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David Cameron: With Hindsight I Would Not Have Hired Coulson

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Prime Minister David Cameron has said that "with 20/20 hindsight" he would not have hired Andy Coulson as his chief media adviser.

Speaking in an extraordinary session of parliament on Wednesday, Cameron said he would give a "profound apology" if Coulson, a former News of the World editor who has been arrested and bailed in connection with phone hacking, was proven guilty.

"I regret and I am extremely sorry for the furore it has caused.

"With 20/20 hindsight and all that has followed I wouldn't have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it.

"But you don't make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and you learn and believe you me I have learnt," he said.

Cameron began the session with a statement over the row, addressing parliament about the "torrent" of allegations surrounding the media, police and politicians over the phone hacking scandal.

He outlined the details of the judge-led inquiry into the scandal and listed the panel members who will sit in on the investigation, which will examine police corruption and regulation of the press.

They will be: Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, Former CC West Midlands Sir Paul Scott Lee, Former DIrector of Ofcom Lord David Curry, former political editor of Channel 4 News Elana Goodman, former political editor of the Daily Telegraph George Jones and former chairman of the Financial Times Sir David Bell.

Cameron facing tough questions over allegations that a former News of The World executive arrested in connection with phone hacking advised Coulson before he was elected.

In his address the prime minister said the Conservative party had never employed Neil Wallis, who also worked as a PR consultant to the Metropolitan police, or his company.

But he said Wallis may have provided Coulson with "some voluntary advice" before the election. "I did not know anything about this until Sunday night" he said.

He also defended Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff, who was accused of blocking the Metropolitan police from informing Cameron about the scandal last year.

More to follow.

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As has the speaker. MPs continuing to debate though.

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Harriet Harman has accused David Cameron of "weasel words" over the conversations he did or didn't have on BSkyB with News International executives.

After Cameron was asked more than 9 times to say he did not have conversations on BSkyB, he refused to outright deny that he did.

"The conclusion I draw is that he did have conversations with Rebekah Brooks" Harman says.

She says that Ed Miliband was the one to call for parliament to be extended.

"Ed Miliband has broken through in a way that no prime minister or party leader has done" on the issue of relationships with the media, Harman says.

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The BBC is reporting that Rupert Murdoch as left the UK.

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Jonnie Marbles, the Murdoch pie attacker, has written for Comment Is Free today:

"Believe it or not, I even worried about Rupert Murdoch's feelings. You see, I really don't hate 80-year-olds and, at the end of the day, Rupert Murdoch is just an old man. Maybe what I was trying to do was remind everyone of that – that he is not all powerful, he's not Sauron or Beelzebub, just a human being, like the rest of us, but one who has got far too big for his boots."

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How many of the inquiry experts named today can you identify without checking? (Answers above)

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William Hague says that Cameron was "candid, decisive, direct" in the debate. "That is the leadership... that parliament needed".

"I didn't see damage being done to the prime minister today."

Hague says there was "grudging recognition" on the opposition benches that Cameron's announcements were the rights ones.

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Milband asked to apologise for the "abuses of the last 20 years" in his party in its relations to the media. He does not, but says he covered that earlier in the speech.

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Miliband asked about Tom Baldwin. He says the Times have confirmed that Baldwin did not commission stories based on illegal techniques. He says Baldwin's line manager was Michael Gove, the education secretary. "Remember Lord Ashcroft and his assurances," Miliband says. "If I was them I would shut up" Ed Says.

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Miliband is speaking in the debate. He says it is the courage of the Dowlers to speak out that has been the "the spur" for what has happened in the last fortnight.

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The Labour Government spent nearly £38m on advertising in News International titles between 2005 and 2010, a Parliamentary answer to Co-chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Treasury Committee, Stephen Williams, has revealed.

The Tory-LibDem government has spent less than £900,000.

  • More than £17m was spent advertising in The Sun, including £4.5m between April 2009 and March 2010.
  • More than £7m was spent advertising in the News of the World, including £1.8m between April 2009 and March 2010.
  • £877,153 was spent advertising in all News International titles between April 2010 and March 2011.

Stephen Williams said:

"“Despite the dire state of public finances, the Labour Government continued to spend millions with the Murdoch tabloids.

“This confirms the impression that the last Government was obsessed with spin and prepared to use taxpayers' money to push its agenda with a bloated advertising budget.

“I am glad the Coalition has slashed expenditure by 90 per cent with these titles, continuing only essential information messages.”

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@ joncraig : Labour front benchers tell me Cameron & Clegg didn't exchange a single word on Govt front bench during 2 1/2 hours of PM's statement. Rift?

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@ MichaelLCrick : Tory whips have done good job. Lots of Cons MPs still in house to support Cameron. Opposition benches, in contrast, half empty.

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Cameron says that the future for press regulation will have to be carefully considered, because it would not be right (for instance) if the MPs expenses scandal had not come out because the data was obtained illegally.

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Cameron says that elected crime commissioners (see our article on this here) will bring accountability to the police that the scandal has shown they lack.

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Cameron makes three suggestions on plurality:

1) On mergers should politicians be removed from those decisions altogether?

2) The test on plurality should be ongoing.

3) Shouldn't rule out the idea of limits on plurality.

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Cameron is making his speech at the start of the parliamentary debate. He says that the last two weeks have shown the Commons at its best.

He is going over the reasons for the various inquiries.

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Cameron has answered his last question, after a mammoth 138 separate inquiries. Perhaps that was the point. Wonder if his knees are tired...?

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@ nicholaswatt : Speaker ends PM's statement after 2 hours, 19 mins after PM said he's taken 136 Qs. Speaker says it was 138 Qs #hacking

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At the Guardian Dan Sabbagh says:

"Cameron will be wise to clarify, because gestures in this area are not enough. What conversation did he have regarding BSkyB? When was it, and was it with who? Did he tell O'Donnell, when the cabinet secretary gave him a clean bill of health? Will he publish O'Donnell's advice? With relations between the Murdochs, Brooks and Cameron in such intense focus, the prime minister needs to be incredibly transperant about his role in the Sky bid – and dismiss any concerns that there was some sort of behind-the-scenes lobbying to get the blockbuster media merger through."

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Tim Montgomerie (ConservativeHome) on Sky News says that Cameron has been in command.

Dan Hodges from agrees, and says that it was not Miliband's strongest performance, though he says that he tripped up on Watson's intervention and a series of questions on his BSkyB conversations.

There is a consensus that the public is moving on to other issues now.

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Cameron says "I'm enjoying this" after two hours of questioning. Margaret Thatcher said that... after she left office. Oops.

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News Corp have made this statement:

The News Corporation Management and Standards Committee met this morning and decided to terminate the arrangement to pay Glenn Mulcaire's legal fees.

It said in a statement: "News Corporation's Management and Standards Committee met this morning and has decided to terminate the arrangement to pay the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire with immediate effect.

"The MSC is authorised to cooperate fully with all relevant investigations and inquiries in the News of the World phone hacking case, police payments and all other related issues across News International as well as conducting its own inquiries where appropriate".

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Cameron answers a NINTH question about the 'appropriate' conversations he had on the BSkyB deal with nothing other than a sigh.

This might look worse than the PM realises.

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The Lord Judge Leveson has also confirmed the inquiry will be held in public:

I am delighted to be joined by a panel comprising distinguished people, all respected in their fields, who will bring a vast range of very relevant knowledge and experience to support me in the work ahead. We will work, together with all of those who provide us with evidence, to ensure we fulfil the wide remit contained in the terms of reference.

The panel and I will be meeting shortly to discuss how we want to go about our task, and to consider our priorities. At this stage, I can only repeat what I said last week. The terms of reference raise complex and wide-ranging legal and ethical issues of enormous public concern.

The inquiry must balance the desire for a robustly free Press with the rights of the individual, while at the same time, ensuring the critical relationships between the Press, Parliament, the Government and the police are maintained.

The Press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects us all. At the heart of this inquiry therefore may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?

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A quick flick through the global news channels reveals that Al Jazeera English and France 24 are covering the statement and questions in parliament, while Murdoch's Fox News in the US are talking about a shark that landed on a fishing boat. CNN is covering the famine in Africa.

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Cameron says that he expects the Mirror "to have to answer questions soon".

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Back in the Commons, Cameron refuses (again) to name the company that did background checks on Coulson. Why?

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Bernstein tells Sky that there are similarities between what's happening to Murdoch and what happened to Nixon. He says that Hackgate "is analogous in some real ways" to Watergate. "It's not only about whether there is a smoking gun or not, it's about what happened institutionally."

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