House of Commons
Wednesday 20 July 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock, notice having been given by Mr Speaker (Standing Order No. 13)
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make.
I was very concerned at the incident in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing yesterday. It is wholly unacceptable for a member of the public to treat, and to be able to treat, a witness in this way. It is all the more regrettable that such an incident should happen at a time when, particularly over the last few days, the work of this House and its Committees has enhanced the reputation of Parliament.
I have immediately set in hand an expert investigation into what took place, the reasons for the security failure and the lessons to be learned. This investigation will be entirely independent of the House authorities.
Public Confidence in the Media and Police
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
Over the past two weeks, a torrent of revelations and allegations has engulfed some of this country’s most important institutions. It has shaken people’s trust in the media and the legality of what they do, in the police and their ability to investigate media malpractice, and yes, in politics and in politicians’ ability to get to grips with these issues. People desperately want us to put a stop to the illegal practices, to ensure the independence and effectiveness of the police, and to establish a more healthy relationship between politicians and media owners. Above all, they want us to act on behalf of the victims: people who have suffered dreadfully—including through murder and terrorism—and who have had to relive that agony all over again because of phone hacking. The public want us to work together to sort this problem out, because until we do so it will not be possible to get back to the issues they care about even more: getting our economy moving, creating jobs, helping with the cost of living, protecting us from terrorism, and restoring fairness to our welfare and immigration systems.
So let me set out the action we have taken. We now have a well-led police investigation which will examine criminal behaviour by the media and corruption in the police. We have set up a wide-ranging and independent judicial inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson to establish what went wrong, why and what we need to do to ensure it never happens again.
I am the first Prime Minister to publish meetings with media editors, proprietors and senior executives to bring complete transparency to the relationship between Government Ministers and the media, stretching right back to the general election. And the House of Commons, by speaking so clearly about its revulsion at the phone hacking allegations, helped to cause the end of the News Corp bid for the rest of BSkyB.
Today, I would like to update the House on the action we are taking, first, on the make-up and remit of the public inquiry; secondly, on issues concerning the police service; and thirdly, I will answer—I am afraid at some length—all of the key questions that have been raised about my role and that of my staff.
First, on the judicial inquiry and the panel of experts who will assist it, those experts will be: the civil liberties campaigner and director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti; the former chief constable of the West Midlands, Sir Paul Scott-Lee; the former chairman of Ofcom, Lord David Currie; the long-serving former political editor of Channel 4 News, Elinor Goodman; the former political editor of The Daily Telegraph and former special correspondent of the Press Association, George Jones; and the former chairman of the Financial Times, Sir David Bell. These people have been chosen not only for their expertise in the media, broadcasting, regulation and policing, but for their complete independence from the interested parties.
I also said last week that the inquiry will proceed in two parts, and I set out a draft terms of reference. We have consulted Lord Justice Leveson, the Opposition, the Chairs of relevant Select Committees, and the devolved Administrations. I also talked to the family of Milly Dowler and the Hacked Off campaign.
We have made some significant amendments to the remit of the inquiry. With allegations that the problem of the relationship between the press and the police goes wider than just the Met, we have agreed that other relevant forces will now be within the scope of the inquiry. We have agreed that the inquiry should consider not just the relationship between the press, police and politicians, but their individual conduct too. We have also made it clear that the inquiry should look not just at the press, but at other media organisations, including broadcasters and social media if there is any evidence that they have been involved in criminal activities. I am today placing in the Library of the House the final terms of reference. Lord Justice Leveson and the panel will get to work immediately. He will aim to make a report on the first part of the inquiry within 12 months. There should be no doubt: this public inquiry is as robust as possible; it is fully independent; and Lord Justice Leveson will be able to summon witnesses under oath.
Let me now turn to the extraordinary events we have seen over the past few days at Britain’s largest police force, the Met. On Sunday, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I want to thank him for the work he has carried out in policing over many, many years in London and elsewhere. On Monday, Assistant Commissioner John Yates also resigned, and again, I want to express my gratitude for the work he has done, especially in improving our response to terrorism.
Given the sudden departure of two such senior officers, the first concern must be to ensure that the effective policing of our capital, and confidence in that policing, are maintained. I have asked the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to ensure that the responsibilities of the Met will continue seamlessly. The current Deputy Commissioner, Tim Godwin, who stood in for Paul Stephenson when he was ill and did a good job, will shortly do so again. The vital counter-terrorism job carried out by John Yates will be taken on by the highly experienced Cressida Dick.
The responsibilities of the Deputy Commissioner, which, the House will remember, includes general oversight of the vital investigations both into hacking and into the police—Operations Weeting and Elveden—will not be done by someone from inside the Met, but instead by Bernard Hogan-Howe, who will join temporarily from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
We are also looking to speed up the process for selecting and appointing the next commissioner, but we cannot hope that a change in personnel at the top of the Met is enough. The simple fact is that the whole affair raises huge issues about the ethics and practices of our police. Let me state this plainly: the vast majority of our police officers are beyond reproach and serve the public with distinction. But police corruption must be rooted out. Operation Elveden and Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry are charged with doing just that, but I believe that we can and must do more.
Put simply, there are two problems: first, a perception that when problems arise it is still “the police investigating the police”; and secondly, a lack of transparency in terms of police contacts with the media. We are acting on both. Those were precisely the two points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addressed in her statement to this House on Monday.
We believe that this crisis calls for us to stand back and take another, broader look at the whole culture of policing in this country, including the way it is led. At the moment, the police system is too closed. There is only one point of entry into the force. There are too few, and arguably too similar, candidates for the top jobs. As everyone knows, Tom Winsor is looking into police careers, and I want to see radical proposals for how we can open up our police force and bring in fresh leadership. The Government are introducing elected police and crime commissioners, ensuring that there is an individual holding their local force to account for local people, and we need to see whether we can extend that openness to the operational side too.
Why should all police officers have to start at the same level? Why should not someone with a different skill set be able to join the police force in a senior rank? Why should not someone who has been a proven success overseas be able to help us to turn around a force here at home? I believe that those are questions we should ask to get the greater transparency and stronger corporate governance we need in Britain’s policing.
Finally, let me turn to the specific questions that I have been asked in recent days. First, it has been suggested that my chief of staff was behaving wrongly when he did not take up then Assistant Commissioner Yates’s offer to be briefed on police investigations around phone hacking. I have said repeatedly about the police investigation that they should pursue the evidence wherever it leads and arrest exactly whom they wish, and that is exactly what they have done.
No. 10 has now published the full e-mail exchange between my chief of staff and John Yates, and it shows that my staff behaved entirely properly. Ed Llewellyn’s reply to the police made it clear that it would be not be appropriate to give me or my staff any privileged briefing. The reply that he sent was cleared in advance by my permanent secretary, Jeremy Heywood. Just imagine, Mr Speaker, if they had done the opposite and asked for, or acquiesced to, receiving privileged information, even if there was no intention to use it. There would have been quite justified outrage.
To risk any perception that No. 10 was seeking to influence a sensitive police investigation in any way would have been completely wrong. Mr Yates and Sir Paul both backed that judgment in their evidence yesterday. Indeed, as John Yates said:
“The offer was properly and understandably rejected.”
The Cabinet Secretary and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee have now both backed that judgment, too.
Next, there is the question of whether the ministerial code was broken in relation to the BSkyB merger and meetings with News International executives. The Cabinet Secretary has ruled very clearly that the code was not broken, not least because I had asked to be entirely excluded from the decision.
Next, I would like to set the record straight on another question that arose yesterday: whether the Conservative party had also employed Neil Wallis. The Conservative party chairman has ensured that all the accounts have been gone through. He has confirmed to me that neither Neil Wallis nor his company have ever been employed or contracted by the Conservative party, and nor has the Conservative party made payments to either of them. It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. To the best of my knowledge, I did not know anything about this until Sunday night. But, as with revealing this information, we will be entirely transparent about this issue.
Finally, there is the question of whether everyone—the media, the police and politicians—is taking responsibility in an appropriate manner. I want to address my own responsibilities very directly, and that brings me to my decision to employ Andy Coulson. I have said very clearly that if it turns out that Andy Coulson knew about the hacking at the News of the World, he will not only have lied to me, but he will have lied to the police, a Select Committee and the Press Complaints Commission, and of course perjured himself in a court of law. More to the point, if that comes to pass, he could also expect to face severe criminal charges. I have an old-fashioned view about innocent until proven guilty, but if it turns out that I have been lied to, that would be the moment for a profound apology. In that event, I can tell you that I will not fall short. My responsibilities are for hiring him and for the work he did in Downing street. On the work he did, I repeat, perhaps not for the last time, that his work at Downing street has not been the subject of any serious complaint and, of course, he left months ago. On the decision to hire him, I believe that I have answered every question about that. It was my decision—[Interruption.] Hold on. It was my decision; I take responsibility—[Interruption.]
People will, of course, make judgments about it. Of course, I regret, and I am sorry about, the furore it has caused. With 20:20 hindsight and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he would not have taken it. But you do not make decisions in hindsight; you make them in the present. You live and you learn and, believe you me, I have learned.
I look forward to answering any and all questions about these issues. Following the statement, I will open the debate, but the greatest responsibility I have is to clear up this mess, so let me finish by saying this. There are accusations of criminal behaviour by parts of the press and potentially by the police where the most rapid and decisive action is required. There are the issues of excessive closeness to media groups and media owners where both Labour and Conservative have to make a fresh start. There is the history of missed warnings—Select Committee reports; Information Commissioner reports. They were missed by the last Government but, yes, missed by the official Opposition, too. What the public expect is not petty political point scoring. What they want and deserve is concerted action to rise to the level of events and a pledge to work together to sort this issue out once and for all. It is in that spirit that I commend this statement to the House.
May I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement? Recalling Parliament was the right thing to do, because rebuilding trust in the press, police and politics is essential for our society. The most powerful institutions in the land must show the responsibility that we expect from everybody else. That is why the country wants answers from those involved in the crisis so that those responsible can be held to account, and so that we as a country can move forward to address all the issues that the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement.
That is why I welcome Lord Leveson’s inquiry, the announcement of the terms of reference and, indeed, the panel members chosen by the Prime Minister for that purpose. It is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s agreement with us about the abolition of the Press Complaints Commission and the fact that it needs to be replaced. It is why I welcome the apology from Rupert Murdoch and the withdrawal of the BSkyB bid. It is why we respect the decision by Sir Paul Stephenson to stand down so that, going forward, the leadership of the Met can focus on the vital work that is necessary.
So we are beginning to see answers given and responsibility taken, and that is right, but the Prime Minister knows that he must do the same if the country is to move forward. [Interruption.] I have a number of questions for him. He said in his statement—[Interruption.]
Order. I said a few moments ago that the remainder of the Prime Minister’s statement should be heard in silence. [Interruption.] Order. I say the same to Members who are now heckling: think of what the public think of our behaviour and stop it without delay.
Let me start with BSkyB. The Prime Minister said in his statement something that he has said on a number of occasions, which is that he was excluded from the “formal” decision-making process. With respect, that does not quite answer the questions that he has been asked. Last Friday, he revealed that since taking office he had met representatives of News International or News Corp, including Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, on 26 separate occasions, so the first question that I have for him is whether he can assure the House that the BSkyB bid was not raised in any of those meetings or in phone calls with those organisations, and whether he can also say whether at any time he discussed the bid with the Culture Secretary or, indeed, with any of the Culture Secretary’s officials.
Let me turn to Andy Coulson. Ten days ago, the Prime Minister said of his decision to employ Andy Coulson:
“I wasn’t given any specific information that would lead me to change my mind.”
The country has a right to expect that the Prime Minister would have made very effort to uncover the information about Mr Coulson to protect himself and his office, yet the pattern of events suggests the opposite—that the Prime Minister and those around him made every effort not to hear the facts about Mr Coulson. In the past week, we have become aware of five opportunities for the Prime Minister or his staff to act on specific information that would surely have led him to change his mind about Mr Coulson—all were declined. His chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, was told in February 2010 that Mr Coulson had hired a convicted criminal to work at the News of the World who was accused of making payments to police on behalf of the newspaper. Even Rebekah Brooks said yesterday that this decision was “extraordinary”, yet the Prime Minister’s chief of staff apparently did nothing with the information. In May 2010, the Deputy Prime Minister warned the Prime Minister about bringing Mr Coulson into Downing street. He did nothing.
On 1 September 2010 The New York Times published an investigation quoting multiple sources saying that Mr Coulson knew about hacking that was rife at the News of the World. We now know from John Yates that that article was enough to lead the police to reopen their inquiries and it led to Operation Weeting. We also know now that it triggered the termination of the Metropolitan police’s contract with Neil Wallis, Mr Coulson’s former deputy at the News of the World, and it led to the offer by Mr Yates to Ed Llewellyn for the Prime Minister to be briefed.
The Cabinet Secretary has said it is right that the offer was not taken up, but the question is, why? Because the Prime Minister was compromised by his relationship with Mr Coulson and therefore could not be told anything at all about an investigation concerning a member of his own staff. He was hamstrung by a conflict of interest. But the Prime Minister should not have had to rely on briefings from his chief of staff. Here was a major investigation, published by a leading global newspaper about the Prime Minister’s director of communications. The Met fired Mr Wallis, even though he was not mentioned in the article, because of the associations he had with Mr Coulson and the publication of the article. What did the Prime Minister do? He did nothing.
Given The New York Times’ evidence, the public will rightly have expected very loud alarm bells to ring in the Prime Minister’s mind, yet apparently he did nothing. Then in October the Prime Minister’s chief of staff was approached again by The Guardian about the serious evidence that it had about Mr Coulson’s behaviour. Once more, nothing was done. This cannot be put down to gross incompetence. It was a deliberate attempt to hide from the facts about Mr Coulson. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister was caught in a tragic conflict of loyalty between the standards and integrity that people should expect of him and his staff, and his personal allegiance to Mr Coulson. He made the wrong choice. He chose to stick with Mr Coulson.
My second question is: can the Prime Minister now explain why he failed to act on clear information, and why those around him built a wall of silence between the facts and the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister’s conflict of interests had real effects. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner resigned on Sunday. The Prime Minister did not talk about the reasons for his resignation, but the House must talk about it. Sir Paul Stephenson was trapped. He was trapped between a Home Secretary angry at not being told about the hiring of Mr Coulson’s deputy, Neil Wallis, and Sir Paul’s belief, in his own words, that doing so would have compromised the Prime Minister—compromised him because of Mr Coulson. Why did Sir Paul think that? Because his own deputy, John Yates, had been told by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff that the Prime Minister should be told nothing.
This catastrophic error of judgment—hiring Andy Coulson and hanging on to him for too long—directly contributed to the position that Sir Paul found himself in and his decision to resign. My third question is: does the Prime Minister accept that his conflict of interest put the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in an impossible position?
So the three questions are about BSkyB, the warnings about Mr Coulson that were consistently ignored, and the Met Commissioner. These and many other questions will have to be answered by the Prime Minister over the coming months, but there is one other question that matters now. He says that in hindsight he made a mistake by hiring Mr Coulson. He says that if Mr Coulson lied to him, he would apologise. That is not good enough. It is not about hindsight or whether Mr Coulson lied to him; it is about all the information and warnings that he ignored. He was warned, but he preferred to ignore the warnings. So that the country can have the leadership we need, why does he not do more than give a half apology and provide a full apology now for hiring Mr Coulson and bringing him into the heart of Downing street?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman: stop hunting for feeble conspiracy theories and start rising to events. Most of his remarks were just a tissue of totally—[Interruption.] I shall try to answer every point. First, I thank him for what he said about recalling Parliament. That was the right thing to do. I also thank him for what he said about Lord Leveson, whom I think will do a good job, and about the panel. We sent the names to his office this morning.
I feel, however, that the right hon. Gentleman wrote most of his questions before he heard my statement today. He asked about BSkyB. The Cabinet Secretary has said that there was no breach of the ministerial code. We heard the evidence of Rebekah Wade yesterday, saying that there was not one single inappropriate conversation. When it comes to setting out meetings with News Corporation, I should point out that I have set out every single meeting since the last election. The right hon. Gentleman published a list this morning, but it did not go back to the last election. Indeed, when are we going to see the transparency from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?
Secondly, on the right hon. Gentleman’s questions about Andy Coulson—[Interruption.]
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about Andy Coulson. I remind him that no one has raised a single question about his conduct at No. 10 Downing street. There is today only one party leader with a News International executive sitting in his office with a cloud over his head.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman raised questions about my chief of staff, Edward Llewellyn. On the proposed meeting with John Yates, is the Leader of the Opposition really suggesting that he knows better than the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Cabinet Secretary, John Yates, Paul Stephenson and others, including Jeremy Heywood, who, by the way, worked diligently for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Is he saying that all those people are wrong and he is right? I think that that shows a staggering lack of judgment.
I want to answer the question about Sir Paul’s resignation. I know that it is inconvenient for the right hon. Gentleman, but Sir Paul Stephenson set out the reasons for his resignation yesterday in detailed evidence and explained how his situation was so different from that in No. 10 Downing street. Most of the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked I have already answered: the role of the chief of staff—answered. The parallels with the Metropolitan police—answered. The role of Mr Wallis—answered. On the closeness to media groups, we should be clear about what we heard yesterday. Rupert Murdoch said that the politician he was closest to was Gordon Brown as Chancellor—and who was adviser to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor? [Interruption.]
Who was adviser to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor? It was the right hon. Gentleman.
On the action that we have taken, we should remember that during the previous Parliament, the Information Commissioner’s reports were ignored. Select Committee reports—[Hon. Members: “Ignored!”] The failure of the police investigation—[Hon. Members: “Ignored!”] We now know exactly which party was the slumber party—the Labour party. Everyone can see exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is trying to play this for narrow party advantage, but the problem has been taking place over many years and is for both our main parties. The public expect us to stop playing with it, rise to the occasion and deal with it for the good of the country.
Under the previous Labour Government, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was arrested by the Metropolitan police, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary of the day were not notified of the details of that investigation. At the time Labour Front Benchers insisted it was a matter of ministerial propriety that they were not told. Is it not therefore the case that not only has Mr Llewellyn not done wrong, but he has done exactly what a public servant should do, and to say otherwise is hypocrisy?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I think when we read the exchange of e-mails and see what Edward Llewellyn said, we see that it was cleared in advance by Jeremy Heywood and it was absolutely right. We do not live in a country, thank God, where the Prime Minister starts ordering who should be arrested and who should not be.
The Home Secretary made a statement on Monday of more than 1,000 words, but the two words “Neil” and “Wallis” were not mentioned. She, like me, was unaware of his appointment, but we were not in a situation where Neil Wallis’s best buddy was working for us. The Prime Minister was. Did he know that Neil Wallis was giving advice to the Metropolitan police?
No, I did not know that, and as I have said in relation to the work he did for Andy Coulson, I was unaware of that. I think this is an important point, because one of the issues is, frankly, the transparency and information that there was about Neil Wallis and the Metropolitan police. The one thing everyone has to say about No. 10 Downing street is that there was no hiding the fact that we had employed Andy Coulson.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sir Paul Stephenson and thank him for the announcements he has made, but will he now explicitly say that he accepts that all Governments from this one back, for over 20 years, have been far too close to the media giants in this country; that that has to end, which means no more back-door visits to No. 10; that we should be able to have sight of not just party political papers but, if necessary, Cabinet papers; and that the recommendations of the Information Commissioner and others should be implemented, to increase criminal penalties for illegality immediately?
First, I accept the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about transparency, and what I have set out is not just meetings that were, if you like, business meetings—official meetings with media executives and proprietors—but private meetings as well.
In relation to the meeting I held with Rupert Murdoch, the question is not whether he came in through the back door or front door but whether it was declared in the proper way, and yes, it was. In the old days, the only way we found out whether someone had met Rupert Murdoch was by waiting for Alastair Campbell’s diaries. In our case we have been very transparent about it. The information goes all the way back to the election and includes both private and official meetings, whether they were at Chequers or No. 10 Downing street. I think we need to go further in that regard, and I think that should be the new standard. I say to the Leader of the Opposition, who has published the information back to when he became leader of the Labour party: why cannot we see it right back to the general election?
The question I ask myself all the way through is, “Is there new information that Andy Coulson knew about hacking at the News of the World?” I could not be clearer about this: if it turns out that he knew about that hacking, he will have lied to a Select Committee, he will have lied to the police, he will have lied to a court of law and he will have lied to me. I made the decision to employ him in good faith, because of the assurances he gave me. There was no information in that article that would lead me to change my mind about those assurances, but if it turns out—[Interruption.] As I said, I could not be clearer. If it turns out that he knew about the hacking, that will be a matter of huge regret and a matter for great apology, and it will be not only a disgrace that he worked in government but, vitally, something that would be subject to criminal prosecutions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what people really care about are the appalling revelations of what has been going on in the newsroom of the News of the World and in parts of the Metropolitan police, and that the public anger about that is expressly felt by thousands of hard-working and honest journalists, and by thousands of dedicated and courageous police officers? Does he agree that, for that reason, it is essential that the police investigation should be completed as quickly as possible, that the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation should be completed and that the judicial inquiry should get under way and be completed as quickly as possible? Can he give us an absolute assurance that those investigations will now be given the priority that they should have been given a long time ago?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have to keep the victims of the hacking scandal at the absolute heart of this. Those are the people who have suffered appallingly already and were made to suffer all over again. The key thing here is the extent and scale of the judicial inquiry. An inquiry such as this— into the media, into malpractice, into the police and, yes, into politicians too—has not been held for many, many years. It has been talked about and debated, but it is now going to get under way and I want it to get on with its work as rapidly as possible.
I must challenge the Prime Minister on the accuracy of one of his assertions. He said that nobody raised Andy Coulson’s conduct with him while he worked for the Prime Minister. I did, in a letter on 4 October last year, after new allegations that he had listened to tapes of intercepted voicemail messages came through. I said in the letter that this cast doubt on the accuracy of Mr Coulson’s statement. I am still waiting for a reply.
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, to what he has done and his role in this. The point I am making is simply this: the time that Andy Coulson spent at No. 10 Downing Street and the work that he did for the Government, no one has made a complaint against. That seems to me to be important, because I have said that I gave him a second chance after he had resigned from the News of the World because of what happened under his watch. No one has raised with me any of his conduct at No. 10 while he carried out that job.
The Prime Minister has said that contacts with the media since the general election will be published. I do not think that that is good enough. We need to know the contacts that the Government have had with the media for the past 10 years. We also need an investigation into the Home Office and into what Home Office Ministers were doing.
The point that I have just made is that this inquiry is specifically looking at the relationship between politicians and the media, and—at the request of Hacked Off and the Dowler family—at the conduct of both. That inquiry can go back as far as it wants to go back, to examine the relationship between politicians and the media. Frankly, I think that we all need to be clear—particularly the two main parties—that the level of contact has been very great, and that we did spend too much time trying to get on with media companies to get our message across. As a result, the last Government and the last Opposition too often put on the back burner the issue of how to regulate the media. That is the mistake that we made. We have both—all—got to be honest about it. And by the way, this is not just about the relationship with News International; it is also about the work we do trying to win over the BBC or The Independent or The Guardian. Let us be frank about this, and let us be transparent about the meetings that we have. Then we can learn the lessons and use this as a cathartic moment to sort out the relationship and put it on a better footing.
I am glad to hear it. The Home Affairs Select Committee published a unanimous report that pointed to the fact that we believe that there were serious misjudgments in the police investigation and that News International had deliberately thwarted the police investigation. The Prime Minister will not have had a chance to read the evidence of Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who said that he took five minutes to look at a file to realise that there was criminality. That file was with Harbottle & Lewis for four years. Will the Prime Minister send out a message from the Dispatch Box that anyone who has information about this matter should hand it over immediately to Sue Akers and explain why it has been withheld?
I will certainly send out that message from the Dispatch Box, at the same time as thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the work that his Committee has done. I have not been able to study all the evidence given yesterday, but I did look at the key conclusions of his report this morning. The work that his Committee is doing in drilling down into the conduct of News International—and, indeed, of the police—is extremely valuable. But now we have to let the police investigation—now properly resourced—get under way, to get to the truth and to ensure that there are prosecutions as appropriate, and then let the inquiry get under way to do its work as well. The right hon. Gentleman has played a very good role in helping to make that happen.
Does the Prime Minister share my concern that, at a time when this House is involved in a very important discussion about this awful issue of phone hacking, and when most people in the country are most concerned about what is going on in the eurozone area and the impact that that might have on their jobs and their employment in this country, the Leader of the Opposition is so narrowly focused on scoring party political points?
The point I would make to all hon. Members is that the public want us to sort this out, and one of the reasons they want us to sort it out and to do it on a cross-party basis is that they want us to get on to the other issues that they care so deeply about. Everyone has got to recognise the threat and the problems that we face as there are difficulties in the eurozone—difficulties that will affect us right here in the UK. But I fully understand and recognise that we have got to deal with this before we can get on to those issues.
As Rebekah Brooks said yesterday in Parliament, there was never a conversation that could have been held, in front of the Select Committee. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks me to answer the question—perhaps he will now be transparent, as he was Culture Secretary, about all the contacts he has had with News International over many years. I have set out the clearest possible position; it is for others now to do the same thing.
In the light of Mrs Brooks’s revelations about quite how cosy and close the relationship was between News International and Tony Blair, and Murdoch’s secret back-door meetings at No. 10 under both the last and present Governments, does the Prime Minister agree that this explains why successive Governments have been so reluctant to act in response to the 2003 Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommendations, the 2006 Information Commissioner report, and calls last year from Lib Dem MPs for a judicial inquiry into phone hacking? [Interruption.]
People should not shout the hon. Lady down, because she is making a very fair point, and frankly, it is a point that does not reflect very well on either Conservative or Labour, which is that there were a lot of warnings about what was going wrong—warnings from the Information Commissioner, warnings from the Select Committee—but we did not put high enough up the agenda the issue of regulating the media. We should not be pointing fingers about this; we should be recognising that we need to work on this to get it right, to respond to those reports and actually put some of their proposals into the law.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, referred earlier to the file compiled in 2007 that was sent off to the legal firm, Harbottle & Lewis. In that, according to Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, there is absolutely blindingly obvious evidence that police officers were paid for information by the newspaper. News International is still refusing to allow that to be fully considered and is insisting on client confidentiality, so Harbottle & Lewis, which is an important British firm, is unable to put its side of the argument. Is this not clear evidence that News International, contrary to the pretend humility yesterday, is still refusing to co-operate fully with the investigation?
The point I would make is that that information, if it is germane to the police inquiry, needs to be given to the police and indeed to the Leveson inquiry. What we need to happen now is for the police—and then after the police, this inquiry—to go absolutely in pursuit of the truth, and if people have been paying police officers, those police officers need to be prosecuted and the people who did the paying need to be prosecuted. It is as simple as that.
After hearing the evidence that was given to the Home Affairs Committee, may I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend has said today about the attention that will be given to the victims of phone hacking, which includes a wide variety of people, including many members of the public who have suffered tragedies in their lives? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, it emerges that it will take a considerable time at the present rate of progress for all those victims to be properly informed? Will he do whatever he can to ensure that they are informed as quickly as possible, and that their cases are now properly investigated?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and I do understand, when there are many thousands of people whose phones were hacked, and given the current rate of progress in contacting them and looking into this, that it could take too long a time to get this done. I know there will be conversations with the police and the Metropolitan Police Authority to make sure that adequate resources are put into this investigation, which is already a far bigger investigation than the first, failed investigation, to make sure that they get to the bottom of this.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to widen the terms of reference for the Leveson inquiry to include not just the press but broadcasters and social media as well. Can I be reassured that it will also include other illegal and unethical activities such as so-called blagging and hacking into e-mail accounts; that it will extend to all parts of the United Kingdom; and that, in the interests of the victims of crime and terrorism in particular, both main parties will be absolutely open about the extent of their relationship with the Murdoch empire?
On the last point about the relationship with News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch and his family, I have been totally transparent and will go on being transparent. On the issue of what the terms of reference mention, of course the inquiry can look at blagging and all the information crimes that have been documented. One issue regarding the terms of reference is whether mentioning some forms but not others would give additional priority. However, no one should be in any doubt about this—Lord Justice Leveson can go where the evidence leads.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that after the extraordinary events of the past few days, the last thing the general public want to see is cheap partisanship—[Interruption.]
And that a focus on Andy Coulson comes ill from the party of Tom Baldwin and Damian McBride?
In the course of the past few minutes the Prime Minister has been asked a simple question twice and refused to answer it: as Prime Minister, did he ever discuss the question of the BSkyB bid with News International at all the meetings they attended?
I never had one inappropriate conversation, and let me be clear: I completely took myself out of any decision making about this bid. I had no role in it and I had no role in when the announcements were going to be made. That is the point. When the hon. Gentleman makes signals like that, I have to say—
I have answered the question and the point I would make is that unlike the party that the hon. Gentleman has been supporting for the last God knows how many years, this party has set out all its contacts, all its meetings and everything it did—in stark contrast to the Labour party.
Judging the mood of the Chamber, this might be an unpopular thing to say, but outside the Westminster bubble I get the impression that the nation has had its fill of this subject and is getting fed up. It wants answers about the police corruption, it wants answers about the hacking and it wants answers about relationships with the press, but there is an inquiry under way and that is where the answers will actually come. It is time that this Westminster bubble frenzy was placed on hold. There are other pressing matters that this nation expects us to focus on.
My hon. Friend makes a good point: we have set up the fullest possible inquiry—an inquiry that was never held under the 13 years of the previous Government—and we have to let that inquiry find the answers to all these questions. It looks at the police, at media, at BSkyB and at the conduct of politicians—it is able to ask all those questions and we should allow it to get on with the job.
Yesterday, Prime Minister, News International’s defence seemed to have shifted from one rogue reporter to one—possibly more—rogue lawyers, and it still has not fully revealed who knew what and when and who participated in the cover-up. Rupert Murdoch said yesterday to the Select Committee that that situation was unsatisfactory. Prime Minister, what would you urge News International to do now to resolve that situation?
Does the Prime Minister agree that having failed the victims in 2006, when the Met and the Government ignored the Information Commissioners’s Office’s warnings, and having failed the victims in 2009, when the Met’s eight-hour review dismissed evidence in its own possession, we should not fail them now by simply apportioning blame? What we need is real reform of our police, our media and our politics.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The fact is that we can go back over these reports and over the missed warnings, and the inquiry will be able to do that too, and we should use that information and use this once-in-a-generation chance to try to get media regulation right.
The motion we will debate today is about public confidence. Does the Prime Minister really feel that his conduct first as Leader of the Opposition then as Prime Minister should inspire confidence, bearing in mind the phone hacking allegations and the way in which he employed the former editor of the News of the World? Does he not realise that to many people the way in which he has acted in the past few years has been pretty sordid?
My answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes. Which Government set up a judicial inquiry? This one. Which Government made sure that there is a fully resourced and staffed police investigation? This one. Which Government are being totally transparent about their conduct and contacts with the media and asking others to do the same? That is what this Government have done. For 13 years, his Government had all those opportunities and failed to take them.
Does the Prime Minister agree that in the past when the House of Commons has been faced with big issues it has had a tendency towards knee-jerk over-reactions? Does he agree that newspapers are a force for good in this country and that what we want at the end of this process is criminality weeded out of the media but for nothing to impinge on a free press, free speech and holding people in authority to account?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We need to ensure that as a House of Commons, as a Government and as an Opposition we show an element of restraint in the debate we have about the regulation of the media. There is always a danger that the pendulum can swing too far the other way and we can start to threaten investigative journalism and a strong and independent media that can call Government to account. When we consider some of the scandals that have been uncovered in recent years, we can see that it has often been the press who have done it and not the regulators. I am sure we will come on to this in our debate later, but it is absolutely vital we maintain that British tradition.
One thing that came out of the evidence yesterday was that whereas Rebekah Brooks was invited six times a year to No. 10 Downing street under both the former Prime Ministers she has not been invited to No. 10 Downing street by me. I have set out all the contacts and meetings I have had, in complete contrast to the Labour party. I can say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have never held a slumber party or seen her in her pyjamas.
I will start again, Mr Speaker. The confidence of my constituents in Northampton in the political process has been progressively undermined and can be traced to the dismal example of politicians in the mid-1990s laying all before the altar of media barons. How can we change that culture, address the abysmal failure of political oversight and leadership and ensure that never again will we allow propriety to be sacrificed while those responsible are asleep on watch?
The short answer to my hon. Friend is that I think transparency is probably the best answer. I will come on to that in my speech, when I open the debate, but I think the best way of making sure that relationships are appropriate, and that we do not duck issues of media regulation, is for everyone to see how often we meet.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasised that he has no evidence of any complaint or questions about the conduct of Andy Coulson while he was heading the Government media service. Will the Prime Minister confirm that a year ago, during the period when Mr Coulson was director of communications, the Cabinet Secretary was alerted to evidence of illegal phone hacking, covert surveillance and hostile media briefing directed against a senior official in the Government service? What action, if any, was taken to investigate what appears to have been disgraceful and illegal conduct close to the heart of Government?
I will have to look very closely at what the right hon. Gentleman said, but the point that I made—I have never seen any evidence to go against it—is that in the period that Andy Coulson worked at No. 10 Downing street as head of communications, there was no complaint about the way he did his job. I fully accept that I take responsibility for employing him. I take responsibility for that decision, and I have laid out very clearly today what I think of that now, and all that has been learned. You have to learn these lessons if you are to go on and get things right for the future. What I would say in my defence is that in the time he spent in Downing street, he did not behave in a way that anyone felt was inappropriate, and that is important, because the decision was to employ him. The decision was then his to leave. During that period, people cannot point to misconduct and say, “That, therefore, was a misjudgment.”
Many constituents have contacted me regarding this important issue, and they will join me in welcoming the statement today, but many others have been in touch concerning other important issues, such as the crisis in the eurozone and the situation in the horn of Africa. Will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that the Government are dealing with all issues, and not simply focusing on phone hacking?
My hon. Friend is right: people do want us to get on with the other issues, particularly at a time when we need the economy to grow, we need to provide more jobs, and we have got to get to grips with problems with the cost of living. They want to see reforms in welfare and immigration. Yes, they want us to deal with this issue, but they want us to keep a perspective and a balance, and get on with many of the issues that this country needs to deal with.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that we need an all-party response to get to the bottom of the issues. Will he therefore ensure that all the minority parties—all the parties in the House—are consulted about the ongoing inquiries, not just the Labour Opposition? Will he take very seriously the responses from the devolved Administrations about the current inquiry?
We did consult the devolved Administrations about the terms of reference and about the inquiry. A number of points were made; it was not possible to include all of them, because sometimes they clashed with points made by other consultees, including the official Opposition. We tried to get the balance right, but I think anyone looking at the terms of reference will see that they cover all the ground and actually set out an extremely comprehensive and effective inquiry.
While recognising the disgraceful nature of the phone hacking scandal, will my right hon. Friend resist the siren calls of those motivated by petty politics, revenge, and anti-competition, who want to curtail the advantages of a free press and ensure that there is no alternative to the monopoly of the BBC?
We will come on to discuss the issue of media regulation and media plurality, and the power of media owners, in the debate. I think it is important not to leave the BBC out of that entirely, because it is such a huge part of the media industry in the UK. What we want to ensure is that no media group becomes too powerful or has too much influence, because that will help with the issue of the relationship between politics and the media as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for telling us that he will answer all questions, and I wonder, therefore, whether I could take him back to the article in The New York Times in September 2010. He told us today that no information in that article could make him change his mind about Mr Coulson, so could he tell us who brought it to his attention, whether he read it at the time, and who he discussed it with who led him to the conclusion that Coulson was not involved?
This article, like many others, was discussed, debated, and written about in the British press as well. Of course, all the way through—let me be clear, because this is an important question—the employment of Andy Coulson, there were questions about his resignation from the News of the World, what he knew about the hacking inquiry, and all the rest of it. I set myself a very simple test, which was that if anyone brought me credible information that showed he knew about hacking, I would have fired him. It is as simple as that. If I knew that he had known about hacking, I would not have hired him in the first place. I have tried to be extremely clear about this. As I say, the decision, and the responsibility, is mine for hiring him. His conduct at No. 10 no one has been able to reproach. He does not work at No. 10 Downing street any more, and the only person from News International with a cloud over their head who is stuck in a private office is not in my private office.
The point I am trying to make is this. I had no responsibility for the BSkyB takeover. I specifically asked to be taken out of any of the decision making and any of the information because I did not want to put myself in any sort of compromising position. I was very clear about that. So much so that I did not even know when many of the key announcements were being made. That is why Rebekah Brooks was quite able to say, at the House of Commons yesterday, that there was not a single conversation that could not have taken place in front of the Select Committee. I know that many people were hoping for some great allegation yesterday that could add to their fevered conspiracy theories. I am just disappointed for them that they did not get one.
As Police Minister, my experience of briefings from the police was that they did not give one any operational information, but they did tell one things that one needed to know. Senior police officers in the Metropolitan police would understand that perfectly. That is exactly what they were offering the Prime Minister. As a Minister, I would have been livid if officials had been keeping information from me. Did the Prime Minister want to be kept in the dark or is he angry with his chief of staff?
I set this out in great detail in the statement. Of course I have very regular meetings with senior leaders in the Metropolitan Police Service and am briefed particularly about terrorist operations for which the Prime Minister and Cobra have a particular responsibility. But the key issue about my chief of staff’s e-mail is that since reading it, Paul Stephenson, John Yates, the Cabinet Secretary and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee have all said that that was the right judgment. Yates specifically says that the offer was quite rightly rejected.
This House, the media and the whole country have been rightly focused on this issue, but is the Prime Minister aware that aid agencies are reporting that as a result of that focus there has been a lack of public awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, and as a consequence lower donations to relief funds? Will the Prime Minister assure me and the House that he will spend his time looking at those issues as well as this one?
I thought that it was ingenious to get that point into order, but my hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that was one of the reasons why I did not want to cancel entirely my visit to Africa. It is important that we get on with doing the things that Britain should be doing in the world, whether that is trading with countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, or leading the aid effort, as we are, in the horn of Africa where today we have been told there is not just a catastrophe and a drought, but also a famine. I am proud of the fact that Britain is not being deflected from the great role that it is playing to try to feed hungry people.
At yesterday’s evidence session, Rupert Murdoch was asked about his frequent meetings with the Prime Minister and his Government, to which he replied, “I wish they would leave me alone.” Will the Prime Minister and his Government comply with that request?
In the Operation Motorman investigation, the Information Commissioner found 861 personal information transactions that were positively identified as coming from 89 Mirror Group newspaper journalists. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the inquiry that he has announced will be able to look into the unlawful practices going on at Mirror Group newspapers?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: while we should not believe automatically that those practices were spread right across the media, it would be naive to think that they were restricted to one newspaper or one newspaper group. Indeed, when we look at evidence such as Motorman and the Information Commissioner’s report, it is clear that they went wider, and this inquiry and the police investigation must go where the evidence leads. All of us have to ask questions about people we employ if they were involved in those newspapers.
I heard what the Prime Minister said about consulting the devolved Administrations. For the avoidance of doubt, can he say whether the inquiry extends to Scotland and includes issues that are devolved in Scotland, such as policing? Has he secured the agreement of Scotland’s First Minister for that, and in that context, has he secured an assurance from an uncharacteristically quiet First Minister about his contacts with News International?
I can confirm that this inquiry extends to Scotland. As I said, we sent the draft terms of reference to the devolved Administrations, and we were able to accept a number of points. There was, I think, one specific point that the Scottish Administration wanted dealt with, concerning the Information Commissioner’s report, which we have not put specifically into the terms but of course it will be dealt with by the inquiry because it is such an important part of the work. More generally, when it comes to the relationship between politicians and media, the inquiry will be able to go where the evidence leads.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that while there are allegations against some officers in the Metropolitan police, the vast majority of police officers are protecting us every day, doing a wonderful job, and they should not be smeared by this?
That is an incredibly important point. Police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day and while of course we have to get to the bottom of what went wrong in the Met, we should not allow that to undermine public confidence in the bobby on the beat and the fantastic job they do for us.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the Prime Minister said that, if he had been given credible information regarding Andy Coulson, he would have done something about it, so will he now answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson)? When the Prime Minister received that letter in October, what did he do?
The answer is that with all the information that came out while Andy Coulson was working at No. 10 Downing street, there was a permanent conversation, if you like. Was this new evidence that he knew about phone hacking? If it was, he would have to go; if it was not, he would not. That is the key point. Let me answer this way. In the end, because there were so many allegations and because he was not able to get on with his job, he left. The second chance I gave him did not work. We can go over this a million times, but in the end the decision to appoint him is mine, for which I have taken full responsibility. His conduct at No. 10 Downing street is not something that is under question, so I think it would be better if we spent our time working out how we are going to clear up the illegality that took place.
There must be widespread agreement across the House that it is imperative that the police and the media start now to clear up their own mess. To that end, does the Prime Minister agree that it is time that police officers stopped divulging the details of arrested people before they are charged, and the press stopped printing those details, invariably engaging in a feeding frenzy that destroys somebody’s reputation although they have not even been arrested?
I know my hon. Friend has experience of this from before she came into politics in her work as a lawyer and in broadcasting. One of the things that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced is that Elizabeth Filkin will work for the Metropolitan police to try to work out a better code of ethics, including in relation to the media and the steps they take. This has opened up a whole conversation that we may have put off for far too long in this country.
May I return to the responses the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock)? The Prime Minister said that he had had no inappropriate discussions with News International executives regarding the BSkyB bid. Which discussions did he have with the said executives that he deemed were appropriate, who were the executives and what were the contents of the discussions?
The Prime Minister was right to recall Parliament and is right to concentrate on the immediate questions that are being asked, but will he ensure that the Government commit to making sure that this does not happen again? That involves looking at the Companies Act 2006, because it seems absurd that we rightly have a crime of corporate manslaughter, yet directors of a company in which there has been complicit criminality currently face no sanctions.
Is there not a real danger that this scandal will follow the pattern of so many others: first, bad behaviour; then moral outrage, a lot of it hypocritical; then lengthy judicial inquiries; and then more state regulation under the guise of independent regulation? Will my right hon. Friend therefore commit himself today to the good old Conservative values of individual liberty and freedom?
I am delighted to do that. My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is why I was concerned to ensure that there are people on the panel who really understand how television, newspapers and regulation work. For instance, I think that the fact that George Jones, who spent many years in the Lobby, will be on that panel of experts will help the committee of inquiry do its work.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister whether Andy Coulson had been through the official positive vetting procedure. Instead of answering, he referred me to the rules of conduct for special advisers and the standard contract. Will he now answer the question?
He was vetted. He had a basic level of vetting. He was not able to see the most secret documents in the Government. I can write to the hon. Lady if she wants the full details of that vetting. It was all done in the proper way. He was subject to the special advisers’ code of conduct. As someone shouted from behind me, he obeyed that code, unlike Damian McBride.
There has been much talk of freedom, but freedom has to be under the law. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that any future regulation of the press will balance the interests of ordinary men and women against the legitimate interest in maintaining a free press in this country?
Of course I give that assurance. One of the things with which the committee of inquiry will have to battle is that, if you consider some of the great investigative stories that have bust open scandals in the past, sometimes there has been a public interest defence. My hon. Friend is a lawyer and he will know about that. That is one of the reasons why we are asking the committee of inquiry to try to do that very difficult work.
The discussion I had was to ensure that I was not involved in that decision, so I did not discuss it with the Culture Secretary, I did not know about the timing of many of the key announcements—I was not involved. That was the sensible thing to do—conduct in which my predecessors did not necessarily engage.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) said that he wanted to hold an inquiry into phone hacking and journalistic practices, but he astonishingly claimed that civil servants stopped him doing so—presumably the same civil servants who told him not to sell our gold at record low prices. Did the Prime Minister inherit any plans from the previous Government on the inquiry?
All I can say is that the former Prime Minister’s idea to have the inquiry was never raised with the official Opposition. One of the things that I read in the press in the last couple of days was one of his former colleagues saying that he thought that it was a proposal that Gordon made to himself. [Interruption.]
To hire the hackers of Milly Dowler meant either that Andy Coulson was guilty of being complicit in a corrupt culture, or that he presided over acts of pure evil. What were the warnings given to the Prime Minister by the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Ashdown not to appoint Andy Coulson, and why did he ignore those warnings?
We do still have in this country the idea that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. Now, as I have said, I hired Andy Coulson on the basis of assurances that he gave me that he did not know about hacking. After all, that is why he resigned as editor of the News of the World. And incidentally, after he resigned, who was the very first person to ring him up and wish him well? Any guesses? Gordon Brown.
In her evidence to the Select Committee yesterday, Rebekah Brooks spoke about the number of times that she had visited No. 10 or Chequers—up to six times a year. Does the Prime Minister not agree that calls by the Opposition for transparency and disclosure of information to the inquiry sit very badly with the collective amnesia being shown about the contacts between Labour and News International?
The point I would make is that we have all got to be open about the fact that those on both Front Benches spent a lot of time courting Rupert Murdoch, courting News International, courting the Russian who owns The Independent—and the Daily Mail, and the BBC while we are at it. [Interruption.] Everybody has done it. And we have got to admit that this sort of relationship needs to be changed and put on a more healthy basis. Now we are prepared to admit it, but basically, if you like, the clock has stopped on my watch, and I am determined to sort it out. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the shadow Chancellor says, “We didn’t hire Andy Coulson.” Look, you hired Damian McBride. You had Alastair Campbell. You had Alastair Campbell falsifying documents in government. You have still got Tom Baldwin working in your office. [Interruption.] Yes. Gotcha!
On 8 July the Prime Minister said that he had commissioned a company to do a basic background check on Coulson. For the fourth time, I am asking for the name of the company. It is a pretty simple question; just come to the Dispatch Box and name the company.
We did hire a company to do a basic background check, and that is an entirely appropriate thing to do, and it was an entirely appropriate report. But I have to say, the reason I hired him was above all the assurances that he gave me. That is the key part of the decision and that is what I am prepared to say.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his swift and decisive action in setting up these inquiries, which will get to the bottom of these very serious issues. But looking forward, may I add my voice to those encouraging him not to be too distracted by this issue over the next few months, but to focus instead on the things that my constituents are concerned about: the economy, their jobs, the reform of the health service, and the contagion in Europe?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have to sort this issue out. It takes cross-party agreement to do it. We have worked well over the judicial inquiry, the panel, the terms of reference and the police inquiry—all things that this Government have taken action on, but we do want to get on to the other issues about which our constituents care so much.
Will the Prime Minister immediately put on hold his plans to introduce elected police commissioners while we learn the lessons of the last few weeks? We should reflect on the risks of things being swept under the carpet if we put someone whose political fortunes depend on the success of the force in sole charge of trying to hold them to account.
I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I think one of the things this whole episode shows is that our police service needs reform, and the idea of greater accountability, with them having to account to someone who can stand up for local people, is a thoroughly good idea.
The Home Affairs Committee was given evidence about serious failings in corporate governance at the Met. Almost all our current and former police witnesses passed responsibility up or down the chain. There was lack of clarity about who made decisions. We were told that it happens all the time that someone can get a job based on an e-mailed CV sent from an assistant commissioner straight to the director of human resources. Will the Prime Minister ensure that as well as looking at criminal matters, we look at this massive failure of corporate governance in the Metropolitan police?
Can the Prime Minister confirm what the Metropolitan police has told the Home Secretary—that News International only began co-operating more fully with the inquiry in January 2011, shortly after Mr Coulson resigned from Downing street? Is he not just guilty of bad judgment in employing him, but in keeping him in post for so long?
The point is that the Metropolitan police made that very clear to the Home Affairs Committee, but what I would say is what I have said all along: the police should pursue this without fear or favour. They should go where the evidence leads. They should arrest whoever they choose. They could not have a clearer message, or more support from the Government.
I agree, Mr Speaker. Today, people will know, is the anniversary of the moon landing, around which conspiracy theorists like to cluster. May I urge the Prime Minister, rather than listening to the vapid conspiracy hackgate theorists, to focus on the facts? What is he doing to toughen up the rules around the use of Chequers, to ensure that it is never used for slumber parties for media tycoons again?
I could see the development of a beautiful relationship there, just for a brief moment. I think, on slumber parties, if it is perfectly all right, I do not rule out my children having slumber parties, if that is acceptable to my hon. Friend, but I promise to leave Rebekah Wade out of it.
May I press the Prime Minister on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford)? In the last year, has he been briefed by the intelligence services about the phone hacking and surveillance of a senior public servant? Has he had that briefing, and will the intelligence services be requested to give evidence to the inquiry?
Can the Prime Minister clarify and confirm that the law on media ownership was watered down under the Communications Act 2003, which for the first time allowed non-European economic area companies to own UK radio and television?
A number of times now, the Prime Minister has brushed off questions about the letter that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) sent him. Can he confirm whether he saw that letter, and if so, say what he did about it? If he did not see it, can he go back to Downing street and find out what happened to it?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s transparency in making available the 26 meetings with News Corps and News International. I welcome the fact that he was able to say that no inappropriate conversations took place between him and BSkyB. Can he tell us that no appropriate conversations about the bid took place at those meetings also?
Is the Prime Minister aware that under the Inquiries Act 2005, and contrary to the evidence given by his predecessor, it is actually under the terms of the Act the job of a Minister to cause an inquiry, not the Cabinet Secretary?
I believe that my hon. Friend is right, and this does go to the point about the speech made last week by the former Prime Minister. In the end, Ministers have the responsibility to make these decisions, and I do not think it is particularly noble to try and hide behind and blame your civil servants.
In his statement, the Prime Minister told us that Neil Wallis, formerly deputy editor at the News of the World, was not employed or paid by the Conservative party, but it has transpired that he advised Andy Coulson, at least in the run-up to the general election. Has the Prime Minister made any inquiries about the exact nature of that advice?
Yes, I have. As the hon. Gentleman says, I was told about that, on Sunday. Neil Wallis was not employed or contracted or paid, but he did offer some informal advice. The reason why that information has come out is that we put it out, and we will be equally transparent when we get to the bottom of this matter.
My constituents feel that relationships between News International and politicians have been too close for many years, but they are shocked by the association with the police. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the remit of the independent review—I congratulate him on setting that up—will include guidance on preserving the freedom of the press to undertake the investigative journalism that has long been a good tradition in this country?
I can reassure my hon. Friend about that. The terms of reference include the importance of a free press. I think that the panel, which includes people such as Shami Chakrabarti, George Jones, Elinor Goodman, a former press regulator and someone who has chaired the Financial Times, is a good mixture of experts to help advise Lord Justice Leveson to ensure that we get the balance right between appropriate legislation and—yes—a free and vibrant press.
Two years ago in this House, I made this point:
“Given Mr. Coulson’s dubious reputation, none of us on this side of the House can feel comfortable while he is around to wander the corridors here. While he is under suspicion, can we not at least take his pass away from him?”—[Official Report, 9 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 1137.]
His pass was not taken away from him, and he was able to wander freely around this place. Since the Prime Minister obviously cannot smell a rat when he has one in his midst, will he tell us whether he has any other dodgy characters in No. 10 that we should beware of?
I do not think it is worthy of the right hon. Lady to use terms like that. As I have said, I choose to judge people by the conduct of the work that they do for me. I would put Andy Coulson’s conduct at No. 10 Downing street against the conduct of Damian McBride, Alastair Campbell, Tom Baldwin and all the rest of them, who did so much damage under the previous Government.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has referred several times to the future of the regulation of the media, not just the press. About the terms of reference that we have been told about, he says that “the inquiry should look not just at the press, but at other media organisations, including broadcasters and social media if there is any evidence that they have been involved in criminal activities.” Does that preclude what the 17 Select Committee Chairmen and others have called for, which is an extension of the terms of reference to deal with regulation of all the media, not merely the press alone?
The change in the terms of reference was a direct response to the 17 Select Committee Chairmen, because we wanted to listen to their views and to say that broadcasters and social media could be included if there was evidence of wrongdoing. We are not trying to have an inquiry that becomes so wide that it cannot make progress on these vital issues—but we have listened to what my hon. Friend has said, and responded very positively.
I am looking at being as transparent as I possibly can be. We have not just the Freedom of Information Act, under which people can make requests; this Government are pushing out a huge amount of data, including publication of the recent e-mails of Ed Llewellyn.
The Prime Minister has rightly published the names of people who have stayed overnight at Chequers, which includes Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, but also other journalists. Given what the Prime Minister said about the Government getting too close to the media, Mrs Bone was wondering this morning whether those visits would stop, which would open up a number of weekends when I understand she is free.
The point that was made by a number of people, the Deputy Prime Minister included, was just to ask whether it was right to give a job to Andy Coulson, because clearly, I had made a decision. That man had resigned from the News of the World over the hacking scandal because it happened on his watch. He gave me an assurance—[Interruption.] Hold on; I will answer the question. He gave me an assurance that he did not know about the hacking scandal, and I took my decision. That is a judgment that I do not hide or run away from. I am totally accountable for it.
Some people—of whom the Deputy Prime Minister was one—questioned that judgment, which is why I have been so clear that that was my decision. I am responsible for it and people will hold me accountable for it. Today, I have been utterly frank about what it would be like with 20:20 hindsight or what it would be like with double vision, but I do not believe in politicians running away from the decisions that they have made. I do not do that.
The Prime Minister will have had very little time to consider my question of last week about stopping the scandal of taxpayers having to fund pensions for police who turn out to have undertaken criminal activities. However, he has widened the scope of the inquiry to cover all forces. Given the financial pressures—a number of forces are having to ask people whether they would like to become voluntarily redundant —will he please ensure that no one found guilty of wrongdoing can keep any payout, bonus or windfall by retiring or taking voluntary redundancy?
In reply to an earlier question, the Prime Minister said that the relationship between politicians and the media meant that the important issue of media regulation was put on the back burner. Why, therefore, does he think that putting a politically elected commissioner in charge of every police force, rather than just the Met, means that similarly difficult questions will be avoided in future?
I am afraid that I do not see the read-across at all, because the elected police commissioner will want to respond to the demands of the public for effective, accountable and beat-based policing. There will be a bit of tension, as it were, between the elected commissioner and the chief constable, which, as long as there is proper operational independence, could be a good thing.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that the inquiry that he has announced into the unlawful practices in the media cover the allegation made by Lord Ashcroft that Tom Baldwin, then a News International journalist, authorised, or was part of, efforts to access the Conservative party’s bank accounts unlawfully?
Government Members are right to say that all our constituents want us to move on from excessive focus on this issue. However, how does the Prime Minister see us being able to end the practice of journalists regularly paying police officers for a quick scoop?
I think we need to do a number of things. Obviously, there is a police investigation into corruption, which will now be overseen by someone who comes from outside the Met, and there is also Dame Elizabeth Filkin’s work to try to improve ethics and standards. In addition, the inquiry will be able to do a job of work on this. On the panel is a former chief constable, so there will be understanding of how the police service works, so that we can get to the bottom of that problem and deal with it.
Public confidence in the police has obviously been affected by the allegations of the bribery and corruption of police officers. Will the Prime Minister look at whether there is a need for us to establish, as in the United States, an independent police force that can police the police? Will he give the House a guarantee that the Bribery Act 2010 will not be amended while all these investigations and inquiries are going on?
On the first point, we have the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is independent of the police. There are two questions, both of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has addressed. First, we must ensure that it has the resources and ability to investigate the police, and secondly, we must look at whether we call in an outside police force swiftly enough when there is evidence, or allegations, of wrongdoing so that people can see that the process is being carried out effectively.
Last week we heard an impassioned speech by Gordon Brown in which he outlined his concerns about hacking and his desire for an inquiry. However, in yesterday’s Select Committee evidence we heard that he had never raised that subject, despite a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Will the Prime Minister help me to reconcile those two issues?
I have had a range of meetings with John Yates over the past year, mostly about terrorism—[Interruption.] I do not recall every single conversation that I have had; you would be mad to pretend that you do. You would need to be superhuman to remember every conversation that you have. I do know that almost all the conversations that I have had with John Yates over the past year have been about terrorist issues. The key point about my chief of staff’s e-mail was that he was trying to ensure that the police did not do anything inappropriate.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the process that he has set in motion to investigate the whole affair. Does he agree that it is essential that issues relating to the Metropolitan police are dealt with speedily so that the hard-working police across London can get on with doing, to maximum effect, the job that they do fantastically for all of us in our capital?
That is hugely important. Thousands of police officers are doing a great job in London. They will be reading all about this, and I do not want it to sap their morale or the work that they do. A clear message should go out from the House that we still have a very fine police service in this country, and we back it.
All I can say to the hon. Lady is that the first I was told of this, to my knowledge, was on Sunday evening. As I said, Neil Wallis was not employed, contracted or paid by the Conservative party, but he did some work for Andy Coulson. As we get to the bottom of exactly what that work was, who knew what and when, and all the rest of it, we will put that information on record. When you are being asked all these questions—there is no conspiracy theory, as I think we have proved today—it is important to give accurate answers.
Yesterday’s Select Committee hearings were heavy on entertainment but rather light when it came to hard facts. Does not their inconclusiveness point to the need for the urgent inquiries that have been established? Those inquiries should be hard hitting, well resourced and wide ranging, and they should examine all aspects of the phone hacking scandal: corruption, nepotism, and the rather seedy and obsequious relationship between the press, the police and politicians.
As my right hon. Friend says, the reason for setting up the inquiry is to get to the bottom of the situation. To be fair to the Select Committees, they made some good progress yesterday on discovering important evidence about all the relationships, and we have been discussing some of that evidence today.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is highly unusual for such a senior adviser to the Prime Minister not to be properly vetted? Will he confirm that it was his decision not to vet Mr Coulson fully, including by asking family and friends about his past life and activities?
No, it was not unusual at all. Andy Coulson was cleared in the normal way for special advisers. He was cleared to secret, and he was not sent papers above that level. Like former Administrations, we set out all the names of the staff we employ as special advisers. Once again, I feel that a number of hon. Members are looking for some sort of secret behind a curtain that simply is not there.
When it comes to restoring public confidence in the media and the police, does the Prime Minister agree that the steps that he has outlined today show that he has made more progress on this in 13 months than the previous Government did in 13 years?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that Labour Members had plenty of opportunities over 13 years. The shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition were there all the way through. They could have promoted a judicial inquiry. They could have responded to the Select Committee and done something about the Information Commissioner reports. They were the slumber party.
Will the Prime Minister give the House a categorical assurance that Andy Coulson, during his time working in Downing street, never saw any briefings on the police investigation into hacking, nor had any involvement in the Government’s response to it?
I have made the point that it is not routine for people in Downing street to be given operational information about a police investigation. That was the whole thing that my chief of staff was rightly trying to prevent. Let me take the hon. Lady back to the time when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and there was an investigation into cash for honours. Just imagine if the police had pitched up and started briefing officials with operational intelligence. It would have been an appalling thing, and I cannot understand why she asks that question.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the leadership that he has shown in establishing such a wide-ranging and robust inquiry? Given that the Motorman investigation revealed details of 305 journalists and 30 newspapers and magazines, why does he think that a similar inquiry was not established following that?
We have to be frank. The previous Government were not on this at all and, frankly, the previous Opposition—us—should have done more. However, the previous Government have to take some responsibility for repeatedly ignoring repeated warnings. I could not have been more frank today about the responsibility I take. Every time I mention this I talk about the failings of the previous Opposition in doing their job, but just once in a while it would be nice to hear a little bat squeak of responsibility from the Labour party.
The Prime Minister has said that Neil Wallis was never employed by the Conservative party. Will he confirm that neither Mr Wallis nor any of these companies received any payment from individuals or organisations working on behalf of the Conservative party?
What I have said very clearly is that the Conservative party did not employ him, have a contract with him or pay him. As I understand it, he did some informal work for Andy Coulson, but the reason why we know that is that we announced it before the House of Commons went into recess—we wanted to get the information out. When we get to the bottom of the work that he did—this is unlike the complete lack of transparency that we sometimes get from the Labour party—we will make the detail available.
Did the Prime Minister hear the recent remarks made by Lord Kinnock suggesting that as a result of the inquiry, politicians should impose what he called “balance” on the media? Does the Prime Minister share my view that that would be dangerous?
I do. We want a free and vigorous press. Sometimes that is infuriating, but the idea of having “Ofpress” and equal coverage being given to every point of view would kill the vibrancy of the press. If we had to have equal coverage of every Neil Kinnock speech—respecting him as I do—the papers would take a lot longer to read every morning.
When Andy Coulson stayed at Chequers after his resignation, did the Prime Minister take the opportunity to talk to him about the phone hacking allegations and whether there was any truth in them, and about his reasons for resigning?
His reasons for resigning were well set out at the time. He felt that he was not able to go on doing his job with all the allegations and the swirl of information around, so he thought that he needed to move on, which was the right decision. I have been absolutely clear about my reasons for hiring him, and the work that he did at No. 10. I revealed that he stayed at Chequers, although you do not have to reveal private guests for whom you have paid yourself. The previous Government did not do that, but I have done so because I want to be utterly transparent about my relationships, decisions and judgments. I am very happy to stand on those judgments and let people be the judge; that is the only thing you can do in this job.
Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration? We have been here for the best part of two hours, but have we heard any recognition from Labour Members of the part that they played in this situation? Should we not be working across the House to restore confidence in our politics, the press and the police, as our constituents urgently demand of us?
My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition came here with a choice. They could have risen to the scale of events, helped to deal with the problem and responded to what our constituents care about, but instead we have heard a litany of rather pathetic conspiracy theories to try to win a political game, and that has been a complete and utter failure.
If you look at the evidence of Sir Paul Stephenson, whom I respect enormously and who did some very good things at the Met—and John Yates—he said very clearly yesterday that the circumstances surrounding his resignation were completely different from the circumstances in No. 10 Downing street. The responsibility that I had for hiring Andy Coulson, the work that he did at No. 10, the fact that he is not there any more—we have discussed this a lot today—are, I would argue, completely different from the issues at the Met about a failed police investigation, allegations of police corruption, very serious problems in that organisation and all the reasons that Paul Stephenson set out yesterday, I respect what he did, but he himself said that the situations are different.
The Prime Minister has shown in his statement that his private office has behaved with absolutely compelling propriety, which compares amazingly favourably with sofa government. I wonder whether he would agree that the row over this is broadly synthetic and hugely over-egged.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. What I would say about Ed Llewellyn is that he is—and Opposition Members know this—someone who has served our country, working for Chris Patten and Paddy Ashdown in Kosovo, Bosnia and Hong Kong. Yes, of course, he is a Conservative supporter and a friend of mine, but he is a very loyal public servant who has done great things for this country and who I think is utterly beyond reproach. On this occasion, as on so many others, his judgment was proved absolutely right.
I am very happy to answer—although I have answered this question already; I can set the answer to music if you like. Some people looked at Andy Coulson and the fact that he had been a tabloid editor at the News of the World and had resigned because of what happened there, and advised me not to take him on. I made the decision on the basis of the assurances that he gave me; I could not have been more frank about it. There is only one tabloid editor left in the office of the Prime Minister or of the Leader of the Opposition. There is a tabloid Mirror editor sitting in the office of the Leader of the Opposition, and I would not be at all surprised if the Mirror did not have some questions to answer pretty soon.
I have finally received an apology—and the Chancellor has too—although it took a while, for the appalling things that were done. This was a special adviser who was sitting around casting appalling aspersions on people who were then on the Opposition Front Bench. When you compare that conduct with the conduct at No. 10 Downing street of Andy Coulson—about whom, in his time at work, no one is making a complaint—it speaks volumes.
As I have said, I cannot remember every conversation that I have ever had with John Yates. I did meet him in opposition, but I cannot remember how many times I met him. I have met him many more times in government, and predominantly what I have discussed with him is the issue of terrorism.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the most lamentable episodes in this sad affair was the death of David Kelly, a proud civil servant whose name was thrown to the media pack, putting him under intolerable pressure, which led to his suicide? Will my right hon. Friend give me an undertaking that the investigation will be given a remit to cover and look back at how that event unfolded?
The point that I would make to my hon. Friend is that we have to be careful that this inquiry does not go completely viral, as it were. It has to focus on the issues at hand. Obviously, the issue of David Kelly was looked at in detail in the Hutton inquiry, and I think that this inquiry has to make some progress.
Last week I read in the Daily Mail that the Prime Minister had been about to appoint the ex-BBC journalist Guto Harri, but that after an intervention by Rebekah Brooks, he changed his mind and employed Andy Coulson. Is that right?
Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to move on—not least because we want to watch without distraction the collapse of the euro? Does he therefore agree that if we are to do so, and achieve closure, he has to be a bit more frank and answer directly questions such as those asked by my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer)?