MPs' apathy leaves right of reply bill hanging in limbo

By David Rose

A Bill to bring the press under statutory control was in an
extraordinary state of limbo this week after supporters and opponents
failed to muster enough MPs to vote in the Commons.

If passed, the legislation would replace the Press Complaints
Commission with a governmentappointed Press Standards Board to force
editors to correct substantial errors and give people the right of
reply.

Government minister Derek Twigg warned it would establish
statutory regulation of the press “through the backdoor”, and asked
Parliament to reject it.

“Once the board was established there
would inevitably be calls to extend its remit,” Twigg, a junior
education minister, said. “Once we have breached the principle of press
freedom – let us be clear about this – we will find ourselves on a very
slippery slope.”

But, while MPs heeded his advice by voting 12 to
six against giving the Right of Reply and Press Standards Bill a second
reading, Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heal ruled that as there were fewer than
the 40 MPs required to form a quorum, the vote did not count.

The
bizarre outcome left Labour sponsor Peter Bradley seeking another day
to bring his Bill back for another vote but with little prospect of it
making further progress.

“It is dead, but it won’t lie down,” Bradley, MP for Wrekin, admitted to Press Gazette .

The dismally low turnout at 2.17pm last Friday, however, exposed MPs to media criticism.

Bob
Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said:
“Politicians don’t need the media to bring politics into disrepute.
They are more than qualified to do that themselves.

“People believe politicians vanish for long weekends.”

During the 45-minute debate Tory MP Eric Forth taunted Bradley that none of his fellow sponsors had turned up to support him.

Bradley told him: “Most MPs have constituency duties and obligations on Fridays.”

But the Government was also unable to provide the necessary 40 MPs.

Solicitor
general Harriet Harman, health minister Melanie Johnson and
constitutional affairs minister David Lammy were the only other
ministers to vote with Twigg.

Bradley said he had not expected there would be time to debate the Bill.

The
six MPs who voted for the Bill were Tony Banks, Ian Davidson, Parmjit
Singh Gill, Linda Gilroy, Nick Hawkins and Brian White. Bradley and
Paul Marsden were the tellers.

The 12 MPs who voted against were:
Tony Colman, Derek Conway, Nigel Evans, Jim Fitzpatrick, Eric Forth,
Harriet Harman, Melanie Johnson, David Lammy, Richard Ottaway, John
Randall, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg. The tellers were Paul Clark
and Gregory Barker.

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