UP to 2,000 publications are ready to sign up to a tougher new British press regulator without being compelled by new legislation, it emerged yesterday.
Lord Hunt, the Tory peer who is co-ordinating industry efforts to agree a new press complaints body, said he had spoken to 120 publishers speaking on behalf of 2,000 editors who were all prepared to join.
He added that he was proposing they sign five-year rolling contracts to ensure publications could not "walk away" from the new regime.
The editors of Britain's national newspapers are due to meet David Cameron and the Culture Secretary Maria Miller tomorrow to discuss progress on creating a successor body to the soon-to-be-scrapped Press Complaints Commission. MPs will debate Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations in the Commons today.
Mr Cameron, who has called for the press to be given some time to get its house in order, will warn Fleet Street it must take swift action to set up an independent press watchdog to avoid the legislation.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is currently drawing up draft legislation to show how potential statutory underpinning of the new body might look. But critics claim the exercise is designed purely to prove that the process is unworkable.
Yesterday Labour ratcheted up the pressure on Mr Cameron by saying it intended to draft its own legislation that could be put to a vote in the House of Commons should the Government choose not to pursue the statutory option. Party sources said they believed legislation was "entirely workable" and proportionate and they could prove through their draft Bill that it would in no way jeopardise the freedom of the press.
However, they admitted that even if they successfully put their Bill to a vote it could not become law as opposition bills cannot form the basis of Acts of Parliament.
Lord Hunt, who was brought in as chair of the PCC in a bid to reform an organisation widely seen as too weak, said he believed the industry was well on the way to agreeing proposals which would satisfy its critics – without the need for legislation.
"I agree they should be bound in law. I think that's contractual law. It doesn't need great acts of Parliament."