It has been announced by the Speaker that MPs will debate the findings of the Select Committee Report into phone hacking “at the beginning of public business” tomorrow (Tuesday 22 May 2012). In other words, the debate will take place after question time and any statements to the House.
In a short statement,the Speaker said that the Chairman of the Committee, John Whittingdale MP. had written to him “concerning the conclusions of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee” in its report on phone hacking. Mr Bercow said:
“Having considered the issue I have decided that this is a matter to which I should allow the precedence accorded to matters of privilege.“
The House will debate a motion to refer the findings of the report to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The motion will be proposed by Mr Whittingdale. It provides
“That this House notes the conclusions set out in chapter 8 of the Eleventh Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010-12, on News International and Phone-hacking, HC 903-I, and orders that the matter be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges”.
Chapter 8 of the Report concludes that
- Les Hinton misled the Committee in 2009 in not telling the truth about payments to Clive Goodman and his role in authorising them, including the payment of his legal fee. He also misled the Committee about the extent of his knowledge of allegations that phone-hacking extended beyond Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire to others at the News of the World (see paragraphs 84, 85 and 91).
- Tom Crone misled the Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement (see paragraph 118) and sought to mislead the Committee about the commissioning of surveillance.
- Tom Crone and Colin Myler misled the Committee by answering questions falsely about their knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing (see paragraphs 130 and 140).
- Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the Committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth. Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors—including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch—should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility (see paragraphs 32, 33, 60, 62, 132 and 141).
If MPs agree to the motion, the Committee on Standards and Privileges will produce its own report and make recommendations about what punishment, if any, the former News International executives should face.
As stated in the recent Green Paper on Parliamentary Privilege [pdf],
“The Houses’ power to punish non-members for contempt is untested in recent times. In theory, both Houses can summon a person to the bar of the House to reprimand them or order a person’s imprisonment. In addition, the House of Lords is regarded as possessing the power to fine non-members. The House of Commons last used its power to fine in 1666 and this power may since have lapsed“.