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It's Been Over 1,300 Days Since All Parties Agreed To Implement Leveson - Why Is The Government Delaying Again?

01/11/2016 16:41 | Updated 01 November 2016
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In 2011, Lord Justice Leveson began his inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British Press, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. It's been over 1324 days since all parties agreed to implement his recommendations in full.

David Cameron summed up what that inquiry was meant to achieve on June 14th 2012 when he said:

"I will never forget meeting with the Dowler family in Downing Street to run through the terms of this Inquiry with them and to hear what they had been through and how it had redoubled, trebled the pain and agony they'd been through over losing Milly. I'll never forget that, and that's the test of all this. "It's not 'do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get?' It's 'are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process?' That's what the test is..."

He reassured victims that if they spoke out at Leveson, the government would act on his recommendations.

And yet, today Secretary of State Karen Bradley announced that the Government is delaying the implementation of Leveson's recommendations yet again.

And she cast doubt on whether the second part of the Leveson Inquiry will take place.

She told us that we must wait another ten weeks while these issues are discussed all over again in the context of a wider consultation on the press.

As I told the house today, these reforms have been discussed and debated enough. They should have been implemented years ago. The victims of press intrusion cannot wait a day longer for this Government to honour its promises.

It is over five years since David Cameron stood at the despatch box and announced the Leveson inquiry would begin.

Yes, a lot has happened since then. We've had the Hillsborough Inquiry and its findings on misleading police statements to government officials and subsequently newspapers.

We've had the case of Mazher Mahmood, the fake sheikh who perverted the course of justice to secure his 'scoops' and left scores of previous convictions unsafe.

We've had senior officers like John Yates having to resign over phone hacking.

We've had more information emerge about the brutal murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who was threatening to reveal police corruption to the press.

The Secretary of State tried to claim today that this litany of criminality means we've learned enough about corruption to halt Leveson Two before it starts. I think that's an impossible conclusion. I think this makes Leveson Two more urgent, not less.

The second part of the inquiry was meant to look at the relationship existing between newspapers and police. One of its terms of reference is:

"To inquire into the extent of the corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to any failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International."

In other words, it's the investigation into how the cover-up of phone hacking was conducted.

So in effect, what the government did today was announce a consultation on whether the cover-up should be covered up.

If I wasn't so appalled, I'd be impressed at their sheer nerve.

Let's remind ourselves why Leveson was established. It was to allow an independent inquiry to draw conclusions free from vested interests and political interference.

And let's remind ourselves what the Secretary of State said in committee last week:

"I expect to see robust regulation of the press, but it has been made very clear to me by a number of editors and others that they would not consider applying for recognition under the Press Recognition Panel."

Leveson was supposed to stop Ministers being put under that exactly kind of pressure by newspaper editors. And yet, as we heard today, the Culture Secretary is abandoning that principle. She's taking back the power from an independent judge. In so doing, she's opened up the executive to accusations that they have succumbed to the vested interests of media barons.

It's an age old story.

So, today I demanded answers to the following questions.

Firstly, did the Prime Minister discuss the Leveson process at her private meeting with Rupert Murdoch in New York in September?

Secondly, when she spoke to Lord Leveson, did he approve of this hurried consultation? Does he agree with her analysis? Will she allow him to make a public statement?

Finally, has she spoken to the parents of Millie Dowler and to other victims of press intrusion? What is their view of these proposals? Do they think it passes the Government's test? Are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves?

Right now, I'm still waiting for some answers.

Tom Watson is the deputy leader of the Labour Party, and MP for West Bromwich East

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