Yesterday I said in the Commons that Jeremy Hunt had lied to Parliament. The Tories howled like banshees because they reckoned that it was all "unparliamentary". Sir George Young demanded that I withdraw. But they were wrong. The rules expressly say that when a member is named in the motion being debated (as Hunt was yesterday) you can make direct allegations. It's obvious, really; otherwise we would never be able to discuss whether a member had done anything wrong.
Yes, there is a big distinction between accidentally misleading Parliament and doing so intentionally. It is not uncommon for a minister to say something in the honest but mistaken belief that what he is saying is true. That is why there is a means of correcting the record. I have done so myself. There is no dishonour in an apology or a correction of Hansard – quite the reverse. Indeed, I wish Cameron would correct the record when he makes his constant factual errors.
"Lying" is an ugly word but yesterday was not the time for beating around the bush. Hunt emphatically told Parliament on 3 March 2011 that he had published "all the exchanges between my department and News Corporation". But when he told the Commons on 7 September that a search for correspondence "would incur disproportionate cost to collect", he did not choose to correct his previous statement, nor did he reveal that he had texted James Murdoch and sent a memo to the PM. It was only the legal powers vested in Leveson that dragged these facts out of him.
In answer to premeditated whips' questions from Tory MPs, Hunt also told the House that he had had "zero" conversations with Fréd Michel and that the only contact he had with him "was at official meetings that were minuted with other people present". But Hunt did have unminuted contact when he had control of the bid, twice on 20 January 2011, once on 21 January 2011, three times on 3 March 2011, three times on 13 March 2011, and once on 3 July. Hunt could have corrected the record – but left Rupert Murdoch to do it.
The Prime Minister has made much play of the fact that he sticks by his friends. I understand that. Loyalty is laudable. It has been rather charming to see George and Dave stand by Rebekah and Andy and James and Rupert and Jeremy. But it is wrong to govern the country in the interests of the Prime Minister's friends. Hunt should go.
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