Boris Johnson urged to impose financial sanctions on ex-ministers and officials flouting lobbying rules
Boris Johnson is expected to introduce financial sanctions, including pension cuts, for former ministers and officials who flout lobbying rules, according to a major report calling for reform of existing standards.
The Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was established by John Major in 1995 to advise prime ministers, argues that the existing system of “transparency in lobbying is inadequate for its purpose.”
The report, which also calls for an overhaul of the ministerial code, comes after the Greensill lobbying scandal, when it emerged that David Cameron had sent a private message to high-ranking ministers and was concerned that ministers violate the code without incurring penalties.
In a scathing verdict of current systems, the authors warn: “It is clear to this committee that the degree of independence in regulating ministerial code, public appointments, business appointments and House of Lords appointments is lower than what is necessary to ensure effective regulation and maintain public credibility.
The committee said it recognized “widespread dissatisfaction” with the operation of the Business Appointments Advisory Board (ACOBA) – a system that examines jobs held by former ministers and former senior officials.
The report recommends extending the ban on lobbying to five years in certain cases where officials were aware of inside information, and stressed: “The lack of meaningful sanctions for a violation of these rules is not more tenable.
Chaired by former MI5 chief Jonathan Evans, the committee added: “The government should define what the consequences of any breach of contract will be.
“The possible sanctions may include the request for an injunction prohibiting the exercise of a certain professional mandate, or the recovery of part of the pension or severance pay of an office holder. “
Lord Eric Pickles – a former Conservative minister who chairs the ACOBA – has previously expressed concerns about “anomalies” in the control system when it emerged that a former official was in a post at Greensill Capital while remaining a civil servant.
Regarding the ministerial code, the report suggests that “there is still a need for greater independence in regulation … which lags behind similar provisions for MPs, peers and civil servants”.
The recommendation follows last year’s controversy when Sir Alex Allan resigned his post as Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser after the PM quashed his findings that Home Secretary Priti Patel, intimidated staff – in violation of ministerial code.
The report, released today, urges the government to enshrine the ministerial code in primary legislation and ensure it details the sanctions that prime ministers can impose, “apologies, fines and demand the resignation of a minister “.
Removing power from No 10, he also suggests that the Prime Minister’s independent adviser should “be able to open investigations into breaches of the ministerial code” and have the power to “determine breaches” of the code.
Mr Evans said there was a “particular need” for central government reform, adding: “It has become clear that a system of regulating standards, which is based on conventions, is no longer satisfactory.”
He stressed: “While the parliament has undergone significant reforms in recent years and local government was considered by this committee in 2019, many arrangements within central government have not changed for over a year. decade.”
Lord Evans added: “We have concluded that the current system for regulating standards is too dependent on conventions. Ethics regulators and the codes they enforce should have a basis in primary legislation, and the government requires a more comprehensive and rigorous compliance function.
“The arrangements made to uphold ethical standards in government have come under intense scrutiny and significant criticism in recent months. Maintaining high standards requires vigilance and leadership. We believe our recommendations outline a reform agenda necessary to restore public confidence in the regulation of ethical standards in government. “
In response to the report, Deputy Opposition Leader Angela Rayner said the Labor Party welcomed the recommendations. She said: “The actions of Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues have repeatedly undermined the standards of our public life.
“The system is supposed to respect the ministerial code. Lobbying rules, business meetings and transparency are clearly inadequate. Ministers have flouted the rules and it is high time for a radical overhaul of the system. “