Leveson Inquiry: Cameron and Clegg meet to agree response

David Cameron: "The status quo is unacceptable and needs to change"

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have met to discuss the Leveson report on media standards, amid reports of a possible coalition split on press regulation.

If they cannot agree on a response, the PM's Commons statement on Thursday could be followed by the deputy PM speaking in opposition, suggests BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

As well as proposing better regulation, it is understood the report criticises press, politicians and the police.

The report runs to hundreds of pages.

Its details will be made public on Thursday.

Our political editor says that with the Liberal Democrats less likely to be hostile to the possibility of statutory regulation, Mr Clegg could "take the extraordinary step of speaking in the Commons after the prime minister and in opposition to him".

The Lib Dems have asked the House of Commons Speaker whether Mr Clegg can oppose the prime minister at the despatch box for his statement on the report. The office of Speaker John Bercow said it was ready to accommodate the request.

Public confidence

Labour leader Ed Miliband will not receive his copy of the report until Thursday morning, with Mr Cameron due to address MPs at 15:00 GMT.

The inquiry conducted by Lord Justice Leveson, who presided over eight months of hearings examining the culture, practice and ethics of the press, was set up in the wake of the scandal over phone hacking by journalists at the now-defunct News of the World newspaper.

Start Quote

You can't have the editors marking their own homework”

End Quote Harriet Harman Labour shadow culture secretary

The inquiry report is widely expected to recommend some form of statutory press regulation overseen by an independent body. The press is currently self-regulated through the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Downing Street has said the prime minister is "open-minded" about the future of regulation. Previously he said he intended to implement the findings of the Leveson Inquiry, provided they were not "bonkers".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Cameron pledged to seek a cross-party consensus on improving regulation from a status quo that was "unacceptable and needed to change".

He said he wanted an "independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence".

Mr Miliband responded: "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."

Harriet Harman, Labour deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, said she agreed "100%" with the prime minister's comments.

The current complaints system "should be put on a proper footing because it's failed", she told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme.

Start Quote

The coalition is preparing for the possibility that it may divide on the issue”

End Quote

She added: "It has to be independent of government and politics and Parliament. We don't want to have anything to do with regulating the press.

"But it's also got to be independent of newspapers. You can't have the editors marking their own homework in the way they have been doing in the past."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has said he is ready to introduce reformed scrutiny of the press in Scotland if it is recommended in the report.

Brian Cathcart, director of the Hacked Off press reform campaign, said: "The [Leveson] inquiry was established on the basis of cross-party agreement and it is very good news that party leaders are going to work together on the response to the inquiry report."

Underpinning

A cross-party group of more than 80 MPs and peers, including eight former cabinet ministers and London Olympics chairman Lord Coe, has urged Lord Leveson not to recommend legislation which they say would damage press freedom and give too much power to government.

The group, which wrote to the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, argued against "the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning", and instead called for a stronger "self-regulatory" system.

Possible options for regulation

  • Statutory regulation: Stricter regulation of the press, enforceable by law
  • Statutory underpinning: Self-regulatory body with statutory framework which enforces newspapers to sign up
  • New Press Complaints Council: Tougher self-regulation body with investigative arm. One proposal suggests body should be independent from newspaper industry
  • Newspaper ombudsman: Self-regulatory body, working alongside PCC, to deal with standards

The group backs a proposal from former PCC chairman Lord Hunt and Lord Guy Black, the ex-chairman of the body that finances the commission, for a "totally new" version of the regulator with increased powers.

News International Chief executive Tom Mockridge told the World at One that this was a "template which has a lot of support in the industry".

But some campaigners, like former motorsport executive Max Mosley, say self-regulation has failed and new laws are needed to curb newspapers' excesses.

Mark Lewis, a solicitor for phone-hacking victims including the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said: "Statute sets something up so it can be independent.

"I think it has to have a statute behind it. We talk about statutory underpinning, but it's an independent regulator with a statute behind it that says 'This is enforced', so that newspapers over a certain size are regulated in the same way as TV companies are regulated, so that there is a complaints body, a body that imposes proper ethical standards."

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