A Tory peer who served in the Cabinet under Margaret Thatcher and John Major is to be the new head of the Press Complaints Commission.
Lord Hunt of Wirral, whose appointment was announced at lunchtime today, takes over the watchdog at a time of unprecedented debate over its future.
Prime Minister David Cameron had branded the Commission “ineffective” and is widely believed to have set up the Leveson inquiry as a means of replacing it with a statutory body.
The Press Standards Board of Finance, which appoints the PCC chair, said Lord Hunt would oversee the “regeneration and renewal” of the system of independent, non-statutory regulation.
He said: “I am delighted I shall be leading the crucially important process of wholesale regeneration and renewal of the system of independent self-regulation of the press.
“My job is to ensure we create in due course an effective, genuinely independent standards body, which enjoys the overwhelming respect and support of the media, our political leaders and the general public.
“Throughout my political life I have fought for freedom of expression; and a free press is the distinctive and indispensable hallmark of any truly free, civilised society.”
He added: “I have no desire to live in a country where the legitimate, lawful investigative activities of the press are fettered at the whim of politicians. That would not be freedom at all.
“Those who work for newspapers or their digital off-shoots are, however, rightly bound by the law of the land, just like everyone else. They should also abide by recognised standards of professionalism, consideration and common decency.
“The PCC already plays an invaluable role, delivering fast, free and fair treatment of complaints from members of the public, as and when a newspaper has overstepped the line.
“There is a real appetite for change, however, and it is my intention to drive forward the creation of a reinvigorated and respected standards body, funded by the industry but operationally independent from both the industry and the state.”
Chairman of PressBoF, Lord Black of Brentwood, said: “On behalf of my colleagues in the national and regional newspaper and magazine industry, I am delighted that Lord Hunt has accepted our invitation to become Chairman of the PCC.
“His appointment follows a rigorous selection process, including for the first time an independent assessment, which identified an extremely strong field of candidates.
“David Hunt’s wide-ranging experience in politics, in the law and in regulation and above all his unshakeable commitment to the principles of press freedom and self-regulation make him the ideal person to lead the process of renewal and regeneration which is now essential.
“His commitment to making those changes is clear, and he will have the full support of the industry as he sets about this urgent task. ”
Lord Hunt will take up his appointment on Monday. The current chair, Baroness Buscombe, announced her departure this summer in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Currently chairman of the Financial Services Division at the law firm Beachcroft, Lord Hunt is a former MP for Wirral and, later, Wirral West. As David Hunt, he served as Welsh Secretary under Mrs Thatcher and Minister for the Cabinet Office under Mr Major.