David Cameron could instigate an inquiry into whether culture secretary breached ministerial code, spokesman says
The beleaguered culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, could face further investigation over his links to the Murdoch family and their News Corp business once he has given evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Downing Street has said.
The minister is expected to face a lengthy wait before he gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry. He is set to appear at the inquiry into press ethics in mid-May after his request to testify earlier was rejected. If his evidence fails to convince colleagues of his integrity, he will be investigated by the prime minister’s adviser on the ministerial code.
Hunt said he wanted to answer the questions raised by the evidence of Rupert Murdoch given to the inquiry this week, which suggested that he personally supported News Corp’s bid to take over BSkyB, despite having a quasi-judicial role in assessing the propriety of a takeover.
Downing Street said Hunt would be able to give evidence under oath to the Leveson inquiry and then David Cameron could decide whether a further investigation was required into a possible breach of the ministerial code. That investigation would be carried out by Sir Alex Allan, who advises the prime minister on the code.
A spokesman for Downing Street said: “Once Jeremy Hunt’s evidence is made public and he is questioned, if there is anything that suggests there has been a breach of the code the prime minister would, of course, act.”
“Jeremy Hunt will be appearing before the inquiry under oath and has made clear he will be providing all necessary evidence for consideration. It does not make sense to cut across a judicial inquiry with a parallel process that would risk pre-empting, duplicating or contradicting it.”
The culture minister’s position in government has come under attack following the publication of 163 pages of emails by Rupert Murdoch which detailed the close relationship between the Murdochs and their staff and Hunt, in particular his special adviser Adam Smith. Smith resigned this week and Hunt promised he would clear his own name by releasing his communication records.
The deputy chairman of the Conservative party, Michael Fallon, said on Saturday that the evidence should be “tested” at the Leveson inquiry. “If later on, obviously, it looks as if there’s something that needs to be investigated under the ministerial code that can be done,” he told the BBC.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the prime minister should have fired Hunt and at the very least should refer the matter urgently to Allan, to protect the “integrity of his government”.
Speaking in Ealing Broadway, west London, where he met potential voters with mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, he said: “I think Jeremy Hunt should go, I think the prime minister should have fired him. But the very least he’s got to do is refer it to Alex Allan.
“We’ve had Conservatives calling for that, we’ve had Liberal Democrats calling for that, we’ve got Labour calling for it – this is now an all-party issue.
“Frankly the longer the prime minister goes on resisting what seems to be the obvious thing to do, the more people will conclude he has something to hide, and he doesn’t want the truth to be got at.”