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"acknowledges that, amongst other measures, this Government introduced a requirement for individual Ministers, on appointment to each new office, to provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict; welcomes the section of the Ministerial Code on handling Ministers' private interests which is more comprehensive than Questions of Procedure for Ministers; and recognises that this Government has agreed to appoint an independent adviser to provide Permanent Secretaries and Ministers with an additional source of professional advice as required and will make an announcement on this shortly.".
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) began by saying that he would not rake over recent events, before he raked over every recent insinuation. The good thing about debating with him is that he always gives notice in a rather polite way of the points that he is about to make through the pages of the Daily Mail. He is often tempted to behave like a Daily Mail copywriter, and he always succumbs to that temptation.
It is important to put the debate about standards, openness and the ministerial code in context. We have always made it clear that the public should expect the highest standards of propriety in public life, and this Government have introduced transparency, which did not exist under previous Conservative Administrations. That transparency relates to Ministers, special advisers, Parliament and the public.
No, it has not. The ministerial code was first published in 1997, and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to discuss that matter. [Interruption.] He is contradicting his own intervention from a sedentary position. What was published in 1992 was not a ministerial codeit was called something entirely differentand it was reformed, reviewed and extended to make it much
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more powerful. He is making the winding-up speech for the Opposition, so he should not contradict his own intervention.
We were the first to publish a ministerial code and a list of gifts worth more than £140 that are given to Ministers, and we were also the first to publish a code of conduct for special advisers and the number, cost and names of special advisers, none of which happened before. On openness in Parliament, the Prime Minister was the first to appear before the all-party Liaison Committee, which was previously unheard of, and opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny have also increased.
Mr. Murphy: With due respect to the smaller parties, the 2000 Act was opposed by the main Opposition party. Through the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, we reformed donations from overseas donors.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): As a new Member of Parliament, I was surprised to discover the lack of independent scrutiny of the ministerial code. Does the Minister agree that local borough and district councillors are subject to greater independent scrutiny than Ministers?
Before Conservative Members start to think that the ministerial code is a development for which they can take credit, I should point out that a template for questions of procedures for Ministers was originally drafted in 1917 by the first secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Maurice Hankey. Directives on procedures for Cabinet government issued by the Prime Minister during the second world war were drawn up into a single document by a gentleman called Clement Attlee and issued to all incoming Ministers in 1945 on a confidential basis.
When the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), resigned, the Prime Minister told this House that he thought that the former Secretary of State had done nothing wrong. How do those three things make a more transparent process?
Mr. Murphy: I will come on to some important aspects of the ministerial code later, but I shall deal with the case of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions now. My right hon. Friend made a mistakea technical breach of the ministerial codeand resigned. He paid a heavy price, which is in stark contrast to significant numbers of Conservative Members being paid to ask questions in this House. Not one, but two former Conservative Ministers ended up in prison for their actions, and another Minister from that time had to resign because of detailed allegations about how he sought to block investigations into the cash for questions affair. Yes, my right hon. Friend has paid a heavy price. He made a mistake, but it involved breaching the ministerial code on a technicality, which is a world away from events under previous Conservative Administrations.
In contrast to what went before, the ministerial code is updated and published after each general election, so the most recent version was published in July 2005. The ministerial code provides guidance to 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.
The new ministerial code takes into account a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and is split into two partsa ministerial code of ethics and procedural guidance for Ministers. Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the code and for justifying their actions and conduct in Parliament. The Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and of the appropriate consequences of a breach of standards. Given the wide range of topics covered by the ministerial codethey range from appointments made by Ministers to arrangements for contacting diplomatic posts overseas in relation to ministerial travel plansthe Prime Minister should not be expected to comment on every allegation, although Conservative Members expect him to. As the Public Administration Committee said in its report, "The Ministerial Code: Improving the Rulebook":
Turning to the specific point raised by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell about the independent investigation of alleged breaches, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who chairs the Public Administration Committee, has said, the Committee on Standards in Public Life considered the
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merits of the appointment of an independent investigator in its sixth report in 2000. The Committee concluded that it would be
This proposal involves a point of principle and a point of practicality. It strikes at the principle of democratic accountability and the way in which the Government are run. The electorate decide who is in power and the Prime Minister decides who serves in his or her Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position clear in his press conference on 7 November when he said:
"The only person who decides who is in the Government or not in the end is the Prime Minister. You can't subcontract that decision. That is why I didn't agree with the recommendation and still don't."
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