London: In fresh signs of rift in Britain`s coalition government over the phone-hacking scandal, one of the ruling partners, Liberal Democrats, on Tuesday decided to abstain and withdraw support to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a crucial vote in the House of Commons.
As the opposition Labour party continues its hunt for Hunt over his alleged bias in favour of media baron Rupert Murdoch`s bid for BSkyB, the ruling benches will be devoid of Liberal Democrats support after deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg asked his MPs to abstain.
Labour`s motion to be tabled and voted on Tuesday seeks an investigation into whether Hunt broke the ministerial code of conduct over his handling of the multi-billion pound BSkyB bid, which was ultimately withdrawn in the face of public revulsion over the phone-hacking row.
A series of e-mails and texts published by the Leveson Inquiry indicated that Hunt`s office was in close touch with Murdoch`s lobbyists.
But Hunt has consistently denied any allegations of wrongdoing, while his special advisor Adam Smith quit over the revelations.
The Liberal Democrats withdrawing its support to Hunt during the motion is another sign of tensions with the Conservative party.
Clegg`s aides have let it be known that he has often favoured an inquiry into Hunt`s conduct, which has been resisted by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Given the numbers in the House of Commons, even without the Liberal Democrat MPs, the Labour-sponsored motion is likely to be defeated, but the abstention reflects another milestone in the uneasy relationship between the partners since the coalition government was formed in 2010.
The opposition Labour wants an investigation into whether Hunt breached the ministerial code by failing to give "accurate and truthful information to Parliament" over his contacts with News Corp at the time of the BSkyB bid, and by failing to "take responsibility" for his special adviser Adam Smith.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told BBC: "This is an important opportunity for the House of Commons to make clear the importance it places on secretaries of state being transparent and truthful to Parliament.”
"I think members from all sides of the House will want to be sure that this issue is not simply swept under the carpet."