Parliament's justice: MPs debate News International punishment

Parliament's justice: MPs will decide how to sanction the three News International men.
Parliament's justice: MPs will decide how to sanction the three News International men.
Ian Dunt By

Parliament has conducted an unprecedented debate in modern British politics, as MPs discussed how to pursue News International executives who have been found to have misled the media committee.

The debate was triggered by a report from the media committee which unanimously concluded Les Hinton, Colin Myler and Tom Crone had given misleading testimony when they insisted phone-hacking at the News of the World was the work of one rogue reporter.

"We're under no illusions these are serious matters," media committee chair John Whittingdale said.

"The conclusions we've reached have serious repercussions. I'm not sure what they are but these are serious matters.

"On that basis I would ask the House to refer the [media] committee's report to the committee on standards and privileges."

Committee member Tom Watson, who is a leading campaigner on the phone-hacking issue, said: "These matters mark a parliamentary milestone.

"It's important the committee is united and we unite the House to send this document to the standard and privileges committee.

"It's important the three individuals named should face some sort of parliamentary justice."

Leader of the Commons Sir George Young said the standards and privileges committee could use penal measures against non-MPs only when they had interfered with parliament's functions, a benchmark which has probably been satisfied in this case.

The committee is more likely to investigate the conclusions of the media committee and recommend the punishment for the three men. The Commons will then debate the committee's recommendations.

"The motion before us is a narrow one. I believe this is the right course of action and I support that motion," Sir George said.

At the end of the debates, MPs agreed by  acclamation to refer the matter to the committee without oppositon.

The last time a member of the public was hauled before parliament was in 1957, when Sunday Express journalist Sir John Junor was summoned to the bar of the Commons to apologise for impugning the reputation of MPs over the petrol allowance granted to political parties.

Speaking duyring today's debate, however, Labour MP Chris Bryant called for fines and imprisonment for the trio - a punishment which has not been used since 1880. he also pointed out that those who lie to Scottish parliamentary committees face prison sentences of up to three years under laws passed 15 years ago.

Tory MP Louise Mensch said that under US law people can be prosecuted for lying to a congressional committee.

Both interventions signal a new confidence from MPs in their debate on how to tackle those who lie to select committees. While few are currently calling for the process to be put on oath, it is possible a new law will be created making it illegal to mislead parliament.


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