A cross-party deal to set up a new press regulator appears to have been reached after 2.30am talks between the three parties.
Today’s Commons showdown over whether the press should be regulated by statute was averted after the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems agreed to set up a Royal Charter to oversee the press.
Crucially, the proposed Royal Charter on the press will not be specifically referred to in any new legislation.
Instead, a general reference to protecting Royal Charters in law will be included in the enterprise and regulatory reform bill currently going through the House of Lords.
The measure, today dubbed a “clever wheeze” by the media pundit Roy Greenslade, will enable the Tories to argue that they have resisted Labour and Lib Dem demands into statutory regulation of the press
Culture secretary Maria Miller told BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme: “What’s important is that the clause that would sit alongside the charter doesn’t mention the press at all.”
In other key points of the deal, the Tories have accepted Labour demands that the new regulator will be able to “direct” how newspapers handle apologies rather than merely “require” them to be made.
And the government has also accepted that that the newspaper industry should not have a veto over membership of the regulator.
Ms Miller Said: “What has been accepted by all the main parties is the Prime Minister’s Royal Charter should go ahead and that, importantly, we have stopped Labour’s extreme version of the press law, which now, as part of any deal, the Labour Party would actually vote against.
“It is important that we get the detail absolutely right and there needs to be a conversation between the leaders and I think that will go ahead this morning.
“What’s really important is the Royal Charter now has overwhelming support from all the three main parties and we have stopped this extreme form of press law, which would have gone ahead otherwise.
“(It’s) absolutely clear there is no statutory underpinning for the approach we are taking. What we are talking about here is simply reiterating the fact that there can be no change to the charter as we move forward.”
Labour’s Harriet Harman said the legislation to go before peers specifically would not mention press regulation.
She said: “There’s an amendment going forward into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which says that where a charter says in that charter it can’t be dissolved or amended without a two-thirds majority in both Houses then that should have the force of law.”
She added: “It specifically won’t mention this charter because the idea is that we want to have that effect without it actually mentioning press regulation in law.”
The deal came after several regional editors lobbied local MPs over the weekend not to cave in to demands for statutory regulation.
They included Kevin Ward, editor of the South Wales Argus, who wrote: “The phone hacking scandal was not a failure of newspaper regulation or of journalism. It was a failure of policing and corporate governance.
“I remain adamant the vast majority of newspapers in this country – and there are many more local and regional newspapers than there are nationals – are respected, trusted and essential parts of the communities they serve.”