Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

MPs 'should get ethics training'

Lord Paul Bew said people needed to know that vested interests were not having undue influence over decision-makers

MPs and peers should be given "ethics training" to help them avoid abusing their positions, according to a sleaze watchdog.

The move is among a range of changes proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life to address concerns around lobbying.

Chairman Lord Paul Bew said people needed to know that vested interests were not having undue influence over decision-makers following a series of scandals.

"We have concluded that a package of measures is urgently required to deliver a greater culture of openness and transparency around lobbying; provide greater clarity for public office holders on the standards expected of them; and to reassure the public that a more ethical approach to lobbying is actively being applied by all those individuals and organisations involved in lobbying," the peer said.

The report urged "more timely and detailed disclosure" about contacts with lobbyists and the hospitality they provide.

"The published information should include dates of meetings, details of attendees and meaningful descriptors of subject-matter," the committee said.

"It should normally be published within one month on a relevant website in an easily accessible format."

Pointing out that office-holders such as MPs and peers are not directly covered by the Freedom of Information Act, the report said they should be "encouraged" to disclose similar information about their meetings.

It suggested "additional restrictions in relation to conflict of interests" could be placed on chairmen of select committees in recognition of their influence.

The Commons Standards Committee should also reconsider recommendations from the parliamentary standards commissioner about extending restrictions on former ministers and ex-MPs lobbying the government.

The report points out that "ethics training is a feature of other professions".

"The relevant codes of conduct and guidance are essential information to be received by Members of both Houses of Parliament on induction. Ethics training should be included in their induction and training programme," the committee said.

"Scenario based ethics training is recommended as an approach to raising consciousness of and adherence to high ethical standards in lobbying."

The committee stressed that its proposed reforms were separate from the Government's controversial lobbying Bill currently going through parliament.

David Cameron has suggested the legislation will stop future scandals, but charities have complained that legitimate activities will be curtailed while many other lobbyists will not be covered.

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