Plans for a second public inquiry into the conduct of the press – promised at the height of the hacking scandal – have been abandoned by the Government.
“We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward,” the Commons was told.
David Cameron committed the Coalition government to a second inquiry into the press at the time of Lord Justice Leveson’s first report, in November 2012.
The Conservatives signalled, in their general election manifesto last year, that part two would be scrapped “given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson inquiry”.
But the decision was condemned by Tom Watson, Mr Hancock’s Labour opponent, who said the Government had been waiting for an opportunity to “break their promises”.
“This announcement, conveniently timed to be buried under a flurry of snow, is a disappointment, a breach of trust and a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion,” Mr Watson said.
“They didn’t really mean it – they were waiting for the wind to change, for the fuss to die down.”
In his statement, Mr Hancock also confirmed that the Government will not put Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act into effect and will seek repeal “at the earliest opportunity”.
The controversial measure would have forced media organisations to pay legal costs of libel cases whether they won or lost, unless they signed up to an approved media regulator.
Mr Hancock acknowledged that the original Leveson report had exposed “far too many cases of terrible behaviour” – but argued that there had since been “significant changes to police practice and press regulation”.
Ipso, the new body set up by the major newspaper groups – but not approved under the Royal Charter – now regulates “95 per cent of national newspapers” and has taken “significant steps to demonstrate independence”.
It has dealt with more than 40,000 complaints, set up a low-cost system and forced “multiple front page corrections and clarifications”.
The minister said his decision was backed by Lord Leveson, telling MPs: “Sir Brian agrees that the inquiry should not proceed on the current forms of reference.”
But Labour MP Chris Bryant protested that the original Leveson probe had been barred, by legal cases, from investigating “the collusion of the Metropolitan Police and the press”.
“We should no longer be cowed by press barons – we should be able to do what is right by society,” he said.
But Mr Hancock insisted “the world has changed since 2011”, arguing collusion had been “looked into by the police with three investigations, with over 40 convictions since.”
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