MPs to seek fresh investigation into phone-hacking

Tories attempt to recast scandal as point-scoring as Labour MPs call for parliamentary investigation

It's bad news for Andy Coulson. The News of the World phone-hacking scandal is gathering pace with the prospect of fresh inquiries into the allegations.

It was reported last night that MPs who believe that their phones were hacked are considering asking the Speaker, John Bercow, to order an investigation by the House of Commons standards and privileges committee, on the grounds that their parliamentary privilege has been breached.

This news came as Scotland Yard said it would examine new evidence about the extent of phone-hacking and decide whether further action should be taken. When the Guardian first reported on phone-hacking at News International last year, the Metropolitan Police decided not to launch an investigation, a decision that has come under fire after the New York Times quoted unnamed detectives blaming the "close relationship" between the NoW and the police for the investigation being cut short.

In a statement last night, Assistant Commissioner John Yates said that, so far, the Met has not seen any new evidence that would merit reopening the case, but that this could change.

With the decision-making of the police already under scrutiny (the Guardian today publishes a detailed report on this), perhaps a full public inquiry is the way to go. However, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has so far said this is unnecessary -- sticking to the Tory party line that the allegations are nothing new. MPs are expected to press her on the inadequacy of the Met's investigation at Commons questions later today.

Senior Conservatives have attempted to recast the uproar as a party political issue: Alan Duncan said at the weekend that Labour was launching a concerted campaign against the government. All five candidates in the Labour leadership race have called for a fresh inquiry, as have other senior party figures.

But it is clear that this case is much bigger than the voicemails of sports stars, or political point-scoring. Quite apart from the huge question marks it raises over Coulson, a man at the epicentre of David Cameron's circle, police integrity has been undermined.

In the absence of a full inquiry, a proper parliamentary investigation could be the next best thing. A clear precedent for this was set when the privileges committee launched an inquiry into the arrest of the Tory MP Damian Green over alleged leaking of documents.

Downing Street has remained silent, sources saying that Coulson is "going nowhere" and that Cameron "totally and utterly" rejects the claim that Coulson knew about phone-hacking. But how much longer can they hold out?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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