PRIME Minister Cameron was repeatedly challenged yesterday over his hiring of Andy Coulson during the discussion on his statement over the News International crisis.
Cameron had flown back from Africa to make the statement with parliament extended for an extra day.
Parliament was recalled to hold an emergency debate on ‘public confidence in the media and police’, but before the debate Cameron made a statement, followed by questions.
Cameron’s basic position was that he was not prepared to apologise for hiring Coulson, but now regretted that he had done so in the light of events.
Labour leader Miliband responded about the hiring of Coulson: ‘The country has the right to expect that the prime minister would have made every effort to know the facts about Mr Coulson, to protect himself and his office.’
He continued: ‘His chief of staff Ed Llewellyn was told in February 2010 that Mr Coulson had hired a convicted criminal to work at the News of the World who was accused of making payments to police on behalf of the newspaper. . . .
‘On September 1st 2010 the New York Times published an investigation quoting multiple sources saying Mr Coulson knew about hacking which was rife at the News of the World, we now know from John Yates that that article was enough to lead the police to reopen their inquiries and indeed it led to Operation Weeting.
‘We also know now it triggered the termination of the Metropolitan Police’s contract with Neil Wallis, Mr Coulson’s former deputy at the News of the World.
‘And it led to the offer by Mr Yates to Ed Llewellyn for the prime minister to be briefed. . . .
‘And then in October, the prime minister’s chief of staff was approached again by the Guardian about Mr Coulson’s behaviour, once more nothing was done.
‘This can’t be put down to gross incompetence. It was a deliberate attempt to hide from the facts about Mr Coulson.’
Cameron replied: ‘Stop hunting feeble conspiracy theories and start rising to the level of events.’
Former Home Secretary Jack Straw said: ‘When the prime minister read of the extensive investigation in the New York Times on 1st September last year, what was his reaction to that and what did he do?’
Cameron replied: ‘I made the decision to employ him in good faith because of the assurances he gave me. There was no information in that article that would have made me change my mind about those assurances.’
Labour MP Tom Watson challenged the prime minister saying: ‘He said that nobody raised Andy Coulson’s conduct with him whilst he worked for the prime minister. I did in a letter on 4th October last year, after new allegations that he’d listened to tapes of intercepted voicemail messages came through and I said in the letter that this cast doubts on the accuracy of Mr Coulson’s statements.’
Failing to answer the question, Cameron replied: ‘The point I’m making is simply this, the time that Andy Coulson spent at 10 Downing Street, the work he did for the government, no-one has made a complaint against and that does seem to me to be important. . . .
Keith Vaz said: ‘The Home Affairs Select Committee published a unanimous report which pointed out the fact that we believed that there were serious misjudgements in the police investigation as well as that News International had deliberately thwarted the police investigation.’
Labour MP Chris Bryant asked: ‘The file that was compiled in 2007 was sent off to the legal firm Harbottle and Lewis.
‘In that, according to Lord McDonald the former DPP, there is absolutely blindingly obvious evidence that police officers were paid for information by the newspaper. . .
‘Isn’t this clear evidence that News International, contrary to their pretend humility yesterday, are still refusing to cooperate fully with the investigation.’
Labour MP Dennis Skinner said: ‘In the course of the past few minutes the prime minister has been asked a simple question twice and he has refused to answer it. As prime minister did he ever discuss the question of the BSkyB bid with News International at all the meetings that they attended.’
Again, Cameron failed to answer. He replied: ‘I never had one inappropriate conversation.’