Legal view sought on phone hacks 'contempt'

A Westminster sleaze watchdog is to consult parliamentary and legal experts on whether hacking MPs phones is a "contempt of parliament", it announced today.

MPs voted last week to refer allegations that politicians' mobiles were targeted by newspapers to the standards and privileges committee.

After a preliminary meeting, the cross-party body of MPs said it would not consider any specific allegations until it had looked into the wider issues.

In a statement, it said: "The Committee has agreed to start its inquiry by seeking evidence from the Clerk of the House and from outside experts on the law of Parliament on whether, and if so in what circumstances, hacking of MPs' phones could be a contempt of Parliament.

"The Committee will not be looking into any specific allegations at this stage of its inquiry. When it has reviewed this evidence, the Committee will consider what further steps to take."

The decision to refer the case to the Commons' most powerful committee was led by Labour MP Chris Bryant who also issued judicial review proceedings over the row last night.

The News of the World's ex-royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glen Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 after accessing the voicemails of public figures.

Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson - the paper's editor at the time - has found himself at the centre of fresh controversy recently amid claims he was aware such practices were widespread among his reporters.

Mr Coulson has repeatedly denied any knowledge of such activities, and the Metropolitan Police has insisted it carried out a thorough probe.