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PM has 'misgivings' on legislation

David Cameron has said he has "serious concerns and misgivings" about the prospect of legislation on press regulation.

Responding to Lord Justice Leveson's report on media ethics, the Prime Minister broadly welcomed the principles he set out to reform the current system.

But he cast doubt on the report's central recommendation that a new system of press self-regulation required a statutory underpinning if it was to command public confidence.

"I have some serious concerns and misgivings about this recommendation," he told MPs in a Commons statement.

"For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land," he said.

"We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line."

Mr Cameron also expressed concern that legislation would be both highly complex and unnecessary.

"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, something Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid," he said.

"I believe there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives providing reassurance to the public and ensuring the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place, and these options should be explored."

He stressed however that the current regulatory system was "not an option" and said that he was inviting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband to join him in cross-party talks on how best to proceed.

"Let me be clear, a regulatory system which complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do that," he said.

"While no one wants to see full statutory legislation, let me state the status quo is not an option."

Mr Cameron said he welcomed Lord Justice Leveson's key requirements for a new independent self-regulatory body, including independence of appointments and funding, a standards code, an arbitration service and a speedy complaints handling mechanism.

He said that it should have the power to demand prominent apologies and to impose fines of up to 1 million.

"These are the Leveson principles," he said.

"If they can be put in place, we really will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country.

"I welcome these principles and I hope the whole House will come in behind them. The onus should now be on the press to implement them and implement them radically.

"The task for us now is to build a new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and free speech but that protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent and commands the confidence of the whole country."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Labour endorsed the whole of the "measured, reasonable and proportionate" report and called for legislation to be on the stature book by 2015.

"We on this side unequivocally endorse both the principles set out and the central recommendations," he said - vowing to fight for them to be adopted.

Without statutory underpinning "there cannot be the change we need", he added, calling it the "crucial new guarantee we have never had before", he said.

"I welcome the offer of immediate cross-party talks," he said.

"But these talks must be about implementing these recommendations, not whether we implement them.

"I want these talks to agree a swift timetable for implementation of the proposals, agree to legislate in the next session of Parliament starting in May 2013 with a new system up and running by the end of this Parliament, ie at the latest 2015."

"In the days and the weeks ahead, I will be seeking to convince you and this House of Commons that we should put our faith in the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson.

"I am sorry the Prime Minister is not yet there but I hope to convince him in the days ahead that that is where we should go."

Mr Miliband added: "The press must be able to hold the powerful, especially us politicians, to account without fear or favour.

"That is part of the character of our country.

"But 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.

"And where powerful interests in the press know they won't be held to account."

The Prime Minister raised questions about the suitability of giving Ofcom a statutory role - pointing out that its chair was appointed by the Culture Secretary.

"We have to think about that," he told the Labour leader.

"Ofcom is already a very powerful regulatory body and we should be trying to reduce concentrations of power rather than increase them."

Later in the Commons, Nick Clegg set himself on a collision course with Mr Cameron by endorsing Lord Justice Leveson's proposals for press regulator backed by law.

The Deputy Prime Minister also bluntly dismissed Mr Cameron's call for a period of reflection on the controversial plans.

After insisting on making a separate statement to MPs, the Liberal Democrat leader said: "We mustn't now prevaricate. I - like many people - am impatient for reform.

"And, bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we've seen over the last 60 years.

"We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing. Too long for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust. I am determined we do not make them wait any more."

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