Having been in face to face negotiations till nearly midnight last night - followed by calls, texts and emails for many hours afterwards - I am delighted to have stood up this afternoon in the House of Commons to welcome the cross-party agreement on implementing the Leveson Report. It wasn’t easy but after a lot of hard work - led on our side by the tireless Jim Wallace, we have got there.
The Leveson Inquiry was established after public revulsion at the phone hacking scandal. So, when Lord Justice Leveson published his recommendations to reform the regulation of the press, the Liberal Democrats took a stand for the victims of press abuse, and supported them.
In fact, I took the unprecedented step of making a separate statement in the House of Commons, on an issue where we disagreed with the Prime Minister. Having been honest with the public about our differences, it was then our duty to sit down with all parties and come to an agreement.
As I mentioned in my latest “Letter from the Leader”, we set out three tests for press regulation in the future:
Delivering Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.
- Commanding the widest possible cross-party support, as Lord Justice Leveson also wanted.
- Striking the right balance between protecting and cherishing the great tradition of a free press in this country, and protecting innocent people from unwarranted intimidation and bullying by powerful interests in our media.
We will achieve Leveson through the Royal Charter published by the Liberal Democrats and Labour last week. Our Royal Charter ensures that editors cannot sign off their own code of conduct; cannot veto appointments to the watchdog; can accept complaints from third party groups, and must apologise properly when they make mistakes.
And, crucially, all parties have now agreed that there should be a minimal clause in law that will prevent future governments chopping and changing the new system on a whim. This was important to me as, without it, the door would be open to political meddling by future governments. We cannot take this risk.
With these protections we have got the best possible outcome today: a fair, independent press watchdog to serve the British people while protecting our free press – a thoroughly liberal solution.