UK Politics

David Cameron: No 'grand deal' with Murdochs

Media captionDavid Cameron: "There's no great mystery here"

David Cameron says there was "no grand deal" with the Murdochs in return for their newspapers supporting the Conservatives before the 2010 election.

The PM told the BBC he made policies because they were "right for our country", not to suit newspaper owners.

He said he did not believe Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had broken rules over his office's contact with News Corp during its bid to take over BSkyB.

Labour is to demand the PM makes a Commons statement on the row on Monday.

Mr Cameron has resisted demands to call in his independent adviser on ministerial interests arguing that he wanted to hear Mr Hunt's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on press standards first.

A Labour source said: "David Cameron is still trying to hide behind the Leveson Inquiry.

"With Parliament breaking up on Tuesday, Mr Cameron must come to the Commons and explain to the British people why he is ducking his responsibilities to enforce the ministerial code."

'No great mystery'

The News International-owned Sun newspaper switched its support from Labour to the Conservatives in September 2009.

But Mr Cameron said it was "not true" to suggest there had been a deal in which he would help the Murdochs' business interests or allow the BSkyB takeover to go through, in return for their support for his party.

"It would be absolutely wrong for there to be any sort of deal and there wasn't... There was no grand deal," he said.

He said he had "wanted the support" of as many media chiefs as possible when he was opposition leader, so he could "take the country in a different direction".

He had disagreed with Rupert Murdoch on some issues, including the detention of terrorism suspects and a licence-fee funded BBC, he said.

"The positions I reach are because I believe them, I think they're right for our country. That's the platform I stand on. I do not do things, change my policies to suit this proprietor or that proprietor."

Mr Cameron has faced questions about whether he had discussed the BSkyB bid with James Murdoch at a Christmas party hosted by then News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks in 2010.

He told the BBC the party came shortly after Business Secretary Vince Cable had been stripped of responsibility for ruling on the BSkyB bid, having been secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Cameron said he could not recall all the details but it was "something like: clearly that was unacceptable, it was embarrassing for the government, and to be clear from now on this whole issue would be dealt with impartially, properly... but obviously I had nothing to do with it, I recused myself from it".

Influence claims

Responsibility for ruling on the BSkyB takeover in a "quasi-judicial" manner was given to the culture secretary.

Last week the Leveson Inquiry published emails between Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith and News Corporation's head of public affairs Frederic Michel about the company's efforts to take over the 61% of the broadcaster it did not already own.

Mr Hunt has denied Labour claims they show the firm had a "back channel" of influence to his office but his adviser quit, saying the extent of contact had not been authorised by Mr Hunt.

Labour says the culture secretary himself should go - because the ministerial code says ministers are responsible for their own actions and those of their special advisers.

They have also accused him of misleading Parliament about whether he had published all exchanges between his department and News Corporation.

It wants the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, to look into the matter, a call backed by some Lib Dems and Conservative backbenchers.

But in his BBC interview Mr Cameron said all the details would be "laid bare" by the Leveson Inquiry - to which Mr Hunt will give evidence next month.

'Fit and proper'

He said the email contact had been "too close" but said as things stood, he did not believe Mr Hunt had broken the code.

But he said he was ultimately responsible for ensuring the ministerial code was upheld and the issue had to be properly investigated.

"If evidence comes out through this exhaustive inquiry [Leveson], where you're giving evidence under oath, if he did breach the ministerial code, then clearly that's a different issue and I would act."

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman told BBC One's Sunday Politics it was "already evident" that Mr Hunt had breached the code.

She added: "Even more seriously than that, when he was responsible for acting quasi-judicially on a hugely important takeover bid of £8bn he did not act impartially."

She also suggested Mr Murdoch should be stripped of his broadcasting licence in the UK.

Asked if he was a "fit and proper" to hold a licence, she said: "I would say that should be examined independently and if I was examining it independently of course I would say 'no'."

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