New ethics watchdog Lord Evans ‘won’t chase headlines’

Lord EvansImage copyright Home Office
Image caption Jonathan Evans was director of MI5 between 2007 and 2013

Ethics watchdogs should not chase media headlines with “half-baked opinions”, the man set to head the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said.

Lord Evans told MPs the body should not be courting publicity by commenting on every “passing” controversy.

Instead the ex-MI5 chief said it should bring “moral and intellectual force” to bear through informed research.

Among the issues he highlighted were standards in academy schools and public servants taking commercial jobs.

The cross-bench peer has been nominated by the government to take over from Lord Bew as chair of the committee, which was established in 1994 to advise the prime minister on standards in public life.

Facing questions from MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, Lord Evans said he would be “his own person” in the role and would not shirk from criticising the government if need be.

As a signal of his independence, he said he would relinquish his role on the parliamentary and political honours committee, which recommends politicians and other public figures for knighthoods and other awards, as well as one “substantial” commercial role.

If confirmed in the standards role, he said he would be seeking “airtime” to set out his priorities but did not want the committee to become an “ambulance-chasing” body that is “always trying to be heard”.

Rather than “responding to whatever is in the Sunday newspapers”, he said he wanted the committee to have a “voice which has a degree of authority” and to base its reports and judgements on strong and clear research.

While the committee was only advisory, he said it should be able to “direct pressure” where necessary.

He said he was aware of continuing concerns surrounding former ministers and other officials taking lucrative jobs in the private sector after leaving office and his committee may choose to look “across the piece” at the current guidelines.

“Whether or not that is a serious problem or it isn’t, I think it would be helpful for the committee to have considered that and to have a look across the piece and say how big an issue is this and, if it is a big issue, what can be done about it,” he said.

Recent governance failings at academy chains might also come under the committee’s remit, he suggested.

Asked about his attitude to public service, he said he was interested in how values “lived” in any organisation rather than mere compliance, adding that when he headed MI5 he encouraged younger members of staff to take “personal responsibility” for speaking out when they saw questionable behaviour.

Since stepping down from MI5 in 2013, Lord Evans has been a director of the National Crime Agency while also serving on the board of banking giant HSBC.


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