David Cameron appears to have softened his stance over a statute regulating the press, saying that such a move would “not be the end of the world” today.
However, the Prime Minister still seems set on avoiding the need for government intervention, believing that the press can come up with their own proposals in the wake of last week’s Leveson Report.
Mr Cameron has signalled his intention to produce his own Bill, putting fresh pressure on the industry to accept radical reform or face being made subject to statute. The proposals, which will be presented to a cross-party meeting in Westminster on Thursday, follows today's publication of a Labour draft Bill suggesting that a panel headed by the Lord Chief Justice should be given legal powers to oversee a new press watchdog.
The Labour plan will be put on the table at the same meeting, which will be attended by Culture Secretary Maria Miller, shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Advocate-General for Scotland, representing the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories expressed disdain for the simplistic nature of the Labour idea, describing it as “a series of top lines” that lacked detail and would not stand scrutiny. The Bill is being drafted by civil servants but will be seen as a “stick” to force the press to accept Leveson’s proposals for a tougher system of regulation. The Liberal Democrats last night welcomed Labour’s Bill as “a very important contribution to the debate”.
Government lawyers and civil servants have been studying various options for a system of “verification” of the new regulator that would be credible but would not require legislation. One option involves the use of Royal Charter, rather than law. Editors and press proprietors have held a series of meetings after being told by Mr Cameron that the only way they could avert statute was to implement “exactly what Leveson asked for”.
Although newspapers initially appeared to be unified in their approach to reform, some organisations are more distrustful than others of the implications of giving up powers over regulatory funding and editorial standards that were previously retained within the industry. The pressure being brought by Labour, which wants progress by Christmas, means the PM cannot give the press much more time to put its house in order.