Labour unveils ethics reforms to undo ‘Conservative sleaze’

A new integrity and ethics commission is one of several proposals aimed to improve standards in politics.

Labour Commission on the UK’s Future report
Labour Commission on the UK’s Future report

A new integrity and ethics commission would raise standards and politics in a bid to “clean up Westminster”, Labour has said.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown hit out at “Conservative sleaze” as he and Sir Keir Starmer unveiled a wide-ranging package of proposals aimed to shifting power away from Westminster and raising standards in UK politics.

Mr Brown said the Tory Government since 2019 is the most corrupt for “at least a century”.

The integrity and ethics commission proposal, which forms part of several recommendations contained in a report by Labour’s commission on the UK’s future, comes alongside plans to end most second jobs for MPs and to create a new anti-corruption commissioner.

At a launch event in Leeds, Mr Brown, who led the commission, appeared to draw a link between excessive centralisation and some of the recent controversies that have dogged successive Conservative administrations.

“We are ditching a century of centralisation,” the former Labour leader said.

“We’re calling a halt to the over-centralisation of power at the centre that has brought us Conservative sleaze and Conservative scandal, and we’re ending the long era of the man in Whitehall, somehow knowing best.”

A row over second jobs was one of several scandals that undermined Boris Johnson’s administration, while the ongoing lack of a permanent ministerial ethics watchdog, after Lord Geidt quit as the independent adviser on ministers’ interests in June, continues to cause questions for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Labour Commission on the UK’s Future report
Former prime minister Gordon Brown at the launch of the Labour report (Danny Lawson/PA)

The 155-page Labour report suggests that an Independent Integrity and Ethics Commission should take on the role of investigating alleged breaches of the code of conduct for ministers, while also calling for a “general prohibition on second jobs by members of Parliament”, but with exceptions for jobs such as medicine where work is required to retain professional memberships.

In Leeds, Sir Keir indicated the abolition of the House of Lords would come within the first term of a Labour Government as he signalled that hereditary peers could be axed early.

“The sooner we can abolish them, the better,” he told reporters.

“I think the last Labour government went further than any previous government down that road and I’d be surprised if there’s anybody that can make a halfway sensible argument for hereditary peers. So, of course, that needs to be done.

“The House of Lords reforms within this report are really important but they’ve got to be seen as part of the much wider package of devolution, of power away from Westminster and Whitehall to communities both politically and economically.”

The new anti-corruption commissioner, pitched as a “powerful” official in the Labour report, would “root out criminal behaviour in British political life where it occurs” and would be appointed with the approval of Parliament and each devolved assembly with a remit at every level of politics.

Mr Brown later told LBC’s Andrew Marr: “I think it’s very difficult to say that this Government has not been the worst in living memory, at least in the worst for a century.

“All these criticisms of cronyism and conflicts of interests have got to lead to change.”

Elsewhere, the report also calls for a greater role for the public in making and enforcing the rules for politicians, with one idea being the involvement of a citizens’ jury in reviewing the standards system.

Labour could also beef up freedom of information powers, with the report recommending that the transparency tool be expanded to be “applied to all new public service contracts delivered by private companies”.

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