Wednesday 21 May 2008

Breaches of the Ministerial Code

Last week the Public Administration Committee brought out a report entitled - "Investigating the conduct of ministers". It's summary is important

"The post of Prime Minister's Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests was created in March 2006, and extended by the incoming Prime Minister in July 2007. Part of the new Independent Adviser's role is to investigate allegations that the Ministerial Code has been breached. We and our predecessor Committees have been calling for an investigator into alleged ministerial misconduct for some time. It does not seem fair that the media can claim to take the place of due process when ministers are accused of misconduct. It also seems disproportionate that the only effective sanction for non-compliance with the Code (however minor) is dismissal.

This Report considers the suitability of the new mechanism for investigating alleged breaches of the Code. We welcome the creation of an investigatory capacity as an important step. However, we have identified limitations on the Independent Adviser's powers which cast doubt over the effective ability of any holder of the post to secure public confidence. In particular, the Independent Adviser should be free to instigate investigations. As it is, he is dependent on being invited to do so by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister should also undertake that findings of investigations into the conduct of ministers will routinely be published.

Constitutional watchdogs such as this new investigator need to be demonstrably independent of those they regulate—in this case, ministers, including the Prime Minister. The post of Independent Adviser meets none of the criteria we associate with independence. The holder of the post, Sir Philip Mawer, has been appointed by the Prime Minister on a non-specific term of office which can be terminated by the Prime Minister at any time and on any grounds. He has no staff of his own, no office and no budget, but relies on the Cabinet Office for all these things. There has been no open advertisement process and no parliamentary involvement in the appointment. Until these defects are remedied, we have difficulty accepting the suggestion that the new investigator can meaningfully be considered to be independent."

The full report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmpubadm/381/381.pdf