Two former News of the World executives will not be summoned to Parliament to be told off for giving misleading evidence over phone hacking – amid concerns they could not be physically compelled to turn up.
A group of MPs had called for the highly unusual step against the defunct paper’s former editor, Colin Myler, and its legal manager Tom Crone after they were found to be in contempt of Parliament.
A motion formally admonishing the men was approved unanimously by MPs, but the Speaker of the House of Commons did not select the amendment to be debated.
Leader of the Commons David Lidington said findings by the Privileges Committee that Parliament had been knowingly misled “are of serious concern”.
But he warned that some believed hauling the two men to the bar of the Commons to be publicly admonished by the Speaker risked creating a “pantomime”.
He said some lawyers believed the Serjeant at Arms, who is responsible for keeping order in the Commons, did not have the power to compel people to turn up to Parliament.
He said: “The problem I have in moving today to accept the arguments is that we would be testing, without some careful thought and consideration, the House’s power to enforce such a summons at all.
“The Serjeant at Arms does not have a power in law to take someone by the shoulder and force them to attend the House if they choose not to do so.
“Indeed, I’ve certainly seen advice that suggests that under such circumstances the Serjeant or the Serjeant’s team would themselves be at risk of criminal proceedings were they to seek to effect the forceful attendance of somebody summoned to the bar of the House.”
The last time a non-MP was given the punishment was in 1957 when editor of the Sunday Express John Junor was admonished for publishing an article that cast doubt on the integrity of MPs over their petrol allowances.
The Privileges Committee is set to look at what powers Parliament has to punish those who are found to be in contempt.