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("(iii) specifies the address of their principal office, and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 37 [Duty to comply with code of conduct]:

[Amendment No. 274A not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 275 to 277:



("( ) A person elected as a member of a relevant authority to which section 83 of that Act does not apply may not act in that office unless he has given the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the authority's existing code of conduct under section 36.").


    Page 20, line 15, at end insert ("after a member of the authority has begun to act in that office").


    Page 20, line 16, leave out ("each member of the authority") and insert ("he").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 277A not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 278 to 280:


    Page 20, line 22, at end insert--


("( ) Any person appointed as a co-opted member of a relevant authority may not act as such unless he has given the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the authority's existing code of conduct under section 36.
( ) Where a relevant authority adopts or revises a code of conduct under section 36 after a co-opted member of the authority has begun to act as such--
(a) he must, before the end of the period of two months beginning with the date on which the code of conduct is adopted or revised, give to the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the code or revised code, and
(b) if he fails to do so, he is to cease to be a co-opted member of the authority at the end of that period.").


    Page 20, line 30, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").


    Page 20, line 33, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 280A not moved.]

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 [Standards committees]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 281:


    Page 20, line 38, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A),").

1 Feb 2000 : Column 205

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 281, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group. We want to ensure that the same high standards of conduct apply to all local authority members. Local people must be able to trust their councils to serve them properly. A consistent conduct framework that applies to all levels of local government is vital to achieving this.

Clause 34 lists the relevant authorities to which the general principles, and hence the code of conduct, apply. Parish councils, joint authorities, police authorities, fire authorities, national park authorities and the Broads Authority are included in the list. However, Clause 38 of the Bill, as currently drafted, excludes parish councils and all the other authorities I have listed from the requirement to establish separate standards committees. The original reason for this was to avoid placing an extra administrative financial burden on these relatively small councils.

Amendment No. 282 and the consequential amendments extend the requirement to establish standards committees to all the relevant committees listed in Clause 34 of the Bill. Amendment No. 307 achieves an anomaly whereby the parishes within the framework would not, because of the varying size and character--in England alone there are more than 10,000--and without overburdening themselves be able to set up an arrangement under these proposals.

Amendment No. 307 achieves that by providing that every district council within which parish councils are situated should carry out the functions of a standards committee on their behalf, either within their own committee or within a sub-committee set up specially to consider parish council conduct issues. It must be subject to consultation and agreement with the parishes involved. The amendment further provides that at least one parish member must be present when the committee or sub-committee discusses parish issues.

The final piece of the jigsaw for parish councils is the provision of a monitoring officer. Parishes are not currently required to appoint such officers, but the monitoring officer has an important part to play in the operation of the new ethical framework. Amendments Nos. 361 and 362 therefore provide that the monitoring officer of the appropriate district or unitary council will take on similar functions in relation to parishes in their area. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I wish to refer to Amendment No. 282, which concerns relevant authorities. I ask the Minister a simple question: what consideration have the Government given to the impact of those proposals on police authorities? I chair a police authority and I am a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities, so I have something of a vested interest in her answer. I assure the Committee that all police authorities are committed to high standards in public life; in fact, we feel it incumbent on ourselves to set an example because we expect absolute integrity and professionalism from our police services.

1 Feb 2000 : Column 206

Police authorities throughout the country greatly welcome the Bill generally. But we are different from other local authorities. We are single service, single purpose authorities and we are independent of local government. Having worked with the Government in that area, we believed that they had listened to our concerns about the excessive bureaucracy that would be created were such measures imposed on us. That is why, when the Bill originally came to the House, it excluded police authorities from the obligation to have standards committees. It was rather a shock to discover that the Government had reversed their position.

My association has made it clear on numerous occasions that we are only too willing to help the Government to reach sensible arrangements to embrace the spirit of the proposals. But the problem may be that proper consultation has not perhaps taken place across government departments. Has the Home Office been consulted on the new move? Equally importantly, the provisions before us do not currently apply to the new Metropolitan Police Authority or even the service authorities for the National Crime Squad, of which I am a member also, or the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Should it not do so?

Furthermore, what about Wales? Responsibility for policing the area has not been devolved to the National Assembly, yet where will Welsh police authorities fit into the framework? I wish to work with the Minister in a positive and constructive way to try to resolve those issues and I offer to put my services at her disposal.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I assure the noble Baroness that the Home Office has been consulted. However, I guarantee and undertake to consider carefully the points that she raised. Amendment No. 282 and the consequential amendments extend the requirements to establish standards committees and, as the noble Baroness says, include the police authorities. Following the consultation that took place, we believe the setting up of standards committees within such authorities as police authorities is unlikely to be as onerous as was originally believed. It would indeed be possible under the legislation as amended for the whole authority, with the addition of an independent member, to act as a standards committee if the authority so decided. If it was felt appropriate, through correspondence or meetings, to continue examining the points of concern raised by the noble Baroness, I should be only too happy to undertake to do so.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I wish to address Amendment No. 307, which is grouped with Amendment No. 281. Why have the Government chosen district councils to operate the standards committees on behalf of parish councils? Having been a member of a parish council, a district council and a county council, I can see why the National Association of Local Councils is worried by the fact that district councils are to be the operators of the standards committees. The functions of district and parish

1 Feb 2000 : Column 207

councils are more likely to overlap. In fact, more district councillors are parish councillors than are county councillors. Some districts have devolved certain planning functions to parish councils. Some parish councils have housing allocation rights to social housing within their parishes and district councils may also, through their housing needs register, have a part of that. Such connections are less close with regard to county and district councils.

Planning and housing are probably the two most contentious areas when it comes to interests which should be declared but sometimes are not. Therefore, I believe that the standards committees should operate at county level for the parish councils. It should also be remembered that the local associations of local councils are set up on a county-wide and not a district-wide basis. A collection of parishes will have its association on that county-wide basis and therefore it would be a more natural association if the county were the parent standards committee for all of the parishes.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In response to the final point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, it is my understanding that not all parish councils are in membership of the county branches within a particular county area. There can be a very large number of councils within a county area. That would therefore make the task of a committee quite onerous at county council level.

I appreciate the point that has been raised but I would draw attention to the fact that, within a sub-committee set up specifically to consider parish council conduct issues--that has to be subject to consultation and agreement with parish councils--it would be possible to have regard to the concerns that were raised. Close functional links are helpful, not unhelpful, in many ways. There can be a problem with counties. For example, in north Yorkshire there are almost 900 parish councils. We accept that a degree of co-operation will be needed between districts and their parishes to make the provision work smoothly.

I shall consider carefully the points raised by the noble Baroness. However, I do not say that in the context of believing that we would wish to change our position on this matter.


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