Comet country MPs give mix response over new press watchdog

MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Peter Lilley

MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Peter Lilley - Credit: Archant

COMET country MPs have spoken out following an agreement between the three main political parties on a new regulatory regime for the press.

Stephen McPartland

Stephen McPartland - Credit: Archant

A debate in the House of Commons was held on Monday where it was agreed a regulator will be established by Royal Charter – not by a statute passed by Parliament.

A royal charter is a formal document granted by the Queen.

The move comes following the Leveson Inquiry, launched last year to look into journalism practices and ethics after allegations of illegal phone hacking at the News of the World.

Hitchin MP Peter Lilley who was featured on the front of The Sun this week, told the Comet: “The Prime Minister managed to avoid full-blooded state regulations of the press. I am still worried that the deal forced on him by Milliband and Clegg will damage the freedom of the press. It is a huge step and something I would describe as a mini Ministry of Truth.”

The new press watchdog will have the power to impose £1m fines on papers and other publications. It would also be able to make publications issue corrections and apologies. And for the first time, the internet will also be affected by the regulation.

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said: “No matter how much we dislike the behaviour of a small core of irresponsible journalists acting illegally, we must recognise that most journalists are doing a difficult job that is highly valued.

Most Read

“Local newspapers are a central part of our local community spirit and carry more good news stories than all the national newspapers put together. Unfortunately, it is these local newspapers who will suffer most as they do not have the resources to fight lots of legal challenges, which some special interest groups will mount, simply to silence local newspapers standing up for their communities.”

Mr McPartland added some action was needed, as the Press Complaints Commission had become discredited and the Royal Charter would help develop a more robust watchdog.

But he said: “I will not support it if it tries to remove our right to free speech.”

MP for North East Herts Oliver Heald said: “The Royal Charter compromise reached on regulation of the press should ensure effective self-regulation as proposed by Leveson, without crossing the line of a state regulator with the danger of censorship.”

And Mid-Beds MP Dorries said: “I think the vast majority of my constituents support restrictions on the worst excesses of the press as outlined in the proposals from Lord Leveson. The cross party consensus revealed on Monday night shows that it is now up to serial offenders to show that they have truly cleaned up their act.”

MP for North East Bedfordshire Alistair Burt said: “I welcome the agreement on the Press. The balance seems to be right between freedom and responsibility. I think the public are tired of excuses for irrelevant scandal by the national press and astonished by phone tapping as a way of life. Time to move on.”