Ministers play down Hacked Off press regulation deal and insist new rules don't breach European law

Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin has played down the significance of the cross-party talks in the early hours of Monday 18 March in defining the Royal Charter on press regulation.

Speaking at a meeting of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee today Letwin claimed the majority of the Royal Charter had been drawn up on the Sunday afternoon, before he had attended a meeting in Ed Miliband’s office with Hacked Off present.

Letwin said that he and Prime Minister David Cameron, who was not present at the late-night talks, had agreed to most of the arrangements prior to a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg after 6pm.

Clegg, he said, did suggest that costs should be “more symmetrical” with exemplary damages so that those titles which sign up to the system have the potential to benefit financially. Letwin said he and Cameron were “very willing” to sign up to this.

Clegg has also previously said that the meeting, which the uninvited press objected to afterwards, concerned a “tiny, tiny, tiny bit of the whole jigsaw”.

He also said the Royal Charter was only fully completed shortly before it was presented to the House of Commons the next day.

He did admit to staying in opposition leader Miliband’s office until 3.20am, though.

Letwin said he was not surprised to see Hacked Off there because he “strongly” sensed that the Labour Party was acting “very much in concert” with the group.

He claimed representatives from the group left at 1-1.30am – around two hours before him.

On the well-reported absence of Cameron at the meeting, Letwin reassured members of the committee that Number 10 was contacted by him and the Prime Minister’s private secretary on several occasions.

Letwin, after leaving at 3.20am, then said he took a conference call with Cameron at 6am.

Senior lawyers commissioned by the newspaper industry warned earlier this year that the exemplary damages proposals breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression.
 
But Culture Secretary Maria Miller told MPs: "We are absolutely clear that what has been put forward is not only good in terms of improvement of the regulation that is available in Britain but it is also absolutely compliant with all the necessary legislation."
 
She added: "I believe absolutely that this is going to be something which we will be happy to see not only put in place in terms of the approach that we want to take to press regulation in this country, but also that it is absolutely right in terms of European law as well."
 
Letwin said: "We did seek legal advice, not only from within the Government but from counsel and we are very confident."
 
 

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