Second letter to the Prime Minister from
Tony Wright, MP, Chairman of the Public Administration Committee
Thank you for your letter of 26 May. I am disappointed
that you feel unable to give evidence to the Committee at present
as part of its inquiry into the Ministerial Code.
While I understand what you say about past conventions
on this matter, it is precisely because these conventions do not
apply to the issue of the Ministerial Codesince, as the
Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life puts
it, "it is the Prime Minister's document: he authorises and
guides the drafting and contributes a personal Foreword to it"that
it was necessary for us to ask you to break with them in extending
our invitation to you. There is no-one apart from the Prime Minister
who can account to Parliament for it.
You will understand that there is an important
issue here in relation to Parliament and the Executive. This was
put to the Committee forcibly by Professor Peter Hennessy in his
evidence on 24 May. As you know, Professor Hennessy is the leading
authority on the Ministerial Code who persuaded John Major to
publish it for the first time in 1992. Referring to the convention
of the Prime Minister not appearing before the Committee to discuss
the Code he said "I think . . . the greatest single gap in
the Select Committee's reach now is that of the Prime Minister.
We have long passed the point when Prime Ministers can shelter
under the convention that they do not appear".
We understand what you say about the Government's
response to the Neill Committee's Sixth Report and are glad to
know that this is to appear before the summer recess. When that
response is available, the committee will invite you to revisit
the conventions and consider whether it would then be appropriate
for you to accept our invitation.
You may like to know that we have also invited
John Major, who has agreed to give evidence.
Tony Wright, MP
8 June 2000