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Ministerial Code

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 2 February 2023

The Prime Minister expects all Ministers to act in accordance with the code and demonstrate integrity, professionalism and accountability. He has appointed Sir Laurie Magnus as the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests to advise on matters relating to the code.

I am tempted to use a word favoured by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to that, but I will not. I am not interested in when people were formally informed or notified about things. I would just like to know when the Prime Minister knew about the bullying allegations against the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab)—was it before he appointed him as Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister?

I am sure the hon. Lady was in the House yesterday and heard what the Prime Minister said, which was that as soon as he became aware of formal complaints against the Deputy Prime Minister, he took action. That action involved appointing Adam Tolley, who is a very experienced employment KC, to look into those allegations. It is appropriate that we have a proper process, and the trigger for a proper process is a formal complaint.

It is all fine and well to talk about a “proper process”, but there are reports that staff working for the Deputy Prime Minister felt physically sick and even suicidal as a result of the alleged bullying. Does the Minister accept that in any other workplace the Deputy Prime Minister would have been suspended, pending investigation? Why is it one rule for the Deputy Prime Minister and one rule for workers anywhere else?

The Government take any complaints of bullying and harassment very seriously. That is precisely why the Prime Minister appointed Adam Tolley to conduct this investigation. Opposition Members have constantly asked me when we are going to appoint an independent adviser so that we can have a proper process, and now that we have appointed one and we have a proper process, they say that we should perfunctorily sack the person. They cannot have it both ways.

Trust in politics matters, and Ministers have a responsibility to uphold standards. The list of Ministers’ interests on the website is currently 247 days old and has not been updated since last May. It is not even an accurate list of Ministers, by a long way. Can the Government not be bothered to update it, or is there something to hide? Does the Minister agree that there is absolutely no reason why Ministers’ interests should be less transparent than those of any other Member of Parliament?

As the hon. Lady will have seen, the Prime Minister has appointed an independent adviser, who is going through those Ministers’ interests. I can assure her that before May they will be fully published, in accordance with the rules.

I, like many others, was surprised to see that it took the head of the investigation into Richard Sharp’s appointment at the BBC a week to realise that there was a conflict of interest and recuse himself from the role. What will the Minister do to tackle this chumocracy around the Prime Minister? Is it not time he adopted our proposal for an independent integrity and ethics commission to finally restore the accountability and professionalism that the Government promised?

I was involved in the appointment to which the hon. Lady refers, as the Secretary of State. We had a clear and transparent process, with independent selectors choosing that person. Indeed, the matter was looked into by the Select Committee, which found that it was an excellent appointment. The Government stand by the appointment, and Richard Sharp, as the chairman of the BBC, is doing an excellent job.

Transparency International’s corruption index has recorded a sharp fall in the UK’s score. This has been affected by factors such as the VIP lane and the claim that 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code were not investigated. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster agree with the international business leaders that under his Government, the UK is more corrupt?

I completely disagree with the assertion from the hon. Lady. This Government have upheld high standards of transparency, and we have advanced transparency since we came into office. The idea that this country could be compared to the sort of states to which she refers is completely preposterous.

I did not refer to any states. When will the Prime Minister appoint the anti-corruption champion? This vacancy has gone unfilled for seven months. Given the sharp fall in international views of the UK’s level of corruption, when will this person be appointed?

I simply do not recognise the kind of caricature being pushed by the hon. Lady. Of course we will make that appointment, but this Government have taken steps throughout their time in office to increase standards of transparency and accountability.