Current rules around preventing former ministers from being rewarded with plum jobs in the industry they previously presided over are ‘toothless’ and needed strengthening, a peer has said.
Lord Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), has welcomed measures to apply fines for those found in breach of vetting procedures.
Under a new ethics regime announced by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden this week, former ministers who breach the rules on post-government jobs could be hit by financial sanctions.
One major change is designed to prevent breaches of Acoba rules – something former prime minister Boris Johnson was recently accused of after giving the committee 30 minutes’ notice of taking up a new post as a Daily Mail columnist.
A ‘ministerial deed’ will be designed to legally commit ministers to the rules on accepting jobs after they leave office, binding them by the same restrictions as civil servants.
When asked why he welcomed the measures, vetting watchdog chief Lord Pickles told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Because they (the current rules) are toothless and they need a new pair of gnashers to bite.
‘I often write to the Deputy Prime Minister to say: “Such-and-such has caused a problem, and what you do is a matter for you.”
‘It is an act of kindness on my part that I say: “Not that you can do anything, because the rules are useless.”
‘These will make the rules legally binding on ministers and on civil servants and it will make very clear that people who regulate can’t expect to go into the same sector when they leave Government. And that applies to civil servants as well as ministers.
‘In order for people to actually take these things seriously, there has to be a financial penalty.’
The Conservative peer said fines would be reserved for the ‘most egregious and blatant abuses’.
Lord Pickles, a former Cabinet minister during David Cameron’s premiership, said Mr Johnson had the opportunity while in Downing Street to change the rules around former ministers and MPs taking up media work.
Mr Johnson, who quit as an MP last month in protest at a Commons probe concluding he lied to Parliament with his partygate assurances, was found to have committed a ‘clear and unambiguous breach’ of Government rules and the ministerial code after giving only half an hour’s notice to Acoba about his paid job writing for the Mail.
Asked about whether the former premier would have received a punishment under the new rules, Lord Pickles said: ‘We had recommended to Boris when he was prime minister that we didn’t really think that newspaper columns or appearing on television, or if said minister decided to become a presenter on the Today programme, we didn’t think that was terribly important.
‘We are interested in the government’s interests, so under the rules we are suggesting, just standard conditions would apply to that, so if Boris had listened to us, there would not have been any story.’
BBC presenter Nick Robinson, in what appeared to be a reference to GB News hiring Tory MPs, replied saying: ‘Interesting. We don’t allow politicians to present the Today programme – it is only on other networks that they think that that represents impartiality.’
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