Jeremy Hunt has told the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics that he did hold an unminuted meeting as Culture Secretary with James Murdoch, without the presence of officials - but said he had been told that was "entirely at my discretion" to do so.

Similar meetings were also held with representatives of other groups such as the BBC Trust and ITV, he said.

Asked whether the meeting involved discussions of the BSkyB takeover bid he said: "I would be surprised if it was not discussed - it would be at the top of Mr Murdoch's mind."

He said he would have repeated his view that News Corp buying the remaining shares would not have a major impact on media plurality.

Describing a later meeting with then News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and Fred Michel, the head of public affairs for News Corporation in Europe, in October 2010, he said they "expressed some concern that they were not getting a sympathetic hearing from Vince Cable".

Asked what he told them in reply, he said: "I would probably have expressed surprise that Vince Cable may have thought there was more of a problem."

Mr Hunt was also challenged on a report that he hid behind a tree to avoid journalists when he was attending a dinner with Mr Murdoch after the media executive gave a lecture at University College London.

Telegraph columnist Iain Martin reported recently that he had spotted the newly-appointed Culture Secretary hiding behind a tree - amid suggestions that it was a deliberate bid not to be seen attending the dinner. Mr Hunt insisted that it had not been a private dinner with Mr Murdoch but one hosted by the master of UCL.

Insisting it was untrue that he hid, he said: "On my way to the dinner, I spotted a large group of media journalists." Considering that it was "not a time to have an impromptu interview", he said, "I moved to a different part of the quadrangle." Pressed further, he added: "There may or may not have been trees."

Mr Hunt had asked for his appearance to be brought forward after the inquiry released a cache of emails and text messages detailing a high level of contact between Mr Michel and his then special adviser Adam Smith.