July 24, 2012
On Friday 20 July, Nick visited the Dogs Trust in Harefield, to discuss the Trust’s concerns with High Speed 2, which will run close to the Trust on its’ way to Heathrow.
There have been concerns that the construction of the rail link would cause disruption to the operations of the Trust. Nick wishes to feed in concerns to the Secretary of State for Transport, in an attempt mitigate the impact.
Nick said, “The work of the Dogs Trust is vital in the care and re-homing of these adorable animals. Anything that infringes on this work is of course a great concern and one which will be taken very seriously. We will continue to work with the Trust to find a mutually agreeable solution.”
Photo: Nick with the Chief Executive of the Dogs Trust, Clarissa Baldwin OBE
July 17, 2012
Nick Hurd responds to a debate on the role of the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for clarifying the Labour party’s position on this issue—or not. I would like to begin by registering my personal respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and the other members of his Committee for their persistence on this matter. I note carefully his comment that that persistence is not going away. I also note, on the Government’s behalf, that the motion has cross-party support and has been signed by a number of distinguished Chairmen of Select Committees. This short debate is therefore one the Government must listen to, and I believe are listening to, carefully, and we will consider carefully what has come out of it.
I think it would be helpful if I restated an important principle that the Labour party also clung to in its 13 years in power: when it comes to the ministerial code, the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) pointed out. The bottom line is that Ministers remain in office only for as long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. He or she decides, and is accountable to Parliament for those decisions.
The advent of an independent adviser is clearly welcome, although the Labour party seemed to fight it for many years, and he or she clearly has an important role. It is worth clarifying that there are two aspects to the role, both of which are important. One part of the role is, at the request of the Prime Minister, to look into allegations of breaches of the ministerial code, if the Prime Minister thinks that is necessary, and to advise the Prime Minister. But it is for the Prime Minister to take this decision and be accountable for it. In some cases, the Prime Minister will have no need to ask for advice, as the issues will be clear. In other cases, there may be the need for further investigation before the Prime Minister can take a decision. In those instances, he will refer to the independent adviser.
It is to misunderstand the intended role of the independent adviser to suggest that he or she should be able to instigate his or her own investigations. The adviser is there, personally appointed by the Prime Minister, to advise the Prime Minister on allegations of breaches of the code, if the Prime Minister thinks it is necessary. I shall now read out an important quote from the Prime Minister’s evidence to the Liaison Committee on 3 July:
“The ministerial adviser on interests is there to advise the Prime Minister; he gives the advice and the Prime Minister has to make the decision.”
There has been no change in approach; this is the same practice that existed under the previous Government.
Greg Mulholland: I am listening with interest to my hon. Friend, as he is actually dealing with the issue, unlike the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) in his extraordinary and pathetic contribution. Does my hon. Friend not accept that if the independent adviser had the powers we are talking about, he himself would say that there is not the evidence to proceed with an inquiry? The proposed approach would do that job and give the public that there was no need for an inquiry in the first place.
Mr Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I can see the passion with which he makes his argument, but the important principle is who is ultimately responsible, and that is the Prime Minister.
Paul Flynn: The Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly, said in evidence to the Public Administration Committee that in his view the Prime Minister had broken the ministerial code in one of these instances. As the Prime Minister is unlikely to refer himself to the adviser, is it not crucial that we have someone of independence who can take on the Prime Minister when he is suspected of breaking the ministerial code?
Mr Hurd: I have not seen Sir Christopher Kelly’s evidence on that, but there is no shortage of opportunities to hold the Prime Minister to account on anything.
Providing advice to the Prime Minister on allegations about a breach of the ministerial code is one aspect of the independent adviser’s role. I also wish to explain the other important aspect of the role, as it has been ignored in the debate: the adviser provides an independent check and source of advice to Ministers on the handling of their private interests in order to avoid any conflict between those interests and their ministerial responsibilities, as set out in section 7 of the ministerial code. This is very much behind-the-scenes work; it is about sorting out issues before they arise. However, it does result in the publication by the Cabinet Office of the list of Ministers’ interests, which puts into the public domain a list of all the relevant interests of all Ministers and enables external scrutiny of possible conflicts of interest. Obviously, this is an ongoing process as issues arise, not a one-off. It is important to put on record that second dimension to the independent adviser’s work.
Some questions were raised about particular cases this afternoon, although I think that the hon. Member for Harrow West struck the wrong tone, not for the first time, by seizing the opportunity to try to make a political attack on the Prime Minister. Rather than rehearse some arguments about why one particular case was referred or otherwise, I simply say that in each case—those of the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary and Baroness Warsi—there were no shortages of opportunities for the House or for the media to hold the Prime Minister to account for the decisions he took.
Mark Reckless: Did not the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) go beyond that by suggesting that the code, rather than being a prime ministerial document for Ministers, actually applies to the Prime Minister, too, and that the independent investigator should investigate whether the Prime Minister has breached it? If that were the case, should we not all just pack up, go home and let the independent advisers decide everything?
Mr Hurd: I share my hon. Friend’s reservations about placing too much weight and responsibility on someone who is ultimately an adviser, and this will not be the first time that the hon. Member for Newport West has overstated his case. The point that I was trying to make about the political attacks on the Prime Minister by the hon. Member for Harrow West was that the reasons in each particular case that he cited were made public and the Prime Minister, as we are extremely well aware, was held very accountable for all those decisions.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does the Minister not recognise that history shows that the ministerial code has been invoked more as a shield against public and parliamentary accountability than as a tool for enabling those things? For as long as the code remains the personal app of the Prime Minister and the independent adviser does not have independence, surely all we are looking at is a feeble cross between a figment and a fig leaf.
Mr Hurd: The hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to discuss the issue of whether Sir Alex is independent enough, which featured in the thrust of the argument from many hon. Members.
Robert Halfon: Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), does my hon. Friend agree that to solve this problem the ministerial code should be ratified by Parliament?
Mr Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for his suit, which has enlivened proceedings today.
In the time available to me, I wish to make a comment about the issue of the independence of Sir Alex Allan, because it has been suggested that he is not independent enough or even that he is perhaps not up to the job, having only just retired from a senior role at the heart of government before taking up the role. As I have said, this is a personal appointment by the Prime Minister of the day. A number of qualities are required for the job. In particular, the independent adviser needs to be somebody whose expertise and experience enable them to provide confidential and trusted advice to Ministers and their permanent secretaries. It is our judgment, and the judgment of the Prime Minister, that Sir Alex Allan has that experience, as well as the necessary skills and judgment to make him ideally suited for the role.
In conclusion, today’s debate has shown the range of views on the issue. I hope that we have made it clear that the Government treat issues of ministerial conduct with the utmost seriousness. The Government will reflect carefully on the points made in this debate, and will reflect on them in our response, overdue as it is, to the Public Administration Committee report. That response will be published shortly.
July 11, 2012
On Friday 6 July, I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner Community Games at the Harefield Academy.
Facilitated by the social enterprise Sport Inspired, we had children attend from almost every secondary school in the constituency. They were then mixed up into new teams, giving them all the unique opportunity to make new friends and try new sports such as the Paralympic sport Boccia.
The initial idea came from the board of young people who advise me. During a meeting in March held in Westminster, the Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner Youth Council said that there were not enough opportunities to mix with students from other schools in our area. So in the Olympic year, the idea of a Community Games was born.
The 8 sports that were on offer throughout the day were provided by local sports clubs, and one of the long lasting legacies of the day will be that our students will now be fully aware of the fantastic sports opportunities our local clubs have to offer.
The end of the day saw each student awarded a medal for their efforts and an overall winner’s trophy, in addition to a trophy awarded to the team who showed the greatest team spirit.
Most importantly and in spite of the rain, the smiles got bigger throughout the day. Our first Community Games was a big hit and we were all inspired to make it a regular event.