In a report published Monday 21st January, the Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) says the events leading up to the resignation of Andrew Mitchell as Government Chief Whip in October 2012 have demonstrated again that the structures for investigating alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code are not appropriate or working.
The Committee re-iterates its call, which was endorsed by resolution of the House of Commons in July, for the Prime Minister's Adviser on Ministers' Interests to be authorised to instigate his own investigations.
Moreover, PASC concludes that the Cabinet Secretary should have recognised the need for a wider inquiry into unresolved questions and inconsistencies about the matter. He should have advised the Prime Minister to refer the matter to Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s adviser who is appointed for the purpose of investigating allegations of ministerial misconduct.
PASC also describes it as "unacceptable" that the government has not yet responded to this key recommendation of its report on the Prime Minister’s Adviser, ten months after PASC’s report on the subject and despite it being debated and approved by a resolution of the House. (The deadline for responses to Select Committee Reports is three months.)
The Committee says that events leading to the resignation of the Government Chief Whip support its assertion that the Cabinet Secretary was not the appropriate person to investigate allegations of ministerial misconduct. His role is limited; there is already intense pressure on his time and attention; and his role as impartial investigator may conflict with his primary role, which is to support the daily work of the Prime Minister and the government as a whole.
Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee, said;
"Our inquiry into this matter was not to establish what Mr Mitchell did or did not say, or to investigate the role of the police. While we suggest Sir Jeremy Heywood might have given different advice to the Prime Minister, it was not our primary purpose to question Sir Jeremy's role as Cabinet Secretary. We wanted to know what lessons could be learned from the investigation, which clearly failed to uncover the truth. The Ministerial Code itself says that it is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary to enforce the Code.
The Cabinet Secretary attempted to investigate this matter but failed to resolve or even to investigate the questions arising from the discrepancies in the accounts of the events, or to advise the Prime Minister that they required further investigation. This underlines the all-too-obvious truth that investigations into ministerial misconduct are not an appropriate role for the Cabinet Secretary to undertake. That is why the Code actually says, 'it is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code' and says the Prime Minister, after consulting the Cabinet Secretary, should refer such matters to his Adviser. Given time, attention and with his relevant experience, Sir Alex might well have uncovered the truth. Sir Jeremy told us he had never assessed CCTV evidence before."
Image: Parliamentary copyright