POLITICS
01/07/2013 17:07 BST

Government Outwitted Over Leveson By 'Fast Footwork' Of Newspapers

PA
David Cameron, Ed Miliband And Nick Clegg have agreed on a new system of press regulation, the press has not

Implementation of a new system of press regulation has been delayed in part because ministers were too slow in submitting their plan to the privy council and were gazumped by the newspaper industry, the government has admitted.

In March David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg came to a cross-party agreement that a new tougher form of newspaper regulation should be based on a royal charter.

However many newspapers rejected the plan as they felt it still gave politicians too much potential power and was a threat to the freedom of the press. The newspaper industry instead produced their own rival royal charter.

Those campaigning for the implementation of the Leveson Report - which survives best in the form of the government's royal charter - have been frustrated at the slow progress in making it law given it received the backing of parliament in March.

Royal charter's are granted by the privy council - a group of senior MPs that advise the Queen. But by convention the council, which meets once a month, can only consider one charter on the same subject at a time.

And peers were astonished to learn on Monday that part of the delay was due to the newspaper industry submitting their rival charter before the government managed submit its own.

Cabinet Office spokesperson Lord Wallace of Saltaire sheepishly told the House of Lords there was still cross-party support for the charter backed by parliament - but admitted there had been a "hiccup" as newspaper editors had been "extremely clever".

"The Press Board of Finance submitted their petition to the privy council before the government had presented its own royal charter," he said. "My understanding is it gives it precedent over government's royal charter."

"On the 13 April the Press Board of Finance petitioned the Privy Council with it's own draft royal charter which is now being considered," he said.

"When that has been concluded the conclusions will be published and the submission of the government's own royal charter will come up again."

Lord Forsyth, a former Tory secretary of state for Scotland, demanded an explanation on how the "government ended up second in the queue on a matter of this importance".

Lord Wallace replied: "I suspect it was some very fast footwork by the press council."

He added: This is a very deliate process. Pulling the press along with a much tougher system of regulation is not proving as easy as it might."

And he said "the battle between the press and politicians, with deep entrenched mistrust on all sides, is not doing much good either for reputation of the British press or for British politics".

Another exasperated peer was taken aback by the "ludicrous" situation that "whoever gets their head through the door first is considered first."

SEE ALSO: Lord Justice Leveson To Be Summoned By Culture Committee