GOVERNMENT MEMORANDUM IN RESPONSE TO THE
THIRD REPORT FROM THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE (SESSION
2000-2001) ON THE MINISTERIAL CODE
a. We believe that the development of such
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).
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).
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).
The Government welcomes the Committee's support and
endorsement for a Ministerial Code and agrees with the Committee
on the importance of the Code. The Code - and its predecessor
document, Questions of Procedure for Ministers - are important
in providing guidance to Ministers on how they should act and
arrange their affairs in order to ensure that they undertake their
official duties in a way that upholds the highest standards of
public life. The Code also makes explicit how Ministers are expected
to discharge their responsibilities to Parliament by incorporating
the terms of a Resolution carried by Parliament in March 1997.
The Government agrees with the Committee that the Code is a set
of guidelines and cannot constitute a comprehensive rulebook on
all aspects of Ministerial practice or behaviour. This point is
stressed in the revised Ministerial Code. However, the
Code does provide Ministers with a framework against which to
make decisions on how to act in circumstances not covered by the
Code. The revised Ministerial Code also includes an annex
setting out the Seven Principles of Public Life. Publication of
the revised Ministerial Code in July 2001 provided an opportunity
to make clearer Ministers' responsibilities in relation to the
Code and Parliament. The Government is confident that, with these
additional clarifications, the status of the Code is not in any
doubt. The Government is not convinced that a further code of
ethical principles is needed.
b. In 1996 the Public Service Committee recommended
that the Prime Minister has to be the final judge of Ministerial
conduct and performance.  We repeat our predecessors' view
and recommend that prime ministerial ownership should be both
explicitly acknowledged and reflected in the wording of the Code
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
The revised Ministerial Code, published in July 2001,
makes it clear that the Ministerial Code is the Prime Minister's
guidance to his Ministers on how they should act and arrange their
affairs in order to uphold the highest standards of constitutional
and personal conduct in the performance of their duties. It also
makes clear that the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the
standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate
consequences of a breach of those standards, although he will
not expect to comment on every allegation that is brought to his
c. We do not believe that Prime Minister's
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 breached,
while the Prime Minister's own duty to account to Parliament in
this way should be included as a provision of the Code (paragraph
The Government notes this recommendation but continues
to believe that the current arrangements, based on precedent under
successive Administrations, provide for full accountability to
Parliament. As with all Ministers, the Prime Minister is accountable
to Parliament for his decisions and actions. He appears before
the House more often than any departmental Minister. The Prime
Minister's weekly 30 minute Question Time provides the House with
an opportunity to question the Prime Minister, as head of the
Government, on any issue of Government policy, including the operation
of the Ministerial Code. The Government fully supports the role
of Select Committees in holding the Government to account, and
questioning Ministers on matters of policy. However, it believes
that those best placed to answer these questions and to account
for their actions and decisions are the Ministers with responsibility
for the specific area of interest.
e. We recommend that, when next revised, the
Ministerial Code should be amended to include a reference to contacts
with lobbyists (paragraph 23).
The Ministerial Code, published in July 2001,
makes it clear that the basic facts of formal meetings between
Ministers and outside interest groups (including lobbyists) should
be recorded setting out the reasons for the meeting, and the names
of those attending and the interests represented.
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).
The Government accepts this recommendation and agrees
to restore the original wording. It is an important principle
that when the House is sitting, announcements of Government policy
should be made, in the first instance, in Parliament. The Ministerial
Code will be amended accordingly when the next version is issued.
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).
In its response to the sixth report of the Committee
on Standards in Public Life, the Government agreed with the Committee
that no new office for the investigation of allegations of ministerial
misconduct should be established. The Government also agreed with
the Committee that there was no single approach to the investigation
of allegations of ministerial misconduct that would be helpful
in all cases, and that it would be undesirable to fetter the Prime
Minister's freedom to decide how individual cases should be handled.
The Government continues to believe that this is the most effective
h. We recommend that the Seven Principles
of Public Life are prominently included in the next version of
the Code (paragraph 34).
The Ministerial Code now includes an explicit
requirement on Ministers to observe the Seven Principles of Public
Life which it sets out in full.
j. We recommend that all those aspects of
the Ministerial Code relating to parliamentary accountability
should be included in an up-to-date version of the House Resolution
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).
The Government believes that the current Resolutions
of the House continue to provide a comprehensive account of Ministers'
responsibilities to Parliament and is not persuaded that the Resolutions
require amendment (other than the routine updating of certain
documents referred to in the text). The Government would, of course,
welcome the views of the Committee on any specific concerns.
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).
The Ministerial Code is the Prime Minister's
guidance to his Ministers on how he expects them to undertake
their official duties. It is for the Prime Minister to determine
the terms of the Code. The Government notes the Committee's concern
that there is no requirement for the Ministerial Code to be published.
It is, however, normal practice for the Ministerial Code to be
updated after an Election, and since 1992, each revision has been
published. The Prime Minister undertakes that he will continue
to publish the Code and any revisions to it on this basis.