Labour want PM to tell Commons why he has blocked immediate inquiry into Government links with BSkyB
Prime Minister David Cameron is being asked to come to the House of Commons today to explain why he is opposed to an immediate inquiry into any breaches of the ministerial code by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt in his role in the takeover attempt of BSkyB by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Cameron wants to wait for Hunt to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards - although no hearing will be held for a month and Lord Justice Leveson has declared that the inquiry has not been established to adjudicate on the issue.
Cameron insists: "As things stand, I do not believe he [Hunt] broke the ministerial code."
In an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday, Cameron admitted he had got too close to the Murdoch Empire, but said there had been "no grand deal" in return for the support of News International at the last election.
However, according to Media Guardian, Labour will press Cameron to come to parliament. The media website reports: “They [Labour] want him personally to explain why he is perverting the original purpose of the Leveson Inquiry when he has a custom-built method of examining Hunt – the independent adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allan.”
A Labour source is quoted as saying: "Cameron is trying to hide behind the Leveson Inquiry. With parliament breaking up on Tuesday, Cameron must come to the Commons and explain to the British people why he is ducking his responsibilities to enforce the ministerial code."
Cameron told Marr: "I think we need to be absolutely clear that the ministerial code is for me, the behaviour of ministers is for me … if ministers have behaved badly, broken the ministerial code, it is 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. I don't duck my responsibilities for one second."
But he insisted Hunt would have to testify under oath and in public at the Leveson Inquiry, and said this was a better initial forum. He claimed he had the support of the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, for his proposal.
Hunt has already promised to hand to Leveson all his texts, emails and messages to his former special adviser Adam Smith. Cameron said the contacts between Smith and News Corp, revealed in evidence to Leveson, had been "too close, too frequent, inappropriate". Smith resigned last week over the issue.
Speaking on the BBC Politics Show, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman claimed that James Murdoch was not "a fit and proper person" to hold a broadcast licence, suggesting News Corp should lose its current 40% stake in BSkyB.
She said: "I think he's not a fit and proper person because of what went on in his organisation: widespread criminality."
The "fit and proper person" test is being examined both by the media regulator, Ofcom, and the culture select committee in a report due to be finalised today and published tomorrow.
Cameron has admitted he had been unwise to meet James Murdoch at a social event at the home of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks two days after Vince Cable, the business secretary, had been required to abandon responsibility for media takeovers.
Cameron said he could not recall all the details of what he told Murdoch, but "it was something like: clearly that was unacceptable, it was embarrassing for the government, and to be clear from now on this whole issue would be dealt with impartially, properly … but obviously I had nothing to do with it, I excused myself from it."
The Sunday Times reported that Brooks, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard for her alleged role in the phone-hacking affair, was ready to disclose text messages and emails between her and Cameron.
Cameron said he was not seeking to end relations with proprietors, so long as they were transparent.
He told Marr: "Have we all got too close? Yes. Do we spend too much time on this short-term news management agenda? Yes, we do. Should we try and have a better relationship where we fight the daily fire fight with the media, but we focus on the long-term change our economy needs, our society needs? Yes. And if that comes out of Leveson, great."