Royal Charter: Lords leave way open for Scotland and Northern Ireland to have their own press regulation regimes

Parliament yesterday left the way open for Northern Ireland and Scotland to pursue their own separate press regulation regimes.

The legislation preventing a Royal Charter on press regulation being changed without two-thirds agreement in both Houses of Parliament yesterday cleared the House of Lords. But it was amended so that it only applies England and Wales.

The move could further complicate an already confused situation as publishers decide whether or not to sign up to the new press regulation regime prescribed by Parliament on Monday. Although joining the regulator is voluntary, a legislative amendment passed on Monday means that all news publishers (print and online) who are not part of a state-recognised regulator would be at risk of higher exemplary damages in libel and privacy cases.

The new clause to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was inserted without a vote on Monday, following the conclusion of late night cross-party discussions.

And yesterday the Bill cleared its Lords stages and will now return to the House of Commons for MPs to examine.

The clause would ensure that a Royal Charter could not be amended – either to water down regulation or to clamp down on the press – without the support of a two-thirds "super-majority" of both houses of Parliament.

It does not explicitly refer to press regulation or the media or even to the Royal Charter itself but instead states that no Royal Charter relating to an industry issued after 1 March this year may be changed unless the terms which it sets out for its own amendment have been met.

Peers have accepted clarifying amendments limiting the extent of the clause to England and Wales.

Business minister Viscount Younger of Leckie said: "The Government has been clear that it accepts the right of the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to consider how they wish to respond to the recommendations of the Leveson report."

The Scottish Executive is currently considering recommendations from an expert panel which has recommended a statute-backed compulsory press regulation regime which goes further than the recommendations of Sir Brian Leveson.

In a letter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, Scottish Newspaper Society Jim Chisholm said: "The Scottish Newspaper Society has serious concerns about the Expert Panel report and the considerable extensions over and above the Leveson proposals. We are happy to go through these in detail should you wish.

"However, events have been overtaken by the Royal Charter proposals by the three main UK political parties.

"As you are aware, the Scottish Newspaper Society is in favour of UK-wide, non-statutory regulation. Our main issue with what is proposed is the impact on regional and local newspapers, who were praised and exonerated in the Leveson report but now face a more expensive and extensive regulatory system at a time of economic recession and migration of revenues to the internet.

"We urge the First Minister and Scottish Government to be cogniscent of these points in any discussions with the Westminster Coalition.

"Currently all stakeholders need time to reflect on the wide range of information and opinions that are emerging. The Scottish Newspaper Society is committed to a UK solution and we look forward to helping to provide a workable proposal as to how the UK and Scotland can deliver a world-class system for a self-regulated and free press."

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