Select Committee on Public Administration Third Report


(a)We believe that the development of codes of conduct across public life reinforces the need for the constitutional status of the Ministerial Code to be properly recognised. It is not a legal document but a set of guidelines. It does not necessarily cover all aspects of what should be considered acceptable Ministerial practice or behaviour and should not substitute for the Prime Minister's judgement, for which he must account to Parliament. It is unsatisfactory for its status still to be in doubt. It is the rule book for ministerial conduct, including the responsibilities of Ministers to Parliament, and its status should reflect its importance. It may have developed in a private and ad hoc way, but it is now an integral part of the new constitutional architecture. It is time for it to be recognised as such (paragraph 15).
(b)In 1996 the Public Service Committee recommended that the Prime Minister has to be the final judge of Ministerial conduct and performance.[1] We repeat our predecessors' view and recommend that prime ministerial ownership should be both explicitly acknowledged and reflected in the wording of the Code (paragraph 20).
(c)We do not believe that Question Time is an adequate or sufficient forum for considered probing of Government policy and recommend that an annual meeting should be arranged between the Prime Minister and the Liaison Committee, representing the chairs of all the select committees, under strict terms of agreement, using the Government's Annual Report as its basis. Questions might include the Prime Minister's responsibility for the Ministerial Code, and any alleged breaches, while the Prime Minister's own duty to account to Parliament in this way should be included as a provision of the Code (paragraph 21).
(d)The Code is the Prime Minister's document; and it is with the Prime Minister that the buck must finally stop. This closes the accountability gap and resolves the problem of circularity. We therefore recommend that the Government reconsider its response to Lord Neill's report and implement fully recommendations 13 and 14 in order to establish the final and clear responsibility of the Prime Minister for ministerial conduct under the Code (paragraph 22).
(e)We recommend that, when next revised, the Ministerial Code should be amended to include a reference to contacts with lobbyists (paragraph 23).
(f)We recommend that when the Ministerial Code is next revised the spirit of the original wording should be restored in respect of announcements of important Government policy (paragraph 24).
(g)We recommend that the remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards be expanded to include the provision of independent advice to Ministers on their responsibilities under the Code. We further recommend that, on referral from the Prime Minister, or by a resolution of the House proposed by the chair of the Liaison Committee, the Parliamentary Ombudsman should be empowered to conduct independent investigations on alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code and to report to the Prime Minister and to the House. Such reports should be published (paragraph 30).
(h)We recommend that the Seven Principles of Public Life are prominently included in the next version of the Code (paragraph 34).
(i)We recommend that a free-standing code of ethical principles is devised. We further recommend that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should be formally consulted on the drafting of such a code (paragraph 34).
(j)We recommend that all those aspects of the Ministerial Code relating to parliamentary accountability should be included in an up-dated version of the House Resolution (paragraph 35).
(k)We recommend that when the Code is next revised the opportunity is taken to give greater coherence and clarity to its structure (paragraph 36).
(l)Endorsement by the legislature enhances accountability and we recommend that the section of the Code incorporating the House Resolution is formally debated and approved in each Parliament (paragraph 37).
(m)We recommend that the proposed Ministerial Code is presented to Parliament within three months of a new administration taking office (paragraph 38).
(n)We recommend that a debate be held on the Ministerial Code immediately following its publication, prior to the approval process we recommend above, that any subsequent revisions to it are also published, and that any revisions relating to parliamentary accountability should be considered and approved by Parliament (paragraph 38).

1  HC (313-I) 1995-1996 para 52 Back

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