Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Is it not true to say that some of the complaints were sorted out—in other words, mediated on—without recourse to judgment?

Peter Bradley: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was about to make and he is absolutely right: some of them were mediated on. It would be interesting to know how many of those cases were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I, or anyone who has had dealings with the PCC, that the truth of the matter is that if and when a newspaper finally agrees to correct, apologise for or retract an inaccurate report, such an apology is featured several weeks after the offending article appeared and is probably lost somewhere in the acrostic crossword. In other words, it might satisfy the PCC's provisions, but it does not satisfy the complainant and it does not go very far towards redressing the wrong. It certainly is not a proportionate correction—if a correction is achieved at all.

For those reasons, in my view and that of many others, the PCC does not work. Frankly, I would suggest that it is not meant to work. It is, after all, a creature of the press. It is funded by the press and many of its board members are representatives of the press—
25 Feb 2005 : Column 610
another reason why it does not command the confidence that it should. I am not suggesting for one moment that those who work for the PCC do not try their best in difficult circumstances to serve the public, but I am afraid that the results achieved are not impressive.

The Bill is very limited in scope. It seeks only to establish in this country a citizen's right that is enjoyed in at least 10 other European democracies. The French have had a right to reply in statute since 1881, and the Finns have had such legislation since 1919. Both have a vibrant public domain and vigorous newspapers and journals that are free to comment as they see fit—free, in the great old tradition, to publish and be damned.

My Bill seeks simply to establish a right of reply for those who believe that they have been disadvantaged by what has been printed in a newspaper or periodical. The editor or his delegate has three days in which to respond to the complaint. I accept that that is a demanding time scale, but it is right that it be demanding. When somebody is—as they see it—maligned or disadvantaged in the press, they need redress quickly, on the basis that justice delayed is justice denied.

The Bill requires a newspaper that agrees to publish a correction to do so prominently, in an editorial or on the news pages. If an individual cannot reach agreement with a newspaper, he or she can take the complaint to an adjudicator, who will have 14 days in which to reach a conclusion. If the adjudicator rules against the newspaper, it will be obliged to publish a correction, but will have the right—as, indeed, will the complainant—to appeal against the adjudicator's decision to the press standards board. The board will have a relatively short time to reach its own conclusions, and it will have the right to enforce them if the publication refuses to co-operate.

The board will have to maintain a database of corrections. We are all familiar with not just the damage that inaccurate reporting can cause, but the amplification of that damage when other newspapers or periodicals—or perhaps the same one—recycle the misinformation weeks, months or even many years later. The board will have powers to undertake research into trends in journalism, and to work with the press to develop a body of standards.

I am glad to say that many journalists support the Bill, recognising that it does no damage to their rights and freedoms. The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom says:

MediaWise says:

25 Feb 2005 : Column 611

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, says:

I am very grateful to those organisations and many of their members for that important endorsement. I too think that if the Bill were enacted, standards in our newspapers and periodicals would rise very quickly. I believe that there would be not more but fewer complaints, and I hope that fewer cases would be taken to the courts.

Mr. Forth : Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why none of the Bill's sponsors has bothered to turn up to support him or it? He seems to be in a rather lonely position. Although he has cited support from people who are, no doubt, important and influential outside the House, we are legislating here today. Where are his friends?

Peter Bradley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for turning up himself, and indeed I am very glad that I am here. There was a possibility that I would not be: I was told that there was little prospect of my being able to make this speech. As the right hon. Gentleman may or may not know—I mentioned it at the beginning—another Bill was scheduled to occupy the House, but it had to be pulled in unfortunate circumstances.The right hon. Gentleman will know—if he does not, perhaps someone should tell him—that most MPs have constituency duties and obligations on Fridays, even if he may not attach much importance to serving his constituents in his constituency. If he thinks that I am lonely in not having my supporters here, he is even lonelier in the conviction that he apparently holds on that matter. Therefore, it is not extraordinary that my supporters are not here, but they include Conservative Members—

Mr. Forth: Where?

Peter Bradley: The right hon. Gentleman may want to look at the Bill itself. He will see the names of Conservative Members, Liberal Democrats as well as Labour Members of high standing in the House. The fact they are not here is not strictly relevant.

As we are on the subject and we have a little more time, the right hon. Gentleman may want to talk to some of his colleagues about Government legislation. Dare I mention the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, which we debated in the House quite recently? I sat on the Committee that considered it. It was extraordinary that while 18 Labour Members wanted to debate measures that will have a direct and beneficial impact on the lives of their constituents, at times there was not a single Member on the Opposition Benches—for legislation that is likely to pass into law. Despite the best efforts of some of his colleagues to huff and puff about what they regarded as the limited time
25 Feb 2005 : Column 612
made available to debate the Bill, when it came to debating it they were nowhere to be seen. Before he reprimands the supporters of my Bill for being in their constituencies on a Friday, he may like to have a word with his Front Benchers and some of his colleagues. I am sorry that we have diverted somewhat from the Bill, but I am glad that I have had the opportunity to set the matter straight.

Newspapers have rights—and those rights must be protected—but so do the people whom they write about. As I said, individuals have a right not to be misrepresented and the public have an important right not to be misled. The Bill creates a new citizen's right of protection against the power of the press when that power is abused, either by design or, more often than not, by default.

I do not believe that any responsible journalist need fear the Bill. Only the worst, the least professional, the least scrupulous will be inconvenienced by it. Many will welcome it because they recognise that, in protecting the reputations of others, it will do much to restore their own. The press has a key role in keeping politicians honest but, if it expects high standards of us, it should meet those same standards. The Bill is a modest measure, but I believe that it makes an important contribution in rehabilitating the reputation of both press and politicians. Surely that is not just in our interest but in the general public interest.

Therefore, I hope for the support of other hon. Members, and in particular I hope for the support of the Government. As I say, this was an unexpected opportunity to speak to the Bill. I hope that I may be equally surprised by the response that I hear from the Minister.

1.58 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page