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Jeremy Hunt 'Misled Parliament' Over Murdochs, Claims Harriet Harman

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JEREMY HUNT
PA

Embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of misleading Parliament over his handling of News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid.

Mr Hunt told the Commons last year that he was publishing "all the documents relating to all the meetings, all the consultation documents, all the submissions we received, all the exchanges between my department and News Corporation".

However, a raft of emails between Rupert Murdoch's company and Mr Hunt's office were released for the first time by the Leveson Inquiry this week - exposing the Culture Secretary to damaging allegations that he supported News Corp's bid when he was supposed to be impartial.

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, told The Independent on Sunday: "Jeremy Hunt has misled the House.

"He said he was impartial when he wasn't, he said he had given the House all the information, when clearly he hadn't."

Under the ministerial code, "knowingly" misleading Parliament is a resignation offence.

The Independent on Sunday has also obtained a letter from the top civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) saying he was "aware and content" that Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith was to be a point of contact with News Corporation over the takeover bid.

Jonathan Stephens's language, in a letter to Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairwoman Margaret Hodge, is not as strong as Mr Hunt's assertion last week that the Permanent Secretary had "authorised" and "approved" Mr Smith's contact with News Corporation's lobbyist Frederic Michel.

Mr Stephens repeatedly declined to say whether he had approved the arrangement when he appeared before the PAC this week.

Mr Smith has resigned over the matter, saying he "went too far" in his dealings with Mr Michel.

Downing Street indicated yesterday that David Cameron is prepared to consider ordering an investigation into Mr Hunt's dealings with News Corporation but not until the Culture Secretary has appeared at the Leveson Inquiry.

The Prime Minister has been resisting demands to call in his independent adviser on ministerial conduct, Sir Alex Allan, insisting it is a matter for Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards.

However, he is understood to be open to the possibility of a separate inquiry into whether Mr Hunt broke the ministerial code after the Culture Secretary has defended himself in front of Lord Justice Leveson.

It comes after Lord Justice Leveson signalled he would not rule on whether Mr Hunt broke the ministerial code.

The Culture Secretary has been accused of acting as a "cheerleader" for News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid when he was meant to be acting in a "quasi-judicial" capacity on the case.

Mr Hunt is now facing a lengthy wait to defend himself at the Leveson Inquiry after his request for an early appearance was rebuffed.

Lord Justice Leveson has refused to bring forward his appearance so that he can answer allegations about his conduct.

A date has still not been set, but politicians will not be called until mid-May, meaning the Culture Secretary will have to wait at least a fortnight and possibly much longer.

The delay is a setback for the under-fire minister, who has expressed confidence he would be able to show he acted with "scrupulous fairness" when he sets out his full version of events to the inquiry.

Mr Hunt also came under attack today from Sir Michael Lyons, a former chairman of the BBC Trust, who said the minister's position was "extraordinary".

"The notion that seems to have somehow developed that poor Adam Smith might possibly have done this without licence is extraordinary, quite extraordinary," he told The Observer.

He said that in his dealings with Mr Hunt and his special adviser, there was "no doubt" that Mr Smith "did nothing without Jeremy knowing about it and condoning it".

He predicted that there would be texts and emails directly implicating Mr Hunt because the Culture Secretary was "not a hands-off minister".

"I don't think he had a very high regard for his civil servants or a strong belief that a minister needed to be particularly bounded by the contribution that the civil servants might make. So he did things very personally."

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