MPs were warned yesterday it would be difficult for Parliament to take action over the alleged hacking of their mobile phones by the News of the World.
The Commons' most senior official, Clerk of the House Malcolm Jack, said that the courts should normally deal with the practice because it was a criminal offence. The Commons agreed in September to refer claims that the newspaper had targeted MPs' phones to the House's Standards and Privileges Committee to investigate.
Chris Bryant, a Labour MP who said he had been told by police that he was on a list of people whose phones had been targeted, said the hacking claims amounted to a contempt of Parliament and a "severe breach" of parliamentary privilege.
However, giving evidence at the first public hearing of the committee's inquiry, Mr Jack stressed that Parliament traditionally exercised its powers for dealing with contempt only "sparingly".
He said: "I think the remedy is under the law. Hacking is a criminal matter and can be prosecuted in the courts."