Major to advise on code for ministers

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Indy Politics

John Major is be called before a committee of MPs to discuss ministerial rules, it was disclosed last night.

The Public Administration Committee will write to him as a former prime minister and invite him to give evidence on whether rules governing conduct of ministers should be changed. The committee has also decided Tony Blair, as serving prime minister, should be called too. The committee issued the invitations in response to protests that the existing code allows ministers to be judge and jury in their own cases. Yesterday the committee issued a formal notice of its inquiry, saying it would announce its programme later, but informally sources said both men would be invited.

Mr Blair is expected to resist attending, but it is likely Mr Major will accept. Under his tenure Jonathan Aitken was cleared of allowing an arms dealer to pay his hotel bill at the Ritz in Paris after he lied to the then cabinet secretary, Sir Robin Butler. The code, first published in 1992, has been controversial ever since, because it says ministers are responsible for their own conduct. It adds that they must retain the confidence of the prime minister, but a revised version could strengthen that to say Mr Blair should be the ultimate judge of their behaviour.

In its announcement yesterday the committee said it would take evidence before July and report in autumn.

Archie Norman, the opposition environment spokesman, welcomed the committee's decision. He recently wrote to Mr Blair about whether John Prescott broke the code when he changed the rules on renting while in possession of a rent-controlled flat let to him by a trade union. His letter was passed to Mr Prescott's department.

Mr Norman said: "For the last five weeks the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary have stonewalled all questions concerning the Deputy Prime Minister's clear breach of the ministerial code."