» Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tessa Jowell

Asked for the latest on the Cabinet Secretary’s study, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said, as he had this morning, that his hunch was that it would not be today. It would take a little while longer though it was ultimately for the Cabinet Secretary to decide that. Sir Gus O’Donnell would reply when he was ready to do so, as was appropriate, and he, as the PMOS, would not be giving a running commentary on what stage the Cabinet Secretary was at. Asked whether Sir Gus O’Donnell would make his response to the Prime Minister or to Theresa May, the PMOS said that Theresa May had written to Sir Gus O’Donnell. Sir Gus O’Donnell needed to establish the facts before he replied to Theresa May. Normal discussions were taking place. The primary focus of those discussions was at a departmental level, but beyond that he would not give an ongoing commentary on progress.

Asked whether the Cabinet Secretary took advice from the Prime Minister or simply took action in order to respond to Theresa May’s letter, the PMOS said this was now being overcomplicated. Questions had been raised and Tessa Jowell had made clear how much she wanted to be sure that everything she had done was in keeping with the ministerial code. Therefore the facts had to be established. Asked if it was correct that discussions were taking place within the department to establish the facts in order to answer Theresa May’s letter, the PMOS said yes. Asked, in that case, whether any MP could write to the Cabinet Secretary alleging wrong doing and Sir Gus would be obliged to investigate, the PMOS said that it was up to Sir Gus O’Donnell to decide whether to reply and investigate or not. But, in this instance when questions had been asked in the way that they had it was inevitable that the facts needed to be established.

Put to the PMOS that there was a change in tone from yesterday’s briefing suggesting a more serious situation where facts now needed to be established, the PMOS said he did not think that was a correct interpretation. If journalists looked back at what he had said yesterday he had said that there were discussions between the permanent secretary and secretary of state, which were perfectly natural in the circumstances of making sure that the ministerial code had been complied with. As such he did not detect the change suggested by the journalist. Put to the PMOS that yesterday he had been talking in hypotheticals, the PMOS said that the simplest thing was to look back at the press briefing notes from yesterday where journalists would find that he had been talking about discussions in the past and continuing ones between the secretary of state and the permanent secretary. He had also made the point, which he continued to make today, that those discussions were the same for any secretary of state in any department.

Asked whether the Cabinet Secretary had spoken personally with Tessa Jowell, the PMOS said reminded journalists that he had said from the outset that he would not be giving a running commentary, but he would point out that the relevant discussion was between the secretary of state and the permanent secretary. Asked whether this meant the DCMS permanent secretary now or the permanent secretary at employment when the Tessa Jowell had been there, the PMOS repeated that the Cabinet Secretary was establishing the facts before replying to Theresa May, but it was not his role to provide a running commentary on whom the Cabinet Secretary spoke to. Asked whether it was the duty of the spouse or the minister to keep the permanent secretary informed, the PMOS said it was the duty of the minister to abide by the ministerial code and it was the Prime Minister who was ultimately the judge of adherence to the code.

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

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