Before I call the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to move the motion, I remind the House that it concerns the narrow issue of whether the matter should be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. It is not a general debate on the issues and I would be grateful if hon. Members could bear that in mind; otherwise I will have to remind them. The rules governing this debate are set out on pages 167-8 of “Erskine May”.
I beg to move,
That the matter of hacking of honourable and right honourable Members’ mobile phones be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
The vast majority of those who had their phones hacked were not MPs, but of necessity this motion deals solely with the hacking of MPs’ phones. That is not because we are in any sense more important than anyone else—it is a scandal that the royal princes, footballers, actors and, in many cases, ordinary members of the public had their phone messages intercepted and interfered with. While I passionately believe in the freedom of the press, and agree that investigative journalism is an important and proud tradition in this country, illegal hacking, suborning police officers and obtaining information by illegal means do not enhance our democracy. In fact, they undermine it.
This motion is exclusively about this House because I contend that it is a contempt of Parliament and a severe breach of parliamentary privilege to intercept the mobile phone messages of elected Members, to tap their phones, to bug their conversations, to intercept their e-mails or to seek to do so.
There are those who would want to play this down. People have said to me, “After all, what’s the fuss about a few phone messages?” I ask hon. Members what the last phone message was that they had left on their answer phone. It might have been a soppy, sentimental message from their wife or partner, but it might have been something far more significant. It might have been a Minister ringing about a piece of legislation—in parliamentary language, a proceeding in Parliament. It might have been the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ringing about a highly sensitive matter and leaving a message. Or it might have been a constituent ringing their elected Member of Parliament, leaving a message and asking them to return a call about something that was highly confidential to them.
The House has rightly been very angry in the past when it has been felt that the right of an MP to speak without let, hindrance or interception, which stems in essence from the Bill of Rights 1689, has been violated. It took action on several occasions in the 18th century, on many occasions in the 19th century and on more than 15 occasions in the 20th century. It is for that reason that we have a secure doctrine—the Wilson doctrine—that MPs will not be bugged by the security services, and I am sure that were there any information that MPs had been bugged by the security services, many hon. Members would be on their feet to condemn it.
The reason this reference is necessary now is simple. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is admirably chaired by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale)—he should probably be the right hon. Member for Maldon, and for all I know he might be the right hon. Member—produced an excellent report on the wider issue. Since then, however, there has been new information. First, several MPs, including myself, have contacted the Met and have discovered that we were the subjects of Glenn Mulcaire’s investigations. In the words of the Metropolitan police, we were persons of interest to Mr Mulcaire. I am sorry to say that in very few, if any, of those cases have the police pursued any lines of investigation.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate forward and on seeking to have the matter referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee. Is he aware that the Information Commissioner published a report, “What Price Privacy Now?”, in December 2006, in which he unveiled the solid evidence that illegal information had been supplied to 305 named journalists working for a variety of newspapers, and does he agree that, if the Press Complaints Commission had any gumption or mettle, and was capable of investigating this sort of issue, we would not need to refer this matter to the Select Committee? Indeed, the Information Commissioner said that
“the Press Complaints Commission (and its associated Code of Practice Committee of Editors) should take a much stronger line to tackle any involvement by the press in the illegal trade in personal information”.
The hon. Gentleman is right. If hon. Members have not had an opportunity to read the Information Commissioner’s report, I urge them to do so. It is quite astounding. It lists the number of transactions positively identified: the Daily Mail, 952; the Sunday People, 802; the Daily Mirror, 681; The Mail on Sunday, 266; the News of the World, 182; and so on. It is an absolutely devastating report, and my concern is that the PCC has done nothing, and hardly anyone else has done anything. It is time that the House took responsibility for what areas we can.
The House has rightly been angered about this issue. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee produced a report, but there is more information. I suspect that, so far, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg in relation to right hon. and hon. Members, and that the hacking extended not just to Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs but to a large number of Conservative Members. I urge every right hon. and hon. Member who has any suspicion that they might have been a person of interest to Mr Mulcaire, which probably includes the vast majority of us, to write to the Met asking whether they were included, because Assistant Commissioner Yates made it clear the other day, in evidence to another Select Committee, that he has not been notifying Members. We have to do the work ourselves.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Standards and Privileges Committee should look in particular at why the police did not approach Members named in the information they had in order to acquire more evidence from those Members, who were unaware—and still are unaware, in many cases—that their names were on the list? Is that not a hugely important issue that the Committee should investigate?
My hon. Friend is right. If somebody went to the police and alleged that somebody was stalking them, and the police visited the stalker’s house and found not only photographs of, and personal details about, the person who made the allegation, but photographs of another 20 people, I presume and hope that the police would go to those other 20 people and inform them that their personal situation had been compromised and that they had been the subjects of that person’s activities. The police should have engaged in precisely the same duty of care towards not just right hon. and hon. Members, but any member of the public who had been the subject of Mr Mulcaire’s attention.
There is a second piece of new information. Two former members of staff at the News of the World have said that the hacking was far more extensive than so far revealed. Indeed, today, Paul McMullan, a former features executive and member of the News of the World’s investigations team, has said that he personally commissioned several hundred illegal acts, and that the use of illegal techniques at the newspaper was absolutely no secret.
Thirdly, although it has been stated that the case was an isolated bad apple, the Information Commissioner, as the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) has mentioned, has suggested that the unlawful trade in confidential personal information is extensive across the media, citing more than 1,000 transactions positively identified by a large number of newspapers. Looking through the list, it seems that the only newspaper that is not included is the Rhondda Leader.
Why refer the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee? First, because it is the senior Committee of the House. Secondly, because, by referring it to the Committee, it will have the support and full authority of the whole House—nobody can gainsay it. When the matter of the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was referred to a specially created committee of privileges, that committee resolved that such an instance should be referred not to a special committee, but to the Standards and Privileges Committee.
I welcome the Speaker’s decision, in the best traditions of the House, to allow this debate, so that all Members of the House can defend the rights of all Members to carry out their duties without having their phones hacked into. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that there will be full co-operation from Downing street, not least because the lesson of Watergate is that the cover-up is worse than the crime?
My hon. Friend is right. One of the reasons for referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee is that it carries the authority of the whole House, and I hope that that would mean that every right hon. and hon. Member, including those at Downing street, would want to co-operate.
I see the Leader of the House nodding his assent. I am sure that it would be true.
I urge the Committee to use all the powers at its disposal, including the power to summon any person it wishes and to require them to attend, because some people refused to attend the previous inquiry held by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. If necessary, it should issue warrants to require witnesses to attend, and if they still refuse, it should use the offices of the Serjeant at Arms. Likewise, it should be free to use its power to require a witness to answer a question under pain of admonishment by the House. We should not accept it when witnesses simply refuse to give a straight answer to a straight question. That should not be standard practice, which it is becoming. The House should become far more carnivorous.
Given that some of the issues we are dealing with are matters of privacy, and we would not want to invade the privacy of those who have already had their phones hacked, the Committee should feel free to take some of its evidence in private if necessary. It should not shy away from recommending motions to the House enforcing its decisions, if it feels it appropriate to do so. Those decisions could include barring a person or persons from the precinct of Parliament, withdrawing a pass from any pass holder or a group of pass holders, or calling somebody to the Bar of the House for admonishment by the House.
It is for the Committee to decide precisely how it conducts its inquiry. Indeed, it should be free to decide the timing of its inquiry and report, how best it interacts with other Select Committees and, importantly, how best it avoids conflicting with any ongoing police investigation. I hope that there is an ongoing police investigation, because from what I have heard so far from the police, I have no confidence that there is a full police investigation into every avenue, searching for evidence. I would particularly abhor the fact that the police seem to have developed a new theology, whereby it is for the victim to discover and provide the evidence, rather than for the police to engage in an investigation to find it.
I suggest that the Committee might look at the following areas. How many MPs, including Ministers, Opposition spokespeople and Back Benchers of all parties, were the subject of investigation by Glenn Mulcaire—or, in the police’s words, a “person of interest” to Mr Mulcaire? Did they include serving Government Members or people who are now in senior Government positions? Was the hacking limited to the News of the World or did it include other newspapers? Were the security services notified of the hacking of Ministers’ and others’ phones? Are there any further security measures that this House should take to protect Members’ correspondence? Did the Met fully perform its duty of care towards the House by contacting all Members whose names and phone numbers were included in the material secured when it raided Mr Mulcaire’s offices?
Have any witnesses who have already given evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the matter lied to the House? Should the interception or attempted interception of right hon. and hon. Members’ phone messages or e-mails be considered an explicit breach of privilege? Should the House adopt a new resolution defining privilege in the modern era to include modern technology? Should the law be changed to strengthen further the provisions against the hacking of the phones of MPs and members of the public? What action should be taken by the House against those who have lied to it, breached its privilege or shown contempt to it?
I hope that Members in all parts of the House will support the motion. This issue is not about one man or the one hon. Member whose case has already been to court. It is, however, about what kind of investigative journalism we want in this country—searching, yes; critical, caustic, aggressive and cynical, maybe; but not illegal. It is about whether this House will be supine when its Members’ phones are hacked, or whether it will take action when the democratic rights of MPs to do their job without illegal let, hindrance or interception has been traduced. We have taken action before as a House; we should take action today.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has proposed that the matter of the hacking of right hon. and hon. Members’ mobile phones be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Mr Speaker decided under the procedure in “Erskine May” that such a motion should take precedence at today’s sitting.
The motion is narrow in its terms, and it is quite right that an allegation that the House’s privileges have been breached should be resolved without any unnecessary delay. Only the House, through the Standards and Privileges Committee, can resolve the issue. In the past, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, such matters have been referred to an ad hoc Committee, but in my view it is right that this matter be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee, which has the powers to consider it.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) on his election as Chairman of that Committee. I know that he and his Committee will do their best to determine the issue, navigating carefully among the other inquiries that may be under way at the same time, including a possible further investigation by the Metropolitan police. The decision on referring the motion is a matter for the will of this House, but the Government will of course support that referral.
We on the Opposition Front Bench support the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and welcome the support of the Leader of the House. As my hon. Friend has made clear, this is an extremely serious issue, and we need to know whether there has been a contempt of Parliament and a breach of parliamentary privilege. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) on his chairmanship of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and support the Leader of the House in wishing him well in navigating his way among the various investigations. We look forward to the result of the Committee’s inquiry.
I am mindful of your instruction that this is a narrow debate about referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it might help if I clarified one or two aspects regarding the two examinations of the matter that have been carried out by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
We first looked at the issue in 2007. It is important to distinguish between two different episodes, both of which potentially affect hon. Members. The first episode was the arrest and conviction of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, specifically for phone hacking. The second was Operation Motorman, carried out by the police, which identified a private investigator who had been employed by a large number of journalists from many different newspapers, usually to undertake what is called blagging rather than hacking.
While hacking is an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, blagging is a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Both are criminal offences, but in the second case, there is a public interest defence. No journalists were ever prosecuted in the Motorman case, so we do not know whether a public interest defence might have been used. However, the sheer number of blags or attempts to seek information in breach of the 1998 Act led us to believe that what was happening was, in large part, fishing by journalists and did not involve the pursuit of specific public interest matters. We revisited the matter in July 2009, after the publication of a story in The Guardian providing new evidence that led us to question the evidence that we had received in the first inquiry that Clive Goodman was the only journalist who had any knowledge of, or involvement in, phone hacking at the News of the World.
As I have suggested, there is evidence from both inquiries that hon. Members were affected. Specifically in relation to the first episode, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was named in the indictment of Mr Mulcaire as one of those who had suffered from hacking. When it came to Motorman, there were literally thousands of names. We know, for instance, that Peter Kilfoyle was one of them, although he did not know that until it was subsequently uncovered. In both cases there was concern that the victims were not informed, either by the police in relation to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, or by the Information Commissioner in relation to Motorman.
As the House knows, the Select Committee took considerable evidence from a number of journalists—principally from the News of the World in relation to Clive Goodman, but from other newspapers too concerning Operation Motorman. At that time—it is important to remember that we are talking about events from some time ago—we found that there appeared to be a culture across Fleet street in which such practices were routine, and that law breaking was taking place in many news rooms. We were also assured that things had changed. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was a little unfair to suggest that the Press Complaints Commission did nothing. I have been critical of the Press Complaints Commission in the past, but it certainly did do something: it made it absolutely plain that such practices were unacceptable and required editors to tighten their rules, and we received assurances that such practices had stopped.
We now know that there is one journalist under investigation by the News of the World potentially for hacking, but it was the News of the World who acted on that and then notified the Press Complaints Commission that it was doing so. I very much hope that the events that we are discussing today relate to some time ago and that such practices have ceased right across Fleet street.
I understand the frustration felt by hon. Members during our inquiry—indeed, I shared it. We did make use of some of the powers that the hon. Member for Rhondda referred to, particularly in obtaining documents that various witnesses were, at first, unwilling to provide. We certainly had some arguments over which witnesses would give evidence. For example, we were unable to get evidence from either Clive Goodman or Glenn Mulcaire—or, indeed from Mr Ross Hall, who was in Peru at the time, although I understand that he has now returned to this country.
I recognise that new evidence might well have emerged. Some of the information that has entered the public domain in the past few days certainly appears to contradict some of the evidence that we received. The Standards and Privileges Committee has slightly more powers available to it than the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and I in no way oppose the motion. I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that this is an extremely serious matter, and it is not just about MPs. The illegal obtaining of information about any individual is to be deplored. I therefore strongly welcome the moves that have taken place to ensure that it does not continue.
I have one small concern, although I am not in any way accusing the hon. Member for Rhondda. This issue is mired in politics, and the Standards and Privileges Committee needs to be very careful to ensure that it is not used as a vehicle for political ends. I am sure that that will not be the case under its new Chairman, whom I congratulate on his election.
Anyone can have their phone tapped by the newspapers, and they do. The House does not forget them as we debate the narrow issue of the abuse of MPs’ privilege. So that Members can decide on the merits of the motion, I should tell them that, since the urgent question on Monday, one MP has told me that their phone company has confirmed that they have been the victim of blagging. The police have been informed. Another MP was so worried that, on the advice of his lawyers, he sent his mobile PDA device to forensic technicians, who confirmed that it was almost certainly hacked. I know of at least three former senior Ministers who have not yet gone public with their serious concerns that their phones were hacked. The evidence of endemic abuse is growing by the day.
This morning, I talked to the lawyer Charlotte Harris, who informed me that she had been in contact with former News International reporter Sean Hoare, as part of her inquiries for clients who are the victims of phone hacking. He stands by his statements, and he will help the police. He also knows of others who were involved.
Something very dark lurks in the evidence files of the Mulcaire case, and dark and mysterious forces are keeping it that way. If the Standards and Privileges Committee is to get to the truth, I recommend that it interview the Culture, Media and Sport Committee refuseniks—the people associated with News International who flatly rejected our invitations to give evidence to our inquiry. They include Greg Miskiw, a former assistant news editor, who said that he was too ill to attend, and was not pursued. They also include Glenn Mulcaire. We were told through an intermediary that he would not give evidence, and he was not pursued. Clive Goodman was also asked to give evidence, but he said that he was unavailable. He was not pursued. The chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, was pursued on three separate occasions before we gave up.
I think it was before my hon. Friend was a member of the Select Committee that we got a very direct answer from the then Rebekah Wade, who was a senior executive of News International in this country. She was asked whether it paid the police for information, and her answer was yes. Does my hon. Friend think that that issue should be part of this inquiry?
I think it should, and I will come to that point in a moment.
Andy Hayman, as head of the Met police’s special operations unit, was in charge of the Mulcaire inquiry. If the Committee wants to get to the bottom of which MPs were on the target list, and of who was told and who was not, News International’s Andy Hayman is their man. I strongly recommend that the Committee ask him to appear.
We can delegate power but not responsibility. I doubt that Rupert Murdoch knows about these incidents, but he is responsible for appointing to positions of great power people who should know about them. For that reason, he too should explain his actions to the Committee. It is he who appointed Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International. He first appointed her, and he then appointed Andy Coulson as editor of the News of the World.
This morning, we have seen a strong argument for an inquiry made by former reporter Paul McMullan, who has become the seventh named News of the World employee to admit that they either knew about or took part in phone hacking. When Rebekah Brooks was editor, McMullan says:
“They were just doing what was expected of them. People were obsessed with getting celebs’ phone numbers…Everyone was surprised that Clive Goodman was the only one who went down.”
If Members want justification for supporting the motion, they need look no further than Rupert Murdoch’s Rebekah Brooks, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) said, admitted to Parliament that she paid police officers in the Met for stories. The Select Committee found that, “As far as we are aware, this practice is illegal for both parties, and there is no public interest defence that a jury could legitimately take into account.” When Rupert Murdoch appointed Rebekah Brooks, he did so with that knowledge.
There is one more tiny little shame that we all share. The truth is that, in this House we are all, in our own way, scared of the Rebekah Brookses of this world. If we fear agreeing this motion, let us think about this: it is almost laughable that we sit here in Parliament, the central institution of our sacred democracy—among us are some of the most powerful people in the land—yet we are scared of the power that Rebekah Brooks wields without a jot of responsibility or accountability. The barons of the media, with their red-topped assassins, are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle. They have no predators; they are untouchable. They laugh at the law; they sneer at Parliament. They have the power to hurt us, and they do, with gusto and precision, with joy and criminality. Prime Ministers quail before them, and that is how they like it. That, indeed, has become how they insist upon it, and we are powerless in the face of them. We are afraid. If we oppose this motion, it is to our shame.
That is the tawdry secret that dare not speak its name. The most powerful people in the land—Prime Ministers, Ministers, and MPs of every party—are guilty in their own way of perpetuating a media culture that allows the character of the decent to be traduced out of casual malice, for money, for spite, for sport or for any reason that the media like. If we reject the motion, we will be guilty of letting that happen. We allow it because we allow narrow party advantage to dominate our thinking, above the long-term health of our democracy.
And yet, I sense that we are at the beginning of the endgame. Things will get better because, in many senses, they cannot get worse. The little guys, the reporters on the ground who joined a newspaper to seek the truth, have ended up working in a living hell. If we want to, we in this House have the power to change that. We can make a start by getting to the bottom of the phone hacking scandal. Whatever lies in those Mulcaire files is key, and the Standards and Privileges Committee can start the process by establishing the facts. This is not the time to rehearse the questions that must be answered, but no one who believes in the law, truth or democracy can doubt that they desperately urgently need to be asked.
I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words and grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and to Mr Speaker for providing it. Perhaps not surprisingly, I entirely support the motion. I am on record from 2006 right up to the last election as speaking about the importance of this matter. I want to speak briefly today and to say to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) that, if the motion is passed, I would be happy to assist him and his Committee on Standards and Privileges further.
I am—I think—the only Member who has been asked to give evidence and has given it, as part of the evidence that secured the conviction of Mr Glenn Mulcaire. I was approached in 2006 and willingly agreed to do that. In reference to the comments of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), I inquired who else had had their phone hacked and who else had been approached to give evidence. I was told that there were others, but that not everybody was willing to give evidence.
I have absolutely no doubt that some people were not willing to give evidence because they were afraid. They were afraid of going into the public domain to take on people working either directly or indirectly for one of our land’s major newspapers. I have been in this place and in public life long enough not to be afraid any more, and I have also been through the mill before, which means that I probably have nothing much more to be afraid about. For me, it was not a problem, but it clearly was for others. I hope that they—colleagues here and in the other place—will now again be invited to give evidence to the Standards and Privileges Committee, if it takes on the job and might now be willing to speak to that Committee, either in public or private, though they were not willing to go public in the courts at the time.
My second point is that we are not talking about an isolated person or people at an isolated time in respect of an isolated newspaper. To the best of my knowledge, I was a subject not just of that particular fishing expedition, but also of a different fishing expedition by a different newspaper owned by different people. Another linked activity—it was very common—was buying phone records illegally from phone companies so that activities could be traced and inquiries made. These are linked issues: there is a whole sea of illegal and undesirable activity going on here.
Another issue, to which the hon. Member for Rhondda rightly referred, goes even wider. We can defend and speak up for ourselves here because we have privilege. It is right that we use the processes of the House, but one reason why I support this matter being referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges is so that the privileges of our families, our friends, our colleagues and our constituents can also be respected. The people living on the estate behind my house do not have the same access to the media as I do. When they leave a message or when a member of my family or a colleague leaves a message, they might not have the opportunity to go public about any difficulties, yet they are potentially equally affected and harmed. For them, it is equally insidious, dangerous and unacceptable. This is an issue for us in our representative capacity on behalf of our constituents as much as it is for us as MPs with parliamentary privileges.
As a new MP, I hope not to have attracted the attention of Mr Mulcaire, but equally, as a new MP with a background in communications, I am very aware that the business of MPs and this House will depend increasingly on electronic means of communication throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman speaks of our representative role, which I strongly agree with, but we should also consider the future—both for the House and the country at large. By investigating what happened in the past, we not only look at the past, but safeguard the future for both.
The hon. Lady is quite right. In common with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have seen great changes in the use of electronic media for communication during my time in Parliament. I hope that the hon. Lady’s expertise will be made available to the Standards and Privileges Committee if it requests it.
I want briefly to discuss two other issues. First, it is easy to misrepresent and thus tell untruths on the basis of misunderstood messages and information. To lighten the mood for a moment, I had a message on my phone the other day from a woman who sounded as if she was of a certain age and who said, “Darling, I really need to speak to you urgently. If we do not meet today, our marriage might be at an end.” I thought that that message was unlikely to be aimed at me! She clearly had not read the press enough! Not knowing who she was, I nevertheless phoned her back and said, “Madam, I do not know who you are and you might not know who I am, but I think that the message you left was not intended for me. You ought to think about who it was intended for before it is too late.” The serious point is that messages left were clearly misinterpreted to lead people to conclude that they were about one thing when they were not really about that at all. There is scope for terrible abuse if we do not rein in this activity completely.
Finally, this is without doubt a job for the Standards and Privileges Committee, but I hope that that will not mean that others who have a responsibility do not do their jobs, too. The Metropolitan Police Authority has a job—to hold the Metropolitan police to account.
I would rather not, as I want to be brief.
The Justice Committee might well want to ask Law Officers about whether the Crown Prosecution Service did its job properly. Of course there is a case for only specimen counts to be investigated and put forward in a court case, but I share the view of the hon. Member for Rhondda that people on the list as prospective targets should have been informed, even if their phones had not been hacked at the time.
We also have a wider responsibility, which I hope we can deal with more fully on another occasion. The power of the media—broadcast, televised and written—is an issue for this country. My right hon. and hon. Friends have been brave enough to set up a commission into the banks, but I hope they will also set up a commission into broadcasting and the media, because the Press Complaints Commission has not done a robust job. The public are not adequately protected from the press. I am someone who, like the hon. Member for Rhondda, will defend the freedom of the press to the end, but there is a big difference between the freedom of the press and abuse by the press. This is abuse and illegality. It has to end, and we must be robust about it.
It is a pleasure to follow the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). On Tuesday this week, the Home Affairs Select Committee took evidence from Assistant Commissioner Yates, and we raised the concerns that had been expressed on Monday by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). We also considered the excellent report fashioned by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.
Clearly, the speeches delivered here today—some have been most eloquent, especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson)—relate to incidents concerning the News of the World. Assistant Commissioner Yates told us that he has to continue with his investigations, which are operational matters. However, in the exchanges during the giving of his evidence, it was clear that members of the Committee were concerned about the state of the law relating to unauthorised hacking and tapping of mobile communications. That is why on Tuesday the Committee established an inquiry into the law, into the extent to which the police are able to police that law, and into the way in which the police inform people that they have been victims of that crime.
This may be slightly outside the Home Affairs Committee remit, but will the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee want to look at the ease with which it is possible to hack into phones and ask what the industry is doing about it? Secondly, although this may also be slightly outside the remit, will his Select Committee look at the Press Complaints Commission and perhaps make some recommendations about how to beef up that organisation so that it really does the effective job that it should be doing?
The second issue is really a matter for the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to look into; it is well outside the home affairs remit. However, our Committee certainly will contact the mobile phone companies to look at how they are able to deal with the issue of phone tapping and hacking.
I will not give way, as I intend to be brief.
To be clear, the Committee’s decision was unanimous. I see four members of it in their places on both sides of the House. The inquiry was suggested by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), a Liberal Democrat Member, and it is limited to looking at the issue of mobile communication.
I fully support the motion before the House. I have spoken briefly with the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) on his appointment to that role. We would not want to duplicate the work of that Committee. We will share with him any information that we have, but we would not want to trample on the rights of the senior Committee of the House to deal with the privileges of Members. I fully support the motion.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), to whom I offered my support previously, and I welcome Mr Speaker’s decision to allow the motion to be debated.
The issue about the distinction between the Government and Parliament has not been so strong in the past. My view is that the Government are right that the Metropolitan police’s operational decisions rest with it. However, Parliament still has a role, and the purpose of Parliament’s privileges is to protect our constituents. If we do not stand up for our constituents by using our bite rather than just our bark, we cannot protect our constituents. Only yesterday, I was contacted by a whistleblower, who explained to me evidence of corrupt practices in family proceedings. Obviously, I will bring that issue to the House in more detail later, when I have more evidence. Had that person been concerned that the communication had been tapped, all sorts of problems would have been caused. Some people have been so worried about their communications being tapped that they have wanted to see me in person in a place where they could not be overheard. If our constituents are to have confidence that they can communicate with us about parliamentary proceedings, we need to protect their rights.
Andrew France is a constituent of mine. He was threatened that his daughter would be taken into care if he spoke to me about his case. Luckily, his case has come to an end, so he can talk to me. However, Parliament should take action to deal with such issues. The law on these matters is interesting: there are many different international examples, of which I have many details if any hon. Member wishes to see them. Under article 47 of the German constitution, there is a protection for members of the Bundestag from having to give details of information that they have received. It is so important that people are able to provide information in private about proceedings in Parliament.
The issue, which I hope the House will refer to the Standards and Privileges Committee, is about not just crimes committed several years ago but about cover-ups that, to all appearances, are still going on today. I was a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that looked into the affair previously. I drafted many of the conclusions of its report. We tried to penetrate the veil of secrecy over the affair, but we generally met with a wall of silence, with evasion and with collective amnesia. In trying to complete a much larger report before the election, we also had limited practical powers of compulsion. That issue relates to the modernisation of the House, which, if the resolution is passed today, I hope that the Standards and Privileges Committee will also consider. The powers of Select Committees need to be strengthened, and we need look no further than the United States Congress for good examples of how to do that.
Before the House votes, I want to deal with a couple of matters in the report, as well as two matters that keep being repeated, including in the past few days, on which the House might appreciate some clarity. First, regarding the police, the former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman has repeatedly told the news that as far as the Met was concerned, it left no stone unturned and interviewed everyone who was relevant at the time. I am afraid that that is simply not true. The police interviewed only Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman, despite evidence in their hands that implicated others in the activity, which has clearly affected the confidence with which MPs can go about their business. Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman also maintained their right to silence, before entering a guilty plea, so no cross-examination was made. Our report was highly critical of the extent of the police investigation. Frankly, had Mr Hayman been in charge of the Watergate inquiry, President Nixon would have safely served a full term. His line is one that his successor, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain, as new people emerge out of the woodwork, day in, day out, in the press.
Our report was very critical of the evasive display by Mr Yates in giving evidence for the police, and I hope that if the motion is passed, the Standards and Privileges Committee will not allow the police to get away with such evasiveness. As the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has pointed out, nor is the Crown Prosecution Service blameless in the affair. When we asked it to justify how the investigation and prosecution had been carried out previously, it repeated verbatim, to a great extent, the police statements, which were highly misleading.
Secondly, I want to address the claim that our Committee—this has been repeated in the news in the past few days, often for libel balance—found no evidence that the then editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, knew about the hacking. That has been taken to mean that we effectively cleared Mr Coulson of knowing what his staff and Mr Mulcaire were up to. Nothing could be further from the truth—this is not a political point but a matter of fact. Frankly, we were incredulous that such a hands-on editor would not have had the slightest inkling about what his staff and private investigators employed by the paper were up to. That activity has clearly interfered with the activities of Members of Parliament. Faced with Mr Coulson’s denial, however, we simply could go no further. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) has said, others simply declined to be interviewed. To the list that he has had, I would add Mr Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter of the News of the World, who offered only to give evidence in private, which we considered unsatisfactory. Would compulsion have been productive? No, because it would have delayed the publication of a report. That is also an issue for the Standards and Privileges Committee to consider. Another reporter who was implicated was on a round-the-world trip at the time.
Some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises rather reinforce the view that there might be a justification not just for a Standards and Privileges Committee inquiry but a full judicial inquiry, especially to consider the police’s non-use of powers, which is in itself an abuse of power.
I will refer to the police and other inquiries, which will no doubt go on in parallel, in a few moments, if I may.
Only now are more people coming out of the woodwork to naysay what Mr Coulson told us. Clearly, that is a matter that the Committee on Standards and Privileges will want to look into in order to get to the bottom of it.
Finally, I want to touch on two loose ends from our report, of which the Standards and Privileges Committee might find it useful to be advised. First, the whole affair was reactivated by the case of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, whose phone was hacked by Mr Mulcaire. The News of the World was in pursuit of sex stories in football. It sent its chief reporter, Mr Thurlbeck, to knock on Mr Taylor’s door, on a Saturday afternoon, in the north of England, presumably with the intention of publishing the next day. However, after Mr Taylor’s lawyers denied the story that he was having an affair and made legal threats, the story was spiked personally by Mr Coulson, as we established. We followed the trail as far as a conversation he had with his legal manager, Tom Crone, before spiking it. All Mr Coulson told us was that he had not read a story. We were unable to fathom details of the discussions that he had with Mr Crone before spiking it because, he said, he was unable to remember them. We thought it would be highly unusual for an editor to accept a denial at face value. From my experience in journalism, an editor would be expected to ask, “How can we stand this story up?” The answer, we thought, would inevitably involve some discussions of the source of the story. We suspected, although we could not prove it, that the story was spiked in part, at least, because any libel suit would have exposed the phone hacking that was going on.
In case it is of help to the Standards and Privileges Committee, let me say that Mr Crone is also a very interesting character, who is legendary at the News of the World. On two occasions he misled our Select Committee. He denied admitting a pay-off to Mr Clive Goodman after he got out of jail. He also misled our Committee on the identity of the junior reporter who was involved in transcribing phone-hacked messages.
I am about to end my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. However, as Mr Crone is a key player, I urge the Committee to interview him as well.
What is happening is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that the police have not fully notified people whose telephone PINs were retrieved during the investigation, and who clearly include many Members of Parliament; it is unacceptable for the police to say that there are just “a “handful of victims”, given that the number is growing by the day; and it is unacceptable for the police to say that they conducted a full and rigorous inquiry. They did not, the News of the World did not, and the Press Complaints Commission did not. It is time that the position was rectified, and a referral of the issue to the Committee on Standards and Privileges will go a long way towards doing that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on enabling us to debate this issue. I also congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) on an excellent speech. I felt that he stepped into the realms of poetic licence when he described journalism as “a living hell”, but I thought that almost everything else he said was absolutely accurate.
I support the motion for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it is possibly our fault—the fault of the House—that the media were allowed to reach a point of arrogance whereby, in pursuit of a sensational headline in order to sell newspapers, they believed that they were above the law, could flout the law, and could adopt the unlawful procedures that have been adopted in this instance. I imagine that that does not apply only to the News of the World. The News of the World has been caught out, but how do we know that every newspaper is not acting in the same way? How do we know that our phones are not being hacked into at this moment by other newspapers?
I think that referral to the Committee is important because—I would hope—the Committee would then make a number of recommendations, including the recommendation that the media should no longer be allowed to be self-regulating through the Press Complaints Commission. It is because they have been self-regulating and we have been emasculated as politicians, afraid to say anything that condemns them, that the present situation has been allowed to arise.
Freedom of speech and the ability to hold a private conversation is the right of everyone in the land, and it has been paid for with human life. It is being paid for with human life today. Although it is almost surreal that we are discussing this matter, that is why we must discuss it, that is why the matter must be referred to the Committee, and that is why there must be a serious review followed by recommendations. Only a review and recommendations will prevent this situation from arising again, and, perhaps, curtail the actions of the media and change the way in which they behave.
Given that I must stick to the terms of reference in the motion and confine my remarks to the inquiry if I am not to be told off by you, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me merely repeat that I support the motion and congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda.
Question put and agreed to.
That the matter of hacking of honourable and right honourable Members’ mobile phones be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.