THE investigation ordered by Gordon Brown into whether Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik paid only a subsidised rent on his home is the first test of new procedures brought in by the Prime Minister soon after he took office.
The Ministerial Code 2007 established a new procedure for investigating claims against ministers, and it is this mechanism Mr Brown is using for the first time.
The case against Mr Malik would be that by paying only a subsidised rent of, according to the Daily Telegraph, less than £100 a week, he would be receiving a financial benefit which, as a Justice Minister, he should have declared to the department’s Permanent Secretary Sir Suma Chakrabati.
This is provided for in Section 7.3 of the code: "On appointment to each new office, ministers must provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict."
Details of those interests are then published.
Gordon Brown’s spokesman said that the alleged "preferential rent" would "represent a potential financial benefit and that potential and alleged benefit was not declared as part of his ministerial declaration".
Mr Malik did not declare any financial interests in the March 2009 declaration of ministers’ interests, only his work as a school governor and patron of a library, details of charities he is involved with and the fact that his wife is a trainee solicitor.
Mr Brown decided the accusation that Mr Malik enjoyed a preferential rent on his main home, which he had not declared, was serious enough to warrant the first investigation by the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, former parliamentary commissioner for standards Sir Philip Mawer.
The Prime Minister acted under Section 1.3 of the code which states: "If there is an allegation about a breach of the code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, feels that it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests."
The ministerial code has proved unforgiving even for Cabinet favourites, let alone junior ministers.
It led to Peter, now Lord, Mandelson’s resignation from Tony Blair’s government in 1988 over a £373,000 home loan from fellow Labour MP and Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson.
Mr Mandelson quit as Trade and Industry Secretary, saying he should have declared the loan to his department’s permanent secretary - although he was never formally found to have breached the code.
He is now, however, back at the same department re-organised as Business, Enterprise and Regulatory reform as Lord Mandelson.