Don't shackle our free Press say 86 MPs and peers on eve of Leveson report
The cross-party group of 86 insist statutory regulation of the media undermines a cornerstone of our democracyThey are urging the Prime Minister to reject any form of regulation
Lord Justice Leveson's report into media standards is due to be released
There is speculation that Leveson will recommend some form of 'underpinning' in law to a new Press watchdog
23:30 GMT, 27 November 2012
Dozens of MPs and peers, including nine former Cabinet ministers, today urge David Cameron to resist laws which would shackle Britain’s 300-year-old free Press.
On the eve of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into media standards, the cross-party group of 86 insists that any form of statutory regulation risks undermining a cornerstone of our democracy and asks the Prime Minister to reject any form of statutory media regulation.
Signatories to a letter opposing any prospect of legislation to regulate newspapers include the widely respected former Speaker of the Commons, Baroness Boothroyd, Olympics boss Lord Coe, former Conservative Party leadership contender David Davis, Downton Abbey creator Lord Fellowes and former Labour home secretary David Blunkett.
Media standards: David Cameron (right) has been urged by 86 MPs to resist laws which would shackle Britain's 300-year-old free Press on the eve of Lord Justice Leveson's (left) report into media standards
They say that as Parliamentarians, they ‘believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning’ and question the signal such a move would send to ‘emerging democracies around the world’.
The initiative was organised by Conservative MP Conor Burns, a member of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, and Mr Blunkett amid increasing signs of divisions in Labour and the Liberal Democrats despite their leaders’ suggestions that the Leveson proposals should be implemented.
There is growing speculation that the judge, whose inquiry was set up by the Prime Minister in the wake of revelations that reporters at the News of the World had tapped into voicemail messages, will tomorrow recommend some form of ‘underpinning’ in law to a new Press watchdog, as well a definition of the public interest.
Senior ministers, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Michael Gove, have however spoken up in favour of a free Press.
Prime movers: Former home secretary David Blunkett (left) signed a letter opposing any prospect of legislation to regulate newspapers which was an initiative organised by Tory MP Conor Burns (right)
Senior colleagues are now urging Mr Cameron to back tougher self-regulation by a new body with the power to issue large fines, with the threat held in reserve of laws being introduced if it is shown not to work.
Those among the 86 backing today’s letter include former Conservative cabinet ministers Liam Fox, Stephen Dorrell, Peter Lilley, John Redwood, Lord Tebbit, Baroness Shephard, Lord Wakeham and Lord Forsyth.
They are joined by the chairman of the 1922 Committee of back-bench Conservative MPs, Graham Brady, and all of the Tory members of the culture, media and sport committee, which conducted its own inquiry into phone hacking.
Crucially, it is supported by MPs from all sides of the Conservative Party, in an indication that Mr Cameron will enjoy strong backing if he rejects a call from Lord Justice Leveson for a statutory system.
In its wake: The last edition of News of The World, the newspaper that sparked the inquiry by the Prime Minister in the wake of revelations that reporters had tapped into voicemail messages
Forty-two Tory MPs, led by the Prime Minister’s former Press secretary George Eustice, signed an earlier letter suggesting that new laws be considered.
Last night Chris Skidmore, one of the
42, said he had changed his mind and should not have signed up. ‘The
power of the media to chasten and criticise politicians has been good
for democracy, and must remain unchallenged,’ he said.
Burns said the purpose of the new letter ‘is to demonstrate that there
is significant Parliamentary support for ongoing self-regulation of the
Press, to accept that there has to be an improvement in regulation, but
we don’t believe in going back to a form of state licensing of the Press
which we abolished in Britain in 1695.
‘A free Press, an investigative Press, is at the very core of an open and democratic country.’
Democrat MP John Hemming, who has endured headlines about having 26
mistresses, a figure he says is a ‘wild exaggeration’, said he had
signed the letter because it is ‘important that the Press should be able
to fearlessly speak truth’.
Hemming said it was clear that his party was ‘not of one view’ on how
to respond to the Leveson report, with deputy leader Simon Hughes and
former leader Sir Menzies Campbell having expressed doubts about
statutory regulation this week.
Street says Mr Cameron is ‘open-minded’ about what to recommend. He
will receive the report at 1.30pm today – 24 hours ahead of its
spokesman said the PM will make a statement to the Commons after lunch
tomorrow setting out the Government’s position before Culture Secretary
Maria Miller leads a debate on Monday.