I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 48 of 29 January 2004.
In that response I indicated that, on foot of a commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government, I asked the legal advisory group, in September 2002, to report to me on the issues involved with regard to defamation and to make recommendations. I brought the group's report to Government in June 2003. I have at all times indicated that it is the group's report; it is not a report by me to Government or indeed a report of the Government and, more particularly, the Government has made no decision in respect of the substance of the contents of the report.
One of the more specific of the legal advisory group's terms of reference was to consider the nature and extent of any statutory intervention which might attach to the establishment of any entity concerned with the regulation of the press. This is a subject where there is, it would be fair to say, some divergence of views as to the optimum approach to be followed.
The group, having carefully weighed up the options, recommended the establishment of a statutory press council with functions which would include the preparation of a press code of conduct and the investigation of complaints concerning alleged breaches of that code. The report sets out, in some detail, the main features of such a council including matters pertaining to its operation and structure and the draft defamation Bill contains a template for the legislative intervention which would be required were such an entity to be established.
The particular model examined by the group is by no means the only, or, for that matter, the most obvious model for a statutory press council and other models have been suggested during the consultative period as to how such a statutory press council could be composed. These will be given careful consideration by me before bringing any proposal to Government.
Some of the recommendations contained in the report are more radical than others and will, inevitably, provoke considerable comment. That has the merit of securing an informed and wide-ranging debate on this important topic. In that regard, I decided, in consultation with my colleagues in Government, that the best way to proceed was to have a period of public consultation which will allow all interested parties who so wish to comment on the substance of the recommendations contained in the report. The deadline for receipt of submissions was 31 January 2004. As well as inviting written submissions on the report I held a major conference on 1 December last to facilitate an exchange of views from a cross-section of interested parties. The conference was well attended and was thought provoking.
Following completion of the consultative process I intend to reflect carefully on the consensus that emerges on the issues and also on the best way forward on the proposals I bring to Government. I hope to bring forward proposals in the latter half of this year.