Jeremy Hunt pressed on BskyB ruling delay

The Government should explain its decision to apparently delay approval of Rupert Murdoch's bid to take over BSkyB, Labour said today.

Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis said News Corps' acquisition of BSkyB was "now a matter of great public importance and great public interest".

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be summoned to the Commons to explain his decision to delay a ruling on the proposed takeover, he said.

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Mr Lewis said: "As members of the House will be aware, News Corps' acquisition of BSkyB is now a matter of great public importance and great public interest.

"There are rumours circulating in briefings coming from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the Secretary of State intends to delay his decision for a minimum of three months.

"On the day we hear that the phones were hacked of the families of brave men and women who died fighting for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan, we believe that on a day like this that the least the Secretary of State should do is come to this House and make a statement this afternoon as a matter of urgency."

But deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle said he could not demand Mr Hunt make a statement.

He added that he not been told any minister intended to make a statement but if the situation changed MPs would be told immediately.

The consultation was due to end at noon tomorrow, coming after Mr Hunt paved the way for the deal to go through last month when he agreed beefed-up proposals that will see Sky News run as an independent company to allay fears that the deal would give Mr Murdoch's News Corporation too much control of the media.

The bid already faces opposition from rivals in the media industry and some politicians but the phone-hacking scandal brought the deal under even greater scrutiny and yesterday Labour leader Ed Miliband urged the Government to refer it to the Competition Commission.

News Corp, which also owns The Sun and The Times newspapers in the UK, wants to buy the 61% of shares in BSkyB it does not already own.

Last year it offered 700p a share, valuing the company at £12.3 billion, but the board told Mr Murdoch to come back with a higher offer.

Since then its share price has boomed on the back of strong results.

But the recent furore has caused BSkyB's share price to drop by nearly 4% this week, wiping £562 million from its market value as investors fret that the deal may not go through.

Now Mr Hunt is understood to have put off making a final decision, which could see the proposed merger referred to the Competition Commission, until September.

A source close to the Culture Secretary denied reports that the decision over BSkyB was being delayed, but indicated it was not expected "imminently" and may be several more months as officials wade through some 100,000 responses to the consultation on the proposed take-over.

"We are not delaying the decision because we never had a timetable to do it," the source said.

"We are just following due process and, given there are so many responses, it is going to take some time."