Leveson inquiry: it's deadline day, as Gerry McCann warns of 'permanent stain' to Government record if recommendations do not become law

Campaign group Hacked Off 'given little encouragement' that proposals would be implemented in full

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The father of Madeleine McCann this afternoon warned the Prime Minister that a “permanent stain” would be left on the Government’s record if it failed to reform the press after making the parents of the missing child relive their nightmare in public at the Leveson inquiry.

Gerry McCann spoke of his fears that David Cameron, who will tomorrow unveil plans for a Royal Charter on the regulation of the press, was preparing to water down the proposals of an inquiry which he set up himself. “If our testimony was in vain it would be a permanent stain on the reputation of this government,” he said.

Addressing a briefing called by the press reform group Hacked Off, Mr McCann described how he and his wife Kate had been harassed by newspapers which he said made “profit from misery”.

He said: “To keep his promises all he has to do is follow what Leveson said and put the Leveson recommendations into law through parliament without meddling in back door dealing and without checking that the press is happy with it.”

Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, told the meeting that he had just come from a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street at which had been given little encouragement that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals would be implemented in full. “We had no reassurance from the Prime Minister,” he said. “There seemed to be, in his language, compromises with the press.”

Mr Cathcart said he had been “non-plussed” to arrive at Downing Street and see Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, emerging from his own meeting with Mr Cameron.

After publication of the Leveson report in November, Mr Cameron said that introducing regulation with underpinning in law would amount to the crossing of a “Rubicon” in Britain’s long history of a free press. A Royal Charter is seen by the Conservatives as a viable way of introducing the judge’s proposals without use of statute. 

The Hacked Off meeting was attended by shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman, who said that the Conservatives would be made to introduce the Leveson recommendations because there was overwhelming support for the full report in Parliament.

The government minister Lord McNally, a Liberal Democrat, warned the press over its negative coverage of the process for introducing Leveson’s ideas, saying “they may end up with something far, far worse than what is now contemplated”.

Option 1: Leveson in full

What does it involve?

To the victims of press intrusion, such as Gerry McCann, the judge’s report and its call for an independent regulatory body set up in statute was the bare minimum required to reform a press that was out of control. Lord Justice Leveson said it should have the power to investigate serious breaches and sanction newspapers, with an arbitration system to allow people to avoid the courts.

Labour agreed and Ed Miliband has demanded that Leveson be implemented in full, even drawing up a draft bill and giving the Prime Minister a Christmas deadline to implement the proposals. But he has so far failed to act on the threats despite the support of a clear majority in the House of Commons.

Despite the passing of the deadline, Labour’s draft bill, designed to show how easily statutory underpinning could be introduced, has not been put before the House.

Last week the Labour peer Lord Puttnam reflected a growing sense of impatience on the backbenches when he – along with allies from other parties – made amendments to the Defamation Bill, incorporating some of Leveson’s more radical proposals, and won an emphatic majority.

Who supports it?

Hugh Grant, Harriet Harman and Lord Puttnam – as well as plenty of phone-hacking victims.

Chances of success?

Odds are lengthening – but if the three parties fail to reach a compromise deal, there is support in Westminster for this option to solve the impasse.

Option 2: the royal charter

What does it involve?

Within minutes of Lord Justice Leveson’s report being published in November, David Cameron made clear that he, like the newspaper industry, believed  that any statutory involvement in the press was a step too far. It would “mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon  of writing elements of press regulation into law of the  land”.

Downing Street immediately set civil servants and  Government lawyers the task of finding a way to implement Leveson without using legislation. The Royal Charter was a device seized upon by Policy Minister Oliver  Letwin. right, and triumphantly leaked a week after publication of the Leveson Report. It was a “sensible halfway solution,” a Tory source assured the Daily Telegraph at the time.

Yet some press organisations immediately saw a Royal Charter as even less preferable to statutory underpinning because it would mean that power over the recognition body rested with the Privy Council – effectively the Cabinet.

For the past two months, the Tories have been trying, during cross party talks, to win a consensus for the Royal  Charter but have struggled to publish a draft of what they  have in mind. The public will finally get to see a document today.

Who supports it?

Oliver Letwin and David Cameron, crucially.

Chances of success?

Currently it is in pole position, but it’s success would be dependent  on private horse-trading with the Liberal Democrats and especially Labour.

Option 3: do nothing

What does it involve?

Since the publication of Leveson  at the end of November, representatives of the newspaper industry have been meeting in private to incorporate the judge’s proposals into a new self-regulatory system that might be acceptable to Parliament and an angry public.

They have been at pains to say publicly that they largely favour the judge’s recommended reforms. But as they have lobbied behind the scenes, some papers have argued that all the essential elements of Leveson can be introduced into a new self-regulatory system with no need for political involvement at all.

They regard any element of statute  as anathema and see the Royal Charter plan as potentially giving politicians even more power.

Who supports it?

Some of the biggest publishers in Fleet Street.

Chances of Success?

Less than slim – even David Cameron recognises that the new watchdog will need some form of oversight.