The motion, unanimously backed by PASC and a total of 18 Select Committee Chairmen, was introduced by the Chairman of the Select Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP (Harwich and N Essex, Conservative). Neither the government front bench, nor the Official Opposition spoke in support of the resolution, but they declined to divide the House when Mr Jenkin pressed the motion at the end of the debate, so the motion was carried without a vote.
Bernard Jenkin MP, Char of PASC said:
"This is an example of the new influence Select Committees can exercise, now they are legitimised by elections and able to obtain Parliamentary time for debating their recommendations through the Back Bench Business Committee."
The motion calls on the government to accept a key PASC recommendation to empower the Adviser on Ministers’ Interests to instigate inquiries into potential breaches of the Ministerial Code. At present, he will only conduct such an investigation when asked to do so by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister spoke against this proposal when he last appeared before the Liaison Committee (3 July, in answer to a late question by Andrew Tyrie MP), but Greg Mulholland (Leeds NW, Lib Dem) a member of PASC, made it clear that the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was in favour of the recommendation. In the event of a division, it is understood that government ministers would have abstained, which is why they did not force a vote.
After the debate
PASC Chair Bernard Jenkin MP said:
"We have repeatedly said that the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Ministers’ Interests should not have to depend on a referral from the Prime Minister in order to determine whether or not there has been a breach of the code.
With regard to the recent example of Jeremy Hunt, there was clearly something of a breakdown of good process and good governance and the fact that the Prime Minister didn’t refer this case led to public criticism.
If the Adviser is to be independent in any meaningful sense, he must have this power to initiate an investigation into prima facie breaches of the Ministerial Code. I am very pleased that we have secured the approval of the House and the Government has agreed to implement this recommendation, and the public can now be confident in the Adviser’s ability to instigate his own investigations independently.
This is an example of the new influence Select Committees can exercise, now they are legitimised by elections and able to obtain Parliamentary time for debating their recommendations through the Back Bench Business Committee. The government have yet to respond formally to PASC’s report containing this recommendation. The government is now clearly under an obligation to respect the wish of the House of Commons in this matter, as expressed by this motion. If no change is made, PASC will certainly return to this question when we launch our forthcoming inquiry into the Ministerial Code."
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