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Ministers: Training

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 27 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what training and guidance is provided to their Ministers on (1) bullying and harassment, (2) diversity and inclusion and (3) staff management; and how many current Ministers have completed any such training.

My Lords, the Ministerial Code provides advice and guidance to Ministers on the standards of conduct that they are expected to uphold and the way in which they should discharge their duties. Obviously, Ministers are also traditionally able to seek further advice and guidance within the departments. The Government do not hold central records of training undertaken by Ministers.

I welcome the noble Lord to his first performance on the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment.

I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord may go back to the department and see whether it can be a little more precise in trying to follow this through. In Parliament, we now have a programme for training on abuse, harassment and so on. We should seek to apply that similarly at the highest levels where people have privilege and power, which is at ministerial level. I hope the noble Lord might reflect on whether something more formal could be established.

Secondly, given that we now have the freedom and have taken our power, we have an opportunity to have laws in this land better than those in Europe. As we have an employment Bill in prospect, will the noble Lord reflect on whether we could take the principles behind the Question on this Order Paper and see whether they could be applied to employment opportunities in general for people who have problems with abuse of power in general employment, so that we end up with a law that is better in this respect than that in Europe?

My Lords, first, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said on a personal basis.

The noble Lord is addressing an extraordinarily important point, which we all share; obviously I am not here to answer for Parliament, but we are all aware of the facilities that this House makes available. I hope all Members of this House will avail themselves of those. The Ministerial Code is absolutely clear:

“Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and will not be tolerated.”

That clear message is given to new Ministers right at the outset—I can testify to that from this week—but I accept the spirit of what the noble Lord said.

Does the Minister agree that, if bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, any Minister guilty of such conduct should no longer remain in post?

The noble Lord is wise and knows very well that whether people remain in office is a matter not for me or him but for the Prime Minister. In fact, this Prime Minister updated the advice around the code last August, to include greater clarity on how investigations into alleged breaches will take place. It made it very clear that if there is an allegation of a breach, the Prime Minister will consult the Cabinet Secretary. If he feels that it warrants further investigation, he may ask the Cabinet Office to investigate the facts of the case and refer the matter to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, Sir Alex Allan.

My Lords, the paragraph that the noble Lord just quoted actually says that the Prime Minister

“may ask the Cabinet Office”.

What is the status of the Ministerial Code? When we had an exchange in this House at the time of the resignation of a previous Foreign Secretary, now the Prime Minister, and it was pointed out that he had been reprimanded for breaking the Ministerial Code in several places, it was also pointed out by the then Cabinet Office Minister that the Ministerial Code is an honour code and based on the idea that Ministers will always act on their honour. Is it now time that we had some stronger sanction than that?

My Lords, I repeat: Ministers hold office at the Prime Minister’s request and remain in office only for as long as they retain the Prime Minister’s confidence. I note what the noble Lord says. The current position is that the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected and the appropriate consequences. The conduct of any Minister in office is subject to the most absolute scrutiny—that is, public scrutiny—and this Government intend to hold, and do hold, to the very highest standards of ministerial behaviour at every level.

My Lords, may I press the Minister further on his responses? The Ministerial Code says:

“Ministers should be professional in their working relationships with the Civil Service and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.”

The point picked up in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is: what happens when they do not? The Minister says that it is a matter for the Prime Minister, but that sets a pretty low bar of sanctions that could be imposed. I ask him to reflect on his answers. I am not saying that in every case a Minister should be sacked—there will be cases in which they should—but there is a lack of clarity about what happens when the Ministerial Code is breached.

My Lords, I do not agree with the implied statement of criticism of the Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister expects the highest standards of performance and behaviour from all his colleagues. That is true at every level of the Government. I have said that Ministers are officeholders, not direct employees, but that does not—either at the human level, the work level or the professional level of any sort—absolve any person in any position in this country from the requirement to observe the highest standards of respect for those with whom we work.