MPs divided over calling on Brooks to clarify Clifford payout evidence

Showdown imminent over whether MPs need to hear new testimony from former NI boss

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Indy Politics

A meeting between members of the parliamentary inquiry investigating phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News International will take place this week amid mounting tensions over its future direction.

Members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hold conflicting views of the scandal, with some MPs seeking fresh evidence from at least one senior Wapping figure – the News International former chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

A first draft of the MPs' long-awaited report was produced before Christmas. There will be calls tomorrow for Ms Brooks to be asked to explain her role in authorising a £1m payment to the publicist Max Clifford in 2010 for having his phone messages intercepted.

The money was paid at a time when the company was still insisting hacking was limited to a single royal reporter.

While it is unlikely that Ms Brooks, who is currently the subject of a police investigation into the affair, will be recalled as a witness, MPs are expected to seek written clarification of what she knew about the payment.

She gave evidence to the committee in July immediately after Rupert and James Murdoch.

Operation Weeting detectives investigating phone hacking arrested Ms Brooks's former assistant at her home in Essex last week.

Allegations of phone hacking will again be centre stage today when the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, and one of his most famous predecessors at the tabloid, Kelvin MacKenzie, who has since defected to the Daily Mail, give evidence to Lord Leveson's inquiry into press standards.

Two of the senior figures from the committee, Labour's Tom Watson and the Conservative MP Louise Mensch, have denied they are clashing in a so-called "Beauty versus the Beast" row over how much blame should be apportioned to James Murdoch in the final report. In his second appearance before MPs in November, Mr Watson compared the News International chairman to a "Mafia boss" while Mrs Mensch has praised the consistency of Mr Murdoch's evidence.

Mr Watson said he would be reviewing the written and oral evidence today before deciding whether to press for more witnesses to be called.

While there is a growing consensus among the committee to move towards a conclusion, Mr Watson said there was a "distinct possibility" of fresh hearings.

This is despite the suggestion by the Conservative chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale, who has previously indicated that enough testimony had been heard.

Among the other key issues likely to dominate MPs' discussions tomorrow are the credibility of Mr Murdoch and the former News of the World executives the former editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone, who dispute his testimony about how much he knew before he sanctioned a £700,000 payout to the phone-hacking victim Gordon Taylor. New emails emerged last month which appeared to question James Murdoch's assertion that he received little briefing from News of the World executives prior to authorising the settlement to Mr Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association. News International said the emails were consistent with Mr Murdoch's testimony.

The Labour MP Paul Farrelly, who sits on the committee, said it was important that the final report was not hurried: "The first draft of the report appeared just before Christmas and it will need lengthy discussion. This is in order to get it right, and make sure it stands the test of time, given that the police and judicial inquiries are likely to unearth further evidence."

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