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British politicians 'reach deal on press regulation'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

British politicians have reached a deal on a new system of regulation for the press after overnight talks designed to avoid a parliamentary showdown, the opposition Labour party said on Monday.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said a compromise had been agreed that would protect the new system, sparked by the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, from interference by ministers.

"There is agreement," Harman told BBC radio, adding that it would be put to members of the House of Commons later on Monday.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, his Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners and Labour have been locked in talks for months on a new system of self-regulation for the press.

But Cameron called a halt to the talks last week, saying the differences between his Tories on the one side and the Lib Dems and Labour on the other were irreconcilable.

While details on the new agreement are scant, it appears that both sides are likely to be able to claim victory on the key sticking point of whether the regulation should be underpinned by law.

Labour and the Lib Dems want statutory regulation as recommended by the Leveson inquiry, which Cameron commissioned in 2011 to look into press ethics following the voicemail hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's now closed News of the World tabloid.

But the prime minister warned that this would pose an unacceptable risk to press freedom, and instead proposed that a new press watchdog be set up under a royal charter, a special document used to establish organisations such as the Bank of England and the BBC.

He proposed to put his plans to a House of Commons vote on Monday, but amid signs that he would lose, representatives of all three parties launched a weekend push for a deal.

Under the agreement outlined by Harman, the new press watchdog would be established under a royal charter.

But this charter would be protected by a completely separate piece of legislation stating that all royal charters can only be modified by a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons.

"The framework (for regulation) is set up in the royal charter," Harman said, adding: "Then we are going to have a bit of statute, a bit of law, which says ministers can't tamper with it."

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, a member of Cameron's Conservative party, said she believed a deal would now go ahead but said the details still needed to be ironed out.

She insisted there was "no statutory underpinning" for the system, claiming victory for the prime minister's position.

"What's really important is the royal charter now has overwhelming support from all the three main parties and we have stopped this extreme form of press law" proposed by Labour, she told BBC radio.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130318/british-politicians-reach-deal-press-regulation