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Conservative proposals for a new press regulator backed by royal charter “do not implement the Leveson report", Labour has said. On Tuesday the Conservatives set out their plans for a regulator with a royal charter supervised by a “recognition panel". Labour's Harriet Harman said the plan, as it stands, would “dilute" what Lord Justice Leveson had recommended. Ministers insisted the regulatory system would be “tough" and effective.
In November the report on press standards by Lord Justice Leveson, commissioned in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, recommended an independent, self-regulatory watchdog for the press that would be backed by legislation.
This has been backed by the Liberal Democrats and Labour, although both parties have indicated they are willing to discuss other options.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he did not believe a bill was necessary to set up the new regime and, instead, the Conservatives say a royal charter is the right way to provide legal backing for any new press regulator.
Royal charters are formal documents that have been used to establish and lay out the terms of organisations, including the BBC and the Bank of England, and cannot be changed without government approval.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman told MPs that Labour had been engaging in cross-party talks on how best to implement the report in “good faith", but added: “What Leveson proposes is fair and is reasonable, it protects free speech and protects people from abuse and harassment by the press."There can be no justification for watering it down. “The most straightforward way of implementing Leveson is by statute rather than by Royal Charter and statute, but whatever the route that is chosen it must be the full Leveson not Leveson lite."
She raised concerns about the possibility of government ministers being able to tamper with the royal charter through the Privy Council at any time and urged clauses in statute providing this could not happen.
Under the Conservative plans, the charter could only be amended by the recognition body if the leaders of the three main political parties in the House of Commons agreed and any changes were approved in Parliament. If the Privy Council wanted to make changes to the charter it would not have to get the approval of the leaders of the three main political parties.
Ms Harman also sought assurances that the Conservatives would amend the charter to remove the involvement of the press industry in appointing members of the independent board.
The Conservatives want the new independent self-regulatory body to be governed by a board which would be set up “without any direction from industry or influence from government".
They say the board will be mostly made up of people who are independent of the press, but would include a sufficient number of people with experience of the industry such as former editors and senior or academic journalists. Serving editors, current MPs or government ministers would be excluded.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller told MPs the Conservative plan was “tough regulation, a tough package and delivers the principles of Leveson" and added: “We continue to have grave reservations around statutory underpinning and as such we have concerns about implementing a press Bill." The royal charter she maintained “reflects a principled way forward, proposed by the Conservatives from this side of the coalition and we're clear that it is a workable solution". “It would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen without compromising press freedom."
But she added “it is only a draft and we will continue to debate it as part of the cross-party talks and we will continue to seek to secure agreement". “We are all committed to the Leveson principles - this is about taking the Leveson Report forward and making sure that it will work in practice and the challenge before all of us is to find an agreement, I think the victims deserve nothing less."