3 Jun 2012

Cameron defends Hunt as pressure for investigation increases

David Cameron defends his refusal to launch an investigation into Jeremy Hunt’s handling of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB insisting the culture secretary acted ‘wisely and fairly’.

Jeremy Hunt acted 'wisely and fairly', David Cameron claims

Mr Hunt held on to his job after Downing Street said his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday showed he “acted properly” in his handling of the bid.

But the prime minister is under pressure to launch an investigation into claims that his Cabinet colleague breached the ministerial code.

He also faces questions about his own judgment in appointing Mr Hunt to decide on the proposed takeover despite knowing of his personal sympathies for the Murdoch media empire.

It follows evidence disclosed to Leveson, of pro-bid text messages sent by Mr Hunt on the day he was handed responsibility for the decision.

But despite the emergence of these texts Mr Cameron insisted that his culture secretary had acted entirely properly.

“The advice I was given was that what mattered was not what Jeremy Hunt had said publicly or privately but how he was going to conduct himself during the bid,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

“That’s how I think we should judge him: did he adjudicate this bid wisely and fairly?

“And he did. He took legal advice at every stage, and he followed that legal advice and he did many things that were not in the interests of the Murdochs or BSkyB and that side of things.

“And I think he gave a good account of himself to the Leveson Inquiry, he’s given a good account of himself to Parliament, and I think that’s the key point.”

Mr Cameron said he had “looked carefully” at pro-Murdoch public statements made by Mr Hunt and taken legal advice before transferring bid responsibility to him from Vince Cable.

The business secretary was stripped of the media role after telling undercover reporters posing as constituents that he had “declared war” on media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Hunt sent a memo to Number 10 while Mr Cable was in charge, warning that he risked putting the government on “the wrong side” of media policy.

Mr Cameron said Mr Hunt was “the right person” to remain in charge of making a success of the London 2012 Olympics but sidestepped the question of whether he would remain in post after that.

Asked if Mr Hunt was safe in his job for at least the rest of the year, Mr Cameron said: “He’s got a very important job to do.”

Labour is to use its opposition day debate on Wednesday June 13 to demand that an inquiry into Mr Hunt’s actions is launched by Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s adviser on the ministerial code.

Senior Conservative Bernard Jenkin MP has also entered the row by renewing his calls for Sir Alex to be given the power to stage inquiries without the Prime Minister’s permission.

Labour believes Mr Hunt misled Parliament twice about his role in the bid for BSkyB and must also take responsibility for the actions of his special adviser Adam Smith who was forced to quit when a slew of damaging emails were released showing close contact with News Corporation lobbyist Fred Michel.

In a move that puts further pressure on Mr Cameron to call in Sir Alex, the Liberal Democrats indicated that their MPs may be free to vote with Labour.