Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

MPs vote down Labour demand on Hunt

A Labour bid to have Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred to the Prime Minister's independent adviser on ministerial standards has failed
A Labour bid to have Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred to the Prime Minister's independent adviser on ministerial standards has failed

MPs have voted down a Labour demand for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to be referred to the Prime Minister's independent adviser on ministerial standards for investigation over his handling of News Corporation's bid to buy satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Despite Nick Clegg's decision that Liberal Democrat MPs would abstain, Conservatives easily saw off the challenge by a majority of 290 to 252.

The vote came after David Cameron told MPs that his adviser, Sir Alex Allan, had written to him to say that he could not "usefully add to the facts" in the Hunt case uncovered by the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. But Labour dismissed Mr Cameron's comments as an ineffective "smokescreen" and said that the Prime Minister's judgment in appointing Mr Hunt to a quasi-judicial role in the BSkyB bid was in question.

Mr Hunt gave a robust defence of his actions in the Commons chamber, describing Labour allegations that he deliberately misled Parliament as "disgraceful".

He admitted he may have inadvertently provided incorrect information when he claimed in the Commons to have released all his correspondence relating to the deal, but insisted he corrected the record at the earliest possible opportunity.

But Labour MP Chris Bryant accused him of lying to Parliament by failing to disclose a memo which he sent to Mr Cameron days before being given responsibility for the BSkyB bid, in which he argued the case for News Corp to be allowed to buy up the 61% of the satellite broadcaster which it did not already own.

Mr Hunt denied having allowed his personal views to influence his impartial handling of the bid, telling MPs: "The real story of this bid was insistence by me at several key stages on decisions that News Corp did not consider in their interests... This was not an easy process, nor was it ever likely to command popular support; but the decisions taken were done so fairly and my department deserves enormous credit as a result."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gave his strongest defence yet of the Culture Secretary, despite earlier suggesting that Mr Hunt should be subjected to a sleaze investigation.

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, the Liberal Democrat leader said: "On the specific point on how he handled the bid to make sure that he was insulated from accusations of allowing personal bias to drive the process, I think he has given a full, good and convincing account to this inquiry."

Mr Clegg's decision to tell his MPs not to join Tories in the No lobby for this evening's vote has sparked tensions within the coalition and fury among some Conservative backbenchers. One MP - Swindon North's Justin Tomlinson - was called back from honeymoon to bolster numbers, while Conor Burns left his hospital bed to vote.

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