The UK Government has given its backing to a parliamentary inquiry into the News of the World phone-hacking affair, as the House of Commons referred the matter to its most powerful committee.
In a short debate in the Commons yesterday, MPs passed a motion instructing the standards and privileges committee to investigate allegations that the News of the World intercepted politicians' phone messages. During the debate, MPs condemned the News of the World and warned that they must not cower in the presence of "red-topped assassins".
The move follows the home affairs select committee's decision on Tuesday to launch its own inquiry, but the latest decision potentially bears greater significance given the powers invested in the standards and privileges committee.
The committee has the ability to compel witnesses to give evidence, including those who refused to appear before the first parliamentary inquiry undertaken by the Commons culture committee. The range of punishments that it can impose are limited, but nevertheless could bear symbolic importance: such as compelling individuals to deliver humiliating apologies before the Commons.
'We should be far more carnivorous'
The MP who tabled the motion, Chris Bryant, warned that the Commons ought not to be "supine" through the course of its investigations. Bryant initiated the debate following evidence that he had been one of the MPs whose phones had been targeted.
"I would urge the committee to use all of the powers at its disposal. That includes the power to summon any person it wishes and to require them to attend," he said.
"We should not accept when witnesses refuse to give a straight answer to a straight question, it should not be standard practice, which it is becoming. We should become, as a house, far more carnivorous in this."
Labour's Tom Watson named five individuals whom he said should give evidence before the standards and privileges committee, and who did not give evidence before the culture committee.
Those individuals are Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, the men jailed in 2007 for their use of phone hacking; Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International; Greg Miskiw, the former assistant editor at the News of the World; and Andy Hayman, the man who headed the initial police inquiry before controversially taking a job at News International.
Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World and now the prime minister's director of communications, is also likely to appear to answer questions. The prime minister has continued to back Coulson, but political pressure continues to mount.
News International condemned the Commons debate, saying that it had become "intensely partisan".
"Amidst a swirl of untethered allegations, there should be no doubt that the News of the World will investigate any allegation of wrongdoing when presented with evidence," it said in a statement.
"As we have always made clear, we have a zero-tolerance approach to wrongdoing and will take swift and decisive action if we have proof."
When it rains, it pours
Meanwhile, more allegations regarding Coulson's knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World have come to light.
A former News of the World journalist and member of its investigative unit, Paul McMullan, told The Guardian on Wednesday that the paper's senior editors were all aware of unlawful acts being committed.
"How can Coulson possibly say he didn't know what was going on with the private investigators?"
McMullan said that he believed that the illegal acts were justified, saying that in investigative journalism, "we have to do ignoble things". He added that his attitude was shared by reporters and senior editors at the newspaper.
In the parliamentary debate, it emerged that some politicians had decided not to testify in the case against Goodman and Mulcaire in 2006, for fear of upsetting News International.
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