David Cameron admitted that he may have discussed the bid by News Corp for full control of BSkyB during his 27 meetings with Murdoch executives since last year's election. Downing Street had previously insisted that the £8 billion takeover was not mentioned.
Mr Cameron also came under pressure to explain why he failed to review Andy Coulson's position as No 10's director of communications last September when The New York Times alleged that hacking was widespread while he was editor of the News of the World. The same report led to Scotland Yard ending the PR role of Neil Wallis, Mr Coulson's friend and deputy at the NOTW. Both Mr Coulson and Mr Wallis have recently been arrested by police investigating hacking.
Last night Cameron aides disclosed that Mr Wallis had "probably" visited Mr Coulson in Downing Street since last year's election, although they insisted that any informal advice to Mr Coulson took place before the election.
Senior Palace officials also believe Mr Cameron's office was "aware" of their misgivings about him ever hiring Mr Coulson in the first place.
During a Commons statement, the Prime Minister was asked on nine occasions whether he had discussed the now-aborted News Corp bid for BSkyB. He replied that he had not had any inappropriate conversations about the takeover. Later, aides suggested Mr Cameron may have been lobbied by Murdoch executives but would have merely told them the decision was a matter for Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.
Last night Mr Hunt appeared to confirm that the issue did arise during the Prime Minister's meetings but said discussions were "appropriate". He told MPs it was "irrelevant because the person making this decision was myself".
However, Mr Cameron settled Tory nerves by taking a tougher line on Mr Coulson. He told the Commons he was "extremely sorry" for the furore and that "with hindsight" he would never have recruited him. "You live and you learn – and believe me, I have learnt." He said Mr Coulson should face "severe" criminal charges if it turned out that assurances he gave that he knew nothing about phone hacking were lies. "If it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology, and in that event I can tell you I will not fall short," he said.
Ed Miliband seized on Downing Street's plea to Scotland Yard not to brief Mr Cameron on hacking last September after The New York Times article appeared: "The Prime Minister was caught in a tragic conflict of loyalty between the standards of integrity that people should expect of him and his staff and his personal allegiance to Mr Coulson. He made the wrong choice," Mr Miliband said.Reuse content