Midland MPs warn over harm to the regional Press

MPs in the West Midlands today urged the Government to bear in mind regional newspapers before deciding whether to bring in legislation to regulate the Press.

Lord Justice Leveson delivers his findings
Lord Justice Leveson delivers his findings

MPs in the West Midlands today urged the Government to bear in mind regional newspapers before deciding whether to bring in legislation to regulate the Press.

Lord Justice Leveson has recommended setting up an independent body, backed by law, to govern the Press and handle complaints.

The as-yet unnamed organisation would have no representatives of the newspaper industry on it and would be able to impose fines of up to £1 million and demand front page apologies.

Newspapers would be able to opt out of being regulated by the organisation,but those that do would be at risk of paying significant damages if people who complain about breaches of privacy or other matters have to seek redress in the courts.

If the proposals are adopted by Parliament it will be the first time in more than 300 years that newspapers have been regulated by law.

Scroll down for political editor Daniel Wainwright's eyewitness report on the Leveson announcement

David Cameron said he was concerned the recommendations could impact on freedom of speech.

He said: “The danger is this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or in the future to impose regulations on the press.

“I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Leveson’s intentions.”

It puts the Conservative Prime Minister on a collision course with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and with the Labour opposition, both of whom back implementing new laws.

Lord Leveson acknowledged that regional newspapers were not involved in phone hacking and praised the role they play in society.

But his proposals will have consequences for regional reporters because the judge recommends that senior police officers should keep notes on all their meetings with the media and that press officers should accompany them when they discuss policy or organisation matters.

West Midland MPs were today divided on whether the proposals should be accepted but warned against penalising the regional Press, which had nothing to do with phone hacking or paying the police for stories.

West Bromwich Labour MP Tom Watson, who worked to bring the phone hacking scandal involving News International out into the open, has also urged the Government not to allow regional newspapers to suffer.

“Leveson gives a road map and I hope the leaders of all three parties will be able to use it to finally act.

“The test is whether the new arrangements prevent a newsroom culture which has allowed journalists to think it is OK to hack the phone of an abducted teenage girl.”

Gavin Williamson, Conservative MP for South Staffordshire, said: “I think the Prime Minister has taken the right stance in making it clear that the freedoms of the Press are something we need to fight as hard as we can for. We need to have a sensible dialogue to ensure that the good work done by many newspapers in investigative journalism is not washed away by legislation.

“We should be able to take the best bits of Lord Leveson’s report in order to ensure that people like the families of Milly Dowler do not have to go through what they did ever again.”

Dudley North Labour MP Ian Austin said: “Everyone in London and the national media seem to be obsessed with how it is going to affect the national Press. Many more people read or log onto regional newspapers and there have been no complaints about them. I think it is really important nothing is done to undermine the exemplary practices of papers like the Express & Star.”

Conservative Margot James, who represents Stourbridge, said: “I’m against any form of regulation of the Press. There’s a lot of excellent work in the Leveson Report and the changes it recommends can be brought in without Parliamentary underpinning.”

Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said: “I am optimistic there can be a cross party agreement on the best way to move forward with the regulation of the Press.”

But Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North East and a Labour shadow minister, said newspapers would have nothing to fear. She said: “To have an independent system with teeth there needs to be a statutory underpinning. There is statutory regulation for lawyers and the General Medical Council and MPs do not interfere with the roles of solicitors or doctors.”

Daniel Wainwright on Leveson