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McGregor dismisses calls for privacy law

SELF-REGULATION of the press is working, Lord McGregor of Durris, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, said yesterday as the Government announced another investigation into the need for a privacy law.

The commission was 'the conscience of British editors,' Lord McGregor said. 'I think editors are increasingly aware of the nature and context of the code of practice which they themselves drew up.'

Emphasising his opposition to a statutory right of privacy, he said: 'I think the commission have demonstrated that self-regulation is working, though of course there are always occasions when important stories occupy the headlines.'

Under a review announced yesterday by David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Sir David Calcutt QC, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, will investigate whether self-regulation should be modified or put on a statutory basis, and whether more measures are needed to deal with press intrusions into personal privacy.

Lord McGregor said every committee that had looked at the issue of a statutory right of privacy in the last 30 years, including the earlier investigation by Sir David which led to the creation of the commission, had decided it was undesirable in principle. He added: 'It would be wrong in practice because it would hand the issue of the proper relationship between private rights and the public interest to lawyers.

'That would mean the whole area would become subject to legal manipulation, playing the legal game. When legal games like that are played the procedure becomes very slow and very expensive. Only people like (the late) Robert Maxwell can afford actions like that.' When the commission was set up to replace the old Press Council, Mr Mellor, then at the Home Office, told newspapers they were 'drinking in the last chance saloon'.

The Government warned it would review self-regulation after the commission's first 18 months of operation.

Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian, who became a member yesterday, said Mr Mellor's announcement amounted to extending the industry's probation period.

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who chaired the Press Council, said: 'On the whole I don't see very much change in the behaviour of the press.'

In some ways they appeared to have been more careful, particularly during the election, but that was offset by 'bad cases' such as stories about the Princess of Wales and Paddy Ashdown.