Gove faces further MPs' questions over special advisers
- 13 February 2013
- From the section Education & Family
Michael Gove faces further questions from MPs about what he knew of claims of bullying by his key advisers amid claims he may have misled Parliament.
The Education Secretary had told the Commons select committee he was not aware of any such claims.
But two key members of his staff have been involved in a lengthy grievance procedure leading to a reported £25,000 payout to a senior civil servant.
Although an inquiry cleared the men, their conduct was found wanting.
MPs on the Commons select committee are writing to Mr Gove asking him to explain what he may have known about the case.
They will ask for a speedy response and say they may recall him to the select committee to answer further questions if he fails to provide an adequate response.
A spokesman for Mr Gove said: "The secretary of state will explain to the select committee, when he receives their letter, that his comments to them about his special advisers were accurate."
He later wrote to the committee chairman Graham Stuart saying he had never been made aware of allegations by civil servants of inappropriate actions by his special advisers.
He added that it was not usual practice for ministers to be made aware of such cases, particularly if grievances were not upheld.
An internal report into the bullying claims, written by a high-ranking civil servant, acknowledged the individuals had been "perceived as intimidating" at times and that bad language had been used. But it found no grounds for disciplinary action.
The report was written by Paul Kissack, the acting director general of the children, young people and families department.
The case, details of which were first reported in the Observer, was to be heard in an employment tribunal, with the secretary of state listed as the respondent.
It related to the conduct of one of Mr Gove's special advisers, Dominic Cummings, and James Frayne, the department's former head of communications.
But the DfE settled the case with a reported £25,000 payout before it got to an open court hearing.
However, on 23 January Mr Gove was asked by Labour committee member Ian Mearns whether he was "aware of allegations of Spads (special advisers) acting inappropriately to civil servants within the department?"
To which he answered: "No".
Labour have argued that it would be inconceivable that the education secretary would not have been aware of the case as it involved a senior civil servant and his key advisers.
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "These are incredibly serious allegations."
"It appears that Michael Gove has either misled Parliament or appears to have no control or knowledge of what his advisers do on his behalf.
"Misleading Parliament would be a breach of the ministerial code. We need a full investigation by the Cabinet Secretary."
He has also written to the most senior civil servant in the Department for Education, Chris Wormald, asking him to "confirm who took responsibility in the department for the £25,000 payout and that the secretary of state was not informed of the case?"
And the case does appear to have been handled by senior civil servants.
One letter to the claimant, drawing the internal grievance process to a close, was written by the chief executive of the Education Funding Agency, Peter Lauener.
He said that while he saw no basis for upholding her claims, he had "no reason at all to doubt the genuine distress, unhappiness and sense of injury that the events" had caused her.
Under the ministerial code, the responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the minister who made the appointment.
The code says: "Individual ministers will be accountable to the prime minister, Parliament and the public for their actions and decisions in respect of their special advisers."
On the conduct of Mr Gove's advisers, a DfE spokesman said: "If we were to receive any evidence that anyone connected with the Department for Education had broken the Special Advisers Code or the Civil Service Code, then we would take appropriate steps. So far no such evidence has been provided."
On the bullying case, the department said: "It would not be appropriate to comment on individual employment matters."