Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Committee

First letter to the Prime Minister from Tony Wright, MP, Chairman of the Public Administration Committee

  The Select Committee on Public Administration has decided to undertake an inquiry into the Ministerial Code. I am therefore writing to invite you to give evidence to the Committee.

  As you know, the Ministerial Code is often described as the "prime ministerial rulebook". It has been developed and issued by every Prime Minister since Clement Attlee, but only published in 1992 by John Major. Uniquely, it is the Prime Minister's constitutional property and responsibility.

  You may also recall that our predecessor Select Committee, the Public Service Committee, in the last Parliament, undertook an important inquiry into the rules and conventions on ministerial accountability (HC, 1995-96, 313). Noting that the Ministerial Code (or Questions of Procedure for Ministers as it then was) was a "prime ministerial document", the Committee recommended a new Commons Resolution on these matters, and such a Resolution was passed by the House on 19 March 1997. This is now included in the current version of the Ministerial Code.

  The Code has also come under continuing scrutiny from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, with recommendations for revisions. The most recent Report of the Neill Committee (Sixth Report, Reinforcing Standards) returned to the matter; and the Government has yet to reply.

  It is against this background that the Select Committee has decided to undertake this inquiry. It notes your own contribution to the development of the Code and, in particular, your declaration in the foreword to the current edition in which you say "openness is a vital ingredient of good accountable Government . . . I believe we should be absolutely clear about how Ministers should account, and be held to account, by Parliament and the public". It is in this spirit that the Select Committee invites you to give evidence to us. As the Code is the Prime Minister's document, you will understand that your evidence is indispensable to the Committee's inquiry.

  I look forward to your reply.

Tony Wright, MP

10 May 2000

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