Press curbs gain Commons backing

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NEWSPAPER owners and editors were warned yesterday to take their 'heads out of the sand' by the sponsor of a backbench Bill granting a right to a correction. The Bill was given a Commons Second Reading by 119 votes to 15.

The Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, introduced by Clive Soley, Labour MP for Hammersmith, would require newspapers to present news 'with due accuracy and impartiality'.

But its most controversial provision, in the eyes of some editors, is to establish an Independent Press Authority with power to force newspapers to print corrections of factual inaccuracies.

Robert Key, Under-Secretary for National Heritage, said the Bill was 'premature and misconceived'. The measure will be considered in committee , but will not be allowed to pass into law.

Ministers are consulting on Sir David Calcutt's recommendations following his critical review of press self-regulation. But Mr Key said the Government would be extremely reluctant to adopt the statutory complaints tribunal proposed by Sir David to replace the Press Complaints Commission.

Mr Soley offered to amend the Bill to incorporate press freedom provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights.

John Major said that he would not support Mr Soley's Bill despite two magazines detailing rumours about his private life.

New Statesman and Society asked the Press Complaints Commission to investigate coverage of the 'Major smear' over the past two years. But the chairman, Lord Macgregor, rejected the request: 'The Commission was established to take complaints against newspapers and periodicals, not from them. It is also precluded from considering matters which are the subject of litigation.'

The magazine faces libel writs from Mr Major and Clare Latimer over an article about rumours over the Prime Minister's private life.