Brooke ready to meet Soley over press Bill

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Indy Politics
NATIONAL HERITAGE ministers have indicated their willingness to meet Clive Soley, the Labour MP, to discuss his press Bill which proposes a legal right of correction and a statutory independent authority to enforce it, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Mr Soley, meanwhile, will this week announce changes he plans to make if his Private Member's Bill clears its Commons Second Reading on 29 January.

Mona Bauwens, the unsuccessful libel litigant who claimed she was caught in the cross-fire of the David Mellor affair, plans to attend a news conference on the changes tomorrow. She said: 'We have to have freedom of the press. But Clive Soley's Bill also gives anybody a right to a remedy against inaccuracy almost immediately.'

A retrial of her action against the People, which ended in a 6-6 jury stalemate last September, is scheduled for mid-March.

Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, has said the Government will not support Mr Soley's Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill - although it is not expected to actively oppose it at this stage by imposing a whip. But Mr Brooke and Robert Key, his Under-Secretary of State, are aware of the vacuum that has been opened up by the comprehensive criticism of the Press Complaints Commission by Sir David Calcutt QC in his report on self-regulation last week. Mr Brooke said the commission lacked independence and was not an effective regulator of the press.

Mr Soley, the MP for Hammersmith, plans to add a provision to his Bill providing for the independent press authority to 'promote the fundamental freedom of the press to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas', arguing that this could be used as a general defence of press freedom in claims involving any of the Government's proposed laws on privacy, electronic evesdropping and long-range photography.

To ensure the total independence of the proposed authority from government, the Establishment and the press, Mr Soley is likely to propose that the cross-party Commons national heritage select committee should have the power to vet appointments.