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
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