David Cameron defiant on Jeremy Hunt's conduct


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Indy Politics

David Cameron insisted today that he had seen no evidence that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has breached the ministerial code of conduct in his handling of News Corp's bid for BSkyB.

Mr Cameron was forced to go to the Commons to face MPs' questions after Commons Speaker John Bercow awarded Labour an urgent question.

He strongly defended the way Mr Hunt had handled the takeover bid for BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire.

He said that at every stage of the bid, Mr Hunt had sought independent advice, even though he was not required to do so.

"He acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice of his permanent secretary," Mr Cameron said.

"I have seen no evidence to suggest that, in handling this issue, the Secretary of State acted at any stage in a way that was contrary to the ministerial code," he said.

Mr Cameron said he had consulted Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and decided it was right to allow Lord Justice Leveson to conduct his inquiry and not to set a "parallel process" to establish the facts.

"What we have is a judge-led inquiry, witnesses required to give evidence on oath, full access to papers and records, cross-examination by barristers, all live on television," he said.

"There is nothing this tough or this rigorous the Civil Service or the independent adviser could provide."

Mr Cameron said that he would not wait until the end of the Leveson Inquiry to take action if action was needed.

"If new evidence emerges from the Leveson Inquiry that the ministerial code has been broken I will either seek advice from Sir Alex Allan or take action directly," he said.

Mr Cameron went on: "The relationship between politicians and the media has been too close for decades.

"The Leveson Inquiry which this Government set up gives Parliament and politicians of all parties the opportunity to put this right for the future.

"Already we have introduced transparency about the meetings we have with the media. Anyone can see which proprietors or editors I meet, whether publicly or privately.

"Like other party leaders in our country for decades I have tried to convince media outlets to support the policies of my party and now my Government.

"But let me be clear, there was not and never has been any grand bargain between the Conservative Party and Rupert and James Murdoch.

"Indeed, look for one moment at the number of meetings that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had with Rupert Murdoch when they were prime minister."

Mr Miliband said if the Culture Secretary was "so clueless" about what had been going on in his department he should be sacked.

Claiming elements of the ministerial code had been breached, he accused the PM of "defending the indefensible".

But a clearly angry Mr Cameron said: "First of all, 15 years of secret meetings, pyjama parties, christenings and all the rest of it, and not one word of apology."

He said the Labour leader was "weak and wrong" and accused him of "bad judgment" and "rotten politics".

Referring to former Labour advisers who were forced to quit their roles, he added: "Can anyone remember anyone taking responsibility for Charlie Whelan? Can you remember anyone taking responsibility for Damian McBride?

"What a lot of self-serving double standards we have had from the party opposite," he added.

The PM also rebuked Labour MP Chris Bryant for using unpublished, incorrect information about meetings with the Murdochs he had access to from the Leveson Inquiry.

He said: "While we are on the subject of people who say things before they should, I would have thought the honourable gentleman when he stands up in this House should make an apology.

"He stood up last week and claimed a whole series of facts about meetings I had had with Rupert Murdoch based on privileged access he had had to this inquiry, and the facts turned out to be wrong.

"A man of honour would apologise."