Jeremy Hunt and Tony Blair to appear at Leveson Inquiry next week

 

Beleaguered Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will appear before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards on Thursday next week, it was announced today.

Mr Hunt will face a grilling over his office's links with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation during its bid to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and he will be challenged over whether his public expressions of support for the bid were compatible with the quasi-judicial role he was given by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Also giving evidence in one of the most crucial weeks of the inquiry will be Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was stripped of the role of deciding whether the bid could proceed last December after he was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Mr Murdoch.

Former prime minister Tony Blair will face questions on Monday, when he is likely to be asked about the extent and nature of the government's links with the Murdoch press during Labour's 13 years in power.

Mr Hunt had asked for his appearance before the inquiry to be brought forward so he could give his side of the story as soon as possible, but was rebuffed by Lord Justice Leveson.

The inquiry has been presented with a cache of emails showing that News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel received inside information about the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's handling of the bid from Mr Hunt's former special adviser Adam Smith, who quit last month after admitting he went too far in acting as a point of contact with the company.

Yesterday, the inquiry published a memo sent by the Culture Secretary to Mr Cameron in November 2010, weeks before he took on the quasi-judicial role, in which he appeared to be making the case for News Corp's bid to go ahead.

Mr Hunt insists that he oversaw the process "with scrupulous fairness throughout" and has received strong backing from the Prime Minister.

But Mr Cameron has also said that if anything arises from the inquiry that suggests the ministerial code might have been breached, he will call in his independent ethics adviser Sir Alex Allan or take immediate action himself.

A decision on whether Sir Alex should investigate the Culture Secretary's behaviour is expected shortly after Mr Hunt gives evidence.

Mr Cable is likely to face questions on Wednesday next week over whether he approached the BSkyB bid with a pre-conceived hostility towards News Corp.

Also giving evidence next week will be Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May on Tuesday and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday.

Mr Blair will expect questions over whether he allowed his relationship with Mr Murdoch and News International to become too close, as his former lieutenant Lord Mandelson told the inquiry on Monday.

Lord Mandelson said it was "arguably the case... that personal relationships between Mr Blair, (Gordon) Brown and Rupert Murdoch became closer than was wise", but denied there was any "Faustian pact" involving commercial concessions for News Corp in return for its newspapers supporting Labour.

Mr Blair famously flew to Hayman Island in Australia to address News Corp executives in 1995, as part of a Labour strategy to gain a hearing with newspapers which had savaged previous leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.

And it emerged last year that he formed a close enough relationship with Mr Murdoch to become the godfather to one of the media tycoon's children in 2010.

Mr Gove, a former journalist on the News Corp-owned Times whose wife is a writer on the paper, is likely to be questioned about the frequency of his meetings with the company's executives, including Rupert Murdoch, his son James and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

The Education Secretary last year recorded 11 meetings with senior News Corp figures between the May 2010 general election and July 2011 and has publicly described Rupert Murdoch as "a great man" and "a force of nature".

Earlier this year, he spoke out about the danger of freedom of speech being harmed by the "chilling atmosphere" created by the Leveson Inquiry.

Questioning the need for additional regulation of the Press, he cautioned against allowing "judges, celebrities and the establishment" to become the arbiters of where the limits of free speech should be set.

Mrs May will probably be asked about the police handling of phone-hacking allegations and the issue of the closeness between the police and the media.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence