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UK Politics

MPs should have lessons in honesty and accountability, says standards watchdog

The Committee on Standards in Public Life found that fewer than one in five MPs elected for the first time in 2010 attended even one induction session

All new MPs ought to attend ethical training, a standards watchdog has said, after finding evidence the House of Commons was falling behind other public bodies in providing proper induction.

Lord Paul Bew, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, warned the Prime Minister that ensuring politicians are aware of their duties to be honest, open, accountable and selfless “cannot be left to chance”.

He told David Cameron that too many appeared to be skipping the available training, despite previous Westminster scandals and the new power for voters to “recall” wrongdoing MPs, both of which mean “the stakes have never been higher” to preserve their public reputation.

A report by the committee pointed to reports that fewer than one in five of those elected for the first time in 2010 attended even one induction session, and one on dealing with ethical dilemmas was cancelled when too few signed up.

It said it understood that the issue was “delicate” as many elected representatives saw being taught ethics as “impugning their integrity and their common sense”.

But Lord Bew said action was needed to ensure Parliament caught up with higher standards in town halls and the civil service.

“Of particular concern to us was the reported lack of engagement with induction by large numbers of Members of Parliament,” he said in a foreword addressed directly to Cameron.

“With the prospect of a Recall Bill, which will give the public the power to remove MPs who have behaved in ways that fall short of the standards expected of them, the stakes have never been higher."

He said: "In effect, ethical issues will now be under even greater scrutiny. More than ever, MPs need to be fully aware of the principles and the rules that guide their behaviour.

“Parliament and the political parties need to provide the opportunities for them to build that awareness and understanding.

"An induction programme that fully embraces ethical standards should be the first of those opportunities."

The Commons was ”noticeably behind some other organisations in embracing either the principle or the practice of induction, let alone accepting that there was a role for ethics within it“, the report said.

If not compulsory, it concluded, induction programmes including ethics should at a minimum be "the norm rather than the exception" as it was "essential to ensure that public office holders are aware of the standards expected of them".

"We do not believe that ethical standards can be an optional extra for those in public life or that the value of embedding ethical standards can be overlooked," the committee said.

The report is part of the committee's submission to an inquiry being carried out into standards procedure set up amid controversies over the way MPs self-police misconduct in their ranks.

Additional reporting by Press Association