Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Why the Tories don’t think the Leveson deal is statutory underpinning

David Cameron has just met Tory MPs to explain the deal he’s struck on Leveson. One of the things many of them were anxious to learn was whether the result does really mean the government has accepted the need for statutory underpinning. Hopefully the PM employed a better turn of phrase than his spokesman,  who told hacks this morning that this ‘enshrines a non-legislative approach’.

The Tories in Number 10 are insisting that this really is the case, that it’s not statute at all and that the PM’s feet aren’t wet from any crossing of the Rubicon.

Their argument is firstly that the amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is aimed at all Royal Charters, and protects them from further interference. The idea is to make it much more difficult for anyone to get press regulation onto the statute books, because allowing those words to appear in legislation would make it easier for other governments to amend legislation and create a press law in the future. This new ‘no change’ clause doesn’t mention ‘press regulation’ at all and focuses instead on changes to all Royal Charters. So that amendment is designed to act as a barrier against any statutory underpinning, according to the Conservatives.

One Number 10 source says:

‘What [Labour and the Lib Dems] are calling statutory underpinning is clearly different from what they were saying was statutory underpinning. there’s a certain amount of face-saving going on.’

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