Boris Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings is facing the possible withdrawal of his Westminster pass after a Tory peer urged tough action over his ‘contempt’ of parliament.
Lord Hayward has written to Commons Speaker John Bercow and Lords Speaker Lord Fowler to review the security pass of the former Vote Leave campaign chief, given his refusal to appear before an inquiry into fake news.
Cummings was found in contempt earlier this year after he failed to comply with a request to give oral evidence to the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s probe into the proliferation of false information during the EU referendum.
The No.10 aide was granted a pass last month in line with usual requirements that senior Downing Street special advisers need access to parliament for their duties.
But MPs and peers have questioned how the approval could have been granted given the rare finding of contempt against him. DCMS committee chair Damian Collins has said Cummings has proved his “total disregard” for the authority of parliament.
In his letter, passed to HuffPost UK, Lord Hayward states: “To most people I am sure it would seem inappropriate to issue a pass to someone when they have been found, only a few weeks earlier, to be in contempt of our procedures. A pass which gives them rights to move freely about and use the facilities of the Palace.
“I would ask therefore that this be reviewed as a matter of urgency and, if appropriate, that the pass is withdrawn until the contempt is purged.”
Hayward was one of several peers - including Brexiteer former cabinet minister Lord Forsyth - who criticised Cummings in the House of Lords on Wednesday as they discussed his sacking of a Treasury special adviser Sonia Khan.
HuffPost revealed last month how Khan was summarily dismissed and escorted by police from No.10. Her former boss Sajid Javid complained to Boris Johnson that he was not consulted about the decision.
Critics claimed that Cummings breached usual civil service rules on disciplinary cases, but since then episode special advisers’ contracts have been rewritten to give him rather than individual ministers the formal power over hirings and firings.
In his letter, Hayward referenced the change of contracts for special advisers.“It will probably be argued that once issued the pass should not be withdrawn unless a specific offence is committed,” he wrote.
“However, the relevant parallel would appear to be that all special advisers recently had their terms and conditions arbitrarily changed even though they were still working for the same minister in the same role. Reviewing terms and conditions for a pass would therefore seem to fall within the same parameters.”
The granting of security passes is a matter for parliament and not government and Bercow and Fowler have ultimate sanction on their approval.
Cummings’ defenders say that as the PM’s chief adviser he needs to access parliament to do his job. Parliament’s lack of any sanctions process for those found in contempt is seen as a matter for MPs, allies have argued.
The former Vote Leave chief has caused controversy with some of his visits to the Commons. A few weeks ago, he heckled Jeremy Corbyn to ask why he had not yet agreed a general election.
Last week, he enraged shadow minister Karl Turner by responding to complaints about death threats by saying MPs should get Brexit done.
Cummings has said that he was willing to comply with the Commons committee’s inquiry but only on his own terms. He accused MPs of “grandstanding” and “spreading errors and lies”.
Tory MP Roger Gale last month accused Cummings of being “an unelected foul-mouthed oaf” for his role in the prorogation of parliament.
In the Lords, former cabinet secretary Lord Butler suggested civil service rules had not been followed over Cummings’ dismissal of the Treasury adviser.
Amid reports that Khan had been offered a £40,000 settlement, Lord Hayward said: “I hope that any compensation to Sonia Khan comes not from the pocket of the taxpayer, but from Dominic Cummings.”
A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Office said: “As there is no outstanding sanction against Mr Cummings, there are no grounds for withholding his pass. The Speaker welcomes the privileges committee inquiry into the house’s powers in respect of contempt and he looks forward to reading its conclusions.”
Downing Street has been approached for comment.
Lord Hayward’s letter in full:
I am writing re the issuing of a Parliamentary pass to Dominic Cummings despite the fact that he was, following a resolution of the Commons on 2nd April 2019, deemed to be in contempt of Parliament. This pass, I believe, was provided on the basis of being normal procedure for Special Advisers at Number 10.
Could you please confirm how many other people have been judged similarly to have been in contempt in the last 12 months and if any action has been taken.
To most people I am sure it would seem inappropriate to issue a pass to someone when they have been found, only a few weeks earlier, to be in contempt of our procedures. A pass which gives them rights to move freely about and use the facilities of the Palace.
I would ask therefore that this be reviewed as a matter of urgency and, if appropriate, that the pass is withdrawn until the contempt is purged.
It will probably be argued that once issued the pass should not be withdrawn unless a specific offence is committed. However, the relevant parallel would appear to be that all special advisers recently had their terms and conditions arbitrarily changed even though they were still working for the same minister in the same role. Reviewing terms and conditions for a pass would therefore seem to fall within the same parameters.
Also when the Chair of the Privileges Committee issued the report of her committee in relation to Mr Cummings she indicated that there should be a review of processes when people are found to be in contempt. A review which I understand is now underway. However, I do not believe we should wait for an overall and fully considered review before a decision is taken in this case.
I would be happy to discuss this matter further if you felt any clarification was necessary.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
The Lord Hayward OBE
c.c. Kate Green MP