This Commons Library briefing paper looks at the Ministerial Code and the process for investigating breaches of the Code.Jump to full report >>
The Ministerial Code sets out the standards and conduct expected of Ministers.
It was first published as Questions of Procedure for Ministers in 1992, although it had been in existence before this as a confidential internal circular, since at least the Second World War, and was well known unofficially in the media, academic texts and Parliament.
Its text has been subject to revision following recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Select Committee on Public Administration.
It has become customary for a revised Code to be published at the beginning of a new administration.
The latest version of the Ministerial Code was issued on 9 January 2018 by Prime Minister Theresa May following the resignation of three Cabinet Ministers, in November and December 2017, which attracted significant public comment. It aims to address the type of behaviour that led to their resignations; sexual harassment, improper behaviour and undisclosed ministerial meetings.
The 2016 Code had revised the 2015 Code removing the provisions on Extended Ministerial Offices and incorporating amendments on strengthening pre-release access rules for statistical releases. The 2015 Code attracted some comment as it removed the explicit reference in the 2010 Code of Ministers’ duty to “comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations”. It stated instead that Ministers had a duty to “comply with the law”. Concerns were raised that this change may ease the pressure on Ministers to follow international law. However, the Cabinet Office indicated that the phrase “comply with the law” included international law.
Since 2006 there has been an Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, to give confidential advice on request from Ministers and to conduct investigations at the request of the Prime Minister. There have been calls for this role to be reviewed, particularly with regard to the current absence of any power for the Adviser to initiate investigations unless so instructed by the Prime Minister.
There has been some controversy over decisions of successive Prime Ministers not to refer individuals to the Adviser.
Commons Briefing papers SN03750
Authors: Lucinda Maer; Georgina Ryan-White