Labour told David Cameron today it could accept his proposals for a Royal Charter to regulate the press – but only if he “mans up” and toughens them up, its deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said.
She hinted at progress in all-party talks over how to combat press excesses, but stressed Labour could not support any plan that “drives a coach and horses” through last year’s proposals from Lord Justice Leveson.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for the Leveson recommendations, including a regulator underpinned by law, to be adopted in full.
The Conservatives have set out their plans for a Royal Charter as an alternative to legislation governing the press, arguing that laws would risk political interference in the media.
They envisage creating a body to verify a new regulator set up by the industry to provide redress for victims of press misreporting or intrusion.
Three months of talks between the parties have edged towards an agreement, although all sides stressed a deal was far from certain.
Ms Harman said today: “We will look at a Royal Charter, but it can’t be driving a coach and horses through the standards that Leveson set forth.”
She said: “We will look at a Royal Charter, but we’re not prepared to look at it if some aspects of Leveson are watered down because the press don’t agree with some aspects of it.”
Claiming the press had been “leaning” on the Prime Minister, Ms Harman said: “It’s now time for David Cameron to man up, step forward and say ‘yes we’re going to do it’, and we’ll agree with him, and we’ll support him.”
The issue of press regulation will return to Westminster today when the House of Lords will debate libel reforms.
Peers have already passed an amendment to the Defamation Bill which critics claim is an attempt to introduce Leveson “by the back door”.
Under the amendment an independent body would have to certify the new arbitration system and while it would be voluntary, newspapers that did not join up could be punished by courts awarding greater damages and costs in defamation cases.
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, has made clear that she does not support the changes, which were passed with the support of rebel Tory and Liberal Democrat peers.
The Government will seek to overturn the amendment when the legislation returns to the Commons unless a way can be found to remove it in the Lords.
Tory sources have made clear that David Cameron is prepared to scrap the entire Bill rather than accept the amendment.
Scrapping the Defamation Bill would infuriate lawyers who protest that Britain has become the world’s “libel centre”.
However, Mr Cameron would face the prospect of dissident Tories and Liberal Democrats who support a Leveson law siding with Labour if the amendment is not removed before the Bill returns to the Commons.