The Ministerial Code and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

Published Monday, October 26, 2015

This briefing paper looks at the Ministerial Code and the process for investigating breaches of the Code.

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The Ministerial Code sets out the standards of conduct expected of Ministers. It was first published as Questions of Procedure for Ministers in 1992, although it had been in existence before this as a confidential internal circular since at least the Second World War and was well known unofficially in the media, academic texts and in Parliament. 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. It has become the convention for the Code to be released at the beginning of a new administration and at a new Parliament.

The latest version was issued on 15 October 2015 by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. The 2015 Ministerial Code made several changes to the previous edition published in 2010. This included removing references to the Coalition Government and the addition of paragraphs on Senior Responsible Owners and Extended Ministerial Offices. One change which has attracted some comment was the removal of the explicit reference in the 2010 Code of Ministers’ duty to “comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations”. The 2015 Code states instead that Ministers have a duty to “comply with the law”. Concern has been raised that this change may ease the pressure on Ministers to follow international law. However, the Cabinet Office has said that the phrase “comply with the law” includes international law.

Since 2006 there has been an Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, to give confidential advice on request from Ministers and to conduct investigations at the request of the Prime Minister. There have been calls for this role to be reviewed, particularly with regard to the current absence of any power for the Adviser to initiate investigations unless so instructed by the Prime Minister.

There has been some controversy over decisions of the Prime Minister not to refer individuals to the Independent Adviser. These have included decisions over the past three years not to refer Jeremy Hunt, Andrew Mitchell or Theresa May, in relation to various incidents.

Commons Briefing papers SN03750

Authors: Michael Everett; Ed Faulkner

Topics: Central government, Ministers

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