Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had said that there should be a judge involved in any inquiry and had the Prime Minister decided on the number of inquiries, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that we had not yet decided on the number of inquiries and that was something that needed to be worked through. The PMS said that that would need to be sorted out before we made a decision on who would lead those inquiries. The PMS added that the likelihood was that there would be two inquiries, with one looking at the police investigation and one looking at the wider issues relating to the media.
Asked if an inquiry could bleed in to the police investigation and could an inquiry be set up that would just look at the regulation of the press, the PMS said that these were the kind of issues we were thinking about.
The PMS said that we had some objectives; we wanted the public to have confidence in what we were doing; we did not want to have an inquiry that lasted for ten years and cost hundreds of millions of pounds; we wanted to make sure it was fully independent and that it got to grips with the real issues.
Asked if the inquiries would be held under the Inquiries Act, the PMS replied that we wanted to ensure that people had confidence in the process. We were thinking about this very actively now, but we needed to think through these questions.
On whether the Prime Minister was reviewing his relationship with News International and what his position was on delaying the BSkyB merger, the PMS said that on the second point, the Prime Minister did not have a position as that was a quasi-judicial process being dealt with by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. On the Prime Minister’s relationship with News International, the PMS said that Prime Ministers, Ministers and politicians met with people from the media all the time, including proprietors.
Asked if anyone at No10 was aware of Andy Coulson potentially being involved in what amounted to criminal activities before he was hired, the PMS said we did not have anything to add to what had been said in the past. The PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered multiple questions on Andy Coulson - he had now resigned from the Government and we did not have anything further to add.
Put that new allegations had come to light, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered those questions before himself.
Asked when the inquiries would be set up, the PMS replied that we would have to wait and see and the important thing was to get them right. The Prime Minister had made clear in Cabinet that urgent work was underway to set these inquiries up and that would involve some consultation with the Attorney General, party leaders, the Cabinet Secretary and others.
Asked to characterise the discussion in Cabinet, the PMS said that it had been a discussion that reflected similar issues raised in Parliament yesterday. The PMS said that there was clear agreement on what the Prime Minister had said yesterday and the action announced yesterday to set up an inquiry or inquiries. The PMS added that Cabinet was not discussing a specific proposal.
Asked if the issue of timing would rule out a judicial inquiry, the PMS replied that we were still working out whether this would be better as one, two or more inquiries. The PMS said that it was the Government’s stated position at the time of the Saville Inquiry that we did not want to repeat a process where an inquiry took a decade to complete and cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had said there could be a case for a pause in the BSkyB deal, the PMS said that this was something for Jeremy Hunt to consider and he would not speculate on the process. Jeremy Hunt had to follow due process and if he did not, then that was something that could be challenged in the courts.
Asked if the idea of a pause had been discussed in No10, the PMS replied that this was not a discussion that would take place in No10. The PMS added that politicians were free to express opinions but the decision would rest with Jeremy Hunt.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any suspicion that his own phone might have been hacked, the PMS said he did not know, but would check.
Asked if any announcements on BSkyB would be made to the House, the PMS said he thought that announcements would be made to the market.
On whether the Cabinet Secretary and Attorney General had already had conversations about inquiries, the PMS replied that he did not know, but work was underway to address the issues.
Asked if contact with party leaders would be made before the summer recess, the PMS said that he thought that was a safe assumption.
Asked about the possibility of changing the law to enable a pause in the BSkyB deal, the PMS replied that that sounded unlikely.
When asked about who would be representing DCMS in any discussions about possible inquiries and would that not potentially represent a conflict of interest, the PMS replied that he was sure there would be discussions involving a number of different departments. Asked if that could cause conflicts, the PMS said that we would avoid any conflicts.
Asked if the Prime Minister had responded to the allegations that dead servicemen’s families phones had been hacked into, the PMS said that if this was true, it would represent a gross intrusion on people’s private lives and would be a truly appalling case.
Put that as the Prime Minister was still going ahead with the Police Bravery Awards today, was he making a distinction between the Sun and the News of the World, the PMS said that what the Prime Minister was doing today was celebrating police bravery.
Asked about News International hiring Lord MacDonald QC, the PMS replied that people should check with the Attorney General’s office.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any regrets about scrapping aircraft carriers, the PMS said that the Government thought it had made the right decision. The PMS added that we had inherited a plan to build two aircraft carriers which were not even inter-operable with our closest allies, the US and France, and with contractual obligations which meant that it was almost as expensive to cancel them as it was to build them. What we had been doing was tying to sort out that mess.