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Volume 616: debated on Thursday 27 October 2016

I beg to move,

That this House—

(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 662);

(ii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Colin Myler, considers that Mr Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct; and

(iii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Tom Crone, considers that Mr Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.

That the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

This case was referred to the Privileges Committee by the House on 22 May 2012. The Committee was tasked to investigate the conclusions in chapter eight of the 11th report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010-2012, on “News International and Phone-Hacking”. The Committee found that Mr Colin Myler and Mr Tom Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by each answering

“questions falsely about… knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing”

and made a finding of contempt in relation to each of them. The Committee also made a finding of contempt in relation to Mr Tom Crone being found to have

“misled the CMS Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement. He was involved in the settlement negotiations and knew that NGN’s desire for confidentiality had increased the settlement amount.”

The standard of proof employed by the Privileges Committee was whether the allegations contained in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report were significantly more likely than not to be true. The other allegations made against Tom Crone, Les Hinton and News International did not meet the evidentiary standard set out by the Committee. I thank the Committee for its diligent work, particularly given the necessarily long pause in the inquiry while legal proceedings were under way.

The findings matter because Select Committees play an important role in parliamentary and national political life. Ultimately it is voters who lose out when witnesses fail to provide reliable evidence. Decisions that shape and affect our constituents’ lives are made by the businesses, organisations, and of course Ministers whose work is overseen by Select Committees. Scrutiny happens effectively only because of the powers and privileges afforded to Members of Parliament. Without them, the ability of MPs to serve their constituents properly is undermined. The findings of the Privileges Committee that Parliament has in this instance been knowingly misled are of serious concern. The fact that questions were raised by parties to this inquiry regarding the use of Parliament’s powers and the proper jurisdiction of the House is troubling.

News International tried to get the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and me thrown off the Select Committee inquiry into this issue when we were serving on the Committee. These people were lying through their teeth—that is absolutely clear. Does the Leader of the House think the penalties put forward in this motion are commensurate with the systematic lying by people at News International during that inquiry?

I am going to deal with the question of penalties a little later in my speech.

I said that the questions raised by parties to the inquiry about parliamentary powers and proper jurisdiction were troubling. In its report, the Committee of Privileges cites submissions from lawyers acting on behalf of the News of the World journalists. Those legal representatives claimed that the House does not have penal powers in respect of contempt of Parliament. It is regrettable that Parliament and its powers have been challenged in such a way. Although Parliament has chosen not to exercise penal powers for many years, there is no doctrine of desuetude in English law or, I believe, in the law of any part of the United Kingdom. It is for Parliament to make a judgment about the best course of action in addressing that challenge, and for that reason the motion refers

“the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees”

to the Committee of Privileges for further consideration. Without such a formal referral from the House as a whole, under our Standing Orders that Committee could not consider the matter further. Of course, in practice there have been relatively few instances where the authority of the House has been challenged—at least in recent years—so the House has had little need to exercise its powers.

Does the Leader of the House accept that as the two men concerned have made it absolutely clear since the Committee’s report was published that they have no respect for the decision of the Committee and for the processes of Parliament, merely admonishing them through a motion, rather than requiring them to appear before the House, will, to all intents and purposes, undermine respect for Parliament, not enhance it?

I take very seriously the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and he and I have discussed this matter outside the Chamber. I will come on in a little while to explain why I think that to move now towards trying to take the further action that he wishes to see would not be the right approach—certainly not at this time.

One reason why the House has had little need to exercise its penal powers is because refusing to attend Select Committees as a witness or otherwise committing a contempt of Parliament itself causes reputational damage for the perpetrator. We should not underestimate that impact. Being designated as having committed a contempt of Parliament or having even been described as not a “fit and proper” person to hold a particular office or exercise a particular function can cause reputational damage to the individual and can also cause commercial damage to the organisations they represent. We should not lightly underestimate the incentive that that provides to witnesses to give evidence to Select Committees and to speak truthfully when they do so.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and other Members in this House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), would like to see us go further now: they would like the people found in contempt to be summoned to the Bar of the House. I agree with them that those who hold Parliament in contempt should not escape with their reputations unscathed, but I have concerns that moving in that direction immediately, without further careful consideration by the Committee of Privileges, would itself pose reputational risks to Parliament. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege was clear in its 2013 report that an admonishment can

“take the form of a resolution of the House, without any requirement for the contemnor to appear in person.”

Of course the convention in this House has been that the Leader of the House and the Government will normally table and support resolutions brought forward by the Committee of Privileges in order to uphold the authority of that Committee. In this case, it is the Committee that, having examined the evidence in great detail, has chosen to call for the formal admonishment of the two journalists concerned. It has chosen not to recommend to the House that the two journalists be summoned to the Bar of the House to be admonished in person by Mr Speaker.

I am sorry, but some of what the Leader of the House has said is inaccurate. This is a matter for the House, not for the Government. Historically, the Committee of Privileges has brought forward a report. It has heard people at the Bar of the House, and then the House has made up its own mind. For instance, in 1947 we decided that the Committee report was right that Mr Heighway should be heard at the Bar of the House. He implicated Mr Allighan, a Member of the House, and both of them were then found guilty of contempt. Mr Allighan was removed from the House for six months. I just say to the Leader of the House that, as a House, we should be free to do what we want, and not be bound by the Committee of Privileges.

I do not differ from the hon. Gentleman on that point. The House is free to make whatever decision it wishes, but the fact that he has to cite a case dating back to 1947—I respect the argument that he is bringing forward—suggests that to summon someone to the Bar of the House is not a step that we should rush into today without some pretty careful consideration.

Does the Minister agree that the last time this House admonished two people—they were Members of this House—they were not called to the Bar of the House, but admonished by a motion on the Floor of the House?

The right hon. Gentleman, who is Chair of the Committee of Privileges, is absolutely right in what he says.

The former Clerk to this House, Lord Lisvane, made his view on this matter clear when he sent written evidence to the Liaison Committee. He said that the approach of summoning someone to the Bar of the House would, in his view, risk being a pantomime. The problem that I have in moving today to accept the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Rhondda, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and others is that we would be testing, without some careful thought and consideration, the House’s power to enforce such a summons at all. The Serjeant at Arms does not have a power in law to take someone by the shoulder and force them to attend the House if they choose not to do so. Indeed, I have seen advice that suggests that, under such circumstances, the Serjeant at Arms or their team would themselves be at risk of criminal proceedings were they to seek to effect the forceful attendance of somebody summoned to the Bar of the House.

I know that there are also some Members who believe that we should go even further than just summoning individuals to the Bar. They would like to take the radical step, which has been taken by some other jurisdictions, of enshrining the penal powers of the House in statute. It is a model that has been adopted to a greater or lesser extent by some other democratic legislatures. The United States Congress claims an inherent power to punish contempts, but it relies on the courts of the United States to enforce it. The information that I have is that the courts consider such requests from Congress, but they do not grant every such request, and they examine and test to their satisfaction the evidence on which a request is based.

In Australia, there is a criminal offence of contempt of the legislature, with powers to deal with such contempt, such as fines or imprisonment; but there are fundamental consequences to legislating and, as a result, risking drawing in the courts in a way that may start to encroach on parliamentary privilege and the principle laid down in the Bill of Rights in 1689 that proceedings in Parliament, whether in this Chamber or in Committees, may not be questioned in any court of law. As the House knows, these are issues that the Government have previously considered—in their 2012 Green Paper on parliamentary privilege and in their response to a 2013 report by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

Now, it is ultimately, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said, for the House to decide how it wishes to deal with contemnors, by directing the Committee of Privileges to look into the issue by virtue of Standing Order No. 148A. However, I think the right way to proceed—and my advice to the House today—would be to ask our Privileges Committee to examine these questions of the exercise of penal powers carefully; to hear representations —from those such as the Members who have intervened on me—to go further; and then to come back with a report and, if the Committee thinks appropriate, recommendations to the House, so that we could take a decision at that point, after serious examination of our traditions and practices, of the law in this country, including human rights law, and of the practice of other democratic jurisdictions.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, and I agree with him. I also thank the Privileges Committee for its diligent work.

The Committee of Privileges adopted a procedure that met high standards of fairness, while being proportionate and properly parliamentary. The standard of proof applied by the Committee was whether the allegations were significantly more likely than not to be true.

It is always a serious issue when witnesses mislead a Committee, and it undermines the Committee process. It was right that the Culture Committee referred this matter to the Privileges Committee. Members should be able to question witnesses without fear or favour, affection or ill will. It is right that the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to Select Committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges for a detailed, considered inquiry, as it may be necessary to take legal or other advice.

It is normal practice to agree with the Privileges Committee report. Therefore, the Opposition agree with the motion in the name of the Leader of the House.

I wish to say a few words as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee during the inquiry in the last Parliament into phone hacking at the News of the World.

First, the case against Tom Crone and Colin Myler is compelling. It is based not on one evidence session where there may have been a slip of the tongue or a piece of misleading information given; this was a systematic attempt to mislead Members of the House and members of the Committee over many years—over two parliamentary inquiries—and, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, for which Tom Crone and Colin Myler have shown absolutely no remorse or regret; actually, in many ways, they believe they have done nothing wrong.

Without going through all the incredibly complex work that was done by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee ahead of the Leveson inquiry in looking at the knowledge and extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, one simple thing is really clear, and it shines out in the Privileges Committee’s report as well: the evidence that condemned Colin Myler and Tom Crone—that condemned News International—always existed within the company itself and was always within reach of the executives of that company. In fact, the killer piece of evidence, which the Select Committee requested that News International’s lawyers, Farrer, produce and release, was a memo written by Tom Crone himself and attached to a legal opinion by Michael Silverleaf, QC, which lays out in black and white, extremely clearly, that phone hacking at the News of the World was not restricted to one journalist, but widespread throughout the organisation. There was a cultural problem, they all knew about it and they systematically lied about it over a number of inquiries, with repeated opportunities to give oral and written evidence.

The Leader of the House is right to say that incidents of contempt of Parliament and of people being requested to be brought to the House happen rarely, so we should reflect on this report and on the evidence the House has received. It is clear that this is a serious matter—it went on for a long time—and there should be some sanction. On serious inquiries such as this—the inquiry on phone hacking, which was an issue that affected many people’s lives—it should be a presumption that witnesses, when they appear before the Committee, are telling the truth, and are compelled to tell the truth, and that if they seek to lie, and repeatedly lie, there is some very clear sanction against them.

I am pleased to hear what the Leader of the House has said. It really is time that there was a clear process that the House should follow whereby people face some sanction if they are found to be in contempt of Parliament and to have lied to Parliament. That might, as he suggested, follow the example of the United States Congress, where the matter is referred to the courts for them to decide what further action should be taken. There should be some clear sanction in law. Witnesses should have regard to the fact that when they give evidence to Parliament they are compelled to tell the truth.

I rise briefly to support the Privileges Committee in the report that it has published for the House. The Leader of the House put forward a very compelling case for how we need to look at this to make sure that when issues of contempt of the House emerge, as they have in the course of this inquiry, they are taken seriously and we have a range of sanctions that could be deployed against those who treat this House with contempt and action is then required. I was disappointed that Mr Speaker did not select the amendments, because they would have given us a useful opportunity further to exercise this House’s views on controls and constraints of some sort, and on what has emerged in the course of this inquiry.

The Leader of the House outlined a sensible suggestion to compel the Privileges Committee to come forward with a report so that this House can consider all these issues properly. I support that intention. I hope that when such serious issues of contempt of Parliament arise in future, a range of options is available to this House that can be demonstrated and exercised by Members of Parliament who are doing their duties and carrying out their responsibilities on behalf of their constituents.

I am very conscious of the recommendation in the report that

“it would be wise for those Members of the House who sat on the CMS Committee in 2012 to take no part in the debate on our Report.”

I therefore do not want to talk about the specific cases of Mr Crone and Mr Myler, other than to thank the Committee of Privileges and its Chairman, because they have already had to spend a great deal of time on this matter as a result of the decision of the Committee that I chaired at the time to refer this matter to his Committee.

The Leader of the House talked about the fit and proper person test. He will recall that there was great speculation when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee decided to dispatch the Serjeant at Arms to serve a warrant on Mr Rupert Murdoch requiring him to appear before the Committee, with much excitement in the press about the consequences had he failed to respond. In actual fact, he did come. I do not know what processes he went through in deciding to do so, or his advisers in telling him that he should, but the fact that there is a fit and proper person test for those holding broadcast TV licences may have had some small part to play. The fit and proper person test is a relevant factor. It would be interesting to know whether it might apply beyond the broadcasting licensing requirements, perhaps extending into the general assessment of whether somebody is suitable to hold a position of company director, for instance. Perhaps being admonished by the House is not just the slap on the wrist that some fear it could be.

The other point, which the Leader of the House also mentioned, is the debate about whether this should become a criminal offence. I have reservations about that. If the two individuals who are accused had been prosecuted in a court of law, they would have been entitled to defence counsel, and I can envisage myself being cross-examined about whether it was right that I questioned as I did the people who appeared. That would clearly have profound implications for the powers of Select Committees.

These are very deep and difficult waters. I conclude by expressing my sympathy for the Chairman of the Privileges Committee, who, having already spent years on this matter, is now being compelled to go back to it and consider even more difficult questions. I look forward to hearing his conclusions.

I, too, am grateful to the Privileges Committee for the diligent work it has done, and I hope that we will hear from its Chair very soon. I am grateful not only to the Committee Chair and its Members, but to the acting Chair, who had to take much of this through over the last few months.

I will not make any comment about the individuals, Mr Myler and Mr Crone, but I think that the Committee did its absolute best to make sure that there was due and fair process, and that the two men were able to put their own case. The very fact that of the three names originally put forward by the Select Committee, two names are before us today—the Committee found that Mr Les Hinton had not misled the House, or certainly that there was not enough evidence to say that—shows that there has been due process.

The right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), whose most important role in the matter was as the former Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is right to say that we should not underestimate admonishment. The Privileges Committee was right to say that that should be the only punishment. We should not be considering a fine or imprisonment, because I do not think that a political institution such as Parliament should be able to do that. That is one of our fundamental principles of habeas corpus. We should not underestimate admonishment, because it would be the House saying that these two men are liars; that they are not honourable; that they have deliberately misled Parliament; and that they are not reliable witnesses. Anybody who wanted to employ them would obviously want to bear that in mind.

If the same thing had happened in the United States of America, the Leader of the House is absolutely right to say that it would have gone to court rather than being dealt with by Congress. The penalties would have been considerably higher than some words in the Journal of the House of Commons. The last such instance in the United States of America led to somebody being fined $10,000 and imprisoned for six months.

I accept the points that have been made about not wanting to infringe the Bill of Rights, and not wanting the courts to be able to question or impeach proceedings in Parliament. At the same time, there is a real problem if people can, effectively, proceed with impunity. This is a much more serious case than any that we have had before the House for some considerable time, including the cases that have been referred to from 1947 and 1957. I do not think that either of those cases would come anywhere near the House today. Simply telling a journalist off for having published somebody’s telephone number and trying to get people to vote in a particular way—that was, to be honest, the House behaving a bit like a prima donna.

In the case that we are discussing, however, two men lied to Parliament. They chose to lie to Parliament. They made it impossible for the Select Committee to do its work properly, and other forms of justice were not available to those who were involved. I think it is much more serious than any other case since 1879, when two men said that they had bribed Members of Parliament to secure contracts for the building of bridges across the River Thames. Then, we did imprison; it was the last time that we imprisoned. The truth of the matter is that if the same thing happened today, the only thing that would be available to us, according to what we are deciding today, is admonishment. Frankly, I think that that is the kind of situation in which people should be going to prison.

The whole thing is made worse by the fact that the individuals concerned do not accept that they have done anything wrong. On the very day the report was published, they went on the record to say that they did not accept the Committee’s findings, they did not accept the way it had done its work and they did not accept Parliament’s remit. I tabled two amendments simply to say that we should not increase the penalty above that which was agreed by the Privileges Committee—it should still just be admonishment—but that it should be done at the Bar of the House.

I understand the argument that we should not do that. Lord Lisvane has his arguments, although he is too excitable on this matter for my liking, but I think the real problem was adumbrated by the Leader of the House. The reason we are not doing it is that we are frightened that we cannot summon someone to the Bar of the House because the Speaker’s warrant has no effect and the Serjeant at Arms has no power. The problem is that we cannot force somebody to appear as a witness before a Select Committee, which really means that we have become a paper tiger. We have become a lion with no teeth.

We should insist that we have certain powers, but my concern with bringing someone to the Bar of the House is that it is unduly theatrical and would make the House of Commons look foolish in the public arena, rather than making us look wise and providential.

If somebody were brought to the Bar of the House, I would hope that they showed contrition. John Junor certainly did so in 1957, which meant that the House decided immediately thereafter that it would not pursue the line of admonishment but let the matter lie. Perhaps if the two men in question had been brought to the Bar of the House, they would have shown contrition and that is exactly what we would have decided as well.

It is the counsel of despair to say that we cannot use the powers of the House. We need to address the situation urgently, because the number of witnesses who have tried to avoid appearing before Select Committees has grown exponentially in recent years. That was true of the Maxwell brothers, and then there was nobody for about 10 or 15 years. James and Rupert Murdoch tried to refuse to attend, and Rebekah Brooks refused to attend for some time. All sorts of excuses were provided, but they did eventually attend. It is extraordinary that the Murdochs, having been in control of such a large part of this country’s media empire, did not appear for 20 years. Mike Ashley and Philip Green tried not to appear, and we had to stamp our feet to secure their attendance. That eventually happened, but there may come a time when, if we keep saying that we do not have the power to force people to come, they will decide not to, and then we really will have lost. If we cannot summon witnesses and require them to attend, what price our ability to hold the powerful to account?

This is not about those of us who are in this Chamber today. We as individuals come and we will be gone. We pass through here but very briefly and the waters will very soon cover us over, but the role of Parliament endures, because Ministers do not have the sole prerogative rights on the abuse of power. We have to be able to summon witnesses, to force them to attend, to pursue the truth, to hold the lies and half-truths of the great and the good up to the light. I think that people in this country are sick and tired of the extremely powerful and the extremely wealthy being able to lie, scam and brag that they have been able to do so with impunity.

Finally, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:

“Maybe most Muslims peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”

That tweet in itself is an act of incitement and it is despicable, but if we were to apply his logic that all Muslims, including peaceful Muslims, are responsible for jihadism, we would conclude that it must surely be true that Rupert Murdoch is personally responsible for the lies that were told to this House by Mr Myler and Mr Crone.

The report represents the fulfilment by the Committee of Privileges of the task that it was asked to undertake by the House on 22 May 2012. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) for chairing a number of the hearings in my absence in recent months.

There is not much time for this debate, so I will concentrate on the process rather than the details of the evidence. It is important to be clear about the role of the Committee. It did not set out to find evidence of phone hacking or to make a judgment about the inquiry conducted by the former Culture, Media and Sport Committee or its findings. Our report is not about phone hacking or the alleged cover-up of such activities. It is this country’s legal process that has taken that into account in recent years.

As set out clearly in our Standing Order, the Committee of Privileges is concerned with specific matters relating to privileges. In this case, that meant investigating whether named witnesses and a company gave misleading evidence to the CMS Committee, as set out in chapter 8 of that Committee’s report.

We started our work by determining the process by which we intended to reach our conclusions. We believed that the process should be fair and should offer sufficient opportunities to the inquiry subjects to put their side of the story and to comment on our draft conclusions.

Although we do not accept that article 6 of the European convention on human rights applies to our inquiry, we set out nevertheless to shape a process that would meet its stipulations. We consulted the inquiry subjects in advance and published the process as a resolution so that all could see what would happen at each stage. That was before the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege started its own work in this area, but we were pleased to see that the Joint Committee subsequently described our process as “fair” and used our resolution as the pattern for its own draft standing orders on dealing with contempt.

Our resolution was published in 2012 and it is included as an appendix in our report, but there are two points from it that I would like to stress. The first point is the standard of proof. We adopted the standard used to assess more serious cases involving MPs—that the allegations had to be significantly more likely than not to be true. The second is the provision that we would suspend the inquiry if there were any danger that it might prejudice a criminal proceeding.

It was that provision which led to the inquiry being suspended at least twice and which meant work to complete the inquiry was delayed until December 2015, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not bring corporate charges against News International. That cleared the way for us to look at all the allegations made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

To reach our conclusions, my Committee examined the evidence before the CMS Committee up to 2012 and documentary evidence that had emerged since which was relevant to the allegations. We took into account publicly available material such as that given to the Leveson inquiry, and requested further evidence from the inquiry subjects, the CPS, the police and others. Most of those we approached co-operated with us and we are grateful for that. The exception to that was where lawyers for the inquiry subjects seemed determined to raise procedural issues, rather than engage with matters of substance. We have published all the correspondence relating to the inquiry so that anyone with the time or interest can see for themselves how co-operative different parties have been.

At the end of that careful consideration and analysis, we concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support findings that Colin Myler and Tom Crone—the latter on two counts—had misled the CMS Committee and were therefore in contempt of the House. We did not find sufficient evidence to uphold a third allegation against Mr Crone, or any of the allegations made by the CMS Committee against Mr Hinton. Nor did we find sufficient evidence of a breach of parliamentary privilege by News International, and there was some confusion in the CMS Committee report over pinpointing the corporate body that could be accused of misleading the Committee.

I would invite anyone who disagrees with our findings to re-examine the evidence before us and to bear in mind the standard of proof. I repeat that our concern was specific: did these named inquiry subjects give misleading evidence as set out in the allegations of chapter 8 of the CMS Committee report?

We have recommended that Mr Myler and Mr Crone be formally admonished by the House. We believe that that is a significant step. Although individuals may be criticised in motions in the House, as we saw only recently, that is very different from the House directly resolving to admonish witnesses for obstructing the work of a Committee. It shows how seriously the Committee regards these offences that it seeks to involve the House in that way.

I know that some people feel that we have not gone far enough; the amendments that have not been selected today suggest that. Those people are disappointed to be deprived of the theatre of the inquiry subjects being dragged to the Bar of the House, hence the amendments. However, as has rightly been said, that has not happened in modern times—it did not even happen with the two Members of the House in 1992 who were admonished by resolution; they were not brought to the Bar of the House. We should be conscious of how we treat one another, as opposed to how we treat people outside. In fact, 1957 was the last time the process was used against an individual, when it was described in the House as a “medieval pantomime.” That was objected to. The Speaker of the day, Speaker Morrison, accepted that it was wrong to describe the proceedings as a medieval pantomime, but he accepted “medieval drama”.

The former Clerk of the House, Sir Malcolm Jack, in written evidence to the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 2013, considered that

“the possibility of hauling people to the bar of the House and admonishing them would provide a theatre of the absurd”.

I think that he was right. The more recent precedent, set in 1992, is, as I have said, for Members to be reprimanded by resolution only. My Committee considered which form of admonishment was appropriate and decided firmly against summoning Mr Myler and Mr Crone to the Bar. That would risk moving the focus from the facts of the case, which are published with our report in great detail, to the punishment and making the process effectively a show trial, for want of a better expression. It seemed to me and the Committee that that would not be good for the House or for anyone else, even if those powers were available. We should remember that in 1957 the proceedings of the House were not broadcast and there was no such thing as social media. We recognise now that everything we do is much more public. I am sure that Mr Crone and Mr Myler will not regard today’s events as a light matter, and nor should they, given the findings of the Committee and the evidence that is in its report for all to see.

I could say much more on the subject of the House’s powers and how they are enforced, but I will be able to return to that matter if the House agrees to the proposal from the Leader of the House that the Committee of Privileges should examine the

“exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts”.

As my Committee points out in our report, that matter has been left unresolved for too long and it is right that we should go away, look at it and come back with some workable recommendations. I believe that it is better that that be done away from any current privileges report or any current inquiry.

I hope that the Leader of the House can reassure us that, unlike in the past, time will be found for the House to debate and to come to an agreement on whatever recommendations we make in our report. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that we have to get the power that this place has into the context of the 21st century, not the centuries before. That is important. If the proposal is agreed today, and agreed by the Privileges Committee, all Members, and I am sure others, will have the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee about the powers we have and how we should exercise them.

The inquiry took a long time and my Committee has done its best to reach a fair verdict following a fair process. I think that we have done that and I ask the House to support the motion before it today.

My initial reaction on the day of the report’s publication was that I was pleased that the Privileges Committee had agreed with our 2012 report saying that Colin Myler and Tom Crone had misled us and were in contempt. I made those comments, which are on my website, following a statement by Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International that led to claims that he had been exonerated. Clearly, this Privileges Committee report provides no substance for that statement, and nor does it provide any substance for Mr Hinton’s claims that the CMS Committee reached false findings in 2012. In my comments, I also said that I found the second half of the report more disappointing and I want to explain why. I also have questions about an aspect of the Privileges Committee’s methodology.

I join the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) in expressing my sympathy for the Committee. During its long, interrupted inquiry, it clearly received only grudging, and certainly not full, co-operation from three of the subjects: Colin Myler, Les Hinton and News International, and their solicitors. That was an all-too-familiar experience through all our reports into phone hacking.

I turn to chapter 6 of the report and Les Hinton. Mr Hinton, often described as Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man, was the executive chairman of News International until December 2007. He resigned as chief executive of Dow Jones, another News Corp subsidiary in New York, in July 2011, within a week of the closure of the News of the World—that fact should speak for itself. We found that he was not full and frank in his evidence to our Committee about the payments made to the convicted royal reporter Clive Goodman; about their purpose, which was to buy silence; or about suspicions that were communicated to him about the extent of phone hacking beyond one rogue reporter and one hacker. One only has to look at the detailed memo from Harbottle & Lewis, the lawyers to the group, to see that he also misled us over claims that a full and rigorous investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World happened on his watch—it certainly did not.

On Mr Hinton, the Privileges Committee made three findings, each of no contempt. First, on payments to Clive Goodman, the report concludes that he failed to tell us, but would certainly have remembered, his role in authorising a £90,000 pay-off to a convicted criminal. The Committee says that it found its conclusion of no contempt “particularly difficult”. I, for one, find that a little confusing and surprising, because we certainly, and unanimously, did not find it difficult to reach our conclusion.

Secondly, on knowledge of the allegations about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, the report documents that Mr Hinton received a letter in 2007 from Clive Goodman appealing his dismissal, in which he implicated other senior members of staff. Mr Hinton subsequently told our Committee that he had never been provided with any suspicions of wider involvement, and he never sought to correct that comment. Paragraph 269 of the Privileges Committee report says:

“On that basis we agree that Les Hinton’s evidence was misleading because it did not reveal that Clive Goodman was the source of one of those allegations.”

Yet in paragraph 270—the following paragraph—the report goes on to conclude that the allegations that Mr Hinton misled us were not

“significantly more likely than not to be true”,

so it made no finding of contempt. I am not the only person to find that conclusion rather contradictory and confusing.

I will not delay the House in relation to the third finding in this chapter of the report, about the payment of Mr Goodman’s legal fees—the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) may want to ask questions about it—as I have said enough about Mr Hinton. I will say, however, that throughout our investigations we found a pattern of payments, settlements and confidentiality clauses that clearly had one aim in mind: to suppress the truth about phone hacking.

Chapter 7 of the report deals with News International, which has since been renamed News UK. It was the parent company of News Group Newspapers, which ran and published the News of the World and The Sun. I must say that, at the outset of the chapter, the Privileges Committee took a narrow approach to the question of whether News International itself was in contempt. It

“looked to identify the individual who could be said to be a controlling mind such that their written or oral evidence could fairly be said to be on behalf of and bind the company.”

That is tantamount to saying that statements by the company, individual senior employees or its lawyers, with plenty of chance to correct the record, are not binding. The report concludes that, by that test, only the executive chairman or the chief executive giving direct evidence at the relevant time—Les Hinton, James Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks—fits the bill. That is rather contestable.

On corporate liability, the report says that it was unclear why our Committee chose to focus on the parent company, News International, rather than News Group Newspapers. That, too, is a rather narrow point. The Privileges Committee did not ask us about that before it issued its report, but I hope to shed some light on why we chose that route. The issue was not raised before we reached our findings, when the Clerk of Committees was acting as our Committee Clerk and the recently retired Speaker’s Counsel was giving us advice. The title of our 2012 report was, indeed, “News International and Phone-hacking”.

I should mention some of my uncertainties about the Privileges Committee’s methodology. It reviewed, inter alia, oral and written evidence formally given to us, but that was clearly not the sum of our knowledge. It says that it reviewed “other publicly available documents”, but it is unclear from the report whether those included, in particular, court evidence in the myriad civil phone hacking claims and press releases from News International. We certainly considered those documents, as well as the whole behaviour of the organisation over a long period, when reaching our findings. They were not allegations; they were findings.

Throughout, we sought the truth beyond the initial “one rogue reporter” defence. We were clearly not alone in doing so. Along with media investigations, notably by The Guardian and The New York Times, a raft of hacking victims sued in the civil courts. In each case, the pattern of behaviour in the whole organisation was always the same—denials, misleading statements and evasion, until being forced, grudgingly, to make admissions. That extended to out-of-court settlements with strict confidentiality clauses to avoid cross-examination in the witness box and, in the case of the investigator Glen Mulcaire, to indemnities and costs being paid as long as he played ball. We know that, as we knew it then, from all the court documents.

In July 2011, but only after closing the News of the World, News Corporation and News International changed tack, setting up the so-called management and standards committee to handle the scandal. Any notion that afterwards a so-called “zero tolerance”, as the report describes it, equated to openness and full co-operation in reality is completely wrong. We had to probe, dig and cajole, as did lawyers in the civil cases. During our inquiries, News International issued misleading and false corporate statements, including press releases on 10 July 2009 denying a key story in The Guardian and, on 24 February 2010, savagely attacking our earlier report. At the time of that report, News International’s chief executive was Rebekah Brooks, to whom I will turn in a moment. As far as Les Hinton is concerned, I have said enough.

I will not dwell too much on James Murdoch, save to note his “lack of curiosity”, as we termed it, about the key items and events about which he was made aware during his tenure, including the damning opinion from Michael Silverleaf, QC, in June 2008, and the settlement with Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers Association to which that related. In evidence, the Murdochs rested on a letter from their lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, claiming that there had been a proper investigation. In a key memo to us, the lawyers told us that the Murdochs were not entitled to do so. They said that the Murdochs were either mistaken or confused.

Those senior people were far from being the only News International executives from whom we took evidence. Tom Crone, for instance, who is found in the Privileges Committee’s report to be in contempt, was the legal manager for both News Group Newspapers and News International. In key ways, our 2012 report was unfinished business. Owing to the imminent criminal charges, we, on advice, made no findings about the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, or Rebekah Brooks. Whether the Committee will wish to do so now, raking back over old ground, is clearly a matter for the Chair and its members.

In June 2014, Andy Coulson was convicted of conspiracy over phone hacking, while Rebekah Brooks was acquitted. However, those charges were not related to the evidence given to us about whether she had misled our Committee. On page 112 of its report, the Privileges Committee mentions that her evidence in criminal cases and to the Leveson inquiry was “constrained”, as was her oral evidence to us on 19 July 2011. That was four days after she had resigned as chief executive, and the report says that

“as such her answers cannot be said to be on behalf of News International.”

She was sitting alongside the Murdochs at the time. The report concludes:

“There are therefore no particular matters arising from her oral evidence in 2011.”

I am afraid to say that I am not the only one who would beg to differ with that narrow, premature conclusion. Ms Brooks is now, of course, the chief executive of News UK—so much for Rupert Murdoch’s penitence when he said:

“This is the most humble day of my life.”

Is it not a curious irony that, because of the Bill of Rights, neither Lord Justice Leveson nor the courts could, when interrogating Rebekah Brooks, ask her why, in an answer to a question from me on 11 March 2003 about whether she had ever paid a police officer for information, she said yes?

I agree with my hon. Friend. That highlights the long record of Ms Brooks coming—or declining to come—to give evidence in this House. We have taken issue with such evidence.

In evidence to our Committee in July 2011, Ms Brooks repeated one central assertion:

“the fact is that since the Sienna Miller…documents came into our possession at the end of December 2010, that was the first time that we, the senior management of the company at the time, had actually seen some documentary evidence actually relating to a current employee.”

The Sienna Miller civil case was seminal in terms of disclosure. Ms Brooks went on to say:

“It was only when we saw the Sienna Miller documentation that we realised the severity of the situation.”

Yet we know that, by then, News International had plenty in its possession to suggest that hacking was widespread, including the Silverleaf opinion. We know that Rebekah Brooks personally negotiated the big out-of-court settlement with Max Clifford, which was all wrapped up in confidentiality, just days after our 2010 report. As the Privileges Committee report records, we know that she was present with other people from News International at the meeting of its lawyers Farrer and Co. on 20 January 2010 that was held to discuss Mr Clifford’s civil claim.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Tom Crone’s role as legal manager would surely be to act on behalf of the company to gather whatever advice he needed to advise whoever within the company—senior executives at all levels—of impending issues and problems, and that it is therefore right to assume that he would have made his opinion and that of Michael Silverleaf available to anyone he felt he had to make them available to?

I thank the new Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. There are disputes within the company about who told what to whom at what time. If he will bear with me, in a moment I will come on to something about which there has been no dispute.

We know, too, that back in 2006, when Rebekah Brooks was editor of The Sun, the police informed her that her own phone had been hacked. Courtesy of evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry in February 2012, we know that she had a long conversation with a police source that was relayed to Tom Crone and then by him in an email to Andy Coulson on 15 September 2006. That email referred to more than 100 victims across all walks of life, not just the royal family, who would have been of interest to royal reporter Clive Goodman.

On reviewing all the lengthy correspondence the Culture, Media and Sport Committee received at the time, it is clear that Rebekah Brooks led us a merry dance for nine months before our 2010 report, saying that she would give evidence in person and then declining. In her final written reply to the right hon. Member for Maldon, on 8 February 2010, she had this to say about what had been known at News International from the police about the extent of hacking:

“I understand that, at some stage between the arrests of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman on 8 August 2006, and their first appearance in court on 29 November 2006, it became known, from information provided by the police, that Mr Mulcaire had accessed the voicemails of people other than Royal Household employees. It was not known how many.”

Compare that to the email from 15 September 2006 that was cited at Leveson. She does not say that it was she herself who received the information from a police source, and the final sentence appears to be a complete untruth. The email cites 100 to 110 victims—a very precise number. Did Mr Crone simply make that number up for Mr Coulson after talking to Ms Brooks? It all certainly contradicts the central assertion that the Sienna Miller case was Ms Brooks’s moment of epiphany about the severity of the situation, four years later. Along with the other replies that Ms Brooks gave us—not least over the cost indemnity arrangements with Mr Mulcaire after he was sacked—this also merits closer analysis than was evident, I am afraid to say, in the Privileges Committee’s report. On all those grounds, I believe that the Privileges Committee is wrong in being “unable to draw” the conclusion that News International misled us, and is rather premature in not considering it

“to have committed a contempt.”

As far as parliamentary privilege is concerned, what is important now is what happens in the future. In chapter 8 of its report, the Privileges Committee is quite right to note that the work of the 2013 Joint Committee has not been taken forward. When we on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee were finalising our 2012 report, as the right hon. Member for Maldon mentioned, we summoned the Murdochs to appear in front of us, as we knew they were in the country to apologise to the family of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler over phone hacking. The uncertainty over our step was what to do if they declined to come. While we were finalising our report, we asked time and again for advice on what sanctions might apply in this day and age for misleading a Select Committee. Too often, I am afraid we found that in the reality behind the rhetoric, the parliamentary emperor apparently had no clothes. That situation needs to be readdressed urgently.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House—

(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 662);

(ii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Colin Myler, considers that Mr Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct; and

(iii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Tom Crone, considers that Mr Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.

That the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges.