Hancock: Press crackdown would make investigations ‘near impossible’

Bid to force a new Leveson inquiry is DEFEATED by MPs in humiliating failure for Ed Miliband

  • Matt Hancock urged MPs to reject Labour amendments cracking down on press
  • Said restarting Leveson probe would fail to deal with problems facing journalism
  • And he condemned Labour proposals, claiming they would smash the free press 

MPs today voted against a second Leveson inquiry into phone hacking and the behaviour of the press in a humiliation for ex Labour leader Ed Miliband

Mr Miliband berated the Government for refusing to order the second part of the probe into the press but Labour’s bid to overturn it collapsed into failure.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock had warned the Labour attempt to strangle the ‘free and fair’ press would have killed off investigative journalism in Britain.

Tory MPs lined up to defend the press, with leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg hailing newspapers as ‘overwhelmingly precious’.

When the vote finally came at 4pm, Mr MIliband’s plan to force the second phase of inquiry failed 304 votes to 295, majority 9. 

The failure to rally enough votes saw Labour deputy leader Tom Watson pull his own plans to force through punitive damages on newspapers – via the so-called section 40 law passed after Leveson one – after it became clear it would be defeated.

Labour’s attempt to crackdown on the press would make investigative journalism ‘near impossible’, the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured in the Commons today) warned 

Ex Labour leader Miliband launched a furious attack on the Government for not moving forward with Leveson two, branding ministers ‘contemptible’


Mr Miliband gesticulated wildly in the Commons as he claimed the failure to call the second round of the inquiry was a breach of ‘honour’ 

But Tory rebels could consign the Government to embarrassing defeat in the Commons later amid continued concern about newspapers’ behaviour

Mr Hancock, opening a debate on the Data Protection Bill (Lords) at report stage in the Commons, said proposed new clauses would mean newspapers would risk having to pay costs even if a story was accurate and in the public interest.

He warned that the clauses would make it ‘near impossible’ to uncover stories of abuse as he highlighted the work of The Times’ chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk, who uncovered the Rotherham child abuse scandal. 

Mr Hancock said he wanted a free press that can ‘hold the powerful to account’ but also one that is fair.

‘While I want to see a press that is free to report without fear or favour, and to uncover wrongdoing and to hold the powerful to account, I also want to see a press that is fair and accurate too.

‘I am determined that we have a system that is strengthened so people have recourse to justice when things go wrong.’

He said regulator Ipso had recently brought in a system of ‘compulsory low cost arbitration’ which means ‘ordinary people’ can take claims to newspapers for a minimum of £50.

Sir Brian Leveson published the first phase of his inquiry in November 2012. The Government has cancelled the second part but some MPs hope to overturn the decision today 

Mr Miliband launched a furious attack on the Government for not moving forward with Leveson two.

He told ministers that their actions had been ‘contemptible’.

After quoting then Prime Minister David Cameron who had pledged to launch the second part of the inquiry in 2012, Mr Miliband said: ‘No ifs, no buts, no maybes, a clear promise and a promise to victims, a promise to victims of the press and here we come along today and we have the Government saying ‘let’s dump this promise, it’s too expensive, it’s a distraction’.

‘How dare they, how dare they to the McCanns, the Dowlers, all those other victims. How can we be here, I say to members across this House whatever party they are in, this is about our honour.

‘This is a matter of honour about the promise we made.’ 

His argument was rejected by leading Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg who said: The freedom of the Press is so overwhelmingly precious, that we should preserve it, even if sometimes the Press upsets us.

‘It is amazing how many people who have had run-ins with the Press have suddenly found that they think it should be more tightly regulated.’

Tory rebels – led by father of the House Ken Clarke – could consign the Government to embarrassing defeat in the Commons later amid continued concern about newspapers’ behaviour

Labour culture spokesman Liam Byrne insisted the second phase of the inquiry – officially cancelled by Mr Hancock last year – must go ahead to uncover the ‘truth’ of the phone hacking scandal.  

He said the first phase of the inquiry – concluded in 2012 – and subsequent criminal trials failed to answer questions about what happened.

The veteran MP said it particularly failed to answer questions about links between the press and police.

Labour culture spokesman Liam Byrne insisted the second phase of the inquiry must go ahead to uncover the ‘truth’ of the phone hacking scandal

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