Labour will discuss its draft Leveson Bill with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the next tranche of cross-party talks on Thursday. The Bill (which you can read here) is short and sweet, replacing Ofcom as the regulatory backstop recommended by Leveson with a panel headed by the Lord Chief Justice, and a press regulator called the Press Standards Trust.
The party hopes to use the Bill as the basis of discussion for Thursday’s talks, and has sent it to Culture Secretary Maria Miller, as well as Tory MPs who are spearheading calls within their party for statutory underpinning of press regulation including George Eustice, and Lord Wallace, who has been attending the cross-party talks on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.
Ed Miliband has also held talks with Nick Clegg about the draft legislation, although sources close to the Lib Dem leader stressed that this was not dissimilar to the discussions Clegg has been having with the Prime Minister about the future of press regulation.
But what happens if the government continues to reject the legislation, citing its own draft bill as proof that the statutory underpinning won’t work? Labour hopes to use the cross-party talks as the first resort, but a senior party source tells me:
‘If it does not get anywhere through the cross-party talks, we will force a vote on it so that MPs on all sides of the House can express their view.’
The pro-statute Conservatives are currently reading the draft legislation, but there could well be a good number of them supporting Labour in the vote, which the party would expect to schedule as an Opposition Day vote, probably in the new year. This would also make life pretty awkward for the Liberal Democrats as the vote would force them to decide whether to move from Nick Clegg’s separate statement on Leveson to a separate party position on a vote. So it’s not surprising that the party is a little more reluctant than Labour to talk about its forward planning on this issue. A senior Liberal Democrat source tells me:
‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Labour produced a measured bill which is an important contribution to this debate and the government is also going to produce a draft bill. Let’s take these into the cross-party talks and let’s take things from there, moving forward with cross-party talks.’