politics

Letting Hancock keep job after breach ‘gives ministers licence to break rules’


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llowing the Health Secretary to keep his job after committing a “minor” breach of the ministerial code could give “carte blanche” for further rule-breaking at the top of Government, Labour has said.

A probe by Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, found that Matt Hancock was guilty of a “technical” breach of the rules after failing to declare his sister’s company, which he holds shares in, had become an approved contractor for the NHS.

But the ministerial sleaze watchdog ruled the contravention of the code was “minor” and did not call for the Cabinet minister to resign – a recommendation the Prime Minister agreed with.

But deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has claimed the decision sets a “concerning precedent”.

Traditionally, a breach of the code has led to the resignation of ministers, although Home Secretary Priti Patel kept her job earlier this year after being found to have engaged in bullying behaviour towards staff by Lord Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan.

Sir Alex resigned after Boris Johnson chose to back Ms Patel following his investigation into her conduct.

Announcing she had written to Lord Geidt to query his findings, Ms Rayner tweeted on Monday: “This sets a concerning precedent that the rules don’t apply equally, or indeed they don’t apply at all.

“I have asked Lord Geidt whether he agrees that this precedent of a Cabinet minister being found by an independent investigation to have broken the ministerial code and then not resigning sends a very clear message that the rules don’t apply to Cabinet ministers, with this case therefore damaging public trust in our politics, fundamentally weakening the ministerial code system and giving carte blanche to other ministers to break the ministerial code safe in the knowledge that they will not face sanctions.”

Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests in March this year that he owns 20% of shares in Topwood Limited, a firm owned by his sister and other close family members, which specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents.

The company, as first reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), won a place on a framework to provide services to the English NHS in 2019, as well as contracts with the NHS in Wales, after Mr Hancock was appointed to his Cabinet brief in July 2018.

Lord Geidt, a former private secretary to the Queen who was appointed to his Downing Street role by Mr Johnson, found in a much-delayed report on ministerial interests that Topwood’s approved contractor status could be seen to “represent a conflict of interest” that should have been declared.

Lord Geidt / PA Wire



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