Integrity issues have become an important item on the British political agenda since the 1990s when ‘sleaze’ prompted John Major to set up the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The book analyses the range of ethical problems which confront the political system and the efforts to address them. It addresses the tightening of standards in response to misconduct in Parliament, in central and local government and in the devolved systems. It also addresses perennial ethical questions such as lobbying and party funding which continue to trouble the United Kingdom as they do other major democracies. The chief purpose of the book is to understand the regulatory dilemmas which face policy-makers as they struggle to produce new machinery and codes to tackle the risk of misconduct. Thus we examine, for example, the choice between self-regulation and independent regulation, decisions about the amount of transparency required of office-holders, and how to achieve proportionality in the balance between perceived problems and regulatory burdens. We also attempt to assess the impact of more than two decades of ethical engineering on the office holders and the public.
This chapter places the management of public ethics in the context of the dilemmas arising in any regulatory system: how to achieve proportionality, how to avoid reputational risks for the regulator in calibrating that regulatory burden too lightly or too heavily, how to avoid regulatory capture, and how to reconcile the conflicting demands of regulator independence and regulator accountability. The chapter takes the reader through this complexity, distinguishing also between various categories of impropriety. It analyses the regulatory framework of public integrity systems in terms of principles and values, and of formal procedures and institutions.
The chapter set the contemporary debate about public ethics in historical context by tracing the approach to integrity questions broadly defined from the late nineteenth century. It suggests that the early tackling of such problems as electoral corruption and patronage may have blinded elites to new and continuing integrity issues and that even though the 19th and 20th century record threw up scandals there was a tendency to deal with them in a limited and incremental manner. With the formation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1994 this approach changed and a much more systematic consideration of ethical issues now occurs.
The role of the Committee on Standards in Public Life
This chapter provides background to the emerging debate about integrity issues in British politics, and provides an overview of the regulatory machinery established to deal with it. The chapter deals in detail with the role and impact of the Committee since the 1990s, and its distinctive approach: in particular its avoidance of areas involving the hard-law of corruption, its focus on sub-standard but not illegal behaviour, and its strong commitment to a combination of codes, self-policing, and external accountability of essentially internal regulators. The chapter distinguishes between the early period of the Committee’s existence and the later more controversial period. It argues that after 2000 the Committee’s role changed from setting out principles, codes, and recommendations for new regulatory machinery, to that of review and meta-supervision of the agencies it had helped create.
This chapter analyses the process by which, in the 1990s, the House of Commons reformed its arrangements for regulating standards. The chapter examines the new machinery including the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, a new Standards and Privileges Committee and a new Code of Conduct. Though an improvement on the old system, there were still weaknesses especially in the lack of independence of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. MPs tended to see themselves as ethically accountable mainly to their own voters, and there were few efforts to promulgate values through systematic ethical induction processes. The expenses scandal prompted further more radical change in the system.
This chapter analyses the response expenses scandal of 2009 and the experience of the new external regulator, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The chapter analyses how the speed with which IPSA’s design emerged and the early difficulties of implementation contributed to an environment of deep antagonism between the new regulator and MPs themselves.
This chapter shows how the House of Lords was initially reluctant to follow the House of Commons in strengthening its regulatory machinery. One constraint was the absence of sanctions for misconduct but peers generally preferred to rely on an honour system. Gradually opinion shifted and more formal machinery was introduced. The chapter assesses the reforms and analyses the extent to which the House of Lords remains vulnerable to abuse.
The chapter examines the Ministerial Code and its antecedents, and explores recent efforts to shift aspects of the Code away from the Prime Minister’s exclusive hands: towards Parliament for content, and towards an independent adviser, for cases of alleged Ministerial impropriety. The role of the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Ministerial Interests has not, in practice, developed significantly towards meaningful independence, and clearly - given majority discipline in a parliamentary legislature - it suits governments to retain accountability on these matters under Parliament’s usually supportive majority. The chapter concludes, from the cases which have arisen to date, that the political implications of more independent regulation of all but the most serious cases of alleged Ministerial impropriety would probably make independent regulation unworkable, however desirable it might be.
The chapter examines the ethical systems in place for regulating the civil service. It analyses a range of linked issues about the politicization of civil-service appointments and it explores the situation of special advisers, and the growth of ethical regulations affecting them
The chapter examines the revolving door issue and efforts to regulate the traffic from the public sector (ministers and officials) to private sector jobs in retirement. It analyses the work of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA)and its attempts to manage the serious long-term ethical risks of these transfers.