Press release 08th Jul 2024

A tough new Ministerial Code for the UK Government is needed to raise standards

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New code will be one of the Prime Minister’s first opportunities to demonstrate commitment to rebuilding trust and upholding standards of integrity in public office says Transparency International UK.

The call comes as Keir Starmer used his first meeting with his Cabinet on Saturday to remind them of the standards expected in government and already met with Laurie Magnus, his Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests.

Starmer is expected to shortly unveil a new Ministerial Code - by convention each Prime Minister publishes their own version - outlining the rules and ethical standards expected of their Ministers.

Controversies under the previous government regarding ministerial conduct, coupled with failures to investigate potential breaches or enforce sanctions, have highlighted the significance of having a robust Ministerial Code in place [1].  

To help restore public confidence in the conduct of Ministers, Transparency International UK has called for the Ministerial Code to include:

  • An explicit commitment to the seven Principles of Public Life (the Nolan principles) in the Prime Minister’s foreword to the Ministerial Code. 

  • The ability for the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests to initiate investigations into breaches of the code without needing the consent of the Prime Minister, thereby fulfilling a commitment in the Labour Manifesto [2][3].

  • New restrictions to address the lax approach to regulating former ministers taking up outside employment. This should include implementing a deed of undertaking for ministers, as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) [4]. 

  • Enhanced transparency over ministerial activities by committing to publishing meetings with ministers and special advisers on a monthly basis as well as gifts and hospitality on a monthly basis. Affirming that meetings which occur in a social setting which discuss official business should also be declared publicly [5]. 

  • A requirement that use (within published guidance) of non-corporate communication channels (Whatsapp, private email, sms) making reference to official business, should also be reported. 

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK said:

“Having appointed ministers to the new government, an immediate task will be publishing a new Ministerial Code. This will be one of Keir Starmer’s first opportunities to put his warm words into action and demonstrate that he and the Labour Party are truly committed to rebuilding trust in politics and upholding the highest standards of integrity in public office. 

“He should include new powers for the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests, introduce sanctions for former ministers lobbying their old colleagues and strengthen ministerial accountability.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] Previous research from Transparency International UK found that at least 40 potential breaches of the Ministerial Code were not investigated, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/01/forty-potential-ministerial-code-breaches-never-investigated-report-reveals 

[2] Labour have promised to introduce an Ethics and Integrity Commission, it’s possible that the role of the Independent Advisor on Ministerial Interests may be subsumed into this Commission. However, in the interim, the Prime Minister could act immediately to bolster this vital role.

[3] Possible amendment of 1.4 (b) of the Ministerial Code and the Terms of Reference for the Adviser.

[4] Possible amendment of 7.25 of the Ministerial Code.

[5] Possible amendments of 7.24 and 8.14 of the Ministerial Code