Sadiq Khan was today at the centre of row over two City Hall meetings about knife crime that were held in “secret”.
Editors at BBC, Sky News and ITN jointly made an unprecedented complaint to the Greater London Authority after press and public were barred from an emergency meeting of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee yesterday.
It had been called to quiz the Mayor and Met chiefs on the 50 murders so far this year in the capital.
The Mayor’s knife crime summit on Tuesday, with Met commissioner Cressida Dick and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, was also held in secret.
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Below are the letters between the broadcasters and City Hall.
Mr Jeff Jacobs
Chief Officer of the GLA
Dear Mr Jacobs
We are writing to you jointly on behalf of the BBC, Sky, and ITN to express our concern over the decision to deny the press access to the PCC committee meeting tomorrow and to delay releasing the recording of proceedings until after the local elections on May 3rd. We can think of no precedent whereby access is denied in this manner; there are no GLA elections and those members of the Assembly who also happen to be candidates in the borough elections still hold their responsibilities as elected members during the election period. Public access to a meeting of the PCC, where the Mayor is being held to account on an important issue is not “publicity” but proper scrutiny. It is quite astonishing that you should come to the conclusion that such a meeting should be kept out of the public domain for more than three weeks.
Our understanding is that the only limitation in this regard would be that GLA press officers should not assist candidates in arranging interviews with the media. There is absolutely nothing in any relevant guidance which suggests an elected body should not be fully accessible to the public, through the broadcasters and press, during an election period. Indeed, if that were the case, the same restriction – presumably – would apply to the House of Commons.
Given the pressing nature of events we would be grateful for a swift reply, before we decide what further options are open to us ensuring that there is a proper – and prompt – opportunity for appropriate public scrutiny of proceedings of the London Assembly.
Michael MacFarlane BBC
Hannah Emerson-Thomas ITN
Peter Lowe SKY News
Dear Mr MacFarlane, Ms Emerson-Thomas and Mr Lowe,
Thank you for your email last night.
The meeting today is not a meeting of the PCC. It has been arranged in order for the Assembly Members , both PCC members and other Assembly Members , to have a discussion with the Mayor about an important and topical issue. The meeting today is an informal one and a decision was taken to advise via press release that it is happening in order to demonstrate that the matter was being considered with the highest importance.
The rules in the pre-election period as set out in the GLA’s Use of Resources Guidance are a mirror of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity March 2011 issued under section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986. This Code applies to all local authorities in England specified in section 6 of the Local Government Act 1986 and to other authorities in England which have that provision applied to them by other legislation. The GLA is deemed to be subject to the same legal rules that control local government publicity, including a statutory Code on Local Government Publicity. I should also note that these rules do not apply to central Government.
Both the Local Authority Publicity Code and GLA Use of Resources Guidance make clear provision for pre-election periods:
“33. Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections and referendums ….. It may be necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by third parties, or to close public forums during this period to avoid breaching any legal restrictions.
- During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members. Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.”
While discussions will be conducted in private, individuals who are not politically restricted (like the Mayor and Assembly members) are free to give interviews to the media. As you are aware the Mayor spoke to LBC, BBC radio London, BBCLDN TV, Bauer radio, Sky, the Evening Standard and London Live TV yesterday. I am also aware that a number of other individuals gave statements including Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Jo Johnson, Teresa Villiers, Sian Berry, and Ravi Govinda.
While this may not be the preferred approach for you, there is clearly access for the media to key individuals and this kind of engagement is consistent with the rules under which the GLA is governed.
GLA Head of Paid Service
Dear Mr Jacobs
We refer to your email dated 11 April 2018. We are writing to you jointly on behalf of the BBC, Sky, and ITN.
We note that you have stated that today’s meeting is not a meeting of the Police and Crime Committee (“PCC”), but rather a meeting at which Assembly Members, including members of the PCC, can discuss with the Mayor “an important and topical issue”. Irrespective of whether it is a PCC Meeting, it is clear that it is a meeting which would have typically been open to the public and press. This is clear from the fact that you intend to broadcast the meeting after the 3 May 2018 elections.
The sole basis upon which you have refused public and press access is that you consider that the rules pertaining to the pre-election period prohibit this. We do not accept that. The applicable guidance, “The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity” (“the Code”), does not contain any prohibition on Committee meetings (formal or informal) being held in public during the pre-election period. You have failed to identify any precedent whereby access has been denied in this manner. At §33 of the Code there is a suggestion that it may be necessary to close public forums to avoid breaching any legal restrictions, but the relevant legal restrictions (at §§7-9) concern referendums, and therefore do not apply. At §34, there is a prohibition on “publicity”, and particularly “publicity” relating to individuals involved directly in the election. Allowing public and press admission to a Committee meeting does not, on any view, constitute “publicity”, and is certainly not publicity which relates to individuals involved directly in the 3 May 2018 election. The GLA is not proposing to publish or report on anything: this is about proper scrutiny and accountability, which is not prohibited under the Code. As you are aware, public bodies must continue to discharge their core functions at all time, regardless of whether an election is coming up.
In these circumstances, we ask you to reconsider your decision to refuse public and press admission to today’s meeting. We would be grateful for a response as a matter of urgency.
Michael MacFarlane BBC
Hannah Emerson-Thomas ITN
Peter Lowe Sky News