Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

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

  Thank you for your letter of 26 May. I am disappointed that you feel unable to give evidence to the Committee at present as part of its inquiry into the Ministerial Code.

  While I understand what you say about past conventions on this matter, it is precisely because these conventions do not apply to the issue of the Ministerial Code—since, as the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life puts it, "it is the Prime Minister's document: he authorises and guides the drafting and contributes a personal Foreword to it"—that it was necessary for us to ask you to break with them in extending our invitation to you. There is no-one apart from the Prime Minister who can account to Parliament for it.

  You will understand that there is an important issue here in relation to Parliament and the Executive. This was put to the Committee forcibly by Professor Peter Hennessy in his evidence on 24 May. As you know, Professor Hennessy is the leading authority on the Ministerial Code who persuaded John Major to publish it for the first time in 1992. Referring to the convention of the Prime Minister not appearing before the Committee to discuss the Code he said "I think . . . the greatest single gap in the Select Committee's reach now is that of the Prime Minister. We have long passed the point when Prime Ministers can shelter under the convention that they do not appear".

  We understand what you say about the Government's response to the Neill Committee's Sixth Report and are glad to know that this is to appear before the summer recess. When that response is available, the committee will invite you to revisit the conventions and consider whether it would then be appropriate for you to accept our invitation.

  You may like to know that we have also invited John Major, who has agreed to give evidence.

Tony Wright, MP

8 June 2000

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