A new system of “yellow cards” for ministers who misbehave could be brought in as a half-way house between sacking and inaction, according to the man who advises Gordon Brown on ministerial conduct.The “yellow card” – a reference to the warning system in football – would be used for instances where ministers had breached the guidelines but did not deserve to see their career terminated.
The suggestion was made this morning by Sir Philip Mawer, former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is now the prime minister’s Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests.
Former ministers including David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson have quit their cabinet posts after revelations in the press.
The yellow card would be “something short of resignation”, Sir Philip told the Public Administration Committee. He said it could insist of a public apology in the House of Commons rather than a period of suspension or a financial fine.
“This would have to be Gordon Brown’s decision,” Sir Philip told the FT after the hearing. “There are serious cases and there are trivial cases, some are de minimus. At the moment it (the punishment) is all or nothing.”
Sir Philip, who is employed by the prime minister as a consultant rather than a civil servant, said his role was to act as a “critical friend” but he said he was not “in the pocket of the prime minister.”
He will issue his first report in June. Ministers will have to publish their financial and business interests and potential conflicts in a new ministerial register to be published at the same time.
This new log will contain more details than the existing MPs register of interests, such as the activities of spouses or close relatives who could potentially benefit from the minister’s actions.
However, Sir Philip said his advice to the prime minister would be for ministers to drop any potential conflicts of interest.
Most politicans entered the House of Commons because of their commitment to public life rather than to enrich themselves, he insisted. But he added: “I haven’t been brought into this job to be someone’s footstool or patsy”.
The House of Commons has been dogged in recent weeks by the resignation of Peter Hain over campaign donations, the sacking of Derek Conway by the Tories and widespread questions over MP expenses.
Paul Flynn, a Labour member of the committee, said: “In the last few months there has been a collapse in confidence in politicans, a more serious one that many MPs would like to acknowledge.”
Breaking news from Press Association….
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has demanded to know why the case of disgraced MP Derek Conway has not been referred to Scotland Yard.
A senior police officer has written to John Lyon, who is responsible for standards in the House of Commons, to ask whether his officers will be brought in.
The move is sure to renew pressure on the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who was suspended for 10 days after paying his son for work while he was a full-time university student.
A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman confirmed that a sernior police officer has written to Mr Lyon on the matter and asked for an explanation if the case is not to be referred.
News of the letter emerged as Sir Ian was questioned by members at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority today.
The Tory MP has been ordered to return £13,161 of the money he paid his son Freddie and has had his party’s whip withdrawn.
Mr Conway apologised to MPs and said he will not fight the next General Election after the scandal broke last month.
It emerged his son received a salary for parliamentary work despite being a full-time student in Newcastle.
The disclosure provoked calls for politicians to declare whether they claim public funds for employing family members.
MP Sir George Young, chairman of the Commons standards and privileges committee, told the Commons last month that police would not be called in.
A spokesman for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said today that the position had not changed.
She declined to comment on whether there had been any correspondence between Mr Lyon and the police.
Here is the revelant bit from the police statement
The MPS has received a number of inquiries about arrangements surrounding
the referral of criminal matters to police by the Parliamentary Commissioner
We would therefore draw attention to paragraph 1.13 of the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards Annual Report 2003/4 which states that ‘where a
complaint is made to the Commissioner alleging criminal conduct, and the
Commissioner considered that the matter should be further investigated by
the police, the Committee would therefore expect him to report the facts to
it with a recommendation that the matter be referred to the police for