Watching the Home Office Select Committee interrogate present and past Met Police Officers this week made me wonder whether the RSCPA should have been called in. I felt that the ferocious MPs on the Committee were (understandably) trying to make up for their previous failure to get anywhere near the full horrendous habits of some of the Murdoch media. They clearly now believe that News of the UnderWorld did have a very special relationship with the Police as well as with successive tenants of No 10.
However, in the cold light of dawn I am musing on the contrast between the tough investigations of Congressional Committees in Washington and the usual relatively cosy inquiries of our own Select Committees, in both Houses here. How did the Murdoch family members and minions manage to avoid requests to attend previously? When both Houses next consider the powers of our Committees I hope we will reconsider whether we should have the equivalent of subpoena powers. As I recall, the Commons Speaker can insist that any British citizen in apparent contempt of Parliament can be summoned to appear at the Bar of the House to explain and/or apologise. In 1974, I persuaded the then Speaker to consider such a summons, when my Union threatened me for voting in Parliament in a way that didn’t suit them. On that occasion, they hurriedly backtracked. Of course, as we should constantly remind ourselves, the Murdochs are not British citizens, despite the stranglehold they appear to have had over so many British Prime Ministers. Perhaps Rebekah Brooks, who has no such get-out-of-Committee-free card, will find herself forced to appear on their behalf?
All this leads me to wonder whether the Lord Speaker should have similar powers to those enjoyed in Commons, to summon recalcitrant witnesses. My principal US political adviser (my son-in-law) tells me that the Senate is far more effective than the House of Representatives in matters of this kind. Perhaps that’s a useful lead for the reformed House of Lords to follow? And should we employ more Joint Committees of Peers and MPs to work on special inquiries, rather than leave it all to the various Commons Departmental Committees, who (frankly) don’t have a great track record of success?