Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Ministerial Code - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:14 pm on 12th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 3:14 pm, 12th March 2020

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this brief but topical debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, about a proportionate response to any inquiries. If we look at how we discipline ourselves in your Lordships’ House, or how the code of conduct is administered in the other place, there is a proportionate, rather than absolutist, response to the offence—I agree with that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, noted the foreword to the code:

“There must be no bullying and no harassment”.

Last summer, my noble friend the Leader of the House took the initiative and asked all Lords Ministers to go on the “Valuing Everyone” course. I know there was a good response, and I personally found the course very helpful. It showed that even the most well- meaning of people can cause real and unnecessary distress by thoughtless remarks or actions.

The Home Secretary was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others. I welcome the steps the Prime Minister has taken to investigate the allegations and, in fairness to the civil servants who have made the complaints and to the Home Secretary who has denied them, we should allow the inquiry to take place, without seeking to influence it one way or the other. Can my noble friend confirm that, when it is completed, the same process will take place as with the previous inquiry concerning Damian Green? On that occasion a statement appeared on the Government’s website headed “Summary of the Cabinet Secretary’s report on allegations about Damian Green’s conduct”. It concluded that

Mr Green’s conduct as a Minister has generally been both professional and proper”.

But it went on to say that

“Mr Green’s statements of 4 and 11 November ... fall short of the honesty requirement of the Seven Principles of Public Life and constitute breaches of the Ministerial Code”,

and that the Cabinet Secretary’s conclusions were endorsed by Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. If that process were followed, it would deal in part with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about the whole process being wrapped in secrecy. I agree that there needs to be some transparency.

Turning to special advisers, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, quoted paragraph 3.3:

“The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment.”

I raised in Oral Questions last year the case of Sonia Khan, whose discipline was manifestly not the responsibility of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer but of Mr Cummings. I appreciate that this is still a matter of litigation, but can my noble friend confirm that the Government will respond to her claim for unfair dismissal within the time allotted, as there have been press stories of foot-dragging? Can he explain by what authority Mr Cummings instructed the police to remove Miss Khan from No. 10? Related to that, will he comment on the related story in the Daily Mail on 29 February? It said:

“A Downing Street source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Before he took the job Dom made Boris sign a contract specifying what his powers were to be, that he would be allowed to hire and fire SpAds [and] confirming his authority over other key government projects.’”

If there is such a document, should it not be in the public domain? Has Mr Cummings been given the formal powers that were granted to Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell?

Finally, on spads, is it the case that No. 10 is now using contractors to circumvent the rules, the vetting and the limits on spads? We had the recent case of Andrew Sabisky, the super-forecaster who could not predict that his own employment would come to a premature end. I was surprised to read that he was working as a contractor and was present at meetings where highly sensitive matters were discussed. I confess that in my 23 years as a Minister, I had not come across this type of employment, where someone worked closely with Ministers and handled classified material without being either a civil servant or a spad. I agree with my noble friend Lord Norton: perhaps we need to revise the code to include something about contractors if they are to become part of the Whitehall scene.

I hope my noble friend will be able to shed some light on the issues I have raised, along with those raised by other noble Lords.