Cameron receives Leveson report
British prime minister David Cameron was facing a major storm over the Leveson report tonight with deep divisions emerging in the coalition and his own party.
Mr Cameron issued a plea for political consensus on reforming newspaper regulation ahead of the judge’s conclusions being published tomorrow.
However, the Liberal Democrats immediately suggested they may refuse to allow Mr Cameron to make a sole response on behalf of the Government.
Conservative MPs were also ranged against each other amid speculation that Lord Justice Leveson will back statutory regulation of the press.
Half-a-dozen advance copies of the report were delivered to Downing Street this morning.
Mr Cameron and his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg have been poring over the weighty document - which sources say is 2,000 pages long and highly detailed - trying to agree a joint approach.
Mr Clegg is reportedly ready to support the rapid creation of a regulator with statutory underpinning, a move that would be implacably opposed by many Tories, and Mr Cameron is thought to be resisting.
Aides have asked Speaker John Bercow whether Mr Clegg can make a separate statement to MPs if no deal has been struck by the time the premier gets to his feet at 3pm tomorrow. Mr Bercow’s office said this evening it was ready to accommodate the request.
A final decision will not be taken until senior ministers from both parties meet just before the report is published.
The regulation issue was repeatedly raised as the prime minister took questions in the Commons this lunchtime - before he began studying the document.
“This Government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and because of a failed regulatory system,” he said.
“I think we should try and work across party lines on this issue, it is right to meet with other party leaders about this issue and I will do so.
“What matters most I believe is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence.”
Mr Cameron added: “One of the key things that the Leveson Inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of is how can you have a strong, independent regulatory system so you don’t have to wait for the wheels of the criminal justice system or the libel system to work.
“People should be able to rely on a good regulatory system as well to get the sort of redress they want, whether that is prominent apologies or fines for newspapers or the other things that are clearly so necessary.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed Mr Cameron’s commitment and insisted he wanted “real change”.
“I hope we can work on an all-party basis. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change and I hope that this House can make it happen,” he told MPs.
A senior Labour source said Mr Miliband will receive the Leveson report at 8am tomorrow, and was not expecting to speak to Mr Cameron ahead of his statement.
“We want cross-party consensus, the Leveson Inquiry was set up with a degree of cross-party consensus and we would like that to continue,” the source added.
“Whether it does or not is rather in the hands of the prime minister. We will read the Leveson report and listen to what the prime minister says.”
All three main party leaders have indicated they will support Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations as long as they are “proportionate”.
But there is speculation Mr Cameron could offer Parliament a free vote rather than try to force through measures and suffer a damaging rebellion.
Dozens of Tory MPs have signed an open letter warning against any form of statutory regulation - days after 42 of their colleagues called for tougher laws to curb newspapers’ excesses.
The latest group included “big beasts” Liam Fox and David Davis, as well as media select committee chairman John Whittingdale and 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady.
Labour’s Kate Hoey and Frank Field, and Lib Dem John Hemming also backed the letter.
“As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning,” they argued.
“No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing - abolished in Britain in 1695.
“State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.”
Meanwhile, the country’s oldest political magazine insisted it would refuse to join any regulatory system enforced by the Government.
The Spectator said it could not accept a scheme that “subordinates press to parliament”.
“If the press agrees a new form of self-regulation, perhaps contractually binding this time, we will happily take part,” the magazine’s leader column said.
“But we would not sign up to anything enforced by government. If such a group is constituted we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces. We would still obey the (other) laws of the land.
“But to join any scheme which subordinates press to parliament would be a betrayal of what this paper has stood for since its inception in 1828.”