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Edward Miliband: The matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I will undertake to discuss it with him.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): The Secretary of State and the leaders of the world have defined dangerous climate change as a change of more than 2°C in the average temperature. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the average temperature in Cornwall is more than 2° higher than that in the north-east of England? Will he assure people that if they move from the north-east of England to Cornwall they will not suffer any great danger, and that any dangerous consequences—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that the whole principle of topical questions is that they should be brief, and that only one question should be asked.

Edward Miliband: For the second time today, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is slightly confused on this question. The point about rising temperatures across the world is that it will drive temperatures up across Britain, so moving from Cornwall to the north-east will not solve the problem. The right hon. Gentleman is one of the few people in this House who does not seem to take the problem of climate change as seriously as I believe he should. I am looking forward to meeting him to discuss this further.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): There is very poor availability of information to compare the prices and performance of the different energy companies. A very nice lady from Centrica British Gas, Catherine May, told me it leads the way in implementing the Government’s scheme for insulation in the homes of the elderly, but it has halted the processing of new applications and other companies do not do anything at all. When will we see a proper comparison of the prices and performance of the different energy companies?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): The whole point of the Ofgem probe was to get to the bottom of complaints about poor information to consumers from the energy companies, and a number of changes to licence conditions will be made to try to remedy those problems. As regards the commitment of individual companies to the carbon emissions reduction target—CERT—which was, I think, the other point my hon. Friend was making, we are conscious that we need the information from each of the energy companies in order to make that assessment, and I will be talking to them about that.

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Newspapers (Surveillance Methods)

11.31 am

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the steps he is taking to look into the actions of the police, the prosecutors and the Information Commissioner in respect of the use by newspapers of illegal surveillance methods.

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s question. I should first of all inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today in Manchester at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference and is therefore unable to respond to the question himself.

The original allegations date back to 2006, following which, as the House will be aware, there were convictions. However, serious allegations have appeared in the newspapers this morning, which clearly go much wider than the original case. That is why I have spoken this morning to the assistant commissioner, specialist operations, John Yates, and why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner within the last hour. The Metropolitan police are urgently considering these allegations and will be making a statement this afternoon.

It would be wrong for me in any way to pre-empt that statement as this is first and foremost an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. However, I give an undertaking to the House that I will report back following the considerations by the Metropolitan police, when I can do so.

Dr. Harris: I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he accept that I am not relaxed, that I do not think the House is relaxed, and that neither are the public relaxed in any way about fears not only of surveillance by the Government, but now of surveillance by newspapers and their agents? Will he further accept that we all want to see healthy, responsible investigative journalism, especially in respect of public figures who wield power, but that it must be within the law and seen to be within the law, and it would be extremely toxic for our democracy if vested interests were seen to be able to in some way buy their way out of the criminal justice system? I would be grateful if the Minister kept the House informed of the actions he is taking.

Mr. Hanson: As I have said, the allegations that have been made are serious and deserve examination, and the Metropolitan police will this afternoon be examining them. I will report back to the House in due course. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the law itself: unlawful interception is an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Where an individual intentionally intercepts a communication without lawful authority, that is punishable with a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years. He will also know that in the case considered two years ago, punishments were given. I will have to reflect on what the Metropolitan police are looking at this afternoon, and as I have said, I will report back to the House in due course.

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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): There is no doubt that the story that appeared in this morning’s newspaper raised questions. We rightly cherish the freedom of the press in this country, but it is vital that that freedom is not abused. Journalists do, of course, need to be able to pursue stories that are in the public interest and to do their job free from interference, but they are also obliged both to obey the law and to conform to the Press Complaints Commission code, which sets the standards for their industry.

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation about the Metropolitan police statement that is due later today, and for assuring the House he will bring back further reports in due course. Does he agree that it is important that everyone in this House gives a measured response on these issues and that we leave it to the police to decide whether there is any new information that warrants further action?

Mr. Hanson: With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, it is not for me to give the reflections of the House as a whole; individual Members will make their judgments and give their views in due course. I have simply said to the House that these are serious allegations that need examining, and the Metropolitan police will examine them. I have spoken to the Metropolitan police this morning, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We await their investigation and examination, which is ongoing as we speak. They will be making a statement shortly—this afternoon—and I shall report back in due course on its implications. I can do no more, because investigating these issues is an operational matter for the police.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Of course everyone in this House will want to see investigations in the public interest, but investigations should not be undertaken merely to titillate the interests of the public. The public have a right to protection against illegal intrusion into their privacy, whether by the state or by private bodies such as newspapers. If, as is reported, more than 1,000 phone taps took place, it beggars belief that this involved just one journalist or that senior executives did not know what was happening—indeed, the allegation is clearly that senior executives on this newspaper did know. I welcome what the Minister has said, but does he not agree that it is extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition, who wants to be a Prime Minister, employs Andy Coulson who, at best, was responsible for a newspaper that was out of control and, at worst, was personally implicated in criminal activity? The exact parallel is surely with Damian McBride. If the Prime Minister was right to sack him, should not the Leader of the Opposition sack Andy Coulson?

Mr. Hanson: As I have said, the allegations relate to criminal offences and the police are examining those matters as we speak. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is legislation providing for a criminal offence to cover the allegations that have been made. I hope that he will accept that I can only respond in that way at this moment.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Minister will recall that in evidence to my Select Committee’s inquiry into what happened to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), senior officers of the Metropolitan police told us that as a matter of practice whenever an
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investigation involved a high-profile person, politicians, including the Home Secretary and other politicians, and the Metropolitan Police Authority, were informed. Will the Minister confirm that no Minister has ever been informed of any of these allegations until last night?

Mr. Hanson: My understanding is that the Metropolitan police and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, like me, discovered these allegations on the production of the newspapers overnight and this morning.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the fact that a private investigator had intercepted the telephone calls of a large number of people was well known at the time. He will also be aware that the chairman of News International gave a categoric assurance to my Select Committee that no other journalist, beyond Clive Goodman, had any involvement in or knowledge of that matter. Can the Minister say whether he is aware of any evidence to contradict that statement? When my Select Committee reopens its inquiry, as it has decided to do, will he ask the Metropolitan police to provide us with any information that they have that is relevant to this case?

Mr. Hanson: The allegations came to light today, we are examining them with the Metropolitan police and I obviously concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Should elected leaders be relaxed about a spin doctor responsible for bugging the heir to the throne?

Mr. Hanson: I hope that, again, my hon. Friend will recognise that those are allegations, the Metropolitan police will examine them and I will report back following their investigation.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The Minister cannot brush aside as an operational responsibility something for which the Home Secretary has responsibility. The allegation in The Guardian is that none of the many hundreds of people whose communications appear to have been intercepted were notified by the police that they were the victim of a crime. That is a matter for the Home Secretary, so can the Minister give an answer on that point?

Mr. Hanson: Again, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that these allegations have come to light this morning. We are examining them, as are the Metropolitan police, and I will report back to the House on the outcome of those examinations when I have an opportunity to do so. I cannot give him any comment today on the allegations, given where we are on the time scale since they became public.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Given the existence of the Wilson doctrine, may we have an assurance that no one involved in the surveillance of politicians has been given a parliamentary pass?

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Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has confirmed the Wilson doctrine. We will have to look at the issues and the investigations. I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer on the point now, but it will be a matter for the police investigation, and if there are responsibilities for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we will examine that.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Since the Leader of the House is on the Treasury Bench, and since she has a responsibility to the House as a whole, may we have an undertaking that consideration will be given to whether any breach of privilege arises on this occasion?

Mr. Hanson: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that business questions follow these proceedings. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has indicated that she will consider those representations and will respond shortly.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is right that this issue raises profound questions that go to the heart of our democracy. Even though Statutory Instrument No. 1677 gives greater resources to the Information Commissioner, may we be assured that he will have sufficient resources to undertake his part of what will be a difficult investigation?

Mr. Hanson: As of this morning, my colleagues and I have not had an opportunity to speak to the Information Commissioner or the Crown Prosecution Service, which was mentioned in the original question from the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). We will examine those issues shortly.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): It was my understanding that the inquiry into the bugging of the members of the royal family hinged on an inside employee of British Telecom giving out the numbers for celebrities and members of the royal household. Could the Minister give us some assurance that he is taking steps to ensure that telephone providers adhere to their data protection obligations so that we are all protected, as are other people?

Mr. Hanson: Again, as with the serious allegations that have been made today, any such activity would constitute a potential criminal offence and would be investigated accordingly.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, and the Minister will agree that this is an extremely serious matter and that there are many avenues that the House and its Committees may wish to explore. For example, do Mr. Coulson and his employer, the Leader of the Opposition, stand by the comments that the former made to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in March 2003 that it is acceptable to make cash payments to police officers for private information? Why on earth did the Metropolitan police not properly investigate and prosecute those who were working for Mr. Coulson, who tapped the phones of Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament and other public figures?

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Mr. Hanson: I am afraid that I will sound repetitive, but the allegations that my hon. Friend makes are ones that the Metropolitan police are examining as we speak, as part of their efforts to uncover the truth of the matter. It is not for me to comment on those operational matters.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Many serious issues are raised by the allegations, and in Northern Ireland we are familiar with questions about phone tapping. However, in every case—unless, obviously, it was a police operation—the target of such surveillance was notified. May we have an assurance from the Minister that the issue of why people were not notified that they were being surveyed will come before the House and that a full explanation will be given?

Mr. Hanson: I am confident that that is precisely the sort of issue on which we will reflect once we have discussed this matter further.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): These allegations have serious implications for national security. If Cabinet members and the Deputy Prime Minister had their phones tapped, what did the Metropolitan police know? Were they aware of this, and if so, why did they not tell the Deputy Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet Ministers?

Mr. Hanson: Again, the Metropolitan police commissioner and assistant commissioner are examining the issue at the moment to try to get to the truth of what occurred and the impact of those allegations. I await this afternoon’s statement with interest.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Are the Government satisfied with the measures that are in place to prevent illegal access to the police national computer? If, in the light of these allegations, they are not satisfied, what will they do about that?

Mr. Hanson: I am confident that we have security of the police national computer. As with intercept information, there are offences that would involve potential criminal action in the event of activity being undertaken in that field.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Has the Minister noticed the relaxed attitude of Opposition Front Benchers in relation to this matter, which contrasts with the indignation that they showed when the police interfered and intervened in the office of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)? Is it because they have something to hide, and is it because they are trying to hide Mr. Andy Coulson, who should be getting the sack?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend makes his points in his usual inimitable style, and I am sure the House will have noted them.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The allegations are that the phone tapping and hacking were widespread and that the people who were on the receiving end were not notified. Will the Minister now assure the House that those people who have been the subject of hacking or tapping will now be notified of the fact that they have been a victim?

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