Friday, 25 October 2013

Filming council meetings - A new law for England


(7th November; Update at the end of this post; the wording of the proposed amendment to allow filming)

Earlier in the summer it became clear that councils in England were not following the guidance issued by Eric Pickles MP to allow public filming, tweeting etc at council meetings.

The minister threatened to legislate to ensure compliance and it seems he has done just that with an announcement today that "a new law will be put before Parliament to give the press and public new rights to film and report council meetings.
The legal changes to be sent to Parliament by Mr Pickles will enshrine in the law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England."

The new laws will form an amendment to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill which is going through parliament. It will, of course only apply to England.

Earlier this year an attempt to amend the Welsh Local Democracy Bill to incorporate similar rights for Welsh residents was rejected by the Welsh Government.

Back in June Mr Pickles wrote to his Welsh Government counterpart concerned that "freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed and as a result, waste corruption and incompetence is potentially being covered up" and a further DCLG statement said "The Labour Administration in Wales is openly opposing the right for journalists and bloggers to tweet, film and report meetings. It is obscene that Welsh bloggers are being handcuffed and arrested in Wales for reporting meetings because they don't have the legal rights that English bloggers now have. No amount of bluster can disguise the fact that the Labour Party are the enemies of openness and on the side of town hall tyranny."

Whatever the politics of it all, there needs to be a greater drive for transparency and accountability in Wales, a culture change in fact, as recent revelations in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Caerphilly clearly illustrate.


Update 28th October;
Further reports include 'Memo to councils - join the 21st century and let the people film meetings' from the Guardian's Greenslade Blog. A group of Journalism lecturers from Leeds University have written an open letter to urge Leeds City Councillors to allow filming when they discuss it today;

 "...At a time when important decisions are being made about the future of our city, the statutory and discretionary services provided for our citizens, the built environment, transport, education and other vital matters it can only be to the benefit of members to ensure that the process of decision making is transparent.

To be fully informed residents need to know not only the decisions reached, but also the discussion that leads to these conclusions. More than ever members bear heavy responsibility for representing residents, businesses and institutions, and we believe they should be both seen and heard making those representations.

Disseminating audio and video from council meeting can open the process to many more residents than are able to spare the time in busy, hard-working lives to attend meetings in person. Technology has moved on from the era in which the magnificent civic hall was built....."

Update 29th October;

As promised Mr Pickles introduced the amendment yesterday in parliament, here's the link to Hansard;

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131028/wmstext/131028m0001.htm#131028m0001.htm_spmin2

Update 7th November;
The following amendment to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill have been proposed by Brandon Lewis MP to allow filming in England. Interestingly it includes the creation of 'new offences'.

Access to local government meetings and documents

To move the following Clause:—

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for and in connection
with allowing persons—
(a) to film, photograph or make sound recordings of proceedings at a
meeting of a body to which this section applies, or of a committee or subcommittee
of such a body;
(b) to use other means for enabling persons not present at such a meeting to
see or hear proceedings at the meeting, as it takes place or later;
(c) to report or provide commentary on the proceedings at such a meeting,
orally or in writing, so that the report or commentary is available, as the
meeting takes place or later, to persons not present at the meeting.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may in particular make provision—
(a) for allowing persons to make available to the public or a section of the
public using any medium (including the internet) things produced as a
result of activities within that subsection;
(b) about the facilities to be made available by bodies to which the
regulations apply to enable persons to carry on such activities;
(c) about the steps to be taken by persons before carrying on such activities;
(d) about the circumstances in which persons may not carry on such
activities, including for enabling a person specified in the regulations to
prevent them from doing so in the circumstances specified in the
regulations.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
(a) for requiring written records to be kept of decisions that are of a kind
specified in the regulations and are taken by an officer of a body to which
this section applies,
(b) with respect to the information that is to be included in those written
records (including information as to the reasons for any decision);
(c) for requiring any such written records, or any documents connected with
the decisions to which they relate, to be supplied or made available to
members of the body, to the public or to other persons;
(d) for the creation of offences in respect of any rights or requirements
conferred or imposed by the regulations.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that any of the following may
or must be given or made available by electronic means—
(a) any notice which is required by the Public Bodies (Admission to
Meetings) Act 1960, Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972 (access
to meetings and documents of certain authorities etc) or regulations under
this section to be given by a body to which this section applies;
(b) any document relating to such a body which is required by that Part or
those regulations to be open to inspection.

(5) Regulations under this section may, in particular, amend or repeal any provision
of—
(a) the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960,
(b) Part 5A or section 228 (inspection of documents) of the Local
Government Act 1972, or
(c) section 58 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (application of Part
5A to the London Assembly).
(6) Subject to subsections (7) and (8), this section applies to—
(a) a district council,
(b) a county council in England,
(c) a London borough council,
(d) the London Assembly,
(e) the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local
authority or police authority,
(f) the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority,
(g) Transport for London,
(h) a joint authority established under Part 4 of the Local Government Act
1985,
(i) an economic prosperity board,
(j) a combined authority,
(k) a fire and rescue authority in England constituted by a scheme under
section 2 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 or a scheme to which
section 4 of that Act applies,
(l) a National Park Authority for a National Park in England,
(m) the Broads Authority,
(n) the Council of the Isles of Scilly,
(o) a parish council, and
(p) a parish meeting.

(7) In its application to subsection (1), subsection (6) is to be read as if it included a
reference to an executive of an authority within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of that
subsection.

(8) In its application to subsection (3), subsection (6) is to be read as if the reference
in paragraph (d) to the London Assembly were to the Greater London Authority.

(9) References in this section to a committee or sub-committee of a body include any
committee or sub-committee of that body to which Part 5A of the Local
Government Act 1972 applies or is treated as applying.

(10) References in this section to Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972 include
a reference to that Part as it applies to the London Assembly by virtue of section
58 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

(11) In paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972 (notice of
meeting of principal council), for “Three clear days” substitute “Five clear

days”.’.

(original source here)

3 comments:

Duncan Smithson said...

Brilliant news! My local council (Thanet in Kent - Margate way) are so paranoid about filming, I was escorted from the building by a security guard under suspicion of filming. This law is needed! We need more transparency in local government. Thanks for the blog :D

Anonymous said...

A note of caution: we have not yet seen the actual wording of the amendment to the bill yet. Many a slip twixt cup and lip!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 23.59 Yes, I agree. The details are not available yet, I'll be very interested in the wording