'MPs are free to have affairs if they wish. After all, it seems to be the male ones that do it, and boys will be boys,' Sally Illman, from Bristol South, told the conference.
'But if those affairs conflict with their public image, carefully cultivated, of marital harmony, they really cannot complain when the press catch them in their boxer shorts. To censor such reporting would make our press no better than the French, which is scared of its own shadow. Surely we don't want that.'
She said recent press 'successes' included the exposure of Asil Nadir's alleged plot to bribe a judge and the reports on the Catholic bishop Eammon Casey, who used church funds to pay off the mother of his illegitimate child and buy her silence.
'All of these stories should be known in a mature democracy. None would have been published under a privacy law . . . To gag the press by cumbersome statute would be wrong, damaging to the press, insulting to readers' intelligence and harmful to democracy. It would be a foolish error of political judgement and we would pay a hefty price.'
Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, confirmed the Government was delaying its plans on privacy.
He said there would be a 'pause' before action, but the Government intended to impose a privacy law outlawing secret bugging, telephone-tapping and the invasion of privacy through long-range photography.