Cameron insists Hunt hasn’t breached code of conduct

David Cameron insisted last night that he had seen no evidence that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has breached the ministerial code of conduct in his handling of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.

In a House of Commons statement, the British prime minister said he was not going to set up a “parallel inquiry” into the Leveson inquiry into media standards. But he said that if evidence of a breach of the code emerged when Hunt appeared before the Leveson inquiry, he would refer the matter to his independent adviser on ministerial interests or take action himself.

Cameron was forced to go to the Commons to face MPs’ questions after Commons speaker John Bercow awarded Labour an urgent question.

He strongly defended the way Hunt had handled the takeover bid for BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire.

He said that at every stage of the bid Hunt had sought independent advice, even though he was not required to do so.

“He acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice of his permanent secretary.

“I have seen no evidence to suggest that, in handling this issue, the secretary of state acted at any stage in a way that was contrary to the ministerial code.”

Murdoch’s tetchy and uncompromising appearance at the British inquiry into phone hacking could come back to haunt him when politicians give their verdict today on the scandal at his defunct News of the World newspaper.

Three days of grilling at the Leveson judicial press inquiry last week extracted few new facts from Rupert and his son James as the 81-year-old casually threw out insults at politicians and described himself as a victim of a corporate cover-up. That appearance will increase pressure on a parliamentary committee to be harsh in its verdict on the scandal, putting Murdoch’s News Corp further on the defensive.

“The timing of the select committee report, following the week we’ve just had at Leveson, is crucial,” said a source.

“Anyone putting their name to an amendment that supports Rupert and James, or dilutes the criticism of Rupert and James, would look very different now than they would have done a week ago.”

There is a strong possibility that the British broadcasting watchdog Ofcom will force Murdoch’s media conglomerate to cut or sell its stake in the highly profitable pay-TV firm BSkyB and that it states that ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks perverted the course of justice.

The committee met yesterday to vote and agree the final wording for the report, which had originally been expected late last year.

The report by MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee will be released today.

Murdoch shut the 168-year-old News of the World in July after journalists and investigators admitted hacking the phones of crime victims and politicians to gather exclusive news.

The committee is expected to criticise James Murdoch for his handling of News Corp’s British newspaper arm and is considering whether to implicate Rupert Murdoch for his influence over the wider company culture.

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