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Crucial vote looms on British press laws

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

British MPs were on Monday to take a crucial vote on press regulation, with senior government members claiming a deal could still be brokered despite the breakdown of cross-party talks.

Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday abandoned discussions with Deputy PM Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners, and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Bringing the matter to a head, Conservative Party leader Cameron said lawmakers would vote Monday on his proposals for a new newspaper watchdog.

Labour and the Lib Dems want statutory regulation as recommended by the Leveson Inquiry, which Cameron commissioned in 2011 after the voicemail hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid.

Cameron believes underpinning the system in legislation would pose a risk to press freedom and talks with Clegg on Sunday again ended with no agreement.

But Culture Secretary Maria Miller and finance minister George Osborne both insisted earlier Sunday that there was still time for a breakthrough before the House of Commons vote.

"There's been compromise on both sides to make sure that we take the Leveson report -- which was never a blueprint for the regulation of the press -- and make it work in practice," said Miller.

Osborne maintained that "there is still an opportunity for us to get together and get a press regulation that works."

"Ultimately we are not about grandstanding on this," he told BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"It would be great on Monday if we can get some kind of agreement, even at this late stage, between the parties," he added.

Cameron is asking lawmakers to vote for his plans for a royal charter -- a special document used to establish organisations including the BBC and the Bank of England.

He faces a substantial risk of losing Monday's vote, an outcome that would deal a further blow for a prime minister struggling with a weak economy and divisions within his party.

The premier also believes that a pre-vote deal can be reached and said Saturday that he was "delighted" at how close together the two sides had come before he dramatically pulled the plug on talks.

And he said the Lib Dem-Labour proposed statutory underpinning was not "a big issue of principle".

"I think we're in a much better place and I'm confident about the future," he said.

Labour leader Miliband on Sunday urged lawmakers to "stand up for the victims" of press abuse by enshrining a new press regulator in law.

"Monday is the day that politics has got to do the duty by the victims and has got to stand up for the victims," he told The Observer newspaper.

Actor Hugh Grant, one of the main figures in the Hacked Off group which campaigns against press intrusion, said Cameron faced defeat Monday because he was "so clearly on the wrong side in this".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130317/crucial-vote-looms-british-press-laws