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January 22, 2013 8:39 pm
Oliver Letwin is expected this week to publish his proposals for press regulation backed by a royal charter in an effort to flush out an agreement between the main political parties in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
The Cabinet Office minister’s decision to put forward a royal charter rather than new legislation comes as cross-party talks between Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians hit a stalemate.
David Cameron, the prime minister, promised to be sensitive to public opinion and the views of phone-hacking victims after the scandal escalated over the summer of 2011, culminating in the Leveson inquiry .
But the Conservatives have refused to countenance new legislation to underpin a replacement for the Press Complaints Commission – Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation – while Labour and the Lib Dems have publicly backed a new law.
The Tories have been under pressure to deliver on Leveson, amid fears that Labour and the Lib Dems could join forces in a Commons vote later this month to adopt Labour’s draft bill, which backs statutory underpinning.
However, the Lib Dems privately seem to be coming around to their coalition partner’s position if it can be sold to the wider public. “Our starting point was legislation but Letwin’s idea is better than nothing at all, but we have got to first see how it goes down,” said one senior Lib Dem on Tuesday. “Cameron has really crossed [the] Rubicon in even considering a royal charter.”
Harriet Harman, shadow culture secretary, will on Wednesday use an address to the Oxford Media Convention to call on the Conservatives to publish the royal charter proposal.
“We need to have an open and frank debate and we can’t do that if the information is not in the public arena. We want others to take a view on this, the public, the legal profession. Other stakeholders need to see it. That’s the next step, then let’s see where we go from there,” said one Labour party aide on Tuesday night.
Earlier this month, the Hacked Off campaign group, which represents victims of press abuse, published a draft bill that closely followed the recommendations outlined in the Leveson report. The move was an attempt to put pressure on the government to publish its own draft bill.
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