Keir Starmer pledges to beef up standards watchdog rules

by Pelican Press
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Keir Starmer pledges to beef up standards watchdog rules

The prime minister has promised to beef up the powers of his ministerial standards watchdog.

Sir Keir Starmer said he wants to allow Sir Laurie Magnus, his Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, to initiate his own investigations, rather than beginning them only after a request from No 10.

Sir Laurie was appointed by Rishi Sunak.

But critics have long believed the independent adviser was relatively toothless because they could not look into potential wrongdoing by a minister without the prime minister asking them to do so.

Sir Laurie’s two predecessors resigned during Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister.

Labour committed in its manifesto to setting up a new independent Ethics and Integrity Commission “to ensure probity in government”.

It claimed “trust in politics has been shattered” during the Conservative years in office, citing the parties that happened during the pandemic when large gatherings were banned.

Speaking to reporters at the Nato Summit in Washington DC, the prime minister acknowledged he was unsure of the mechanism that would be used to change Sir Laurie’s powers.

“The intention is clear, whatever the technical way of doing it is, we’ll find a way to do it,” he said.

Sir Keir spoke to Sir Laurie on his first day in Downing Street “to have a discussion with him about standards and the enforcement of standards”.

The prime minister said the importance of this had been impressed upon his ministers too.

“I was really clear with the cabinet that standards apply. I made it clear the ministerial code, they will be receiving a copy of it, and it will have the Nolan Principles inside and alongside it.”

The so-called Nolan Principles were first set out almost 30 years ago and aim to set a moral template against which those in high office should judge their actions.

The Seven Principles of Public Life, as they are also known, are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

“That is the standards I expect of them. As I’ve said throughout, people falling short of the required standards will face consequences, as you would expect,” the prime minister said.

For more than a decade there have been calls for the independent adviser on ministers’ interests to be able to initiate their own investigations.

In 2012, MPs called for the change to be implemented saying they felt Sir Philip Mawer, the man in the role at the time, had been “cut out of the loop” of an inquiry into then-Conservative minister Liam Fox.

Dave Penman, head of the FDA trade union for senior civil servants, said in 2021 that the current situation creates an “obvious conflict”, adding: “The way to stop difficult decisions having to be made under the ministerial code is to stop any investigation in the first place.”

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