MPs Reject Leveson 2 For A Second Time

MPs have backed the Government by rejecting moves to enact a Leveson 2-style inquiry into the media for the second time in the space of a week after the House of Lords tagged an amendment onto the Data Protection Bill which would have kicked off the sprawling and costly statutory inquiry. 

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, MPs voted by 301 to 289 – a greater margin than the previous vote last week – to reject an amendment from Baroness Hollins in the House of Lords for a Leveson 2-style inquiry into the media.

In the debate, deputy leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson said it was inconceivable that he would be pushing for Section 40-style costs sanctions again after his amendment designed to bring in the legislation was not pressed to a vote last week.

Asked by Labour MP John Grogan whether Labour had “dropped Section 40 for good,” Mr Watson said: “I am saying that, although my honourable Friend stood on a manifesto commitment to push section 40, I can envisage no circumstances in which I would move that motion.”

Earlier in the week, in the Lords debate on the Bill, Earl Attlee, who proposed the costs sanctions amendment in January, called for the immediate repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

He described Section 40 as “a completely unacceptable gun, held to the press’s head, which must be deactivated at the earliest possible moment.” He added: “Worse still, it could inadvertently lead to the press self-censoring in the case of a story that might, in any case, make for difficult ethical and legal decisions for the editor concerned.” 

As part of a series of concessions, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock announced last minute amendments strengthening an ICO review of journalistic compliance with data protection legislation and the good practice of processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism, which would take place after four years and then every five years, and an amendment ensuring that a report on the use and effectiveness of arbitration is laid in Parliament at least every three years. 

The News Media Association said: “We welcome the Commons’ clear decision to reject Leveson 2 and punitive costs sanctions and look forward to the early repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

“Yet another costly statutory inquiry into the news media inevitably would have demonised the entire press for the past failings of a few and led to more recommendations damaging for freedom of speech. The ICO’s increased powers will need to be carefully assessed and we will seek an early meeting with the Information Commissioner.  Together with IPSO and its compulsory arbitration scheme, these mean that newspapers – local, regional and national – are subject to greater accountability in the UK than in any other western democracy.”

In the debate, MPs spoke out against the Lords sending the amendment to the  Commons after a Leveson 2-style inquiry had been rejected by MPs just a week previously. Ping pong of the Bill will continue in the Lords on Monday.

Iain Duncan Smith MP said: “We passed ‚Äčthe Bill in the House and sent it to the other place, having chucked out the new clauses, and the single argument that was made by the noble Baroness was that we do not have enough of a majority, which is why it was justified in returning the Bill to the House. Does my right hon. Friend not think that that is a rather absurd argument to make?

John Redwood MP said: “I fully support what the Secretary of State is trying to do. Does he see a rather worrying undemocratic tendency in the other place—it does not like the result of referendums, the EU withdrawal Bill, which was a manifesto Bill, or this manifesto Bill, and now it wants to regulate the press because the press point out the errors of its ways?”

Matt Hancock said: “I support the Salisbury convention: if something is in the party of government’s manifesto and this House passes it, the other place should be very careful about sending it back. Indeed, the Salisbury convention says it should not. I hope that the vote of the House today is respected, because we will then have considered this question twice.

“We have made concessions, taking on board legitimate concerns, but ultimately the House will have decided its view, having considered the question twice, so I think my right hon. Friend asks an important question.”

Anne Main MP said: “Can the Minister confirm that the noble Baroness is factually wrong and that the House does have enough of a majority? It was passed in this House and it is not the business of the unelected Members of that House to tell the elected Members of this House whether they have done a good enough job.”

John Grogan MP said: “We should not look back in anger at all those frustrations, but plan a progressive media policy for the future and we should not subcontract that to a judge.”

Peter Heaton-Jones MP said: “The will of the House is settled and the other place should not throw the Bill back at us. We have made the decision and we just need to get the measure on the statute book.”