Comment: Individual responsibility must dominate public life after phone-hacking

Anyone in a position of public trust, whether it be with their votes, their security, or their news, has an individual responsibility to act with integrity.

By Nicky Morgan MP

Over the 22 years of my involvement in the Conservative party I have often been asked to say, in so many words, why I am a Conservative. The answer is, to me, very clear – because I believe in individual responsibility.

And that belief plays out in all sorts of ways across different policies, including the recent discussions, debates and revulsion over the phone-hacking firestorm, as the prime minister called it. On Wednesday, after the prime minister's statement to the House of Commons I asked him whether he really thought that tougher regulation on our press would solve this problem on its own. I said that over the past few years the public had been let down by some of the following people and organisations – banks, MPs, journalists and the police. To me tougher regulation, whether it is of the press, MPs or our banks isn't the only remedy.

What we really need, as a government, is to lead a step change in what the prime minister called, in his answer to me, social responsibility. Anyone who is in a position to ask the public to trust them – whether it is with their votes, their hard-earned money, their security or their news – has a responsibility to repay that trust by behaving honestly, transparently and with integrity.

And that responsibility, ultimately, comes down to the individual. Of course there will always be some people in any group or organisation who are simply lacking in that famous "moral compass". But there are many more that start out with the best of intentions and get swept along in the pressure to get that story, make a healthy profit or not let the side down by not submitting claims who suddenly find themselves caught up in behaviour that they never thought they would endorse.

And what is government's role in encouraging worthy behaviour? Well, certainly, it is to examine if appropriate regulation can curtail the worst excesses. But it is also to put in place a mechanism whereby if someone realises something is going badly wrong in an organisation there is a way of reporting on that behaviour so that those who are letting the public down know that there is a way of reporting their behaviour and that those in authority will act.

And, finally, there must also be transparency. Sunlight really is the best form of disinfectant. The Freedom of Information Act is a good thing. I welcome moves to make relationships between the press, MPs and the police more open and to amend the ministerial code. Despite all the grumbles about the new MPs expenses system there is no doubt that regular disclosure of what we are claiming does seem to be putting an end to constant speculation about those claims.

But I would also like to see the culture of individuals taking responsibility for their actions taking root throughout our public services. NHS staff, teachers, civil servants and many more all need to take individual responsibility for ensuring they offer the best patient care, the best education experience and the most helpful and efficient customer service they can to the public. Many already do but I am getting very fed up with hearing about problems which were "not picked up by the regulator". If we all take more responsibility for our own actions and monitor those around us I believe we can end up with a stronger society and, who knows, we might even spend less on those regulators.

Nicky Morgan has been Conservative MP for Loughborough since 2010.

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