Phone Hacking

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 6th July 2011.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:35 pm, 6th July 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Oliver Heald, who raised the important point about the use of privilege in dealing with these matters. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) on how they have pursued this campaign. The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, was right that this has been a Back Bencher-led campaign. What was good about what the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said is that now the Front Benchers are with the Bank Benchers in respect of trying to deal with this matter. I also pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Whittingdale, and the work done by his Committee over the years.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs has conducted a separate inquiry, which has looked by and large at what the police have done. We conclude that inquiry on Tuesday, when our witnesses are Mr Andy Hayman, Sue Akers, the head of Operation Weeting, and Peter Clarke, who assisted Mr Hayman in the first inquiry. The Committee must be careful during its examination to ensure that we do not step on the substance of the police investigation, which is the one thing that we need to be concerned about in any public inquiry. I am in favour of a public inquiry, but it is important to frame the terms of reference in such a way that we do not impede the police investigation. That can be done—we are hoping to do it on Tuesday when we take evidence from the police officers concerned. Framing those terms of reference in that way will enable such a public inquiry to take place.

From the evidence that was given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and the evidence that the

Home Affairs Committee has received over the last few months, it is clear that much needs to be looked at. We have not really mentioned the mobile phone companies, but there was an interesting exchange between representatives of the big companies and members of the Home Affairs Committee. When we asked how those companies informed their clients that they had been hacked, we were told that there was no uniformity in their responses. Therefore, in my view, we need not wait until all the criminal matters have been dealt with before issuing guidance.

Similarly, the Attorney-General was very clear on the payment of police officers. I note from the exchange referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda that when Mr Coulson gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he did not actually know that it was illegal to pay police officers—he felt that it was acceptable when the code of conduct allowed it to happen.

Yesterday I wrote to previous witnesses to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry simply to ask them whether, before we conclude on Tuesday, they stand by the evidence that they gave—that includes letters to Rebekah Brooks and to Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who gave important evidence on the question of whether he could accept the legal guidance given by the Director of Public Prosecutions. When we have that public inquiry, I hope that we look at the legal advice given by the DPP to the first inquiry, and how that differed from the advice given to the second inquiry.

I am glad that there appears to be a consensus—an acknowledgement by the Prime Minister that an inquiry should be set up, following the demands of Back Benchers and indeed the Leader of the Opposition—but I caution the House to be careful in those terms of reference, so that we do not prejudice the Operation Weeting investigation. In that way, we can get to the bottom of things, and those who have committed criminal offences can be charged and convicted, without the excuse that the matter was discussed in Parliament, or that they appeared before a public inquiry, and that their prosecutions are therefore not valid.