The government has firmly rejected any suggestion of statutory controls over the press and said it would not interfere with the status of the Press Complaints Commission.
But government spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said in parliament yesterday that a press free from statutory intervention was “fundamental to our democracy”.
“The Press Complaints Commission is an independent body that receives no public funding,” he said. “We monitor how well self-regulation is working, but we have no locus to interfere with the status of the PCC.”
Lord Taverne agreed the PCC should be independent “but it has a very poor record in making the press more accountable.
He said yesterday: “In 2007, when the News of the World journalist was jailed, it refused to conduct an inquiry into general illegal use of private investigators, despite very strong evidence that this practice was – and still is – widespread.
“It refuses to consider complaints by third parties and has ruled that it is not concerned with unfairness of reporting. On crucial issues in the last few years, the PCC has proved to be a paper tiger.
“It should be much more robustly independent of Fleet Street and much more effective in protecting the individual from abuse by a very powerful and largely unaccountable press.”
Davies replied: “The Press Complaints Commission is concerned about the events of 2007 and that it may have been misled in the evidence that was given to it at that time. It is therefore engaging in a fresh investigation into those matters, as are the police.”
Labour’s Lord Filkin said it was time for a cross-party investigation into a system to give the public confidence and it could not be an industry-led body.
Davies replied: “There have been plenty of investigations into these issues but we are clear that the press is in a specific position, in relation to the British public.
“We see dangers and abuses occurring from time to time, but we ought also to recognise the dangers implicit in a regulated press, as exists in some other countries.”
Tory Lord Wakeham, a former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, said: “If a person decides to go to law over a press complaint, there is no role for the Commission.
“If we bring in a statutory system, it would be so expensive, the ordinary public would be unable to use it.”
Davies said the government shared public anxieties about recent developments but saw no case for the crucial argument that the press should be regulated.
“At the present time, the government is not convinced of that case,” he added.