Parliamentary watchdog clears Jowell over husband's stake in pubs

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Sir Philip Mawer, the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, has cleared Tessa Jowell over allegations that she failed to declare her husband's stake in a pub chain.

He said that under Commons rules, Ms Jowell, the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, was not required to declare the shares in the Old Monk Company brewers.

In a letter to the Tory MP Nigel Evans, who had raised the case, Sir Philip said MPs were not required to register shareholdings in which their spouse alone had a beneficial interest.

"In short, even if (and this is, I understand, denied by him) [David] Mills was the beneficial owner of the Old Monk Company shares, Ms Jowell was not obliged by the rules of the House to register them," he said.

Sir Philip's statement will significantly ease the pressure on the Culture Secretary. But Tony Blair will today be heavily criticised for the Government's handling of the various allegations raised over the past week. In its annual report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life will warn that the system of policing the ministerial code is undermining public confidence in politicians and harming the Government.

It will criticise the Prime Minister for stalling the appointment of an independent adviser to help ministers comply with their code. The committee believes an adviser could have made it easier for Ms Jowell to answer the complicated allegations over the business career of her husband.

Sir Alistair Graham, the committee's chairman, will tell a public meeting that a very small number of incidents can have a disproportionate impact on public confidence in the system.

"I am puzzled why the Prime Minister has not acted on this issue," he will say. "At regular intervals he has been faced with allegations of breaches of the ministerial code in which he and his government have become the centre of a media storm. This leads to immense pressure on a minister whose future will often depend on the vagaries of an ad hoc investigation.

"There must be a better system and there is one. It is one which can be fair to the minister and the integrity of the ministerial code with a clear procedure laid down in the code itself for independent investigation of the facts surrounding an allegation."

Ms Jowell yesterday fulfilled her public engagements as Women's minister to mark International Women's Day. She spoke to the TUC in Eastbourne and laid a wreath at the statute of Emily Pankhurst, the suffragette, in the gardens by the House of Lords, with other women politicians.