Talking Politics

Everything you need to know about the media committee’s phone-hacking report

What they agreed on, what they argued over, and what happens next: politics.co.uk picks over the bones of today's report by MPs into the phone-hacking scandal.

The headline is punchy - more so than most had expected. Effectively demanding that Rupert Murdoch should no longer be in charge of a major company controlling large sections of the British media is a much bolder call than most select committees have made at any time in their history.

But that's because most select committee reports are the result of painstaking compromise. Unanimity is what makes these reports so useful; but that unanimity was not achieved on this occasion. The report as a whole was opposed by Conservative MPs on the committee, which makes interpreting it a little more complex than usual. Here's an attempt to unpick the committee's findings into what was agreed on, where the divisions lie and - critically - what will happen next.

What they agreed on

The terms of the inquiry were, compared to the broad reach of the Leveson inquiry, relatively limited. It focused in particular on the settlement paid to football union boss Gordon Taylor and the 'for Neville' email, a subject of acute conflict between senior bosses at News International.

Looking into these issues created a form of case study which, as the committee report states, proved "pivotal to any assessment of the truthfulness of the more specific assertions made to the committee on previous occasions". Evidence which contributed to its 2009 report was held up to the light by the latest inquiry.

The results are not good news for any of the main actors. Senior executive Les Hinton, News International lawyer Tom Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler are all accused of misleading parliament. On this, the committee's MPs are completely united. All three deliberately misled MPs over the central claim that phone-hacking was restricted to just one rogue reporter, the committee found. Hinton also misled MPs over payments to Clive Goodman, that rogue reporter, while Crone "sought to mislead the committee about the commissioning of surveillance".

The Murdochs do not escape, either. They are judged to be responsible for News Corporation and News International's misleading the committee on a corporate level. The "cover-up" Murdoch blamed at the Leveson inquiry last week was, MPs judged, ultimately his fault. Documents were disclosed. Statements were made which were "not fully truthful". The report does not hold back in criticising poor standards of corporate governance at News Corp.

What they disagreed on

That does not mean all supported the 'fit person' line which is gripping the headlines. Conservative MPs have made clear they opposed this tag - Louise Mensch even said she would not have voted against the report had that not been included. Tory MPs made a judgment call that, on the whole, they backed Murdoch's ongoing support for Murdoch in his present position.

That decision came during a turbulent private meeting of the committee yesterday, when Labour MPs Tom Watson and Paul Farrelly tabled a series of amendments strengthening the report's conclusions.  Analysis shows there were 11 such amendments backed by opposition backbenchers, compared to just five counter-amendments seeking to water the language down backed by Tory MPs. The Conservatives on the committee did not vote as a block, either, which undermines the significance of their rebellions.

What was covered by the disputed areas of the report? All the meaty bits, in short, bar those relating to individuals misleading parliament. The finding that a "definitive conclusion" could not be reached on who won the 'for Neville' dispute, Myler/Crone or Murdoch, was disputed by four Tory MPs. The statement that Myler and Crone "clearly did not tell us the truth" was rejected by the same quartet. One Tory even disagreed with the suggestion that the Murdochs' failure to investigate phone-hacking was "simply astonishing". A conclusion that there were "huge failings of corporate governance" was, again, opposed by the four Tory MPs, who also fought the "not a fit person" judgement against Rupert Murdoch, too.

What happens next

The politics of the report runs a risk of drowning out its most serious aspect: that named individuals have misled parliament. This is not something that happens very often, so the committee has hedged its bets by not calling for any specific kind of retribution. Instead it wants the Commons' disciplinary body, the liaison committee, to decide what punishment should be doled out.

James Murdoch and his father are likely to emerge unscathed, unless the Commons decides they can be held responsible for corporate misleading of parliament. The individuals - Crone, Myler and Hinton - are likely to be sanctioned. What form that takes remains to be seen. Perhaps a new 'contempt of parliament' offence will be created, or perhaps they will be called to the bar of the House of Commons to apologise.

Today may close a chapter in the phone-hacking saga, but the next one is already beginning. Tom Watson, the campaigning Labour MP on the committee, has alleged that the Serious Organised Crime Agency may be in possession of hard drives showing the victims of computer hacking by News International. He is also calling for the judgement convicting ex-MSP Tommy Sheridan to be revisited and for the Leveson inquiry to be allowed to probe the relationships between ministers, special advisers and News International lobbyists.

That is all still to come. Today we've been confronted with deeply partisan divisions among the MPs on the committee. The historic significance of their report is likely to come from the areas where they are united, however. Parliament is about to assert its strength in holding those individuals who sought to misled it to account. That's a significant development which shouldn't go unnoticed, as the flurry of excitement about partisan conclusions dominates the news in the next 24 hours.

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