Tories reveal their opposition to press regulation by law

Theresa May and Michael Gove both warn Lord Justice Leveson that any plan for statutory control would damage British society

David Cameron's Cabinet may already be on a collision course with the Leveson Inquiry even before its recommendations have been published.

With Lord Justice Leveson hinting that a "statutory" framework will be a key part of his report's recommendations when it appears later this year, the first two members of the Cabinet to give evidence to the inquiry both openly challenged the idea of any laws to control the press.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said legal control would "encroach on freedom" and lead to what she called "unintended consequences". She warned against "state interference" in newspapers through a statutory body, and said that although there was "growing concern" that the Press Complaints Commission was failing to do its job, press freedom was essential for democracy.

The Education Secretary Michael Gove echoed Mrs May's comments, saying he was "unashamedly on the side of those who say we should think carefully about regulation". And he said he believed "existing laws" needed to be better used, adding that "the case for regulation needs to be made very strongly before we further curtail liberty."

Mrs May's views will be crucial if the recommendations in the coming Leveson report are to be adopted in full by the Government. The Home Secretary will be part of the small team of ministers and advisers who will sit in judgement on the report's findings.

The views from the two secretaries of state are the first indication that, although Downing Street ordered the Leveson Inquiry last July during the crisis caused by the revelations surrounding the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, that crisis has since eased politically, if not legally.

Mr Gove's testimony also included an impassioned defence of Rupert Murdoch, the Education Secretary's former employer, whom he lauded as "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".

The News Corporation chairman, who was dismissed as "not a fit person" to run an international company by a House of Commons select committee, was heralded by Mr Gove as a "force of nature, a phenomenon, a great man".

In her appearance, Mrs May was questioned about how worried the Government had become when it emerged last July that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked. Political briefings notes prepared by the Home Office now make it clear that alarm bells were ringing inside the Government.

The notes showed concern that the Prime Minister's hiring of the former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his communications director, would once again cause severe embarrassment. In one briefing for the Home Secretary, the advice states: "The key political question is about Coulson, surely."

Although hacking's illegality and Mr Coulson's resignation from the NOTW had been a dormant political issue since 2007, Mrs May said phone hacking only came across her "radar" in September 2010 when The New York Times published an article showing new evidence from new sources.

The US article should have raised alarm across the Conservative administration. However, Mrs May said, she had not read the piece herself. "I saw reports of it," she told the inquiry, "but I didn't read the whole piece."

* Lord Justice Leveson yesterday took the unusual step of referring the protester who burst into his public inquiry to shout at Tony Blair to the director of public prosecutions.

David Lawley-Wakelin, 49, was released without charge by police following his arrest inside the inquiry chamber. However the judge has now intervened to ask prosecutors and Scotland Yard to investigate the matter. He said they would decide "the way in which the matter can be dealt with appropriately".

Gove: Firms may profit from free schools

Michael Gove yesterday gave an indication that the Government's new free schools may be allowed to make a profit for companies which invest in them.

In his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Gove ruled out a change before 2015 because of objections from the Liberal Democrats.

But he added that profit-making plans could come into play if the Conservatives were voted in for a second term.

The NUT's deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said, "The NUT has been clear all along that the free schools policy was driven by the expectation of profits for those proprietors setting such schools up," he said.

In Sweden, where Mr Gove's idea originated, critics say that, while free schools began as initiatives by parents and faith groups, these groups were rapidly dwarfed by profit-making enterprises.

A number of these companies have been accused of putting profits before pupils.

Oliver Wright

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
filmEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Software Developer - Newcastle, Tyne & Wear - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer / J...

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering