David Cameron is standing by his Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt despite claims that he misled Parliament over his handling of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.
Downing Street insists that evidence given by Mr Hunt during a six-hour appearance at the Leveson Inquiry showed he “acted properly” in his handling of the bid.
But Labour has criticised the Prime Minister’s decision not to investigate claims that Mr Hunt broke the ministerial code, saying it was “disgraceful”.
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said Mr Hunt should never have been allowed to rule on the takeover “as he was biased in favour of Rupert Murdoch’s bid.
Labour says it will raise the issue in Parliament after the House of Commons returns from its recess break on June 11.
“Jeremy Hunt should not be in his job now as he has broken the ministerial code and misled Parliament. At the very least, David Cameron should refer him to the independent adviser on ministerial interests.
“David Cameron said he would stand up for high standards but he is sweeping this matter under the carpet,” she said.
Mr Hunt told the inquiry he considered quitting following the wave of allegations about his handling of the takeover bid.
Jeremy Hunt should not be in his job now as he has broken the ministerial code and misled Parliament. At the very least, David Cameron should refer him to the independent adviser on ministerial interests.– Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman
“I did think about my own position,” he said.
“But I had conducted the bid scrupulously fairly throughout every stage and I believed it was possible to demonstrate that and I decided it wasn’t appropriate for me to go.”
Mr Hunt did accept, however, that text messages he exchanged with James Murdoch while he was responsible for deciding on the BSkyB issue were inappropriate.
Among messages between the pair was one congratulating the media executive on a promotion to a new News Corp job in New York, in which Mr Hunt joked: “I am sure you will really miss Ofcom in NY!”
“Sadly I fear they won’t see the back of me that easily! Hopefully we can move our other business forward soon,” Mr Murdoch replied, in an apparent reference to the takeover bid.
Mr Murdoch also sent a text congratulating Mr Hunt after the Culture Secretary’s decision in March 2011 that he was minded to support the takeover bid following the media giant’s offer to spin off Sky News. In a text signed with his initials, Mr Murdoch said: “Big few days. Well played. JRM”
The Culture Secretary insisted that such messages were simply courteous and “had absolutely no impact on the process”.
Fresh evidence also emerged of Mr Hunt’s personal involvement in the BSkyB issue shortly before he was handed responsibility to rule on it.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Jeremy Hunt’s evidence has shown that he acted properly while he was responsible for the BSkyB bid. He took independent advice at every turn, as well as a number of decisions which were against News Corporation’s wishes.
“As the Permanent Secretary of the department made clear, Jeremy Hunt set up a process which left him with a ‘vanishingly small’ chance to ‘manipulate’ the bid for ‘political or other ends’.