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9.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), whom I congratulate on securing this Adjournment debate. I am also grateful to have heard the contributions made by other hon. Members in expressing their concerns about press reporting.

As the hon. Gentleman said from the outset, this debate is not an opportunity to attack the press or to lose sight of the importance of a free press. It is worth recalling that more than a third of the world’s people live in countries where there is no press freedom. It is therefore important to emphasise that however the press may transgress, a free press is fundamental to our democracy. The independence of the press from state intervention is also fundamental to our democracy, and that is why this Government and previous Governments have always fought shy of statutory regulation of the press. However, the press are not immune from criticism, as we have heard from several hon. Members, and this makes the work of the Press Complaints Commission as important today as it has ever been. It is worth remembering that, as the hon. Gentleman said, the PCC covers not only Fleet street but the 1,300 regional and local newspapers. As he informed the House, the PCC was set up in 1991 to replace the failing Press Council, so this debate gives us an opportunity to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

The PCC was designed to deal with complaints from members of the public based on the terms of an agreed code of practice. Since it was established, it has handled tens of thousands of complaints and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the code has been amended more than 30 times. The PCC has also sought to expand its remit to more than just the handling of complaints: for example, it now runs a training programme for journalists and journalism students. It advocates on behalf of individuals to prevent intrusive stories appearing in the press—it is worth recalling that it can help individuals before a story is actually printed—and deals with the problem of media scrums by communicating with the whole press and broadcast industry as a story is breaking. It is right that it has evolved as an organisation and that the process of evolution continues.

Public confidence in the PCC’s work is vital. To maintain that confidence, not only must it be effective and robust; it must be seen to be effective and robust.

Nadine Dorries: Will the Minister say how many times the PCC has been involved in a story before it has been printed and how many media scrums it has assisted in dealing with?

Mr Vaizey: I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend is informed of them tomorrow by e-mail or letter.

It is my experience that the PCC has a strong appreciation of the need to be seen to be effective and robust. It spreads the word on what it does and what it can do. It seeks to be transparent in how it works and is extremely helpful in providing advice. It is always willing to discuss decisions and the reasons behind them. Of course, that does not mean that it will always reach what the

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complainant sees as the right decision. We have to be realistic and understand that that would be the case with any system, whether statutory or self-regulatory.

The PCC can and should constantly scrutinise how it works. It should listen to what others have to say, respond to them and act on the feedback. It will certainly have received significant feedback from tonight’s debate. I know that it receives useful and constructive criticism from other sources.

Mr McCann: I am grateful for the Minister’s explanation, a lot of which I was aware of. Will he answer one point? I have had direct discussions with Stephen Abell and Scott Langham, and when I put these points to them, they do not say that they will look at the problem and try to resolve it, but argue for the status quo. It is surely wrong that they absorb the information that they get, but do not do anything about it. We have to get to a position where they do. As I mentioned in my speech, these problems have been around for a long time. When are we going to deal with them?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. I will come on to how the PCC deals with criticism and recommendations of how it should change its ways.

As the hon. Gentleman said in his speech, the code has been changed more than 30 times. I will give one example, which may draw another intervention. One way in which the PCC is scrutinised in this House is by the excellent work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It is good that the Chair of that Committee is in the Chamber tonight. I gather that the PCC places great weight on its recommendations and has adopted many of the recommendations from its last report, the thrust of which was about making the organisation a more public-facing body.

Before I come on to the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, it is important to say that although the press pays for the PCC, it should not be seen as a creature of the press. The Select Committee commented on that problem with self-regulation in 2003. As a result, the PCC changed the balance of the commission so that there is a two-thirds majority of lay people. The PCC has announced three appointments recently, who will take up their posts soon: Lord Grade, the former chairman of the BBC, Michael Smyth, the chairman of Public Concern at Work who retired recently from the law firm Clifford Chance, and Jeremy Roberts, who is soon to retire as a permanent judge at the central criminal court and the Court of Appeal.

There is no room for complacency, and that starts with the code itself. One benefit of a non-statutory approach is the flexibility that such a code offers. The PCC would tell me its code committee is able to move quickly to incorporate issues of public concern, and that anyone is free to contact the committee to ask that it includes coverage of any issue.

The PCC holds an annual consultation so that the public can suggest changes, and Members of Parliament, including the hon. Gentleman, are free to raise concerns about the coverage of the code. I am told by the PCC committee that all proposals are fully considered and answered, but he has said that he has advocated a change and been met in response with an argument against that change and for the status quo. I was obviously

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not privy to that conversation, but I suggest to him that he make a formal proposal to the PCC for a change to the code as part of the annual consultation, to get on the record from the PCC why it feels that a change from due prominence to equal prominence would not be the right way forward and that the code deals adequately with the provenance of readers’ letters.

Mr McCann: May I ask a direct question, then? Will the Government support the plea for those changes?

Mr Vaizey: I think it is very important that the Government do not take a view. That sounds mealy-mouthed, but I have been keen to stress that the system is self-regulatory, and no Government—not this Government, and not the previous Government—want statutory regulation of the press. It would be the thin end of the wedge if Ministers recommended specific changes to the code.

Mr McCann rose

Mr Vaizey: May I finish this point before the hon. Gentleman intervenes again?

It is open to hon. Members to raise the issue in the House, and of course it is open to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to examine the PCC and make recommendations. In a self-regulatory system, individuals should be able to put their case, whether they are Members of Parliament or, as my hon. Friend the

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Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) pointed out, members of the public.

Mr Whittingdale: Does my hon. Friend recognise that the revelations that have streamed out over the past six months have probably led to a greater loss of confidence in the self-regulation of the press than there has been at any previous time? I strongly support self-regulation, but if the public are to regain confidence in that self-regulation, the PCC will have to be seen to have stronger powers. My Committee strongly recommended that it was not sufficient for the PCC simply to require a newspaper to publish an adjudication. In cases of serious breaches of the code, there should be some sanction available to the PCC to demonstrate that the breach was unacceptable and to ensure that newspapers take seriously the requirement to abide by the code.

Mr Vaizey: I have run out of time, but I would say in conclusion that the PCC and the press will have heard hon. Members’ remarks in the debate. The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be aware that the PCC is conducting its own review following the phone hacking allegations. As well as being a criminal offence, phone hacking is of course a breach of the code. The PCC is reviewing the matter to see whether it can make its recommendations stronger, but it will have heard the important—

9.13 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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Deferred Division

Short Selling and Certain Aspects of Credit Default Swaps

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 13840/10 and Addenda 1 and 2, relating to the draft Regulation on Short Selling and certain aspects of Credit Default Swaps, and No. 7379/11, relating to the corresponding Opinion of the European Central Bank; and supports the Government’s position that proposals should not impact market efficiency and liquidity, in particular in relation to sovereign debt.

The House divided:

Ayes 287, Noes 20.

Division No. 258]


Adams, Nigel

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bagshawe, Ms Louise

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, rh Mr Frank

Field, Mr Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Mr Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Ward, Mr David

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim


Baker, Steve

Bone, Mr Peter

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Corbyn, Jeremy

Davidson, Mr Ian

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Edwards, Jonathan

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lucas, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Paisley, Ian

Shannon, Jim

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Wilson, Sammy

Question accordingly agreed to.

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