Nearly half think Jeremy Hunt should quit says poll

 

Nearly half of the population believe embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should resign, a poll has indicated.

The research found just 16% of voters think the Secretary of State should remain in post while 49% want him to quit over his links with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

The ComRes poll for ITV News at Ten also found three out of five voters want an independent probe into whether Mr Hunt was involved in the passing of information to News Corp during its bid for BSkyB.

It comes after David Cameron again rejected Labour demands for an inquiry when he was forced to answer an urgent question on the row in the House of Commons.

Labour leader Ed Miliband told MPs that Mr Cameron was “defending the indefensible”, after the exposure by the Leveson Inquiry of emails which showed that a News Corp lobbyist was passed advance information about a sensitive parliamentary statement by Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith.

Mr Smith quit, admitting he “went too far” in his contacts with Fred Michel, but Mr Cameron made clear that he remains determined to hang on to his Culture Secretary, who sat beside him on the Government front bench.

He said he believed Mr Hunt “acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice of his permanent secretary”, adding: “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 accused Labour of playing “one-sided party politics” with the issue, and repeated his denial that he had made a “grand bargain” with News Corp to allow it to take control of BSkyB in return for the support of its newspapers - something he said he would deny on oath if required to when he appears before Leveson.

But Mr Miliband claimed Mr Hunt had breached three clauses of the code and repeated Labour's demand for Mr Cameron to refer the issue to his independent adviser on ministerial conduct Sir Alex Allan.

“The Prime Minister is defending the indefensible and he knows it,” Mr Miliband said.

“The special adviser had to go to protect the Culture Secretary. The Culture Secretary has to stay to protect the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has shown today he is incapable of doing his duty: too close to a powerful few, out of touch with everyone else.”

Mr Cameron dismissed the attack as “weak and wrong”, adding: “Endlessly questioning the integrity of someone when you don't have the evidence is bad judgment, rotten politics and plain wrong.”

Contrary to Labour claims that Mr Hunt misled the Commons when he said he had already published all his department's exchanges with News Corp, the Culture Secretary had made it clear in a written parliamentary answer last September that this did not include emails, he said.

Mr Cameron conceded that the accusation News Corp may have received market-sensitive information from Mr Hunt's department before it was officially released was “very serious”, adding: “That does need to be properly investigated.”

Defending his decision not to establish a “parallel process” to investigate the matter, Mr Cameron said: “What we have is a judge-led inquiry, witnesses required to give evidence under oath, full access to papers and records, cross-examination by barristers, all live on television.

“There is nothing this tough or this rigorous that the civil service or the independent adviser could provide.”

But he acknowledged it was not Lord Justice Leveson's role to adjudicate on the ministerial code.

“That is an issue for me and I will deal with it properly,” he said.

“I will not wait until the end of the Leveson Inquiry to take action if action is needed.

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

PA

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