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Seething Cameron forced to explain BSkyB dealings

LONDON: A furious British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been forced by the Speaker of the House of Commons to attend Parliament to explain why he was not launching an immediate inquiry into allegations that his Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, breached the ministerial code over his handling of the News Corp bid for the British pay TV channel BSkyB.

It was the first time in 10 years the Speaker has ordered a prime minister to come to the House of Commons, and Mr Cameron had to cut short a local election campaign trip in Buckinghamshire to make a statement he believed was largely unnecessary.

Sources close to Mr Hunt said the Speaker, John Bercow, was ''rotten with bias'', adding he ''should not be Speaker''.

As tempers frayed, Mr Cameron rounded on the Opposition Leader, Ed Miliband. ''Endlessly questioning the integrity of someone when you do not have the evidence is bad judgment, rotten politics and plain wrong,'' Mr Cameron said. ''We have learnt something about the Labour leader today and I think it is something he will regret.

At another point he advised 80-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner to get his pension.

It was revealed Mr Cameron had not seen the emails, text messages and other personal documents from Mr Hunt that detailed the Culture Secretary's dealings with the Murdoch empire. The Prime Minister has also been advised by government lawyers that he cannot discuss with Mr Hunt the evidence about the Murdoch bid for BSkyB. The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday delivered its report on phone hacking in the British media. The report was highly critical of the chairman of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, and his son, James.


Despite being unable to see or discuss the detailed evidence on Mr Hunt's conduct, Mr Cameron strongly defended the minister during angry exchanges in the House of Commons.

Mr Miliband said: ''The Prime Minister is defending the indefensible … He is protecting the Culture Secretary's job while up and down the country hundreds of thousands are losing theirs.''

Labour says Mr Hunt has broken the ministerial code over his dealings with the Murdochs and there should be a Whitehall inquiry. Mr Cameron insisted it was better for Mr Hunt's handling of the BSkyB bid to be examined under oath in public by the Leveson inquiry, rather than by the independent adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allan. It was being suggested by government sources that Mr Allan privately agrees with Mr Cameron's judgment, but the Cabinet Office refused to let Mr Allan speak to the media.

By the end of a one-hour statement that generated more heat than light, it did emerge that Mr Cameron came to his current view that Mr Hunt had not breached the ministerial code on the basis of the Culture Secretary's verbal assurances, and without seeing any written evidence.

At a private meeting last Tuesday, Mr Hunt assured Mr Cameron and the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, that he had not been aware that his special adviser, Adam Smith, was leaking information and advice to News Corp about its bid for BSkyB.

There is also doubt that the Culture Department centrally retains any correspondence between Mr Hunt and Mr Smith, who was forced to resign. That could mean any exchange between the two will have to be found on Mr Hunt's private email.

Guardian News & Media; Telegraph, London