'Fine ministers who flout lobbying rules', anti-sleaze watchdog says

‘Fine ministers who flout lobbying rules’: Anti-sleaze watchdog wants to hit MPs in the pocket if they breach conduct standards

  • The Committee on Standards in Public Life called for sleaze to be punished
  • A report has called for breaches of lobbying rules to be met with fines by ACOBA
  • Former PM David Cameron would have been fined under the recommendations

Former ministers should be hit in the pocket if they break lobbying rules, Whitehall’s anti-sleaze watchdog has recommended.

A report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life today calls for an overhaul of conduct systems in the wake of the Greensill scandal.

Former prime minister David Cameron escaped punishment despite privately lobbying ministers in efforts to secure access to an emergency coronavirus loan scheme for Greensill Capital before its collapse.

He did not face retribution – but he would under the recommended changes.

Under the current rules, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments bans former ministers or civil servants from lobbying government for two years.

ACOBA found Tory MP Owen Paterson guilty of breaching lobbying rules last week and suspended him for 30 days

But it cannot force them to accept this, nor sanction those who ignore its ruling.

For current ministers, the prime minister decides whether members of the government should be investigated for breaching the ministerial code, as well as whether they should resign.

But the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans of Weardale, said the system is ‘no longer satisfactory’.

He has called for the Government to be given a more ‘thorough and rigorous compliance function’.

It comes as the Government faces calls to overhaul Parliament’s anti-sleaze watchdog itself after it found Tory MP Owen Paterson guilty of breaching lobbying rules.

The former environment minister is facing a 30-day suspension from the Commons and could lose his seat.

The report comes after former Prime Minister David Cameron escaped punishment for lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital to secure a coronavirus rescue loan

Mr Paterson has maintained his innocence and claimed the ‘biased’ way the inquiry was carried out was a major factor in the suicide of his wife Rose last year.

Allies of Mr Paterson could table an amendment to a motion on Wednesday to reduce his suspension.

The report states that politicians who breach the ministerial code should face a range of sanctions including apologies, fines and resignations.

And it said there should be a five-year ban on ex-ministers and officials who had a particularly senior role working for lobbying firms.

The change would allow the prime minister’s ethics adviser and other watchdogs to dock part of the pensions and severance pay of former ministers and top civil servants if they are found to be in breach of the rules.

The report also found that the public believe that politicians are ‘not held to account for poor ethical standards’.

Former prime minister Sir John Major, who set up the standards committee after his premiership was rocked by sleaze scandals, has backed the recommendations. Labour has also supported them.

A Government source last night said Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg understood the arguments made for reform.

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