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PM to 'sort out' May/Gove dispute

David Cameron said he would "sort out" a dispute between two senior Conservative cabinet ministers over how to tackle extremism but insisted the Government was united in seeking to deal with the threat.

The Prime Minister vowed to "get to the bottom" of a spat between Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May but made clear he would not allow it to distract his focus from international talks.

He set up an inquiry after the pair's dispute spilled into the public domain, overshadowing the launch of the Government's legislative programme and forcing him to field questions about it at a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama.

"I will get to the bottom of who has said what and what has happened and I will sort it all out once I have finished these important meetings I am having here," a clearly frustrated Mr Cameron said at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Brussels.

But he was keen to stress there were no cabinet divisions over the need to deal with extremism at its roots.

He went on: "I set up the UK extremism, task force which I set up after the appalling murder of Lee Rigby because I wanted to make sure that the Government is doing everything that it could to drive extremism out of our schools, our colleges, off our campuses, out of prisons, out of every part of national life.

"It is very important that we recognise that you have got to deal not only with violent extremism but also the sink of extremism, of tolerating extremist views, from which violence can grow.

"The whole Government is signed up to that agenda and is driving through changes to deliver that agenda."

The row burst into the open yesterday with the publication of a letter sent by Mrs May to the Education Secretary, indicating she was concerned that Mr Gove's department had failed to deal with warnings of a plot by hardline Islamists to seize control of Birmingham schools.

Reports suggest that the pair have clashed over Mr Gove's insistence that radicalisation must be tackled at its roots by stepping up the Government's Prevent strategy to take on those spreading extreme messages in the community, which Mrs May is said to fear risks antagonising mainstream Muslims.

In her letter, the Home Secretary appeared to raise concerns about the possibility that hair-coverings of the kind used by many Muslim women might be banned in schools, telling Mr Gove: "The text on dress requirements should... not be part of the extremism definition."

Mr Gove and Mrs May yesterday sought to dampen talk of a split by issuing an unusual joint statement insisting they were "working together" on the issue of tackling extremism.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband accused them of failing children.

"We can't have two cabinet ministers squabbling with each other about who is to blame," he said.

"It is unseemly, it is not the way business should be done in government and, frankly, children deserve better than this.

"What we need is for David Cameron to show some leadership and sort this issue out."

Mr Cameron's official spokesman declined to say whether the Prime Minister had asked his adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan, to conduct the investigation he has ordered into the row between Mr Gove and Mrs May or whether any disciplinary procedure was under way.

He said he expected the results of inquiries to be delivered to the PM "in short order".

Leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley acknowledged that Mr Gove and Mrs May had been having a "robust" debate but insisted they were working together on the issue of preventing extremism.

Mr Lansley told BBC2's Daily Politics: "They have been having a robust debate, but I don't think it is right to characterise this as a contrast between, on the one hand, trying to deal with long-term issues that lead to the circumstances for terrorists to emerge and (on the other) just dealing with terrorism.

"That's not how any of us in Government, including the Home Office, are dealing with this.

"We are working together in order to try and make sure we prevent the circumstances and the incidents occurring."

Asked whether Mr Cameron had had to bang his ministers' heads together to force them to issue a joint statement, Mr Lansley said: "I saw Theresa yesterday morning.

"I didn't see any bruises."

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