David Cameron answers questions in front of liaison committee. Photograph: PA
David Cameron has urged Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to broker a compromise with the press over a new regulatory body after expressing frustration over the impasse on a new royal charter.
In an appearance before MPs, in which he wore reading glasses for the first time in public, the prime minister criticised a rival royal charter drawn up by some sections of the press but also urged his fellow political leaders to give some ground. Cameron made his remarks before the Commons liaison committee in which he also put a question mark over the introduction of Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit benefit reforms by 2017. Cameron said: “We shouldn’t be religious about timings.”
Cameron appeared nervous as he wore reading glasses in public for the first time. He used them to read papers but quickly took them off when the cameras turned on him. He bought the glasses for £15 from Boots in June with advice from his wife Samantha.
The prime minister indicated that he was uneasy about some of the key elements in a royal charter drawn up by Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBoF) which is chaired by the Telegraph executive Lord Black of Brentwood and whose members include the Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre. He indicated that this did not match the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry on an arbitration system, the prominence of apologies and the independence of appointments to the new press regulator.
But the prime minister made clear that, while he remained signed up to the cross-party royal charter, he would personally like Clegg and Miliband to give ground.
He told MPs: “The charter that my party was prepared to sign up to was probably somewhere between the two – the press charter and the cross-party [charter]. So I’m not really the problem here. But remember the cross-party charter is a cross-party charter so the leaders of all parties would have to agree to any amendments to it.”
The prime minister added: “To be clear I am committed to the cross-party charter. We all signed it, we agreed it. We should progress it but it would be good if we could find some way for everyone to see that it would be better if you ended up with a cross-party charter that the press seek recognition with. But it is a cross-party issue so this is something all party leaders have to address.”
Cameron used his appearance before the select committee to indicate that he may put the brakes on Duncan Smith’s plans to consolidate six welfare payments into one by 2017.
He told MPs: “The secretary of state was questioned very closely in the House of Commons. That is the department’s position – they are shooting for 2017. But the key thing is getting the early part of the introduction right.
“The more you can test out and hold pathfinders and get people onto universal budget and then start to take existing benefit recipients onto universal credit – the more you can get that right in the early years – the more chance you have of hitting your target of total rollout.
“My view is this is a good reform that will make work pay, that is widely supported across politics and other sectors. So we need to get it right. But we shouldn’t be religious about timings. We should be religious as it were about the overall concept of what we are trying to do.”