Murdoch blinks first in battle with parliament

By Ian Dunt

Rupert Murdoch has abandoned his attempt to avoid attending a Commons committee session next Tuesday.

The move comes just hours after both Rupert and James Murdoch insisted they would not attend the culture, media and sports committee hearing on phone-hacking next Tuesday.

In a battle of wills that lasted for most of the day, committee chair John Whittingdale sent out the deputy serjeant-at-arms to Wapping to hand News International lawyers a summons demanding their presence in parliament.

While there was considerable uncertainty over what avenues Commons authorities could pursue, especially give the Murdochs are not British citizens, it appears that the two men decided they would take less political damage by appearing at the session.

They will be joined by Rebekah Wade, chief executive of News International.

The event promises to make next Tuesday one of the highlights of the political year. It comes, fittingly, on the last day before parliament rises for the summer.

With long-time phone-hacking campaigner Tom Watson on the panel, there are sure to be lively combative moments as the media mogul struggles to protect himself from what could be a bruising encounter with MPs at the lowest point of his career.

In his original letter to the committee excusing himself from the hearing, Rupert Murdoch said he was prepared to appear before the upcoming judicial inquiry into phone-hacking. That session would be considerably more serious, as it will require those giving testimony to do so under oath.

The trio had until 09:30 BST today to reply but failed to do so, despite assurances from News International earlier in the week that it would cooperate fully with the request.
A meeting of the committee to discuss its response ran over by a couple of hours as letters and parliamentary rulebooks were ferried into the room.

At around 16:30 BST, the Murdochs relented and released a statement saying they were prepared to attend the session.

"If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee," deputy prime minister Nick Clegg told the Today programme earlier.

Only two people are thought to have been summoned to parliament before: Kevin Maxwell and Sir John Junor.