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The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): I have today laid before Parliament new regulations providing for local standards committees to consider allegations of councillor misconduct. These regulations form an important part of the framework for promoting high standards of conduct in local government, complementing the work of the Standards Board for England and the Adjudication Panel for England.
New codes of conduct for councillors were introduced in November 2001, and have applied to members of all local authorities in England, and of police authorities in Wales, since May 2002. It is open to anyone to make an allegation to the Standards Board for England that a member has breached the code of conduct and the standards board can require an ethical standards officer to investigate an allegation.
The ethical standards officer may find that there is no evidence of a breach of the code, or that no action need be taken. He may also find that the matter should be referred to the Adjudication Panel for England, which could then impose against the member sanctions of up to five years' disqualification.
It is also open to the ethical standards officer to refer a matter to the monitoring officer of the relevant local authority. These new regulations concern the procedures to be adopted when a matter is referred to the monitoring officer.
The regulations require monitoring officers to arrange for any matters referred to them by an ethical standards officer to be considered by a meeting of the standards committee. They include provisions relating to the conduct of a hearing by the standards committee, and allow the committee to impose sanctions of up to three months' suspension.
The regulations allow a member who has been the subject of a hearing by the standards committee to seek leave to appeal against the committee's findings to an appeals tribunal drawn from the Adjudication Panel for England.
These new regulations will allow standards committees to play a more active role in promoting high standards of conduct within their authorities. They have been prepared following extensive consultation: a summary of the consultation responses is available on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (www.odpm.gov.uk) and in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Article 6(2) of the Treaty on European Union requires the Union to respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the member states, as general principles of Community law. A very similar provision is maintained in the draft EU constitutional treaty being discussed by the Convention on the Future of Europe. The convention is still considering the future status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: A team of four UK police experts, led by Chief Constable Paul Kernaghan, is working with an international team on a full assessment of the Iraqi police service. We expect the team to issue an initial report by the end of May. In the interim the coalition military is conducting joint patrols with Iraqi police.
UK forces have destroyed some caches of weaponry discarded by the Iraqi military, and have disarmed civilians where possible. We are in touch with the US authorities in Washington and Baghdad about the most effective and appropriate way to carry out further work on the collection, management and destruction of small arms in Iraq.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UK has been actively engaged with our African, EU and UN partners in promoting a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We will continue to play our part, as a member of the International Committee for Support to the Transition, which is tasked with supporting the transitional process in the DRC.
The UN Secretary-General has requested the UK and others to contribute to an interim emergency multinational force (IEMF) for Ituri, north-eastern DRC. We think it is important to contribute to this force, to support both the UN and the DRC peace process. The UK will therefore participate in the IEMF. We are in consultation with those involved about the most appropriate and effective contribution the UK can make.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We, and other international observers close to the peace process, will continue to monitor closely implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cessation of hostilities signed by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The 4 February addendum to the MoU allowed for the establishment of a verification monitoring team to verify reports of fighting on the ground. The British senior liaison officer appointed to lead that team arrived in Nairobi on 7 May. We have contributed other personnel and 500,000 US dollars to the operation.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are concerned about the fighting in Darfur. We will continue to encourage those engaged in the conflict to resolve the situation peacefully. We expect the comprehensive peace agreement being negotiated in Kenya to cover the whole of Sudan, including Darfur.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Sudanese Government have signed the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Our embassy in Khartoum and the UK Special Representative for Sudan in the UK regularly lobby the Government of Sudan to ratify the convention. We will continue to press bilaterally for improvements in human rights, and as part of the ongoing EU/Sudan dialogue. On 26 April the Sudanese Minister of Justice confirmed that the system of special courts in Darfur had been abolished. He confirmed that instructions had been given that all trials should be conducted according to normal procedures, including defence lawyers and no military judges. Outstanding death sentences, which had been imposed by the special courts, would be reviewed individually by the appeal court.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, adopted on 22 May, provides for all export sales of oil products to be made consistent with prevailing international market best practices. All proceeds from these sales will be deposited in the Development Fund for Iraq.
The fund will be disbursed by the authority (the UK and US, acting as occupying powers), in consultation with the Iraqi interim administration. Money from the fund may only be spent to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq's infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration, and for other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq.
Both the sale of oil products and spending from the Development Fund will be overseen and audited by an International Advisory Monitoring Board, including representatives of the UN Secretary-General, the IMF and the World Bank. The Security Council will also have oversight through the regular reporting of the Secretary-General on the board's work.
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