Ministerial Code must be enforced, emails and texts released to Parliament - Harman

27 April 2012

Harriet HarmanHarriet Harman MP, Labour's Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture Secretary, has today written to David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and Lord O'Donnell, who was Cabinet Secretary when the Culture Secretary took on the issue of the BSkyB.

The letters call for the matter to be referred to the Independent Advisor on Ministers' Interests, the release of texts and emails to Parliament, and ask whether Lord O'Donnell still regards it as appropriate for Jeremy Hunt to have taken on his quasi-judicial role in the BSkyB deal.

Letter to David Cameron

Dear Prime Minister,

On 25 April I wrote to you and asked you to refer to Sir Alex Allan, the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, the conduct of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt MP, in respect of his responsibility for News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.

Your spokesman has said that you have ‘no plans’ to do so, as you believe the Secretary of State acted ‘properly’ and ‘there is an inquiry ongoing that is looking at some of these issues and we should let that inquiry take its course’.

Lord Justice Leveson's Inquiry is of the greatest importance.

But the Leveson Inquiry:

- does not relieve ministers of their duties under the Ministerial Code;
- does not relieve you of your responsibility to ensure that your ministers abide by the Code;
- does not relieve you of your responsibility to refer a Minister to the Independent Adviser if the Code is breached.

When you took office and published the new edition of the Code, you said your Government must be ‘...Transparent about what we do and how we do it. Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence. Mindful of our duty...’.

The Ministerial Code is important. But it is worth nothing if you do not fulfill your responsibilities to uphold it.

You should now refer the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests for three breaches of the ministerial code:

- failing to take responsibility for the actions of his Special Adviser, contrary to paragraph 3.3;
- not giving accurate and truthful information to parliament, contrary to paragraph 1.2c;
- disclosing the contents of a statement to Parliament to News Corporation before making the statement in the House, contrary to paragraph 9.1.

Yours sincerely,
Harriet Harman

Letter to Jeremy Hunt

Dear Jeremy,

On 26 April I wrote and asked you to publish:

- all the text messages, emails from both official and personal accounts, and records of phone calls between yourself and Adam Smith relating to the News Corporation bid for BSkyB;
- all of the text messages, emails from both official and personal accounts, and records of phone calls between Adam Smith and Frederic Michel and any other representatives of News Corporation relating to the BSkyB bid.

I now understand that you intend to make some of these documents available to the Leveson Inquiry.

It is not acceptable for you – while being prepared to release these documents to the Leveson Inquiry – to refuse to release them to the House of Commons, to whom you are accountable.

So I am asking you to place them in the House of Commons Library at the same time as you give them to the Leveson Inquiry.

It was in the House on 25 April that you acknowledged that what your Special Adviser did was wrong, but you were unaware of what he was doing. It is therefore the House that needs to see the correspondence that shows this to be the case.

There can be no possible explanation for your preparedness to give these documents to the Leveson Inquiry but refusal to give them to the House, other than that you are evading your accountability to the House for your actions as Secretary of State.

You should publish all of these documents, as I requested in my letter of 26 April.

Yours sincerely,
Harriet Harman

Letter to Lord O’Donnell

Dear Lord O'Donnell,

On 22 December 2010, John Denham MP wrote to you asking whether Jeremy Hunt MP was a fit and proper person to rule on the News Corporation bid for BSkyB in light of previous comments he had made. You replied on the same day saying that following legal advice, you were satisfied he had not prejudged the case.

In light of the documents released by the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday 24 April, which reveal the extent of contact between Jeremy Hunt’s Special Adviser and News Corporation, do you still regard it appropriate for Mr Hunt to have taken on a quasi-judicial role because of the risk of the perception that Mr Hunt would not have been impartial?

Yours sincerely,
Harriet Harman