Max Mosley's friend in the Lords plots a Leveson law by the back door
- Lord Skidelsky has been condemned for hijacking a key Government Bill
- He is keen supporter of Lord Justice Leveson’s plans for Press regulation
- He has tabled amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
A close friend of Max Mosley, a leading campaigner for draconian controls on the Press, is behind a new attempt to introduce a Leveson law by the back door.
Lord Skidelsky, a keen supporter of Lord Justice Leveson’s plans for state-backed regulation of the Press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, was condemned last night for hijacking a key Government Bill on the economy.
In an attempt to force the Government’s hand, he has tabled a series of amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which aims to free businesses from red tape to boost the recovery.
Friendship: Lord Skidelsky, right, was condemned last night for hijacking a key Government Bill on the economy. His friend Max Mosley is pictured left
But critics warned that his move could derail the Bill.
Lord Skidelsky, a former member of the Labour Party who defected to the SDP and then the Conservatives before sitting as a crossbencher, is an Oxford contemporary and personal friend of Mr Mosley, the disgraced former motor racing boss who sued over sex revelations and has been intimately involved in drawing up proposals for Press regulation.
The peer wrote a controversial biography of Mr Mosley’s father Oswald Mosley, the former Labour Cabinet minister who later formed the British Union of Fascists, in which he described him as a ‘hero’.
In an interview in 2009, Lord Skidelsky said he still saw Mr Mosley, then clinging to his job as head of Formula 1 after tabloid revelations about his sexual antics.
He told the Financial Times of his ‘calf-like’ love for Max’s mother and his fascination with Oswald, a ‘brilliant, charismatic man’.
His 1975 biography of Oswald cost him his tenure at Johns Hopkins University in the US and at Oxford University and he said in 2009 that he now viewed his obsession with the fascist leader as a ‘false trail’.
Max Mosley was one of the key witnesses at the Leveson inquiry and his evidence was influential in the drawing up of Lord Justice Leveson’s report.
Inquiry: Max Mosley was one of the key witnesses at the Leveson inquiry and his evidence was influential in the drawing up of Lord Justice Leveson's report. Lord Justice Leveson is pictured
It was Mr Mosley who advocated a clear distinction between the bodies that write and enforce the rules on Press regulation.
He gave evidence to the inquiry having successfully sued the News of the World for invasion of privacy in 2008 after it ran a sexual exposé on him, which wrongly suggested that consensual S&M scenes seen on video footage had a neo-Nazi connotation.
Lord Skidelsky’s amendments to the Government’s red tape Bill would implement the key demands of pressure group Hacked Off, which is still campaigning for a Press law despite David Cameron’s rejection of the idea.
They would require the top 20 publishers in Britain to be subject to a new Press watchdog tasked with ensuring ‘ethical, accurate and truthful’ reporting. If any of the top 20 fail to join it would immediately trigger legislation to force them to become members.
It would also require newspapers to carry forced apologies and give the regulator power to intervene to ensure stories comply with equalities legislation.
And in a move that would be welcomed by embarrassed politicians, the regulator would have to protect the ‘privacy and dignity of individuals’. Lord Skidelsky’s proposals have been drafted with the assistance of Hugh Tomlinson QC, chairman of Hacked Off.
The move comes after Labour mounted a separate attempt to try to establish a Leveson law by the back door by adding amendments to a long-awaited Defamation Bill.
Not happy: Labour mounted a separate attempt to try to establish a Leveson law by the back door by adding amendments to a long-awaited Defamation Bill. That was condemned by Stephen Fry, pictured
That move was condemned earlier this week by leading writers including Ian McEwan, Antonia Fraser, Salman Rushdie, David Hare, Stephen Fry, Michael Frayn, Ali Smith, Tom Stoppard, and Claire Tomalin, who said important reforms to libel law should not be jeopardised.
Government sources say Mr Cameron will not allow the legislation, aimed at addressing London’s reputation as the libel capital of the world, to proceed while it includes provision for statutory regulation of the free Press.
The Prime Minister proposes underpinning a new Press watchdog with a Royal Charter, along the lines of the one that backs the BBC, rather than legislation which could be amended by future governments.
A Conservative source said: ‘We are in difficult economic times and the last thing we need is the Labour Party constantly playing politics with legislation of the Press and damaging important Government Bills.
‘They saw what happened to the Defamation Bill and they can be in no doubt as to our response to the Skidelsky amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. We are very close to agreement on a Conservative Party Royal Charter deal and this is unnecessary game playing.’
Eminent QC Lord Lester, the architect of the Defamation Bill, said: ‘You don’t hold legislation hostage like this on something which has nothing to do with the Bill.’
Professor Brian Cathcart, executive director of Hacked Off, said: ‘We now have to face the prospect that talks to improve the Royal Charter and remedy its many faults are likely to fail.
‘The Charter as published falls far short of a regulatory system that is sufficiently independent of the newspaper industry or the Government.
‘If the Government cannot abide by the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson, the victims of Press abuses for whom we speak believe that the will of Parliament should be heard.
‘Hacked Off agrees that it is prudent for the Lords to be ready with a plan for Press self-regulation which complies with the independent recommendations of the judge.’
Lord Skidelsky was not available for comment.
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