Ed Miliband backtracks on Leveson Report: Labour drops call for government watchdog Ofcom to oversee new Press rules (only a DAY after supporting 'entire' review)
Yesterday Labour leader Ed Miliband said broadcasting regulator Ofcom is the 'right body' to verify independent press bodyToday deputy leader Harriet Harman says it need 'not necessarily' be OfcomTory and Lib Dem leaders both oppose involving quango Ofcom in regulation and a call to impose tougher data protection rules on journalists
17:20 GMT, 30 November 2012
When Mr Miliband spoke, he was heard in complete silence. He was hot for everything suggested by Lord Justice Brian
Ed Miliband is preparing to drop his backing for Lord Leveson’s plan for broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to oversee the regulation of the press.
Despite demanding David Cameron implement the Leveson Report in its ‘entirety’, the Labour party now says it will not insist that Ofcom be given legal powers over a new self-regulation process.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller today repeated the government’s insistence that while it backed the ‘principles’ of Lord Justice Leveson's report, it is opposed to using the law to enforce it.
She also expressed ‘grave misgivings’ about the role of Ofcom because it is appointed by ministers.
Now it has emerged that Labour could also drop its demand that Ofcom be involved, although it is unclear about what might be imposed instead.
Under Lord Leveson’s plan Ofcom would play a key role. He proposed a new independent regulator with a chairman and the board with a majority of members who are independent from the industry. No serving editors or MPs would be involved.
A separate independent panel – which could include a serving editor – would make appointments to the board and its chairman.
The panel in turn would be overseen by Ofcom, which would review the independence of the process every two years.
But Ofcom is a government quango, and its chief executive is appointed by ministers, raising serious doubts about the process's independence from government.
Yesterday Mr Miliband told the Commons: ‘We support the view that Ofcom is the right body for the task of recognition of the new regulator, and the proposal that the House should lay the role of Ofcom down in statute.’
But today Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman appeared to row back from the support for the idea, saying it need ‘not necessarily’ be Ofcom.
Labour;s deputy leader Harriet Harman (left) insisted changes in the law were needed to enforce press regulation, but Culture Secretary Maria Miller has 'grave misgivings' about involving state watchdog Ofcom
Ms Harman told BBC Radio 4: ‘What Lord Leveson says that in order to ensue that actually happens, because that will be materially different from what is happening at the moment, you would have to have a body which would have the legal responsibility of ensuring this independent self regulatory board was indeed independent and operating effectively.
‘What it says is there should be a legal guarantor that this independent self regulatory body is indeed independent and operating.
‘He says it could be Ofcom or if people don’t want Ofcom… that it could be some other independent body. Now that body would not hear the complaints and would not get engaged in the reality of the process, the day to day reality – but what it would do – would be responsible for guaranteeing this was actually happening and it was independent.’
Lord Justice Leveson insisted legislation was 'essential' to back up a new independent Press watchdog, which would have the power to issue fines of up to 1million.
But Ms Miller said today: 'We have some grave concerns about the principle of putting into place statutory underpinning for this new self-regulatory body but we are also not convinced that it is absolutely necessary to achieve the objectives that both Lord Leveson set out and indeed the victims have set out.'
To the delight of the majority of Tory MPs in the Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron warned that the proposals for sweeping legal changes had the 'potential to infringe free speech and the free Press'.
He insisted: 'It would be a dereliction of our duty in this House of Commons, which has stood up for freedom and a free Press year after year, century after century, to cross the Rubicon by legislating on the Press without thinking about it carefully first.'
Mr Cameron also rejected the suggestion that broadcasting regulator Ofcom should oversee a new Press watchdog and that journalists who breach data protection laws should be jailed for up to two years.
David Cameron said he was not convinced by Lord Leveson's call for a change in the law. Nick Clegg (left) insisted on making a separate statement to the Commons
A protester wearing a mask depicting Rupert Murdoch (left), News Corporation chief, pretends to burn a mock Leveson Report as a protester wearing a mask of David Cameron sits bound and gagged outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London
His stance infuriated Labour leader Mr Miliband, who insisted every word of the report should be implemented without delay.
officials suggested a 'Leveson law' would be in the party's next
election manifesto if Mr Miliband failed in attempts to force it on to
the statute book by then.
Today Mr Miliband said: 'I think that this morning, many of the victims of sections of the press will be feeling utterly betrayed by David Cameron.
'Here is somebody who commissioned the Leveson Inquiry, said the test would be whether the victims thought it would make a difference to them, and within a few hours of receiving the report he has rubbished its central recommendation.
'I am afraid that is totally wrong, he should be standing up to powerful interests, including in the press, and saying we are going to do the right thing.'
opposition will try to force a non-binding vote on the issue, possibly
before Christmas, which Mr Cameron may lose if around 40 Tory MPs who
had previously suggested he should consider Press laws vote with Labour
and the Lib Dems.
anger of Tory MPs, Speaker John Bercow allowed Deputy Prime Minister
Nick Clegg to make a separate statement on behalf of the Government
after Mr Cameron to signal his disagreement – the first time such an
arrangement has been permitted since the 1930s.
Clegg suggested he supported changing the law, insisting it was 'the
only way to guarantee' that the media was kept in check.
He said a free
Press 'does not mean a Press that is free to bully innocent people' and
he echoed Mr Cameron's concern about any involvement for Ofcom and the
proposed tightening of data protection rules.
Mr Cameron said a new
system of regulation that 'complies with the Leveson principles',
including large fines and prominent apologies, should be put in place
But he repeatedly told MPs he did not believe laws were
Aides said the
media would have until the middle of next year to beef up proposals for a
new, independent watchdog that will replace the Press Complaints
But of the
report's central recommendation, for a backing in statute for the new
Press regulator, Mr Cameron warned: 'For the first time we would have
crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of Press regulation into the law
of the land.
'We should, I
believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe
free speech and a free Press.
'In this House, which has been a bulwark of
democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before
crossing this line.'
the first series of cross-party talks on how to proceed last night, No
10 sources said the Department for Culture would produce a draft version
of a 'Leveson law' to demonstrate to Labour 'why it would not work'.
Kate McCann, mother of missing child Madeleine, was at the QEII centre for the report's publication
Campaigners from the Hacked Off group have called on Mr Cameron to implement the Leveson Report in full
Lord Justice Leveson poses with an executive summary of his report following an inquiry into media practices
Victims of Press abuses who had appeared at the inquiry expressed anger at Mr Cameron's stance.
presenter Anne Diamond, who told the judge of her distress when
pictures of her son's funeral were published in 1991, praised the report
and said she felt 'desperately hurt' that its key recommendations had
been rejected by the PM.
Jeffries, who won damages from eight newspapers, including the Daily
Mail, over coverage of his arrest in connection with the murder of
Joanna Yeates, said Mr Cameron appeared to be giving in to the
'illegitimate' power of the Press.
McCann's mother Kate said she hoped the report would 'mark the start of
a new era' for the Press, in which it treats those in the news 'with
care and consideration'.
Mayor Boris Johnson, speaking in India where he is on a trade mission,
insisted the PM had been 'absolutely right' to reject new laws.
applauded the proposal for an independent commission that would not have
newspaper editors sitting on it.
Black of Brentwood, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance,
said: 'The Prime Minster has laid down a challenge to the newspaper
industry to proceed quickly … the industry will rise energetically to
VIDEO: Defiant PM refuses to accept Leveson's call for laws to control Press
I CANNOT CROSS THE RUBICON: DAVID CAMERON'S STATEMENT IN FULL
Here is the full text of Prime Minister David Cameron's statement to MPs in response to the Leveson report:
'With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on today's report from Lord Justice Leveson.
As we consider this report, we should consider the victims. We should remember how the parents of Millie Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter's phone hacked and were followed and photographed.
How Christopher Jefferies' reputation was destroyed by false accusations. And how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter's body in their freezer.
These victims – and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight – have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine.
That is why last summer I asked Lord Justice Leveson to lead an independent inquiry.
It had the power to see any document and summon any witness under oath, to be examined by a barrister, in public.
It has been, as Lord Justice Leveson says, 'the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen'.
And I would like to thank Lord Justice Leveson and his entire team for the work they have undertaken.
Mr Speaker, Lord Justice Leveson makes findings and recommendations in three areas: on the relationship between the press and the police; on the relationship between the press and politicians; and on the relationship between the press and the public.
Let me take each in turn.
First, the press and the police.
Lord Justice Leveson makes clear that he doesn't find a basis for challenging the integrity of the police.
But he does raise a number of areas which he felt were a cause for public concern such as tip-offs, off-the-record briefings and more broadly, 'excessive proximity' between the press and the police.
He makes a number of recommendations including national guidance on appropriate gifts and hospitality; record-keeping of contact between very senior police officers and journalists and a 12-month 'cooling-off' period for senior police officers being employed by the press.
These are designed to break the perception of an excessively cosy relationship between the press and the police and we support these recommendations.
Mr Speaker, when I set up this Inquiry, I also said there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation.
This second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded – but we remain committed to the Inquiry as it was first established.
Next, the relationship between politicians and the media.
As Lord Justice Leveson has found 'over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way that has not been in the public interest'.
I made this point last summer when I set up this Inquiry – and at the same time I set in train reforms to improve transparency.
This is the first government ever to publish details of meetings between senior politicians and proprietors, editors or senior executives, as Lord Justice Leveson recommends in his report.
He also recommends disclosing further information on the overall level of interaction between politicians and the press.
This would apply to all parties – and on the Government's behalf I can say that we accept that recommendation.
Mr Speaker, during the course of this Inquiry a number of serious allegations were made and I want to deal with them directly.
First, that my party struck a deal with News International.
This is an allegation that was repeated again and again on the floor of this House – and at the Inquiry itself.
Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail – and rejects the allegation emphatically.
Let me read his conclusion: 'the evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a 'deal' whereby News International's support was traded for the expectation of policy favours'.
Those who repeatedly made these allegations – including members of this House and I have to say the former Prime Minister – should now acknowledge they were wrong.
Second, it was alleged that I gave my Rt Hon friend, the then Culture Secretary, now Health Secretary, the responsibility of handling the BSkyB bid in order to fix the outcome.
Lord Justice Leveson states clearly 'the evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process'.
Another allegation repeatedly made – and again shown to be wrong.
Third, there was the criticism that the then Culture Secretary had rigged the handling of the BSkyB bid.
Again, today's report rejects that as well.
My Rt Hon friend 'put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency…'
Indeed Lord Justice Leveson goes further, concluding that my Rt Hon friend's 'extensive reliance on external advice… was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test'.
And he concludes 'there is no credible evidence of actual bias'.
Of course as my Rt Hon friend has said himself, there are lessons to learn about how quasi-judicial decisions are made and we must learn those lessons.
But let me say this: my Rt Hon friend has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity.
The Report confirms something that we on this side of the House knew all along – we were right to stand by him.
And let me also say this, Lord Justice Leveson finds in respect to my Rt Hon friend the Business Secretary that he 'acted with scrupulous care and impartiality'.
Next – and most important of all – let me turn to what Lord Justice Leveson says about the relationship between the press and the public.
As he says very clearly, even after 16 months of this Inquiry, he remains '…firmly of the belief that the British press – all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time'.
But on the culture, practices and ethics of some in the press, his words are very stark.
He finds that '…there have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist'.
He cites 'press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous'.
He catalogues a number of examples of such behaviour, going wider than phone hacking.
He refers to 'a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected'.
He finds that 'when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy'.
And he reports 'a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course'.
Mr Speaker, in a free society, the press are subject to criminal law, civil law and requirements for data protection.
But there should be a proper regulatory system as well to ensure that standards are upheld, complaints are heard and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged.
That is what the current system should have delivered. It has not.
And as Lord Justice Leveson says: the Press Complaints Commission is 'neither a regulator, nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility'. And that is why changes are urgently needed.
Mr Speaker, we welcome the fact that the press industry themselves have put forward their own proposals for a new system of regulation.
But we agree with Lord Justice Leveson that these proposals do not yet go far enough.
Mr Speaker, in volume IV of the Report, Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media.
He details the key 'requirements' that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including: independence of appointments and funding; a standards code; an arbitration service; and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism – crucially it must have the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose million-pound fines.
These are the Leveson principles. They are the central recommendations of the report.
If they can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country. I accept these principles and I hope the whole House will come behind them and the onus should now be on the press to implement them and implement them radically.
In support of this, Lord Justice Leveson makes some important proposals.
First, some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data.
We must consider this very carefully – particularly the impact this could have on investigative journalism.
While I have only been able to make preliminary investigations about this since reading the Report, I am instinctively concerned about this proposal.
Second, he proposes changes to establish a system of incentives for each newspaper to take part in the system of self-regulation.
I agree that there should be incentives and believe those ones that he sets out – such as the award of costs and exemplary damages in litigation – could be effective.
He goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those incentives and also – crucially – provide: 'an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body'.
This would, he says, 'reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and would continue to be met'.
Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation. They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity.
The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.
On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would I believe become more complicated.
Paragraphs 71 and 72 in the Executive Summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation it refers to, for instance, validating the standards code and recognising the powers of the new body, for example.
And if you turn to page 1772 in volume IV of the full report, it says this about the new law: it 'must identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them'.
The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press, something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.
Third, on the grounds of necessity – I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson's objectives.
I believe there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place and these options must be explored.
Mr Speaker, there are questions, including those on data protection, which are fundamental questions we must resolve in order to implement Lord Justice Leveson's report.
I have therefore invited the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to join me in cross-party talks, starting immediately after this statement.
Let me be clear: a regulatory system that complies with Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do this. They do not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson's Report to be implemented.
While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress: the status quo is not an option. Be in no doubt – we should be determined to see Lord Justice Leveson's principles implemented.
Mr Speaker, there is much that we in this country can be proud of: the oldest democracy in the world; the freedom of speech; a free press; frank and healthy public debate.
But this Report lays bare that the system of press regulation we have is badly broken – and has let down victims badly. Our responsibility is to fix this.
The task for us now is to build this new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and of free speech but that protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent and commands the confidence of the whole country.
And I commend this statement to the House.