Monday 12 May 2008
PASC SAYS PM'S NEW INDEPENDENT "SLEAZEBUSTER" ONLY INDEPENDENT IN NAME
report published today, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) says the Prime Minister's new investigator of ministerial misconduct lacks the independence to do his job effectively. The Committee suggests that the word "Independent" in the role's title may be a misnomer.
The Committee welcomes the creation of the post as a "significant step towards fair, defined accountability for ministerial conduct", but calls on the Prime Minister to increase its powers and autonomy. In particular, PASC is critical that the adviser does not himself have the power to initiate investigations into allegations of Ministerial misconduct, but can only act if he is asked to investigate by the PM. The Committee says there is no point in having an investigator if he does not have discretion to investigate what may be very public allegations that the code has been breached. The post was held by Sir John Bourn from March 2006 to last summer, during which time the Government has revealed that no investigations were instigated despite a series of allegations against ministers.
The role is now held by the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer. The Committee says that Sir Philip will struggle to increase public trust in government unless he is seen as sufficiently independent. As well as the power to initiate investigations, the Committee identifies three particular problems which need to be addressed:
- the security of the investigator's tenure: the Committee finds it "troubling" that the investigator can effectively be dismissed by the Prime Minister at any time.
- the level of reliance on the Cabinet Office for staff and funding: the office of the investigator should be independent, financially and administratively.
- the lack of public visibility for the post: the Committee notes that the investigator "will not increase public confidence if the public do not know that the post exists". At the moment, the post does not even have a dedicated website.
The Committee is also attracted to the idea that not every ministerial misdemeanour should be a sackable offence - and backs calls for a “yellow card” equivalent to be devised.
Tony Wright MP, Chairman of the Committee, has called on the Government to implement the Committee’s suggested changes, saying; “It is in the Government’s interest to get this right. Ministers should be innocent until proven guilty like the rest of us - but the public won’t swallow that as long as the Prime Minister still acts as judge, jury and executioner.
The appointment of an investigator is welcome and overdue, but it is of limited value while his hands are tied. Genuine independence of action is needed. If the new regulatory system is to have credibility, decisions on when to investigate must be taken out of the political sphere.”
Committee Membership: 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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