Peter Hoskin

MPs squabble over their own phone hacking report

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The education select committee reported earlier, but it is the report of another select committee that will get all the attention today. The culture, media and sport select committee has just delivered its verdict on the phone hacking scandal, naming names and apportioning blame — or at least in theory it has. In practice, ‘its verdict’ may be stretching it a bit. During the press conference just now, the individual members of the committee could barely put up a united front at all.

There are the parts of the report that they all agree upon: that the former News International employees Les Hinton, Tom Crone and Colin Myler misled the committee in their testimony, for instance. And then there are the parts that they disagree upon among themselves. The most vexatious of these appears to be an amendment, submitted by Tom Watson, to the effect that ‘Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.’ Six members of committee voted for this amendment (the five Labour members and the one Lib Dem), while four voted against it (the four Tories, excepting chairman John Whittingdale) — so it made it into the report. The same split then occurred when it came to voting for the report as a whole.

This resulted in a quite extraordinary press conference. Tom Watson rattled through a speech stuffed with barbs against Murdoch, and even quoted Bob Dylan for good measure. But then his fellow committee member Philip Davies stressed that these were not the views of the entire body, and added that ‘some people have got carried away with themselves’. Louise Mensch suggested that she would have voted for the report in its entirety, if it hadn’t been for Watson’s Murdoch amendment. The Labour MPs came to their comrade’s defence. And on and on it went.

Seems to me that the accusations levelled at Hinton, Crone and Myler are very serious in themselves — but I expect that the ‘not a fit person’ attack will seize the headlines tomorrow. The political question is whether this will wash back to damage the Tories as the Hunt row continues, or perhaps the political class as a whole. But, whatever, there’s little sense of catharsis after today’s report. This messy affair continues.