Tory panel chairman says MP's move to front bench means he can no longer sit on backbench committee
Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has played a central role in helping expose phone hacking at the News of the World, must stand down from the Commons culture, media and sport select committee after becoming deputy chair of the Labour party, the chairman of the panel has said.
The MP for West Bromwich East was appointed to the shadow front bench by Ed Miliband, in Friday's reshuffle. He is deputy chair and campaign co-ordinator, and is listed as a member of the shadow cabinet on the Labour party's website.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP and committee chairman, said that parliamentary convention dictated that members of the shadow cabinet should not sit on backbench committees. But he has no powers to force Watson to stand down.
Whittingdale said: "If Tom is going to be a member of the shadow cabinet he should step down, no question. It would be unprecedented for a member of the shadow cabinet to be on a select committee. On the front bench you are bound by collect responsibility and so you are not independent. It would go against the whole principle that these committees are made up of backbench MPs."
Watson's dogged pursuit of News Corporation executives over phone hacking at the News of the World has won him a reputation as an attack dog. In July, he led the questioning of Rupert Murdoch during the media tycoon's appearance in front of the committee – a performance that led Time magazine to describe him as the "man who humbled Murdoch".
However, Watson said he would not stand down, writing on Twitter: "To be clear: I don't hold a front bench policy brief so remain on DCMS select committee. The Tories can say all they like. I'm not budging."
Pointing to Michael Fallon, the Tory deputy chairman, who sits on the Treasury select committee, Watson said: "No doubt the Tories will comment on his role."
Whittingdale cannot force Watson, who was appointed by a ballot of Labour MPs, to stand down. He said he would raise the matter with the liaison committee, the group of 32 select committee chairmen set up to oversee their operations, adding: "I am surprised that he thinks he can stay on. I will certainly raise this with the chairman as something that will have to be considered."
Whittingdale added: "I would say without hesitation that Tom has been an exceptionally effective member of the committee, not just on phone hacking. I will be extremely sorry to lose him. But this is not about Tom, it is about the principle."