The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) is an advisory non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom Government, established by John Major in 1994 to advise the Prime Minister on ethical standards of public life. It promotes a code of conduct called the Seven Principles of Public Life, also known as the Nolan principles after the first chairman of the committee, Lord Nolan.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life is an independent advisory non-departmental public body, with a secretariat and budget provided by the Cabinet Office. The committee advises and makes recommendations to the prime minister on ethical standards in public life. It can conduct inquiries and collect evidence to assess institutions, policies and practices.
It is formally responsible for:
The Committee does not investigate individual allegations of misconduct, that being the role of the relevant regulator.
The committee promotes a code of conduct for those in public life called the Seven Principles of Public Life or the Nolan Principles:
These Seven Principles apply to anyone who works as a public office holder including:
The Seven Principles of Public Life have proved inﬂuential and are enshrined in codes of conduct across the UK public sector, from schools and government departments to hospitals. They are incorporated into a variety of government-related codes including the Ministerial Code, the Civil Service Code, the Civil Service Management Code, and the House of Lords Code of Conduct. Many local authorities, charities and educational and healthcare bodies adhere to the principles, including – to cite just a few examples – Oxfordshire County Council, the University of Exeter, the University of Nottingham, the NHS Board, the National Trust, and the Good Governance Institute. The principles have also been important in informing ethics debates internationally.
The Committee consists of a chair, four independent members and three political members. The chair and independent members are appointed by the Prime Minister for a single five-year term, following an open competition regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA). The political members, nominated by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat political parties, are appointed for three years with the possibility of reappointment.
|Chair||The Lord Evans of Weardale KCB DL||25 October 2018||5 years|||
|Member||The Rt Hon. Dame Margaret Beckett DBE MP (Labour Party)||1 November 2010 (last reappointed 31 October 2019)||3 years|||
|Member||The Rt Hon. The Lord Stunell Kt OBE PC (Liberal Democrats)||1 December 2016 (last reappointed 1 December 2019)||3 years|||
|Member||Dame Shirley Pearce DBE||13 March 2018||5 years|||
|Member||The Rt Hon. Jeremy Wright QC MP (Conservative Party)||21 November 2019||3 years|||
|Member||Professor Gillian Peele||1 August 2021||5 years|||
|Member||Ewen Fergusson||1 August 2021||5 years|||
The Committee was initially established in October 1994 by the Prime Minister, John Major, in response to concerns that the conduct of some politicians was unethical - for example, during the cash-for-questions affair.
The Committee's original terms of reference were "To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life".
The Committee's first report in 1995 established an initial version of The Seven Principles of Public Life, also known as the Nolan Principles after the committee's first chairman. The principles were Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
As Tony Blair had announced in 1996, referring back to the Neil Hamilton and Cash-for-questions affair, the committee's terms of reference were extended in November 1997. The committee's new remit included "To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements."
In February 2013, the committee's terms of reference were amended to specify that "…in future the Committee should not inquire into matters relating to the devolved legislatures and governments except with the agreement of those bodies". In June of that year the committee was included on a list of 200 organisations that the UK government claimed may need to be replicated in the event of Scottish Independence.
The Committee's remit was also expanded in February 2013 to cover standards of conduct of all holders of public office, not solely those appointed or elected to public office, including all those involved in the delivery of public services. It was later clarified that the committee "can examine issues relating to the ethical standards of the delivery of public services by private and voluntary sector organisations, paid for by public funds, even where those delivering the services have not been appointed or elected to public office."
In September 2020 the committee commenced a detailed review into processes in Westminster. In its interim and final reports of July and November 2021 it noted that transparency relating to lobbying was "poor", and it recommended tightening up the rules governing the conduct of ministers and senior civil servants. A survey conducted by the committee found that the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed poor behaviour by politicians, including breaches of lockdown rules and the awarding of public procurement contracts to ministers' friends. Survey participants were said to be "visibly angry as they recounted the strict pandemic rules they had to follow, which they believed were disregarded by various politicians who subsequently faced few or no consequences." The committee's final report found the effectiveness of ethics regulators in Whitehall had "not kept pace with wider changes" and that there was a "particular need for reform in central government". Lord Evans called for more power to be given to the independent adviser on ministerial standards, and for these stronger rules to be written into law.
In 2021 the committee's only non-white member Monisha Shah came to the end of her five-year appointment to the committee, and on 1 August new members Ewen Fergusson and Gillian Peele were appointed. The committee's chair, Lord Evans, wrote to the Cabinet Office minister reporting concerns about the committee's "lack of visible diversity now as a group" and said that the watchdog "needs to be representative of the people we serve." The appointment of Ewen Fergusson was criticised as "cronyism" by the Labour Party as he had been a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford at the same time as Boris Johnson. Former committee chair Sir Alistair Graham attacked the appointment as a "pathetic" attempt to recruit an old friend of the Prime Minister to an independent committee.