David Cameron rejects inquiry into Jeremy Hunt involvement in BSkyB bid
DAVID Cameron rejected demands for an inquiry into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s links with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, after he was dragged to the Commons to answer questions on the affair.
• David Cameron will not set up an independent inquiry
• Labour were granted an urgent question by Commons Speaker
• Cameron says adviser was right to resign over News Corporation ties
It was the first time in a decade that a prime minister has been ordered to come to the House, as Labour claimed the trail of suspicion over News Corp’s bid for full ownership of BSkyB led to the door of No 10.
With pressure mounting on Mr Hunt over whether he was responsible for his former special adviser leaking information to Mr Murdoch and his son James, Labour claimed Mr Hunt was a human shield for the Prime Minister.
But a furious Mr Cameron came out fighting, in one of the most bad-tempered series of exchanges the Commons has witnessed in recent years.
He had been forced to abandon his local election campaign and a speech he was due to give in Milton Keynes in an attempt to move on from criticism that his government is out of touch with the British people, following a much-criticised Budget.
Mr Cameron’s call to the Commons came 24 hours after he made a rare appearance on The Andrew Marr Show to deny any deal with the Murdochs had taken place.
The last prime minister to find himself ordered to the House was Tony Blair, in 2002, to answer questions on the firefighters’ dispute.
Labour leader Ed Miliband tried to draw the Prime Minister deeper into the row surrounding Mr Hunt’s handling of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB. He claimed the Culture Secretary had committed three breaches of the ministerial code, but that Mr Cameron needed Mr Hunt to survive for his own protection.
“The Prime Minister is defending the indefensible and he knows it,” Mr Miliband said, “protecting the Culture Secretary’s job while up and down the country hundreds of thousands are losing theirs.”
Mr Hunt’s former special adviser, Adam Smith, who quit last week, “had to go to protect the Culture Secretary”, Mr Miliband said. But he added: “The Culture Secretary has to stay to protect the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister has shown today he is incapable of doing his duty: too close to a powerful few, out of touch with everyone else.”
But Mr Cameron dismissed the attack as “weak and wrong”.
Referring to former Labour advisers who were forced to quit their roles, he added: “Can anyone remember anyone taking responsibility for Charlie Whelan? Can you remember anyone taking responsibility for Damian McBride? What a lot of self-serving double standards we have had.”
Mr Cameron made it clear he believed it was unnecessary for him to attend the Commons, having tackled the subject in Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday, which was followed by a statement from Mr Hunt.
While senior Tory figures dutifully got up to defend the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron himself suggested voters were more concerned about jobs and the economy.
He then turned his fire on individual Labour critics as his fury appeared to boil over.
This led to Mr Cameron facing accusations of “ageism” after a barbed comment aimed at veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner. The Prime Minister advised the 80-year-old left-winger to retire.
Mr Cameron and Mr Skinner clashed when the Bolsover MP asked Mr Cameron: “Why is the Secretary of State for Culture getting better employment rights than the rest of the workers in Britain? Is it possibly because you know that, whilst the Culture Secretary is in the firing line, it prevents the bullets from hitting you, the Prime Minister?”
Mr Cameron responded: “Well, you have the right at any time to take your pension, and I advise you to do so.”
It is not the first time MrCameron has faced accusations of ageism over Mr Skinner. In January, he said: “I often say to my children: ‘No need to go to the Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur, come to the House of Commons at about 12:30pm’.”
Labour MP Toby Perkins said Mr Cameron’s comments were a “disgusting spectacle”. Raising a point of order, the Chesterfield MP said: “This sort of discrimination would not be accepted against black members or female members.”
While acknowledging Mr Skinner “can stick up for himself”, Mr Perkins called for Speaker John Bercow to consider taking action “on behalf of every person in my constituency who gets discriminated against because of their age and sees the Prime Minister doing exactly the same thing”.
The Prime Minister later turned on Welsh Labour MP Chris Bryant, who had accused him of failing to disclose meetings. Mr Cameron demanded the Rhonda MP apologise for getting his facts wrong last week.
He said: “He stood up last week and claimed a whole series of facts about meetings I had had with Rupert Murdoch based on privileged access he had had to this inquiry, and the facts turned out to be wrong. A man of honour would apologise.”
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