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Miller warns on 'state licensing'
Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to enshrine regulation of newspapers in legislation would open the door to "state licensing of the press", Culture Secretary Maria Miller has warned.
Mrs Miller urged MPs of all parties to vote on Monday in support of David Cameron's proposals, which would use incentives to encourage papers to sign up for a tough new self-regulation system rather than compelling them to do so by law.
But one Conservative backbencher indicated that he may rebel over concerns that the Prime Minister's proposals will give the press too much leeway to carry on misbehaving.
Swindon South MP Robert Buckland said that he does not want the press to have a veto on membership of the new regulatory body and believes that the regulator must have the power to "direct" newspapers on the wording and positioning of any apology - both issues on which Labour and Lib Dems say Mr Cameron's proposals fall short.
Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband will publish their own proposals to implement the recommendations of last year's Leveson Report, after the Prime Minister on Thursday pulled the plug on months of cross-party talks.
At the same time the Conservatives will publish the text of a proposed Royal Charter and seek to amend the Crime and Courts Bill to enable the courts to impose "exemplary damages" on newspapers which refuse to sign up.
Mrs Miller told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the PM's scheme provides "a workable solution which he has got ready to go, to put in place... million-pound fines, prominent apologies, an arbitration service free for victims and a strong code (of conduct)".
She warned: "It is really important that we don't go down the path of state licensing of the press, where we would have to have compulsion. That is not the approach Leveson wanted anybody to take. He clearly wanted a system of incentives...
"I think it is clear that there is no need for statutory underpinning of a Royal Charter and that we can achieve the results that Leveson was calling for without that. But most important of all, by not having it as a statutory bill - as unfortunately some with the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party are calling for - we don't end up with the debate going into a licensing of the press."
Mrs Miller denied that Mr Cameron's proposals amounted to a "watering down" of Leveson, and said that the new regulator would "absolutely be able to say 'You will do this'" when passing judgment on errant papers.