By Matthew Barrett
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Redoubtable Labour Member Chris Bryant managed to secure an emergency debate in the Commons yesterday, following Prime Minister's Questions and a statement by the Prime Minister on the situation in Afghanistan, to discuss the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Although the debate was abused by some Members (Labour's Clive Efford, for example: "Only if ordinary people make a stand will we stop these rich people—rich people who have invaded the lives of ordinary people in the street—making themselves even richer and even more powerful."), Conservative members took a range of considered and serious positions in reaction to news of the scandal.
Three Conservative Members called for a "pause" in the current News Corporation takeover of BSkyB (as, it appears, has now taken place):
- Nicholas Soames pointed to "serious criminality" at News International: "Given that there is clear evidence of serious criminality on the part of some people at News International, would not due process also now include, in any event and without necessarily referring this to the Competition Commission, calling a pause pending further evidence?"
- Anna Soubry called for the issue to be referred to Ofcom: "Such is my concern—I have been persuaded by much of what I have heard today—that I think there must now be a pause in the consideration of the matter that has been referred to and will be determined by Ofcom. I urge the Secretary of State to consider whethbryer we should pause things, given what has happened."
- Zac Goldsmith said anything other than a pause would be "appalling" to the public: "That deal needs to be put on hold by the Government until the dust has settled and we know where we stand. Anything less than that will be viewed as appalling by the public and will be met with a nod of disapproval."
- MPs share some of the responsibility: "As MPs, we depend on the media. We like to be liked by them; we need to be liked by them. We depend on the media, and that applies still more to Governments. It is an unavoidable observation that Parliament has behaved with extraordinary cowardice for many years (…) Collectively, however, we have turned a blind eye."
- Parliament is finally standing up: "It is only with this latest sordid twist, the shameful behaviour of the News of the World in relation to Milly Dowler and the subsequent outpouring of public rage, that Parliament has finally found its—what is the correct term?—backbone, and taken a stand. Well, it is better late than never."
- This is only the tip of the iceberg: "Revelations last night, although they have yet to be proven, showed that a former editor provided authorisation for payments to the police. This demonstrates that the company was not acting on its own, and what can generously be described as a sloppy investigation by the police suggests that that collaboration ran very deep indeed. There can be few things more important to members of the public in this country than an ability to trust the police. Tragically, however, what began as a conspiracy theory is now looking less and less like a theory."
- News International is too powerful already: "Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very talented businessman and possibly even a genius, but his organisation has grown too powerful and it has abused its power. It has systematically corrupted the police and, in my view, has goaded this Parliament, to our shame."
Colonel Bob Stewart called on Rebekah Brooks to resign (although was interrupted by Mr Speaker Bercow for being insufficiently brief with his intervention):
"I, like many Members of the House, have run an organisation. Sometimes in organisations things go wrong and there are faults that might not be the fault of the person running it—but it is certainly their responsibility, and responsibility goes right to the top. Rebekah Brooks is responsible for what has happened. If she does not resign, the person above her should understand that it is his responsibility to—"
- News International has acted: "I agree that News International has not helped itself with its drip-drip feed of information and, perhaps, casual approach to investigation internally. I do not know whether the actions were deliberate or whether there were simply people there who were out of control. What I do know is that News Corp did finally react, and has brought in people to do an investigation, which is the right thing to do alongside the police inquiry."
- Rebekah Brooks is being singled out for blame: "I believe that a witch hunt against Rebekah Brooks is being developed. I do not hold a candle for her—I met her once last year at a Conservative party conference and I am sure that she has been at Labour party conferences before—but I am worried about this aspect. This is not the time to hold back evidence, and I hope that my hon. Friends will present evidence rather than simply say that Rebekah Brooks was the editor at the time."
- Brooks herself may have been hacked: "I also recognise that Operation Motorman and Operation Glade took place. Indeed, Rebekah Brooks herself was told that her phone might have been hacked and that the Home Office and the police also tapped her phone—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am just saying that it happens to a number of people."
- The problem is deeper than News International: "What that reflects, as the Information Commissioner discussed in his report back in 2006, is that the problem was not unique to one news group. The multiple inquiries that we have, which I fully support, should look across the news industry, not solely at News International."
- Coffey then highlighted the complex organisational stuctures involved: "Finally, let me make one point about BSkyB. News International is not News Corp, Rebekah Brooks is not a director of News Corp or BSkyB, and I understand that she has no intention of ever being so."
- More revelations are likely to come: "The latest revelations mark a low point in the saga of phone hacking, but I fear they do not mark the end point. There are likely to be further revelations still to come."
- The Police have serious questions to answer: "The key point is that almost every piece of evidence we are now learning about has been in the possession of the police since 2006. That raises very serious questions about why it was not pursued, and why we were told repeatedly that the evidence did not exist, and why the police assured us that there was no evidence to suggest that the investigation should go any further."
- The current investigation must be allowed to continue: "…there is no question but that the revelations that the phone of Milly Dowler was hacked, if that was the case, represent a new low, as do the subsequent revelations about the victims of the 7 July bombings and their families, and other murdered children. The truth of these matters is still not wholly clear and there is an ongoing police investigation, which nothing must be allowed to impede."
- A new inquiry must also be held: "There is a swirl of rumour about who might or might not have had their phones hacked, and there are also rumours about other newspapers. I must say that I suspect that, just as Clive Goodman was not a rogue reporter, so the News of the World was not a rogue newspaper. We need to get to the full facts. There needs to be a full inquiry, and the police, the Press Complaints Commission and the press as a whole need to be held to account."
"I should add as well that Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah, also lives in my constituency. Allegations of hacking have been made in relation to both families, and the House will understand that there is a deep sense of outrage in the community, which has already been conveyed to me, and across the country at large.
I know that the Dowler family are deeply disturbed by the revelations of hacking at the time of their daughter’s disappearance and that they would like a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the allegations. Given the emerging allegations over recent days, the case for that inquiry is now irresistible, so I was reassured that the Prime Minister confirmed to the House today that the question is now how, not if, we have that inquiry. The hacking of phones for journalistic, and ultimately commercial, gain in the midst of a police inquiry of this nature is utterly reprehensible and heartless. In fact, it is unforgiveable."
The full debate can be read here.