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42 Tory MPs open door to statutory regulation of Britain's newspaper industry in potentially historic intervention

By Tim Montgomerie
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The possibility of some form of statutory regulation of the press has become a lot more likely tonight. 42 Tory MPs have signed a letter rejecting a beefed-up form of self-regulation, arguing that it is likely to be "unstable". Up until now leading Tory Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove and Eric Pickles have suggested that statutory regulation was not acceptable to them. Tonight's intervention changes the balance of parliamentary debate and arithmetic in a potentially dramatic way. A combination of LibDem and Labour MPs plus 42 Tories means the door is now wide open to a new era of press regulation in Britain.

Here is the text of the letter:

"After eight months, 650 witnesses and 6000 pages of evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, we can be clear about two things.  Firstly, that a free press is essential for a free society.  Secondly, that there are fundamental weaknesses in the current model of self regulation which cannot be ignored.

No one wants our media controlled by the government but, to be credible, any new regulator must be independent ofthe press as well as from politicians. We are concerned that the current proposal put forward by the newspaper industry would lack independence and risks being an unstable model destined to fail, like previous initiatives over the past sixty years. These concerns are shared by the NUJ.

We agree with the Prime Minister that obsessive argument about the principle of statutory regulation can cloud the debate.  Instead we must do what is necessary to create a genuinely independent system.  The Defamation Bill is currently going through parliament with the support of all parties and the newspaper industry.  This proves that, when people try, it is possible to make sensible changes to the law.

We should also keep some perspective: the introduction of the Legal Services Board in statute has not compromised the independence of the legal profession.  The Jimmy Savile scandal was exposed by ITV and the Winterbourne View care home scandal was exposed by the BBC, both of whom are regulated by the Broadcasting Act.  While no one is suggesting similar laws for newspapers, it is not credible to suggest that broadcasters such as Sky News, ITV or the BBC have their agenda dictated by the government of the day.

The worst excesses of the press have stemmed from the fact that the public interest defence has been too elastic and, all too often, has meant whatever editors wanted it to mean.   To protect both robust journalism and the public, itis now essential to establish a single standard for assessing the public interest test which can be applied independently and consistently.

The Prime Minister was right to set up the Leveson Inquiry.  While it has been uncomfortable for both politicians and the press, it also represents a once in a generation opportunity to put things right and parliament must not duck the challenge."

Here are the 42 signatories;
  1. ​​Adam Afriyie​​
  2. Gavin Barwell
  3. Guto Bebb
  4. Henry Bellingham
  5. Andrew Bingham
  6. Brian Binley​​
  7. Nicola Blackwood
  8. Crispin Blunt
  9. Robert Buckland​​
  10. Rehman Chishti
  11. ​​Oliver Colvile
  12. Geoffrey Cox​​
  13. Jackie Doyle-Price​​
  14. George Eustice
  15. Mark Field
  16. George Freeman​​
  17. Mark Garnier
  18. Zac Goldsmith
  19. Simon Hart
  20. Gerald Howarth
  21. Gareth Johnson
  22. Andrew Jones
  23. Marcus Jones​​
  24. Andrea Leadsom​
  25. Stephen Metcalfe
  26. Penny Mordaunt​
  27. David Morris​​
  28. James Morris​​
  29. Sheryll Murray​​
  30. Jesse Norman
  31. Neil Parish​​​
  32. Claire Perry​​
  33. Sir Malcolm Rifkind​​
  34. Chris Skidmore
  35. Nicholas Soames​
  36. C​​aroline Spelman
  37. Bob Stewart​​​
  38. Gary Streeter​
  39. Paul Uppal
  40. Angela Watkinson
  41. Mike Weatherly​​
  42. Nadhim Zahawi​

The letter is also signed by Tory Lords Fowler and Ryder.

The MPs come from all wings and cohorts of the party but, notably, many have been at the rough end of some newspaper front pages.

I understand that George Eustice and Nadhim Zahawi were driving forces behind the letter.


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