Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Jeremy Hunt and breaches of the Ministerial Code - 25/04/12

Today I responded to Jeremy Hunt’s statement in the House of Commons about his handling of the News Corporation bid for BSkyB, and repeated my call for him to resign.

You can read my full statement below:

“I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Everyone recognises that the £8 billion News Corp bid for BSkyB was of huge commercial importance and that it had profound implications for newspapers and for all of broadcasting, including the BBC. The Business Secretary had been stripped of his responsibility for deciding on the bid because he had already made up his mind against it, but the Culture Secretary too had made up his mind, in favour of the bid, so how could he have thought it proper to take on that decision? Of course he could take advice, but the decision as to whether he should do it, and could do it fairly, was a matter for him and him alone.

The Secretary of State took on the responsibility, and assured the House that he would be acting in a quasi-judicial role, like a judge, and that he would be transparent, impartial and fair. However, is it not the case that James Murdoch was receiving information in advance about what the Secretary of State was going to do and what he was going to say—information that was given to only one side, which had not been given to those who were opposed to the bid, and before it was given to this House.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it acceptable that Murdoch knew not only about what he was going to do and say, but, crucially, what the regulator, Ofcom, had said to the Secretary of State on 10 January 2011 and what the bid’s opponents had said to the Secretary of State on 20 and 31 March 2011. Is he really going to suggest to this House that James Murdoch’s adviser, Fred Michel, knowing all this was just a coincidence? Can the Secretary of State explain how Fred Michel, in a series of e-mails beginning on 23 January, was in a position to tell Murdoch the full detail of a statement that the Secretary of State was not going to give to this House until two days later? Whatever interpretation is put on e-mails, there can be no doubt that Michel’s e-mail accurately and in detail described meetings that the Secretary of State had had, and accurately foretold what the Secretary of State was going to do. Either Michel was mystic Meg or he had been told.

When it comes to the transparency that the Secretary of State promised, there appears to have been a great deal of transparency for Murdoch, but precious little for opponents of the bid or for this House. If, as suggested on the right hon. Gentleman’s behalf in the media, he was negotiating with Murdoch, why did he not tell the opponents of the bid and why did he not tell the House? Will he tell us now whether he believed himself to have been negotiating? Is that what was going on?

On 3 March, the Secretary of State told this House that he had published details of all the exchanges between his Department and News Corporation. In the light of all the information that we now know that Fred Michel had, does he still maintain that that is the case? His special adviser has admitted that his activities at times went too far, and he has resigned, but will the Secretary of State confirm that under paragraph 3.3 of the ministerial code, it is the Secretary of State himself who is responsible for the conduct of his special adviser?

This was a controversial bid. The right hon. Gentleman could have refused to take it on, but he did not. He could have referred it to the Competition Commission, but he did not. His role was to be impartial, but he was not. His conduct should have been quasi-judicial, but it fell far, far short of that, and fell short of the standards required by his office. The reality is that he was not judging this bid; he was backing it, so he should resign.”





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