MPs today rejected attempts to ensure that costs are awarded against newspaper and media organisations in phone-hacking cases as part of proposed new surveillance powers.
Security Minister Ben Wallace warned the Commons that the Investigatory Powers Bill risked being “jeopardised” by an amendment backed by peers.
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He insisted the peers had chosen the “wrong Bill at the wrong time” to try to introduce a key part of the Leveson inquiry report offering “protection” over costs for victims of press intrusion.
The Government moved a motion to disagree with the amendment made in the Lords, which was backed by 298 votes to 261 – majority 37 – in a vote among MPs.
The Bill gives a range of new powers to access data and internet communications to police and security services.
Earlier today, the Government announced a 10-week consultation which includes examining whether to implement legislation which would force newspapers to pay all of the costs of libel or privacy actions brought against them – even if they win their case.
The consultation will also address whether or not the second part of the Leveson Inquiry should be held, looking into phone-hacking and the relationship between journalists and the police.
The costs penalties would not apply to publications which sign up to a Royal Charter-backed press regulator.
The News Media Association said in a statement: “The NMA welcomes the decisive vote by MPs today to stand up for a free press and strike out the Lords’ amendment to the Investigatory Powers Bill.
“It would have imposed punitive costs sanctions against newspapers through the back door and would have had a crippling effect on the local press.
“The Leveson Report called for effective self-regulation of the press, not statutory regulation.
“We hope the consultation on press regulation announced by the Culture Secretary will demonstrate that IPSO offers just that and why Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act should be repealed.”