The Constitution Unit

Ministers also have rights - balancing executive prerogatives and executive scrutiny

Episode Summary

Inaugural lecture for Sir Peter Riddell, Honorary Professor in Political Science and member of the Constitution Unit. Is there middle ground in the culture war over ministerial standards?

Episode Notes

Debates over standards in public life have a long history. Their evolution is partly cyclical, reflecting reactions to extended periods of one party in office. But there is also long-term growth in a belief that ministers cannot be trusted to behave well and that more formal structures are needed to check their power. Of late, the view that the abuses and challenges to institutional checks have been greater under some recent prime ministers – particularly Boris Johnson – has produced what amounts to a culture war between, on the one hand, defenders of the elected government – often citing an almost presidential mandate dismissing unelected regulators and judges – and, on the other hand, critics who would constrain or even eliminate ministers from some decisions. This debate is in danger of becoming very polarised. So where can a new balance be achieved? In this lecture, Peter Riddell will argue that the solution must recognise the legitimate rights of ministers as the elected government while also strengthening independent scrutiny where needed. Parliamentary committees should also play a more active role in holding both ministers and watchdogs/regulators to account. 

Introduction by Prof Meg Russell. Response by Rt Hon Jack Straw. 

Professor Sir Peter Riddell 

Peter Riddell was appointed an Honorary Professor at UCL in March 2022. He has taken a long interest in constitutional issues, parliament and standards in public life, both as a journalist and subsequently in various other roles. He joined the Financial Times in 1970 after graduating from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, with a degree in History and Economics. He served as Political Editor for seven years before becoming the paper’s Washington Bureau Chief. He joined The Times in 1991 serving as its chief political commentator until he retired from journalism after the 2010 election. He has written ten books on politics, parliament and political careers. Towards the end of his journalistic career, he became involved in other activities, initially as a trustee and then chair of the Hansard Society from 2007 until 2012, and then as Senior Fellow and then Director/Chief Executive of the Institute for Government from 2012 until 2016. He served for 18 months as a member of the Gibson inquiry into the involvement of UK intelligence agencies into the alleged mistreatment of detainees and rendition. In spring 2016 he was appointed to the independent office holder post of Commissioner for Public Appointments where he served an extended term of five and a half years until September 2021. His other public roles have included conducting a review for the Cabinet Office into the future of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and serving on the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee. He has had close contacts with the academic world in various forms, notably with the Constitution Unit over more than two decades. He chaired the advisory panel of the ESRC’s Constitutional Change research programme from 2001 to 2006, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a recipient of the President’s Medal of the British Academy.