Phone Hacking: Colin Myler, Les Hinton And Tom Crone Referred 'For Punishment'

MPs Refer Ex-News International Execs To Committee 'For Punishment'

Three former News International executives accused of lying to parliament have been referred by MPs to a Commons committee that has the power to recommend punishment.

Ex-News of the World editor Colin Myler, the paper's former legal manager Tom Crone and one-time News International chairman Les Hinton were accused of misleading the culture, media and sport committee during its investigation into phone hacking.

All three deny giving misleading testimony and further action will now be decided upon by the standards and privileges committee after MPs passed a Commons motion on Tuesday afternoon.

Therese Coffey, a Conservative member of the culture committee said: "We are the parliament of the people, we should not be lied to."

Labour MP Chris Bryant said parliament should consider fining or even imprisoning the men.

"I simply think we were hoodwinked, indeed for a long period politicians were so nervous and frightened of what the press would say about us we effectively put the hoodwinks on ourselves," he said.

"It is time we asserted the freedom of parliament, the rights of parliament … if parliament is lied to we can not do our job on behalf of our constituents."

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, the chair of the culture committee, John Whittingdale said: "The conclusions we've reached have serious repercussions. I'm not sure what they are but these are serious matters.

The vote to refer the three men to the standards committee was supported by both the government and Labour front benches.

The accusation was among the highly-critical conclusions of a lengthy inquiry into the hacking scandal by the influential culture, media and sport select committee.

Although the culture committee was split in its final report over the most strident criticism of Rupert Murdoch, it was united in stating that his media empire had misled the inquiry in a "blatant fashion" and in the accusations against the trio.

The power to punish non-members of the Commons is so rarely used it is unclear what sanctions would be open to MPs.

But the men could be summoned to the bar of the Commons for a public dressing down.

The Government last month launched a consultation on parliamentary privilege in an attempt to clarify the situation.

It noted that the Commons' power to issue fines was last used in 1666 and may have lapsed and that no non-MP had been punished by the House since a 1978 agreement to use penal powers sparingly.

The last member of the public to be summoned to the bar of the House of Commons was Sunday Express editor John Junor who appeared before MPs in January 1957.

The newspaper had published a piece criticising petrol allowances given to political parties in constituencies.

He was rebuked by MPs for failing to "establish the truth of the article" and not being willing to "admit its obvious implications". He apologised and no further action was taken.

The last fine imposed on an offender by the House was on February 6, 1666 when Thomas White was ordered to pay £1,000.

White absconded after being ordered into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms, for causing Henry Chowne, the MP for Horsham, to be arrested and prevented from attending Parliament.

The last imprisonment by the Commons of a non-member was of Charles Grissell in 1880 for a breach of privilege in connection with the committee on the Tower High Level Bridge (Metropolis) Bill.

In 2010 a leading law firm was found to be in contempt of the Commons after threatening an MP with legal proceedings if he made allegations about one of its clients in the House.

The Standards and Privileges Committee criticised Withers LLP for failing to realise that John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat backbencher, was protected by parliamentary privilege.

But it made no recommendation for further action after receiving an apology.

Hinton has described the committee's conclusions as "unfounded, unfair and erroneous", while Myler said he stood by his evidence to the committee.

Crone said he did "not accept" the allegations, adding that he seems "to be the subject of serious allegations which lack foundation".

The debate came after Watson - prominent among those who sought to expose the extent of phone hacking - gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics.

Watson tabled the amendment questioning Rupert Murdoch's fitness to run any company that split the committee and has been a vocal critic of News International.

He told Leveson on Tuesday that many MPs been "intimidated and frightened" by the actions of tabloid newspapers including those owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International.

He said that after admitting he had been scared by fear of the tabloids other MPs came forward to him.

"I got the distinct sense this was a very solitary fear that they had felt they could share with colleagues and they weren't the only ones," he said.


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