Nick Clegg – who declared on Thursday his backing for a free and fair press – has now published a statement on how he’s approaching next week’s critical Commons vote on how the Leveson Report is taken forward:
Next week MPs will have the chance to deliver the robust, independent self-regulation for the press that Lord Justice Leveson recommended in his report.
It was hoped that talks between the party leaders would be able to agree how such a system would work, but the Prime Minister’s decision to end those discussions now means that the issue will be decided in Parliament on Monday.
I believe the Prime Minister’s own draft of a Royal Charter, itself the result of extensive cross-party talks, takes us towards a possible solution but needs strengthening in a few important respects, such as ensuring the press does not have the power of veto over who sits on the independent regulator.
I have not given up hope of finding a cross-party agreement, which is why today we are publishing a strengthened version of the Royal Charter that can deliver what Leveson wanted. We will also put in place an explicit safeguard in law against future governments playing around with the Royal Charter – a crucial guarantee for both the public and the press.
I have always been clear that I don’t dismiss out of hand a legislative approach, I hope the approach we are publishing today plots a middle course between the dangers of doing nothing and the fears some people have of a full-scale legislative approach.
This is a system that both myself and Ed Miliband back, and that I believe Conservative MPs can also support. It reassures the press that there is no danger to their historical freedom while giving assurance to the victims that they will be protected from unwarranted bullying and harassment.
Issues like the reform of press regulation shouldn’t be party political. I hope that people from all sides who are serious about finding a solution will agree that what we have published today represents our best chance of meaningful reform.
Confused as to the key differences between the Lib/Lab Leveson Royal Charter proposals and the Tories’? The Spectator has offered this handy guide to the key differences:
1. Tories: industry representatives should be able to veto an appointment to the board of the regulator. Lib/Lab: Press should not have a veto.
2. Tories: newspapers can propose changes to the code of conduct which the regulator is obliged to accept. Lib/Lab: the regulator has the final say over changes to the code of conduct.
3. Tories: the regulator should tell a newspaper to apologise for mistakes. Lib/Lab: The regulator should tell newspapers how to apologise.
4. Tories: the regulator should accept complaints from third parties only when there has been a ‘serious’ breach of the rules. Lib/Lab: The regulator should exercise discretion over when to accept complaints from third parties.
5. The Lib/Lab group says the Tory amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill leave it open for future governments to meddle with the Royal Charter without consulting parliament, and that their amendment will make it harder for politicians to do this. The Tories say that a two-thirds majority in both houses is already baked into the Royal Charter.
Meanwhile The Guardian reports the intriguing fact that Nick Clegg will need to approve any form of Royal Charter as his job title (besides Deputy Prime Minister) is Lord President of the Council. Though this gives him the power to exercise a veto, in reality we can assume he would respect the will of Parliament.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.