Maria Miller pours cold water on press legislation claims

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has poured cold water on claims she is preparing to legislate for tighter regulation of the press.

Following a meeting with the Culture Secretary and Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, campaign group Hacked Off said that they understood she was planning two pieces of legislation to underpin a new "verifying body" established under Royal Charter to monitor the operation of a new press watchdog.

The campaign group - which represents victims of press intrusion - said the proposal made "no sense" and urged ministers to implement the recommendations of last month's Leveson Report in full.

But a spokesman for Miller's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that she continues to believe that statutory underpinning is not necessary to achieve the principles for regulation set out by Lord Justice Leveson.

The spokesman said that the ball was still in the court of the industry, which has been told to come up with a blueprint for a new self-regulation body which would be genuinely independent and effective in dealing with complaints.

Letwin has floated proposals for a Royal Charter, which were discussed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband earlier this week, though the three party leaders reached no agreement.

It is understood that Letwin envisages setting up an independent body under Royal Charter, with responsibility for verifying the new voluntary system of self-regulation and ensuring that it is working effectively. Reports suggested that he has accepted his Royal Charter plan would require parliamentary approval, though it is not clear whether this would mean legislation.

Following today's meeting, Hacked Off director Brian Cathcart said Mr Letwin and Mrs Miller had told him they plan two new pieces of legislation - one to underpin the verifying body and the second to put in place incentives for the press to join the self-regulation body.

It is understood that incentives could include the threat of exemplary damages or higher costs to be awarded in court cases against newspapers which fail to sign up.

Prof Cathcart said: "We are pleased to hear that ministers now acknowledge that legislation is necessary to ensure that a regulator is effective and truly independent of politicians and the press.

"However, the proposals as outlined are not what we seek, which is the full and prompt implementation of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, in the open and transparent manner he proposed.

"Victims of press harassment, phone hacking and other abuses want to see a permanent solution on the lines proposed by Leveson, so that others won't have to go through what they suffered.

"It makes no sense for the Government to bin the carefully thought-through proposals presented by the judge, in favour of this rushed and over-complicated response."

A DCMS spokesman said: "The Culture Secretary met Hacked Off as part of the on-going work to find a common and transparent approach to the implementation of the Leveson principles.

"The Culture Secretary has been clear that the gauntlet has been thrown down to the industry and that it is their responsibility to come forward swiftly with a tough independent self-regulator.

"The notion of a Royal Charter is one of the options being discussed at the cross party talks that would offer a independent and permanent verification body. The Culture Secretary remains of the view that statutory underpinning is not necessary to achieve the Leveson principles."

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