Cameron in favour of 'independent regulatory system'

  • Cameron: 'independent regulatory system that can deliver'
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband calls for 'real change'
  • Leveson report is 'extremely long and detailed'
  • Cameron told 'not to be remembered as the Prime Minister who introduced state regulation of the press'

David Cameron pledged to seek a cross-party consensus on newspaper regulation today as he took delivery of the Leveson report.

The Prime Minister said he would meet other party leaders to discuss how to respond to the judge's conclusions - due to be published tomorrow.

His comments came amid evidence of a deep Tory split over the prospect of statutory regulation.

Dozens of Conservative MPs have signed a letter warning that accepting such a recommendation would undermine free speech - days after a group of 42 Tory MPs urged tough new laws to keep newspapers in check.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Cameron said he wanted to end up with an "independent regulatory system that can deliver".

"This government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and because of a failed regulatory system," he said.

"I am looking forward to reading the report carefully. I am sure all members will want to consider it carefully.

"I think we should try and work across party lines on this issue, it is right to meet with other party leaders about this issue and I will do so.

"What matters most I believe is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence."

'Real change'

Cameron added: "One of the key things that the Leveson inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of is how can you have a strong, independent regulatory system so you don't have to wait for the wheels of the criminal justice system or the libel system to work.

"People should be able to rely on a good regulatory system as well to get the sort of redress they want, whether that is prominent apologies or fines for newspapers or the other things that are clearly so necessary."

Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed Cameron's commitment and insisted he wanted "real change".

"I hope we can work on an all-party basis. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change and I hope that this House can make it happen," he told MPs.

Ed Milliband. Pic: Reuters

Officials in Downing Street have been poring over around half a dozen advance copies of the report that were handed over this morning. Sources indicated the document is extremely long and detailed.

There has been speculation that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is preparing to take a tougher line than Cameron if statutory regulation is floated.

But the Premier's spokesman played down the prospect of the Liberal Democrat leader making a separate response to Leveson in the Commons tomorrow.

"There is a statement from the Government and the Prime Minister is making that statement," the spokesman said.

Tory MP Philip Davies (Shipley) said statutory regulation of the press was a straight choice, with no third way alternative.

He said: "Can I warn you not to be remembered as the Prime Minister who introduced state regulation of the press. A free press is an essential part of a free democracy and would you agree regulation of the press is like pregnancy - just as you're either pregnant or not pregnant, you either have state regulation or you don't."

Cameron replied: "I would agree that a free press is absolutely vital to democracy. We should recognise all the press has done and should continue doing to uncover wrong doing, to stand up to the powerful, this is vitally important.

"Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press in our country."

'Cross-party consensus'

A senior Lib Dem source indicated that the party had approached speaker John Bercow to ask if Clegg could make a separate statement if his position was different from the Prime Minister's.

The source stressed that no final decision had been taken on whether the two leaders would take different stances.

The Speaker has yet to provide Mr Clegg with a ruling on the matter. It is understood that such a move would not breach coalition protocol.

A senior Labour source said that Mr Miliband will receive the Leveson report at 8am tomorrow, and was not expecting to speak to Mr Cameron ahead of his statement.

"We want cross-party consensus, the Leveson Inquiry was set up with a degree of cross-party consensus and we would like that to continue," the source added.

"Whether it does or not is rather in the hands of the Prime Minister. We will read the Leveson Report and listen to what the Prime Minister says."

All three main party leaders have indicated they will support Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations as long as they are "proportionate".

But with the judge widely expected to suggest statutory underpinning for a new regulator, and his own MPs and Cabinet badly split on the issue, there is speculation Mr Cameron could offer Parliament a free vote.

Today's open letter was organised by Tory backbencher Conor Burns and Labour former home secretary David Blunkett.

Conservatives make up the overwhelming majority of the signatories, including "big beasts" Liam Fox and David Davis, as well as media select committee chairman John Whittingdale and 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady.

 

Labour's Kate Hoey and Frank Field, and Lib Dem John Hemming also backed the letter.

"As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning," they argued.

"No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing - abolished in Britain in 1695.

"State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution."

The letter insisted almost all the problems raised before Lord Justice Leveson concerned illegal activity, suggesting a failure of law enforcement.

It cautioned that statutory regulation could be counterproductive, giving chaotic online forums such as Twitter further advantages over "properly moderated and edited print journalism".

However, the politicians stressed that the "status quo is not an option", and endorsed senior newspaper industry figures' proposals for a stronger regulator that could impose million-pound fines.

"We cannot countenance newspapers behaving as some have in the past. The solution is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system," the letter added.

We don't want to have anything to do with regulating the press

Labour's deputy leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said she agreed "100%" with Cameron's comments in the Commons on the Leveson report.

Harman told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "I think what we are recognising is that the current system of complaints against the press, where a newspaper has actually breached their own editors' code of how papers should behave in relation to individuals, should be put on a proper footing because it's failed.

"Yes, it has to be independent of government and politics and Parliament. We don't want to have anything to do with regulating the press.

"But it's also got to be independent of newspapers. You can't have the editors marking their own homework in the way they have been doing in the past."

Cameron will make his Commons statement on the Leveson Inquiry at 3pm tomorrow, MPs have been told.

Announcing details of Cameron's appearance in the Commons tomorrow, Leader of the House Andrew Lansley said the statement would be made "on behalf of the Government".

With the possibility that Clegg could make a separate statement, shadow leader of the House Angela Eagle asked if Cameron "will be speaking on behalf of the whole Government or merely a part of the Conservative Party".

Lansley replied: "The Prime Minister will be making a statement on behalf of the Government."

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.