No 10: 'No change on Leveson'
Downing Street has insisted that its position on the Leveson Inquiry has not changed after the Number 10 communications director raised the issue in a phone call to the Daily Telegraph.
Craig Oliver reportedly warned the newspaper that Culture Secretary Maria Miller was "looking at Leveson" after being asked questions about her expenses claims. Hours earlier, a special adviser to the Culture Secretary called the Telegraph to "flag up" Ms Miller's role in implementing new press rules.
Asked today why Mr Oliver had linked media policy to Ms Miller's expenses, the Prime Minister Official Spokesman denied such a link. He said: "The is no connection between those things. I think the point was being made that she had been spending some time dealing with those issues in recent days."
The spokesman added: "We have a very clear view on Leveson. That was set out by the Prime Minister and he has not changed his view.... It is being suggested in some way that our position on Leveson and press regulation might change as a result of an expenses story in a newspaper. I can assure you that has no bearing on our view."
Labour MP Simon Danczuk said the allegations were potentially very serious.
“If Craig Oliver threatened the Telegraph without David Cameron’s authority, that looks like an open-and-shut breach of the special advisers' code," he said.
"But if the Prime Minister authorised his special adviser to use the threat of Leveson Report discussions to discourage the publication of an embarrassing story, then that is potentially even more serious. And the same applies to Maria Miller and her special adviser Joanna Hindley – if these allegations are true then one of them has broken the rules.
The Telegraph today reported that Mr Oliver phoned its editor Tony Gallagher to say that the Culture Secretary was "very distressed" about her family being questioned over her expense claims. It said he then raised the fact that Ms Miller was leading the Government’s response to the Leveson Report which recommended statutory press regulation.
Downing Street earlier backed Ms Miller’s special adviser after the paper reported that Joanna Hindley had said she wanted to "flag up" the Culture Secretary's responsibility when the paper informed her of a story about Ms Miller's expenses.
Suspended Tory MP Nadine Dorries said on Twitter that Ms Hindley should resign, while a spokesman for the Hacked Off campaign said: "This story illustrates exactly why ministers must be kept at arm's length from the regulation of the press."
However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today: "My understanding is that she was raising legitimate concerns about the way in which the investigation had been handled. It was perfectly reasonable for her to do that."
The spokesman said he was not aware of Ms Hindley breaking any code and that the Prime Minister still had confidence in the Culture Secretary over the issue.
An article in Tuesday’s paper reported that in the last parliament Ms Miller’s parents were living at a property designated as her second home, and for which she had claimed mortgage costs.
Ms Miller has denied any impropriety in her expenses claims, insisting they are “absolutely in order”.