AYLESBURY MP David Lidington has welcomed the ideas for press reforms in the Leveson Report – but is urging caution about introducing legislation to back them up.
He believes the current system of newspaper regulation is ‘bust’ and needs an urgent overhaul.
But he fears an Act of Parliament would take too long to implement and warns future Governments could then alter these powers if they were on the statute book.
This echoes the fears of the newspaper industry which is worried that even a small piece of legislation could ultimately lead to a serious clampdown on the press at some point in the future.
Conservative Mr Lidington, who is Minister for Europe, said: “I rather take a deep breath and share David Cameron’s caution on this.”
He explained: “If you have a statute, you have established a new principle that the regulatory system of the press is based upon an Act of Parliament.
“It might mean a future Parliament might want to look at that statute again to vary the powers.
“It is an important shift of principle. I think Cameron is right to be cautious about it.”
However, Mr Lidington, an MP for 20 years, does endorse the principles of Lord Justice’s Leveson’s report, published yesterday.
“First, he [Leveson] has been conclusive there has been firm evidence of a subculture in the national media that has developed extremely bad habits. Clearly, there has been something going badly wrong and the excuse of a rogue journalist doesn’t really wash.
“Secondly, the current system is inadequate. The PCC (Press Complaints Commission) has proved itself to be pretty useless. The structure he proposes seems to me to be a good one. A tougher system of regulation, clearly independent of government and media. That is right.”
The MP backed the idea of quicker more prominent apologies for mistakes in newspapers. He said the majority of people want the apology to appear in the same part of the paper where the original article first appeared.
But pushing the reforms through via Parliament might take up to two years, he said.
“It seems to me there would be great merit in going on with the reforms that Leveson recommends but without the Act of Parliament,” he said.
“We shouldn’t just wait. Let’s get on with what we can do now and get on with it quickly because the present system is bust.”
The newspaper industry is currently pushing forward a new much tougher system of self regulation, but Mr Lidington doesn’t believe this goes far enough.
In a nutshell, he says: “I welcome Leveson’s recommendations. I would like to see action taken..., but with the exception I am cautious about going for legislation. The substance can be done without legislation.”