Press release 14th Jun 2021

Independent arbiter of Ministerial Code and full lobbyist register needed to prevent future scandals

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14 June, 2021 - Transparency International UK welcomes the conclusion by England’s standards watchdog that many of the rules designed to ensure honesty and integrity by politicians are in need of “significant reform”.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life today published findings from its Standards Matter 2 review. The committee took the unusual step of releasing its outline findings ahead of a full report because they highlight “immediate issues” with the current standards regulatory regime.

 

Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, who gave evidence to the committee in March, said:

“With recent breaches of the Ministerial Code seemingly brushed off, it’s clear that the current rules designed to ensure integrity from our elected representatives are sorely lacking. The British public rightly expects politicians to adhere to the highest ethical standards. If adopted in full, these recommendations would go a long way towards strengthening transparency, integrity and standards in public life.

“While it is positive to see the Committee take many of our recommendations on board, there are several areas where we think they should go further. For the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests to be truly independent, they should also be given the power to sanction those who break the rules – instead of this responsibility remaining with the Prime Minister. Meanwhile much-needed changes to expand the scope of England’s currently limited lobbying register would also help bring lobbying out of the shadows and help prevent future scandals.”

 

The Committee’s findings cover several areas where Transparency International UK has previously called for reform, including:

 

The Ministerial Code and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

The Committee has recommended that the Independent Adviser be able to initiate investigations and determine findings of breaches of the Ministerial Code, but also suggested the Prime Minister retain power over sanctions for ministers who break the rules.

Transparency International UK has called for the independent adviser to both investigate and sanction those who breach the code, to fully separate oversight from Number 10.

Lobbying

The Committee recognised the need to improve departmental transparency releases that record details of meetings between ministers and lobbyists. Many of its suggestions would vastly improve the quality of current data, such as providing more detail over the subject matter of meetings and including ‘informal lobbying’ such as text and WhatsApp messages in the official records.

But even these recommendations would still leave some 90% of lobbying activity in the UK unrecorded. The vast majority of lobbying in the UK is carried out by in-house lobbyists, but the current register only applies to consultant lobbyists. Transparency International UK has called for an overhaul of the UK’s lobbying rules to include both in-house and consultant lobbyists to ensure the press and public can find out who is meeting with ministers and why. 

 

Notes to editors:

Transparency International UK’s chief Executive Daniel Bruce gave evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life in March.