Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Resigning ministers

David Parker has been forced to resign his cabinet posts after making an allegedly false declaration on a company form.

I was surprised to find that ministers were allowed to be directors anyway. British ministers can't - the UK Ministerial Code is quite firm that "Ministers must resign any directorships they hold when they take up office". Our cabinet manual just requires them to be declared - I think this is something the government should look at - they're reasonably well paid for a full time job and shouldn't really need side interests.

The Herald (along with the usual not-exactly-unblemished wingnuts -thank you Russell Brown for the reference) suggests he might be prosecuted. I guess this rests on whether there was any material problem with the business. Parker should probbaly get the books audited pronto - if this shows that everything is above board, then I'd think that the chances of a prosecution and conviction are slight, and he might have some hopes of getting back into politics. If however there was actual sticky-fingeredness, then he's in trouble - and rightly so!


Joe Hendren said...


Interesting point you make in regard to British ministers not being able to hold directorships - especially as we are meant to have "inherited" most of the westminister traditions.

Ironically, apart from the filing of the false returns (which was naughty) I can't actually see a problem with ministers being directors of companies like the ones held by Parker. As I understand it the company in question is not much more than an inactive legal shell that could easily have been shut down. Parker may have kept the company going in case he needed to build a life after parliament, and now ironically that very company could mean his life after parliament comes sooner than expected!

I totally agree it would be highly inappropriate for a minister to be a director of a high profile powerful company like Telecom, but should this also apply to the small scale stuff that is unlikely have an impact on his/her portfolios so long as that interest is openly declared?

Do you know when and why the British rule was introduced?


Rich said...

I'm not sure, but I think all the rules in the UK came in during the 90's after the "sleaze" accusations against the Major government. I suspect that there has been a tacit understanding that Ministers may not have outside business interests for quite a while.

It should be possible for a government minister to put their business interests under the control of a trusted third party whilst they are in office - particularly if one is dealing with inactive trading companies which should require minimal attention.

Rich said...

Definitive answer from the House of Commons research website - "The first official guidance note for ministers, Questions of procedure for ministers (QPM), was published in May 1992 although it had been in existence before this as a confidential internal circular
since at least the second world war"

I'd suspect that whyen the NZ parliament started in 1852 things were a lot looser and (Westminster) ministers were able to have all sorts of personal interests.