MPs have narrowly voted against carrying out part two of the Leveson Inquiry while a decision by the Scottish National Party to abstain from voting on Section 40 cost penalty amendments to the Data Protection Bill has resulted in Labour not bringing it to a Parliamentary vote.
A fiery speech from former Labour leader Ed Miliband that carrying out part two of the Leveson Inquiry was a “question of morality” was not quite enough to win the vote on his proposed Clause 18 amendment to the data bill, but almost, with MPs voted 304 against to 295 in favour.
Miliband has since tweeted that he is “very disappointed for the victims of phone-hacking and press abuse” at losing the vote, adding: “The battle goes on to keep our promise to them to get the truth they deserve and protection for victims in the future.”
On the need for a second inquiry into the press, the Labour MP told the Commons today that “this is about a matter of honour about the promise we made” and that to break it would be “contemptible”.
He said: “How dare they to the McCanns, the Dowlers all those other victims, how can we be here?”
He added: “This is a question of morality, this is a question of the promises we made. Remember the furore about all these events? Remember how people looked at us?”
Miliband and other MPs referenced the conclusions of the Kerslake Report into the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing as an example that press culture had not changed, with intrusion into grief still happening years after the phone-hacking scandal that sparked the Leveson Inquiry.
The second part of Lord Justice Leveson’s review into the culture, media and practices of the press was halted while criminal proceedings were carried out against journalists and public officials.
Miliband quoted relatives of victims from the Kerslake Report, who said: “By far the worst thing was the press, they are a disgrace, they don’t take no for an answer, they have a lack of standards and ethics, the press were not respectful of grief.”
Said Miliband: “Now, it’s all very well people saying everything has changed, but I’m afraid to my mind that is proof that not enough has changed because the same intrusion into the lives of innocent people is carrying on.”
Hancock said he had asked to see “all the evidence that fed into [the Kerslake Report]” but had yet to receive “specific allegations” against newspaper journalists.
Families of the Manchester Arena bombing victims who spoke of press intrusion in the aftermath of the terror attack have been urged to make official complaints to press regulators after only one complaint was filed with the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
On the proposal to hold Leveson Two, Hancock told MPs: “Even on its own terms this amendment does not deliver Leveson Two as envisaged.
“It focuses on data protection breaches and not the broad question of the future of the press, so even for those who want to vote for Leveson Two this clause is not your clause.
“I want to divert our attention and our resources to tackling the problems of today and rising to those problems and making sure that we have a press that is free and fair.”
He added: “The choice is not between doing something and doing nothing, it’s a choice between doing something or doing something better.
“And the amendment before us today calls on us to go into a backward looking inquiry when what we need to do is to allow the press to rise to face the challenges of today.”
Commenting on the defeat, Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: “The Tories’ shameless capitulation to press barons leaves the victims of phone hacking ever further from reaching the truth.
“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.”
Labour’s Watson and Liam Byrne had also used the Data Protection Bill, which brings UK law in line with Europe under the General Data Protection Regulation, to try and force newspapers not signed up to a Royal Charter regulator to pay both sides’ legal costs in data disputes, win or lose.
The amendment mirrored earlier attempts to enforce cost penalties on news publishers under Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
But a vote on the proposed amendment was abandoned amid fears Labour would lose after the SNP announced they would abstain from voting.
In standing up for press freedom, Hancock said the issue was now one of finding a sustainable business model for the UK press in the face of digital disruption from the likes of Facebook and Google.
He said: “The internet has fundamentally undermined the business model of our printed press. Today’s core challenge is how to ensure a sustainable future for high-quality journalism that can hold the powerful to account and the rise of clickbait and disinformation and fake news is putting our whole democratic discourse at risk.
“This is an urgent problem. It is shaking the foundations of democracies worldwide and liberal democracies like Britain cannot survive without the Fourth Estate and the Fourth Estate is under threat like never before.
“These clauses would exacerbate this threat and undermine the work we are doing through the Cairncross Review [into press sustainability] and elsewhere to support sustainable journalism and the terms of reference of part two [of the Leveson Inquiry] have already been met.
“The culture that allowed phone hacking to become the norm has changed fundamentally and must stay that way.”
Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale also spoke on behalf of press freedom, telling MPs Section 40 measures to punish newspapers were not being used as intended when first established.
He said: “All of us were shocked by the revelation of phone hacking, and we were determined that action should be taken to prevent anything like that happening again but in the ten years that have passed since that time a lot has changed.
“The News of the World closed down as a result of the revelations. There were prosecutions, ten journalists were convicted for illegal practices although it is also worth bearing in mind that 57 were cleared. We obviously had the Leveson Inquiry, even if it did not complete all that it wanted to do because of the ongoing criminal cases it still took over a year and cost £49m.
“It produced a swathe of recommendations, although the Royal Charter was not actually one of those… But since that time two major changes have taken place, the first is that when the Royal Charter was designed and the [Press] Recognition Panel was established, I don’t think anybody in Parliament ever expected that not a single newspaper – certainly no national newspaper and virtually no local newspaper – would be willing to sign up to a regulator that applied for recognition under the Royal Charter.
“This is not just the usual whipping boys of the News International papers, the Mail, the Mirror, the FT refused, the Guardian refused, the Independent refused, all the local newspapers refused and while I have met the publications that have agreed to join Impress they are micro publishers.
“No major publisher was willing to go along with the Royal Charter and therefore when we invented the idea of sanctions originally it was with the view that one newspaper or perhaps two might stand out against the rest.
“It was never intended that we should bring in a sanction that would punish in what seems an incredibly unjust way every single publisher because their refusal to join is on a matter of principle, and we must respect that.
“What did happened was they did create a new regulator called IPSO [the Independent Press Standards Organisation]. IPSO has steadily evolved, to begin with it was in some ways deficient…
“However, IPSO has now made a number of changes including the establishment of an arbitration scheme which is compulsory for those members that sign up to it.
“Those outside it are the local newspapers, and it is against the local newspapers against which virtually no complaint has ever been made and which are facing the greatest peril in terms of the economic situation that currently exists for newspapers…
“I would challenge those who criticise IPSO to say where IPSO now fails to meet the requirements under the Royal Charter, I have been through the Royal Charter, there are perhaps three tiny sections where you could perhaps say that the wordings of the IPSO code are not precisely in line with those of the Royal Charter.
“However those are incredibly minor, they make no substantial difference whatever. The reason that IPSO has not applied for recognition under the Royal Charter is not because it does not comply, but because there is an objection in principle on the part of every single newspaper to a Government-imposed system which this represents…
“The economics are steadily moving against newspapers and that is a real threat to democracy because it is newspapers that employ journalists that cover proceedings in courts, in council chambers indeed in this place and the big media giants who now have the power and the influence, people like Google and Facebook and Twitter, do not employ a single journalist…”
He said of the Government’s Cairncross Review into the sustainability of the press that it was “looking forward”, adding: “That is where this house should be concentrating, not looking backwards to go over again the events of now over ten years ago and where the world has changed almost beyond recognition.”
He added: “What we do in this debate is watched around the world, this country is seen as a bastion of freedom and liberty and a free press is an absolutely essential component of that.
“I would just say to those proposing these amendments, don’t just listen to the newspaper industry who are united against this, including the Guardian despite the efforts of the Labour front bench to somehow exclude them… campaigning organisations that are fighting oppression of the press around the world say that for this house to bring in this kind of measure sends a terrible signal to those who believe in a free press.”
Picture: Parliament Live TV