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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.