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Standards watchdog expresses concern at failure of Prime Minister to implement full package of recommended reforms for Ministerial Code

The chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has welcomed the Government's move to allow the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests to initiate investigations over potential breaches of the Ministerial Code, “having consulted the Prime Minister and obtained his consent".

Lord Evans of Weardale also said the Government's decision that the reasons for an investigation not proceeding should be made public in most circumstances also represented an improvement in the process for regulating the Code.

However, the CSPL chair added that the watchdog regretted the Government's failure to implement other key recommendations

The Adviser is appointed by the Prime Minister to advise on matters relating to the Ministerial Code. The post holder is independent of Government and expected to provide impartial advice to the Prime Minister.

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Lord Evans was responding to the Government's official statement responding to the recommendations laid out in the committee's Upholding Standards in Public Life report, published in November 2021.

In a letter, the CSPL's chair said the committee's recommendations "were designed as a package", with the introduction of graduated sanctions for breaches of the Code designed to enable greater independence in the initiation of investigations.

Lord Evans wrote: "Past governments of both parties resisted granting the Adviser the power to initiate investigations independently due to the presumption of resignation, as this would have given the Independent Adviser the effective power to fire a minister - a power that only the Prime Minister should have.

"The introduction of a range of sanctions, with the appropriate sanction decided solely by the Prime Minister, removes this constitutional obstacle. We continue to be of the view that a system where the Independent Adviser requires the Prime Minister's permission to launch an investigation is not sufficiently independent."

"Similarly, current arrangements retain the risk that - irrespective of sanction - the Prime Minister can directly overrule the Adviser on the finding of a breach, circumstances that would critically undermine the credibility of the Adviser's office."

Lord Evans added that the committee regretted the rejection of its recommendation that the Adviser be appointed through an enhanced version of the current process for significant public appointments. "We regret that this has not been implemented and that the post remains an unregulated, direct appointment," he noted.

The committee has not yet received a government response on its recommendations regarding the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the Business Appointment Rules, the regulation of public appointments, and transparency around lobbying, according to the letter.

Adam Carey

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