Scotland politics

Press regulation: Scottish ministers seek consensus

Scotland's culture secretary has said her government will seek consensus over regulation of the press north of the border.

Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that ministers favoured a self regulatory approach.

In England and Wales there is a cross-party deal to set up an independent regulator using a royal charter, but views vary on underpinning by law.

Holyrood's education and culture committee will examine what the charter could mean in practice in Scotland.

The changes to press regulation have their foundations in the Leveson Inquiry which was called to examine the standards and ethics of the press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

In Scotland, Lord McCluskey was asked to look at the Leveson Inquiry report. He concluded that a voluntary code was unlikely to work.

Opposition parties wanted an urgent debate on the McCluskey Report, but Ms Hyslop said it was appropriate to wait until the middle of April to bring the matter to the parliament, to allow time for cross-party discussions and development of the royal charter proposals.

The three biggest parties at Westminster agreed to a royal charter, due to be approved by the Queen at a Privy Council meeting in May, which will establish a "recognition panel" to oversee press self-regulation.

But there was immediate division about the extent to which the new regulator had the "statutory underpinning" demanded by the Hacked Off group campaigning for tighter regulation of the press.

Speaking in Holyrood, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "What was greatly disappointing by the McCluskey Report was the fact that they didn't consider to any great extent the carrots and sticks, the incentives, that might be used in Scots law. The advisers did recommend 10 possible incentives.

"As time is short, is the cabinet secretary considering a public consultation so that we can gather views from across Scotland about whether these carrots and sticks are appropriate for Scotland?"

Ms Hyslop said: "He is correct in identifying the need for public consultation, and this would be for the parliament to decide. But I do think we should think about, in the very short period of time, whether there would be an opportunity to do as he suggests."

Evidence sessions

SNP MSP Clare Adamson asked: "Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that an appropriate committee of the Scottish Parliament should take evidence on the proposed royal charter and its implications for Scotland?"

Ms Hyslop said: "Quite clearly, in terms of time scales, we are quite limited. The prime minister has indicated that he would want to take the royal charter to the Privy Council in May.

"However, if there is an opportunity for examination of this then I think it would be preferable if the appropriate committee could take some evidence sessions, whatever the pressure of that timescale might be, so we can have a look at precisely those issues and to what checks and balances can be achieved using Scots law by examining the implications of the royal charter."

After the debate, the convener of the education and culture committee, Stewart Maxwell, said the committee would be considering the implications for Scotland of the royal charter on the self-regulation of the press.

He said: "It is vital that the relevance and implications of the royal charter in Scotland are fully examined and better understood. All members of the committee are fully committed to looking at this issue on a cross-party basis.

"Something which profoundly affects how the newspaper industry operates in Scotland must be discussed openly, in-depth and in public. Our consideration will do just that."

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