UK Politics

Jeremy Hunt denies Labour's claim he lied to Parliament

Jeremy Hunt has denied Labour claims that he lied to Parliament over his handling News Corp's proposed takeover of BSkyB, amid furious scenes in the House of Commons.

MPs also rejected a call for an inquiry into whether the culture secretary broke ministerial rules.

Labour's Chris Bryant said Mr Hunt had deliberately misled MPs over his contacts with News Corp.

But Mr Hunt rejected the claim, saying the evidence had "vindicated" him.

Labour's motion, calling for the culture secretary to be referred to an inquiry by Sir Alex Allan, the prime minister's adviser on the ministerial code, was defeated by 290 to 252 votes.

This was despite Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ordering his Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain.

'Calculated'

David Cameron has refused to refer Mr Hunt to his adviser, saying there is no evidence that he acted improperly in his handling of the BSkyB bid.

In March 2011, Mr Hunt said all correspondence relating to the BSkyB bid had been made public.

But, during the debate, Labour claimed this had been proven wrong by the subsequent release of emails and text messages by the Leveson Inquiry into media standards.

Mr Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, accused Mr Hunt of lying to Parliament by failing to disclose a memo which he had sent to the prime minister days before being given responsibility for the BSkyB bid, in which he argued the case for News Corp to be allowed to buy up the 61% of the satellite broadcaster which it did not already own.

Mr Bryant listed examples when he said Mr Hunt could have corrected the official record but had chosen not to, arguing this meant he had "deliberately" misled MPs.

He said: "How much would it have cost you to remember that you sent a memo to the prime minister on the matter, or, for that matter, to have checked your own mobile phone for the text messages that you sent to James Murdoch? You have lied to Parliament."

Labour argues that Mr Hunt was not objective in his handling of the takeover, but an active supporter of the News Corp bid for BSkyB and should therefore resign.

But Mr Hunt told MPs he had corrected the record last September over his March 2011 statement, saying: "I have made huge efforts to be transparent and you know that perfectly well."

He said: "If, as he [Mr Bryant] said, I had a plan, a grand scheme, that was going to deliver BSkyB to News Corp, why would I say that I am going to ask independent regulators, whose advice I have absolutely no control over... for their opinion and I was going to publish that at the same I time I was going to publish my decision?

"The reason I did that is that I was setting aside the views I had prior to the bid taking place and that has been vindicated by every page of his evidence."

He called Mr Bryant's statement that he had lied a "disgraceful allegation".

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ordered his MPs to abstain in the vote on Mr Hunt.

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