Jeremy Hunt Row: David Cameron Defends Culture Secretary Over BSkyB Bid

PA/The Huffington Post UK  |  Posted: 30/04/2012 15:58 Updated: 30/04/2012 16:13

David Cameron insisted today that he had seen no evidence that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has breached the ministerial code of conduct in his handling of News Corp's bid for BSkyB.

In an emergency Commons statement, the Prime Minister said he was not going to set up a "parallel inquiry" into Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards.

But he said that if evidence of a breach of the code emerged when Mr Hunt appeared before the Leveson inquiry, he would refer the matter to his independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, or take action himself.

Cameron was forced to appear before MPs to explain why he has not referred culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to his independent adviser on ministerial interests.

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, granted Labour's request for the prime minister to answer questions in the Commons over Hunt's contacts with News Corporation while he was supposed to be an independent adjudicator of its bid to take over BSkyB.

Cameron said that he would not wait until the end of the Leveson Inquiry to take action if it was needed.

"If new evidence emerges from the Leveson Inquiry that the ministerial code has been broken I will either seek advice from Sir Alex Allan or take action directly," he said.

Mr Cameron went on: "The relationship between politicians and the media has been too close for decades.

"The Leveson Inquiry which this government set up gives Parliament and politicians of all parties the opportunity to put this right for the future.

"Already we have introduced transparency about the meetings we have with the media. Anyone can see which proprietors or editors I meet, whether publicly or privately.

"Like other party leaders in our country for decades I have tried to convince media outlets to support the policies of my party and now my government.

"But let me be clear, there was not and never has been any grand bargain between the Conservative Party and Rupert and James Murdoch.

"Indeed, look for one moment at the number of meetings that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had with Rupert Murdoch when they were prime minister."

Cameron was forced to cancel a trip to Milton Keynes in the run up to this week's elections in order to face Ed Miliband.

The prime minister strongly defended the way Mr Hunt had handled the takeover bid for BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire.

He said that at every stage of the bid, Hunt had sought independent advice, even though he was not required to do so.

"He acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice of his permanent secretary," Mr Cameron said.

"I have seen no evidence to suggest that, in handling this issue, the Secretary of State acted at any stage in a way that was contrary to the ministerial code," he said.

Cameron said he had consulted Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and decided it was right to allow Lord Justice Leveson to conduct his inquiry and not to set a "parallel process" to establish the facts.

"What we have is a judge-led inquiry, witnesses required to give evidence on oath, full access to papers and records, cross-examination by barristers, all live on television," he said.

"There is nothing this tough or this rigorous the Civil Service or the independent adviser could provide."

The culture secretary has been accused of acting as a "cheerleader" for News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid after the Leveson Inquiry published a raft of email exchanges between the company's chief lobbyist and Hunt's office.

Ed Miliband responds to Prime Minister David Cameron

Lord Justice Leveson has rebuffed Hunt's request to appear early so the issue will not be tackled in the inquiry until at least mid-May.

It is also thought Leveson will not rule on whether Hunt has broken the ministerial code in his dealings with Rupert Murdoch's company, adding pressure to Cameron to launch an official independent inquiry.

Labour have now insisted Cameron appears in parliament to personally explain why he is "trying to hide behind the Leveson inquiry".

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