U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron fended off renewed calls for a probe into allegations that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt broke ministerial rules after an aide passed sensitive information to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Hunt “acted fairly and impartially” when he was deciding last year whether to approve News Corp.’s takeover bid for British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, Cameron told lawmakers in London today, responding to an emergency question by opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
Hunt’s adviser, Adam Smith, resigned last week after e-mails showed he offered inside information on the minister’s views to a News Corp. lobbyist. Cameron said there was no need for a separate inquiry into Hunt’s behaviour because the culture secretary will testify on the issue next month to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics.
“I will not wait until the end of the Leveson Inquiry to take action if action is necessary,” Cameron said, with Hunt sitting next to him on the government front bench in the House of Commons. “It is neither necessary nor right to have a parallel investigation.”
The Hunt affair is the latest embarrassment for a government that’s been beset by bad publicity for more than a month. Moves in the March 21 budget to penalize pensioners while cutting the top income-tax rate and a return to recession have pushed support for Cameron’s Conservatives to an eight-year low, according to a poll published yesterday. Local elections, including the London mayoral vote, will be held May 3.
“The culture secretary is in clear breach of the ministerial code and the prime minister stands by and does nothing,” Miliband told lawmakers.
Cameron said that the Leveson hearings would take place “all live on television” and a probe by a civil servant would not be “this tough or this rigorous.”
He added, “If any information comes out at any stage showing that anyone breached the ministerial code then of course I will act.”
Cameron defended his dealings with News Corp. following a week in which Murdoch, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, and his son James, testified to the Leveson Inquiry about the BSkyB bid, the phone-hacking scandal that caused their News of the World tabloid to close and their links with politicians.
“There never has been any grand bargain between the Conservative Party and Rupert or James Murdoch,” Cameron said.
“The prime minister is too close to a powerful few, out of touch with everyone else,” Miliband said. “Weak and wrong,” Cameron replied.
A YouGov Plc poll for the Sunday Times newspaper showed Conservative support dropping to 29 percent, the lowest level since 2004, 11 points behind Labour. YouGov questioned 1,717 adults on April 26 and 27 for the poll, for which no margin of error was given. The survey also found that Cameron’s approval rating had fallen to its lowest ever, while 59 percent of respondents thought Hunt should quit.