Former Cabinet minister Jack Straw has told how he often used to "gossip" with Rebekah Brooks on the train.

Mr Straw said he "made arrangements" with the then Sun editor to commute into London together from Oxfordshire, where they both had homes.

He also admitted that Tony Blair's government had been too close to the press and suggested Rupert Murdoch used his newspapers' power to further his commercial interests.

The comments came as Mr Straw - who served as justice, home and foreign secretary - gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

"During my period as justice secretary I would often travel to London on a Monday morning from the West Oxfordshire station of Charlbury," he said in his statement. "Mrs Rebekah Brooks used to use the same train. After a while we made arrangements to meet up and sit together for the journey."

Mr Straw told the inquiry: "We would talk about what was in the papers. We'd gossip about personalities and that sort of thing. We weren't nattering the whole journey." He stressed the conversations were not too sensitive because there were always people "earwigging".

The meetings petered out after around two years when Mrs Brooks - who was on Tuesday charged with perverting the course of justice in relation to the phone-hacking scandal - became News International chief executive in 2009.

The disclosure offers yet more evidence of Mrs Brooks' extensive contacts with major political players. Last week she told the inquiry that David Cameron regularly signed off text messages with "LOL" for "lots of love".

Mr Straw said Labour's links with journalists had become "very, very close, sometimes incestuous" in opposition, and that continued after 1997.

The Blackburn MP insisted external regulation of the press was now necessary. "The press can't go on as they have been, claiming that every other institution needs external regulation," he said.

"It would be good for the press as most journalists want much higher standards."