'Corruption's happening in plain sight': Labour unveils plans for new sleaze watchdog

28 November 2021, 22:30 | Updated: 28 November 2021, 23:38

Angela Rayner was due to unveil the proposed watchdog on Monday
Angela Rayner was due to unveil the proposed watchdog on Monday. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

An independent watchdog which can demand ministers be sacked and impose sanctions on rule-breakers has been proposed by Labour, in a bid to tackle corruption.

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MPs have been embroiled in a scandal over second jobs and earnings outside of parliamentary work since Conservative Owen Paterson was found in breach of lobbying rules.

It outraged the public and, after the way the Government initially backed Mr Paterson before U-turning, led to accusations such as "Tory sleaze".

Now, Labour will unveil its plan to protect taxpayers' money.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner is holding the party to accepting findings made by a proposed "integrity and ethics commission".

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She has described the existing standards system as "broken" because a prime minister can reject findings that say cabinet members breached the ministerial code, as Boris Johnson did with Priti Patel.

Labour's proposed watchdog would ensure politics can go without the "alphabet soup of different committees and advisers", and replace the "toothless" Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which advises minister on jobs after they leave government.

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Ex-ministers would not be allowed to lobby, consult or take any paid work that is related to their old job for at least five years under Labour's ideas.

The watchdog could place financial sanctions on former ministers who break the rules, and shut the "revolving door" between leaving government and working for firms they used to regulate.

Ms Rayner is due to set out the plans on Monday.

She is to say that any ruling by the adviser on ministers' interests isn't "worth the paper it's written on" when a PM can simply reject it.

"The current regime is no longer working precisely because we have a Prime Minister who is shameless in breaking the rules and won't enforce consequences on others who break them," Ms Rayner is expected to say.

"Corruption - that is the word - is happening in plain sight and it is rife right through this Conservative government.

"Why do the rules and standards matter? Because the people who are picking up the bill for this corrupt government are the taxpayers whose money ministers are wasting and abusing.

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"Our democracy cannot hinge on gentleman's agreements - it needs independent and robust protection from Conservative corruption."

She will tell the Institute for Government event: "The commission will have the power to access any evidence they need and there will be clear sanctions for breaches of the code so the Prime Minister is no longer judge and jury when it comes to the conduct of ministers."

It is understood that legal advice said the watchdog could not be given power to sanction ministers against the leader's will but Labour said it would accept any decisions as binding.

The party will use Mr Johnson's support of Ms Patel, David Cameron's lobbying for Greensill Capital and the awarding of Covid contracts to Tory party donors as examples of why change is needed.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The Government has committed to continually reinforcing high standards of conduct in public life so the public can have trust and confidence in the operation of government at all levels.

"As we have said previously, we will carefully consider the reports by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Nigel Boardman and others, before setting out a full update to Parliament in due course.

"It's absolutely right that we fully take account of all of the evidence and work up the best solutions before responding."