Standards in Public Life - Commons Urgent Question

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 3:20 pm, 5th July 2022

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in the other place earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to appear before you and the House on this important matter. We are fortunate in this country to have a sophisticated and robust system for upholding public standards. That system is multi-faceted; it is made up of interlocking and complementary elements. It is of course founded on the seven principles of public life, which have been in place for a quarter of a century and which provide the overarching qualities and standards of behaviour that are expected. I have some time to run through the mechanisms that underpin the seven principles, but I will touch on something else first, which is this. It is something with regard to the potential victims in any case where there are allegations of impropriety of any sort. I was a barrister in criminal practice for 17 years before being elected to this House, and I know how difficult it is for individuals to come forward. It is very important that we do not prejudge any individual case. It is also right that the system that, after all, this House created relatively recently—namely the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme—is allowed to work its course.

There are additional rules and guidance to help ensure consistency of approach—for example, in relation to public appointments, corporate governance and business appointments—when individuals move to roles outside government, and there are independent bodies that provide a broad oversight of standards. The right honourable lady the deputy leader of the Labour Party has asked about the mechanisms for upholding those standards. They exist and they exist as a result of the decisions of this House. There are bodies and officeholders with a role in overseeing specific aspects of public life, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the Civil Service Commission and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Alongside them are regimes for the publication of government transparency data and information on those who lobby government.

We have a Parliament, as you know, Mr Speaker, that upholds standards to cover all those in public life, but it is incumbent upon us not to prejudge these decisions. Ministers, public office holders and officials, in all their activities, must maintain the confidentiality of those who wish to make complaints across the lifetime of their involvement, but let me say that no system can replace the fundamental importance of personal responsibility. We all know this to be true. Codes, rules and oversight bodies are there to guide us, but all of us in public life must ultimately choose for ourselves how to act.”