Saturday, July 22, 2006

Proof that Prescott HAS Broken the Ministerial Code

This story will be in the Independent on Sunday tomorrow. It brings yet more pressure on Tony Blair to ask Sir John Bourn to launch an investigation into whether Prescott has broken the Ministerial Code. His investigation shouldn't take him too long, if what Francis Elliott and Marie Woolf say sticks...

John Prescott broke the rules on ministerial conduct at least three times when he accepted gifts and hospitality from a US billionaire, the Independent on Sunday can reveal. The Deputy Prime Minister, already reeling after a damning report by the Parliamentary watchdog, is dealt a fresh blow today as he admits he failed to declare to Customs the gift of a cowboy outfit from Philip Anschutz.

The confession piles the pressure on Tony Blair who is refusing to investigate Mr Prescott’s conduct in secretly staying on the ranch of the Millennium Dome’s owner and receiving presents from him. The obligation to declare to Customs overseas gifts “on importation” is clearly set out in the Ministerial Code, the rule-book against government sleaze.

Mr Prescott’s office last night sought to deny the latest breach insisting that he did not want to keep the Stetson hat, belt, spurs and cowboy boots and therefore didn’t owe any tax on the items.

But his defence was mocked by Opposition MPs who are demanding that Mr Blair act before leaving his deputy in charge while taking a holiday. Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, criticised Mr Prescott for initially failing to register his stay at Mr Anschutz’s ranch and for not reporting the gifts to his senior civil servant on Friday. Both are breaches of the Ministerial Code.

Despite the unprecedented criticism from the standards watchdog Downing Street claimed that the matter was now “resolved”. But Mr Blair’s efforts to save Mr Prescott began to unravel last night as the third breach of the code came to light. Section 5.25 (d) reads: “Gifts received overseas worth more than the normal travellers’ allowances should be declared on importation to Customs and Excise who will advise on any duty and tax liability.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Prescott said the gifts had not been declared but said that the omission was because officials knew that he did not want to keep them and therefore did not owe any duty. She said: “The rules as set out by HMRC [Customs] state that no customs duty or tax is payable on gifts received by Ministers on visits overseas, where the gifts are retained by the relevant Government department. “If a Minister wishes to retain a gift, then he or she would be liable for any tax or duty and Customs would advise accordingly. In this case, the gifts had been retained by the department and thus no tax or duty was liable on them. It is a nonsense therefore to suggest that the Ministerial Code has been broken.”

But Mr Swire said: “We found out on Friday that Mr Prescott failed to tell his Permanent Secretary about these gifts, now we discover that he failed to declare them to Customs as he clearly should have done. It is not for Mr Prescott to decide which sections of the Ministerial Code he observes and which he ignores. “Sir Philip Mawer, who had to write to Mr Prescott twice to establish the truth about these gifts, said he did not find the DPM’s procedures for handling gifts “reassuring”. Today’s further revelation can only add to the doubts.

“If this Government wants to cling to any pretence to integrity Tony Blair must now ask Sir John Bourn, the independent adviser on the Code, to investigate without further delay.” Full details of Mr Prescott’s gifts from Mr Anschutz, whose AEG firm bought the Dome and has applied for a license to run a super-casino nearby, emerged in the appendix to Sir Philip’s report.

On July 14 the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to the standards watchdog saying he was “initially provided with the items” so that he could go on a horseback tour of Mr Anschutz’s Eagles Nest ranch in Denver. “Some time after my departure from the ranch they were sent on by Mr Anschutz to my departmental office,” he added. The Stetson was worth about £97, the cowboy boots £120, the belt and buckle £207 and some spurs £185, he said. A pair of jeans he had also been given for the tour had not been sent on, he said.

Meanwhile it emerged that Mr Prescott’s office, reeling from revelations that he had affairs with his private secretary, has hired actors to train staff. Aka Productions is using role play to increase productivity. A Government spokesman said. “It is widely agreed that in some situations role play and the use of actors makes the training effective.” But Eric Pickles, Shadow Minister for Local Government, said: “I'd have thought that the department might have had enough drama after John Prescott's antics of recent months."

15 comments:

burmah toad said...

toast

james said...

Given that he's supposed to report gifts to his senior civil servant, I don't suppose it would have been too hard for news of a gifted cowboy playset to reach this 'senior civil servant' via Prescott's entourage, which I presume is made up of other civil servants, and for him to take action on it.

I don't believe that Prescott was given the gift in private, with nobody else present or to later take notice of this new addition to Prescott's suitcase, so why didn't any of the civil servants with him request that he declare the gift with Customs and with the appropriate register? I don't believe that none of them around him didn't advise him of this or at least make him aware of the implications (for his own reassurance) involved for not doing so. They would know that it is a breach of the Code of Conduct and have a duty to act on it. So, to whom are their loyalties placed? The state or the politician? This clearly highlights the overly-politicised nature of our Civil Service.

As well as probing Prescott (God, the thought... Eughh), we should be asking more about the activities of our civil servants and whose interests they serve.

Andrew Kinsman said...

John Prescott . . . . a horseback tour . . . aren't there animal cruelty issues here?

bushbaby said...

Picking up on Andrew's thought about animal cruelty .. a dog as sick as Prescott would be 'put to sleep' by any caring owner.

Isn't it time for Blair to act? Or maybe (knowing that his own career is fatally damaged and the end is near) he is enjoying seeing JP suffer - perhaps it makes up for having had to see JP's strutting swagger for all thses years?

James seems to attach blame to the senior civil servant for the non-declaration of the cowboy outfit (btw .. she was a woman not a guy) but, if JP was as clear as he normally is when making a statement, my bet is that the poor Dame spent many hours trying to understand a single word he spluttered.

As one who would never deliberately harm a dumb animal, I do hope Blair takes no action whatsoever - the longer the two of them hang on the surer it is that Gordo will enter the history books as the last Labour leader.

Adrian Yalland said...

If Prescott didn't want to keep them, w2hy didn't he just decline to accept them?

Xphjklyfg said...

And what would you do if given a cowboy outfit, particularly if you hated to be laughed at? You would smile politely, and consign it to a dark cupboard. If you could make the cupboard a departmental one, so that you didn't have to pay tax on the thing, you would be extra happy.

Let's criticise Prescott for his real mistakes, not this trumped-up charge.

WmByrd said...

Very good point James.
It beggars belief that ODPM's senior head
1)didn't know that Prescott had been meeting Anschutz as DPM.
2) didn't ask Prescott what he'd been discussing, and explain that the casino bids were now DCMS concerns, not his.
3) did not inform DCMS fully of the Anschutz ODPM meetings. (Were they not minuted? If not why not?)
4) When she Ok'd the ranch visit (as Prezza claimed to Humphrys she did) then why on earth did she?
5) If she considered it a 'private visit' how did public money come to be paid by the department (via its head) into a charity? Has this happened before?
5) How could she ignore the present? It arrived at the department by post, and it seems to have been common knowledge in ODPM. Is there no routine for recording large presents that arrive at ministerial offices?
7) How could she not have heard of Prescott's alleged long-term serial harrassment of and relationships with junior female staff: flagrant breaches of the civil service code.
As James rightly says, have senior civil servants lost all sense of public accountability?
Maybe Prescott was told or realised in Colorado that he couldn't keep the cowboy stuff as his staff had seen it, so he requested it be posted on to him in London, in order to avoid paying custom duties?
Gus O'Donnell should mount an internal inquiry into what his staff knew about the whole Prescott-Anschutz connection.

Maggie Thather fan said...

Xphjklyfg said...
And what would you do if given a cowboy outfit, particularly if you hated to be laughed at? You would smile politely, and consign it to a dark cupboard. If you could make the cupboard a departmental one, so that you didn't have to pay tax on the thing, you would be extra happy.

Let's criticise Prescott for his real mistakes, not this trumped-up charge.

12:02 AM

Absolutely typical sort of response of reverse logic.
He was required to declare gifts, the visit, and avoid anything that could possibly be seen to be against the Ministerial code.
He has been a Minister for 10 yrs and failure to do so is indefensible.
In any event, does anyone believe a) the valuation, and B) that he did not want to keep them.
Such is the duplicity of Prezza, I find it difficult to believe anything he says.
And I am not alone.
It is all the more staggering that the PM, holed up in his bunker, refuses to accept reality that Prezza must go....NOW

Anonymous said...

Could someone confirm who actually has posession of the items now?

If they department has them, then do they still technically belong to Prescott?

Will they be given away free or donated to a Charity shop, or will Prescott and Mrs Blair sign them and auction them to raise money for the Labour Party?

If the items have been sold, how much were they sold for, and where did the money end up?

Perhaps someone could provide an independant valuation of the items.

And how much would they fetch on e-bay?

Rog said...

Why are actors required to tell the ODPM staff not to shag their secretaries in the office on office time?

Did Mawer's report shed any light on The Fat Oaf's initial excuses (discussing Wilberforce, sugar beet, etc)?

Splashitallover said...

No, this is nothing. "Importing" a cowboy outfit?

Leaving aside what 'should' happen, the political sequence seems pretty clear.

Prescott goes when another dozen or so Labour MPs call for him to go, publicly, and by so doing, put pressure on Blair to get rid of him. Until then, he stays.

Graham E said...

So the items were retained by The Depatment then. Presumably on the off chance that they may get a future DPM who is overweight,has a size 8 1/2 head, has no objection to wearing 2nd hand clothes,has the initials JP and who gets his rocks off playing Deputy Dawg.Yeah right!

Colin D. said...

Will you guys leave Prezza alone! Prescot is a disgrace to the whole English/British political class. He has no sence of shame.
1. Thumpa a heckler & walks.
2.Gives a2 fingured salute in the doorway of No10
3. Bonks away in the firms time, no doubt soiling the furniture!
4.uses ministerial limo's to go bonking in or at doncaster. Takes his Bouncers with him. {at OUR expence]
5. Uses Obscene language on national. [ i.e. Michael Crick interview]
I am sure he has something on Yo Tony or more likely on Cherie. Bigger than Carol Caplin??

Do consider this: When HE goes who fills the void. Harriet Harman QC.??

The mother of all nightmares awaits! Yo Tony Re-shuffles again, scrapes the barrel & suck me up pops Gwynfor Mathews Prosser MP for the Dover & deal constituncy.
When that happens it will really be a case of " will the last Englishman to leave the country: Please, Please turn out the lights & Close the door!!"
Churchill, Atlee, & Wilson must be turning in their graves.

P.S. Harman is the one who said Prime minister "Gordon brown" & Interprets for Yo Tony. BBC. Q.T.

Anonymous said...

Which government department now owns the cowboy outfit and can we use a FoI request to find out what they are doing with it?

Anonymous said...

I think it time we stopped going on about Prescott. If he has not gone yet, he never will. That is Labour's legacy to British politics- before 1997, we had the most accountable politicians in the Western World and they had to go for minor lapses. New Labour changed that and now we are just as corrupt as the rest of Southern Europe and the Third World. Things have changed...things have moved on...we just need to get on with life.