Downing Street’s new rules on how ministers should behave gives no reassurance civil servants will be protected “from harassment and bullying”, according to a trade union.
The FDA, which represents 18,000 Government workers, branded the update to the Ministerial Code of Conduct as a “missed opportunity” as it warned it will to continue “to fail the very people it is meant to protect”.
Downing Street published an update to the Code on Tuesday afternoon, with new wording in so that inappropriate behaviour, as well as bullying and harassment, is covered.
Sir Michael Fallon and Damian Green both left the Cabinet in recent months after revelations about their behaviour towards women.
The Code states: “Ministers should be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.
“Working relationships, including with civil servants, ministerial and parliamentary colleagues and parliamentary staff should be proper and appropriate.
“Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and will not be tolerated.”
Responding to the changes, FDA Assistant General Secretary Naomi Cooke said: “Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected at work, but this behind-closed-doors tinkering with the Ministerial Code will do nothing to reassure civil servants that there’s a proper system in place to protect them from harassment and bullying.
“The Code talks tough, saying that harassment and bullying by ministers ‘will not be tolerated’ – but it includes no detail on who will investigate their behaviour or how any sanctions will ultimately be enforced.
“There is nothing, for example, on what will happen to a minister who fails to treat a member of staff with ‘consideration and respect’, or any sense that ministers will be subject to the kind of fair and transparent investigation process that any good modern employer would have in place.”
She added: “These changes to the Ministerial Code represent a real missed opportunity, and Number 10 has ducked the chance to consult widely among the people who actually represent public servants. Instead, we’re left with a few warm words and a system that will continue to fail the very people it is meant to protect.”
The updated code also contains specific rules around ministers’ official meetings – both at home and abroad.
That change comes after Priti Patel was forced to quit as International Development Secretary in November after meeting Israeli government officials without the Government’s knowledge.
The Code reads: “If a Minister meets an external organisation or individual and finds themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a social occasion or on holiday – any significant content should be passed back to the department as soon as possible after the event.”
All ministers in the Government will be required to read the code of conduct, Theresa May told her Cabinet today.
Green, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, was found to be in breach of the code by a Cabinet Office inquiry into claims pornography was found on his parliamentary computer in 2008.
The inquiry found he had made “inaccurate and misleading” comments about the incident by by twice claiming he was not aware of the allegations.
The report said: “Mr Green’s statements of 4 and 11 November, which suggested that he was not aware that indecent material was found on parliamentary computers in his office, were inaccurate and misleading, as the Metropolitan Police Service had previously informed him of the existence of this material.”
The investigation into Green began when female journalist Kate Maltby claimed he had touched her knee and sent her suggestive text messages.
The inquiry found it was “not possible to reach a definitive conclusion on the appropriateness of Mr Green’s behaviour” with Maltby, but the investigation “found Ms Maltby’s account to be plausible”.
Green was asked to resign as First Secretary of State by May on December 20.