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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for taking us through what is, according to my calculation, a total of 115 amendments in this grouping. As the noble Baroness explained, some are more important than others. She will be relieved to know that at least I agree with the main purpose of the amendments and the decision to hand over the functions of the standards board in Wales to the Local Government Commission. The commission already has the ability to deal with complaints from the public about maladministration in local government. The commission has a close and intimate knowledge of the 22 local authorities in Wales. The present commissioner, Mr Moseley, enjoys a high reputation for integrity and fairness, and I believe that the proposed extension of powers to cover the field of standards sits well with his current duties.
I am glad to hear that the duties of the commission are to be extended further by later amendments in the other place. The commissioner is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Secretary of State and, therefore, has an independent status. By way of reminiscence, there was a time when local authorities did not always accept his judgment in cases of maladministration when he was critical of them. I understand that those days have passed with the advent of legislative changes that require authorities to publish their reasons if they disagree with the commissioner's findings. In short, I believe that to take over the functions of the standards board is to complement the powers of the commissioner by virtue of his present office. I commend the National Assembly for its decision, I believe that it is right in its recommendation.
Currently, if a councillor behaves badly he can be named and shamed by a mention in a commission report. Under this Bill he can be punished under the adjudication panel procedure. If he breaks the code to
I have noticed one substantial difference. In Wales we shall not have ethical standards officers but the commission will have the powers which attach to those individuals. I am sure that through his staff the commissioner will be able to carry out equivalent or similar functions. There is a further extension, in that community councils are also brought into the frame. It is quite right that, limited though their powers may be, those councils, which are equivalent to parish councils in England, should be brought into the frame. About 800 community councils in Wales are in receipt of council taxpayers' money which is raised by the county authorities. Therefore, I believe that there should be an arrangement whereby the county standards committee, or a sub-committee, has oversight of the community councils. Community councillors should be subject to the same standards as councillors of other authorities.
In Amendments Nos. 86 to 91 there are some very important new clauses which spell out how investigations are to be conducted. On first reading what emerged was the importance of the local authority monitoring officer and the need for him or her to be a person of unquestionable integrity and independence and to have the trust and backing of the authority's standards committee. Regrettably, in Wales there are certain local authorities where low standards have become the norm. I have in mind one South Wales local authority where half, if not more, of the elected members were subject to police investigations at the same time. I hope that the National Assembly makes regulations, in accordance with Amendment No. 91, to indicate how matters referred to a monitoring officer are to be dealt with. He will require strong backing from outside the authority in certain circumstances. He may also be directed by the Local Government Commissioner as to how matters should be dealt with.
I have studied the amendments as closely as I can in the time available. I acknowledge the help provided to me by the Government at a late hour. It is, nevertheless, welcome for all that. I agree that the amendments improve the Bill in one way; namely, they place the onus for issuing a model code squarely on the National Assembly, following consultation with local authorities, the Audit Commission, the Commission for Local Administration and other appropriate bodies. It would have been wrong, surely, to leave the partnership council with the initiative to produce the model code, because that body includes members of
We shall study these changes further, as will others in Wales who no doubt will in time give us the benefit of their views. Some of these are key amendments which reflect the procedures to be followed by the standards board in England. We benefit from the extensive debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House on the duties and responsibilities of the board in England. If there are defects in the amendments which have been tabled at a fairly late stage--the bulk of them yesterday--I hope that the Government will bring forward any changes that they feel are necessary. I am sure that any defects will be pointed out to us and Members in the other place by the Welsh electorate when it has had time to study the matter. Meanwhile, we are prepared to give these amendments a fair wind.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the advance notice of the amendments and the helpful discussions. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, mentioned, the path of local authorities in Wales has not been entirely smooth over the past two or three years. I am grateful for the assistance given in Wales by my colleague Michael Farmer QC, in one of the authorities where problems emerged. I welcome the provision of a model code which I hope will ensure that such matters do not arise again.
I am also grateful for the widespread consultation on the provisions with the National Assembly for Wales. It is unfortunate that these matters come forward at a late stage. I hope that through discussion we shall be able to create a machinery which does not give rise to such problems. It is important that this House should have the opportunity for advance notice and full consideration of these matters. I hope that by discussion we shall be able to arrive at an agreed procedure.
I look to the National Assembly for Wales being able to consider in draft form legislation which affects Wales, a situation provided for somewhat more concisely than in the Bill. Providing that the National Assembly for Wales should replace the Secretary of State as expressed in various parts of the Bill is a confusing procedure. I am happy to say that in subsequent Bills the position of Welsh primary legislation is more clearly stated. The more we can proceed along those lines, the better it will be for clarity and the good governance of Wales. As does the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, I welcome the amendment.
All institutions and organisations need to be vigilant against corruption and malpractice. The code of conduct in Wales and its enforcement will be rigorous. The Assembly is committed to the maintenance of the
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, rightly drew attention to the staffing issue. We are confident that the proposals for Wales will ensure that there will be opportunity for additional staff, but not as many would have been needed had the two bodies remained separate. The commissioner for local administration will have all the powers available to ethical standards officers in England. In the smaller organisation in Wales it would be clumsy to set up a separate and distinct role for ethical standards officers.