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
    +2

    Comment number 445.

    One down one to go.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 444.

    University Politics Courses need to run sessions on the defination of Integrity.
    The Career Politicians of today seem to have no concept of what is expected. A 'save your own skin no matter what’ attitude now pervades all. I remember when politicians would ‘jump before they were pushed’. Party leaders are surrounded with people of the same ‘type’ consequently cant find fault in them.

  • Comment number 443.

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

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 442.

    Do we need any more proof of the cancerous nature of the Murdoch involvement in our media and the determination of the clan to ride roughshod over anything and anyone in their way, including elected politicians? If Cameron has the slightest shred of integrity he will weed out all Murdoch influence in his party, or be forever tarred with the brush of also being in the man's pocket.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 441.

    Anyone like to take bets on where Adam Smith will be reemployed now he has done the 'honourable' thing and fallen on his masters sword! No doubt some little job will be awaiting him!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 440.

    This entire saga is simply down to one thing - people don't trust the Murdochs. They think that they have too much power and influence and they will never trust any company that they belong to. As such, they don't trust News Corporation, The Sun, Sky, etc. The Murdochs are the touch of death for any company. When they quit business, we can move on with trust and respect. Not before.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 439.

    The state has used the Murdoch media and planted their own journalists, editors etc at their newspapers.

    Now they've had enough of him, they have withdrawn their troops and are closing him down.

    All a big distraction by 'them' and an attempt to make us believe that it's somehow democratic or something.

  • rate this
    -13

    Comment number 438.

    Labour at it again callig for heads to roll before the other half has a chance to reply. And it was Tony Blair who travelled half way round the globe, probably at OUR expense, to give favours to Murdoch, and GB also came far to close for a PM. Time we heard the truth about what labour did over favours to newscorp.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 437.

    Rupert Murdoch is very powerful, too powerful. How do you reduce his power? I don't think you can.

    I think it's very brave of Ed Miliband to attack the Murdochs so directly. He is doomed to failure though. He lacks the gravitas and his party have completely lost their way - who do they represent?

    It should be a David vs Goliath battle of epic proportions but no one cares about Ed Miliband.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 436.

    "Matt
    This is so typical of the BBC to pick up on this non event peice of 'news' and hype it up"

    How come most newspapers and ITN/Ch4 News last night also picked up on this "non event peice of 'news'" then? Do you only use the BBC as your source of news then but then you complain about it? There are alternatives but something that is to do with the power of the media is bound to be reported.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 435.

    414.milvusvestal

    If you for one are not interested why are you reading about it and commenting on it.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 434.

    #402 and the Conservatives and Liberals haven't bayed for blood during when labour where in Government. Thats the nature of politics why let reality get in the way of a good hounding. The whole lot are a joke and a very bad one at that.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 433.

    Disgraceful from a government minister who is using the fine detail of the law to disguise and hide the reality of being far too close the News International and its affiliates. Same as Labour. This is not a party political issue but a broader one - how on earth are such relationships allowed. However, it IS cowardly to let the little advisor take the fall - didn't he go to the right school?

  • rate this
    +33

    Comment number 432.

    This is not about "Posh boys".

    It is not even party political.

    It is about corruption - his name and party is irrelevant.

    The fact that he was a decision-maker at the time adds weight to the seriousness of allegations.

    If proved, he will be another disgraced member to be sacked.

    There is a need to open the debate about lobbying.
    Maybe HYS could lead with a round-up of proposals so far?

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 431.

    hunt betrayed the public over murdoch's bid. the very least that should happen is that he should resign.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 430.

    propaganda, propaganda, propaganda,politicians scoring points off each other along with the media. call me cynical but the whole political establishment in this country stinks, about time the common man had a chance to run the country for the benefit of the majority not the minority

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 429.

    If we're worried about gang culture in this country,the first gangs to be dealt with should be the Labour,Tory & Lib/dem political parties.They've done far more damage to this country than any bunch of chavs ever could.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 428.

    #414 – It isn’t exclusively about the media. Or have you forgotten the invasion and hacking of private individuals in order to sell a paper?

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 427.

    Hunt's demeanor and language, both in the House and in interviews outside it, after he had taken over from Vince Cable always struck me as being very pro the BSkyB takeover and highly suspicious. Yesterday's email revelations seemed to confirm those suspicions.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 426.

    The late great Steve Jobs once said:

    Superlative achievers too often seem to have something missing in their personality that makes them less than admirable human beings.

    How appropriate

 

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