David Cameron is under pressure from his own MPs to reject statutory regulation of the press, on the eve of the publication of the Leveson report.
A cross-party alliance of more than 80 MPs and peers, a majority of whom are Tories, have signed a letter warning the prime minister that any form of state control of print journalism is a threat to free speech.
Among the signatories are many political heavyweights including former Labour home secretary David Blunkett, Cameron’s former defence secretary Liam Fox and former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd.
“As Parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning. It is redress that is vital not broader regulation,” the politicians warn.
“No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.”
The letter has also been signed by the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, John Whittingdale. He is joined by every other single Conservative member of the committee with Tracey Crouch, Therese Coffey, Angie Bray, Philip Davies, Burns and ex-member Damian Collins, cautioning the prime minister against “new laws”. None of the Labour MPs on the committee signed up, nor did the single Lib Dem.
Aside from Blunkett, other Labour parliamentarians who have signed the letter include Kate Hoey, Frank Field and Gisela Stuart.
In a sign of the internal party fights to come over how to regulate the press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott hit out at his ex-cabinet colleague for working with Burns to drum up support for the letter.
"David Blunkett has done more money deals with Murdoch newspapers than any other politician. He still appears to be doing their bidding," he said on Twitter.
One Lib Dem MP, John Hemming, has signed the letter. The Birmingham Yardley MP has not had an easy ride in the newspapers recently, as journalists pursued connected stories involving his wife, a mistress and a stolen cat.
The MPs and peers also say they have “serious concerns” that statutory regulation of the print media may “shift the balance to the digital platforms” such as Twitter, “undermining the position of properly moderated and edited print journalism”.
The letter adds: “The press abuse chronicled at Leveson was almost wholly about actions which were against the law. It demonstrated not a sole failure of regulation but rather of law enforcement.
“However the status quo is not an option. We cannot countenance newspapers behaving as some have in the past. The solution is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system.”
Cameron is due to receive his copy of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on the future regulation of the press at mid-day today, 24-hours before it is made public.
MPs will be given a chance to debate the report on Monday 3 December.
Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have all indicated they will support the judge's recommendations as long as they are "proportionate".
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