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Hunt must wait for Leveson date
Embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been rebuffed in his request to appear before the Leveson Inquiry early, it has been revealed.
Lord Leveson has refused to bring forward Mr Hunt's appearance so that he can answer allegations about his handling of News Corporation's BSkyB takeover bid.
A date has still not been set, but politicians will not be called until mid-May, meaning the Culture Secretary will have to wait at least a number of weeks.
"Lord Justice Leveson is of the view that, in the interests of fairness to all, the inquiry should continue with the existing scheduling of his appearance," a spokesman said. "Lord Justice Leveson has given a detailed explanation to the Secretary of State for his decision."
The announcement is a setback for under-fire Mr Hunt, who has expressed confidence he would be able to show he acted with "scrupulous fairness" when he sets out his full version of events to the inquiry.
He told MPs this week he had requested the earliest possible date to do so. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had also called for Mr Hunt to appear before the inquiry "as quickly as possible".
The delay comes as pressure mounts on the Culture Secretary over claims he secretly favoured the bid by Rupert Murdoch's company.
A Westminster sleaze watchdog called for a swift investigation by the Prime Minister's independent adviser on ministerial conduct, Sir Alex Allan. The Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly, said Sir Alex was the "obvious" person to conduct a probe. But David Cameron has so far resisted calls to refer the matter to his adviser.
Mr Hunt announced earlier he was handing over text messages and emails relating to the bid to the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. He said he was "confident" that the release of his emails and texts would show he handled the BSkyB merger process with "total integrity". Aides confirmed that the submission would include not only messages sent to Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith, who resigned on Wednesday after the exposure of his contacts with a News Corp lobbyist, but also other communications within his Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Sir Christopher said that if the issue was to be left to Leveson, Downing Street must make clear that the judge has the power to look into ministerial conduct - something which Mr Cameron's official spokesman has repeatedly said is a matter for the Prime Minister.