Cameron wants 'natural justice' for Hunt at Leveson

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Jeremy Hunt won't lose his job until after his Leveson inquiry appearance
Jeremy Hunt won't lose his job until after his Leveson inquiry appearance

David Cameron will act as the judge of Jeremy Hunt's behaviour after Lord Justice Leveson refused to do so, he has made clear.

The prime minister is refusing to sack Mr Hunt until his embattled minister gives evidence under oath at the judge-led inquiry.

There, he said, the under-fire culture, media and sport secretary's behaviour will be "laid bare", despite the fact Lord Justice Leveson has made clear the behaviour of ministers does not fall within his remit.

Mr Hunt faces calls to resign over the nature of his contacts with Rupert Murdoch's News International during its failed takeover bid for BSkyB.


Yesterday Downing Street ruled out setting up a parallel investigation because it believes the Leveson inquiry will provide sufficient transparency for the truth to emerge.

Instead Mr Cameron will monitor the inquiry and effectively act as the judge of whether Mr Hunt should resign.

"If information arises that paints a different picture from the one we've heard, then obviously I know my responsibilities towards the ministerial code and I would act," the prime minister told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"The question is should you set up a parallel inquiry that should duplicate what Leveson is doing? I don't think that would be right."

Critics are observing that Mr Cameron may not be the most impartial judge of the situation, after the PM made clear he believed Mr Hunt had not breached the ministerial code.

The minister's political future is likely to come down to the nature of email communications between himself and his special adviser, Adam Smith, whose "inappropriate behaviour" was condemned by Mr Hunt at the despatch box in parliament last week.

Mr Cameron refused to accept that Mr Hunt should take responsibility for the behaviour of Mr Smith, who resigned on Wednesday morning one hour before Mr Hunt appeared before the Commons.

"The special adviser acted inappropriately, the special adviser has resigned," Mr Cameron added.

"I don't think it would be right in every circumstance if a special adviser gets something wrong to automatically sack the minister. That's not an approach previous governments have taken, that's not an approach I take."

Shadow culture secretary and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said that it had always been the case it is the prime minister's responsibility to ensure ministers adhere to the ministerial code, however.

She commented: "David Cameron is delaying the decision he knows he should make and is ducking his responsibility."

This morning Mr Cameron responded by insisting: "I'm not trying to duck any responsibilities, I'm absolutely clear about the standards that ministers have to live up to. I've very clear about my role."

Questions remain to be answered about Mr Hunt's conduct after the Independent on Sunday newspaper reported the culture secretary had misled parliament over the BSkyB bid.

Mr Hunt had told parliament on May 3rd last year that "all the documents relating to all the meetings" between ministers and civil servants with News International executives, as well as "all the exchanges between my department and News Corporation", had been published.

None of the emails between Mr Smith and News Corp's public affairs chief, Frederic Michel, were released at the time, however.

Also disputed is whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) permanent secretary, Jonathan Stephens, authorised Mr Smith to be a point of contact within the DCMS with News Corp.

Mr Hunt told MPs on Wednesday that Mr Smith had been "authorised" and "approved", but Mr Stephens refused to confirm that when repeatedly questioned by MPs on Thursday.

Mr Cameron said this morning he believed the claims of the minister and his department's civil service boss were consistent, citing Mr Stephens' "consent" for the contact to take place.

But he said the Cabinet secretary has written to all government departments asking them to put in place new procedures for the authorisation of "all these sorts of contacts".

Mr Hunt's political future now rests on whether he can demonstrate that his special adviser Mr Smith had acted independently of his boss - a suggestion dismissed as "extraordinary" by former BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons.

He told the Observer newspaper: "I spoke to Jeremy and Adam Smith in the period immediately after the election and in particular over the run-up to the extraordinary accelerated licence-fee negotiations and there is no doubt in my mind that Adam Smith did nothing without Jeremy knowing about it and condoning it.

"Secondly, that if there is documentary evidence linking Adam, you can be sure that there are texts and phone messages connecting Jeremy because he is not a hands-off minister."

Mr Cameron believes the Leveson inquiry will unearth the true extent of Mr Hunt's complicity with the activities of his subordinate.

He said he thought his culture secretary "does a good job" and added: "I think people deserve to have these things looked into properly.

"We've got to have a sense of natural justice where people can explain their actions, all the information can come out.

"And if someone's breached the ministerial code badly then they shouldn't be able to stay in the government."

Mr Hunt, whose requests to have his appearance before the Leveson inquiry brought forward have been rebuffed, is nevertheless expected to take the stand in court room 73 in mid-May.
 

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