David Cameron says he regrets the furore caused by his hiring of ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Meanwhile News Corp has finally ceased payments to convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire.
The Prime Minister also outlined a number of steps which the Government hoped would help to move beyond phone hacking in a lengthy session in the House of Commons. Mr Cameron said the aim now for the press, politics and politicians should be to regain the trust of the public.
In total, he faced 136 questions from MPs keen to get to the bottom of the scandal before the parliamentary recess begins on Thursday.
You live and you learn and believe you me, I have learnt. David Cameron
Regarding Mr Coulson’s employment, Mr Cameron said that with the benefit of “20:20 hindsight” he would never have employed the ex-News of the World editor – who was arrested over phone-hacking allegations last week, several months after he resigned as the PM’s spokesman.
He said he would owe the public a “profound apology” if it transpired that Mr Coulson’s assurances that he knew nothing about phone hacking turned out to be untrue.
“You live and you learn and believe you me, I have learnt. But the greatest responsibility I have is to clear up this mess.”
Mr Cameron also gave MPs more detail about what would happen next in relation to phone hacking, including the unveiling of a list of experts who will assist Lord Justice Leveson with his inquiry into the scandal.
The panel will include: Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty; the former chief constable of the West Midlands, Sir Paul Scott-Lee; the former chairman of Ofcom, Lord David Currie; the former political editor of Channel 4 News, Elinor Goodman; the former political editor of the Daily Telegraph and Press Association George Jones; and the former chairman of the Financial Times, Sir David Bell.
The first part of the inquiry will begin immediately and has been expanded to take in not just the press but also broadcasters and social media if there is evidence to do so. It will also look at other police forces, not just the Metropolitan Police, the PM said.
The first part of the inquiry will look at the culture, practices and ethics of the press, and the second will focus in on what happened at News International and with the police investigations.
Mr Cameron said he expects the panel to report back within the next 12 months.
He also said that the Government hoped to take other steps to make the police more transparent, including plans to have directly elected police commissioners.
The Met will continue its investigations into both phone hacking and its own involvement in the affair. Bernard Hogan-Howe will join temporarily from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to oversee these investigations.
The Prime Minister also addressed a number of questions which he has faced over the last few days regarding his links with News International.
He defended his chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, who turned down a briefing from Assistant Commissioner Yates on phone hacking, saying Mr Llewellyn’s belief that this would not have been appropriate was backed by the permanent secretary, the police, the Cabinet secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee.
He said the Cabinet secretary had also addressed whether the ministerial code was broken in relation to the BSkyB merger and Mr Cameron’s meetings with News International executives.
“The Cabinet secretary has ruled very clearly that the code was not broken – not least because I had asked to be entirely excluded from the decision,” he said.
Mr Cameron also reiterated that the Conservative party had never employed another former News of the World employee, Neil Wallis. Mr Wallis did however provide informal advice to Mr Coulson before the general election, advice that Mr Cameron said he did not know anything about until Sunday night.
In a separate development today, the High Court ruled that actor Hugh Grant and writer Jemima Khan must be shown police information which indicates that their telephone messages might have been intercepted by a private investigator working for the press.
News Corporation has announced it is to stop paying the legal fees of the private investigator jailed in the phone-hack scandal.
In a statement, the company said that its management and standards committee had decided to terminate any arrangement to pay the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire “with immediate effect”.
At Tuesday’s hearing of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Rupert Murdoch’s son James admitted that he had been “very surprised” to learn payments were being made towards Mr Mulcaire’s legal costs.