Former NI executives referred to committee over claims they misled Parliament

News of the World sign The three men have denied involvement in any cover-up at the newspaper

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MPs have referred three ex-News International executives to the Commons standards committee over claims they misled Parliament, which they deny.

Former News of the World Editor Colin Myler, former legal manager Tom Crone and former chairman Les Hinton were criticised in the Commons Culture Committee's report into phone hacking.

Its chair John Whittingdale said the allegations were "extremely serious".

But Mr Hinton said the MPs' conclusions were "unfair and unfounded".

The cross-party culture committee criticised the three men's conduct in its report into phone hacking published earlier this month.

At the end of a 90-minute debate on the report's findings, MPs decided to refer the committee's report to the Commons standards and privileges committee without it going to a formal vote.

The cross-party committee of MPs will decide what, if any, sanctions the three men should face.

'Milestone'

The Commons has the authority to ask non-members to appear in person to be admonished by the Speaker, in a procedure known as being summoned to the bar of the Commons.

This power has not been used since the 1950s.

Start Quote

We do believe that the integrity and effectiveness of select committees relies upon the evidence that we are given and are given truthfully and completely”

End Quote John Whittingdale Culture committee chair

Mr Whittingdale told MPs that such a situation was "unusual, if not unprecedented in modern times".

But he said it was right to bring the matter to the attention of all MPs and for the Commons standards committee to decide whether its counterpart's findings were justified and, if so, what action should be taken.

He added: "We do believe that the integrity and effectiveness of select committees relies upon the evidence that we are given and are given truthfully and completely.

"And therefore the findings of the committee that we were misled by specific individuals we do regard as an extremely serious matter."

'Parliamentary justice'

Mr Whittingdale said documents "indicated very clearly" that the trio had been wrong to claim in their testimony that there was no evidence that others were involved in hacking beyond the former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman - convicted in 2007.

However, he said the trio deserved the right to reply over the committee's findings and the standards committee was the right forum for them to make their case.

Start Quote

If this committee is going to accuse me of misleading Parliament or being complicit in a cover-up, it should get its facts right and conduct a fair process”

End Quote Les Hinton Former News International chairman

Labour MP Tom Watson, a member of the culture committee, said the body was united across party lines in believing the three men should face "some form of parliamentary justice".

His Labour colleague Chris Bryant said contempt of Parliament was potentially as serious an offence as contempt of court and a three month jail sentence for such an offence should be considered.

For the government, Commons leader Sir George Young said he supported the decision to refer the matter for a "full and impartial" investigation as the "right course of action".

However, in considering potential sanctions, he said the committee must be mindful that the Commons must use its penal powers "as sparingly as possible" and only when action was deemed essential to provide "reasonable protection from improper obstruction".

The MP who chairs the standards committee, Kevin Barron, said if it was asked to look into the issue, it would do so "rigorously, fairly and impartially" and not "rush into any hasty decisions".

'Misleading'

In a letter to Mr Whittingdale, released just before the Commons debate began, Mr Hinton insisted that he had told the truth in his evidence.

"I take very seriously the Committee's accusations that I misled it and was complicit in a cover-up at News International," he said.

"These allegations are unfair, unfounded and erroneous. They are based on a misreading of evidence, and on a selective and misleading analysis of my testimonies to your committee."

He added: "If this committee is going to accuse me of misleading Parliament or being complicit in a cover-up, it should get its facts right and conduct a fair process. The committee has done neither."

Mr Crone and My Myler have also disputed the committee's findings, saying they stand by the evidence they gave during its public hearings.

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