state of affairs has been brought about by the violent opposition of the press to what they call – quite unjustifiably – “statutory regulation” and even “state licensing of the newspapers”, even though Leveson proposed no such thing.

    Imagine how the victims of press misdeeds (past and future) might feel that the Leveson recommendations were not be implemented in the manner originally intended because the Press can intimidate politicians into running scared of even a statute to define a recognition body whose role is no more than to check the credentials of a second body which will be set up by the Press themselves, with membership of that second body being entirely voluntary.

    There is much in all this to be unhappy about, but that denial of a full vote is not, perhaps, the most important aspect.

  4. Croft
    14/10/2013 at 11:33 am

    Normally the mention of a ”cross party consensus” is reassuring

    Really? Since when. It usually means a cosy stitch up by the parties often with the effect that if they all agree a line the public can’t punish them however much they oppose any particular policy.

  5. Lord Blagger
    14/10/2013 at 1:06 pm

    Simple solution. Press regulation but not for policitians or the state. Make them free game.

  6. Lord Blagger
    14/10/2013 at 1:08 pm

    There is much in all this to be unhappy about, but that denial of a full vote is not, perhaps, the most important aspect.


    Really? When do I get a vote, rather than an unelected quango of politicians rejected by the electorate.

    There is no democracy in the lords, just dictatorship.

  7. maude elwes
    14/10/2013 at 4:27 pm

    This entire story smells higher than a bin filled with heads of rotting fish. On both sides of the issue.

    We all know that the likes of ‘hacked off’ are, in the main, celebrities of one ilk or another, not liking an opposing view to their own over what they feel embarrassed to face or have revealed as openly as that next movie or story they want planted. Yet, they freely beg to be covered daily in headlines that outrages their dignity when it slides into matters outside that next money making project. Whatever happened to ‘all publicity is good publicity.’

    The main push behind this organization should realise he’s out of fashion because he’s getting wrinkly and his dithering pretty face act is tired. Not because of revelations about his sex life or his ‘baby father’ matters. He is a modern Jerry Lewis, except he has no Dean to cling to. His Martin went off and married, had a baby, then moved on to an old ozzy. Leaving him to stew in his Brown/Hollywood Hills side line on his own. And did he really believe the UK newspapers were not going to pick up a story brandished by the LAPD and run across the US like a forest fire? His problem lies with the freedom of the American press not the UK. And he will never be able to clip their wings. He doesn’t bring in enough moolah for that.

    No, what is happening here is a farce and those in power believe the general public have been hoodwinked over this act of repression. The press in this country pretend it is presently free. But is it? Yes, free to give out government propaganda and spin, but not free to tell it like it really is. All you have to do to know that is watch Al Jazeera and RT news. You would think you were on a different planet to the one we see and read.

    So, this little Leveson exercise is to muffle the press even further as they had the audacity to open the door on the expenses cheats and follow it around like a dog with a bone. It exposed that which embarrassed the ruling classes when they were on the take. Didn’t stop them did it?

    And why I write this is, the headline stories in the press can be dealt with easily and quickly without any heavy changes in law. And that is by ensuring they only write ‘the truth’ and have evidence to back it up. If they stray from that path then nail with fines they cannot afford to pay. The same goes for character assassination and downright hatchet jobs. Take them to court ad sue, sue.sue.

    But those in power don’t want that. They want to remove the freedom to write what is in the public interest to read. And any excuse to keep a lid on that which doesn’t suit their image has to be stifled. No matter how the public have a right to know it.

    Government too are not realising that their days of wine and roses are over. The public have got wise to the futility of our democracy. And it doesn’t matter how much you repress the ‘Fleet Street’ you will not be able to snuffle the light out of the WWW. Unless you close it down and regulate it out of business altogether. Because, that written in foreign newspapers will simply be printed in English and put up there for all to read regardless.

    Or, are you going to tell us next that it is ‘Europe’ causing this attack on our freedom as they insist we take up their stance. They, after all, don’t allow exposure of their leading politicians private sexual exploits to be revealed at all.

    And didn’t the British Royals sue a European magazine under their European laws for printing pics that tickled their sensitivities. Although how someone becomes royal simply by being a prince or princesses fancy is beyond me. I thought it had to be a thoroughbred line. Crass is crass no matter how you put titles in front of it. And it doesn’t stop royal popularity fading along with their serendipity. Newspapers have nothing to do with it, as they print all kinds of rubbish to keep them afloat. And that isn’t working either is it?

    I hope for all our sake the press fight this to the end. They may not write a story in a dignified manner. Especially as dignity is leaving the nation at a pace taking the breath away, and the need for a ‘crass’ headlines become the single method to draw attention to any event. It does no good at all to take away their right to print what the people want to know.

    Publish and be dammed.

  8. Gareth Howell
    14/10/2013 at 5:28 pm

    I am quite sure that prerogative is the most important consideration, and viewed from that point of view ,without considering “Press can intimidate politicians into running scared of even a statute”, is not an accurate assessment.

    Reduction in ‘prerogative’ is the name of the game of the left and increase of it, the name of the game of the right. (put more bluntly parliament and crown).

    Crown likes “Royal charter”. Parliament likes “Act” ! So here’s a charter.

  9. Honoris Causa
    15/10/2013 at 8:37 am

    Of course those at the forefront of the Telephone tapping and hacking campaign are now Assange, Snowden, and one convicted US soldier, who now wants, according to press reports, to become a woman.

    The continuing campaign for press anarchy is being objectified on to such talented individuals, as are capable of getting the information by effectively tapping the computer and not just the phone, rather a more worthwhile exercice wouldn’t you say? Blame Wikileaks!

    The Baroness Deech is sanctimonious about a good many issues, but her
    chairmanship of an organisation, which is probably the worst offender in terms of individual civil liberties, takes the cake. There is rarely remedy
    for instantaneous libel, slander, and downright intrusion in to a thoroughly private life, purveyed in sound bytes by any of the vast number of BBC channels, including quick back chat from Radio 2 light program presenters.

    Some of the medical “news” casts on prime time BBC TV, presented as “progress” must surely rank, in the minds of educated men, as the seal of approval for criminal activity on a large scale. The FRCS and BMA have been informed.

  10. maude elwes
    15/10/2013 at 1:05 pm

    Anyone who has spent 3 years in solitary confinement in a US military jail would be on their knees begging to be a woman. After what Manning had to suffer, no doubt filled with mind altering ‘medication,’ wanting to change sex would have been imposed on him a long time ago.

    Manning. Assange and Snowden are the white men freedom fighters of their day.

    This one was honoured for it, which only became news for the watchers of RT.

    And a large section of the people thought Chelsey Manning deserves a peace prize.

    Whereas another crowd, equally as big, think Julian Assange ‘chick magnet’ of the highest order. Some feel he’s as cool as Cary Grant in his hey day.

    Apparently ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has nothing on him. Interesting, the psyche of the female.

  11. Baroness Deech
    Baroness Deech
    15/10/2013 at 4:20 pm

    To Honoris Causa. Which organisation are you accusing me of chairing? Don’t get your drift.

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