Leveson: Miller Backs PM Over Political Fallout

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has insisted the "principles" of Lord Justice Leveson's proposals to reform the press can be met without statutory backing.

She dismissed the question of new press laws - which has put David Cameron on a collision course with his coalition partners, the opposition and victims of press intrusion after indicating he will spike recommendations for a new independent regulatory body, backed by legislation.

Ms Miller said the Coalition was drafting new legislation to prove why the Prime Minister has "grave misgivings" about the idea and how it could curb "freedom of speech".

Echoing Mr Cameron's concerns, she told Sky News: "I feel very strongly you should have grave concerns about putting in place a piece of legislation which could have the effect in the long term of really bringing into question the ability to maintain freedom of speech in this country.

"But also on a practical level, we don't think it is necessary to have that statutory underpinning to achieve the objectives which we all agree on, which is to have strong, tough, independent self-regulation which is something that we need in this country to address the problems we have experienced in recent years."

Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of The Sun, also warned such a move would be "the first step down the road to state intervention in the operation of newspapers".

"I think what the Prime Minister is doing is trying to safeguard freedom of the press. It is a hard won, hard fought for right and a freedom which dates back 300 years," he told Sky News.

"I think where we agree with Lord Justice Leveson is that the abuses and the practices in the past simply cannot continue. We accept virtually everything that he has recommended in terms of putting our house in order, short of making it a law of the land. I think we as journalists would be making a grave mistake if we sacrificed freedom of the press in any way, shape or form."

But Gerry McCann, father of missing Madeleine McCann, said legal backing for any new system was the "minimum acceptable compromise for me and for many other victims" and urged Mr Cameron to "do the right thing".

"I clearly respect his opinion but I personally disagree with the viewpoint and Lord (Justice) Leveson, as a senior law judge of our country, has made clear that what he is proposing is not a state-run press.

"It is a fine distinction but without the statutory underpinning this system will not work," he told the BBC's Today programme.

On Thursday, Lord Justice Leveson condemned the "culture of reckless and outrageous journalism" that dominated sections of the press for decades as he unveiled the findings of his 16-month inquiry.

The Appeal Court judge called for a new watchdog with statutory underpinning to be given the power to require prominent apologies and impose fines of as much as £1m.

Mr Cameron immediately voiced "serious concerns and misgivings" about legislative action, and said the press should be given "a limited period of time" to show it could get its house in order.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he believed Leveson's model could be "proportionate and workable" and insisted Parliament should push ahead "without delay".

Most of Friday's newspapers focused on Mr Cameron's opposition to the key recommendation.

The Guardian said he had "defied" press victims, while the Daily Mirror said he had "backed a free press".

The Times said the Prime Minister had "spiked" proposals for a press law, and the Financial Times said he now had a political fight on his hands.

Labour leader Ed Miliband urged MPs to "have faith" in Leveson and said he would move for a vote in the Commons by the end of January to approve Leveson's proposals in principle, with the aim of getting the new system in place by 2015.

The three party leaders held talks last night and the negotiations will reconvene "soon". But the prospect of the consensus Mr Cameron says he wants to achieve appeared distant with Labour party sources insisting they will not negotiate on whether the recommendations go ahead - only how to implement them.

Labour claimed a concession after the PM said he would ask the Department of Culture to do some work on a draft bill to implement Leveson, but Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron had not "given an inch" and expected the exercise to make clear how complicated and far-reaching any new law would be.

All three parties will continue to look at the fine detail of the 2,400-page report today.

Lord Justice Leveson's 16-month inquiry was prompted by the disclosure that News Of The World journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and his verdict condemned the behaviour of elements within the newspaper industry.