Did Peter break any rules?

From the BBC News report of the Spotlight Special

The programme said that while he pressed his wife to return the money, he failed to tell the proper authorities about the transaction, despite being obliged to act in the public interest by the ministerial code.

Questions arise whether Mr Robinson himself breached any rules ( his lawyers deny it ); whether his alleged failure to report his wife’s conduct was unethical, or excusable because he is said to have urged her to pay the money back. There’s little doubt that this will be hotly debated – expertly and inexpertly.

On the outcome may rest his political survival.

Just before the hue and cry starts, his alleged conduct – as distinct from Iris Robinson’s – is worth considering carefully, set alongside extracts from the ethical rules for ministers, MLAs and MPs.

Note that the references are to “stewardship of public funds” and “ use of public funds” etc. It doesn’t appear to limit the scope of the rule to “his” use of public funds. Does knowledge of any potential or alleged breach of the rules by a spouse or partner entail breach of the rules by oneself?

In listing each rule, I don’t imply that Mr Robinson is necessarily in breach of it. For instance, a specific rule referring to money allegedly given to a partner seems to rule out implicating him if it was not given in furtherance of his public duties. I assume the funds cannot be classified as public anyway since they came from private donors, although they were used to finance a public contract.

The extracts below the fold show the spirit of the rules and how a public representative’s conduct is circumscribed. Each code insists the guidelines are not exhaustive and that an MP’s or minister’s conduct should be governed by the Principles of Public Life.

Meanwhile… the personal crisis failed to move anyone to take a Damascus road to break the political deadlock.
Ministerial Code of Conduct
1.5 The Ministerial Code of Conduct referred to at (g) above is as follows.
Ministers must at all times:-
(i) observe the highest standards of propriety and regularity involving impartiality,
integrity and objectivity in relationship to the stewardship of public funds;

(iv) follow the seven principles of public life set out by the Committee on Standards in
Public Life;
(v) comply with this Code and with rules relating to the use of public funds;

(vii) not use information gained in the course of their service for personal gain; nor seek to
use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests;

(ix) declare any personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities.
The Assembly will retain a Register of Interests. Individuals must ensure that any
direct or indirect pecuniary interests which members of the public might reasonably
think could influence their judgement are listed in the Register of Interests.

The Seven Principles of Public Life
1.6 The seven principles of public life referred to at (iv) above are as follows:-
Selflessness
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They
should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their
family, or their friends.
Integrity
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation
to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their
official duties.
Objectivity
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts,
or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make
choices on merit.
Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and
must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that
they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when
the wider public interest clearly demands.

Assembly members’ code of conduct
Rules of the Code of Conduct
Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.

Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and never undertake any action which would bring the Assembly into disrepute

Register of Member’s interest

The Categories of Registrable Interest
Part 1

Category 5
Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK): Any gift to the Member or the Member’s partner, or any material benefit of a value greater than 0.5% of the current salary of an Assembly Member (currently £217), from any company, organisation or person within the UK which in any way relates to membership of the Assembly (including those received in a ministerial capacity) or to a Member’s political activity.

House of Commons

Rules of Conduct
15. Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute

Categories of registrable interest

Category 5
Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK): Any gift to the Member or the Member’s spouse or partner, or any material benefit, of a value greater than one per cent of the current parliamentary salary from any company, organisation or person within the UK which in any way relates to membership of the House or to a Member’s political activity

Category 8
Land and property: Any land or property—

(a) which has a substantial value. (unless used for the personal residential purposes of the Member or the Member’s spouse or partner), or
(b) from which a substantial income is derived.
The nature of the property should be indicated.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London