Cameron splits House by refusing to back Lord Leveson all the way
Labour plan to force a vote before end of January; 'It's not what the public expect of us,' says Joan Ruddock
DAVID CAMERON today rejected the Leveson proposals for statutory backing for a new independent watchdog for the press, and found himself isolated in his own party.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, denounced Cameron's position while the deputy PM Nick Clegg waited to deliver his own statement to MPs, disagreeing with Cameron.
Cameron has the support of a handful of right-wing Cabinet ministers and some libertarian right-wing Tory backbenchers, but his refusal to embrace the Leveson report could lead to an embarrassing defeat in the Commons.
The Mole understands that Labour plan to force a vote on the issue before the end of January. Today in the House, Miliband said: "There can be no more last chance saloons... we must act."
Cameron made great play of the "not guilty'" verdict brought in by Leveson on the charges against him and his former Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, regarding their relations with Rupert Murdoch's newspaper and television empire in Britain.
- First reaction from victims, politicians and journalists
- Picture gallery: the faces of the Leveson Inquiry
- The main findings and recommendations
The Prime Minister said: "A number of serious allegations were made that my party struck a deal with News International. This allegation has been repeated again and again. Lord Justice Leveson looked at this and totally rejected the allegation emphatically."
He said Hunt had been absolved of the charge of showing 'bias' towards the Murdoch empire in his handling of its bid to take control of BSkyB and he called on Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, to apologise for repeating the allegation.
Cameron accepted Lord Leveson's recommendation that a new independent body with a tough code of practice, backed up with fines of up to £1 million, was needed.
But he expressed "serious concerns and misgivings" about Leveson's central finding - the need to introduce legislation to back up the independent regulator. "For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon to write elements of press regulation into the law of the land," said the Prime Minister. "We should be aware of doing anything that tends to inhibit free speech and the freedom of the press."
He said he was "instinctively concerned" about a proposal to change the Data Protection Act to apply more tightly to journalists.
Dame Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, accused Cameron of "splitting the House" and said: "It is not what the public expect of us."
Cameron promised to start cross-party talks with Miliband and Clegg to try to reach a consensus at Westminster, but it looks certain now that he is going to be in a minority with one big backer - the national newspapers who have campaigned so hard to stop him endorsing the Leveson report.
The Prime Minister's aides are confident that despite the widespread support for Leveson's proposals at Westminster, he will get a resounding endorsement in the press in the morning.
Of course, keeping the press onside through to the next general election is a priority for a Tory-led government trailing Labour badly in the polls. But press victims like the McCanns and the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, are likely to keep up the campaign for legislation. For the moment, in David Cameron, the press barons have got what they wanted.