John Whittingdale admits having his faith in press freedom tested 'to the utmost' by private life revelations

Culture Secretary makes first appearance in Commons since newspapers revealed details of his affair with a dominatrix

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Thursday 21 April 2016 13:28 BST
Mr Whittingdale has faced calls to step aside from decisions about press
Mr Whittingdale has faced calls to step aside from decisions about press (Getty Images)

The Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has admitted that his faith in press freedom had been "tested to the utmost" by a string of embarrassing revelations about his private life.

In his first appearance in the House of Commons since a number of newspapers revealed details of his affair with a dominatrix said he still believe politicians needed to "tread very carefully" on press regulation.

Mr Whittingdale has faced calls to step aside from decisions about press regulation after it emerged he dated a sex worker and that four newspapers did not publish the story in 2014, deeming it not in the public interest.

Since then further revelations emerged about his relationship with former topless model Stephanie Hudson, who claimed the minister had breached security protocols while they were seeing each other. Those have all been widely reported by newspapers.

Addressing the issue during culture questions Mr Whittingdale said: "Having had my faith perhaps tested to the utmost I still believe that press freedom is a vitally important component of a free society and we should tread very carefully.

"However the recommendations of the Leveson report have, some, already been implemented and the system is coming in today.

"But the exemplary damages provisions of section 40, you will be aware, have been enacted now, the remainder are still under consideration but we do not yet have a recognised press regulator in place but we will continue to consider these matters very carefully."

The Shadow culture secretary Maria Eagle quipped that Mr Whittingdale has been "distracted" from his role by "extra-curricular activities".

"I'm starting to realise why this department is known as the ministry for fun," she said.

"We all know Mr Whittingdale's been distracted from doing his job as Culture Secretary lately by his extra-curricular activities.

"I'm talking about his moonlighting for the Leave Campaign."

She later raised laughs when she referred to a letter that had "fallen in to my lap".

Labour's Paul Farrelly criticised the Culture Secretary for "breaking promises" by failing to push forward with parts of press regulation reform, including cost provision for victims.

The Newcastle-under-Lyme MP said: "Can I thank you for taking us no further forward?

"Implementation of these cost incentives was promised by the then culture secretary Maria Miller, they were promised as a key part of the Leveson reforms specifically by the Prime Minister, not only to Parliament but also to the victims of press abuse, including the family of Madeleine McCann.

"So in signalling already that he has no intention of taking this step, have you reflected very much at all that it is not only thwarting the will of Parliament, breaching a cross-party agreement but also breaking very firm, clear and unequivocal promises made by the Prime Minister and his colleagues?"

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