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The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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.

We were the first to publish a ministerial code and the annual list of gifts to Ministers, which was strongly opposed by the previous Government, for whatever reason.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Before the Minister gets carried away, the ministerial code has been published since 1992.

Mr. Murphy: 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 code—it was called something entirely different—and 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.

On public openness, we have the long-campaigned-for Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was long opposed by other parties.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Party.

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.

The Public Administration Committee acknowledged those developments in its report, "The Ministerial Code: Improving the Rulebook":

That contrasts with what happened before, when there was, at best, intransigence on those issues about public life.

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?

Mr. Murphy: No. Ministers are accountable to this place, to the Prime Minister and in all sorts of other ways. Accountability has improved in recent years, and people recognise that improvement.

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.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Minister has said that the Government have made the ministerial code more transparent. Paragraph 1.3 of the code states:

In the foreword to the code, the Prime Minister states:

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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 mistake—a technical breach of the ministerial code—and 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.

Chris Grayling rose—

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman spoke for a substantial time, and I want to make some progress before I give way.

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 parts—a 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 code—they range from appointments made by Ministers to arrangements for contacting diplomatic posts overseas in relation to ministerial travel plans—the 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

and it went on to recommend that

The Committee reversed its position in its ninth report, but the arguments that it advanced in its earlier report are still valid. We have not changed our minds on that.

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:

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