PRESSURE mounted on prime minister Cameron yesterday over his refusal to refer the actions of Culture, Media and Sports Secretary Jeremy Hunt to his adviser on the ministerial code of conduct, Sir Alex Allan.
Questions were raised over why Cameron is so determined to protect Hunt, who was described by the counsel for the Leveson Inquiry last week as Murdoch’s ‘cheerleader’ for the BSkyB bid.
Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned last week, but former chairman of the BBC, Sir Michael Lyons, insisted that ‘there is no doubt in my mind that Adam Smith did nothing without Jeremy knowing about it and condoning it’.
Former Labour Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw described Hunt’s position as ‘unacceptable and unsustainable’, saying: ‘It is clear that David Cameron is trying to prevent disclosure which would leave him exposed.’
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said Cameron has claimed Hunt did not break the ministerial code, but she insisted he did and should resign.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning, Cameron admitted that he discussed News Corporation’s takeover bid for BSkyB with James Murdoch while the government was considering the bid.
He acknowledged his ‘embarrassment’ at attending the Christmas party at the home of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks where the conversation took place.
Cameron was asked how many meetings he had with Rupert Murdoch.
Cameron inisted that ‘they are all set out in the disclosures I have made.’
Cameron claimed he was ‘not embarrassed’ about having these meetings.
Marr responded: ‘If you’re not embarrassed about that how do you feel when you see these texts and emails going across tipping off . . .’
Cameron cut in: ‘Now that was wrong. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. The contact between the special adviser in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and News International, that was too close, too frequent, inappropriate, and that’s why the special adviser resigned and that was the right thing to do.’
Marr put it to him that it is ‘inconceivable’ that ‘that level of incredibly important political contact would be going on without Jeremy Hunt knowing about it.’
Cameron conceded: ‘This must be properly investigated.’
Marr said: ‘The way it should be investigated should be through a parliamentary inquiry, not through the Leveson process. Leveson himself said he’s got nothing to do with ministerial codes of conduct.’
Cameron answered: ‘Absolutely. The ministerial code – the behaviour of ministers – is fully for me. If ministers have behaved badly, broken the ministerial code, it’s my responsibility either to ask Alex Allan’s advice about what should happen, or to take action myself and say they can’t remain in the government.’
Marr said: ‘And if it comes out, as it seems to, that people like Rebekah Brooks and so on are going to put all of their emails and all of their correspondence into the public domain relating to this, will you do the same?’
Cameron replied: ‘I will do what I am asked to by the inquiry.’
Marr said: ‘Given that the minister is in charge of his special adviser and that is what the ministerial code says, why are you content with Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour in that regard?’
Cameron replied: ‘The special adviser acted inappropriately and the special adviser has resigned.’
Marr asked, incredulously: ‘Do you really think that the special adviser was going entirely off his own bat without reference to the minister having these extremely friendly contacts in the middle of this process with News International and nobody else knew about it?’
Cameron replied: ‘All this will be revealed through the Leveson Inquiry process.’
Shadow Chancellor Balls commented: ‘He’s trying to push it into Leveson, because he’s afraid of scrutiny and he knows the allegation of side deals with News International is about Jeremy Hunt and the prime minister himself.’
Tomorrow, parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee publishes its findings on the phone hacking scandal.