The current system of ethics regulation in central government is too dependent on conventions, and standards regulators in government are not sufficiently independent, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said.
The watchdog added that government “needs to take a more formal and professional approach to its own ethics obligations”.
In a report, Upholding standards in public life, the Committee calls for stronger rules, more independent regulation, and a better system of compliance in central government.
The report also updates the descriptor to the Nolan Principle of Leadership, to cover better the issue of respect.
In particular, the Committee found that:
- There still needs to be greater independence in the regulation of the Ministerial Code, “which lags behind similar arrangements for MPs, peers, and civil servants”.
- The scope of the Business Appointment Rules should be expanded, and the rules should be enforced through legal arrangements.
- Reforms to the powers of the Commissioner for Public Appointments are needed to provide a better guarantee of the independence of assessment panels.
- Transparency around lobbying "is poor and requires better coordination and more frequent publication by the Cabinet Office".
The watchdog recommended a number of stronger ethics rules; that standards regulators in government are given a basis in primary legislation; and that government develops a formal compliance function.
“The arrangements to uphold ethical standards in government have come under close scrutiny and significant criticism in recent months. Maintaining high standards requires vigilance and leadership,” the Committee said.
It added that it believed its recommendations outline “a necessary programme of reform to restore public confidence in the regulation of ethical standards in government”.