Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hunt: 'To say I deliberately misled parliament over BSkyB deal is disgraceful... but I may have done it accidentally'

  • Mr Hunt declared he never lied but may have 'inadvertently misled' MPs
  • Ed Miliband accuses PM of 'clinging onto' the Culture Secretary to save his own reputation
  • Letter from Sir Alex Allan says he would not have anything to add to the Leveson Inquiry's probing of Mr Hunt last month
  • Meanwhile Nick Clegg has asked his MPs to abstain in today's Commons vote on the Culture Secretary's behaviour
  • Tory MPs have called this an 'act of war' by the Lib Dems.

  • Pressure: Speaking in the Commons today Mr Hunt said he never lied but may have 'inadvertently' misled parliament over the scandal 

    Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today defended himself against the 'disgraceful allegation' that he lied over his role in the Murdoch Empire's £8 billion takeover bid of BSkyB.
    But he has admitted he 'inadvertently' misled parliament when he claimed earlier this year to have released all correspondence relating to the controversial deal.
    One memo, from him to the Prime Minister was crucially left out, which showed Mr Hunt wanted the bid to go through, just weeks before he was handed the decision by David Cameron.
    Today Mr Hunt's defence came as Labour proposed a motion calling for him to be referred to Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, to find out whether any rules were broken.
    On a crisis day for David Cameron, the Lib Dems also started a civil war within the Coalition as Nick Clegg ordered his MPs not to back the Culture Secretary in today's vote, which some Tories have called 'an act of war'.
    The Prime Minister again was forced to back Mr Hunt amid claims he will not refer him to a Commons sleaze inquiry because he is 'scared he won't be cleared.'
    In the debate this afternoon on the issuem Labour MP Chris Bryant accused the Culture Secretary of 'lying' to parliament, while Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said he had failed to take responsibility for his special adviser Adam Smith, who had sent a hundreds of text messages and emails to News Corps' lobbyist Fred Michel.
    But Mr Hunt, who was flanked by Education Secretary Michael Gove and Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, denied he had broken any rules.

    He said: 'At the heart of this debate are two allegations about the Ministerial Code so let me address them straight away.
    'First of all, the disgraceful allegation that I deliberately misled parliament. In response to a question on March 3 2011, I stated that I had published correspondence between myself and News Corp.
    'The answers to those questions, I referred back to that statement and if there was any misunderstanding about the extent to which I was publishing correspondence it was addressed as long ago as last September in a written parliamentary question.
    'That spelt out precisely what information I was releasing and what information I wasn't releasing.
    'The content of the correspondence is what is really important and if you (Ms Harman) read it, you would see that I have taken more trouble and published more information than probably any other government has published on any other previous deal.
    Debate: Mr Cameron said Mr Hunt, top left of the picture, had handled himself well and needn't be probed over the issue  
    'I have made huge efforts to be transparent and you know that perfectly well.'
    Earlier, Ms Harman urged MPs from all political parties to vote for Labour's motion, which was about 'protecting the rights' of the House of Commons.
    She said there were two issues 'at stake': whether Mr Hunt misled Parliament and whether he should have taken responsibility for his special adviser, Adam Smith.
    Ms Harman said: 'At the very least there is prima facie evidence that you failed to take responsibility for the management and conduct of your special adviser.
    'Either you didn't know what he was doing when the special adviser was overstepping the mark and that was a breach of the code or, as people think more likely, you did know what he was doing when
    Adam Smith was overstepping the mark and that too would have been a breach of the code.
    'Whichever way you look at it, there has been a clear breach of the ministerial code.'
    Mr Hunt said he took independent legal advice throughout the £8 billion bid and repeatedly denied trying to influence the takeover when Business Secretary Vince Cable was still in charge of assessing the deal.
    Mr Hunt said his special adviser, Adam Smith, who quit after he was revealed to have exchanged hundreds of texts and emails with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel, had 'paid a high price' for his conduct, but Mr Hunt denied failing to take responsibility for his adviser.
    'Adam Smith is someone of the highest integrity but he did engage in some contact with News Corporation that was inappropriate and he has resigned,' he said.
    'Lessons will be learned as to how to improve processes and avoid that happening again.
    'I didn’t know or authorise that contact, but in accordance with the Ministerial Code I accepted responsibility for it by making a statement to this House the day after that contact became apparent.'
    Liberal Democrat Don Foster said he believed Mr Hunt had properly handled the BSkyB bid but that sufficient questions remained over the ministerial code for his party to disagree with the Prime Minister's position.
    He told MPs: 'I do believe, and the Deputy Prime Minister believes, there are questions particularly in relation to the ministerial code that deserve to have thorough independent investigation.
    'We believe there is an urgent need to review the current procedure we have - it is probably inappropriate for the Prime Minister alone to be the sole judge of whether an investigation takes place.'
    Earlier in a fiery exchange in the Commons today, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Mr Cameron of 'clinging onto' the Culture Secretary because he has also been badly damaged by Hunt's handling of the BSkyB takeover bid.
    But the Prime Minister, who is also facing a rebellion by the Lib Dems on the issue, maintained he had full faith in his beleaguered colleague.

    Rowdy: Commons Speaker John Bercow intervenes during the debate for Labour's motion calling for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to face an inquiry of his handling of the BSkyB bid by News Corp 
    It came as Mr Hunt faced a grilling in Parliament this afternoon over whether he should be independently investigated on whether he broke ministerial rules with his 'cosy' relationship with the Murdoch empire.
    'The Culture Secretary gave a very full account of his actions to the Leveson Inquiry. He took independent advice at every part of the process, he followed independent advice at every part of the process,' Mr Cameron told MPs.
    But Ed Miliband accused him of avoiding a Commons investigation into the issue.
    'The reason he won't refer it is because he is scared the Culture Secretary won't be cleared,' he said.
    'Everyone knows it was the Prime Minister who decided to appoint the Culture Secretary to oversee the bid, and it is the Prime Minister who is clinging on to him now.
    'It's no longer about the Culture Secretary's judgement, it is about the Prime Minister's judgment.'
    Last night Nick Clegg ordered his MPs not to back the Tory Culture Secretary today when Labour forces a vote on whether there should be a sleaze inquiry over his handling of the Murdoch empire’s takeover bid for BSkyB.
    A source close to Mr Clegg said: ‘The decision not to refer it to Sir Alex Allan was the Prime Minister’s decision.
    ‘But it is not a decision that is endorsed by the Liberal Democrats, therefore we don’t think we need to endorse it, therefore we won’t support it on the floor of the House.'
    Hitting back at the Lib Dems today Mr Cameron said: 'It's politics,' he said.
    The decision by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg is said to have angered his partner in coalition, David Cameron 

    Meanwhile the adviser Labour wants to carry out the probe into Mr Hunt's handling of the BSkyB bid believes he could not 'usefully add' to the case.
    The Prime Minister insisted the decision over whether the launch an investigation was his alone but told MPs he had received a letter from Sir Alex Allan, independent adviser on ministerial interests, backing his claim that the Leveson Inquiry hearing had dealt with the issue.
    But the Prime Minister told Mr Miliband: 'I have asked Sir Alex Allan for his advice on the future guidance on, for example, quasi-judicial decision-making.'
    Quoting a letter from Sir Alex to him he added: 'I note your decision in relation to Jeremy Hunt's adherence to the ministerial code, which is of course a matter for you.
    'The fact that there is an ongoing judicial inquiry, probing and taking evidence under oath, means that I do not believe I could usefully add to the facts in this case.'
    Mr Miliband asked why Mr Cameron had called in Sir Alex to investigate Tory chairman Baroness Warsi but not Mr Hunt.
    Lady Warsi is in trouble for taking a business partner on a official visit to Pakistan with her.
    The Prime Minister said: 'There is a very significant difference between the two cases.
    'In the case of Baroness Warsi there hasn't been a judge-led inquiry with witnesses, taking evidence under oath, to get to all of the factual evidence behind her case.
    'That is why I asked Sir Alex Allan to look at that case and establish some of the facts of that case.'
    Mr Cameron said he was 'entirely happy' with Lady Warsi's explanation of her case and she had apologised for breaking the code.


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