It’s couched in polite terms, but today the Public Administration Select Committee issued what amounted to a bruising attack on PM David Cameron.
The PASC said the PM was wrong to ask the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ affair, wrong for not to using the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests instead, and wrong for ignoring a previous report of the PASC and resolution passed by the Commons.
For a Government supposedly committed to openness, transparency, accountability and taking Parliament more seriously, this is a pretty devastating critique.
The PASC notes that the Ministerial Code specifically says that it is “not the role of the Cabinet Secretary… to enforce the Code.” Yet the PM chose to ask Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary to carry out a very narrowly defined investigation of only one aspect of the Mitchell affair.
The PASC further notes that any breach of the Code should, after consultation and if investigation is needed, be referred to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests (currently Sir Alex Allan). Clearly investigation was needed, but the PM ignored the Code and the existence of the (paid) Adviser.
The PASC says that in its report published in March 2012 it suggested strengthening the role of the Independent Adviser precisely to avoid the sort of problems that have already arisen in cases like that of Liam Fox and Jeremy Hunt. They recommended, amongst other things, giving Sir Alex power to initiate investigation himself.
The PASC point out that their ten-month old report has simply been ignored by Government, who have failed to issue a formal response, even though the Government are required to reply within two months
Finally, the PASC points out that in July last year the House of Commons voted to support their recommendations and that despite this vote of the whole House the Government has simply ignored it.
All this from a Committee with a Coalition majority and Chaired by a Tory.
Just to add to the total disdain with which the Government seems to hold Parliament, Number 10 dismissed the latest PASC report out of hand this morning.
So the ball is firmly back in Parliament’s court – the question now is will it decide to stand up to Executive, or meekly allow the matter to fade away? We shall see.