MPs kill off 'Leveson 2' after peers demand fresh inquiry into press standards

Posted On: 
15th May 2018

MPs have killed off a bid to establish a fresh inquiry into press standards - less than 24 hours after the Lords demanded one be set up.

Labour's Tom Watson said a new inquiry into press ethics had been "solemnly promised by all sides to the victims of phone hacking"

The House of Lords last night passed an amendment to the Data Protection Bill which would have set up the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics.

But MPs today threw those changes out, voting 301-289 in favour of a government amendment overturning the Lords result in favour of regular reports on how journalists are using data.

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The original Leveson Inquiry wrapped up in 2012 following the phone hacking scandal that killed off the News of the World.

But the promised Leveson 2 - which was supposed to follow the criminal probes into the affair - was buried by David Cameron's government and later shelved by Theresa May's.

Last night's Lords' vote sent the Data Protection Bill back to the Commons for fresh consideration, prompting ministers to take the highly-unusual step of tabling a last-minute 'manuscript amendment' to wipe the Lords changes and win the support of wavering MPs.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said MPs had "plainly and clearly voted against" a new inquiry in a highly-charged Commons debate last week.

And he said the new amendments would strike a better balance between a free press and responsible journalism.

"During the course of this Bill we have repeatedly acted to take into account amendments made in the other place and directly address concerns expressed by members of this House," he said.

"We have gone out of our way to offer concessions at every stage to make sure the system of press regulation is both free and fair."

The Government's changes will toughen up a previously-announced review of data protection by the Information Commissioner, and broaden it out to look at "good practice in the processing of personal data for the purpose of journalism".

The review will, Mr Hancock said, be a permanent fixture rather than a one-off, and will report back every five years.

There will also be a separate independent report every three years to ensure "no backsliding" on a promise by newspapers to ensure that those seeking legal redress for inaccurate stories do not face excessive costs.

But the concessions fall far short of the full statutory inquiry into press conduct demanded by some MPs.

Labour's Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said the Lords amendment would have delivered an inquiry that had been "solemnly promised by all sides to the victims of phone hacking and which Sir Brian Leveson believes should go ahead".

Former Labour Leader Ed Miliband - who last week made an impassioned Commons plea in favour of a new probe - meanwhile said that only a second Leveson inquiry would answer the question of "who did what to whom" during the phone hacking scandal.

He said: "There are some very material questions we don't know the answer to - which is how widespread was the hacking and other criminality at News International? How many other papers engaged in such conduct?

"What was the role in electronic blagging and where did that take place. Now if we don't have Leveson 2 we're not going to know the answers to those questions."