Having just returned from a couple of hours clothes shopping (one of my least favourite activities) I have now downloaded the Report from Sir Philip Mawer on the Deputy Prime Minister's conduct. These are the key passages...
13. However what Mr Prescott failed to do at that time was also to address, as the Ministerial Code requires, whether the proposed hospitality was on a scale or from a source which might reasonably be thought likely to influence Ministerial action. Therein lay the root cause of his failure to recognise the need to record this visit in a timely fashion in the Register of Members’ Interests. We share the Commissioner’s view, which Mr Prescott came to accept in the light of further advice following Mr Swire’s approach to him, that the nature of his relationship with Mr Anschutz meant that he was accepting hospitality from a source that might reasonably have been thought likely to influence Ministerial action, the key test for recording hospitality received in a Ministerial capacity in the Register of Members’ Interests.
14. Our predecessors have dealt with a number of cases where failure to register one or more interests has been at issue, and some of these have involved acceptance of
hospitality. In this case, as the Commissioner points out, Mr Prescott took further advice, and immediately acted on it, as soon as the matter had been raised with him by Mr Swire.On the other hand, he is a very senior Minister, and also a very senior Member of the House. He should therefore be fully conversant with the requirements of both the House and the Ministerial Code.
15. Having regard to the specific circumstances of this case, including Mr Prescott’s
eventual initiative in registering the stay, and his full acceptance of the conclusions reached by the Commissioner, we are not recommending any further action to the House.
16. This case is nonetheless a cautionary tale to Ministers, and highlights the need for them to think very carefully about the implications of accepting hospitality from those with whom they have an ongoing relationship in their Ministerial capacity. In this context, we urge upon all Ministers the considerations which the Commissioner suggests may be relevant to any decision to record hospitality in the Register of Members’ Interests, and the availability of advice from the Registrar of Members’ Interests. The Prime Minister should consider incorporating an appropriate reference in future editions of the Ministerial Code.
17. Finally, it is in our view difficult for the public to understand the distinctions between the Parliamentary and Ministerial Codes, and who is responsible for the enforcement of each. Whereas the House has well-established arrangements for independent investigation of complaints against Members, there are as yet no corresponding arrangements in relation to complaints of breaches of the Ministerial Code. This makes for difficulties in investigating complaints, like this one, which raise issues under both jurisdictions. We recommend that the Prime Minister consider introducing an independent element into the investigation of complaints of breaches of the Ministerial Code.
The Parliamentary Commissioner's conclusion seems to be this: It's OK if you don't register something as long as you do it after a newspaper finds out. This is a very strange way of adjudicating on matters of public integrity. However, Sir Philip and his Committee do appear to endorse calls for the Prime Minister to resolve whether the Ministerial Code has been broken by John Prescott. As Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire says: "If Mr Blair shies away from this then frankly the ministerial code will not be worth the paper it's written on." Those of you who are not Conservatives may well think, well he would say that, wouldn't he? But it's not just being said by Conservatives - Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has also called for an invesitigation to see whether the Ministerial Code has been breached. The weakness of the whole system is that in the end it is up to the Prime Minister of the day to decide whether to call an inquiry or not. This is no longer sustainable, and I hope this power will be removed from the Prime Minister if the Conservatives come to power.
The general public will laugh at this slap on the wrist for John Prescott. The court of public opinion has already tried him and found him guilty. The man's integrity is in ruins and he has become a national laughing stock. He may well think this decision marks the end of his trials and tribulations. He may be right. But I think not. I don't expect the press to go nuclear tomorrow. I don't even expect any more calls for him to quit. Not yet. I suspect they will re-emerge on August 5th - the day he takes over the running of the country from Tony Blair for a month.