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ANNUAL REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS IN PUBLIC LIFE PUBLISHED

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The publication of the annual report is the last under the current chair of the committee Nigel Wicks whose three-y...
The publication of the annual report is the last under the current chair of the committee Nigel Wicks whose three-year term is coming to an end.

The annual report* includes a review of the committee's Eighth (Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons) and Ninth (Defining the Boundaries within the Executive: Ministers, Special Advisers and the permanent Civil Service) Reports, and the responses made by parliament and the government to them.

The annual report also includes a new section: Standards in Public Life 2003 'A Standards Check'. Here, the committee reviews a selection of standards issues from the last year. This forms part of the committee's remit 'to examine current concerns about standards of conduct of holders of all public office' and is part of its role in meeting 'a continuing need to monitor the ethical environment'. Standards issues covered by the committee, with reference to specific events during 2003, include:

* Clarity about the appropriate boundaries between minister's special advisers and civil servants (Lord Hutton's inquiry - 'urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly');

* Role of permanent secretaries in investigating alleged breaches of the ministerial code (advice given to the prime minister on the use of 'blind trusts');

* Openness in disclosing information by government departments (recent cases referred to the parliamentary ombudsman)

* Objectivity in awarding contracts (an NAO report on a specific procurement in 2002)

* The standards framework governing members of parliament (following the acceptance of the committee recommendations in its Eighth Report on Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons)

* The offence of corruption as it relates to members of parliament (the government's draft Corruption Bill)

* Misreproting of key national targets by NHS Trusts (a recent Audit Commission Report)

* Powers of the Commissioner of Public Appointments to intervene in appointments proce sses she believes have become flawed (a case highlighted in the commissioner's annual report)

* A new merit based system for making judicial appointments (the government's recent consultation on 'a new way of appointing judges')

* Operation of the Standards Framework for local government (The Annual Report of the Standards Board for England)

In his foreword to the Annual Report, Nigel Wicks, chair of the committee writes:

'There is considerable evidence, set out in a number of reports, that trust in public office holders and public institutions has fallen over recent years. This is clearly a matter of concern to us all since public trust is essential if our liberal democracy is to work in a harmonious and efficient manner..'

He continues:

'Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the last year has been an extremely busy one for the committee. During this period we were pleased to hear the House of Commons' response to the committee's Eighth Report on Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons .....The committee believes that the government's response to its Ninth Report represents a seriously missed opportunity to bring the necessary clarity about the proper boundaries within the executive, the right degree of security about their maintenance, and through this, to enhance public trust in the processes of government. As I said at the launch of the Ninth Report, there are two ways to achieve those objectives. One approach is to adopt the recommendations set out in our report. The other approach is to delay action until a series of 'unfortunate events' occur, to use the words of a recent parliamentary report, which would drive those responsible to implement the substance of the recommendations included in our report. This second approach would carry a cost: further erosion of trust in public office holders'.

* the annual report is available here.

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