Apr 24 2012
Labour has called for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to resign following claims that he backed News Corporation's bid to take over BSkyB and leaked inside information to the media giant.
The demand followed the release of a 163-page dossier detailing contacts between the Culture Secretary's office and senior News Corp executive Frederic Michel.
In a series of emails to James Murdoch and other executives, Mr Michel - then the company's director of public affairs in Europe - reported on Mr Hunt's thoughts about the progress of the controversial takeover plans, which were dropped in July last year amid the furore over phone-hacking at the News Corp-owned News of the World.
In one message Mr Michel detailed what the Culture Secretary would say to Parliament the next day, noting that it was "absolutely illegal" for him to obtain the information.
Another email, dating from January last year, reported Mr Hunt's belief that it would be "game over" for opponents of the BSkyB takeover once plans to spin off Sky News into a separately listed company were publicly announced. "He said we would get there at the end, and he shared our objectives," Mr Michel noted.
Although many of the emails refer directly to Mr Michel having spoken to "JH", he told the inquiry that in fact this was shorthand for contacts with the Culture Secretary's office - usually his special adviser Adam Smith.
Raising a point of order in the Commons, deputy Labour leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said Mr Hunt's conduct had fallen "woefully short" of the standard expected. She called on him to apologise to the Commons and resign from David Cameron's Cabinet.
"In view of the evidence that has been adduced before the Leveson Inquiry today it appears that the Secretary of State has fallen woefully short of the standards expected by his office and by the public interest," Ms Harman told MPs. "I believe, on a point of order, that the right thing for the Secretary of State to do would be to come to this House to offer an apology and to tender his resignation."
But Downing Street insisted that the Culture Secretary still had the Prime Minister's full confidence. And an aide to Mr Hunt said that he "feels completely confident that he followed the proper process" and did not intend to voluntarily make a statement to MPs.
Instead he would respond to all of the points raised at the hearing when he gives evidence himself to the Leveson Inquiry "in a few weeks' time".