Hacking debate: the next stage

MPs will debate a call to refer the accusations of Contempt of Parliament against the three former News International staff accused of misleading MPs over the phone hacking scandal to the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

Speaker Bercow has announced that the motion will be taken "at the beginning of public business" tomorrow (Tuesday 22nd) - which means after question time and any statements to the House.

The motion to refer will be proposed by the chair of the Culture Committee, the Conservative John Whittingdale. It says, simply:

That this House notes the conclusions set out in chapter 8 of the Eleventh Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010-12, on News International and Phone-hacking, HC 903-I, and orders that the matter be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Chapter 8 accuses three witnesses to the hacking inquiry - Colin Myler, Tom Crone and Les Hinton - of misleading the committee. A motion setting out the next steps was promised when the committee published its verdict on the hacking scandal on 1 May.

I can't help wondering if an amendment might be put down to include the question of whether Rupert Murdoch is a fit person to exercise stewardship of a major international company - which, controversially, was also a finding of the select committee.

There are advantages to referring the issue. First, the three accused cannot be called before the full House of Commons and punished, as used to happen - they would not be able to argue their case, and the old-style procedure would fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights. Referring the case to the Standards and Privileges allows the accused to present their defence.

Second, a private procedure in close committee hearings would avoid cutting across any of the various live criminal proceedings around the hacking inquiry,

It is not clear what powers the Commons now has to punish them, if they agree the three are guilty of contempt.

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