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Jowell to face parliament after split with husband

Written by: Staff

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) Embattled Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell faces fellow parliamentarians today for the first time since announcing she was separating from her husband, who faces a corruption probe in Italy.

She is due to make a routine appearance in the House of Commons to answer questions on her departmental brief.

Her parliamentary private secretary Huw Irranca-Davies told Sky News there would be a ''tremendous groundswell of support'' for her when she addresses Commons.

''It will become a sad day in politics if any Cabinet Secretary or Minister is excluded from office because of either guilt by association or because of speculation upon speculation,'' he said.

Yesterday, friends insisted Jowell had not split with her lawyer husband David Mills to save her political career.

The pair said on Saturday they had agreed a ''period of separation'' after the strain of probes into their financial affairs.

Last week Jowell, a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, survived an inquiry into whether she had broken the ministerial code of conduct over money received by her husband and used to repay a home mortgage.

Magistrates in Italy are investigating whether Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bribed Mills to give favourable evidence in a corruption probe, something both Berlusconi and Mills deny.

Cabinet Minister David Miliband told BBC's Sunday AM programme it was ''grotesque'' to suggest the separation was motivated by political considerations.

''The love and commitment that they've had to each other is deep and the anguish that they must be going through is dreadful,'' Miliband said.

Labour peer Baroness Jay, a close friend of Jowell, said marriage and family were ''fundamentally important'' to the couple.

''This is about emotions, not about politics. It's about relationships and not about careers,'' she told BBC TV.

Mills told Monday's Times he was ''disgusted'' by suggestions the split was a sham.

''The idea that people could set up a separation for contrived reasons - it is just not how human beings behave,'' he was quoted as saying from an undisclosed location abroad. ''I truly hope we can be reconciled in the end.'' CABINET SECRETARY Conservative MP Nigel Evans, a member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said Jowell should quit.

''As a secretary of state you have to know exactly if there is anything that is involved in your family life that may conflict with the fact that you are a Minister of the crown,'' he told BBC TV.

''She either didn't do that and was ignorant of it, therefore was negligent in her responsibilities, or she did know. Either way, she should go.'' Jowell had told an inquiry led by Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell she had not known about a 0,000 payment received by her husband in 2000 until he told her about it four years later.

Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Chris Huhne told Sky News that Jowell's admissions suggested ''at the very least she's been astonishingly naive.'' ''That is not the best quality one expects for a cabinet Minister,'' he said.

Reuters VJ DB0814

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