Jeremy Hunt: I followed due process over BSkyB

 

Jeremy Hunt: "I intend to respond fully to allegations about my conduct and that of my department"

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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told MPs he "strictly followed due process" in the way he handled a controversial BSkyB takeover bid by News Corporation.

He said it was not true that the firm had any "back channel" of influence, when he was ruling on the bid.

His special adviser Adam Smith has quit over contact with the firm that he said "went too far".

But Labour's Harriet Harman said Mr Hunt had been "backing" rather than "judging this bid" and should resign.

She has written to David Cameron demanding an investigation by the independent adviser on ministers' interests into whether the culture secretary breached the ministerial code.

'Too close'

Mr Hunt delivered his statement in a noisy House of Commons, following the publication of emails at the Leveson Inquiry relating to his handling of the takeover.

Labour say these show he fell short in his impartial "quasi-judicial" role in ruling on the company's bid to fully take over broadcaster BSkyB.

But Frederic Michel, head of public affairs at News Corp, has said his references to "JH" in emails were actually shorthand for Mr Hunt's special adviser, Mr Smith.

Mr Michel has said he had no direct contact with the culture secretary, after he assumed responsibility for ruling on the BSkyB bid in December 2010.

Analysis

Jeremy Hunt has No 10's backing but his position remains precarious. There are several fronts to the culture secretary's defence.

By consulting with regulators and civil servants throughout the bid he insists he acted with integrity and scrupulous objectivity, with the permanent secretary at the culture department agreeing that Mr Hunt's special adviser should act as a conduit with News Corp during the process.

Mr Hunt argues that the texts and emails seen so far are a partial, secondhand account of what was going.

And yet, the chummy channel of communication from his aide to News Corporation provided the company with a huge amount of inside information, sometimes before Parliament, and raises questions about whether the information given to the company undermined the quasi-judicial process or breached the ministerial code.

Mr Smith said the content and extent of his contact with News Corporation was not authorised by Mr Hunt and he was resigning because his "activities at times went too far" and created the perception that the firm "had too close a relationship with the department".

Mr Hunt took over responsibility for ruling on Rupert Murdoch's controversial BSkyB bid when Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of the role, having been secretly recorded saying he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch".

In the "quasi-judicial" role, Mr Hunt had to act with impartiality - but Labour say information that emerged at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards on Tuesday showed he had "fallen very far short" of his duties.

A string of emails suggests there was a steady flow of information from the culture secretary's office to News Corp advisers from June 2010 onwards.

In one, dated 24 January 2011, Frederic Michel told News Corp executive James Murdoch he had managed to get some information on Mr Hunt's upcoming statement to Parliament, adding: "Although absolutely illegal..>!".

The following day Mr Hunt announced his intention to refer the takeover bid to the Competition Commission, but only after first giving News Corp more time to address concerns about "potential threats to media plurality".

James Murdoch said that the "illegal" reference had been a "joke" - but Labour said Mr Murdoch got "the very words that Jeremy Hunt was going to use" ahead of his Parliamentary statement.

Mr Hunt told MPs that his adviser's resignation was a "matter of huge regret" to him, but he said the volume and tone of communications had been "clearly not appropriate in a quasi-judicial process".

Harriet Harman: "He wasn't judging this bid, he was backing this bid"

Mr Hunt went on to say he had followed due process "with scrupulous fairness throughout" and said Labour's claim that "there was a back channel through which News Corporation were able to influence my decisions" was "categorically not the case".

But Ms Harman said it was clear Mr Hunt had already "made up his mind" about the takeover and he should not have taken on responsibility for ruling on it in the first place.

"Your conduct should have been quasi-judicial but it fell far, far short of that and short of the standards required by your office," she told him.

"The reality is, you weren't judging this bid, you were backing this bid and so you should resign."

Mr Hunt replied that that idea was "laughable" as he had taken a series of decisions that were "against what News Corporation had wanted".

He said it was because he had "expressed some sympathy for the bid" before he was given responsibility for ruling on it that he had "changed the process so that at every stage before I made a decision I got the advice of independent regulators which I carefully considered and followed".

'Shadow of sleaze'

He also said there were "a number of exaggerations" in Mr Michel's emails and "countless examples... of things that simply did not happen".

In noisy exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband said if Prime Minister David Cameron "can't defend the conduct of his own ministers... he should fire them" and said there was a "shadow of sleaze" over the government.

PMQs: Jeremy Hunt has 'full support' of David Cameron

Mr Cameron said Mr Hunt "has my full support for the excellent job that he does" and accused Mr Miliband of not being able to resist "the passing political bandwagon".

Mr Hunt has asked Lord Justice Leveson to bring forward his appearance at the inquiry, which he had been due to address in May.

He told MPs his adviser's role as a point of contact had been "agreed by the permanent secretary" in his department - something BBC political editor Nick Robinson said might provide the culture secretary with some "cover".

News Corp, which owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times, and has a 39% interest in satellite broadcaster BSkyB, abandoned its bid to take over the remaining 61% of the broadcaster in July 2011, after the phone-hacking scandal emerged.

Its boss, Rupert Murdoch, is facing what could end up being two days of questioning at the inquiry under oath.

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 345.

    335.Rebecca Riot

    And they can do so because of Class System.

    I disagree and believe that it's the money system these days, money talks for these people and buys everything and anything. You're missing the point - which is of course what they want. There's nothing wrong with having a bit of class, this lot don't have any!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 344.

    It's inconceivable that Hunt acted without the approval of the prime Minister in this affair. How can Cameron survive more of these sleazy 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' incidents with such a powerful media organisation? We are all the losers in this widespread scheme to gloss the image of the Conservatives via favourable NewsCorp reporting.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 343.

    I don't understand Labour who do they represent these days?

    With the Tories you know what you are going to get - warts and all at least.
    Both parties ingratiate themselves with the wealthy - one accepts this, the other pretends to represent someone else.

    Rupert Murdoch is a very important figure - because the media is so powerful. No surprise most politicians bend over backwards to help him.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 342.

    How typical of our ruling class that having been caught out, they demand preferential treatment from Leveson in order to hang onto their job! It's that attitude, "access for the likes of me/us" which is at the heart of this whole mess.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 341.

    338.Susan
    Just now
    I don’t read the Sun or any other newspaper in order to decide who should receive my precious vote. The tea leaves are pretty revealing though and more honest than tripe-filled historical papers.


    My teabags tell me nothing, they must be politicians :o)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 340.

    R Murdoch being favoured to achieve his own ends for world media dominatioin is bad enough but I feel this is all now a red herring and is digressing from the original accusation about wrongful andd illegal hacking to private phone calls and messages. We are deported a British man to the US for this same thing but the Murdochs ( Daves mates) are having a easy ride over this.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 339.

    re 325 ICABOD. Either you are a Murdoch employee or sadly lacking in intelligence. The BBC is run by a board of governors and is answerable to Parliament and therefore the registered voters. Murdoch does what he likes to suit his OWN political agenda and profits by influencing Governments to his agenda regardless of whether that is in the public's interest.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 338.

    I don’t read the Sun or any other newspaper in order to decide who should receive my precious vote. The tea leaves are pretty revealing though and more honest than tripe-filled historical papers.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 337.

    276. Richard Buckingham
    It depends on how you define succsess,do you mean being shoe horned into downing street via the back door by the depicable Nick Cleg.
    And what succsess the highest unemployment since the last Tory Government,back in doudble dip recession (well done George),the dimanteling of the NHS,the granny tax,the fuel fiasco,and not to mention all the other corrupt scandals.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 336.

    If this is an example of the calibre of individual governing our country it is no surprise why we are in such a mess.

    Of course those who are paying dearly for this mismanagement is the ordinary hard working person.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 335.

    Treating the British people like mugs

    And they can do so because of Class System. It has not gone way, far from it & under this current misgovernment it is getting worse & deliberately so. That is the Tory big plan behind all the arrogant muddle.

    They think thay can play us around for their fun & get away with it while impoverishing the citizens on purpose, trousering our hard earned money

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 334.

    322.SeeDubya
    "It is beyond belief that, with a government as useless as this one is, Labour continues to shoot itself in the foot."

    Or is that the plan? By not being in power just now they don't need to make the difficult decisions - let Lib/Tory alienate themselves for the next generation. Keep Lab party looking weak until the country is sorted (or just about) then come in as saviour.

  • Comment number 333.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 332.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 331.

    What is the correct term for a nation that is led by the financially obese?

    Is there a cure for it?

  • Comment number 330.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 329.

    The public need the press as nobody takes the slightest bit of interest in politics or what their local representatives stand for

    The vast majority of folk vote based on family tradition, or prejudice. It's become a pantomime either hating the rich so I vote Labour or hating the layabout, scroungers so I vote Tory. If people actually listened to policies they'd be quite surprised.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 328.

    David Hill

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 327.

    i see the tories are coming out in droves cancelling out negative comments about the posh boys.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 326.

    I find it strange that ministers in the ConDem coalition seem to think it's OK to meet with people like the Murdoch's to discuss how they can assist them. If this had happened under Labour the Tories would have wanted the minister involved hung drawn and quartered never mind asking for a resignation. I shall watch the progress of this with interest especially Hunts statement today.

 

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