An amended version of the Leveson law was passed today by the House of Lords in the third and final reading of the Defamation Bill.
But Justice Minister Lord McNally said he remains hopeful that the Leveson law – which provides for the creation of a statutory press regulator and low-cost libel arbitration service – will be removed from the bill altogether when amendments to the legislation are given final consideration by Parliament.
The Leveson law amendment was tagged on to the Defamation Bill as an Opposition amendment earlier this month at its second House of Lords reading and provides for the creation of an arbitration service as part of a new press regulator which would be overseen by a “Recognition Commission” under the Lord Chief Justice.
This afternoon the most contentious aspect of the amendment was removed in a move that was backed by Lord Puttnam himself, who was behind the Leveson law amendment.
This was the aspect of the bill which went further than Leveson and suggested that publications which did not seek pre-publication advice from a new press regulator would leave themselves open to the threat of exemplary damages at libel and privacy trials.
Lord McNally said: “The amendment makes an unacceptable position marginally better.”
Although he did not oppose the removal of the section on prior notification, he said that the Government still sees the overall Puttnam amendment as unacceptable and will seek to remove it after the conclusion of tri-partite talks on press regulation.
The future of the Defamation Bill now depends on whether the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat negotiators can agree a version of the Tory Royal Charter plan to regulate the press that is acceptable to all, thus rendering the Puttnam amendment obsolete.
Shadow deputy prime minister Harriet Harman indicated at the weekend that Labour was prepared to support a press regulator underpinned by Royal Charter “but not if it waters Leveson down because some aspects of the press don't agree with Leveson and have been leaning on the Prime Minister”.
If the currently ongoing tripartite talks fail then the Government may well drop the Defamation Bill from the schedule rather than risk allowing it to be passed with the Puttnam amendment intact.
It had been thought that the Government would seek to get the Puttnam amendment removed today. But it has evidently taken the view that it will have a stronger hand if the Royal Charter plan can be enacted with backing from all three parties.