Press release 27th May 2022

Ministerial Code changes: Further reforms needed to address shortcomings in executive oversight

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May 27, 2022 - Government needs to go much further to reform oversight of integrity and conduct for those in high office, Transparency International UK said today. A sudden decision to cherry pick some reforms is a significant missed opportunity to improve accountability in government.

On Friday afternoon, 10 Downing Street announced changes to the Ministerial Code and the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.

They include some of the measures recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and Transparency International UK, such as revising the Code to introduce a range of sanctions for breaches.

But the government chose not to grant the Independent Adviser full autonomy to initiate investigations into potential breaches of the ministerial code. Instead, the adviser will still need to be granted permission from the Prime Minister.


Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, said:

“With these changes, Number 10 has chosen to address a small number of the shortcomings in executive oversight but ignored many others. Introducing a range of sanctions for breaking the Ministerial Code, rather than resignation or dismissal being the only recourse, could help improve accountability around minor contraventions, providing tough sanctions are still used for serious breaches. Yet, the decision not to grant the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Ministerial Interests the autonomy to launch their own investigations is a missed opportunity and will do nothing to address the perception that senior politicians play by a different set of rules. An adviser who still cannot himself initiate an investigation into allegations against Ministers cannot truly be said to be ‘independent’.

“It is also deeply concerning to see the Nolan Principles – which have formed the basis of the standards expected of those in public life for nearly 30 years – no longer featuring prominently in the Ministerial Code. At a time of intense focus on the conduct of those in high office, the government should be doing all it can to reinforce its commitment to these tenets. For evidence-based reforms to work, they must be implemented fully.”

To help ensure higher standards of behaviour by those in high office Transparency International UK is calling for, as a minimum:
The ministerial code to become law

The ministerial code only exists by convention and at the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day. Were they to find it an inconvenience they are at liberty to do away with it. There are requirements in law for the government to produce similar codes of conduct for the civil service, the diplomatic service, and ministers’ special advisors. Putting the ministerial code on a statutory footing would make it harder for Prime Ministers to erode the framework for ensuring standards in high office.
New powers for the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests

Investigations into potential breaches of the ministerial code can only be requested by the Prime Minister. They are then referred to the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests, who carries out an inquiry, and then reports back to the PM. It ultimately is up to the PM if any action is taken.

The Independent Advisor's role should be put on a statutory footing, and they must be given the autonomy to instigate their own investigations into potential breaches of the code. They should also be allowed to publish their findings without the express permission of Number 10.
A more independent process for sanctioning ministers who fail to comply with the rules

The only person empowered to impose sanctions for breaches of the ministerial code is the Prime Minister. Convention has dictated that where a minister commits an egregious breach of the code they should resign or be removed from office by the PM. Increasingly, conventions like this are no longer observed, and short of criminal misconduct there are few other avenues to challenge wrongdoing by ministers and deter similar behaviour by their colleagues.

While the Prime Minister should retain the right to form their government there should also be an alternative avenue for redress where they are not enforcing their own rules.