UK & World News
Culture Sec's Leveson Fast Track Declined
The Culture Secretary has promised to hand over communications relating to News Corp's BSkyB takeover bid to the Leveson Inquiry into media standards - but his offer to give evidence early has been declined.
Jeremy Hunt said he believed his emails and texts with former adviser Adam Smith would show he handled the attempted buyout by Rupert Murdoch's media empire with "total integrity".
Mr Hunt's promise was made after the Leveson Inquiry heard evidence from Mr Murdoch's son James, which included publication of News Corp emails alluding to an overly cosy relationship.
"I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson Inquiry and I am confident that they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity," he said.
But Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry declined to bring forward an appearance by Mr Hunt to answer allegations about takeover bid handling.
A date has still not been set, but politicians will not be called until mid-May, meaning the Culture Secretary will have to wait at least several weeks.
"Lord Justice Leveson is of the view that, in the interests of fairness to all, the inquiry should continue with the existing scheduling of his appearance," a spokesman said.
"Lord Justice Leveson has given a detailed explanation to the Secretary of State for his decision."
My Hunt's offer was made after Simon Hughes became the first member of the coalition Government to call for an investigation into the conduct of Mr Hunt during the takeover bid.
The Liberal Democrat deputy leader said he could not understand why the Prime Minister had ruled out referring the controversy to a regulator.
Labour claims email exchanges between Mr Hunt's special adviser Mr Smith and a lobbyist from News Corporation about the media group's proposed takeover of BSkyB breached the ministerial code of conduct.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Cameron was trying to protect his own position by rejecting calls for an inquiry.
"Every day David Cameron looks more like a Prime Minister organising a cover-up rather than standing up for the public," he said.
"First he refuses to sack Jeremy Hunt despite the weight of evidence against him. Now despite all-party calls to do so, he refuses even to ask the independent adviser on ministerial interests to examine whether Mr Hunt broke the ministerial code."
Mr Smith resigned on Wednesday but Number 10 insists Mr Hunt will answer for his role to the Leveson Inquiry, which exposed the messages.
Downing Street points to a statement from Lord Justice Leveson, who when asked whether there should be a separate investigation said "the better course is to allow this inquiry to proceed".
Mr Hunt has asked that his appearance be brought forward.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has backed Number 10's stance but Mr Hughes questioned why there should not also be an probe by Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on the ministerial code.
"What I cannot understand is why the matter of the ministerial code of conduct, which is to do with do you take responsibility for your special adviser, is not something the Prime Minister should immediately refer to the person who has been given the job of doing that, Sir Alex Allan," Mr Hughes told BBC1's Question Time.
A spokesman for Mr Clegg said: "Jeremy Hunt has made his statement to Parliament and will provide more information to the Leveson Inquiry. That process should be allowed to happen."
Mr Hughes broke ranks as Labour maintained pressure for a full investigation into Mr Hunt - who leader Ed Miliband said should be sacked.
The Opposition demanded the publication of emails and text messages between the Cabinet minister and Mr Smith.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said it was not "credible" that Mr Hunt was unaware of the nature of Mr Smith's contacts with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel.
Backing for an investigation by Sir Alex also came from senior Tory Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Commons Public Administration Committee.
Sky News is part of BSkyB, in which News Corporation owns a 39% stake.