Cameron opposes legislation to regulate newspapers
British prime minister David Cameron, who yesterday opposed the passing of legislation to support a new independent press regulator, could face Labour and the Liberal Democrats uniting against him in a House of Commons vote in January.
Mr Cameron last night met Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband in a bid to reach common ground. Following a year of hearings, Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into Britain’s press standards proposed an independent regulator with the power to fine and investigate offending newspapers and to hire retired judges to arbitrate.
However, he said it was “essential” that MPs pass legislation recognising the new body in law and to approve changes to court rules that would offer complying newspapers the prospect of lower costs in libel actions.
‘ Wreaked havoc’
Good press standards had often been “ignored” over the last decade or so, causing real hardship and “on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained”, he said.
None of the press’s achievements meant it should be “beyond challenge”.
“I know of no organised profession, industry or trade in which the serious failings of the few are overlooked or ignored because of the good done by the many.” Mr Cameron, perhaps pressed by Mr Clegg’s decision to lay out his own views to MPs yesterday, firmly opposed any element of legislation in his opening reaction to the 2,000-page report.
“Once we try – and we have tried it – writing a law that provides for statutory underpinning that describes what the regulatory authority does, what powers it has and how it is made up, we soon find we have quite a big piece of law.
“That is the concern. We need to think very carefully before crossing that Rubicon,” Mr Cameron added. Campaigners arguing in favour of regulation immediately charged him with betrayal.
Mr Miliband, maintaining a conciliatory attitude for now, said he was sorry Mr Cameron could not yet support Leveson’s findings, “but I hope to convince him over the days ahead that that is where we should go”.
Last night, Mr Cameron’s spokesman insisted he stood by his fears that legislation of any kind put press independence on “a slippery slope”. However, the spokesman did not rule out the possibility that opinions could change.
The issue now is whether Mr Clegg and the Labour leader’s unity can be maintained. A Commons defeat for Mr Cameron on such an important issue would be unthinkable, yet a common position between the three looks equally impossible. Mr Cameron’s options are limited. Two-thirds of his MPs would not vote for legislation regulating the press or even underpinning an independent system, but Mr Miliband is ready to push matters to a Commons vote in January.