Did Cameron's dinner with Murdoch break ministers' code?

David Cameron was challenged last night to explain why he held a secret dinner with James Murdoch as the Government prepared to take a crucial decision on the Murdoch media empire.

The Labour Opposition questioned whether Mr Cameron had broken the ministerial code of conduct by meeting the chairman of News Corporation in Europe and Asia only a few days after stripping Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, of the power to decide whether News Corp should be allowed to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own.

The move came as the Government faced all-party pressure over its links with Rupert Murdoch despite last week's resignation of Andy Coulson, the Downing Street director of communications, over the continuing controversy about telephone hacking at Mr Murdoch's News of the World, which cost Mr Coulson his job as the paper's editor in 2007.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, is expected to pursue legal action against News International over his phone being hacked rather than accept an out-of-court settlement. He is due to meet his lawyers to make a final decision shortly. He told the Commons last September that while he defended freedom of the press, "this [phone hacking] is abuse and illegality. It has to end, and we must be robust about it."

Friends of Mr Hughes said he had little interest in an out-of-court settlement and was likely to press ahead with court action. They said the MP dealt with many highly sensitive constituency cases and was appalled by the prospect that information concerning them could have been compromised.

Today the all-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee may decide to hold a new round of public hearings into allegations that phone tapping was rife. Amid protests that Scotland Yard failed properly to investigate allegations about the News of the World, it is also considering whether the police take hacking seriously enough. If the committee decides to hold hearings, it would be likely to summon members of the paper's former staff, including Mr Coulson, to give evidence.

The Independent revealed yesterday that Mr Cameron met James Murdoch at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International. The private dinner she hosted took place shortly before Christmas.

In a letter to the Prime Minister last night, Ivan Lewis, the shadow Culture Secretary, asked him five questions, including: "Can you clarify whether you discussed News Corp's bid for BSkyB with Mr [James] Murdoch?"

Mr Lewis said: "David Cameron's decision to attend this dinner with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in the middle of a quasi-judicial process raises serious questions about his judgment. The integrity of our media is central to our democracy. That is why his answers are of significant public interest."

Tory sources dismissed Labour's challenge, insisting that the social event would not be covered by the ministerial code. They said the BSkyB takeover would not have been discussed and that the meeting was not improper in any way because all prime ministers met newspaper proprietors.

Mr Cameron and Rupert Murdoch are both due to attend the Davos World Economic Forum this weekend. Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether their paths would cross, although Tory sources said no meeting between the two men was scheduled.

Newscorp's bid for Sky

James Murdoch, the European chairman of News Corporation, is desperate to avoid a Competition Commission inquiry into his company's bid for the 61 per cent of Sky it does not already own. He fears any delay to the deal could see NewsCorp end up having to pay much more than the £7.5bn it has offered.

However, Ofcom, the media regulator, has already said it thinks the Commission should investigate. The decision now rests solely in the hands of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, given the role by David Cameron when the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was caught making partial remarks about the Murdochs.

Mr Hunt says he is acting independently and that he will make his decision purely on legal grounds. He has the power to refer the deal to the Commission if he accepts Ofcom's view that a NewsCorp takeover of Sky might damage the plurality of Britain's media, a more subjective test than the competition hurdles the deal has already cleared with European Union regulators.

If he does not do so, or comes to an arrangement with NewsCorp that sees it make concessions in return for avoiding an inquiry, there will be a storm of protest about the neutrality of Conservative ministers – and almost certainly a legal challenge.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness