Leveson warns Parliament over Hunt evidence

Lord Justice Leveson defended his inquiry into media standards today and said he “was not in any way” seeking to challenge the right of Parliament to examine any of the issues his inquiry is covering.

After repeated criticism that the work of MPs is being blocked because of the inquiry into press standards, he insisted it was for Parliament to decide “how far it goes”.

It comes after Commons Speaker John Bercow said yesterday that Parliament should come first when a number of MPs raised concerns that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was being shielded from full scrutiny over his links with News International because of his impending appearance before the inquiry.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “BSkyB, it is a matter for Parliament to decide how far it is appropriate to question the Secretary of State or anyone else.”

He added: “It is open to the Prime Minister to take whatever steps he wishes in relation to allegations concerning one of his ministers and equally open to MPs to ask whatever questions they wish in connection with the performance of their duties.”

But Lord Justice Leveson issued a stern warning to Parliament that he would drop key strands of the inquiry if it pushed for access to crucial documents first.

He said he expected to hear evidence from Fred Michel, News Corporation public affairs executive, and Adam Smith, Hunt’s former special adviser within the month. Smith quit after emails were released by the inquiry that suggested he had given key information about the Government’s plans on the controversial BSkyB deal.

In a shot across the bows of MPs, Lord Justice Leveson warned he would drop his plan to take evidence from the two men if Parliament published or released evidence from them first.

He also insisted that the timing of the appearances of witnesses, including Hunt, before his inquiry was carefully planned out.

Lord Justice Leveson insisted he was “politically neutral” but said he could see the “political significance” of recent events.

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