Education & Family

Gove summoned before MPs over advisers' 'bullying' case

Michael Gove
Image caption Michael Gove is responsible for the conduct of his advisers under the ministerial code

Michael Gove is to be summoned to reappear before MPs to face further questions about what he knew of claims of bullying by his key advisers.

The Education Select Committee has recalled the education secretary and the Department for Education's permanent secretary, Chris Wormald.

Mr Gove had previously told the MPs he had been unaware of any such claims.

Two members of his staff have been involved in a grievance procedure involving a senior civil servant.

A date for Mr Gove and Mr Wormald to appear before the committee is now being sought.

In a written response to acting chair of the committee Patricia Glass, Mr Gove said he was free the next day on Thursday 28 February.

But the committee has turned down that offer and a later date will be announced.

£25,000 payout

Mr Gove and Mr Wormald will face questions about a senior civil servant's allegations of bullying by one of the secretary of state's special advisers, Dominic Cummings, and James Frayne, his department's former head of communications.

A Department for Education (DfE) report into the allegations, written by a high-ranking civil servant, found no grounds for disciplinary action, but acknowledged the two men had been "perceived as intimidating" at times and that bad language had been used.

The case was to be heard in an employment tribunal, with the secretary of state listed as the respondent.

But the DfE settled the case with a reported £25,000 payout before it got to an open court hearing.

On 23 January, Mr Gove was asked by Labour select 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".

Now the committee has summoned him to face further questions about the affair.

In his letter to Ms Glass, Mr Gove said he was always happy to appear before the MPs to discuss the government's education reforms, such as the academies and free schools programme.

"I understand, however, that you would like to discuss the details of one individual's grievance against the department following organisational restructuring.

"I will, of course, be happy to appear in front of you at any time to discuss the issue. I am, in fact, free tomorrow to answer any question you might like to put.

"Then, perhaps, the Department for Education team can get on with improving children's lives and you can consider where your own energies might be directed."

Ministerial code

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."

Commenting on the recall, Mr Mearns said: "The education secretary clearly has questions to answer.

"He says he was unaware of serious allegations of bullying and harassment regarding his close advisers; however, the ministerial code is quite clear - 'the responsibility of the management and conduct of special advisors, including discipline, rests with the minister who made the appointment'.

"Given the allegations against his advisors, the secretary of state needs to account for his adherence, or lack of it, to the ministerial code."

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