Miliband piles pressure on Cameron over News of the World phone-hacking scandal
By Matthew Barrett
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A serious exchange between the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband today, focusing on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Miliband, marking a clear difference between himself and previous Labour leaders, was unafraid to attack both News International and Cameron over his friendship with Rebekah Brooks and employment of Andy Coulson. Cameron was therefore in a hard place. He will want, on the one hand, not to offend public opinion nor, on the other hand, alienate News International and in particular Coulson, who will have kept a record of his time in Number Ten. So although Cameron emphasised his outrage at what has happened, he stuck to his line that current investigations must be carried out properly before new inquires about yesterday's news can begin.
The PM started off by paying tribute to fallen Highlander, Scott McLaren of 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. He then answered two backbench questions, on banks and international aid.
Ed Miliband's first question was on the News of the World phone-hacking story, calling the alleged phone-hacking "immoral" and asked the Prime Minister to support an inquiry. Mr Cameron responded "yes, we do need to have an inquiry" and possibly several inquiries. The Prime Minister called the news "absolutely disgusting". He said "there is a major police investigation underway" and called for a "wider look" at media ethics, before urging the current investigation not be jeopardised.
Miliband said he was "encouraged" by the Prime Minister calling for an inquiry. He noted the police investigation may take years, and urged the PM to take immediate action in creating an inquiry. Miliband wanted the inquiry to examine the relationship between the police and the media. Cameron replied that he doesn't think the police element can be examined until the current police investigation is concluded. He said it "may be possible to start on other elements" of the hacking scandal, and said he wanted to "get it right".
Miliband then asked the PM about the BSkyB bid, and said the "public will react with disbelief" if parent company News Corporation is allowed to take over BSkyB when News International is under investigation. Miliband called for the PM to refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission.
Cameron said on BSkyB that the Government has followed legal processes "absolutely to the letter". Cameron emphasised that the BSkyB bid is a separate issue and said "this government will behave in a proper way". Miliband called the PM's response "out of touch" with the public. Miliband urged the Prime Minister to refer the BSkyB bid to "the proper authorities" in order for breathing space for the correct decision be made.
Cameron insisted proper processes had been followed and emphasised the difference between the NOTW and BSkyB story. Miliband replied "this is not the time for technicalities", to laughter from Tory benches. Miliband said Cameron should instead act in the interest of the public, rather than hide behind technicalities. "The public see a major news organisation in this country where no-one appeared prepared to take responsibility for what happened", said Miliband. He then urged the PM to call on Rebekah Brooks to step down.
Cameron insisted "technicalities" meant following the due process of law. He then said people at News International have to "ask themselves some pretty searching questions" and said the police should be allowed to get on with their job.
Miliband again urged Rebekah Brooks to stand down, and said the case was an example of "power without responsibility" and said Cameron hadn't shown leadership on the issue. Miliband then condemned Cameron hiring Andy Coulson.
Cameron said he takes "full responsibility" for everyone he employs, again condemned the scandal as "quite disgraceful" and again urged for the police investigation to be allowed to continue.
Questions from backbenchers included:
- Mike Freer (Con, Finchley and Golders Green) pointed out Portugal's junk credit rating, and the PM used the opportunity to say Labour's economic Plan "B" stands for "bankrupt".
- Adrian Sanders (LD, Torbay) asked a question about News International and the bribing of Police. The PM re-iterated that the current police investigation is one of the largest police investigations in the country and should be allowed to continue.
- Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter) again urged the Prime Minister to look at the NewsCorp take-over of BSkyB. The Prime Minister replied angrily, saying "you'd look pretty for a day, but useless for a week" if the due process of law was not correctly followed by the Government.