Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Making an independent adviser truly independent

The row over Jeremy Hunt’s dealings with the Murdoch empire during its takeover bid for BSkyB seems rather a long time ago, even though only a month has passed since it peaked. But even though other rows have eclipsed this one, MPs are debating a very interesting backbench motion in the Commons this afternoon which criticises some of the decisions that the Prime Minister took around the Hunt affair.

The motion is being led by Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, and runs as follows:

‘That this House calls on the Government to implement the recommendation made by the Public Administration Select Committee in paragraph 44 of its Twenty Second Report of Session 2010-12, The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Minister’s Interests: independent or not?, that the Independent Adviser on Ministers Interests ‘should be empowered to instigate his own investigations’; and notes that this motion has been agreed by the Public Administration Select Committee.’

The problem with the current system is that it is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether to refer a minister to Sir Alex Allan, who is the current adviser on minister’s interests. That he did so for Baroness Warsi, but not Hunt caused rather a rumpus and prompted Labour to call its opposition day debate demanding that Hunt be investigated properly. During that debate Jenkin intervened to point to his committee’s report, and also attack Labour for failing to implement similar recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

On today’s motion, Jenkin says:

‘If the adviser is to be independent in any meaningful sense, he must have the power to initiate an investigation into prima facie breaches of the Ministerial Code. With regard to Jeremy Hunt, there was clearly something of a breakdown of good process and good governance and the fact that the Prime Minister didn’t refer this case has led to public criticism that could have been avoided if the public were confident that the Adviser was able to instigate his own investigations.’

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Isabel Hardman
Written by
Isabel Hardman
Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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