David Cameron has told MPs he has "serious misgivings" about Lord Justice Leveson's recommendation for independent self regulation of the press underpinned by law.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon, the prime minister said he did not believe new laws were needed to achieve Leveson's objectives.
"We would have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land, we should be wary of legislation that has potential to infringe free speech and a free press," Cameron said.
However the coalition is split on the issue, with Nick Clegg backing the legal underpinning of press regulation.
And in a highly unusual piece of parliamentary theatre the deputy prime minister was permitted to give his own statement on the Leveson report from the Despatch Box.
He told MPs: "Changing the law is the only way to give us assurances the new regulator isn’t just independent for a few months or years but is independent for good."
"This is not, and can not be characterized as, statutory regulation of the press," he insisted. "It is not illiberal state regulation. I'm a liberal, I don’t make laws for the sake of it."
"A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families."
However Cameron disagreed, telling the Commons: "I would worry you have a piece of law that really is a piece of press regulatory law, that is an enourmous step for us in this House of Commons to take."
"The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press."
In his report Leveson said a new law was "essential" to underpin a new regulatory body. However Cameron told MPs that he was "not convinced" at this stage that statute was necessary to achieve Leveson’s objectives.
Leveson has proposed a new, independent, self-regulatory body underpinned by statute, which he insisted had to be "governed by an independent board".
"The chair and the members of the board must be appointed in a genuinely open, transparent and independent way," Leveson said.
The powers he recommends are that fines can be 1% of turnover, with a maximum of £1m and it must be given access to newsrooms to investigate wrongdoing.
Ed Miliband said Labour "unequivocally endorses" Leveson's proposal that any new regulatory body should be set out in statute.
"The press must be able to hold the powerful, especially politicians, to account, without fear or favour," he said. "That is part of the character of our country."
"At the same time I do not want to live in a country where innocent families like the McCanns and the Dowlers can see their lives torn apart simply for the sake of profit.
Cameron also welcomed Leveson's finding that former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was not guilty of bias while overseeing News International's attempted takeover of BSkyB.
The prime minister, with Hunt sat nearby, told MPs that the now health secretary had "endured a stream of allegations with great dignity" and that he was "right to stand by him".
He also called on Gordon Brown to withdraw the allegation that the Tories had struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch before the general election, an accusation he said Leveson had "emphatically rejected".
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