David Cameron's decision to appoint a former civil servant as his indpendent adviser on the ministerial code in the wake of the Liam Fox resignation affair has been questioned by MPs, who feel the position isn't really independent at all.
MPs on the Public Adminstration Select Committee (PASC) say Sir Alex Allan, the man who will in future be used to investigate any alleged breached of the ministeral code, lacks the power to launch his own inquries, and as such is a toothless regulator of ministers.
When allegations that Fox's relationship with unofficial adviser Adam Werritty caused a political row to break out last autumn, Cameron asked the former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to perform a quick investigation into the affair. His report led to Liam Fox's resignation as defence secretary.
Cameron opted not to ask for a more lengthy inquiry from Sir Philip Mawer, who was the indpendent adviser on the ministerial code at the time. The committee believes that Sir Philip would have taken several months to complete his investigation, a timescale which was politically impractical given the furore surrounding Liam Fox.
Sir Philip has now retired and Sir Alex was appointed to replace him. The PASC is unhappy that his appointment was the result of a closed process with no transparency.
PASC chair Bernard Jenkin, a Tory MP, told HuffPost UK: "The prime minister clearly intends to use the advisor, but I suspect if something like this happened again, and the PM wanted a quick answer, he'd be tempted to have [Cabinet Secretary] Jeremy Heywood to it.
"This is why a truly independent advisor should be able to instigate his own inquiries and have a clear remit to conduct quick, preliminary investigation.
"Sir Alex doesn't have his own staff and cannot launch his own process. The fact is that he is a former civil servant with no prior independent experience of government. Calling him independent is rather a misnomer and it will not inspire public confidence."
The committee concludes : "We accept that, following a ministerial resignation, the kind of investigation that might be appropriate would differ substantially from an investigation carried out while a Minister was still in office; and in many cases it would not be appropriate at all.
The resignation of a Minister should not, however, preclude altogether some form of independent investigation when further examination of the facts would be in the public interest."
Responding to the report a Cabinet Office spokesperson said:
“We will respond in detail in due course but we disagree with the committee’s understanding of the role of the Independent Adviser. This is a personal appointment by the Prime Minister to advise him on the Ministerial Code.
"It needs to be somebody who understands the workings of Government and has the trust of the Prime Minister. Alex Allan fulfils this remit, and the Prime Minister has every confidence in his ability to fulfil this role.”Suggest a correction