HC Deb 27 February 2003 vol 400 cc37-8WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Promoting high standards of ethical conduct among Councillors is one of the most important requirements for the strengthening of local democracy and the building up of trust between people and their elected representatives. The Government are today laying an amendment to the Local Government Bill which will lead to new regulations allowing local authorities to play a more active role in dealing with cases of councillor misconduct.

The amendment has been prepared following an extensive consultation exercise last summer on the proposed regulatory framework which would allow local investigation of allegations and local hearings. Close consideration of more than 1,000 responses to that consultation led to the conclusion that a robust and workable set of regulations could not be made without changes to the primary legislation.

The Government now intend to issue regulations in two parts. The first set of regulations will set out the regime within which local standards committees will be able to consider reports on alleged councillor misconduct completed by ESOs and referred to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority under section 59 (4) (c) of the Local Government Act 2000. The intention is that these regulations will be laid before Parliament in early April. I understand that the Standards Board for England intend to publish guidance for local authorities on the operation of these regulations

The second set of regulations will provide for the conduct of investigations by monitoring officers, or their deputies, following a decision by an ESO to cease an investigation and refer the matters to the monitoring officer under section 60 (2) (b) of the Local Government Act 2000. Our intention is not to lay these regulations until a change has been made to the Local Government Act 2000 which would allow a monitoring officer to appoint another person to conduct an investigation, especially in circumstances where the monitoring officer might have a conflict of interest. The amendment which is being laid before Parliament today is designed to achieve this change. Subject to Parliament's enactment of the amendment, regulations dealing with investigations will be laid in the Autumn.