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Coffee House

Press regulation: Tory backbenchers worried by proposals

18 March 2013

6:25 PM

18 March 2013

6:25 PM

MPs are continuing to debate the cross-party deal on press regulation in the Commons at the moment. The debate has been divided between congratulations for the party leaders and their colleagues who hammered out the deal, and wariness from some Tory backbenchers about what the proposals actually mean. David Cameron insisted during the debate that this wasn’t statutory underpinning, but Nick Clegg said ‘of course’ when asked whether it actually was. Some Tory MPs agree with Nick: they believe this does include statutory underpinning.

Perhaps the most forceful speech came from Charles Walker, who started his speech by saying that this country has a ‘pretty revolting’ press, but that he was suspicious of the lack of ‘tension’ in the Chamber:

‘I’m also concerned, Mr Speaker, that we say that we are not enshrining these laws in statute, but we have amendments on the Order Paper today. We talk about having to pass it into law both in this House, and in the House of Lords, and to me that feels very much like statutory regulation and legislation.’

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He added that MPs should ‘strike a note of caution’ on the deal, saying:

‘I’m not sure today is the wonderful day that everyone is portraying it to be: I think it’s actually a very, very sad day, and I hope that we don’t live to regret this at some stage in the future.’

Sarah Wollaston was similarly unimpressed, intervening to say that she suspected politicians would come to regret this day. And Peter Lilley said ‘when both frontbenches are agreed, we invariably make our worst blunders’. Lilley counselled other publications to ‘have the courage’ to emulate the Spectator in opting out of any state-backed regulator.

I’ve also spoken to Douglas Carswell, who says:

‘It stinks. We are less free. Having grown up in a central African country where editors had to submit to what satte officials required, I feel particularly strongly about this. The issue of accountability to Parliament is a red herring. it’s making editors upwardly accountable to officialdom that’s so awful.’

So the PM might be relieved that he has satisfied those 20 Tories who were minded to rebel against any proposal which lacked statutory underpinning, but he now finds himself with another group irritated by the new proposals. Still, he had Chris Bryant congratulating him from the other side.

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