“If you break the rules there should be clear consequences. Our democracy cannot hinge on gentleman’s agreements; it needs independent and robust protection from Conservative corruption.”
Peter Walker www.theguardian.com
Ministers would be barred from lobbying or other paid work connected to their government roles for five years after they leave office under a Labour plan to set up a new, independent watchdog for potential conflicts of interest.
The proposals, being set out by the party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, in a speech on Monday, would establish a new organisation to enforce such rules that could also sanction ministers who breached wider regulations.
The planned integrity and ethics commission would replace several elements of the existing system, and would also have more powers, for example the ability to independently open investigations into suspected breaches of the ministerial code, the official rulebook for ministers.
It would replace the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which decides on rules for ministers taking new jobs. However, Acoba cannot impose punishments, which are up to ministers.
Last week the Cabinet Office said it was taking no action against Philip Hammond, the Conservative former chancellor, who is now a peer, despite him being reprimanded by Acoba for using his government connections to help a bank he is paid to advise.
The new commission would also replace the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, a role currently occupied by the crossbench peer Christopher Geidt. He can only open investigations into suspected ministerial wrongdoing with the permission of Downing Street.
The adviser also has no power to mandate punishment for breaches of the ministerial code. In November last year, Geidt’s predecessor in the job Sir Alex Allan resigned after Boris Johnson declined to sack Priti Patel despite a formal investigation finding evidence that she bullied civil servants, a breach of the ministerial code.
Labour’s proposed new body could set binding sanctions, and former ministers would be obliged to apply to the commission before taking paid roles after they left office. It could also recommend changes to the ministerial code.
The body would also enforce rules banning former ministers from lobbying, consultancy or any other paid work linked to their former role for at least five years, ending what Labour termed “the revolving door” between government jobs and the private sector.
The plan is part of a wider Labour push on ethical issues following controversy about lobbying by former ministers and serving MPs, prompted by Johnson’s abortive attempt to stop the Tory backbencher Owen Paterson from being punished for breaking lobbying rules by rewriting the entire MPs’ disciplinary code.
Labour has already said that in office it would ban all second jobs for MPs, aside from limited exemptions for people such as medical staff or military and police reservists, and introduce stricter political funding rules, including on donations from opaque shell companies.
In her speech, Rayner will say: “The current system does not work and it has failed.
“It only works where there is respect for the rules and there are consequences for breaking them.
“If you break the rules there should be clear consequences. Our democracy cannot hinge on gentleman’s agreements; it needs independent and robust protection from Conservative corruption.
“Labour’s independent integrity and ethics commission will stamp out Conservative corruption and restore trust in public office.”