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Petition Independent body to adjudicate on compliance with the Ministerial Code

An external, non party political body (for example, the Committee on Standards in Public Life) should be made responsible for determining whether a Minister's behaviour has breached the Ministerial Code.

More details

Currently, the Prime Minister is responsible for deciding whether a Minister's actions compy with the Ministerial Code. The PM is both judge and jury in relation to complaints and is entirely free to reject the advice of his independent advisor. The system is wide open to abuse, with decisions on breaches of the Code potentially being influenced by irrelevant party political considerations, such as whether a Minister is popular with backbenchers or party members.

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Government responded

This response was given on 20 April 2021

Existing measures provide appropriate independence in Ministerial Code investigations, recognising the Prime Minister’s constitutional role in advising the Sovereign on the organisation of Government.

Read the response in full

The Prime Minister customarily updates and issues the Ministerial Code upon assuming or returning to office. This reflects the constitutional position that it is for the Prime Minister alone to advise the Sovereign on the appointment, dismissal and acceptance of resignation of other Ministers.

The Ministerial Code sets out the Prime Minister’s expectations as to the standards of behaviour for Ministers. As such, the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.

The Ministerial Code sets out a clear procedure for responding to an alleged breach of the Code. Where the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, feels that an allegation warrants investigation, he can ask the Cabinet Office to investigate the facts of the case and/or refer the matter to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.

Any investigation would be undertaken either by civil servants in the Cabinet Office, who are under a legal obligation to operate in accordance with the Civil Service Code, including the values of honesty and objectivity; or by the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. This ensures an appropriate level of independence for the investigation and ensures that free and frank advice can be provided to the Prime Minister, whilst also recognising that Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister.

For these reasons the Government considers that existing measures provide appropriate independence in Ministerial Code investigations, recognising the Prime Minister’s constitutional role in advising the Sovereign on the organisation of Government.

Cabinet Office

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/561476)

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Original Government response

Existing measures provide appropriate independence in Ministerial Code investigations, recognising the Prime Minister’s constitutional role in advising the Sovereign on the organisation of Government.

The Prime Minister customarily updates and issues the Ministerial Code upon assuming or returning to office. This reflects the constitutional position that it is for the Prime Minister alone to advise the Sovereign on the appointment, dismissal and acceptance of resignation of other Ministers.

The Ministerial Code sets out the Prime Minister’s expectations as to the standards of behaviour for Ministers. As such, the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.

The Ministerial Code sets out a clear procedure for responding to an alleged breach of the Code. Where the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, feels that an allegation warrants investigation, he can ask the Cabinet Office to investigate the facts of the case and/or refer the matter to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.

Any investigation would be undertaken either by civil servants in the Cabinet Office, who are under a legal obligation to operate in accordance with the Civil Service Code, including the values of honesty and objectivity; or by the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. This ensures an appropriate level of independence for the investigation and ensures that free and frank advice can be provided to the Prime Minister, whilst also recognising that Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister.

Cabinet Office

This response was given on 16 March 2021. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.

MPs question the Government on the Ministerial Code in the House of Commons

On Monday 26 April, MPs questioned Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove MP on the Ministerial Code, following an Urgent Question from Alison Thewliss MP.

Watch the session: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/68bb73ca-0d19-44f1-94a3-e79a00fcffcd?in=15:35:23
Read the transcript: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-26/debates/334C1908-FB1D-46E1-9085-EC4522842E99/MinisterialCode

What is an Urgent Question?

If an urgent or important matter arises which an MP believes requires an immediate answer from a Government Minister, they may apply to ask an Urgent Question.

The relevant Government Minister has to come to the Chamber to explain what the Government is doing on the issue raised. The Minister will then usually take questions on the subject from MPs.

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