27 April 2007
PASC CALLS FOR NEW INDEPENDENT PUBLIC STANDARDS COMMISSION
In a report published today the Commons Public Administration Committee reviews for the first time the regulation of ethics and standards in government. It maps, for the first time, the extensive range of bodies that now exist concerned with the regulation of conduct in public life, and argues that the regulators must be more genuinely independent of the government they regulate.
“It is unsatisfactory for the ethical regulators created to regulate government to be appointed by government, and funded by government. On the other hand, we have no desire to establish endless committees of the great and the good, lacking any link to the democratic process. Consequently, we believe that the bodies whose core business is the ethical regulation of government should be established by, and report to, Parliament rather than government.”
The current system has grown up as a series of ad hoc measures, often in reaction to particular events. It now needs to be put on a more permanent and coherent basis. A new Public Standards Commission, created by and accountable to Parliament, should undertake the sponsoring role of appointing, funding, staffing and auditing the “college” of regulators.
The Committee says that the existing regulators - bodies such as the Civil Service Commissioners, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and the Committee for Standards in Public Life - have been invaluable in bringing new scrutiny to public life, and ensuring that it is properly policed. The various ethical auditors cover the essential ground and generally work well in safeguarding high standards of conduct. However the system as a whole now needs more coherence.
The Committee recommends that:
- appointments of key constitutional watchdogs should be for a single non-renewable term, of 5 to 7 years
- funding and operational challenge should be provided by a body independent of government, and established by statute, which it calls a Public Standards Commission.
The Committee also argues that it is not the job of ethical regulators to solve the problem of political trust, which is affected by a range of factors, but that the protection of standards is an important objective in its own right. It also says that regulatory machinery should never be seen as a substitute for high standards of personal behaviour.
Tony Wright MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: “It is time to recognise that the machinery for the regulation of conduct in public life is a permanent part of our constitutional arrangements, and put it on a proper statutory footing. Ethical watchdogs need proper independence and accountability arrangements to reflect the key role that they play in ensuring high standards of conduct in public life.”
Copies of the Report can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting the appropriate HC number. The text of the Report will also be available via the Committee’s internet homepage:
00.01 a.m. on the day of publication.
For more information about the work of the Committee, visit our website at
The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. Its terms of reference are to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments, and other matters relating to the Civil Service.
The Membership of the Committee is as follows:
Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)
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