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.
Conservative Party, associating it with ‘sleaze’, a term that entered the political vocabulary of the
1990s with a vengeance. The electoral damage to the Conservative Party
was extensive. It lost the general election of 1997 by a landslide, having
won the previous four. The long-term significance of the Major government’s attempt to address these challenging ethical issues was profound.
The establishment of the CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife in 1994
took control of the agenda on ethics away from the government and
placed it with an important and independent new
The role of the Committee on Standards in Public Life
Building the United Kingdom’s
integrity machinery: the role of the
The previous chapter analysed the United Kingdom’s traditional
approach to integrity issues, identifying in particular the reluctance of
the political class from the 1920s to the 1990s to treat the subject of
ethics and integrity systematically or to learn lessons from episodes of
misconduct in public life. Eventually, this approach became untenable.
The eruption of the cash-for-questions scandal demanded a new strategy
which began in 1994 with
government, in some cases even involving the prime minister directly. There has thus been a steady drip of scandal in British public
life. While rarely suggesting systemic wrong-doing or formal corruption,
they have been enough to cause recurrent political controversy.
Twenty years ago integrity issues were not significant enough in public life to lead us to think that the range of institutions which regulated
public ethics constituted an integrity system.2 This changed with the
work of the CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife (CSPL), considered
in Chapter 3. It was not
management of the civil service.
10 Treasury and Civil Service Committee, The Role of the Civil Service; Public
Administration Committee, The Public Service Ethos.
11 Civil Service Commission, Annual Report and Accounts 2012–13, pp. 16–17.
12 CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife, Defining the Boundaries within
the Executive: Ministers, Civil Servants and Special Advisers, Cm 5775,
2003, p. 50.
The regulation of standards in British public life
13 Select Committee on the Constitution, The Cabinet Office and the Centre of
Government, HL 30, 2009–2010, p. 20.
Source: Central parties’ statement of accounts and the Thirteenth Report of the CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife, 2011
speaking, involve public office-holders and Labour did not at first see
non-partisan recommendations of the sort that would emanate from the
Committee as a necessary first step to legislation. However, although the
Labour Party had made party funding transparency an election
ne h w
a t pl
Source: CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife, Survey of Public Attitudes Towards Conduct in
Public Life, 2012
is especially likely to occur if legislators and members of the public view
ethical issues differently. Citizens may cease to trust their representatives
to represent them or lose confidence in their integrity. Unethical conduct
arises in the scrutiny IPSA
receives in Parliament. Under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, the
consultation processes demanded of IPSA were extensive. In preparing
the expenses scheme, IPSA must consult:
(a) the Speaker of the House of Commons,
(b) the CommitteeonStandardsinPublic Life,
(c) the Leader of the House of Commons,
(d) any committee of the House of Commons nominated by the Speaker,
(e) members of the House of Commons,
(f) the Review Body on Senior Salaries,
(g) Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs,
(h) the Treasury, and
(i) any other person
. Beyond this, relevant and activity-specific service requirements should be set for individual major providers under a system of social licence.
In the UK, the CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife has already made some progress with specifying general ethical standards and applying them to outsourcing. Early on in its history, the Committee elaborated a set of ‘principles of public life’, including accountability, openness and honesty. These have clear implications for standards of conduct, for instance in the transparency governing the declaration
under a system of social licence.
In the UK, the CommitteeonStandardsinPublicLife has
already made some progress with specifying general ethical
standards and applying them to outsourcing. Early on in its
history, the Committee elaborated a set of ‘principles of public
life’, including accountability, openness and honesty. These
have clear implications for standards of conduct, for instance
in the transparency governing the declaration of interests by
public officials or the rules governing public appointments.
They have equally clear