Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Thursday, 26 April 2012 12:51 UK

MPs demand answers on Adam Smith

The permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been quizzed about the appointment of Jeremy Hunt's special adviser involved in the BSkyB takeover process.

Adam Smith resigned on 25 April 2012 after it emerged he had been in regular contact with News Corporation during the company's bid to take over BSkyB.

The culture secretary, who is facing opposition calls to resign, insists he "strictly followed due process" over the bid.

On 26 April 2012, the committee demanded to know whether Jonathan Stephens approved Mr Smith's role as a channel of communication between the government and the Murdoch empire.

Mr Stephens said Mr Smith's resignation statement made clear that the nature and content of contact with News Corp had not been authorised by Mr Hunt or by him.

He said Mr Hunt had made a statement to Parliament on the matter and would also give evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

However, the cross-party committee of MPs was not satisfied with his answers and continued to press him on the matter.

Mr Stephens repeated his statement several times before reminding MPs he was there to talk about the Olympics budget and had been given "no notice" that these questions would be asked.

Labour's Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said it was "pretty obvious" the matter would be raised.

Conservative MP Richard Bacon added that Mr Stephens's role was a matter of legitimate public interest and scrutiny.

Mr Stephens accepted his point but declined to say anything more on the matter, asking that the hearing on the cost of the London Olympics begin.

UK carrier strike capability

The session opened with the committee questioning the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Permanent Under-Secretary, Ursula Brennan, on the aircraft carrier programme.

David Cameron reversed Labour's plan to to buy the jump jet version for the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the F35B, arguing that the carrier version, launched by catapult - the F35C - was the better plane.

Since then, the costs of fitting catapults and arrestor gear - "cats and traps" - to the carrier have spiralled, and there is speculation the government is to revert to the jump jet version.

Ms Brennan told the committee that a final decision had not been made.

The panel repeatedly pressed her on how much has been spent to date on investigating whether cats and traps was a feasible alternative.

Ms Brennan said she was not in a position to divulge that information because the final figures had not been agreed by ministers.

Mrs Hodge said her answer was "unacceptable", suggesting the department had no idea what it was spending.

She demanded that Ms Brennan get a grip on the MoD budget and use her authority to stop ministers taking costly decisions.


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