» Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tessa Jowell

Asked if Sir Gus O’Donnell had come to any conclusions, and would there be any reply today, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that as he had said yesterday, Sir Gus O’Donnell would reply when he was ready to reply, and that was entirely appropriate. The PMOS said that his hunch was that it would take a bit longer, but is a matter for Sir Gus to decide his own plan. There was always a tension on this, between on the one hand, wanting to reply as soon as possible, and on the other, being sure that all the facts were in order before replying.

Asked for a description of what Sir Gus was enquiring into, and what his aim was, the PMOS replied that his aim was to reply to Theresa May, as she was the person who had written to him. The PMOS said that was a matter for Sir Gus, and not for him.

Asked if the Prime Minister had sanctioned Sir Gus to look into the facts of this matter, the PMOS said that Sir Gus was looking at one simple fact, which was that Theresa May had written to the Cabinet Secretary. As the PMOS had said yesterday, being the polite man that he was, Sir Gus would no doubt reply. There was a process, and the main focus was between the Permanent Secretary and Tessa Jowell, but equally, Sir Gus had to make sure that he knew the facts before he replied.

Asked if Tessa Jowell had explained in detail to the Prime Minister what had taken place between her and her husband, the PMOS said that in terms the Ministerial Code, as the PMOS had said yesterday, it was right and proper that there should be contining conversations between a Secretary of State and a Permanent Secretary. It was also right and proper that those discussions should remain private, but the important point was: did a Secretary of State comply with the Ministerial Code, and Tessa Jowell had said at the weekend that she believed that she had.

Put that there was speculation that the extra mortgages had led to delay, and that there were more charges than people knew about at the beginning, the PMOS said he did not want to in any way pre-empt what Sir Gus would reply to Theresa May. Rather, the PMOS had simply pointed out as a statement of fact and nothing else, that having a second mortgage on a house was not against the Ministerial Code.

Put that the impression given by the PMOS yesterday was one of leaving Tessa Jowell "hanging In the wind", the PMOS said he was somewhat surprised by the interpretation, but then, nothing surprised him anymore! There was a process to be done, and it was to establish the facts. As the PMOS had said yesterday, the primary focus was between the Secretary of State and her Permanent Secretary. There was also a process by which the Cabinet Secretary would reply to Theresa May. The PMOS said that if he had said yesterday that we believed that there was nothing to answer, people would have said that the PMOS would have been pre-empting that process. Therefore, the important thing was that we did take this step by step. Tessa Jowell had said that she believed that it was very important for Secretaries of State to abide by the Ministerial Code, and therefore, she understood why we had to take the procedural approach that we did to this.

Asked what had been the Prime Minister’s involvement in the matter, i.e. had he asked for reports from the Permanent Secretary, did he discuss with Sir Gus whether there should be an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary, the PMOS said he was not going to get into a running commentary on the process. What was important was that there were proper discussions between Tessa Jowell and her Permanent Secretary, and that Sir Gus O’Donnell, in his own good time, replied to Theresa May. The PMOS said that what he did not do, on this or any other matter, was give a running commentary on conversations between the Prime Minister and either a Secretary of State or the Cabinet Secretary.

Put that it seemed from the outside that Sir Gus was taking a more active role as Cabinet Secretary in investigating these sort of charges than previous Cabinet Secretaries had done, and it looked like Sir Gus had taken the initiative, as the Prime Minister was the arbiter of the Ministerial Code, and it was essentially up to him to decide whether to ask senior civil servants to look into particular charges, the PMOS said that the journalist was overlooking the key fact which was Theresa May had written to Sir Gus O’Donnell. The person who was responsible for the ultimate decisions of whether Secretaries of State had complied with the Ministerial Code was the Prime Minister, and he fully accepted that. The Prime Minister also believed, however, that proper processes should be followed and that therefore, those processes were as the PMOS had laid out.

Asked if the Prime Minister had held one to one discussions with Tessa Jowell over the past 24 hours, the PMOS replied that he was not going to get into describing conversations between the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State.

Asked if the Prime Minister still had full confidence in Tessa Jowell, the PMOS said he had said "yes" to the same question yesterday, and he was saying "yes" today. Somehow or other, his "yes" yesterday became across in some papers almost as if he had said "no" or "maybe". He meant "yes" and he still meant "yes".

Asked if the PMOS was willing to say that there was no evidence so far that Tessa Jowell had ever broken the Ministerial Code, the PMOS replied that if he was to start to give people a running commentary on this process, people knew he could not do that. Therefore it was totally wrong for him to answer that sort of question, as it was inviting him to give a running commentary.

Put that Sir Gus was taking his time over the investigation, and that the Italians were taking their time over the investigation, was the Prime Minister happy that this "had been allowed to drift", the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was responsible for many things, but he was not responsible for the Italian judicial system. Equally, it would be totally wrong for us to set an artificial deadline for the Cabinet Secretary to respond, as he would do so in his own good time.

Asked if the Prime Minister had ever discussed Silvio Berlusconi with David Mills, the PMOS replied that he was not aware of any discussions.

Put that there was quite a lot of tradition with Cabinet Secretaries being asked to look into something saying there were no grounds to look into it, and did Sir Gus consult the Prime Minister before deciding that there were grounds, the PMOS said that Theresa May had written to Sir Gus. Therefore, it was incumbent on the Cabinet Secretary to establish the facts.

Put that it was up to Sir Gus O’Donnell what he looked into, or was it up to the Prime Minister as the arbiter of the Ministerial Code, the PMOS said that in terms of the Code, first and foremost, the conversation had to be between the Permanent Secretary and the Secretary of State. That was where the process should start. It was a regular part of any Secretary of State’s existence to make sure that what they were doing was in compliance with the Ministerial Code. Tessa Jowell had said how important that was for her.

Put that people had long said that the process of the Prime Minister being judge and jury had been unsastisfactory, and the Cabinet Secretary was now formally investigating a complaint that came anyway, rather than leaving it to a politician "who was looking after his mates", and was this a change, or was it normal procedure, the PMOS said that he sensed an agenda or line being tried out. All he would say to the journalist was "don’t go there" as it would be a direct contradiction of what the Prime Minister had said on the floor of the House. The Prime Minister believed that the public would think it strange if at the end of the day, it was not the Prime Minister who took ultimate responsibility for Ministers’ behaviour. That was why the Prime Minister had not gone down the route recommended to him by Alastair Graham which was that responsibility was somehow transferred to another body. The PMOS said he saw no sign at all that the Prime Minister was going to change his view, as ultimately, it was the Prime Minister who had to in the end judge the Ministers in his Cabinet and how they handled the Code.

Put that the Cabinet Secretary could not just launch an investigation on anything off his own bat, the PMOS said that if someone wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, then clearly the facts had to be established.

Put that the Ministerial Code was explicit, not implicit, therefore it was not for the Cabinet Secretary to investigate these matters, the PMOS said that equally, it was a "statement of the bleeding obvious" that the facts had to be established.

Asked again that it was the Prime Minister who made the final decision, the PMOS said the Prime Minister always made the ultimate decision about whether Ministers had or had not complied with the Ministerial Code.

Briefing took place at 8:00 | Search for related news

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


February 2006
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Jan   Mar »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh