Oliver Letwin has confirmed that Government is looking at ways to exempt journalism from a clause in the Deregulation Bill which would repeal PACE protections guaranteeing courts hear the media’s objections to police applications for their journalistic material.
Speaking in a House of Commons debate on the Bill this week, the Minister for Government Policy said it was never the intention for Clause 47 to remove the protections – as highlighted by the NS and other media organizations.
Mr Letwin said the Government would consult on the issue, and the NS is to meet him with other organisations next week to discuss the clause, the implications for journalism and ways the clause could be amended to exempt journalism.
“In the case that the media are concerned about, a production order would be used to ask a media organisation to produce some piece of information it holds” said Mr Letwin. “Those media organisations were worried that they would no longer have the guarantee of their day in court to contest such a production order, because the effect of clause 47 would be to replace the need for the existence of primary legislation governing inter partes rules with the criminal procedure rules committee.
“The media were afraid that the criminal procedure rules committee might in some way weaken the inter partes rules. I have good news for my hon. Friend and his Committee, and indeed for the media organisations—which, incidentally, I have offered to meet later in the week or next week.
“As it was no part of the intention of clause 47 to do that, we are now looking for ways specifically to exempt journalism and all such media items from the clause. If I may, I would like to discuss with him and his Committee the precise drafting of that change, so that we can be sure that the media organisations themselves and the select committee are content with the changes we make.”
Speaking during the debate, John Whittingdale MP said: “My right hon. Friend said that the Bill’s provisions were being introduced on the advice of those who were most affected by the regulations, but he will be aware of the concern that has been expressed by a wide range of media and broadcasting organisations about the effect of clause 47 in removing important journalistic protections. Is there anything he can say to reassure them that it will not have the effect they fear?”
David Davis MP said: “Unlike in most areas of the Bill, where I am absolutely behind the Government, this is an area where some of the rules are constitutionally quite important—we have just heard one example. There might be a number of other areas, which have not come up so quickly, where we would not want to undermine our constitutional protections, so will my right hon. Friend rethink clause 47?”
Mr Letwin responded: “I think it would be sensible to have further consultation, to see whether we elicit any responses from others who might be concerned. If in the course of that my right hon. Friend discovers any other bodies that are concerned, or any groups of people who might or should be concerned, my door is open to him to have discussions about that.”
Caroline Lucas MP added: “Many organisations have been extremely vocal in raising this issue over several months. The Newspaper Society, The Guardian and many others have warned about the impact of closed material proceedings and so on.”