» Monday, February 27, 2006

Tessa Jowell

Asked if the PMOS could give any more information about whether Tessa Jowell had informed the permanent secretary in 2001 about the specific investment her spouse had made in 2000, the PMOS said he would not be giving a running commentary on private discussions, as they always were, between permanent secretaries and secretaries of state. Tessa Jowell was no different from any other secretary of state in that regard. The important thing was that Tessa Jowell had said that she did not believe there was a conflict of interests and that she believed that she had abided by the ministerial code.

Asked whether the Prime Minister believed that Tessa Jowell had abided by the ministerial code, the PMOS reiterated that Tessa Jowell had made her statement and that the relevant discussion was between her and her permanent secretary. It was not his intention to give a running commentary on those discussions.

Asked about the Cabinet Secretary’s letter from Theresa May, the PMOS said that the Cabinet Office spoke for the Cabinet Secretary, but he imagined that, as Gus O’Donnell was the polite person he was, that he would reply to Theresa May, no doubt in his own time and in his own way.
Asked how Tessa Jowell could say definitively that she had abided by the ministerial code when there had not been any evidence that Gus O’Donnell in consultation with the Prime Minister had agreed so, the PMOS said that the civil service procedure would go forward and no doubt the Cabinet Secretary would set out his view in his reply to Theresa May. Put to the PMOS that he was saying what Tessa Jowell believed but he was not saying what the Prime Minister believed, the PMOS said that conversations about the ministerial code were first and foremost between any secretary of state and their respective permanent secretary. Theresa May had asked her questions of Gus O’Donnell and he had no doubt that Gus O’Donnell would reply to them.

Asked whether it was the role of the permanent secretary to offer advice or to simply explain the code, the PMOS said that ultimate responsibility for a minister’s action remained with the minister. A civil servant could offer advice, which was a matter of interpretation but what they tried to do was provide the best possible advice based on interpretation of the ministerial code.

Asked what steps the Prime Minister had taken to satisfy himself that Tessa Jowell had not broken the ministerial code, the PMOS said he could ask that question the other way around: what was it that Tessa Jowell was alleged to have done wrong? Theresa May had written to the Cabinet Secretary and no doubt he would reply in due course. Asked whether it was fair to characterise this position as a holding position, the PMOS said it was not a holding operation. It was simply stating the case as we saw it to be. He had been asked this morning if the Prime Minister had full confidence in Tessa Jowell and the answer had been yes. That did not fit the characterisation of a holding position.

Asked if it would be improper for the Prime Minister to prejudge the Cabinet Secretary’s response, the PMOS said that as it was for any secretary of state the process should be started from the proper place. Secretaries of state first sought advice from their permanent secretaries. Next a question had been asked of the Cabinet Secretary by the opposition and no doubt in due course Gus O’Donnell would reply. Put to the PMOS that his conditional response was because the Prime Minister did not want to pre-empt Gus O’Donnell, the PMOS said he was trying to respect the correct procedural course, which was firstly for a secretary of state to consult their permanent secretary and secondly it was for the Cabinet Secretary to respond, in his own time and own way, to the letter written to him. He, as the PMOS would respect that process and not get ahead of that position.

Asked whether the secretary of state had to accept the advice of the permanent secretary, the PMOS said it was, at the end of the day, down to individual ministers to bear responsibility for their own decisions. This had always been the case. Asked if he was saying that the permanent secretary had already been consulted or whether they were being consulted now, the PMOS said, as he had said earlier, he would not be providing a running commentary on private discussions between a permanent secretary and a secretary of state. It was entirely right and proper that those discussions were held in private.

Asked whether Tessa Jowell had had any general conversations with the Prime Minister as the investigation into her spouse had been going on for some time, the PMOS said that it was best that he did not comment on the investigation as it was a legal process. It may be a legal process in another country but it was still best to observe the usual rules about legal processes. Asked, again, whether a conversation had taken place between the permanent secretary at DCMS and Tessa Jowell, the PMOS said that it was for secretaries of state to consult permanent secretaries about any possible conflicts of interest in their personal matters. There was a process in place. These discussions were not usually discussions that took place at one fixed time, but were invariably over a period.

Asked for the name of the DCMS permanent secretary, the PMOS said that it was a matter of record that it was Sue Street. Asked if that was with whom the discussion taken place with, the PMOS reiterated that he was not giving a running commentary on such discussions.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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