Leveson: There is no simple option and no easy paths

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Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron received the Leveson report yesterday afternoon Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The Prime Minister has promised to consider the recommendations as long as they are not "bonkers".

He has had a copy of the weighty report by Lord Justice Leveson since Wednesday afternoon.

It is 2000 pages long.

Inside Downing Street a small team of advisers have cleared their diaries to wade through the findings of the Inquiry.

A similar operation has been underway in the Deputy Prime Minister's office.

The two men will have to decide this morning if they can agree on a way forward for the regulation of the press.

Both have said the status quo is not an option. Both agree the new regulator has to be more independent and stronger than the current one - the Press Complaints Commission - which is now being wound down.

Prime Minister David Cameron with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg must find a way forward Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

But both may not agree to the controversial suggestion that the press regulator should be underpinned by law.

Statutory regulation gets a favourable hearing from Nick Clegg and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband (who gets his copy of the report at 8am).

Mr Cameron has not yet said if he would support putting the press regulator on a legal footing for the first time - even if that is what the Leveson report recommends.

The two parties in the coalition will meet at lunchtime - just an hour or so before Lord Justice Leveson's thoughts are made public to discuss what their teams have read.

The coalition committee will be made up of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor George Osborne and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

Downing Street will not confirm the other attendees - but they are expected to include the Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Lord Justice Leveson
Lord Justice Leveson report will be published later today Credit: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

The ministers will have to decide whether Mr Cameron will be delivering the Government's view, when he stands up in the House of Commons at 3pm - or whether it is the view only of the Conservative Party (not the Liberal Democrats).

The Deputy Prime Minister's office has sought permission from the Speaker for a separate statement on the Leveson Inquiry, should one be necessary.

Sources close to Mr Clegg say that they intend to find a position with the Conservatives on which both sides can agree. But it is by no means certain that will be possible.

A group of 86 MPs and peers - many Conservatives among them - wrote a letter yesterday claiming proposals for statutory regulation would turn the clock back more than 300 years - to a time of state licensing of newspapers.

But another group of Conservatives - thought to number around 70 - have argued that statutory unpinning of the regulator is the only way to proceed. Some of those MPs told me they have been appalled at the way the newspaper industry has been campaigning in recent weeks against tighter regulation.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett helped organise the letter from 60 MPs and 23 peers Credit: PA

It means Mr Cameron risks defeat in the Commons if he decides not to support a state regulator backed up by law in some form. The second group of Conservative MPs would vote with most Labour and most Lib Dem members.

Opinion polls suggest the public favours a stronger press regulator established by law - similar to Ofcom which regulates the broadcast media.

But if there is one group the public dislike as much as journalists it is politicians, so MPs will have to tread carefully as they navigate the way ahead.

It is worth remembering where all this started. It began with claims that reporters had hacked into the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl.

Whatever path the politicians chose, they would be wise to remember there are victims at the heart of all this.

And they must balance the victims' needs with those of a free press which, in a democratic and free society, must not be prevented from exposing wrongdoing and holding those in public life to account.

There is no simple option. There are no easy paths.