Coalition promises libel reform
20.05.10 | Benedicte Page

A review of libel law is high on the agenda for the new coalition government, with the director of English PEN saying the trade is “on the brink of real reform”.

The issue of libel law reform was included in the coalition agreement, with Nick Clegg promising a review in his first speech as deputy prime minister, made yesterday (19th May).

English PEN director Jonathan Heawood hailed the development as “brilliant”. He added he was pleased to see Ken Clarke [Conservative] and Lord McNally [Liberal Democrat] at the Ministry of Justice as both are “at the more liberal end of their parties”.

Heawood said the Liberal Democrat Lord Lester had signalled an intention to introduce a private members bill on libel reform immediately after the Queen’s Speech. “The big question is whether the government will give it air time, or even adopt it and make it a government bill, but if it remains a private members bill it still stands a good chance,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ed Vaizey, newly appointed culture minister under culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, said his priority for the public library service would now be “to give focus, leadership and clarity, and to look at ways we can make savings without affecting frontline services”. There are fears, however, this could result in cuts from children’s services.

The government is set to outline £6bn in spending cuts in an emergency budget on 22nd June.

Hampshire County Council, which has built two Discovery Centre libraries in the past seven years, announced it has been “forced to restructure” its library service because of “ever increasing budget pressures”. A total of 65 full-time positions will go.

Yinnon Ezra, Hampshire’s director of culture, communities and rural affairs, said: “What we are doing is taking out staffing overheads to protect the front line. No library will be closed, [there will be] no reduction in opening hours and some will increase the bookfund. Savings will ensure that the service continues to exist, improve and transform.”

However, Arts Council-funded publishers could receive a boost in cash after Hunt said legislation to see arts, heritage and sport each receive an extra £50m a year will be placed before parliament in September.

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