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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 10:41 GMT
Q&A: Jowell and ministers' code
Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell: Denies wrongdoing
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell did not breach the ministers' code of conduct over her husband's financial dealings. What is the furore all about?

What did Tony Blair say?

The prime minister said Ms Jowell had not breached the ministerial code, as her husband had not informed her of a 344,000 gift he had received.

How did the whole controversy start?

Ms Jowell's husband David Mills is a corporate lawyer who is being investigated by Italian prosecutors over claims he was given 344,000 in return for helpful testimony in a corruption probe into Italian premier and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi in 1997.

British police raided Mr Mills' office and the home he shares with Ms Jowell on 10 February on the request of Italian prosecutors.

The prosecutors have now passed their information on to a judge in Italy who is considering whether there is any case to answer.

Mr Mills denies absolutely doing anything wrong and denies that the money came from anyone connected with Mr Berlusconi, but that it came from another client.

Why was Ms Jowell drawn into the controversy?

It emerged that a loan secured on a house the couple jointly own was paid off with the Italian money.

Ms Jowell and her husband jointly signed the mortgage loan application form which raised 408,000.

Ms Jowell has categorically denied it was paid off with money from Mr Berlusconi.

It has also emerged that Mr Mills believed the Italian money was a gift - and there are rules covering gifts to ministers or their spouses in the ministerial code.

What does the ministers' code say?

The ministers' code of conduct says ministers "are advised to provide their permanent secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The list should cover not only the minister's personal interests but those of a spouse or partner... the same rules apply to the acceptance of gifts".

Did Ms Jowell follow the rules?

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell says in his report on the matter that Ms Jowell did not become aware until August 2004 that her husband had received the money "he had reasonable grounds to believe was a gift" in September 2000.

He adds: "She fully accepts that Mr Mills should have informed her, and if he had, she would of course have reported it to her permanent secretary".

Did the cabinet secretary clear her?

The cabinet secretary makes clear in his report that it is the prime minister who is the "right and proper person to take a view on matters arising based on the ministerial code".

So Tony Blair cleared her?

Yes. He issued a statement saying: "She is not in breach of her obligations under the ministerial code... I have full confidence in her."

What has been the impact on the couple?

On Saturday they announced they were going to separate, with Mr Mills' lawyer saying their marriage had been put under "strain" by the controversy over their finances.

The statement says Mr Mills "fully accepts responsibility for these pressures and for the situation into which he put his wife, who he knows is entirely blameless in all of this".

It adds he is "mortified" by the "embarrassment" he has caused her, and the couple hoped their relationship could be restored.

Is Ms Jowell's job now safe?

That remains to be seen. The prime minister's comments are unlikely to stop the media attention - especially with a decision due soon in Italy on whether to prosecute Mr Mills.

Ms Jowell will be hoping the announcement that the couple are to separate, with Mr Mills saying in a statement saying he is "fully responsible" for the pressure currently on his wife, will take the heat out of the story but questions are likely to continue about how much she knew about his business dealings.

Relentless press attention can undermine any minister, irrespective of the substance of the claims.

How have politicians reacted?

Conservative MP Nigel Evans, a member of the culture media and sport select committee, told the BBC he was "absolutely staggered" by the report issued by Sir Gus O'Donnell and called it "a whitewash". He said the ministerial code was "in tatters" unless Ms Jowell resigned.

Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle, himself a former minister, said these matters were the "very kind of things that we excoriated the Tories for in the 1990s. And I think it damages government and it damages politics."

But Health minister Rosie Winterton said: "I think Tessa is a minister of the highest integrity, a very effective minister. And I hope that it will be the end of the matter."

What are the implications for the future?

It seems pressure to update the ministerial code is growing.

Chairman of the committee on standards in public life Sir Alistair Graham said the cabinet secretary was not the right person to investigate Ms Jowell's conduct.

He said the situation showed that the current regulations were "pretty bankrupt".

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