government inquiries

government inquiries
   Any institution which possesses power and authority can abuse that position. Moreover, when a diverse collection of people constitute such an institution, they are able to abuse their positions in an individual manner. The British government is no exception, and has had its share of scandals and inquiries. These exist primarily on two levels. First, there have been individual abuses, some detrimental to democracy and the public interest, others just interesting headlines for the Sunday newspapers. Second, governmental abuses of power occur where there is evidence of a conspiratorial nature or of a cover-up. Both types represent a challenge to the efficient functioning of democracy within British society.
   The ‘cash for questions’ episode illustrates clearly how individual MPs are able to abuse their positions to the detriment of democracy. Against a background of lingering suspicion, journalists from the Sunday Times somewhat insidiously offered both Conservative and Labour MPs £1,000 to ask specific questions in Parliament. Two of the Conservative MPs were interested enough for the paper to run a story claiming corruption at the highest level. The issue went to an inquiry and both MPs were fined for their actions. In addition, MP Tim Smith resigned over allegations concerning payments from Mohammed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods. As the allegations continued, the opposition, the media and senior Conservatives put pressure on the government for a general inquiry. The resulting Nolan Inquiry, chaired by Lord Nolan, eventually recommended the establishment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, a ban on MPs working directly for lobbying companies, and a need for MPs to declare not only outside commitments but also their worth. This latter measure, and the establishment of a Commissioner, were approved by parliament. The second form has recent cases also. Examples include the question of whether there was a ‘shoot to kill’ policy in Northern Ireland; the sinking of the Argentine warship General Belgrano during the Falklands crisis, in which the rules of engagement were changed at the last minute and actions were covered up; and the issue of whether the government made illegal (by breaching or changing guidelines) military sales to Iraq, which was the subject of the Scott inquiry. The wider questions in all these cases are whether there should be more checks upon government and whether it is necessary to create a new regulatory body or extend the powers of those already in existence. The inquiries that have been undertaken have usually been as a result of media attention, not rigorous self-regulation.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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