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Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): It is true that it is not possible to subcontract that function, but is it not possible to subcontract the investigation process prior to the Prime Minister making whatever decision he makes about the position of an individual Minister?
Mr. Murphy: That brings me to the question of practicality. The Government do not believe that it is practical to identify, in the way in which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and others have suggested, an individual or group of individuals who can be appointed on a standing basis to investigate any or all inquiries that are recommended through Members of Parliament bringing a matter to their attention oran almost weekly occurrencethrough the pages of the press.
Chris Grayling: But is not that exactly what happened in the case of the first investigation into the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside, which led to his first resignation? Sir Alan Budd was called in to carry out that inquiry. What is the difference?
The important difference is that the Prime Minister reserves the right to decide who is in Government, to decide when an inquiry is necessary, and to appoint an independent person if required. Sir Alan Budd did indeed carry out that inquiry. As an eminent individual and a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, he was the appropriate person called in by the Prime Minister. However, there is a strong belief that it is entirely impractical to appoint on a standing basis someone like Sir Alan BuddSir Anthony Hammond, for example, who carried out another investigation at the Prime Minister's requestand perhaps one or two other individuals. We expect to get people of good standing with great experience and high personal morality. Practically speaking, it is very difficult to require them to give a commitment to investigate what may initially be one case, but will
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subsequently lead to others as a consequence of allegations that may be well founded or may be based on media tittle-tattle.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Members on both sides of the House have mentioned not only ministerial codes of conduct but standards in public life in general. The Minister referred to what we see in the pages of the press. On what basis did the Cabinet Office approve the memoirs of Sir Christopher Meyer, which have been serialised in one of our daily papers?
Mr. Murphy: The debate on standards in public life is very wide ranging. There have been written questions about the matter that my hon. Friend raises, so I have of course been briefed about it. The fact is that the Cabinet Office did not clear such a book
Mr. Murphy: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of your strictures, I undertake to place a record of what the Government and the Cabinet Office did in that respect in the Library so that everyoneMembers of both Houses of Parliament and the mediacan have access to it.
The Minister said that it would be impossible for a person of appropriate standing to carry out this role on a permanent basis. He needs to be careful in his choice of words not to undermine the positions of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards or the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, both of whom have standing positions as well as, in the view of most of us, extremely high standing.
Mr. Murphy: Nothing could be further from my mind than questioning the integrity and professionalism of those individuals. The Government and the Prime Minister have made it clear that we do not rule out the possibility of asking individuals outside the Government to conduct an investigation into allegations of ministerial misconduct. We have been judged on our actions and, when necessary, external inquiries have taken place.
For example, in 2001, Sir Anthony Hammond QC was asked to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the naturalisation of Mr. Hinduja. Of course, Sir Anthony Hammond is standing counsel to the General Synod of the Church of England and, as I said, Sir Alan Budd, who was a member of the Monetary Policy Committee from 1997 to 1999, undertook another inquiry in 2004. We have the flexibility to enable external investigation of serious allegations to take place when the Prime Minister believes that it is merited. That method has been tried and tested.
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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I am reluctant to criticise the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a good man with a promising career ahead. I say that in the spirit of the helpful motion tabled by the responsible and measured Opposition, who are trying to help Parliament and the Government to get through the mess. However, there is an element of complacency about the Parliamentary Secretary's response so far. Surely he recognises that there is confusion about the code, doubts about the lines of accountability, genuine uncertainty about the Prime Minister's role and a Committee on Standards in Public Life whose advice is not taken seriously. He should not be complacent. We must move on from the current position. What about the improvements that could be made? We need to hear a little more in that spirit.
Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his compliment and take it in the spirit it was offered. However, he will single-handedly ensure that the future that he predicted does not happen if he persists with such compliments. I know that he is a good and honourable person and I assure him that there is no complacency. The Government continue to consider ways in which to improve standards in public life. They have done so since 1997 and continue that drive.
As I said, we were the first Government to introduce a ministerial code, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, cleaning up party political donations, pre-legislative scrutiny, the Prime Minister's attendance at the Liaison Committee and many other things that simply did not happen under the previous Administration, despite the well catalogued failings of standards in public life. Belmarsh almost began its own Conservative Association as increasing numbers of former Conservative Ministers went there.
Mr. Murphy: I shall write to the hon. Lady. Time does not permit me to go through all seven. [Interruption.] She holds up a copy of the ministerial codeI am sorry to say that I cannot read it from here.
Our approach to such matters is in stark contrast to the evidence that Sir John Major presented to the Public Administration Committee. He said that, when breaches of the ministerial code were alleged, he
The Government made it clear in our response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the recommendation for an independent adviser on ministerial interests that permanent secretaries are best placed to understand Departments' work and advise Ministers on handling potential conflicts of interest. We have agreed to appoint an independent adviser on ministerial interests to provide private advice to Ministers and permanent secretaries, especially about more complicated cases. That will be in addition to the wide range of advice that is already available. Whoever is appointed to that office will need
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to understand how government and Parliament work and have the necessary expertise. As the amendment states, we will make an announcement on the matter shortly.
However, I emphasise that the Government continue to believe that permanent secretaries are best placed to understand Departments' work and advise Ministers on handling potential conflicts of interest. No external adviser could be expected to match permanent secretaries' understanding in terms of knowledge of their Departments and the potential for conflict.
Mr. Bone: The Parliamentary Secretary said that the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions committed a technical breach of the code and that that was why he resigned. If there was clarity in the code and an independent adviser was helping, such a breach would not have occurred. Surely the fact that he had to resign shows that the system is not working.
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