Press release 07th Jun 2022

Overhaul of rules needed to restore integrity in public life

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June 7, 2022 – Transparency International UK is calling for an overhaul of the rules designed to ensure integrity in public life in order to restore trust in politics.

These include measures to enforce the Ministerial Code where the Prime Minister fails to do so themselves, steps to remove the corrosive influence of big money from politics and tighter controls on second jobs for MPs.

MPs today discussed standards in public life and the need for more independent oversight over ministerial conduct. These measures received support from across the House.

This included Boris Johnson’s former Anti-Corruption Champion, John Penrose, who yesterday resigned saying the Prime Minister’s attendance at lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street was “a fundamental breach of the Ministerial Code”.

MPs highlighted the disconnect between the public’s anger at misconduct in Whitehall and the government’s response to date. Some drew attention to numerous reforms recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life - Westminster’s ethics watchdog - and the Government’s own Boardman review, commissioned in the wake of the Greensill scandal, that ministers are yet to respond to. Many cited the corrosive effect repeated scandals are having on our democracy, and that the current process for holding ministers to account was ‘toothless’ without further reform. 

The debate comes just a day after the Prime Minister survived a confidence ballot which saw 41 per cent of Conservative MPs vote against his continued leadership of the party.

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

‘Restoring integrity in public life means more than mere tinkering with the Ministerial Code. We’ve seen dozens of cases whereby the mingling of vested interests and political power has put millions, if not billions, of pounds of public money at risk, and which raise serious questions about the health of our democracy. A bigger and bolder raft of reforms is urgently needed to protect the public purse and engender greater trust in those elected to serve the people. Failure to address the scale and seriousness of declining standards will prevent this country’s leadership from drawing a line under recent events and getting on with governing.

‘We welcome the evident cross-party support for measures to help arrest the decline of standards in our democracy. Recent events have demonstrated how long-standing conventions around ethical standards in public life are no longer observed as a matter of course, and provide a poor check against misconduct by those in power. This slipping of standards and the decisions arising from it risks fuelling inequality, holding back our economy, and undermining effective responses to crises here at home.’

 

Transparency International UK is recommending a series of changes across three areas to restore integrity in public life.

1.       Restraint and self-regulation can no longer be relied upon as a means of reinforcing or upholding ethical conduct. Government standards should be raised and enforced by:

  • Putting the Ministerial Code on a statutory footing to prevent it from being discarded or disregarded by the Prime Minister of the day. 
  • Making the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests truly independent, with the ability to initiate investigations and recommend sanctions without the Prime Minister’s permission.
  • Developing an alternative avenue for redress when the Prime Minister is not enforcing their own rules.
  • Greater transparency over the operation of government through better compliance with Freedom of Information requests, and more timely and meaningful disclosures about ministers’ engagements with outside interests, as recommended by the CSPL and the Boardman Review.
  • Creating a new, clear statutory offence for corruption in public life, similar to that proposed by the Law Commission, to ensure those who commit serious abuses of power for private gain can be held criminally accountable.
  • The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) should be abolished and replaced with a statutory body responsible for prevent abuse of the revolving door between the public and private sector.

2.       Money is openly solicited in return for political access and potentially influence. This has undoubtedly secured positions of public office and titles of recognition, and exposes our democracy to manipulation by outside interests. The corrosive influence of big money should be taken out of our politics by:

  • Capping spending and donations in line with recommendations by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
  • Tightening the rules to ensure UK companies can only make donations that are from genuine operating profits to prevent money of unknown provenance entering our political finance system.

 

3.       Recent political scandals have led the public to question the behaviour and standards of their elected representatives. Rogue conduct in Parliament should be prevented by:

  • Tightening the ban on paid lobbying by Parliamentarians, as per the Committee on Standards’ recommendations, with the rules robustly enforced to avoid the perception - or reality - that those in public office are acting on behalf of outside private interests.
  • Stricter rules on who can fund Parliamentarians’ overseas visits. Trips that are sponsored either directly or indirectly by corrupt and repressive regimes may present the perception or reality that parliamentarians’ judgement and actions are influenced by the intent of their hosts. 

 

Notes to editors:

Transparency International UK’s full list of recommendations to restore integrity in public life can be found here.