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UK Politics

Labour piles on pressure for Hunt investigation

PM puts Hunt 'on probation' ahead of Leveson evidence

Labour will today demand that David Cameron comes to the Commons to explain to MPs why he is refusing to investigate Jeremy Hunt under the ministerial code of conduct.

In an interview yesterday the Prime Minister effectively put his Culture Secretary "on probation" ahead of his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson. But he still refused to launch a separate investigation into whether Mr Hunt had breached ministerial rules, despite calls from across the political spectrum for him to do so. Today Labour will ask Mr Cameron to come to Parliament to explain why he is not enforcing his own code. If he refuses, they can ask the Speaker for an urgent question, which would call him to the House.

In an apparent change of tack following days of negative publicity, the Prime Minister made clear he would not wait for the Leveson Inquiry to report before deciding whether Mr Hunt had broken ministerial rules. But Labour said that did not go far enough and accused him of "hiding behind" the inquiry.

"With Parliament breaking up on Tuesday Mr Cameron must come to the Commons to explain to the British people why he is ducking his responsibilities to enforce the ministerial code," a source said.

The party also renewed its attack on Rupert Murdoch suggesting that it no longer believed the company could be considered "fit and proper" to hold the BSkyB broadcast licence.

"He's not a fit and proper person because of what went on in his organisation – widespread criminality," said Labour's shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman. Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron said that he accepted that determining whether Mr Hunt had breached the Ministerial Code was a matter for him and not the Leveson Inquiry. But he said he would not make that decision until Mr Hunt had had a chance to put his case to the judge.

A date has not yet been set for Mr Hunt's appearance, but politicians will not be called until mid-May.

Mr Cameron said: "Jeremy Hunt... will be giving evidence under oath, will be questioned under oath, and if information arises that paints a different picture from the one that we've heard then obviously, I know my responsibilities towards the Ministerial Code and towards how ministers behave and I would act. As things stand, I don't believe Jeremy Hunt breached the Ministerial Code. If evidence comes out... [that] he did breach the code then clearly that's a different issue. I'm not trying to duck any of my responsibilities."

He also admitted for the first time that he had discussed News Corporation's takeover bid for BSkyB with James Murdoch while the Government was deciding whether to approve it at a Christmas party in 2010 at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks, the former News International (NI) chief executive.

But he insisted there had been no "grand deal" with Rupert Murdoch's media empire to wave through the takeover in return for support from News International newspapers.

Asked whether he was embarrassed that he was even at the party, Mr Cameron said: "Clearly, after all that's been written and said about it, yes of course one might do things differently."

He said he did not recall the exact details of his conversation with Mr Murdoch but that it concerned the recent controversy over Business Secretary Vince Cable's comments that he had "declared war" on News Corporation.

"What I recall saying... is something like: clearly that was unacceptable, it was embarrassing for the Government, and to be clear, from now on this whole issue would be dealt with impartially, properly, in the correct way, but obviously I had nothing to do with it, I recused myself from it."

It also emerged yesterday that Ms Brooks, who is under investigation over her role in the phone-hacking affair, is said to be ready to disclose any text messages and emails between herself and Mr Cameron to the Leveson Inquiry.

It is understood that Ms Brooks was served with a "section 21" notice weeks ago requiring her to give evidence to the inquiry and hand over all relevant documentation. News Corp appeared to set a precedent last week by releasing texts from Mr Hunt to the firm's lobbyist, Frédéric Michel.

While Ms Brooks was head of NI, she was in regular contact with Mr Cameron by text and the content may be embarrassing to the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron admitted yesterday he had courted Mr Murdoch's newspapers, but said it was "no great mystery" as he tried to win over many media outlets.