The Ministerial Code - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 19 June 2012 | Standard notes SN03750

Authors: Oonagh Gay

Topic: Central government, Ministers

The Ministerial Code was first published as Questions of Procedure for Ministers in 1992. Its publication increased its importance as a set of ‘rules’ for Ministers, and its text has been subject to revision following recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) and the Select Committee on Public Administration. The latest version was issued on 21 May 2010 by the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, as it has become the convention for the Code to be released at the beginning of a new administration and at a new Parliament. A separate Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform also issued in May 2010, dealt with the conduct of the Coalition.

On 23rd March 2006. the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced that he had appointed the Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, to act as Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests. His role was to give confidential advice on request from Ministers and to conduct investigations at the request of the Prime Minister. On 3 July 2007 the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced that he had appointed the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, as Independent Adviser, with the duty to investigate allegations of breaches of the Code at the instigation of the Prime Minister. Sir Philip took up his appointment in January 2008 and resigned in 2011, surviving the change of Prime Minister to David Cameron. He was replaced by Sir Alex Allan, former senior civil servant. A report from the Public Administration Select Committee in March 2012 concluded that the position needed review. Sir Philip had not been called upon to investigate allegations against the former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, which raised questions as to the appointment process for, and remit and role of the Adviser.

Most recently, there has been controversy over the decision of the Prime Minister not to refer Jeremy Hunt to the Independent Advisor. This was a subject of debate in the House on 13 June2012. The Prime Minister has referred to stronger guidance for special advisers and ministers on quasi-judicial decisions in his evidence to the Leveson inquiry on 14 June 2012.

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