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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper relates to the constitutional issue and what the Chancellor said to Sir David Frost on 18th May. I have looked up the transcript. What he actually said was:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, when the Minister confesses to my noble friend Lord Tebbit that the pass of our parliamentary sovereignty was sold under the 1972 Act, how does he explain the letter that the Labour Prime Minister, Mr Harold Wilson, sent through every letterbox in the land in 1975, stating that no sovereignty was at stake, that the danger of monetary union had been removed for ever, and that what we were voting about was merely a common market?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, if the Minister's Answer is taken at face valuein particular his reference to the constitutional issue lying in the pooling of economic sovereigntyand if the Prime Minister said that the referendum was necessary because there was a constitutional issue, why are we not to have a referendum on the constitutional convention and the proposals which will result in the pooling of sovereignty in a whole range of areas?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it was specifically denied that the Prime Minister said we needed a referendum because of the constitutional issue. We have undertaken to consult the people of this country in a referendum on EMU because it is a matter of the most profound economic importance. There is no constitutional barrier, if indeed the evidence is clear and unambiguous that it is in our economic interest.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper is not about the convention. I shall leave it to my noble friend Lady Symons to continue to respond, as effectively as she does, on this matter. But neither of the statements the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, makes is true. Nothing has changed. We have been saying the same thingI have been boring this House on the same subject using the same words for six years.
Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that relations between political and economic power partake of the character of a seesaw? Does he further agree that a seesaw does not work when it is permanently down at one end? Does he therefore agree that the increasing concentration of economic power in large units creates a case for political power equally to be concentrated in large units, or else find it is unable to compete?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is a gross oversimplification of the relationship. The political and economic aspects of any issue are much more complicated than that of a children's playground.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, when the former Chancellor of Germany, the greatly respected Helmut Kohl, said repeatedly that monetary union will work only with full political union, was that also a gross oversimplification, or was he speaking the truth which the British people understand very well?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government see no reason to change their decision not to introduce legislation to outlaw payments to witnesses in criminal cases. We did not legislate because on 19th March this year the Press Complaints Commission strengthened its code of practice absolutely to ban payments to witnesses in active proceedings. It also for the first time prohibited payments when proceedings were likely and foreseeable, unless it could be demonstrated that they were in the public interest.
However, the PCC and other media organisations are in no doubt that the Government will legislate should the strengthened code be abused. To our knowledge, there have been no payments to witnesses since 19th March.
Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware that opinion as diverse as that of the editor of the Guardian and Mr Andrew Neil has in the past week suggested that the Press Complaints Commission holds all the terror of a toothless poodle as regards the users of its code? Does he really believe that we shall see from the press the behaviour to which he has referred unless the PCC is audited and assessed by the Office of Communications to ensure that it is a proper regulator, properly transparent, properly independent and thus able to perform the duties expected of it?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already rejected a suggestion that I should answer to this House for the statements of Helmut Kohl. I am particularly happy to say that I am not responsible to this House for the statements of Mr Alan Rusbridger and Mr Andrew Neil. But the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is quite at liberty to raise such matters at their appropriate
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Press Complaints Commission has bark but no bite? As the Communications Bill is going through the House, will he consider giving the PCC the power to levy fines on those members of the press who do not follow the code? In matters of self-regulation, fines are accepted by the Government. The body Exodus, which regulates part of the telephony industry, has the right to issue fines and it has issued fines of £1 million. As Exodus has bite as well as bark, why should not the PCC have the same powers?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has not been following the proceedings in the Courts Bill, which has left this House and is about to go into Committee in another place. Clause 93 of that Bill provides for the possibility of a third party court order in the case of serious misconduct. That is not yet in force. I do not know whether it would be applicable to particular cases recently before the courts, but the Government are enacting that legislation in order to give bite to the courts in pursuing serious misconduct.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that as regards payments to witnesses the regulation of the broadcast media is tougher than that of the print media? Does he further agree that that is not as it should be?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, again, it is possible to raise that matter in the context of the Communications Bill. There is a difference between broadcast media and print media. We have a free press; anyone can start a newspaper in this countryif they have enough moneyand we preserve that free press very jealously indeed. One of the protectors of a free press is effective self-regulation.
We have made it very clear to the Press Complaints Commission that if its strengthened code of conduct is not adhered to, we are prepared to undertake legislation. Broadcast media are regulated in a different way by licensing.
Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that an extensive Criminal Justice Bill is coming before the House, with its Second Reading on Monday, would it not be wise for the Government during its Committee stage to put forward a fresh, enlarged definition of "contempt of court" so that the matters complained of by noble Lords can be dealt with?
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