By Martin Kelly
First Minister Alex Salmond has written to all other party leaders in the Scottish Parliament inviting them to cross-party talks next Thursday to discuss how best to take forward the recommendations of the Leveson report in Scotland.
Press regulation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Mr Salmond’s written invitation follows publication of the report last Thursday.
In the report Lord Leveson recommended a statutory system of regulation to replace the old Press Complaints Commission. The report followed an extensive inquiry into the UK press following allegations of phone hacking and claims of inappropriate press intrusion into the lives of ordinary people as well as celebrities.
Commenting, the First Minister said:
“I believe it is important that we achieve a cross-party consensus in Scotland on the best way forward in implementing Lord Justice Leveson’s findings, and that is why I am asking the other party leaders to meet for talks.
“It is clear that we must have a system of regulation for the print media here in Scotland which has the support of the industry, but which also, most importantly, commands the confidence of the wider public who have been rightly angered at recent episodes concerning phone-hacking, blagging and other potentially illegal activity.
“MSPs will have an opportunity to debate the Leveson findings at Holyrood on Tuesday. That debate has been deliberately framed without a motion, to reflect the desire for cross-party agreement. It will be an opportunity to hear what all members have to say and an opportunity for Scotland’s Parliament to display the kind of consensus that has so far been lacking on this issue at Westminster.
“I have already made clear that I believe the Irish model of press regulation has much to commend it and much that we could learn from. That does not mean that we should necessarily follow the Irish system exactly, but we should look seriously at whether it can be adapted sensibly for Scotland’s needs. I believe it is clear that the case for a Scottish solution to these important issues is unarguable.”
Earlier this week the Scottish Greens said they welcomed the prospect of cross-party talks about a distinctly Scottish response to the Leveson proposals on regulation of the press.
Commenting on Thursday, Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:
"Scotland has a proud tradition of journalism but the industry's self-regulation has clearly failed and we can't duck the issue any longer. It would be quite bizarre for a pro-independence Government to leave this to Westminster. The Leveson report demands action to restore public trust and I believe the Scottish Parliament should use its powers in this area.
"However, the First Minister would be wrong to rule out statutory regulation before talks take place. This is a real opportunity to ensure that regulation is truly independent from corporate control, and protects essential freedoms, roots out bad journalism and properly protects people's privacy."
However Johann Lamont has already signalled her desire for the Scottish Parliament to leave the setting up of a new press regulatory system to Westminster, to cover the whole of the UK.
Speaking on Thursday, the Scottish Labour leader expressed fears that Mr Salmond saw Leveson as “A chance for him to exercise control over the Scottish press on an unprecedented scale.”
The proposal put forward by the First Minister is for a body created out-with the control of politicians. Mr Salmond has already suggested that the Irish regulatory system might be a good model for any new Scottish press regulatory body.
In his letter, the First Minister wrote:
At yesterday's First Minister's Question Time I said that I would seek the views of the other parties about the recommendations of the Leveson report given the importance of achieving cross-party agreement on the best way forward.
While it is regrettable that the UK Government did not make the report available to party leaders in the Scottish Parliament on the same basis as in the Westminster Parliament, which might have enabled a statement yesterday, there may nevertheless be merit in having a little more time to reflect upon the report before taking matters forward. I am therefore inviting you to meet me on the afternoon of Thursday, 6 December to discuss these matters further. That will also give us the opportunity to reflect on the views of the whole Parliament expressed in the debate on Tuesday, 4 December.
My office will be in touch with you to make the detailed arrangements.
This weekend it was reported that a majority of MPs and peers were in favour of statutory regulation of the press. The claim was made by Lord Fowler of Sutton Coldfield, the former Tory chairman, said that there was “a majority for Leveson” in both Houses of Parliament.
Currently the two UK coalition parties are split on the extent to which Leveson’s recommendations should be implemented. Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg clashed on Thursday with both men issuing contradictory statements in the House of Commons.
Cameron favours self-regulation, however Labour and the Lib Dems are pressing for full implementation of Lord Leveson’s recommendations. If there are members of his own party favouring Lord Leveson’s recommendations then Mr Cameron may find himself vulnerable.
A petition, launched on Friday by Gerry McCann, father of missing Madeleine, and Christopher Jefferies, the landlord wrongly arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates, calling for a new press watchdog backed by law has already attracted more than 56,000 signatures.