Lord Prescott’s claims that an investigation into phone hacking had been extended to The Sunday Times have been dismissed by the paper as “absolute nonsense”.
The former Labour deputy prime minister, who has been told by Scotland Yard he is a potential hacking victim, alleged in the Lords that the inquiry now stretched beyond the News of the World.
Lord Prescott said: “Is the Minister aware that the investigation into the Murdoch press on phone hacking has been extended now to The Sunday Times?
“So the argument that it was simply one paper and one ‘rogue reporter’ is no longer true.
‘It’s a number of papers owned by the Murdoch press and a number of their employees who have been involved in withholding evidence and illegal practices.”
Government whip and media spokesman Baroness Rawlings replied: “It is a very serious point that you raise regarding the hacking but I am not able to address this at this moment in this debate.”
Reacting to Lord Prescott’s claims, Sunday Times managing editor Richard Caseby said: “It’s absolute nonsense.”
Labour MP Tom Watson also use parliamentary privilege to make fresh allegations against News International – but withour providing any new evidence.
He said: “I believe the evidence exists that shows journalists currently employed on the Times and Sunday Times were involved in phone hacking and that damaging revelations were printed in the Sun from information possibly collected by illegal hacking.
“We are told that the BBC have been bullied into delaying broadcasting an edition of Panorama that shows more sinister forms of illegal surveillance.
“If the Metropolitan Police show the Secretary of State this evidence, will he change his mind?”
Hunt replied: “The issue of phone hacking is extremely serious. It’s very, very important; someone has been sent to prison for it.
“But it is a judicial process and it’s not one that it’s appropriate for me to involve myself in.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “The BBC has not come under any external pressure to broadcast the programme and we will broadcast it when we are ready to do so.”
A spokesman for News International told The Independent: “We have no idea what he [Watson] is talking about. It is not a coincidence that he has made such cowardly and substantiated claims under the cloak of parliamentary privilege. If he has any evidence, we urge him to provide it to us and we will take immediate action if proven.”