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Hunt misled Parliament: Harman
Embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of misleading Parliament over his handling of News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid.
Mr Hunt told the Commons last year that he was publishing "all the documents relating to all the meetings, all the consultation documents, all the submissions we received, all the exchanges between my department and News Corporation".
However, a raft of emails between Rupert Murdoch's company and Mr Hunt's office were released for the first time by the Leveson Inquiry this week - exposing the Culture Secretary to damaging allegations that he supported News Corp's bid when he was supposed to be impartial.
Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, told The Independent on Sunday: "Jeremy Hunt has misled the House. He said he was impartial when he wasn't, he said he had given the House all the information, when clearly he hadn't." Under the ministerial code, "knowingly" misleading Parliament is a resignation offence.
The Independent on Sunday has also obtained a letter from the top civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport saying he was "aware and content" that Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith was to be a point of contact with News Corporation over the takeover bid.
Jonathan Stephens's language, in a letter to Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairwoman Margaret Hodge, is not as strong as Mr Hunt's assertion last week that the Permanent Secretary had "authorised" and "approved" Mr Smith's contact with News Corporation's lobbyist Frederic Michel. Mr Stephens repeatedly declined to say whether he had approved the arrangement when he appeared before the PAC this week. Mr Smith has resigned over the matter, saying he "went too far" in his dealings with Mr Michel.
Downing Street has indicated that David Cameron is prepared to consider ordering an investigation into Mr Hunt's dealings with News Corporation but not until the Culture Secretary has appeared at the Leveson Inquiry.
It comes after Lord Justice Leveson signalled he would not rule on whether Mr Hunt broke the ministerial code. The Culture Secretary has been accused of acting as a "cheerleader" for News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid when he was meant to be acting in a "quasi-judicial" capacity on the case.
Mr Hunt is now facing a lengthy wait to defend himself at the Leveson Inquiry after his request for an early appearance was rebuffed. Lord Justice Leveson has refused to bring forward his appearance so that he can answer allegations about his conduct. 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 a fortnight and possibly much longer.
The delay is a setback for the under-fire minister, who has expressed confidence he would be able to show he acted with "scrupulous fairness" when he sets out his full version of events to the inquiry.