Tony Blair was yesterday urged to help curb the media's "continuing and very crass" invasions of privacy by backing proposals to make the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct legally enforceable.

On the day that a Guardian/ICM poll found that 69% of voters would support a privacy law in the wake of tabloid disclosures about the marriage of David and Victoria Beckham, the prime minister admitted that such stories often cause "great distress to people and I don't always think it's really in the public interest".

But Mr Blair drew back from endorsing suggestions made by Clive Soley, the veteran Labour MP and campaigner against media excesses.

Either the "toothless" PCC's code should be made legally enforceable or newspaper editors and proprietors should be called to Westminster to discuss "their private and public lives" with MPs, Mr Soley said at question time.

The MP said later that he does not wish to see a privacy law in Britain or to have complainants forced to go to the high court to get damages or an correction and apology.

"What I want is that the PCC gets tougher with its adjudications to avoid the legal options. People deserve better than this and the newspaper industry deserves to do better," the MP said.

Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail group, and a man who guards his own privacy fiercely, made a rare appearance on a public platform last month when he crossed swords with a Commons select committee. However, Mr Soley's primary target remains Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor of the Sun and the Times. "I would love to see him answering questions here," he said.

The Commons committee for culture, media and sport recommended last June that legislation be introduced to "clarify the protection that individuals can expect from unwarranted intrusion by anyone - not the press alone - into their private lives".

Judges have recently shown more of a willingness to extend the law of breach of confidence, which can in some cases offer strong protection against intrusion.



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