Coffee House

Lib Dems and Labour concerned by Tory Leveson Royal Charter plans

12 February 2013

6:28 PM

12 February 2013

6:28 PM

Does the Royal Charter, published by the Conservative party this afternoon, take politicians any further away from meddling with press regulation? The charter is the Tory answer to the statutory underpinning recommended by Lord Leveson, and the party is keen to stress that it ‘does not require statute and enables the principles of Leveson to be fulfilled without legislation’. But is this plan any better?

Well, the charter, which you can read here, can only be unpicked or changed if the leaders of all three parties confirm they agree with this and if the change gets the support of at least two thirds of MPs.

It also needs the support of all those involved in the cross-party talks. So what do they think? Labour are the least impressed, unsurprisingly, with Harriet Harman penning a lengthy letter to Oliver Letwin in response:

‘We have substantive concerns that the Royal Charter as drafted fails to comply with the recommendations that the Leveson Report makes. At the heart of Leveson’s proposals was that a new system should be independent of politicians and independent of the press.

‘The draft Royal Charter fails this test in two particular respects.’


Harman argues that there is nothing to stop ministers on the Privy Council meddling with the Charter, and that the press will be represented on the ‘recognition panel’, which means Leveson’s demand for the new system to be independent of the press has been ignored.

When I spoke to a senior Lib Dem source about this, he told me:

‘We welcome it as a good start to the debate, but we have still got concerns about what happens in the future. A Royal Charter could be almost easier to amend than statute. There are still questions about how that could work.’

Index on Censorship’s Kirsty Hughes makes a similar point, saying ‘the fact that the Royal Charter is given legitimacy over the Privy Council and Parliament does mean that this cannot be described as strong self-regulation, the status which best guarantees press freedom’.

There’s a chance that in its quest to avoid the word ‘statute’ at all costs, the Conservative party might have created something that operates in a similar way but with easier access for politicians. It’s possible, for instance, that another press scandal in a decade’s time under Royal Charter could lead politicians to change the charter in haste under public pressure.

All those involved agree that cross-party talks will continue, and those involved seem keen to keep them going, although at some point the group will have to reach a decision.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • David Lindsay

    One would have to see what it said, of course.

    And there is already state licensing from the Parliamentary Lobby to the registration of newspapers with the Post Office, without which there would be nothing remotely resembling our diverse print media, although they have been becoming rather more homogeneous in recent years under a foreign commercial influence.

    But in principle, a Royal Charter is a superb idea, and here is why – . Finland may come top, but the next seven countries are monarchies, with Sweden in tenth place, Jamaica in thirteenth, Canada in twentieth and Belgium in twenty-first.

    The Three Realms of King Rupert do not fare terribly well. But one of those is a republic in the ordinary sense anyway (constitutional monarchy is in fact a res publica), as are all of the bottom 14.

    A Royal Charter declaring independence from King Rupert would be capital. Bring it on.

  • Daniel Maris

    Wherever you look you see a craven media doing the bidding of litigious bad parents, libel specialist lawyers, Sharia proponents, Russian oligarchs, Chinese communist apparatchiks, bankers and the like.

    The press needs to be more free, not less.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Labour and Lib-Dems object to Tory proposal. What a surprise. Both Labour and Clegg’s fifth column opposition in government, larded with sanctimony, believe only in getting their own way. Others have to compromise. And when they think they won’t get their own way, they just scweam and scweam and scweam.

  • Mark Myword

    Ms Hardman knows nothing about royal charters. It is not possible for politicians to alter a charter in haste (unlike legislation – think ‘dangerous dogs’). Rather it requires a process – through the privy council to the Queen – which is measured and long winded. It is true that there are politicians on the privy council, but not only politicians. This is a safer route than statute.

    • Mark Myword

      It is also true that section 9 requires any amendment to be initiated by the panel itself – not by politicians. Further such amendment is subject to veto powers by party leaders and by parliament. BUT it does not allow amendments to be initiated by Parliament or the Government. If adopted this Charter will have the force of law so its provisions will be protected by the courts.

      • HooksLaw

        So does this mean Harman was talking bollox?

        • Andy

          She always does.

  • Archimedes

    “All those involved agree that cross-party talks will continue, and those involved seem keen to keep them going, although at some point the group will have to reach a decision.”

    Yes, but the papers are towing the line nicely these days. Why would any politician want to kill off a good thing? All the advantages of statute, whilst retaining all the credibility of saying “I fought for press freedom, you know?”.

    • Andy

      The Press, like Bankers, is easy to bash. They would like nothing better, particularly on the Labour side, to get control of the press. We must stop them.