Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Commons power to summon witnesses

Fascinating extract from the guide to Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House

"A refusal by a witness to attend a Select Committee may be construed as a contempt.
If a witness is unwilling to attend, the committee can agree to order the attendance of a witness at a specified date and time. Such an order is signed by the Chairman of
the Committee and is either forwarded to the witness by registered post or served
personally by a member of the Serjeant at Arms' office. Similarly, an order may be
served upon a witness (not being a Minister, a Member of either House, or an officer
of a Government department) for the production of papers or records required by a
Select Committee.

If a Select Committee has issued a summons to a witness to attend, or produce
papers, and the witness has not responded, it is for the House to act (or not) on the
basis of a Report made to it by the committee. The House may order the Serjeant at
Arms as Warrant Officer of the House to serve a Warrant on the witness. Formerly,
the Serjeant would be sent with the Mace as the symbol of his authority, to order the
attendance of witnesses. However, by the end of the seventeenth century, it had
become accepted that the Mace was required to remain in place for the House to
meet. Therefore, the device of the Speaker's Warrant was invented. In serving the
Warrant, the Serjeant or his appointee may call on the full assistance of the civil
authorities, including the police.

The last use of the Warrant to summon witnesses was in January 1992 (when the
Maxwell brothers were reluctant to attend the Social Security Select Committee
inquiry into the operation of pension funds).

Refusal to answer the questions of a Select Committee is more complicated. In such
an instance the House would look to precedent. A series of options, mentioned
below, are available to treat contempt of the House; these would similarly apply to
contempt before a Committee.

Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House
collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament, and by Members of
each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and
which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. Because neither House
could perform its functions without the unimpeded services of its Members, privileges
Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information
are required by each House for the protection of its Members and for the vindication
of its own authority and dignity.

(Memorandum by the Clerk of the House of Commons to the Report by the Select
Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, HC 34, 1966-67.)

Following the reports of the then Nolan Committee and the House's Select
Committee on Standards in Public Life (HC 637 1994/95), in 1995, the House of
Commons merged the functions of the former Select Committees on Members'
Interests and on Privileges into the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges: the House also appointed Sir Gordon Downey, KCB, as Parliamentary Commissioner for
Standards, now Mrs Elizabeth Filkin. Matters involving the declaration and
registration of Members' interests, or complaints regarding the more general conduct
of Members, are dealt with in the first instance by the Commissioner, who advises the
Committee on an appropriate course of action.

The House may consider a matter relating to privilege itself: more often, however,
matters arise, usually involving the conduct of non-Members, which need more
detailed investigation. In these circumstances, the House would refer the matter to
the Select Committee of Standards and Privileges. Although the Committee may
consider any matter relating to privilege referred to it by the House, the normal
practice is for such cases to be raised by individual Members by letter with the
Speaker, who has the authority to decide whether or not to allow the Member to
move a motion relating to the matter in the House. Such a motion has precedence
over other business. The usual course after the Motion has been moved would be for
a Member (often the Leader of the House) to move that the matter be referred to the
Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Committee would report its
recommendations to the House: these would be debated and the House would
decide whether or not to accept the recommendations.

In modern times, the House has shown increasing reluctance to exercise its powers
even when evidence of a contempt is clear. Indeed, in 1967, the Select Committee on
Parliamentary Privilege (a Committee specially set up to consider every aspect of
privilege) recommended that "the House should exercise its penal jurisdiction (a) in
any event as sparingly as possible, and (b) only when it is satisfied that to do so 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".

This recommendation was endorsed by the Committee of Privileges in 1977 and approved by the House and given immediate effect on 6 February 1978. This decision guides the Speaker, the House, and the appropriate Committee.

A new Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege was set up in the 1996-97
Parliament, to consider the current situation on privilege, given, especially, the
aftermath of the 'cash for questions' affairs and on Members' ability to waive
privilege. It reported on 30 March 1999 (HC 214 1998/99, available on the internet at:

The House debated the report on a motion for the adjournment on 27 October 1999,
but has not yet agreed to implement its findings. In the 2010-11 Queen’s Speech,
the Government announced its intention to publish a Draft Parliamentary Privilege Bill to build upon the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privileges’ 1999 report.
If the witness is in attendance, he or she may be brought by the Serjeant at Arms to
the Bar of the House and before the assembled Members, to be admonished by the
Speaker. If not in attendance, the witness may be ordered into the custody of the
Serjeant, by use of the Warrant, to be brought to the Bar at a date and time specified by the House.

The last stranger (non-Member) to be brought before the Bar and admonished by the Speaker was John Junor on 24 January 1957, for an article
published in the Sunday Express casting doubt on the honour and integrity of
Members. Junor apologised and no further action was taken. Members are
admonished standing in their places. The last Member to be so admonished was Mr
Tam Dalyell on 24 July 1968.

On 6 February 1750, Alexander Murray was called to the Bar in connection with
malpractice at a City of Westminster election. Found guilty by the House, he was
ordered into custody at Newgate Prison until the end of that parliamentary session.
When hearing sentence, he refused to kneel at the Bar and was further found guilty of
a "high and most dangerous contempt of the authority and privilege of this House".
The House further ordered that while in Newgate, (Murray) "be not allowed the use of
pens, ink or paper; and that no person be admitted to have access unto him, without
the leave of this House". (HC Journal 6 February 1750)

The last fine imposed on an offender by the House was on 6 February 1666. Thomas
White was fined £1000 (£114,000 today): White absconded after being ordered into
the custody of the Serjeant at Arms, for causing Henry Chowne, the Member for
Horsham, to be arrested and prevented from attending Parliament. The power to fine
was denied in 1762 by Lord Mansfield in R v Pitt and R v Mead (3 Burr 1335) and the
House has not sought to revive the claim to fine since. In a report in 1967, the
Privileges Committee recommended that legislation be introduced to enable the
Commons to impose fines with statutory authority. The Committee repeated this
recommendation in 1977, but no action has been taken.

The last imprisonment by the Commons of a non-Member was of Charles Grissell in
1880 (breach of privilege in connection with the Committee on the Tower High Level
Bridge [Metropolis] Bill). The House no longer retains it right to imprison. Instead
the House uses a division of the Metropolitan Police based on the Parliamentary
Estate to detain and, if necessary, arrest individuals.

In the lower third of the Clock Tower, is a room in which unruly Members were
confined when committed to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. Technically, a
Member so committed could be detained for the remainder of the Parliamentary
Session but one day was the general rule. The last Member committed was Charles
Bradlaugh (Northampton), who spent the night of 23 June 1880 in the room.
Bradlaugh had repeatedly refused to take the oath of allegiance required of every
newly elected Member and claimed the right to affirm. Over the next six years, he
was excluded from the House, unseated four times, and re-elected for the same
constituency every time. He finally took his seat in 1886 and remained a Member
until his death in 1891, having successfully introduced a Bill which led to the Oaths
Act 1888, which allowed an affirmation to be taken in all cases where an oath was
Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information

The former cellroom is now used for other purposes."

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Scotland through both ends of the media telescope

There is plenty happening at Westminster that would fill quite a few pages of a Scottish newspaper today, except that this is no ordinary day.

Just going to book a ringside seat for Prime Minister's Questions and for the debate on News International that will follow. Cameron is not taking part in the debate, though he might make it to the vote, but he can't escape a hammering on Coulson et al in half an hour.

The global spread of the News International Scandal, and the drama promised downstairs, mean stories like the Mull of Kintryre crash inquiry, the Secretary of State for Scotland in front of the Scottish Affairs committee and the end of fish discard, effectively the beginning of the end for the EU Common Fisheries policy, all fall down the news list.

Speaking of news lists, I open the Scotsman today to see a familiar, if depressing, "English bias" headline. This time its the BBC showing English bias in its news coverage, as if 90% of the population don't live in England and Wales.

The word England is rarely mentioned in the Scottish media these days, except in negative terms.

Here's an interesting challenge. Can anyone in the next week find a positive reference to England or the word English in any Scottish newspaper? I know it's the silly season, so there is a chance it might happen.

Postscript: It seems it is not just England that gets a rum deal from the Scottish medai. Professor Kenneth MacKinnon of Aberdeen University has been monitoring coverage of Gaelic in the Scottish press and found it to be "degenerated into inaccuracy, prejudice and mockery".

His report is here . Now he's revealed a universal truth about the media's treatment of Gaelic another academic might be interested in researching the media's treatment of England. As for Northern Ireland or Wales, our devolved cousins, they seem to be completely off the media map.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Gordon Brown interview on hacking allegations

GORDON BROWN – News International scandal
BBC News interview transcript
Tuesday 12th July 2011

Speakers: Gordon Brown
Glenn Campbell

GC: Can you take me back and detail for me the instances where you believe your personal security has been breached?

GB: I think what happened pretty early on in government is that the Sunday Times appear to have got access to by building society account, they got access to my legal files, there is some question mark about what happened to other files, documentation, tax and everything else, but I’m shocked, I’m genuinely shocked to find that this happened because of the links with criminals, known criminals who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators who were working with the Sunday Times, and I just can’t understand this, if I, with all the protection and all the defences and all the security that a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a Prime Minister has is so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, unlawful tactics, to methods that have been used in the way that we’ve found, what about the ordinary citizen? What about the person like the family of Milly Dowler, who were in the most desperate of circumstances at the most difficult occasions in their lives, in huge grief, troubled, not knowing where to turn, and then they find as they have found over the last few days that they are totally defenceless in this moment of greatest grief, from people who are employing these ruthless tactics with links to know criminals,

GC: And that is where I want to take you to, you are saying, or alleging that news International have been involved in a criminal conspiracy with the underworld?

GB: I believe now from what I have seen and heard and what has been told to me by people who have investigated this and I’m looking at the evidence that has been accumulated by Nick Davis of the Guardian and the most brilliant of research, that the links that made possible the intrusion into people’s lives and particularly the intrusion into the lives of completely innocent citizens who deserve to have the privacy of their lives, particularly at times of the greatest grief, at the times when they are at the most vulnerable, that news International were using people who were known criminals people who had in some cases criminal records an that News International as a result were working through links that they had with the criminal underworld and I think when people find out that the invasion of their liberties, their private lives and their private grief’s and their private thoughts and their innermost feelings becoming public property as a result, not of a rogue reporter, or a chance investigator or someone saying something out of turn when they meet a friend at the street corner, or when they talk to someone on a bus, but because criminals were hired to do this particular work, and these were known criminals, these were criminals in some cases with records, in some cases with records of violence and these links have now got to be explored, and I find it quite incredible that the supposedly reputable organisation made its money, produced its commercial results at the expense of ordinary people by using known criminals and that is now what has got to be investigated.

GC: A very strong allegation, your building society wrote to you in 2000 about its concerns with News International and you being a targeted subject of hacking and blagging, you knew then in 2000 did you contact the police did you contact News International, who you had a good relationship with at the time.

GB: I don’t think I can ever say that I had a good relationship with News International. What actually happened was that News International were trying to prove a point and they were completely wrong and they were trying to suggest that I had bought a flat without nit ever being advertised and factually it had been advertised in the very newspaper that was making this allegation, the Sunday Times…

GC: So completely unfounded?

GB: Completely and utterly unfounded, nothing could be further from the truth, a flat that I bought that was advertised and I bought at the price that was going in the market place, but the Sunday Times wanted to allege, with the purposes of bringing me down as a government minister that I had bought in some underhand way. It now appears from what I now know as a result of investigations that have been done by other people and not myself, that they had hired someone who was breaking into my lawyers files, effectively by ‘blagging’ as they call it, talking to my lawyers, getting information out of them, that on 6 occasions they went to my building society and they asked for information and managed to get it out of people on the basis that I was phoning, I was asking for information about myself…

GC: Did you complain to the police?

GB: I complained at the time to the building society, I complained at the time through my lawyers to the Sunday Times, I wanted an apology from them about what happened, but I didn’t know at this time…

GC: Why didn’t you complain to the police?

GB: I did not know at this time that they had hired criminal elements to do this, I did not know at this time about the links with the criminal fraternity, I have only found out as a result of the investigations that have been done, particularly by the Guardian but by you and by many other people, I have only found out about the links between the Sunday Times and what I would call elements of the criminal underworld who were being paid, while known criminals, to do work that if you like was the most disgusting work, not against me only but against people who were completely defenceless…

GC: Hacking and blagging is illegal, do you wish you had complained to the police?

GB: I think the issue then was, who had done this, and the issue now is that we have got a huge amount of information that has been brought to me, even since I was in government that shows the link between the Sunday Times and known criminals, but equally the links between the News International organisation and known criminals and that is information I did not have at the time and it is information that I could not base any complaint upon because I had no idea about who was doing this.

GC: How receptive were News International, you obviously had the ability to pick up a phone and talk to people, senior executives there, what did they say when you said, what are you doing, why are you accessing my private information?

GB: Well when I talked to the editor off the Sunday Times and said that this was completely out of order, that the story was completely inaccurate, he distorted my conversation and actually used it in the Newspaper, there was no support going to come from the editor of the Sunday Times, in dealing with the indiscipline and the practices of his own reporters. So this was in culture in both the Sunday Times and in other Newspapers in News International where they really exploited people, people particularly, I’m not talking so much about me you know, I’m talking about people who were at rock bottom… and rock bottom was the rock upon which the Sunday Times founded their reputation and other Newspapers in News International founded their reputation for purely commercial gain and in some cases to abuse political power.

GC: A question I have to ask, you’ve said that and made those allegations, but during your time in government, both as Chancellor and Prime Minister you courted News International, is it true to say that you had to court them because they were so important they were vote winners for you and isn’t this at the very heart of what has gone wrong here?

GB: When the record of my time as Prime Minister is looked at and all the papers will be there for people to see they will show that we stood up to News International, that we refused to support their commercial ambitions when we thought they were against the public interest, that we did not allow them to take decisions or allow them to pursue actions which were purely in their commercial interests but against the public interest and I think people will find it is partly because we stood up to News International and partly because we refused to go along with some of their commercial proposals that were purely in the interest of their company that News International did not find that they could support the Labour Party at the last election.

GC: Can you give me three instances where Rupert Murdoch or News International tried to influence you on decision-making or you felt that pressure was being put on you whilst you were in public office?

GB: I think it will be pretty clear when the record is examined that News International had an agenda about the BBC, an agenda to neuter Ofcom, the regulatory organisation, and they had an agenda also in relation to the pursuit of their own commercial interest. On each of these three issues News International made proposals, they made propositions, they had policies. We refused to go along with them.

GC: Do you believe that your unwillingness to cooperate is why they didn’t support you at the last general election?

GB: I think when you look at the record – and people will have to look at the record – they will understand that News International pursued an incredibly aggressive agenda in the last year. They are entitled, of course, to have their own views about the politics of this country. I think when people look at the record they will find evidence of how News International was distorting the news in a way that was designed to pursue a particular political cause. In other words, you can complain about how News International abuse their power for commercial gain, and all these press awards they were winning for stories that we now find out were stories that were not achieved in the most clean of ways is one thing. But, of course, the abuse of their power for political gain is going to have to be looked at. Any inquiry that’s going to be set up is going to have to look at how News International attempted to abuse political power for political gain.

GC: We talked about bank records, your bank records being invaded. We’ve talked about your lawyers. Medical records is another instance. Tell me about that.

GB: I have never, never talked about by son or wanted to talk about my two sons or my late daughter in public. I have always been very reluctant to bring them into the political arena. I never thought that it was right that the private lives of young children who are growing up, who I want to have an ordinary life, should be paraded across the media. I have always sought to keep them from the glare of publicity and I think the record will show that’s exactly what I did at Downing Street, despite people wanting to have all sorts of stories about their private life and their families’ private life. So I have never talked about my son’s medical condition before. I have never talked publicly about my son’s medical condition.

GC: But we are at a point where it is very relevant, aren’t we?

GB: I’ve never talked about it. I’m not sure whether even at this stage I want my son to be able to go the internet when he’s six or seven and find all these stories that have been written about him. I think that the invasion of privacy of young people and young children is a big issue.

GC: How do you think that your son Fraser’s medical condition for cystic fibrosis was leaked out?

GB: I have never talked publicly about Fraser’s condition. Obviously we wanted that to be kept private for all the obvious reasons. As a parent you want to do the best by your children and I’ve never complained about what happened to me before. The truth is that information did come out. I was approached by the Sun newspaper. They told me they had this story about Fraser’s medical condition and that they were going to run this story.

GC: How did that affect you, as a father?

GB: In tears, your son is now going to be broadcast across the media, your, Sarah and I were incredibly upset about it, we were thinking about his long term future, we are thinking about our family but there is nothing you can do about it, you are in public life and this story appears, you don’t know how it has appeared, I’ve not questioned how it appeared, I’ve not made any allegations about how it appeared, I’ve not made any claims about how it appeared but the fact is, it did appear and it did appear in the Sun newspaper.

GC: It was Rebekah Brooks who phoned, am I right?

GB: We were told by the Sun and Rebekah Wade at the time, Rebekah Brooks now, the problem that I have is that if this is the policy of newspapers in this country that they are going to write about the medical conditions of young children, then you have got to ask yourself, where are they getting this information from. I have never made any claims. I am not making any claims today. I have never wanted to talk about it. I have never raised it in the public arena. I don’t really want these matters to be public matters that are about the private life of a young child.

GC: The Sun say they got it legitimately. They say they got that information legitimately.

GB: They will have to explain themselves. I can’t think of any way in which the medical condition of a child can be put into the public arena legitimately unless the doctor makes a statement or the family makes a statement. They will have to explain themselves, The issue for me is this. I have never wanted to talk about my son’s medical condition. I have never wanted to raise questions about it. It is in the public arena now. I make no claims but the fact of the matter is that I have my bank accounts broken into. I have my lawyers’ files effectively blagged, with someone getting information from my lawyers. My tax returns went missing at one point. Medical records have been broken into. I don’t know how all of this happened. But I do know that in two of these instances, there is absolute proof that News International was involved in hiring people to get this information. I do know also that the people that they work with, because this is what really concerns me most, is that the people they work with are criminals, known criminals, criminals with records, criminals who sometimes have records of violence as well as records of fraud. These links with the criminal underworld mean that there is nothing that a serious organisation can say when it is alleged that they are using underhand tactics by criminal elements. And people will rightly say, how can a reputable news organisation run their affairs by using known criminals to carry out much of their work.

GC: You and your wife, Sarah, both went to Rebekah Brooks’s wedding and now you are here criticising News International and making allegations regarding their activities against you and your wife. Is this a case of now that you are out of office you don’t need them anymore?

GB: It’s a case of me not knowing until now and until the evidence had been brought to me by work that has been done by investigative journalists telling me what actually was happening. As I said, I have not talked about these things. I now have been given information. The police are obviously looking at some of the information about how this came out, how these things were done, how my bank accounts, my legal affairs, my property affairs and all that could become public property for no other reason that a newspaper wanted to make some commercial gain or abuse political power in doing so. Now I know that to be the case, it’s clear that there were issues that have got to be raised. I did not know the level criminality involved until now.

GC: Last Friday, David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons and he effectively laid the responsibility at your doorstep. He said Labour and you as prime minister had not done enough to combat or investigate phone hacking as it started to emerge. How do you react to that?

GB: I think that’s completely wrong. I think the record will show – and perhaps it’s something I’ve got to talk about later – is that not only did we stand up against the commercial ambitions of News International and make it clear that the public interest was to dominate how we made decisions in government, no matter what they said, no matter what they wanted, but also at the same time we were also very clear that if allegations of wrong-doing were proven, action should be taken. I think the record will show that against the advice of the police, against the advice of the Home Office, against the advice of the Cabinet Office, against the advice in a way of the Select Committee who hadn’t asked for it, I wanted a judicial inquiry some months ago before I left office into the workings of News International.

GC: Did you at all contact Gus O’Donnell or anyone asking for a public inquiry? What action did you take proactively to try and investigate?

GB: I think the record will show that once the Select Committee had reported it was very clear to me that there were questions that were unanswered. They talked about the deliberate obfuscation of News International. They talked about the number of people being far greater than the number of people being named. They talked about all these issues but they haven’t been able to reach a conclusion. I came to the conclusion that the evidence was now becoming so overwhelming about the underhand tactics of News International. I didn’t know about all the illegality at that time, but the underhand tactics of News International, using these private investigators to trawl into people’s private lives particularly people who were completely innocent, completely defenceless, that we had to have a judicial inquiry. That was my view At the time however, there were very few people who accepted that this was the right thing to do.

GC: How big a scandal is this for our political system, our media and the lives of normal people?

GB: My view is that there comes in different times big questions that have got to be confronted by the public and by the political system of our country and it’s pretty clear to me that not only are people utterly defenceless against some of the tactics that have been used by the some of newspapers that are linked to the News International stable and perhaps wider, but also that the level of criminality, which is going to be exposed, meant that there were links between that newspaper and that groups of newspapers and well-known criminals in this country. If that is case, then we have a duty to clear this up entirely. I tried in government to do the best that I could to have totally clean relationship with these papers. No private deals, nothing. Equally at this time I tried to secure a judicial inquiry. I think the record will show that lots of people were very keen that that did not happen. But at the end of the day, we now have a choice to make. Do we have a system in this country where we can uphold the freedom of the press - and I’ve never at any stage during the course of my political career do anything other than champion the right of the press to expose wrong-doing where they find and to speak truth to power, which is what a free press ought to be able to do - but there are some serious questions that the press have now got to answer and there are some serious considerations that we have got to have about the protection of individual members of public in this country, not politicians. The protection of defenceless citizens who at their moments of greatest grief their private feelings and their private tears are intruded upon by huge over-bearing news organisations. It is right that we take action to deal with these problems.

GC: Is it also a time to focus on the relations between politicians and the senior executives at newspapers, especially News International. I have heard stories that Rupert Murdoch turned up at Chequers whilst you were there uninvited, trying to see you, trying to get a conversation with you.

GB: Not true.

GC: I’ve heard a story that while you and your wife were up in Scotland attending a funeral for oilrig workers in a tragic accident, a text was sent from Rebekah Brooks suggesting that you may want to get rid of one of your junior defence ministers.

GB: I think the record will show that some people at News International abused their power. There’s no doubt about that.

GC: Is it true, that last one?

GB: I don’t want to get into individual instances that affect what was said to Sarah, my wife. It’s up to her to say …

GC: But is it true?

GB: I leave it up to her to say anything about these texts that relate to her. The issue for me, the issue we’ve got to focus on…

GC: Did that take place Mr Brown, could you just answer that?

GB: You are asking something that affects Sarah, not me directly.

GC: So she did receive a text?

GB: Sarah would have to answer for this herself, because basically this is about information between two people that was communicated by text if your story is accurate, but it’s not for me to answer for something that happened there.

GC: They were putting pressure on you. They were trying to influence policy, is that correct?

GB: There’s absolutely no doubt that News International were trying to influence policy. There editorials show that they are publicly wanting influence policy. Of course they use channels to do this. This is an issue, and it will become an issue, about the abuse of political power as well as the abuse of civil liberties and I think people will look askance at the British system of government and the way we pride ourselves on the democracy of our country and the civil liberties we guarantee to every individual and the transparency of our political system. And yet at the same time there are these influences working in our political system that have to be brought under democratic scrutiny.

"Pinging" - sinister new level in hacking scandal

Assistant Commissioner John Yates has just told the Commons Home Affairs committee that he is 99 per cent sure his own phone was hacked during 2005-2006, though he has no idea who was behind the illegality.

Meanwhile the New York Times, which has been doing a fair bit of running on the case, has focused on the other highly dubious methods newspapers use police resources to locate their quarry.

It's called "pinging" and involves the kind of cellphone tracking normally carried out against terrorist suspects or kidnappers. The claim is that the News of the World routinely paid for police resources to be deployed to find anyone who might be trying to flee their attentions.

You can read the article here, and below is the key passage:

"According to Oliver Crofton, a cybersecurity specialist who works to protect high-profile clients from such invasive tactics, cellphones are constantly pinging off relay towers as they search for a network, enabling an individual’s location to be located within yards by checking the strength of the signal at three different towers. But the former Scotland Yard official who discussed the matter said that any officer who agreed to use the technique to assist a newspaper would be crossing a red line.

A former show business reporter for The News of the World, Sean Hoare, who was fired in 2005, said that when he worked there, pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each occasion. He first found out how the practice worked, he said, when he was scrambling to find someone and was told that one of the news desk editors, Greg Miskiw, could help. Mr. Miskiw asked for the person’s cellphone number, and returned later with information showing the person’s precise location in Scotland, Mr. Hoare said. Mr. Miskiw, who faces questioning by police on a separate matter, did not return calls for comment."

Yates of the Yard and the 11,000

Still in the whirlpool of the phonehacking scandal. Today it's Yates of the Yard, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, in front of the Home Affairs Committee.

Several Labour MPs will want their vengeance on him. Yates, remember, pursued Blair over groundless cash for peerages claims and played a crucial part in the News International cover-up of phonehacking.

The last time Nick Davies uncovered the extent of the practice in 2009 it fell on Yates to review the evidence collected by the police.

Most of what we now know was in the hands of the police at the time, contained in Glenn Mulcaire's extensive notes. But Yates spent barely an afternoon looking at the case again. About 5.30pm he came out of Scotland Yard, stood in front of the live cameras and declared, to effect, that there was nothing to see here, move on.

That was the moment you knew David Cameron had all the luck, as well as the talent, to propel himself into Downing Street.

The man at the centre of the cover-up allegations was Andy Coulson, by then Cameron's communications director. Any hint of illegality would have tainted Cameron and recontaminated the Tory brand.

Instead Yates' effectively gave News International a clean bill of health.
with which to discredit the Guardian.

Monday, 11 July 2011

New York Times does the "British Spring"

According to the New York Times view of the world we are living through nothing short of a revolution in Britain as politicians cast aside the shackles of the crumbling Murdoch media empire.

David Carr, observing the spreading phone hacking scandal from 30,000 feet, writes: "In truth, a kind of British Spring is under way, now that the News Corporation’s tidy system of punishment and reward has crumbled. Members of Parliament, no longer fearful of retribution in Mr. Murdoch’s tabloids, are speaking their minds and giving voice to the anger of their constituents.

Meanwhile, social media has roamed wild and free across the story, punching a hole in the tiny clubhouse that had been running the country. Democracy, aided by sunlight, has broken out in Britain."

Quite. I'm not sure about a revolution but clearly the hacking scandal has created an atmosphere akin to an insurrection. The story is so chaotic, so well out of control, that no one knows where this will end. There has been a new twist every working hour for the last week and no prospect of the pace slackening over the next few days.

Yesterday the News of the World shut, and today Murdoch's BSkyB bid looks doomed. The Prime Minister's former communications director has been arrested and is being put in the frame (by selective leaks) for ordering the corruption of the Queen's Royal Protection Squad.

The Prime Minister is feeling the heat, the police themselves are under scrutiny, and politicians are running a mile from the Sun God that was Rupert Murdoch. Will it end up with increased plurality in the press, a political class freed from fear of the media?

Who knows, in journalism the industry feels like it is going through a British winter right now, not some kind of revival.

And as I write here comes another breaking line - that Gordon Brown and the Sunday Times are about to become the story of the day. The next act of the saga could be Brown's revenge on Murdoch.

Brown's people deny he's making any statement today but he has been seen around the Commons. This story might not be a revolution, but it is a rollercoaster.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sir Iain Noble's estate worth £4.7m

The late Sir Iain Noble, the merchant banker who devoted many years of his life to championing the Gaelic language, left an estate worth more than £4.7m, according to his recently published will.

Noble, who died aged 75 on Christmas Day last year, owned the 25,000 acre Eilean Iarmain estate on Skye and founded Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the island that is his real legacy.

Sir Iain's will shows the Skye lands and his Eilean Iarmain hotel were worth £2.5m at the time of his death, more than half of the £4,738,373 of his will.

His will shows he also had household contents and goods worth £200,000, and
more than £1 million in bank accounts and stocks and shares.

Sir Iain left the bulk of his estate to his wife Lady Lucilla. Bequests of
£10,000 were left to the endowment trust of Sabhal Mor Ostaig and the Skye Trust.

McKenzie brings some sunshine to Labour

The train was delayed, his luggage was stuck, and Iain McKenzie said his journey to Westminster yesterday seemed longer than the five weeks of campaigning in the Inverclyde and Greenock by-election.

At least he brought some sunshine, and a smile to the face of Labour colleagues when party leader Ed Miliband greeted him outside St Stephen's entrance to Westminster Palace.

Labour were nervous (and behind, according to their own polling) when the campaign began after the hammering they took from the SNP in May.

McKenzie held the Westminster seat with 15,118 votes over the SNP's Anne McLaughlin on 9,280. Labour's majority fell from 14,416 bequeathed by the late David Cairns to 5,838.

The Conservatives took third place with 2,784, the Liberal Democrats polled 627 votes and UKIP was fifth with 288. A result like that makes Scotland look like a two-party state, with the Lib Dems heading in the direction the Tories took a decade ago.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Anyone seen Labour's bridge back to Scotland?

After the Inverclyde by-election confirmed the Scottish Labour Party still has a pulse, the first stage of moving the patient out of intensive care is underway.

Later today as Shadow Defence Sectretary Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack MSP discuss their ideas to reform the Scottish party with MPs in Westminster.

The pair have already had talks with the MSPs in Scotland but persuading the Westminster party to swallow some of the Irn Bru reforms I outlined in today's Daily Record may not be easy.

Senior party figures insist they have an open mind about changes but it's pretty clear they want to beef up the Scottish identity of Labour - and not just with Barr's "made in Scotland 'fae girders" branding.

Structurally the party will have to become organised around the 73 Scottish parliament constituencies, most of which do not overlap the 59 Westminster seats.

Harder to sell to MPs is the idea that the leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be the overall team general. There's resistance to that but it will strike anyone who doesn't follow politics closely as odd that Iain Gray, always described as the Scottish leader, in in reality only leader of the Labour MSPs at Holyrood.

That, in turn, will lead to a looser relationship with the UK Labour party, a positive thing for the Westminster leader if it turns voters back to Scottish Labour and prevents the break-up of the UK.

But the most symbolic reform - structural and psychological - is enabling, and persuading, Scottish Labour MPs to make the return journey to Holyrood.

To paraphrase Angus MacNeil, Labour has to address the problem of why it fields its A team for Westminster and its B team for Holyrood.

Asking Scottish Labour MPs to find the political highway to Holyrood, to stand in seats that were once fiefdoms and are now enemy territory, to relinquish parliamentary ambitions and take leave of the national political stage, is not going to be easy. That's not to mention the tartan toes of MSPs and candidates that would have to be trampled on to facilitate a transition.

The bridge back to Scotland might be hard to find, but until some of Scottish Labour's big Westminster beasts set out on that journey the party will always be challenged on whether it is has learned the lessons of 2007 and 2011.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Salmond's Scottish speech patterns

I've only read the First Minister's speech to the opening of the Scottish parliament, not heard the delivery yet, but it strikes like a very well crafted piece of work.

It is quite subversive to use her Majesty's own words as an argument to dismantle her kingdom. Salmond is getting very comfortable in taking in the historical and cultural sweep of the nation (though perhaps a little less would be more) and parceling it around the core message - optimism and equality. Or separatism cosseted in fine words, if you disagree with him.

Who writes the scripts for Mr Salmond these days, I asked out of curiosity? "Team Salmond," came the first evasive reply from SNP central. I'm told it is the First Minister's own draft tweaked by advisers. I think the individuals behind the message ought to get some credit.

Conversely, isn't time SNP HQ relaxed the discipline on candidates to make "gracious" acceptance speeches from election platforms.

I can't be alone in finding it a little creepy that every SNP candidate in every constituency at the Scottish election carried near-identical copies of win, lose or draw tributes to their opponents, many of whom they quite publicly despise.

There is being on message and there's being on autopilot. Such cod "graciousness" only reinforces the perception that some candidates couldn't be trusted to behave nicely if left to their own devices.

That said, no, I didn't find Iain McKenzie's victory speech for Labour at the Greenock by-election last night very gracious either.

Greenock and the Janus Scottish electorate

Like a Spaghetti western character who felt their luck was on the verge of running out Scottish Labour's Iain McKenzie is tapping the body politic in amazement this morning and finding out he is the one left standing after an almighty gunfight at the Greenock corral.

When the smoke cleared Labour came home with a majority of over 5000 in the Inverclyde and Greenock by-election last night, that's down from a 14,400 majority the late David Cairns bequeathed the party.

At the beginning of the shoot-out with the SNP Labour's own polling showed it was heading to disaster. McKenzie's denouncement of the SNP in his acceptance speech betrayed the bitter tension in the campaign.

By-elections are but straws in the wind but Labour will take heart that they have taken some wind out of Alex Salmond's sails. The First Minister camped out in Greenock - seven visits in a month - but the SNP's Anne McLaughlin didn't have the momentum to get over the finish line.

Implications? Yes, Labour is standing and breathing again in Scotland but the party high heid yins openly acknowledge they have a massive task to do in restoring the Scottish party. Jim Murphy's interim proposals are due soon but these will just dip a toe in the waters of reform with plans to give council candidates contracts of commitment and the like.

Labour's Scottish fightback begins in Greenock but it is hard to see Greenock as a personal boost for Ed Miliband. On a day of national strikes against Coalition cuts (ostensibly pension reforms) Labour should have been romping home in a constituency that used to spit out Labour votes like shipyard rivets.

The result proves Miliband a competent opposition leader, but that's the trouble isn't it, being a good opposition leader isn't good enough.

For Alex Salmond Greenock, and several other Scottish constituencies, demonstrates the Janus nature of the Scottish electorate, willing to vote nationalist for the Scottish parliament but coming back to the Labour fold in a Westminster contest.

But the SNP is still the party making the best offer to the left-of-centre Scottish voter, they are the ones with all to play for and the energy and finance to campaign.

How will that two-sided nature of the Scottish voters play out in the independence referendum? If it were held tomorrow the independence option would be overwhelmingly rejected by Scotland, but Salmond will hedge his bets with a two question referendum - offering a choice of independence or more powers - and will spend spend the next three years hauling on the cables that bind Scotland to the UK.

There's no little irony in the Queen attending the Riding of a Scottish parliament at Holyrood today, one dominated by nationalists who want to rip her kingdom apart.

Today is the official opening of the five year Holyrood term (one year longer to avoid a clash with the general election due in 2015) which will be defined by the referendum issue.

And forget AV or Lords reform, the future of Scotland is due to become the big constitutional issue of this Westminster parliament too.

Cameron hasn't quite woken up to that yet, but how could he with his party still dead from the neck down in Scotland, and in many other parts of the country outside the south of England.

Business as normal there though strategist George Osborne marvels at the SNP's ability to govern as a minority and then go into an election as the party offering a better vision of the future. It's a script the Tories will borrow at a UK level the next time.

The most worrying result, for all the pro-UK politicians, is the complete disappearance of the Lib Dems, who only managed a streetful of votes.

There are some very bitter words from that great Greenockian, Ross Finnie, this morning. He called the 627 votes "a humiliating result" and said "there were clear issues of trust in the leadership". That translates as oh Nick, why have you foresaken us?

Every time a Scottish Lib Dem politician appears on the television you can see the truth in their eyes. I felt sorry Jo Swinson, the deputy Scottish leader, giving that glazed defence of their doomed marriage to the Conservatives late last night.

But Scottish Labour should be careful what it wishes for. I remember the campaign to wipe the Tories out in Scotland, which Labour gleefully achieved, but where did these voters transfer their allegiance to?

The same level of fury with the Lib Dems in the last year has crushed their support in Scotland. But disgruntled Lib Dem supporters have split between Labour and the SNP at a ratio of two to one in favour of the nationalists, according to SNP polling.

That gives the SNP heart and it also gives big clue as to the direction of travel for Scottish Labour if Greenock is to be a turning point rather than a waymark on the road to further Holyrood defeats.