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News Corporation: Conduct of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 736: debated on Monday 30 April 2012

Statement

My Lords, perhaps this is an appropriate time to take a short break from the debate on the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. With the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon in response to an Urgent Question from the Leader of the Opposition. The Statement is as follows:

“Last Wednesday I answered questions on this issue at PMQs and the Culture Secretary made a full statement. But let me set out the position again. I set up the Leveson inquiry last summer to investigate the culture, ethics and practices of the media and the relations between the media and the police, and the media and politicians. It is a full judge-led inquiry, with evidence given under oath and full access to papers and records. No Government before have ever taken such comprehensive action. It is this Government who are putting these issues properly on the table and getting them dealt with. Let me deal with the three issues in this question: the conduct of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; the nature of the inquiry needed to get to the bottom of these issues; and the wider issues over the relationship between politicians and the media.

First, on the Culture Secretary, as was made clear in his Statement last Wednesday, in every respect with regard to the News Corporation bid, the Culture Secretary asked for independent advice and acted on it. He was not required to ask or to follow such advice, but he did so. He acted fairly and impartially and in line with the advice of his Permanent Secretary. Indeed, as he set out in his Statement to this House last Wednesday, he acted against the interests of News Corporation on four key decisions: on being minded to refer the bid to the Competition Commission; on refusing to accept News Corporation’s undertakings without advice first from the OFT and Ofcom; on extending the consultation; and on going back to Ofcom for further advice about the impact of phone hacking. I have seen no evidence to suggest that in handling this issue the Secretary of State acted at any stage in a way that was contrary to the Ministerial Code.

In terms of the Secretary of State’s responsibilities towards his department let me say this. The Permanent Secretary of the department approved the approach his department took to the quasi-judicial process, which included a small number of people acting as contact points with News Corporation, as is required and normal in such a process; and the Permanent Secretary of the department has stated that he was ‘aware’ and ‘content’ for contact to be made between the Culture Secretary’s special adviser and News Corporation. However, it is quite clear that this contact became improper and inappropriate and went beyond the requirements set out by the Secretary of State or the Permanent Secretary. That is why the special adviser resigned and he was right to do so.

There are correct procedures to follow in this regard and they need to be followed scrupulously. That is why last week I asked the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and the head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, to write to all departments clarifying the rigorous procedures that they should have in place for handling cases of this nature.

This leads to the second issue: the nature of the inquiry or inquiries best suited to get to the bottom of this issue. I consulted the Cabinet Secretary and decided it was right to allow Lord Justice Leveson to conduct his inquiry and not to commission a parallel process to establish the facts. Let me repeat; what we have is a judge-led inquiry, with witnesses required to give evidence under oath, full access to papers and records, and cross-examination by barristers—all live on television. There is nothing this tough or rigorous that the Civil Service or independent adviser could provide.

Of course, it is not for Lord Justice Leveson to determine whether a Minister has broken the Ministerial Code. That is an issue for me and I will deal with it properly. I will not wait until the end of the Leveson inquiry to take action if action is needed. If new evidence emerges from the Leveson inquiry that the Ministerial Code has been broken, I will either seek the advice of Sir Alex Allan or take action directly. But the key point is this: in order to do this, it is neither necessary nor right to have a parallel investigation that could duplicate, cut across or possibly pre-empt what Lord Justice Leveson is doing. Lord Justice Leveson offered his own view on Wednesday when he said that,

‘although I have seen requests for other inquiries and other investigations … it seems to me that the better course is to allow this inquiry to proceed’.

I agree with him entirely.

Let me briefly turn to the bigger picture. I am and always will be a fierce defender of the freedom of the press in this country; it is one of the central pillars of our democracy. But the relationship between politicians and the media has been too close for decades. The Leveson inquiry—which this Government set up—gives Parliament and politicians of all parties the opportunity to get this right for the future. Already we have introduced transparency about the meetings we have with the media. Everyone can see which proprietors or editors I meet, whether publicly or privately.

Let me just say this: like other party leaders in our country for decades, I have tried to convince media outlets to support the policies of my party and now my Government. But let me be clear: there was not and never has been a grand bargain between the Conservative Party and Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch. Indeed, look for one moment at the number of meetings that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had with Rupert Murdoch when they were Prime Minister. Blair had seven, Brown had 13 and I have had four. The idea that there was some agreement that in return for their support we would somehow allow this merger to go through is simply not true. I have to say if that was the case, and while I respect him deeply, what on earth was I doing making the right honourable Member for Twickenham the Business Secretary responsible for this? The proprietors of News Corporation have denied under oath at the Leveson inquiry any type of deal, and I will do the same.

Let me just make this last point. Unlike the party opposite, we were not trying to convince a centre-right proprietor of a set of newspapers with solidly centre-right views to change the position of a lifetime. We were arguing a simple proposition: that the last Government were irresponsible, exhausted and bad for our country, and that they ought to go.

While I have said that the relationship between politicians and the media has been too close, I note that none of the people opposite has disclosed any of the meetings they had with News International or other newspaper executives while they were in office. Instead of endlessly trying to use the Leveson inquiry for party-political purposes, is it not time that they were honest about what they did in government? While the country wants to hear about jobs, investment, living standards and the great challenges we face—such as debt—they just play one-sided party politics. Instead of endlessly trying to use the Leveson inquiry for party-political purposes, is it not time that they were honest about what they did in government—and face up to the real mess that they left this country in?”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement of the Prime Minister, which we will now deal with in the usual way.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating as a Statement in your Lordships’ House the remarks made by the Prime Minister earlier today in the other place in relation to the position of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and to his, his office’s and his department’s connections with News Corporation over its failed bid last year to take over BSkyB.

When the allegations against the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt MP, emerged last week, arising from material released by the inquiry into relations between the press, politicians and the police, headed by Lord Justice Leveson, my party called for the Secretary of State to resign or be sacked. We do not as a party make such calls lightly. We have a right to do so; the Secretary of State should have resigned then. Having failed to do so, he should resign now.

The release by the Leveson inquiry of material relating to the Secretary of State and to News Corporation’s bid led directly to two events: first, the resignation of Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Mr Adam Smith, over the e-mails and other communications that he had with News Corporation in connection with its BSkyB bid; and secondly, in the wake and as a result of that resignation, calls for the Secretary of State to be investigated for potential breaches of the Ministerial Code, the Cabinet Office rules that govern the conduct and behaviour of government Ministers.

The Government, led by the Prime Minister, sought to avoid such an investigation, arguing that the correct procedure for inquiring into these matters is the already extant inquiry led by Mr Justice Leveson, and that a second, parallel inquiry would be confusing and inappropriate. The Prime Minister and the Government also sought to insist that in their view the Secretary of State had not breached the Ministerial Code. That was the burden of the Statement by the Prime Minister that the Leader of the House of Lords repeated today.

This simply will not do. Judges tend not to welcome what they regard as interference by politicians. Judicial independence is a central element in the justice system and the constitution of our country. Rightly, therefore, Lord Justice Leveson both rejected the misguided attempt by the Secretary of State to use the inquiry for his own personal and political ends by seeking to reschedule his appearance before it, and made it clear that the inquiry was not the correct or appropriate mechanism to resolve matters relating to the Ministerial Code.

I looked again today at the terms of reference for the Leveson inquiry. It is transparently clear that there is nothing in the terms of reference that could possibly give it any locus in matters relating to issues covered by the Ministerial Code. For the Prime Minister or other Ministers, including the Secretary of State, to do so was wrong. The Prime Minister told the BBC yesterday that he would investigate the Secretary of State under the Ministerial Code if there were evidence of wrongdoing, or if any material came from the Leveson inquiry that warranted such an investigation.

The purpose of such an investigation under the Ministerial Code is to determine whether there has been any breach of the code, not to mount an inquiry after the fact of the wrongdoing has become clear. The e-mails and other matter released by the Leveson inquiry last week precisely constitute, under the code, material that warrants further investigation. The code is clear and explicit on the point. Paragraph 1.3 sets out the matter. After stating that it is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials to enforce the code, it states:

“If there is an allegation about a breach of the Code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, feels that it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests”.

Let us look more closely at that paragraph. It specifies an allegation. Is there an allegation in this case? There is indeed: a serious allegation that the Secretary of State kept informed one of the parties to a bid that he was considering in a quasi-judicial manner of the progress of that bid in a way that was wholly inappropriate to that role; an allegation that the Secretary of State was in breach of paragraph 1 of the Ministerial Code, which requires Ministers to act in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety; a serious allegation that as part of the information that was incorrectly and inappropriately supplied, details of the announcements to be made to Parliament and to the Stock Exchange were made to the bidder in the case, days before such announcements were made public; an allegation that the Secretary of State was in breach of paragraph 9.1 of the code, which stipulates that announcements by Ministers must be made in the first instance to Parliament; and an allegation that the Secretary of State is currently in breach of paragraph 3.3 of the code, which focuses on the activities and operations of special advisers, and the responsibilities of both special advisers and the Ministers for whom they work. Again, the code is clear, stating:

“The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment”.

In this case, that is clearly the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

“Individual Ministers will be accountable to the Prime Minister, Parliament and the public for their actions and decisions in respect of their special advisers”,

says the code, and clearly, in this case, it is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The role of the Minister is clear.

In this case, the conduct of the special adviser, Mr Adam Smith, was such as to warrant his resignation from his post within government the day after the Leveson inquiry released the material last week. Mr Smith took responsibility for his actions, but the code makes it quite clear that the Minister is ultimately responsible for the actions and conduct of his special adviser. If in this case Mr Smith believed that his actions warranted his resignation and that in this case, as in all others, the Minister is responsible and accountable for the actions and conduct of his special adviser, then it clearly follows that it is for the Secretary of State or, if he will not do so, the Prime Minister on his behalf, to act in the way that the special adviser has done. That is why we call for his resignation. We believe that it is transparently clear that the Secretary of State is in breach of the Ministerial Code and that, like his special adviser, he should go.

There are clear, specific allegations. Paragraph 1.3 of the code, on investigations under the code, stipulates that the Prime Minister must consult the Cabinet Secretary on any allegations. Has the Prime Minister consulted the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood? We are told that he has. We do not, of course, know the nature of any such consultations between the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Secretary, who is an official of high ability, high repute and high integrity. Having consulted, does the Prime Minister feel that the matter warrants further investigation? Clearly, from his public statements, and from the Statement repeated today by the Leader of the House, he does not. We on these Benches argue that he is wrong in that opinion. The matter clearly warrants further investigation.

Support for this position has come from a number of sources, but among the most notable have been three former Cabinet Secretaries, all Members of your Lordships’ House: the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, Lord Butler of Brockwell and Lord Turnbull. All three noble Lords were men standing in precisely the position of the current Cabinet Secretary. With slightly differing emphases, all three believe that there has indeed been a breach of the Ministerial Code in this case. Accordingly, we on these Benches believe that the Prime Minister should refer the matter to Sir Alex Allan, the current independent adviser.

Do the Government accept that there has been in this case an allegation—indeed, a number of allegations—about the conduct of the Secretary of State? Do the Government accept that the resignation of the special adviser to the Secretary of State supports irrefutably that there are such allegations? Do the Government accept in the light of the opinion expressed by MPs, Peers, academics, commentators and, indeed, three former Cabinet Secretaries, all distinguished and senior Members of your Lordships’ House, that the allegations warrant investigation under the terms of the Ministerial Code? Do the Government therefore accept that the Prime Minister accordingly must refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests for investigation? If the Government do not accept these questions, will the Leader of the House set out, bearing in mind the entirely appropriate insistence by Lord Justice Leveson that his inquiry is not the correct method of examining these matters, on what possible basis the Government do not accept them?

A Minister’s actions, a Minister’s integrity and a Minister’s career are not matters to be considered lightly, let alone dismissed lightly. We on these Benches do not do so, but even if it is not accepted that there is wrong here—and we believe there is wrong here—it must be accepted that there are serious matters here that warrant proper investigation. We believe that the Government should act, and act today.

My Lords, I do not say this very often, but I think there are very few times when a prime ministerial Statement is more suited to the House of Commons than it is here, and I think this is one of those occasions. Notwithstanding that, the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition says that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should resign at once, yet she admits that she has not heard all the facts of the case. That is what she started off with. In fact, that repeats something that Harriet Harman said. Within 23 minutes of the evidence being made clear, she called for the resignation of my right honourable friend. That is a ridiculous way to go about business. My right honourable friend is entirely entitled to give his evidence in the same way as those who have accused him of wrongdoing, and that is what he is going to do.

There is no point praying in aid all these former great Cabinet Secretaries who distinguish themselves in this House. The former Cabinet Secretary the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made it clear that following the process that the Prime Minister has chosen:

“Much more will be made public than if it is done by a nominated retired civil servant”.

The noble Lord is someone of tremendous eminence.

What is going on here, and what is going on with Labour’s position? The people opposite are those who defended Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride who, I gather, were special advisers in the previous Government. Did any Ministers resign as a result of their appalling wrongdoing?

The noble Baroness said that the Secretary of State should be investigated for breaking the Ministerial Code. The Prime Minister has never said that he will not launch an investigation into whether the Ministerial Code has been broken. All he has said is that there should be a proper process and that it should start when the Secretary of State gives his evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Lord Justice Leveson himself has accepted and agreed that there should not be a parallel process so, as far as I can see, it is all about timing.

What about the specific allegations? Did the Culture Secretary mislead Parliament by saying he was publishing all the exchanges between his department and News Corporation? He certainly did not mislead Parliament. He has laid out clearly in the House of Commons what he is going to do, and he will do it. He has said that he will make available all relevant communications, including texts and e-mails, to the Leveson inquiry and, at that stage, he will be judged upon them.

Was the Ministerial Code breached when the special adviser Adam Smith leaked the content of a Written Ministerial Statement to News Corp the day before it was given to the House? We have to turn to the words of Adam Smith himself in his resignation letter. He said that the extent and nature of the contact between himself and News Corporation was not authorised or known about by either the Culture Secretary or the Permanent Secretary. I think that absolves the Secretary of State, but I am not going to rush to judgment in the way that the noble Baroness has done, although I am sure that he behaved impeccably in everything that he did. There is a process led by Lord Justice Leveson and at that stage I think it is up to the Prime Minister to make up his mind what he wishes to do.

My Lords, surely it would be absurd to have two inquiries going on at the same time. The order that the Prime Minister has announced seems entirely sensible, given that the parliamentary inquiry can then follow the evidence that is given to Leveson. However, is there not a wider issue here? Does the Leader of the House recall that last week, when we debated this issue, the Minister who replied, who is now sitting next to him, said that there was all-party consensus on my proposal that politicians of any party should be taken out of the role of deciding on media bids? Then on the “Today” programme on Tuesday morning, the leader of the Opposition specifically rejected that proposal and said that he intended to continue with the discredited system. Can we urge Mr Miliband to think again on this issue, for is it not the case that there will always be a suspicion of conflict of interest if politicians take decisions about media companies which they—we—have done so much to woo? It is a clear conflict of interest, and it should be stopped.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for very much supporting the position of the Prime Minister. Many others have taken on this question of having two parallel inquiries going on at the same time. Like him, I am convinced that we have made the right decision.

As for his specific question, the House will know that my noble friend Lord Fowler is pretty much pre-eminent in this House and elsewhere with his expert knowledge on this subject. I cannot speak for the Leader of the Opposition, but my advice to the noble Baroness is that she ought to bring to his attention the words of my noble friend Lord Fowler, and he might change his mind.

My Lords, perhaps the Leader of the House can help me. I do not understand the Statement that he has just made. He says that there is a process and the process should be followed. What is the process? The process is that evidence was given to Lord Justice Leveson; Lord Justice Leveson has said he is not going to decide the issue as far as Mr Hunt is concerned. It is astonishing for the Leader of the House to say that it should go in front of Lord Justice Leveson when Lord Justice Leveson has just said that he does not want it to come in front of him.

What is the object of the exercise? Is it that Mr Hunt should give his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, and the Prime Minister should look at it and say, “I am satisfied with that so we will not do anything else”, or alternatively say, “Something may be wrong here”, and then perhaps he will refer it to somebody else? The fact of the matter is that Lord Justice Leveson cannot resolve the issue. For the noble Lord to come here and say, “There is a proper process and the process is Leveson”—as indeed the Prime Minister did in the House of Commons—is wrong. There is a process and the process is to use Sir Alex Allan: that is what he is there for; that is what he is set up to try to do. With great respect to the Leader of the House, I do not understand what the Government are playing at.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is quite deliberately misunderstanding the position and misunderstanding what the Prime Minister has said. An allegation was made at the Leveson inquiry. It is entirely right and proper that the Secretary of State should be able to go and give evidence on the same terms and by the same method as those who have accused him of wrongdoing.

Incidentally, the decision on whether to refer the case to Sir Alex Allan is a decision for the Prime Minister. He can make that decision whenever he wants. He has suggested that he will make that decision—or take action, if he believes there was any wrongdoing—following the evidence being made public in the Leveson inquiry. The Leveson inquiry is a proper inquiry where, as I pointed out, evidence will be taken under oath and there will be cross-examination of the witnesses by barristers; in other words, the evidence that has been given already will be properly tested. That is entirely appropriate and there is no confusion at all between the two issues.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has said that he will await the evidence given by Mr Secretary Hunt to the Leveson inquiry. That may or may not be a rational stance to take. I take very much on board what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says. It is outside the remit of the Leveson inquiry to adjudicate upon that matter. Putting that aside, perhaps I may ask this pertinent question of the Leader of the House. When the time comes for the Prime Minister to decide whether or not to refer this matter to Sir Alex Allan as a matter of ministerial discipline, will the Prime Minister be acting in a political capacity or a quasi-judicial capacity? If I may be allowed the luxury of a supplementary question, will the Prime Minister be regarding himself as acting in a judicial or a political capacity?

My Lords, in that event, the Prime Minister will be acting as Prime Minister. He will decide whether to take action directly himself—or not to, because he believes there is no evidence—or to refer the matter to Sir Alex Allan.

My Lords, is it not clear from the Prime Minister’s Statement that the Government have now abandoned the Secretary of State’s claim that the Permanent Secretary authorised what was going on? The word “authorised” did not appear once in the Prime Minister’s Statement—and I was listening very carefully. The Leader of the House cannot hope to slither away and say, “What is the difference because the Permanent Secretary is supposed to have said that he was content?”. There is a difference between authorising something and being content with it. Authorising has to do with things ex ante; content has to do with things ex post. When was the Permanent Secretary first made aware of these activities?

My second question is about Sir Alex Allan, who seems to have one of the best sinecures going—in fact, I might put in for it myself. Has it ever occurred to this Government to ask Sir Alex Allan whether he considered it appropriate for him to consider this matter and, if so, what response did they get?

My Lords, on the latter part of that question, I am not aware of any conversations having taken place. Incidentally, there is no way that I could slither away from anything in this House, particularly when asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. The Permanent Secretary has said that the content and extent of Adam Smith’s contact with News Corp were,

“without authorisation, and were contrary to the clear requirements set out”,

by both himself and the Secretary of State. He has said that he was “aware” of and “content” with the arrangements that were made initially.

My Lords, whatever the outcome of the present episode, does my noble friend the Leader agree that in future it must be absolutely clear that when a Secretary of State and his department are considering such a bid, all contact between the department and an interested party must first be through permanent civil servants; secondly, it must be properly authorised; thirdly, it must be properly recorded; and fourthly, it must be of a formal nature only? Does he also agree that it must be clear that political advisers should not be involved in such contacts in any circumstances, nor should such contacts be marked by the informality and appearance of partiality that marked the e-mails that have recently been released, and that guidance to that effect should be issued formally as quickly as possible?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very helpful intervention. Of course, we can all use the benefit of hindsight and see that things were not done in an appropriate way. That is why the Prime Minister, as early as last week, asked the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, to write to all departments and Ministers,

“clarifying the rigorous procedures that departments should have in place for handling cases of this nature”,

so that suspicion does not fall on departments, Ministers and their special advisers.

My Lords, when the Leader of the House was replying to my noble friend Lady Royall, he kept asking—I have to say, in a slightly excitable way—“What is going on? What is going on?”. It is very simple. It is the enforcement of the Ministerial Code. That is what we on this side of the House—and, I think, many Cross-Benchers—are very concerned about. The fact is that the Prime Minister tried to refer this to Lord Leveson. Does the Leader of the House agree with Lord Leveson that it was inappropriate for the Prime Minister to try to refer this matter of ministerial discipline and the Ministerial Code to Lord Leveson, which is not within his remit, as the original Statement clearly showed? That is the first point.

The second point is that the special adviser says that the Secretary of State knew nothing about his contacts. That may be so and no doubt an investigation will show whether or not that is correct. Notwithstanding that, paragraph 3.3 of the Ministerial Code—which is what we are talking about—is clear. It states:

“The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment”.

Mr Hunt made the appointment. The special adviser’s contraventions were so serious that he has had to resign. Should the Secretary of State not have had mechanisms in place for discharging his very specific responsibility for the “management and conduct” of his special adviser and, if he did, what were they?

I will tell the noble Baroness exactly what is going on here. These are the cheapest and most vulgar political attacks on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, whose evidence has not been heard at all. The noble Baroness asked about Lord Leveson’s statement. What did Lord Leveson say? He said:

“I have seen requests for other inquiries and investigations and, of course, I do not seek to constrain Parliament, it seems to me that the better course is to allow this Inquiry”—

that is, his inquiry—“to proceed”. That was done, and the Secretary of State will be able to give evidence to that inquiry in due course. When we have all heard the evidence, it may be that many noble Lords who have spoken today will be eating their words. As to the possible lack of oversight of the special adviser, the special adviser has resigned, having made a fulsome apology and explaining that the action that he took was way beyond the authority given to him by the Secretary of State.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has used this rather particular phrase, that there has been no “grand bargain”, twice now—once at the weekend in his press comments and once in the Statement. Will my noble friend assure us that when the Prime Minister says that there has been no grand bargain, he includes that there have been no small bargains either?

Can the Minister explain what he understands by the extent of the responsibility of a Minister for his special advisers?

My Lords, how can I possibly answer that at this stage? I have not seen any of the evidence any more than the noble Lord has.

I was not asking specifically in relation to this case; I was asking generally. What does the Minister understand by the extent of a Minister’s responsibility for his special advisers?

My Lords, that is clearly set out in the Ministerial Code. In this instance, one would expect a special adviser to stick to the agreements and instructions they had been given by their Secretary of State.

My Lords, as the Leader of the Opposition has referred to what I said about this matter, I should like to clarify that if I may, and ask the Leader of the House whether he agrees with it. I have said that the Prime Minister is responsible for decisions about ministerial conduct and for deciding whether a Minister has or has not breached the code. If he has, or thinks he has, sufficient evidence to justify a decision not to refer the matter to Sir Alex Allan, or to confirm the Minister in his position, he is entitled to do that. If he has doubt, he can ask Sir Alex Allan for advice. He is not obliged to take that advice, but clearly the advice will be very important.

In this case, as I understand it, the Prime Minister takes the view that the evidence that comes before Lord Justice Leveson will be more pervasive, extensive and comprehensive than anything that Sir Alex Allan could get. Lord Justice Leveson is not being asked to take the decision about the Ministerial Code. As I understand it, it is being suggested that the evidence given to his inquiry, elicited by questions from counsel and by all the other procedures, is likely to be more comprehensive and more reliable, since it will be evidence taken on oath, than anything that Sir Alex could achieve. However, Lord Justice Leveson is quite right in saying that he cannot take the decision or give advice about the Ministerial Code. The only person who can take a decision is the Prime Minister, and if he wants advice, he will have to ask Sir Alex Allan.

My Lords, it is good to hear the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, put his question, and the tone in which he did so will no doubt calm the atmosphere of the House. He described the situation entirely correctly. This is a decision for the Prime Minister. When it comes to disciplining Ministers, the Prime Minister is entitled to make that decision in any way that he wants. Equally, the decision that he has taken, as the noble Lord has laid out, is that the evidence laid before Leveson—in the manner and way in which it will be laid—will be more authoritative and ultimately gain more public acceptance if it is done publicly at the Leveson inquiry rather than secretly by Sir Alex Allan, although I have no doubt that he would do it extremely well. Finally, I agree that Lord Justice Leveson himself cannot make the decision under the Ministerial Code; he has no locus to do so. The Prime Minister will no doubt be able to make a decision once the evidence has been given, and that decision is entirely up to him.

My Lords, following the very helpful intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is it not the case that there is no way—as and when the Minister makes his appearance at Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry—that the Prime Minister can ensure that the questioning by counsel will bring out all the vital matters that relate specifically to the question of whether the Ministerial Code has been broken? The Leveson inquiry is a general inquiry into the relationship between the media, politicians, the police and so on and does not specifically address the question of whether the Ministerial Code has been broken. Are the Government therefore not relying on the matter coming out incidentally at the inquiry? The Prime Minister is not even prepared to wait until Lord Justice Leveson gives his report. Like the rest of us, he is simply going to watch what is said on television and so on, which may or may not reveal very much. What is really needed is a specific inquiry on whether the Ministerial Code has been broken.

I reiterate that Lord Justice Leveson is not being asked to take a view on whether the Ministerial Code has been broken. We started all this because allegations have been made in the Leveson inquiry. Surely it is only right and proper for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to be given the opportunity to deal with those allegations by providing whatever evidence he wants. He has laid out the kind of evidence that he will provide, and I believe that it will entirely restore his reputation. During the course of that evidence-taking—and let us remember that this is all about the relationship between politicians and the media—the Prime Minister can take a decision on whether he believes that the Ministerial Code has been broken, and whether to instruct or invite Sir Alex Allan to look into it, or whether to believe that no further action needs to take place. I very much hope that it will be the latter.

My Lords, if the leader of the Opposition was playing party politics with his question, what on earth was the Prime Minister doing with his Statement? I have three questions for the noble Lord. First, how does he reconcile what he said about the Leveson inquiry with Lord Justice Leveson’s refusal to get drawn into the Hunt affair? Is it not the case that the Statement that the noble Lord has quoted came at a rather earlier stage of the proceedings? Secondly, the noble Lord has said that the Secretary of State took independent advice when he did not need to, and acted upon it. However, is it not the case that Ofcom advised him to refer the matter to the Competition Commission, which he did not do? Finally, the noble Lord has said that the Permanent Secretary approved the special adviser’s role as a conduit between the Secretary of State and the Murdoch organisation. However, he was decidedly shifty about this when questioned on it by the Public Accounts Committee. The noble Lord said that the Permanent Secretary was aware of the special adviser’s role and was content. Does the noble Lord agree that that is not the same as giving approval?

My Lords, the Prime Minister was invited to make a Statement by the leader of the Opposition, who was clearly trying to play politics. I do not want to offend the noble Lord, who is a distinguished Cross Bencher, but those of us better versed in the means of politics can see what is going on utterly clearly; it is as clear as daylight. I am under the impression that everything the Secretary of State was required to do during the bid process, he did. He accepted an offer of undertakings by BSkyB, but he referred them as well; and of course when the undertakings were themselves withdrawn, the full referral then took place. As for the role of the Permanent Secretary, I think that I have said everything I can possibly say about that.