People are getting “suspicious” about the delay in implementing the Leveson proposals on press regulation, former Cabinet minister Lord Fowler said today.
• Lord Fowler questions delay in press regulations proposed in wake of Leveson inquiry
• Anger as the Press’ draft of the Royal Charter is given “precedence” by the Privy Council over charter drafted by the Government
The Tory peer and former journalist said it was nearly four months since Parliament overwhelmingly agreed a way forward that “protected the freedom of the press but also the public from the abuse of press power”.
He raised his concerns in the House of Lords as the Government came under pressure to explain why the press-backed draft Royal Charter on regulation was being considered by the Privy Council before an alternative cross-party version.
The cross-party version was agreed in the light of Lord Justice Leveson’s investigation into press ethics following the phone-hacking scandal.
Lord Fowler asked Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire: “Are you aware that many people today are suspicious about the long delay in implementing these proposals?
“We believe we have had the debate and, basically, now we should just get on with it.”
Lord Wallace said “some elements” of the March 18 cross-party agreement had been implemented.
“On 30 April the Press Board of Finance petitioned the Privy Council with its own draft Royal Charter which is now being considered,” he said.
“When that has been considered the conclusions will be published and the submission of the Government’s own Royal Charter will come up again.”
For the Opposition, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said Parliament agreed in March to send the cross-party draft Royal Charter to the Privy Council in time for their May meeting, but that had not happened.
“Can you confirm Parliament’s Leveson compliant Royal Charter will be submitted to the Privy Council for approval at the 10 July meeting?” he demanded.
Lord Wallace said it was “not appropriate” for the Privy Council to consider more than one Royal Charter at the same time on the same issue.
“You may consider that the press board has been extremely clever in what it has done and draw your conclusions from that,” he said.
And he added: “The Press Board of Finance submitted their petition to the Privy Council before the Government had presented its own Royal Charter. I understand that that gives it precedence over the Government’s own Royal Charter.”
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth demanded: “Can you explain how the Government got second in the queue on a matter of this importance?”
Lord Wallace told him: “I suspect there was some very fast footwork by the press.”
But Labour’s Lord Richard, a former leader of the House, asked: “Are you seriously saying that the order in which the Privy Council considers these matters is the order in which they are submitted to the Privy Council?
“If that is so, it is a most incredible position. Is there no way in which the Privy Council can draw up a list of priorities as to what they wish to consider first?
“Or are they solely bound by whoever gets his head through the door first is the one that is considered first? It’s ludicrous.”
Lord Wallace said he had taken on board the strength of feeling on the issue.