Resolution Statement – 01597-18 Lansley v The Sunday Times

    • Date complaint received

      5th July 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 01597-18 Lansley v The Sunday Times

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Lord Lansley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The PM came to my wedding — I’ll cost you €5,000 a day”, published on 28 January 2018, in print and online.  

2.    The article reported conversations that undercover reporters from the newspaper, posing as representatives of a Chinese firm, had with several politicians, including the complainant. It reported that the aim of the reporters was to investigate how Brexit had “given former ministers the opportunity improperly to exploit their positions and connections within Westminster on behalf of businesses seeking commercial advantage from the Brexit negotiations.” 

3.    The article reported that in the complainant’s conversations he had “boasted about his top-level contacts, agreed to map out ways the Chinese company could lobby key figures in Westminster and appeared willing to provide intelligence from Liam Fox, the international trade secretary”. The article stated that “identifying figures in Westminster and facilitating introductions could be a breach of the Lords rules of conduct that prohibit peers from undertaking paid parliamentary service and advice. Lansley later said his contract would have to include the Lords rules”. It also reported that “The line Lansley drew was that he would not lobby or seek to influence policy change in the Lords or with ministers”, and later reported that “Lansley said his conversations would have to be within the rules. They state that peers ‘must not seek to profit from membership of the house by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services’.” 

4.    The article also claimed that the complainant “knew a little about lobbying as he had previously been accused of ‘ripping the heart out’ of the Lobbying (Transparency) Bill by tabling 30 amendments to it in 2016”. 

5.    The complainant said that the clear impression given by the article was that he had been caught out by breaching, or stating that he was prepared to breach, the House of Lords Rules of Conduct. The complainant said that the article gave this impression by a highly selective choice of quotations. In support his position, he said that the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, having reviewed the transcripts of the conversations, concluded that “there is no prima facie evidence that the House of Lords Code of Conduct is engaged by the things that [he] said in those meetings. The transcripts show that [he] continually underlined the point that [he] would not be willing to breach the Code and that [he] would want to take advice from the House authorities where necessary". 

6.    The complainant said that the claim he had “ripped the heart out” of the Lobbying bill was groundless. He said that the Peer in charge of the Bill accepted all but one of his amendments and acknowledged that far from 'ripping the heart out', they had in fact improved the Bill, which then was passed. 

7.    The newspaper said the article was a piece of investigative journalism, on a matter of significant public interest. It said that the article as a whole was an accurate report of the work which the complainant indicated he would be prepared to perform for the undercover reporter’s company, and how, if carried out, this work might be in breach of the House of Lords rules. It said that the statements he made during the conversations with the undercover reporters about the House of Lords rules were reported, and noted that the article also reported that when he was asked for comment on the conversations, he denied having broken the rules. The newspaper said that the article contained no allegation that the complainant breached the Lords Code of Conduct, and that there was no evidence the Commissioner had considered whether the work which the complainant said he would be willing to do might have been contrary to the Code of Conduct. It therefore denied its article was inconsistent with the Commissioner’s findings.  

Relevant Code Provisions 

8.    Clause 1 (Accuracy

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for. 

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

Mediated Outcome 

9.   The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter. 

10. During IPSO’s investigation of the complaint, the newspaper said that it would be willing to publish the report of the Lords’ Commissioner for Standards as a footnote to the online article, as follows: 

In January 2018 Lord Lansley referred himself to the Commissioner after the Channel 4 Dispatches broadcast “Politicians for Hire: Cashing in on Brexit.” 

The Commissioner has reviewed the full transcripts of Lord Lansley’s conversations with the undercover journalists working for Dispatches and she has concluded that there is no prime facie evidence that the House of Lords Code of Conduct is engaged by the things Lord Lansley said in those meetings. The transcripts show that Lord Lansley continually underlined the point that he would not be willing to breach the Code and that he would want to take advice from the House authorities where necessary. 

Because the Commissioner can find no prime facie evidence that the Code is engaged this investigation will not continue beyond this preliminary assessment stage. 

11. The complainant accepted the newspaper’s offer of resolution, and the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 14/02/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 31/05/2018