Cameron's Royal Charter vote 'a smoke screen to hide his dirty dealings with press barons'

Labour leader Ed Milliband said David Cameron had made a “historic mistake” by ending cross-party talks on press regulation and calling a Commons vote on the Tories' Royal Charter press regulation plan.

He said: ”These are David Cameron's words: 'it's not whether the press are happy, it's not whether the politicians are happy, it's whether the victims are happy'.

"David Cameron has not just walked away from the talks today, he has walked away from his own words.

"I think that is deeply disappointing and I don't think it serves the country."

Asked if he was hopeful of defeating the Conservative proposals in Monday's Commons vote, he said: "We are going to reach out to all concerned people – obviously the Liberal Democrats but also the Conservatives – to say 'let's construct a workable solution that serves the interests of the victims'.

"I still believe we can do that on a cross-party basis. It may not involve David Cameron but I'm afraid that's his choice.

"In the end, we are going to have to go above David Cameron's head and work with other Conservative MPs to see if we can get a workable solution."

Miliband said the three party leaders agreed yesterday to meet again to discuss Leveson on Monday, and he was surprised when Cameron called him and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg this morning to tell them he had decided to walk away from talks.

"I told him I thought he was making a historic mistake which would not serve the victims, and that we should carry on working to serve the victims of the abuses that took place in the past and to see whether we could find a solution together.

"I think we should hear from the victims – the Dowlers and McCanns and others – whether they believe that the Prime Minister's solution serves them."

Miliband said the Royal Charter could be watered down by ministers in future if it is not bolstered by legislation.

He said the Charter would also give the press too much power to decide who sat on the Recognition Panel.

Tory MP John Whittingdale, the chair of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, backed Mr Cameron's decision but warned that he appeared on course to lose Monday's vote.

It was a "great shame" the talks had foundered, he told BBC Radio 4's World At One, but that had seemed inevitable given the "fundamental difference" over the need for legislation.

He said that Monday’s vote is “a gamble which, one would have to say on the immediate face of it, it looks as if he may lose".

“There is a strong chance he could lose.

"It looks as if the overwhelming majority of the Labour Party will vote for legislation.

"And obviously the fact that talks have collapsed demonstrates that the Liberals are still supporting legislation."

Crossbench peer Baroness Hollins – who has campaigned for tougher regulation after media intrusion following the stabbing of her daughter – attended some of the cross-party talks and said that even yesterday there remained 20 Leveson recommendations not accepted by Tory ministers.

She said: "The last version of the charter I saw would not deliver an effective and independent system of regulation, which I find very upsetting."

She urged MPs to vote against any proposals which retained a "veto" for editors over the membership of the Recognition Panel which would effectively licence a new press regulator.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg  said: "I was disappointed, and indeed surprised, that David Cameron has decided to walk away from cross-party talks, especially when they were making some real progress as late as yesterday evening.”

Asked how Lib Dems will vote on Monday, Clegg said: "Clearly, there are several days to go before votes are held and in those days I will be working flat-out speaking to other politicians from other parties to make sure that, whatever David Cameron has decided, that we nonetheless work together to get a proper solution to this difficult problem.

"Clearly I don't agree with David Cameron's approach, because I don't think it goes far enough to make sure that we deliver on the central recommendations of the Leveson report."

Hacked Off director Brian Cathcart said: ” This is a shameless betrayal of the victims of press abuse.

“It also raises two fingers to all those members of the public who wanted to see change after the Milly Dowler phone-hacking revelations two years ago.

“The Prime Minister has walked away from talks in which other parties were trying desperately to accommodate his views on a Royal Charter.

“Instead he has chosen to throw his lot in with powerful national newspaper groups, whose actions were condemned in the Leveson Report. His version of the Royal Charter would have paved the way for a regulatory system little different from the discredited Press Complaints Commission.

“He allowed the newspapers to rewrite Leveson so much that they would have been able to pick and choose which complaints their self regulator dealt with and would have given the self regulator little power to tell a paper to give an apology or a correction due prominence.

“Worse than that, the editors would have been able to write their own rules and handpick the people who ran the regulator.

“This was just the sort of regime we had before Leveson and it was designed to protect the interests of editors and proprietors rather than the public.”

“Cameron is trying to raise a smokescreen to hide his dirty dealings behind closed doors with powerful press barons who don’t want to have to be accountable when their newspapers –to use Lord Justice Leveson’s words – ‘wreak havoc in the lives of innocent people'".

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