Tories reveal their opposition to press regulation by law
Theresa May and Michael Gove both warn Lord Justice Leveson that any plan for statutory control would damage British society
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Wednesday 30 May 2012
David Cameron's Cabinet may already be on a collision course with the Leveson Inquiry even before its recommendations have been published.
With Lord Justice Leveson hinting that a "statutory" framework will be a key part of his report's recommendations when it appears later this year, the first two members of the Cabinet to give evidence to the inquiry both openly challenged the idea of any laws to control the press.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said legal control would "encroach on freedom" and lead to what she called "unintended consequences". She warned against "state interference" in newspapers through a statutory body, and said that although there was "growing concern" that the Press Complaints Commission was failing to do its job, press freedom was essential for democracy.
The Education Secretary Michael Gove echoed Mrs May's comments, saying he was "unashamedly on the side of those who say we should think carefully about regulation". And he said he believed "existing laws" needed to be better used, adding that "the case for regulation needs to be made very strongly before we further curtail liberty."
Mrs May's views will be crucial if the recommendations in the coming Leveson report are to be adopted in full by the Government. The Home Secretary will be part of the small team of ministers and advisers who will sit in judgement on the report's findings.
The views from the two secretaries of state are the first indication that, although Downing Street ordered the Leveson Inquiry last July during the crisis caused by the revelations surrounding the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, that crisis has since eased politically, if not legally.
Mr Gove's testimony also included an impassioned defence of Rupert Murdoch, the Education Secretary's former employer, whom he lauded as "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".
The News Corporation chairman, who was dismissed as "not a fit person" to run an international company by a House of Commons select committee, was heralded by Mr Gove as a "force of nature, a phenomenon, a great man".
In her appearance, Mrs May was questioned about how worried the Government had become when it emerged last July that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked. Political briefings notes prepared by the Home Office now make it clear that alarm bells were ringing inside the Government.
The notes showed concern that the Prime Minister's hiring of the former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his communications director, would once again cause severe embarrassment. In one briefing for the Home Secretary, the advice states: "The key political question is about Coulson, surely."
Although hacking's illegality and Mr Coulson's resignation from the NOTW had been a dormant political issue since 2007, Mrs May said phone hacking only came across her "radar" in September 2010 when The New York Times published an article showing new evidence from new sources.
The US article should have raised alarm across the Conservative administration. However, Mrs May said, she had not read the piece herself. "I saw reports of it," she told the inquiry, "but I didn't read the whole piece."
* Lord Justice Leveson yesterday took the unusual step of referring the protester who burst into his public inquiry to shout at Tony Blair to the director of public prosecutions.
David Lawley-Wakelin, 49, was released without charge by police following his arrest inside the inquiry chamber. However the judge has now intervened to ask prosecutors and Scotland Yard to investigate the matter. He said they would decide "the way in which the matter can be dealt with appropriately".
Gove: Firms may profit from free schools
Michael Gove yesterday gave an indication that the Government's new free schools may be allowed to make a profit for companies which invest in them.
In his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Gove ruled out a change before 2015 because of objections from the Liberal Democrats.
But he added that profit-making plans could come into play if the Conservatives were voted in for a second term.
The NUT's deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said, "The NUT has been clear all along that the free schools policy was driven by the expectation of profits for those proprietors setting such schools up," he said.
In Sweden, where Mr Gove's idea originated, critics say that, while free schools began as initiatives by parents and faith groups, these groups were rapidly dwarfed by profit-making enterprises.
A number of these companies have been accused of putting profits before pupils.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...