Ministerial Conduct Must Be Properly Monitored, Review Says | Politics


The prime minister should no longer be the only person who can authorize ethical inquiries into his own conduct and that of ministers, according to a broad review by the independent committee on standards in public life.

The committee, chaired by former spy chief Jonathan Evans, said the rules for the conduct of ministers needed to be tightened, arguing that they are currently “below the bar” for effective regulation of standards.

In his “landscape review” of the standards of public life, he made nine recommendations, including major changes to the ministerial code of conduct, which is overseen by the prime minister.

This follows numerous calls for reform of the system after Boris Johnson’s former adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, resigned after a report on the conduct of Priti Patel, the minister for the Interior, was ignored.

Following an investigation into allegations that Patel engaged in bullying behavior, Allan discovered that she “did not always meet the high standards expected of her”, but a government statement said the Prime Minister had full confidence in her and considered the matter “closed”.

Since then, Johnson has appointed a new adviser, Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s former senior aide, whose first task was to investigate the controversial Downing Street renovation that involved Johnson borrowing money from a Tory donor via the party. conservative.

Lord Geidt concluded that Johnson had acted “recklessly” without breaking the rules.

At present, the Prime Minister is the only person empowered to order inquiries into the conduct of ministers, including himself, and it is he who appoints the independent adviser to conduct the inquiries.

However, the Committee on Standards of Public Life said the independent advisor on ministerial interests should instead be appointed by a panel made up mostly of independent members.

He also recommended that the adviser be able to initiate his own investigations, have the power to identify breaches of the code and have his report published within eight weeks of its submission to the prime minister.

With regard to the ministerial code itself, the report states that it must have a constitutional basis provided for by law, with any revision subject to the opinion of the independent adviser, and that possible sanctions in case of violation must be planned, including apologies, fines and a request for an opinion from a resigning minister.

The committee also recommended strengthening the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which governs revolving doors between the government and the private sector by advising on lobbying and jobs held by former ministers and officials.

He said the current ban on officials and ministers from lobbying for two years after leaving office should be extendable for up to five years, and that any work for a lobbying firm should be included in it. ban, rather than just a pressure ban.

“The lack of meaningful sanctions for a breach of the rules is no longer viable,” the report said, suggesting that injunctions against lobbying work could be sought or means to recover severance or retirement pay.

Third, he said that further reforms to the powers of the Public Appointments Commissioner, who oversees the jobs of senior officials and public bodies, are needed to ensure the independence of the appointments committees.

Evans, former director general of MI5, said the committee concluded that “the current system of regulating standards is too dependent on conventions.” The recommendations were necessary to “restore public confidence in the regulation of ethical standards in government,” he added.

In response, Dave Penman, general secretary of the union of senior officials of the FDA, said the recommendation that the independent adviser should be able to initiate investigations was “essential if the code is to have a meaningful independent function.”

“There is no denying that the current prime minister has undermined confidence in the ministerial code as a meaningful regulator of ministerial conduct,” said Penman.

The recommendations were endorsed by Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister who first established the committee.

In a foreword, Major said the committee “is making many important recommendations which I hope will be approved by the government – and, where appropriate, parliament – and then implemented.”

Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said her party welcomed the report and that many of its recommendations had already been requested by Labor.

“The actions of Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues have repeatedly undermined the standards of our public life,” she said.

“The system that is supposed to enforce the ministerial code, lobbying rules, professional appointments, public appointments and transparency is clearly inadequate.

“Ministers have flouted the rules and it is high time for a radical overhaul of the system. “


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