Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, is about to send a letter to David Cameron calling for potential breaches of the ministerial code to be investigated by the Independent Adviser on the Ministers’ Interests:
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you in respect of questions of breaches of the Ministerial Code which arise from the handling by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport of the News Corporation bid for BSkyB.
There are clear breaches of the ministerial code detailed below.
These must now be referred to the Independent Adviser on the Ministers’ Interests as a matter of urgency.
The breaches of the ministerial code:
1. Failing to take responsibility for the actions of his special advisor contrary to paragraph 3.3 of Ministerial Code
The Secretary of State admitted in the House of Commons today that in the extensive contact between Adam Smith and News Corporation, “the volume and tone of these communications were clearly not appropriate in a quasi judicial process …..the contacts overstepped the mark…”.
2. Not giving accurate and truthful information to parliament contrary to paragraph 1.2c of the Ministerial Code
Despite his assurances to the contrary, he failed to disclose to parliament the full extent of the contact between his special advisor and News Corporation. On the 3rd March 2011 the Secretary of State told the House in an answer to an oral question that “today we are publishing all the documents relating to ….all the exchanges between my Department and News Corporation.” But in the House today he acknowledged that there was extensive contact between his special advisor,
Adam Smith, and News Corporation on his behalf. He said that he “knew about his contact – that was authorised. He was authorised to be the point of contact between my department and News Corporation”. Yet none of these exchanges between Adam Smith and News Corporation were published on 3rd March 2011 – nor have they been published since. Indeed we never would have known about these contacts had it not been for the publication of the emails from Fred Michel at the Leveson Inquiry.
3. Disclosing the contents of a statement to parliament to News Corporation before making the statement in the House contrary to paragraph 9.1 of the Ministerial Code.
The emails from Fred Michel of News Corporation to James Murdoch on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of January report the content of the statement the Secretary of State does not make until 25th January, particularly that he was going to confirm Ofcom’s advice to him to refer the matter to the Competition Commission; that he was “minded” to refer the matter to the Competition Commission; and that News Corporation had asked him to consider Undertakings in Lieu and subject to those being satisfactory he would consult for a period of 15 days.