Brown rules out press complaint

Labour dilemmas: Party turmoil over leadership in Wales and London, as row over media outing continues
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TONY BLAIR rejected demands for a privacy law yesterday amid criticism that Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, was forced to declare he was gay to head off newspaper revelations about his private life.

Cabinet ministers led by John Prescott launched a strong attack on the News of the World for forcing Mr Brown to disclose his sexuality by threatening to publish allegations from a former partner about their relationship.

Mr Brown sought to draw a line under the affair by deciding not to ask the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to investigate the newspaper's actions. "He's determined to get on with the job that the Prime Minister has entrusted him to do and has no intention of making a complaint about the press coverage or of commenting further on his private life," said a spokesman. But friends of the minister were furious about a claim in The Sun yesterday that it had a tape-recording of a conversation between him and a rent boy.

Mr Brown told Downing Street that a man claiming to be a friend of his former partner telephoned him several times during last year's general election campaign, saying the press had found out about the relationship, which had already ended. Mr Brown suspected the calls were being taped and were an attempt to get him talking about the relationship so his former partner could sell his story to a newspaper.

Renewed calls for legislation to prevent press intrusion into people's private lives were led by Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who criticised the PCC for not intervening to stop the News of the World pressurising Mr Brown. Although he said it would be better to avoid a privacy law, Mr Soley warned that one was "beginning to look inevitable" because of the behaviour of the press.

He urged the PCC to make its voluntary code work by challenging editors to justify what they were doing, or to "be honest, rip up the code and say it doesn't work". He added: "At the moment, sex sells newspapers and if it means breaching the code, they will breach the code."

Mr Prescott accused the press of acting as "judge, jury and executioner" over Mr Brown and said the intrusion into his private life was "quite unacceptable". He said the PCC should consider the matter.

Downing Street insisted that the Government's view on privacy issues has not changed. "We favour the self-regulatory approach," said Mr Blair's official spokesman, adding that he welcomed the generally sympathetic coverage of Mr Brown in yesterday's newspapers.

"You do see a reflection of what is now a greater public understanding of the difference between private lives and public office," he said.

On a visit to Devon yesterday, Mr Brown thanked cabinet and party colleagues for their "very kind" comments since he made his statement at the weekend. "I am very moved and touched by their support."

Lord Wakeham, the PCC chairman, offered to launch an investigation but said he could do so only if Mr Brown requested it. Allies of the minister said this was unlikely. Lord Wakeham said later there was no reason cabinet ministers should respond to The Sun's call yesterday for them to "come out" if they were gay.

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