John Denham has written to Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell in light of Vince Cable’s comments on Rupert Murdoch, and the subsequent passing of regulatory powers to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
You can read the letter below (with a plain text version beneath):
Dear Sir Gus,
I am writing to you following the decision of the Prime Minister that Business Secretary Vince Cable will play no further part in the decision over News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, and the transfer of this responsibility to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
There are two issues that still need to be addressed, and which I am asking you to investigate. Firstly, whether there has been a breach of the Ministerial Code by Vince Cable, and secondly, whether Jeremy Hunt is a fit and proper person to rule on the proposed News Corp takeover of BSkyB given previous comments he has made.
I am sure you will agree that this episode is of fundamental importance to the integrity of the conduct of government, which you have an important role in protecting.
The Ministerial Code
Vince Cable’s reported comments that “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win” raise serious questions about his objectivity and his openness during the previous stages of the decision-making process on the proposed News Corp â€” BSkyB takeover.
As you know, the Seven Principles of Public Life set out in the Ministerial Code published in May 2010 require that Ministers carry out their duties with objectivity and openness.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Vince Cable’s comments that â€œI have declared war on Mr Murdochâ€ call into question whether the decisions he has made as Business Secretary in relation to Rupert Murdoch’s business interests were made objectively and on merit.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
By revealing in private that he sees himself as being at â€œwar with Mr Murdoch” and that “His whole empire is now under attack”, Vince Cable has suggested that the public reasons he gave for his Ministerial decisions on this issue may not have been his true reasons.
Mr Cable’s comments also call into question his ability to rule on competition issues involving other businesses, which remains part of his brief, or to take forward the review of competition policy. Businesses will find it difficult to have confidence in a Secretary of State who says one thing about competition issues in public and another in private.
The next steps
I now turn to the decision to ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to take responsibility for this issue.
It has been brought to my attention that Jeremy Huntâ€™s own personal website describes him as follows:
“like all good Conservatives Hunt is a cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch’s contribution to the health of British television”
It quotes him as saying:
“Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person”
Jeremy Hunt has also been quoted as saying that the proposed merger does not amount to â€œa substantive changeâ€.
â€œIt does seem to me that News Corp do control Sky already, so it isnâ€™t clear to me that in terms of media plurality there is a substantive change, but I donâ€™t want to second guess what regulators might decide.â€
Given these prejudicial statements, there must be serious questions about the decision to ask Mr Hunt to carry out this quasi-judicial role. Are you satisfied that he can rule with impartiality on this matter?
In view of the public interest in this matter, I am releasing this letter to the media.