Scotland politics

Leveson: Scottish party leaders to discuss report findings

Alex Salmond has invited opposition party leaders to discuss how Lord Justice Leveson's report into press standards could be implemented in Scotland.

The first minister will hold talks with his fellow MSPs on Thursday in an attempt to find "cross-party consensus" on a new system of press regulation.

The discussion will follow a debate at Holyrood on the topic on Tuesday.

Mr Salmond has called for a Scottish solution following the Leveson inquiry.

But opposition party leaders have questioned the need for a separate regulation system north of the border.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme, the first minister said Scottish regulation was needed because of the different legal system, and he said Lord Leveson had highlighted it as something that should be considered.

"He invites, flings down the gauntlet, to the devolved administrations to consider how the report could be implemented in our administration, if there is a consensus to go ahead with the central recommendation," Mr Salmond said.

"This is inescapable. It is the Scottish parliament's responsibility, certainly to consider it, and certainly to see if we can come to some sort of consensus."

But Mr Salmond added: "There's no suggestion, that I have seen from anyone, that the system of factual reporting, of the availability of correction, of access to correction for people with low resources, which to me is fundamental, is an issue.

"Everyone kind of agrees on that now. What the disagreement lies in is how that position could be underpinned or not.

"If it is to be legally underpinned then it is inescapable, given it is our responsibility and it's our Scottish law of defamation, that it would have to be underpinned on a Scottish basis."

Labour has said any Scottish inquiry into how to implement the recommendations would have "more credibility" if Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or a senior member of the government took charge instead of Mr Salmond.

During his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, the first minister was quizzed about his contact with media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his willingness to lobby the former culture minister Jeremy Hunt over the planned BSkyB takeover.

'Severe criticism'

In his report, Lord Justice Leveson concluded Mr Salmond could not be criticised for his role in lobbying for the takeover of BSkyB by Mr Murdoch's News Corporation.

However, the judge's report said that, had the first minister been successful in persuading UK ministers, his actions would have rendered any final deal "unlawful".

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont told Sunday Politics Scotland she would take part in the cross-party talks on Leveson's findings.

She said: "This is an opportunity, through the all-party talks and beyond that, to do what we can do to make sure that the press has freedom to operate, but also that victims of the press should have recourse."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who also appeared on Sunday Politics Scotland, said the first minister should step aside from the process of implementing press reform.

She said: "There was severe criticism that was put on record by Lord Justice Leveson of the conduct of our first minister and he has to accept that.

"I find it astonishing that he has not reflected on that and realised he has to take a step back from these talks and allow someone who is not tainted by that level of criticism to lead for the Scottish government."

She urged caution on the issue of statutory regulation and added: "I think that we need a free press, not just in Scotland but across the UK, and it is important to democracy that we have that.

"I think Lord Justice Leveson's key recommendations about the conduct of the press can be taken forward without that statutory underpinning."

Commenting on Mr Salmond's call for a unique Scottish approach, Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie MSP said: "I agree with the first minister that we need cross-party consensus, but he must accept that we also need cross-border cooperation.

"I want a Leveson style independent watchdog underpinned by the law to be agreed by all parties in Scotland and implemented across the UK."

During first minister's questions at Holyrood earlier this week, Mr Salmond outlined plans for an independent group to take forward the issue of press ethics in Scotland.

He suggested the post-Leveson group should be non-political and chaired by a current or recent Court of Session judge.

Mr Salmond has said he favours a system similar to the Irish model of press regulation.

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