GORDON BIRTWISTLE MP: Revulsion at News of the World phone hacking

Gordon Birtwistle
Gordon Birtwistle

IN Westminster last week the main issue has been the illegal phone hacking by the News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s company News International.

Like many of you, I felt complete revulsion at the revelations that the Murdoch Press was hacking into private mobile phones, including those of murder victims and soldiers. I was on Five Live to discuss my concerns about this appalling behaviour. What News International did – invading privacy in such a terrible way – is completely wrong and has no place in this country’s strong traditional of excellent, independent investigative reporting.

The Government has been right to refer Murdoch’s News Corporation’s takeover attempt of BSkyB to the Competition Commission. This week, it looks as if the Commons will issue a unanimous all-party call for News International to withdraw the takeover bid. Murdoch’s company is badly tainted by this scandal, and I am against any more of our media falling into its hands.

I am proud the Liberal Democrats have never cosied up to the Murdoch Press. Vince Cable, Lib Dem Secretary of State for Business, has again been shown to be right, despite being pilloried by the other parties for standing up to Murdoch last year; it is a shame he was denied the opportunity to adjudicate over Murdoch’s takeover bid. The private comments Vince made – that he had “declared war on Murdoch” – make clear the Lib Dems have never been in Murdoch’s pocket.

Elsewhere in Westminster, I met Peter Luff MP, Government Minister responsible for Defence Procurement, and a number of aerospace companies, including Westland Helicopters and British Aerospace. A great number of people in Lancashire work in the military aerospace industry, and we held a very positive meeting about the future of this industry – I was pleased how forthcoming the Minister was.

I was also very happy to welcome residents from Burnley and Padiham to Parliament, including a group of young people from Sir John Thursby School, for the chance to look round, listen to a debate, and have lunch on the terrace of the House of Commons. I was very impressed by how intelligent and interested in politics the students are – they are a credit to their school. Please get in touch if you would like to tour Parliament and I will be happy to show you round.

Another meeting this week was with Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, of Lancashire Constabulary, where he explained to North West MPs how the force has made savings requested of them. Credit is due to Lancashire Constabulary for working so hard to continue their excellent service in our communities, in these challenging times.

In the constituency on Friday I was busy getting through casework in the office, and at my advice surgery in Burnley Asda. I visited the British Heart Foundation store in Croft Street, and met their area manager, staff and volunteers. The British Heart Foundation is celebrating its 50th year, raising awareness of heart disease, and if you have not been to the local store, it is well worth a look.

On Saturday I visited Algelz Gym, Burnley, to meet local woman Charlotte Selby, who is taking part in a challenge for Help for Heroes – 24 hours of non-stop aerobic exercise. I was impressed by Charlotte – when I was there she had just finished three hours on the exercise bike, and had cycled over 100km. Charlotte’s is an incredible attempt for a good cause, and she deserves congratulating for her efforts.

Later on I went to meet Burnley Bobcats Swim Squad, including those who swam the English Channel. Those who were not able to take part in the swim from Dover to Calais held a sponsored swim at St Peter’s pool covering the same distance, raising money for the North West Air Ambulance. The Bobcats have taken part in activities such as bag-packing at Sainsbury’s to raise money to cover the costs of travel and hiring the pool, and I’ve been pleased to be help them. It is great to be involved with the squad and meet so many enthusiastic young people. It is astounding to see the dedication of some of these individuals. What they have achieved is something to be proud of – it is clear some of these young swimmers have exciting futures ahead. I hope to see them win medals in future and make Burnley proud.

On Sunday I went to the wedding celebration of Fr Roger at St Catherine’s Church. It was a lovely event, and I send my best wishes to Fr Roger and his new wife Hazel.

Finally, some good news! Our campaign to save the cheque has been successful, a victory for the consumer and common sense. Many people, particularly the elderly, rely on cheques. However, the banks had planned to phase them out. I am pleased our campaign has convinced the banks to change their mind – with plans to kill off cheques abandoned by the Payments Council, which represents banks.