Thank you for contacting me about my colleague Dawn Butler MP’s proposal that the House of Commons assume responsibility for investigation and enforcing the Ministerial Code.
The Ministerial Code governs the conduct of UK Government Ministers. It makes clear that Ministers should not mislead Parliament, that they should avoid real and perceived conflicts of interest and that all external financial aid they receive must be fully disclosed.
I am very concerned about the fact that the current Prime Minister is the arbiter of the Code, as, in my opinion, this represents a conflict of interest. Recently a number of Ministers have been investigated after apparent breaches of the code, including the Prime Minister himself over the funding of renovations to his Downing Street flat. But on each occasion the Prime Minister has concluded that the Code has not been broken or that the breach in question was “minor”. I believe, the spectacle of Cabinet Ministers being found by an independent investigation to have broken the ministerial code and then not resigning, as happened when Matt Hancock was Health Secretary, sends a message that the rules don’t apply to them.
I note too that the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life has argued that the Ministerial Code requires “significant reform”. Therefore, I support calls for the current system to be changed. For example, the role of the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests should be strengthened so that the Adviser can launch investigations without the Prime Minister setting the terms. The Prime Minister should also not be the ultimate arbiter of the Ministerial Code, an arrangement which in effect allows him to mark his own homework.
More widely, I believe a single Ethics and Integrity Commission should be established. This should have the powers to oversee and enforce anti-corruption and ethics laws and regulations. In my view, the current system, where these responsibilities are spread across a range of bodies, is clearly not working.
I am supportive of EDM 383, and will follow its progress closely. However, parliamentary convention restricts me from signing any EDMs due to my position as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Nevertheless I will continue to press the Government to make these meaningful changes.