Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt pledges to give the Leveson inquiry all private texts and emails he sent to his special adviser, as pressure grows for an inquiry into his handling of the BSkyB bid.
Mr Hunt said the correspondence with Adam Smith would show he handled the bid by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp properly. Mr Smith resigned on Wednesday after details of his contacts with a News Corp executive were released by the inquiry, leading to speculation there was a secret “back channel” between Mr Hunt’s office and News Corp.
“I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson inquiry and I am confident that they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity,” Mr Hunt told reporters outside his London home.
Demand for a government investigation increased on Prime Minister David Cameron after Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, was asked 10 times by a parliamentary committee whether he agreed with Hunt’s account of events at the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Stephens then refused to answer 10 times.
Senior Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said he cannot understand why an investigation is not already under way. Downing Street maintains there are no plans to investigate Mr Hunt’s conduct or whether he broke the ministerial code. A Culture Department spokesman said Mr Stephens thought it would be inappropriate to comment.
Mr Hunt also faces pressure to resign from the opposition after the publication of emails between his office and News Corp over the proposed takeover.
Adam Smith took responsibility for the emails, and resigned on Wednesday, saying he acted without Mr Hunt’s knowledge.
But concerns remain over the relationship between Mr Hunt, who had a “quasi-judicial” responsibility in making his decision on the bid, and News Corp, before the company withdrew its offer following the row over phone hacking at News of the World. The former culture secretary and Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, has indicated that giving a political adviser such a central role is not commonplace.
The public accounts committee tried to find out from Mr Stephens whether Mr Smith had indeed taken over the role as a “channel of communication between the department and the Murdoch empire” and had acted alone. Mr Hunt said Mr Stephens had agreed that Adam Smith would be News Corp’s point of contact.
Mr Stephens refused to confirm or deny Mr Hunt’s account of events on Thursday.
“The secretary of state made a full statement to parliament yesterday. He has made it clear that he’s providing full written evidence and is looking forward to providing oral evidence to the Leveson inquiry,” Mr Stephens said.
“There was a statement by the special adviser yesterday which made it clear that he accepted that the nature and content of those contacts was not authorised by the secretary of state nor by me,” he added.
By the eighth time Mr Stephens refused to answer the question, Labour MP Nick Smith jumped in to say: “Mr Stephens, you don’t need to stonewall on this. Did you give guidance to Mr [Adam] Smith on his crucial role?”
Mr Stephens once again deflected the question, saying he was “very sorry” but would only discuss the cost of the Olympics – the original reason for his appearance.
Ofcom says it is escalating its investigation into BSkyB and whether it was a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting licence.
Up until now, Ofcom was monitoring evidence in the public domain, but it has now asked for BSkyB correspondence as it delves deeper into the corporation records.
“Ofcom is gathering evidence which may assist it in assessing whether BSkyB is and remains fit and proper to continue to hold its broadcast licences,” the broadcasting regulator said in a statement.
“As part of this ongoing assessment, Ofcom has contacted News Group Newspapers requesting documents which it understands are held by the company and which may be relevant to this assessment. BSkyB is party to this correspondence.”
The watchdog is also investigating Sky News, which is run by BSkyB, after it admitted hacking emails.