Coverage as it happened of Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions and the parliamentary debate on phone hacking at the News of the World. The debate followed shock allegations that the tabloid hacked into the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
All times are London time. Contributions from Kiran Stacey, George Parker, Elizabeth Rigby and Helen Warrell.
Kiran Stacey: The debate rumbles on in the Commons, but with little left for MPs to add, we are going to close the live blog shortly. Thanks for joining us.
And if you’ve lost the thread of events over the last few days, here’s a handy timeline of the whole saga from our interactive team. You can read the full range of FT coverage at www.ft.com/phonehacking.
Here are the main headlines from today
David Cameron backed calls for a public inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, but suggested it could only start after the police investigation had closed.
Labour and some Lib Dems have also called for a judicial inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the initial investigation, something Cameron has not ruled out.
Ed Miliband repeated his call for Rebekah Brooks to leave her job at News International.
Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, brought up the possibility of multiple public inquiries.
Emails have emerged suggesting Andy Coulson authorised tens of thousands of pounds in payments to police for information.
Cameron refused calls to refer the decision on whether News Corp can buy the shares in BSkyB it doesn’t already own to the Competition Commission, saying it is the correct legal process for Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, to make the decision
15:56: Kiran Stacey: Both Chris Bryant and Tom Watson are getting a lot of praise for pursuing the hacking allegations, even from Tories such as Zac Goldsmith, a sure sign this has become an issue too serious for the Tories to ignore.
15:35: George Parker: Simon Hughes, Lib Dem deputy leader, says that Ofcom shall not grant a licence unless a person is “fit and proper” and that MPs had made their view clear that a new assessment needed to be made about News Corp in the light of the most recent hacking claims.
“They are not going to prejudge a criminal trial. But they have a statutory obligation to consider at any time who is an appropriate person to hold a broadcasting licence,” he says.
15:29: Kiran Stacey: Alan Johnson said there wasn’t much he could do when he was home secretary to pursue the Met over its original investigation into phone hacking except to ask questions of John Yates, who was in charge of that investigation.
15:08: Elizabeth Rigby: Labour MP Tom Watson criticises Rebekah Brooks and says it is “simply not believable” that she did not know about the Dowler hacking incident. He says the “chief suspect has become the chief investigator”.
Watson says that the [Tommy] Sheridan perjury trial was “unsound and may need revisiting” and says that he is going to reveal more information about the News of the World this week. James Murdoch, News Corp deputy chief operating officer, should be suspended from his post while the police investigate the hacking, he says, accusing him of buying hacking victims’ silence. He also says that Murdoch and Brooks should reveal what they know about the attempted destruction of material from a storage depot in India.
15:05: George Parker: John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, draws a parallel between the expenses scandal – “which tainted us all” – and the phone hacking scandal, which he says taints all journalists.
He says the latest allegations of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone marked “a low point in the saga”. But he says it is “not the end point” and that other revelations are likely to follow.
Whittingdale backs a full inquiry, including into the role of the police, whom he said had been in possession of evidence on hacking since 2006. “The police assured us there was no evidence to go further,” he says.
14.58: Helen Warrell: Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has made an impasssioned speech on the role of Andy Coulson in the hacking scandal. Ms Cooper drew attention to the emails passed on the 20th June from News International to the police, which appear to show that Coulson oversaw payments made by his newspaper to the Met. Coulson resigned from his Downing press post in January this year – the same month that the police reopened their investigation into the phone hacking.
Cooper asks whether Coulson was aware that News International had these emails, and whether he told the prime minister or anyone in Number 10 about them. “If so, the prime minister would have known about the emails before the investigation did,” she said.
The shadow home secretary added that Cameron should remove himself from “any decision-making about this public inquiry” given that it has to be impartial in order to inspire confidence.
14:35 George Parker: Dominic Grieve, attorney-general, promises to look into the precise role being played by Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, at News International.
Some MPs express concern about the appointment. According to a News International statement, the former DPP is advising News International on its co-operation with the Met regarding “any inquiries into police payments at the News of the World”.
KS adds: Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has called for chief inspectors across the country to review any case they have dealt with that has caught media attention in case it might have been affected by hacking.
14:25 Elizabeth Rigby: Jack Straw, the former home secretary and justice secretary, raises the question of whether or not Jeremy Hunt should reconsider his indication last week that he was willing to approve plans for News Corp’s full takeover of BSkyB, while Ivan Lewis, shadow media secretary, asks whether the media secretary could not refer the takeover to the Competition Commission given that the consultation period is still open
Labour politicians are backed up by Nicholas Soames, the Tory MP, who says that surely “evidence of serious criminality” within News International clearly points to the need for “a pause pending evidence” in the BSkyB deal.
The attorney general says that Hunt will “reflect carefully on whether the situation has changed” but also says that “ministers of the crown have to be careful about changing decisions on the hoof because of their legal obligations”. “This is about phone hacking not about takeover policies”
14:20 George Parker: Frank Dobson, the old Labour bruiser, says News Corp should not be allowed to take over BSkyB. “Were they to apply to run a mini-cab firm in London they would not receive a licence,” he says.
Dominic Grieve insists that the “fit and proper” test for media ownership is a matter for Ofcom, the regulator, not Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary.
14:15 Helen Warrell: Dominic Grieve, attorney general, tells MPs that the revelations that the News of the World had hacked into the phones of Milly Dowler and the 7/7 bombers would “fill any right-thinking person with revulsion”.
It’s precisely because of the gravity of the allegations that the prime minister has ordered a full inquiry, Mr Grieve says - although the inquiry can only begin once the police investigation is concluded. Mr Grieve also says there may be more than one public inquiry because there are a number of “very different issues” that have been raised.
Labour’s Hazel Blears interjects to raise her fears that there is now a situation where “News International is investigating News International and the Metropolitan Police are investigating the Metropolitan Police”.
Ms Blears says that “whatever our views of the Met”, it is inevitable that some of those running the investigation will know some of the individuals in the force who are accused of wrongdoing. She suggests that perhaps another force could be brought in to carry out some elements of the investigation.
14:05 George Parker: Chris Bryant, whose own phone was hacked by the News of the World, says the phone hacking case has seen the key protagonists tell “an endless list of lies”.
He says News International lied when they said phone hacking only started in 2004 – new evidence points to hacking in 2002 – and when they said they had previously carried out a “a full internal inquiry”.
Mr Bryant says the police also lied when they said they had notified all of the victims of the hacking affair. “Not all the victims were told,” Mr Bryant says.
At the end of a powerful speech, he says parliament was set up to hold the Crown to account, but it was now time for MPs to hold “other powers” in the land to account: namely the media.
“We have colluded for far too long with the media,” he says. “We live and die politically by what they write and what they show,” he says. “We have let the Press Complaints Commission delude us into thinking it is a genuinely independent watchdog with a bite that anyone is really afraid of.”
He also attacks Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp chairman, who he says has “far too great a say in our national life”. Unlike Silvio Berlusconi, another powerful media mogul, Mr Murdoch does not live in the country where his media carry such clout.
Mr Bryant says News Corp’s bid for BSkyB should be “put on ice” during police investigations. “It must surely be in doubt that some of these people are not fit and proper people to run a company,” he says.
14:00 Helen Warrell: Chris Bryant says that Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and David Cameron’s head of press until January this year, is being “hung out to dry” by News International. “Surely the buck stops with the chief executive”, Mr Bryant says.
The Labour MP adds that it’s “vital” that the proposed public inquiry is led by a judge with full power to summon witnesses who give evidence under oath
13:50 George Parker: Chris Bryant, Labour MP and a former minister, says the phone hacking case displays “a complete moral failure” at the News of the World and says its former editor, Rebekah Brooks, should resign as chief executive of News International if she had “a shred of decency”.
Opening an emergency three-hour debate on phone hacking, Mr Bryant said: “Managerial and executive negligence is tantamount to complicity in this case.”
Interestingly the Labour benches are packed in the Commons, but the Conservative benches are largely deserted: this is clearly an issue which has galvanised Labour and given a new sense of purpose to Ed Miliband, the party leader.
Mr Bryant says the phone hacking case exposed deep failings at the Metropolitan Police, whose first inquiry into phone hacking is seen by MPs as woefully inadequate.
“A lot of lies have been told by a lot of people,” Mr Bryant says. He argues that police officers misled Labour ministers in 2009 about the inquiry and that led to ministers giving misleading statements to parliament.
13: 45 The emergency debate on the phone hacking scandal is now underway
That wraps up PMQs for now. We’ll be back shortly with a look ahead to this afternoon’s debate. In the meantime here’s our editorial on phone hacking from this morning’s FT.
12:50 Kiran Stacey’s verdict: Ed Miliband would have struggled not to score a hit on News International over phone hacking today, and sure enough he chalked up a win.
He chose the point on which to attack well: sounding reasonable and responsible by making a call for a public inquiry that was then backed, before moving to the NI bid for BSkyB, followed by Rebekah Brooks and then Andy Coulson.
Cameron had a very good defence on the BSkyB bid: he has followed proper legal procedure and the issues of media plurality and competition have nothing to do with phone hacking. But for some reason, he saved his best line on this for a question by Ben Bradshaw, the former culture secretary. He could overturn legal process, he said, but he would get slapped down by the High Court. “You would look pretty for a day, but stupid for a week.”
The problem for Cameron is that many people don’t understand the distinction between the two issues, and only see a company involved in very serious criminal allegations trying to take over another.
He is even weaker on the Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson issues – but what can he be expected to say? Of course he is not going to start calling for the head of a senior NI executive before the police have completed their inquiry, not least one who has proved a staunch media ally. And on Coulson, the former chief spinner has left, but the damage has already been done. Cameron accepted responsibility for appointing him, but there’s little else he can do.
12:30 KS: Ben Bradshaw speaks from the Labour benches on the BSkyB bid, something he knows about from his time as culture secretary. He says Cameron has not followed the “normal” processes, but Cameron retorts that he has followed the “legal” processes. They are not quite the same thing, but Cameron points out that if he doesn’t follow the legal processes, it could get overturned in the High Court.
12:27 KS: Adrian Sanders, the Lib Dem MP, shows the tensions there are within the coalition over phone hacking when he asks the PM to back his call for a full judicial inquiry, something Cameron won’t do explicitly. But Cameron reveals that Theresa May, the home secretary, spoke to the Metropolitan Police commissioner this morning about its investigation.
12:22 KS: Miliband got what he wanted from this: a fight with the PM over hacking at News of the World. It helps make him look like he is on the right side of public opinion and the PM is, in his words, “out of touch” – something Cameron hates being accused of.
Cameron is right when he says the government is following the correct procedure on the BSkyB bid. The two issues should not be linked – objections to the News International bid on the basis of competition or media plurality have nothing to do with media ethics. But that’s not necessarily the way the public will understand it, and Miliband knows that.
Miliband also picked on the other real weakness Cameron has here: his closeness to the News International editors at the heart of the story: Rebekah Brooks, and Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former head of communications.
Cameron refused to call for Rebekah Brooks’ head, which is unsurprising, but means he is in danger of letting Labour lead the running on this issue.
12:20 EM now turns his attention to Rebekah Brooks, asking Cameron to join him in calling for her head.
Cameron says: “When you’re dealing with the law you have to deal with technicalities because there’s something called due process to follow.”
Everyone at News International has to ask themselves some searching questions.
“We should let the police do their work.”
EM pushes home the Brooks point: He’s trying to get Cameron to call for the head of one of his close media allies. He accuses Cameron of “not showing the leadership necessary” and of making “a catastrophic error of judgement by bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of his Downing Street machine.”
Labour MPs like that point – it is Cameron’s big weakness on this issue.
12:18 KS: This is more awkward for Cameron to deal with – he has said Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, should make the decision on whether News International should be able to bid for the part of BSkyB it doesn’t own.
Cameron says he is following the proper processes, and his government “will behave in the proper way”.
Cameron says: “It is right that the government acts legally in every way”. He points out, correctly, that the two issues [hacking and BSkyB ownership] are not the same. He accuses EM of “doing a U-turn to try and look good in the Commons”.
EM calls the process of how the bid is treated “technicalities”.
12.15 KS: Ed Miliband has some suggestions: Cameron should appoint a senior figure, give that person the power to call witnesses under oath and the inquiry should look at wider media practices. And he has another line of attack: refer the BSkyB bid to the competition commission, he says.
12.10 KS: Cameron says the inquiry will look at the first original police inquiry and the behaviour of individual people and media organisations and wider media practices in this country. But the inquiry will only start after the police inquiry – Will this stop EM in his tracks?
12.05. KS: Ed Miliband is now up. He says the whole country has been appalled by the phone hacking disclosures, calling them “immoral and a disgrace”. Miliband asks: “Will the PM support calls for a full independent public inquiry?”
Cameron says he will support the inquiry – this is the first time we have heard this.
12.03. KS: Cameron begins by paying tribute to Scott McLaren, the soldier who died in Afghanistan while Cameron was visiting this week.
11.40. George Parker, FT Political Editor: David Cameron is so far refusing to back Labour’s calls for a public inquiry into the phone hacking affair, although the prime minister will come under intense pressure to give ground when MPs debate the issue on Wednesday afternoon.
Downing St would only say that Cameron thinks MPs should debate the idea of an inquiry and that he thought the conclusion of a vigorous police investigation was the priority.
Number 10 also gave a show of support to Andy Coulson following the disclosure that the News of the World has passed emails to police suggesting that Cameron’s former press chief authorised payments to police officers for information during his time as editor of the paper.
Cameron’s spokesman said the prime minister stood by his comments in January – on Coulson’s resignation from Downing St – that the press chief had been “a brilliant member” of his team and that he was “extremely proud” of the work he had done.
Although the prime minister was said to find new allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World to be “extremely shocking”, Downing St suggested it would have no bearing on the “quasi judicial” decision by Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, on whether to allow a bid for BSkyB by News Corp, the Sunday tabloid newspaper’s parent company.
11.30. Kiran Stacey: When Andy Coulson left his role as David Cameron’s head of communications in January, the prime minister must have thought the issue of phone hacking had ceased to be a political one. Not so. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, has won an emergency debate on the matter after recent allegations that the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler may have been hacked after she went missing. Police are also investigating claims that News International paid tens of thousands of pounds to the police in return for information.
Although Coulson is no longer Cameron’s top media adviser, the pair remain very close friends – which will make it all the more awkward for Cameron to deal with the inevitable calls for a public inquiry into the issue.
All in all, it should prove to be a fiery few hours in the Commons. Ed Miliband is likely to bring phone hacking up at PMQs, and this afternoon’s debate could see some MPs use parliamentary privilege to make fresh accusations. We will be covering it all here on the Westminster blog live from midday.