David Cameron’s decision to investigate Baroness Warsi for breaking ministerial rules but not do the same for Jeremy Hunt is “bizarre”, a former standards watchdog has said.
Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the Culture Secretary’s conduct bears investigate just as much as the Conservative co-chairman’s.The Prime Minister this week asked Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, to investigate whether Lady Warsi’s over her dealings with a business associate.
Lady Warsi admitted this week that when Abid Hussain joined her on an official visit to Pakistan in 2010, she did not inform officials that they were linked through a company in which they both held shares.Mr Cameron accepted Lady Warsi’s assurances that neither she nor Mr Hussain had gained from the arrangement and that no public money had been spent. Nevertheless, he ordered Sir Alex to investigate.
By contrast, the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to order a similar investigation into Mr Hunt. The Culture Secretary has faced intense questions over his handling of Rupert Murdoch’s bid to control BSkyB. Mr Cameron on Tuesday insisted the two cases are “very different” but Sir Alistair said there was a “very strong” argument for asking Sir Alex to investigate Mr Hunt’s conduct.Sir Alistair said: “The case is very strong. If there is found to be no substance to the allegation then that is fine, but at least people will have seen that in an important case that due process has been observed.”
Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, quit last month over his contacts with executives from the Murdoch empire.The Ministerial Code says that ministers are responsible for the behaviour of their advisers. The Leveson Inquiry heard last week that Mr Hunt knew that Adam Smith was in regular contact with News Corporation during the company’s bid to take over BskyB but gave his aide no clear guidelines about his conduct.Sir Alistair said that meant Mr Hunt’s potential breach of ministerial rules is much more serious than Lady Warsi’s.
He said: “If in fact Hunt failed to properly supervise Adam Smith – there is a possibility that Hunt may have known what he was doing – that is not a technical breach, that is a serious breach of some substance.”Mr Cameron defended his actions relating to Lady Warsi and Mr Hunt, insisting: “They are two very different cases.”The Prime Minister told Sky News: “In the case of Jeremy Hunt, obviously all of that was fully gone through by the Leveson Inquiry.
“In the case of Sayeeda Warsi, I’m very happy with the explanation which she’s given and she’s apologised for the mistake which she made.”But I think it’s right just for Alex Allen to see if there are any loose ends which need to be picked up. It’s no more than that.”Louise Mensch, a Conservative MP, challenged Mr Cameron to decide his ministers’ fate himself instead of involving Sir Alex.“In previous generations, it was the Prime Minister who would investigate and say whether the minister had broken the rules or not,” she said.
“I would prefer there not to be an independent investigator. Let the Prime Minister make the decision and stand by the decision.”Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, said Lady Warsi had been the victim of a “lynch mob” by newspapers and dismissed some of the allegations against the Tory peer as “downright silly” and “pedantic”.Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme it was right that senior politicians were put under “very close scrutiny”.”But there is a bit of a fashion at the moment, the media do tend to act as a bit of a pack and they are steadily working through my colleagues trying to find things to complain about,” he said. – Thetelegraph