MPs reject ‘Leveson part two’ bid, but media critics warn battle goes on

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MPs have narrowly defeated an attempt to launch a new probe into the relationship between the media and police.

An attempt by former Labour leader Ed Miliband to amend the Data Protection Bill to establish a statutory inquiry, dubbed “Leveson part two”, was defeated by just nine votes.

Culture secretary Matt Hancock described it as “a great victory for a free and fair press”, saying MPs had decided “muzzling the media would have dealt a blow to democracy”.

But Hacked Off, which represents victims of phone hacking and campaigns for greater press regulation, said it would “fight on in Parliament and the courts”.

Hacked Off’s Dr Evan Harris said: “It is the first time in the history of the western media in the modern era that the newspapers have cheered the fact that an inquiry into criminality, corruption and cover-up has been blocked by a Government.

“We are grateful to the opposition parties and brave Tory rebels for their support.”

The Press Association played an active part in the media industry lobby against Leveson part two, and had warned of the “chilling effect” of forcing publishers not signed up to a state-backed regulator to pay their opponent’s legal costs even if they won the case.

Editor-in-Chief Pete Clifton said: “We are absolutely delighted by the outpouring of common sense.

“A lot has changed for the good since the original Leveson Inquiry and there are far better things to spend money on than another inquiry.

“We now have a strong, independent regulator in Ipso, and it was an appalling notion that media organisations could face crippling costs simply for failing to sign up to a state-recognised regulator.

“With these votes, I hope the industry can look ahead with more confidence, maintaining a free press that the country can be proud of.”

There were cries of “shame” in the Commons after Mr Miliband’s proposal was rejected by 304 votes to 295.

Five Conservative MPs rebelled to support the measure – including former ministers Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Crispin Blunt – while Labour’s John Grogan rebelled to oppose the amendment.

A separate Labour bid to introduce a measure forcing publishers not signed up to a state-backed regulator to pay their opponent’s legal costs in relation to alleged data breaches even if they won the case also faltered after the SNP refused to back it.

Mr Hancock, who faces Culture, Media and Sport questions from MPs in the Commons on Thursday, had warned the proposals would have had a “catastrophic” impact on local newspapers and risked making it “near impossible” to uncover stories of abuse.

After Wednesday’s vote, Mr Hancock said: “Today marks a great victory for a free and fair press.

“We will now work with (press regulator) Ipso to ensure the press play by the rules, but today the House voted that muzzling the media would have dealt a blow to democracy.”

He had earlier confirmed that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary would be undertaking a review of how police forces were adhering to new media relations guidance – as recommended by Sir Brian Leveson in his 2012 report into press standards.

Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray added that “common sense has prevailed”, while the News Media Association, which represents publishers, said the defeated amendments had “represented a dangerous threat to press freedom”.

Mr Miliband tweeted that he was “disappointed” for the victims of phone hacking.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson, who backed the Labour proposal, claimed there had been a “shameless capitulation to press barons” from the Tories which left victims of phone hacking “ever further from reaching the truth”.

He said: “No criminal investigation or trial has ever looked at the core questions that Leveson two posed: how the relationship between the press, police and politicians allowed the hacking scandal to happen and attempt to cover it up.

“Today was a chance for MPs to finally deliver on promises made to victims of hacking and press intrusion. That chance has been squandered and victims have been betrayed once again.”

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