Asked whom the Prime Minister had consulted on the David Blunkett DNA bioscience breach of Ministerial Code, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) that, as they knew he did not go into the processology of whom the Prime Minister talked to on such matters. David Blunkett had set out how the confusion arose. He had set it right. This was where we were. Asked how he had set it right, the PMOS said that he had consulted his permanent secretary on 15 May and he had also discussed with the relevant people what to do. He had set out in his statement how the confusion had arisen following Lord Mayhew’s letter and he had explained why he had acted in the way he had. The matter was being handled by the department, as it should be. Asked what Lord Mayhew said in his letter, the PMOS said that Lord Mayhew had set out in the earlier correspondence that it was a voluntary code and David Blunkett’s interpretation of that was what he had explained. Asked then if the Prime Minister felt no obligation to the code and therefore what kind of code was it if it was one without any teeth, the PMOS the Prime Minister’s words in the introduction of the Ministerial Code spoke for themselves. The Prime Minister obviously believed that people should abide by the code. People should obviously abide by the code. This event had arisen in a period not only when David Blunkett was not a Minister but also in the period after the prorogation of Parliament as he had explained.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought it appropriate for David Blunkett to hold shares in a company that might bid for a Government contract, the PMOS said that this was a matter where advice was being sought and it was best that this process was allowed to go forward. In response to the suggestion that David Blunkett knew he would be getting a ministerial job after the election, the PMOS said that that was an assumption. People should stick to the facts which were that David Blunkett was not a minister at the time. David Blunkett had accepted that his interpretation of the code was wrong.
Asked what advice he sought on the shares, the PMOS said that there was a process going on and he would not be getting in the middle of it. Asked if the Cabinet Secretary was involved, the PMOS said that the Cabinet Secretary had a role in these sorts of matters. Asked what the impact of prorogation was, the PMOS said that David Blunkett had set out his explanation of how the confusion arose. In terms of understanding the backdrop it did help to recognise that Parliament was prorogued at the time.
Asked what the Prime Minister’s formal response was to the request for an inquiry from the opposition on the specifics of David Blunkett and the clarification on the Ministerial Code, the PMOS said that in terms of clarification that was a matter for the Cabinet Secretary and David Blunkett had requested clarification. In terms of the actual facts David Blunkett had set those out and explained how the confusion arose. The facts spoke for themselves and were not disputed. Therefore that was the end of the matter. The facts were there as David Blunkett had explained them.
Put to him that if the facts were not disputed why was there an ongoing conversation, the PMOS said that what was not in dispute was the actual events. People were seeking clarification of the interpretation of the Ministerial Code and its implications. Asked if that clarification would apply to this case or future cases, the PMOS said that David Blunkett had explained how the confusion arose in his mind. It was important that that confusion did not happen again and therefore that was why he had sought clarification.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that this was getting in the way of doing his job, the PMOS said no. The green paper remained David Blunkett’s priority objective and his work on that continued. The aims of that green paper remained exactly the same.
Asked again what was the confusion and why David Blunkett was seeking advice if the Ministerial Code was clear, the PMOS said that inevitably with any code there was an element of some interpretation and therefore the clarification was on interpretation. Asked why he was seeking advice from the Cabinet Secretary when he had already sought advice from his permanent secretary, the PMOS said that inevitably whenever questions were asked people sought clarification to make sure any interpretation was right and this was where we were.
Put to him that unless he explained to journalists where there was room for misinterpretation the rules appeared to be completely clear and unequivocal, the PMOS said that in terms of the code it was a matter of interpretation to make sure there was no conflict of interest. As such it was perfectly reasonable to seek clarification on that. It was best that these processes were allowed to happen and then we could inform the media of the outcome. Asked to explain what exactly was being looked into, the PMOS said that the question put to him was did we believe that there was any conflict of interest in having these shares and whether he should give them up. His answer had been that advice was being sought on that. In response to the follow up suggestion that in that case it was impossible to say that the Prime Minster had full confidence in David Blunkett, the PMOS said that where there were matters of interpretation it was quite reasonable for advice to be sought. The position in terms of the Prime Minister’s confidence in David Blunkett had not changed at all.
Asked for clarify if there were two points up for clarification, first the conflict of interest and second on the code of conduct, the PMOS said that David Blunkett had said he was seeking advice from the Cabinet Secretary on interpretation of the rules. In terms of the shares and the advice that we sought he was not going to be drawn into the processology. The advice that the Prime Minister got came from the Cabinet Secretary. Asked if that meant it was the Prime Minister seeking advice, the PMOS said that in terms of the overall position the Prime Minister wanted things to be clear. It was the Opposition that had asked the question about his right to hold the shares and we would seek clarification on that. Asked if it was the Prime Minister’s job to enforce the Ministerial Code, the PMOS that he was not disputing that. The role of the Prime Minister was one that we were all familiar with, as we had gone through this before.
Asked if the Prime Minister felt that the media was hounding David Blunkett, the PMOS said that tempted as he was to say otherwise, the best reply was probably that questions had been asked and they would be answered and we would address those questions as upfront as we could. Therefore we would not get into blaming anybody, but would address those questions in a factual way.
Asked if the Prime Minister and David Blunkett were in dispute over Incapacity Benefit, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had set out, and David Blunkett had underlined that his objectives were the same, that what we needed was a reform of Incapacity Benefit that allowed people to get back to work. This was what the green paper would try to achieve.
Briefing took place at 13:00 | Search for related news
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