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Friday, April 30, 2021

Will the Prime Minister give into pressure on lobbying scandal?

The David Cameron lobbying scandal has highlighted once more the weaknesses in the system, where the Prime Minister is then judge and jury over his own alleged misbehaviour, whilst former Ministers can apparently ignore the rules on lobbying and future employment at will, with no sanctions being taken against them.

Of course that does not mean there are not proposals for reform. The Independent highlights proposals from the Institute for Government that could make a difference. Amongst their suggestions is that cabinet ministers should be banned from lobbying for private firms for five years once they step down from that post.

The think tank’s report recommends:

* Giving proper teeth to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), with the power to levy fines and impose outright bans on former ministers and civil servants taking certain jobs. At the moment, it can only make recommendations, forcing it to “rely on individual embarrassment” as its only deterrent;

* Banning former cabinet ministers, for five years after leaving government, from “lobbying for any organisation that could profit financially”;

* Putting the ministerial code “on a statutory footing”, with the same status as codes for civil servants and special advisers;

* Giving the prime minister’s adviser the power to investigate alleged breaches of the code, instead of requiring a go-ahead from the prime minister;

* Tougher rules for civil servants with outside interests, with permanent secretaries of departments responsible for enforcing them; and

* Expanding rules on registering financial interests to include all special advisers and government appointments.

The big obstacle to this of course is Boris Johnson himself. The paper says that the report, entitled Improving Ethical Standards in Government, comes as the government is engulfed by sleaze allegations – and criticism they are not being properly investigated:

Nigel Boardman, a non-executive director at the business department, was appointed to investigate Mr Cameron’s lobbying for Greensill, a collapsed finance firm which employed him.

But he does not have legal powers to gather evidence or examine the behaviour of ministers – including Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak – who were lobbied privately.

It was then revealed that a former head of government procurement also became a Greensill adviser while still a civil servant.

Christopher Geidt, the new adviser on ministerial interests, will – along with the Electoral Commission – investigate the flat makeover controversy, but Mr Johnson refused to commit to publishing his full findings.

With this record it does not look as if reform is likely anytime soon.
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