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Peers resurrect Leveson Two for second vote as houses clash over press inquiry

Peers have put themselves on a collision course with the Commons after backing the resurrection of the Leveson Inquiry.

The major government defeat comes after MPs narrowly rejected a similar move by nine votes last week.

Defying the elected House, the Lords backed by 252 votes to 213 (a majority of 39) a demand for a further investigation into the relationship between the media and police.

The Government has said it will seek to overturn the decision, paving the way for a legislative tussle between the two houses, known as parliamentary ping-pong.

It will also further fuel tensions between Downing Street and the Lords after peers inflicted a series of defeats on the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation.

The Commons had voted down an attempt by ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband to amend the Data Protection Bill requiring an inquiry into press standards.

But the proposal was revived in a similar amendment to the same Bill in the House of Lords by Baroness Hollins, whose family was the victim of press intrusion.

The independent crossbencher argued the need for an investigation into press ethics “continues to grow”.

She said “adjustments” had been made to the amendment to meet previous concerns raised, including excluding the local and regional press from the remit of the probe.

Arguing the case for a second inquiry, Lady Hollins told the Lords: “It’s an inquiry into criminality, corruption and abuse. In any other industry, the press would be demanding an inquiry and yet their opposition is uniform.”

Lady Hollins added: “The promises to the victims of press abuse still hold. This Government is breaking those promises.

“What is the role of this House if not to ensure that the Government acts with honour and integrity and is held to its word.”

Former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake, who led the review into the Manchester Arena bomb attack, backed the move, saying a minority of journalists had behaved very badly towards vulnerable families after the attack.

“People talked about being hounded and bombarded and having to force their way through scrums of reporters at hospitals who wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he said.

Journalist and former Downing Street policy adviser Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice, opposing the move, warned about the impact on investigative journalism and cautioned peers against exacting “revenge”.

Film director and Labour peer Lord Puttnam said he was “the proud son” of a journalist and “would die in a ditch to protect a responsible and fearless free press”.

But he added: “Society cannot afford the luxury of entirely unconstrained freedoms, not in the law, not in the church, not in the financial sector, not in social media, not even in the press.”

Supporting the inquiry, he said: “I have not the slightest doubt that such a review would reveal extensive and entirely improper sets of relationships between the press, politicians and the police – with the very real possibility that significant cases of actual obstruction of justice would come to light.”

Former TV chief and Tory peer Lord Grade of Yarmouth said: “I suspect what lies behind this amendment is yet another attempt to exercise some statutory controls or levers over our free media.”

He added: “I see no public interest whatsoever in this amendment. I’m certain there are more important matters for us to spend the public’s money on.”

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a Labour former Cabinet minister, argued the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which replaced the now defunct Press Complaints Commission, had not solved the problems in the media.

He said: “It would be a disgrace if we did not go on with it and it would be a betrayal of the victims.”

For the Opposition, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said the inquiry would “ensure transparency and draw a line under this whole sorry chapter”.

Backing the amendment, he said Parliament should honour its promises as it was clear that “egregious behaviour” by the press was still happening.

But Lord Keen, responding for the Government, said a further inquiry was neither necessary nor proportionate.

He said the time had come for the Lords to acknowledge that the Commons had spoken on the issue.

Speaking outside the chamber, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who watched the debate, said: “I’m disappointed that the House of Lords have again voted against press freedoms.

“In the Commons, we proposed forward looking action to ensure a free, fair and responsible press. The Lords’ amendment is unnecessary and we will seek to overturn it.”

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