UK

Leveson Deal Reached And Includes Statute, Labour Claims

18/03/2013 07:28 GMT | Updated 18/03/2013 09:28 GMT

A cross-party deal to reform the press in the UK has been reached, according to Labour.

But party leaders appeared at loggerheads over what had actually been agreed.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman said the deal to be put before Parliament includes the controversial provision for statutory underpinning, which had been the sticking point on the negotiations with the Conservatives.

But the government gave a different account, with Culture Secretary Maria Miller saying there would be "no statutory underpinning" to the beefed-up watchdog.

Miller said: "This is not a statutory underpinning. It's simply making sure that there is no change.

"It is a no change clause."

Earlier, Harman had told ITV's Daybreak that "the entirety" of Lord Justice Leveson's report had been agreed.

It would be "a system whereby you have a Royal Charter...that has a legal basis and you have a bit of statute, a bit of law, that says ministers cannot tamper with it."

This would ensure the press did not "pester" the government to change the system, she claimed.

Prime Minister David Cameron has resisted using the law to back up any new regulator.

In November, after Lord Justice Leveson's report was published, he said: "It would be a dereliction of our duty in this House of Commons, which has stood up for freedom and a free Press year after year, century after century, to cross the Rubicon by legislating on the Press without thinking about it carefully first."

But on Sunday night The Times reported Cameron was prepared to accept "a dab" of statute.

Harman added: "A free press actually needs to be a strong and clean press.

"How can the press hold people to account if they are abusing their own power?"

It comes after the Prime Minister began last-ditch efforts to find an accord on Sunday as he faced a likely Commons defeat on the issue with around 20 of his MPs set to back a rival package put together by an alliance of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the Opposition.

A senior Labour source said: "After five and a half hours of talks in Ed Miliband's office which ended at 2.30am, we are confident we have the basis of an agreement around our Royal Charter entrenched in statute."