Headlines: September 6th, 2006



A committee of MPs believes an independent investigation of alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code is long overdue and has set out the elements it believes need to be in place for such a review to happen. The Public Administration Select Committee has today published, ‘The Ministerial Code: the case for independent investigation’.

The Committee’s report further underlines calls made at the end of July by the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee and the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life that the Prime Minister should introduce an independent element into the investigation of complaints about ministers’ conduct.

In the conclusions to its report the select Committee says the investigatory machinery should be clearly independent of the Executive. The MPs say the work should not involve the creation of a further regulatory office and that ideally it should be carried out by an official connected to the House. Any investigations should, the report says, concern itself only with establishing the facts of the case and should make its findings available to Parliament and to the public. It should take steps to avoid the proliferation of frivolous or vexatious complaints.

Under the system the Prime Minister would have the right to judge whether the facts of any case amounted to a breach of the Ministerial Code and what the consequences should be.

The select Committee chairman, Tony Wright, the Labour MP for Cannock Chase, said, “The Ministerial Code is now established as the public framework of rules against which ministerial conduct is judged. That is a positive development. But providing the means for independent investigation of alleged breaches is long overdue. This would benefit not just public confidence but also the interests of the Prime Minister, the government and especially those at the centre of allegations who deserve a fair hearing.”He went on to say it was puzzling that the Government had resisted previous calls for independent investigation because those making such allegations would then have to “put up or shut up” and such a system would not interfere with the political accountability of ministers, or with the political responsibility of the Prime Minister for the fate of minister