Conduct of witnesses before a select committee: Mr Colin Myler, Mr Tom Crone, Mr Les Hinton, and News International Contents

9Conclusion and recommendations for the House

Sanctions

329.As this Report sets out, we have concluded that Mr Tom Crone and Mr Colin Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about their knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone hacking and other wrong-doing. In relation to Tom Crone, we have concluded that he misled the CMS Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement. The House has agreed to exercise its powers of sanction against contempts “only when it is satisfied that to exercise it is essential in order to provide reasonable protection for the House, its Members or its officers, from such improper obstruction or attempt at or threat of obstruction as is causing, or is likely to cause, substantial interference with the performance of their respective functions”.

330.The then Committee on Standards and Privileges resolved in July 2012 that the only sanction to be contemplated in the event that this inquiry resulted in a finding of contempt was admonishment. We reaffirmed this in adopting that same resolution at the start of our own inquiry.

331.The question before us then is whether or not to recommend admonishment. In 2013 the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege recorded the view that admonishment could take the view of a resolution of the House, without any requirement for those admonished to attend at the Bar of the House.296 We have considered the arguments for and against such a step.

332.The first matter to consider is whether the contempts identified constituted a “substantial interference” with the work of the CMS Committee. If we look at their 2010 Report based on the evidence given by the inquiry subjects, we can see that the CMS Committee concluded that “a culture undoubtedly did exist in the newsroom of News of the World and other newspapers of the time which at best turned a blind eye to illegal activities such as phone-hacking and blagging and at worst actively condoned it.”297 Misleading evidence may therefore have been given to the CMS Committee, but it was not deceived.

333.However, the CMS Committee also concluded that the evidence it had seen made it “inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking.” and that “unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation [ … ] reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.”298 They were unable to point to any other individual at NOTW, NGN or NI with knowledge that phone hacking had been taking place at or under the direction of NOTW and its journalists. If truthful evidence had been given, the scale of the wrongdoing would have emerged far earlier, and we consider that it is likely that the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations would have been drafted differently, in particular as to the involvement in and extent of phone hacking. The CMS Committee reported to the House; had it been provided with truthful evidence from which to draw its conclusions, the House may have decided to have debated the Report and the Government’s response. We conclude that the threshold of substantial interference has been reached.

334.There is also a question of proportionality. The newspapers involved have since paid a heavy financial penalty. Individuals, two of whom also gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee but were not included in this inquiry, have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms. It is therefore incumbent on us to consider whether it would be appropriate to single out the inquiry subjects, who have not been subject to criminal proceedings, for admonishment, when this Report already lays out our views very clearly.

335.The CMS Committee said in its 2012 Report “The truthfulness of evidence given before a select committee, whether in written or oral form, is a cornerstone of the parliamentary select committee system”.299 It is a matter of great seriousness where a witness does not offer true evidence and we conclude that this is a case in which the House ought to exercise its powers of sanction against contempt.

336.We therefore recommend that the House be invited to agree a motion in the following terms:

That this House—

i)approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges;

ii)having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Colin Myler, considers that Mr Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct; and

iii)having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Tom Crone, considers that Mr Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.

Process in the House

337.In discussing fairness in the context of the process by which the Commons considers privilege complaints, the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 2013 suggested that:

If the Committee of Privileges finds that a contempt has been committed, members of the Committee to which the contempt related and Members of the Committee of Privileges should be barred from voting when the House comes to consider the matter, as should any member of the Liaison Committee consulted. [ … ] The motions before the House should be amendable, but amendments to increase the penalty recommended by the Committee (which had heard the evidence) should not be admissible.300

338.These recommendations have not been considered or accepted by the House of Commons and are therefore unenforceable. The length of time which has elapsed also means that there have been changes in the membership of the House and in the membership of the committees involved. Of the eleven members of the CMS Committee in 2012, four are no longer members of the House and only two are members of the current CMS Committee. It is a matter for the individual Members concerned but we believe it would be wise for those Members of the House who sat on the CMS Committee in 2012 to take no part in the debate on our Report. The selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker.

Further action

339.More broadly, we recommend that the Leader of the House take steps as soon as possible to address the issues identified by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 2013, particularly in respect of the penal powers of the House and select committees and contempt.


297 CMS 2010 Report, para 493

298 CMS 2010 Report, para 440, 495




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13 September 2016