Murdochs agree to give evidence

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Indy Politics

Rupert Murdoch and his son James today bowed to pressure from MPs and agreed to give evidence next week to a Commons committee investigating the phone-hacking scandal.

A News Corporation spokesperson said: "We are in the process of writing to the select committee with the intention that Mr James Murdoch and Mr Rupert Murdoch will attend next Tuesday's meeting."

Earlier the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee announced it was issuing summonses for the two men to appear on Tuesday after they had said they were not available to appear on that date.

The decision that they will now give evidence - on the final day before the Commons breaks for the summer - was welcomed by committee chairman John Whittingdale.

"It will be the first time that Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch, and indeed, Rebekah Brooks will have answered questions about this," he told Sky News.

"They will be appearing before a parliamentary committee so I would hope they would take it seriously and they will give us the answers that not just we want to hear but I think an awful lot of people will want to hear."

Earlier, the Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, confirmed that - in theory at least - the two men could be fined or even imprisoned if they defied the summonses issued by the committee.

The News Corp chairman and chief executive and his son, who is the organisation's deputy chief operating officer, will appear alongside Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, which published News of the World.

In a letter to the committee Mrs Brooks warned that the ongoing Scotland Yard investigation into the phone-hacking scandal "may prevent me from discussing these matters in details".

Mr Whittingdale said it was important for the British public to hear the trio account for themselves and apologise following the disturbing allegations made about criminal practices at the News of the World.

"Obviously the committee would not want to do anything to jeopardise a police investigation or criminal prosecution but nonetheless I think there is considerable opportunity for her and her bosses to set the record straight," he said.

"One of the problems with the judicial inquiry is that it won't start looking at this matter for a long, long time to come.

"I think it is important that the British public hear Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks give an account of what has been going on in their newspaper and apologise."

He added: "One of the things we still don't know is how far up the organisation this went. Anyone who had any involvement or knowledge almost certainly shouldn't be in their job and possibly faces criminal charges."

Labour MP Chris Bryant urged the CMS committee to order Mrs Brooks and the Murdochs to give evidence under oath.

"It is within the powers of the committee to decide that witnesses shall give evidence under oath," he told the BBC.

"I think that's one of the things they should do so that if they then perjure themselves they can be had up for perjury.

"It may be that their lawyers tell them to stonewall but I think that would be a big mistake."

Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his powers on media regulation after he told undercover reporters he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch in December last year.

He said the rules over what constituted a fit and proper owner for broadcasting firms "may need to be revisited".

Mr Cable told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme: "It is a little bit like the end of a dictatorship when everybody suddenly discovers they were against the dictator."