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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I am delighted to hear that there

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is a route by which an appeal can be made. I am not quite so delighted when I hear that it would be by way of judicial review. A judicial review tends to be expensive. It is not a route which I would describe as being freely available; it is expensively available.

That said, I will study the Minister's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 67 to 69 not moved.]

Clause 48 [Standards committees]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 70:


    Page 29, line 13, at end insert (", and


(c) may not have a majority of its members composed of members of the executive").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it should not take many minutes to deal with the amendment. I hope that the Government will accept it or agree to consider the point that it raises, which is that the local standards committee may not have a majority of its members composed of members of the executive of the authority.

I do not know what the Government intend by way of regulations in regard to this aspect, but it seems to me that if an authority is to have a standards committee that is representative of all the members of the authority, and given that the majority of members of the authority will not be on the executive, it follows that members of the local authority executive should not have a majority on the standards committee.

It is a straightforward and simple principle which I hope that the Government can accept. It would help both accountability and transparency in this area if the principle was enunciated. If the Minister tells me that he has in mind to have something such as this in regulations, I shall be happy to take the matter no further. However, I may have to think about it if he does not tell me that. I look forward to his reply with interest. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's concern. It is our intention in this context to maintain on the face of the Bill as much flexibility as possible for local authorities--which, of course, is normally the noble Lord's own plea. We are mindful that we do not want executive dominance and therefore we have included the requirement that there should be an independent member. Clause 48(5) includes a specific provision that prevents an elected mayor or executive leader being a member of the standards committee, and it also excludes any member of the executive from being its chair.

Alongside those provisions are references to at least one independent member being appointed to the standards committee, although, of course, local authorities could choose substantially more than one. There is also a reference to the fact that there should be at least two elected members on the standards committee to ensure that the council as a whole has ownership of that committee.

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We believe that these safeguards provide sufficient guidance to ensure that councils are reasonably aware what the nature of the standards committee should be, but allow them to retain some choice as regards the precise composition of the committee in the light of their particular circumstances.

It is true that we will need to bring forward regulations in this area, although we do not want to be too prescriptive in the regulations. On the other hand, were there to be evidence of domination by the executive, we might bring forward such regulations in the light of experience. We would certainly have the power to do so under the Bill. For the moment, we should leave it flexible and leave it to the good sense of councils to decide on the composition of their standards committees.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I wish I could be as confident as he is that his aspirations in this particular area will be borne out. I have to inform him, as a matter of regret, that I have heard of one authority planning to have a standards committee of 15 members, nine of whom will be members of the executive. I am concerned and I am not as hopeful as he is that the high standards we ought to be able to expect from all local authorities will necessarily flow from this Bill, as it is at present drafted. I do not wish to pursue that any further at this stage. I shall consider what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 52 [Written allegations]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 71:


    Page 33, line 16, at end insert--


("(5) Where a relevant Standards Board decides that any allegations made under this section shall not be investigated, it shall give its reasons in writing.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment raises a small point. The Bill, as drafted, permits people to make complaints in the form of written allegations to the standards board. The standards board has to consider those allegations. The Bill, as drafted, says nothing about having to make any form of written response as a result of those allegations, particularly if it decides not to pursue them. It might be argued that I am being unreasonable once again. I should hope that it would be the case that the standards board would automatically write to say whether or not it was going to undertake an investigation and why. I suspect that the Minister will tell me that is to be the case. If he tells me that it will be the case, then it will be. We have had this debate before, but what is said in the Chamber matters. It is right that a person who makes allegations does receive a response. Equally, I am sure that it is right that the standards board, on considering written allegations, will say, "There is not enough here to warrant investigation".

Unfortunately, when one considers some of the things that have happened in local government over the past 10, 15, 20 or more years, one might have

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wished that some such procedure as this were in place. If there had been such procedure, perhaps some of the troubles we have had might have been prevented. This is intended to be helpful. I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I would never accuse the noble Lord of being unreasonable. We envisage that the board would reply in writing to the complainant if it was not to proceed with the investigation. We would expect that any such notification should state why the board did not consider it appropriate to investigate. Therefore, we are at one with the noble Lord on that.

I accept that it might help if there were in the Bill a provision to increase the accountability of the standards board. I should like to take away this amendment and consider whether to make that clear. I do take the point about matters in the history of local government where an investigation has been turned down without any investigation. We ought to cover that issue. I will look at it and consider whether we need to return on that point.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I am happy to await the outcome of his consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 [Conduct of investigations]:

7.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 72:


    Page 34, line 16, at end insert (", or to a former member or co-opted member,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 54 deals with investigations by ethical standards officers. It occurred to me that sometimes these investigations might cover a period quite close to an election or just after an election. Therefore, the investigation ought to be able to consider behaviour that was relevant to former members in that particular situation. It is a somewhat dubious area because it seems that the only sanction an ethical standards officer has is to suspend a member. Of course, one cannot suspend a former member.

There is a more significant background issue that the standard of behaviour of members, both past and present, is very much what makes up the ethos of an authority. If an investigation were to run wide and require the examination of behaviour by former members, it would be unfortunate if it could not do so. Therefore, I have tabled Amendment No. 72. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for drawing our attention to this matter and for his helpful comments. We will look at ways of putting it beyond doubt that former members and co-opted members are included in all references to members in relation to investigations and case tribunals. We shall need to

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return to the House at a later stage with proposals. I hope that the noble Lord is able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for her response. I am used to being banged around a bit before I get anywhere at all. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that. I look forward to the results of her consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 73


    Page 34, line 17, leave out (", within the period of five years ending with that time,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment. The Bill, as drafted, would permit an ethical standards officer to undertake investigations in an authority where he had been a member provided that an interval of five years had intervened between his leaving the authority and starting the investigation. It might be argued that that is a perfectly reasonable and sufficient interval. I am not quite so sure about that. I know my own weakness. If I had to become an ethical standards officer--heaven forfend--and I had to undertake an investigation at Essex County Council, I am not sure that even after an interval of seven, eight or nine years I would still be unbiased. This amendment is here because I wish to say that an ethical standards officer may not undertake an investigation in an authority where he has formerly been a member. It is a simple point. It does not require argument in any greater detail. I beg to move.


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