Half of Parliament’s sleaze watchdog panel have themselves breached its code!

“Half of the members of a sifting panel for the appointment of a new Commons sleaze watchdog have themselves broken parliamentary rules. …

The disclosure prompted fresh concerns last night for the appointments process for the role and the principle of MPs “marking their own homework …”

Sunday Times (paywall)

The Nolan Principles of Public Life – a travesty

If Westminster staff need protection from MPs then we are obviously electing the wrong people. Yet, unless they resign – which they rarely do – we cannot get rid of them. In local government we can’t get rid of a councillor even if he deliberately votes against his own party’s wishes (and when members of his own party then protect him after he has done so).

It is even more unlikely that any Conservative MPs will be made to resign – even if they admit to calling an employee “sugar tits” (no asterisks for Owl on this one) and ordering her to make his sex shop purchases – both of which an MP has allegedly admitted to doing – because of their precarious grasp on power. Power which is held only because of a £1 billion bribe to a so-called Christian-values-based party the DUP – with its strong links to the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

There must be a way of local voters being able to deselect an MP (or a councillor) when he or she is shown to be totally unfit for office, surely? Even a prison sentence doesn’t stop someone being a councillor – it has to be for more than a year!

“There is a requirement to inform the House, if Members are arrested on
criminal charges, of the cause for which they are detained from their
service in Parliament. The House is also informed when a Member has been
committed to prison for a criminal offence. In such circumstances, the
Speaker would normally make an oral statement or lay a copy of the
letter on the Table. The Representation of the People Act 1981
disqualifies from membership of the House any serving Member detained
for any offence in the UK or the Republic of Ireland for more than a
year or detained indefinitely, and their seat becomes vacant.

The House of Commons Library has compiled a list of MPs imprisoned since
1979 …”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mps_with_criminal_records

We obviously cannot rely on the Nolan Principles for Public Life to protect us at any level of government – local, regional or national.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2

MP getting £3,000 per month from a lobbying, that’s fine – isn’t it?

David Mitchell nails it in The Observer:

“The Tory politician James Duddridge pockets £3,300 a month from a lobbying company, but don’t worry. If it were a problem, it wouldn’t be legal.

What is the advantage of letting sitting MPs work for lobbying firms? What are the pluses of that, for the country? Because we do allow it, so I’m assuming there must be some upside.

After all, there are clear advantages to many things we don’t allow: smoking on petrol station forecourts, for example. Allowing that would mean, if you’re addicted to smoking, or enjoy smoking, or think smoking makes you look cool, you could do it while filling your car with petrol, polishing its bonnet, going to buy snacks, checking the tyres and so on. You wouldn’t be inconvenienced by either the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal or a hiatus in the image of nonchalant suavity that having a fag in your mouth invariably projects.

And the same goes for those essaying auras of Churchillian defiance and grit, or Hannibal from The A-Team-style twinkly maverick leadership, to which a lit cigar clamped between the teeth can be vital, particularly if you’ve got a weak chin.

Similarly, if you’re a pipe-smoking detective of the Sherlock Holmes mould and are, perhaps, investigating a crime on a petrol station forecourt, or merely passing across one while contemplating the intricacies of a non-forecourt-related mystery, you wouldn’t have to suffer a lapse in the heightened analytical brain function that you’ve found smoking a pipe crucial to attaining. Interrupting such processes to buy petrol may cause murderers to walk free.

And then there’s the possibility that allowing smoking at petrol stations will marginally increase overall consumption, and therefore sales, of tobacco products – all the Holmeses and Churchills and Bonds will be able to get a few more smokes in before they die of cancer – which would slightly improve trade and GDP, and so create jobs.

Maybe Duddridge just pops in once a month and is a master of clearing photocopier jams.

Nevertheless, I am not, on balance, in favour of allowing smoking on petrol station forecourts. The manifold advantages are, in my view, outweighed by the several disadvantages: passive smoking for non-smoking users of the forecourt, nicotine staining of the underside of the canopy, and various others I can’t currently bring to mind.

But you’d think, in a system that flattered itself as non-mad, as I believe the British one still does, practices that are legal would be bristling with more boons for the community than those that aren’t. That’s got to be the vague rule of thumb, right? So then, what are the good things about allowing sitting MPs to take paid work from lobbying firms? What are the upsides to that?

The downsides are as hard to miss as a few hundred thousand litres of subterranean petrol suddenly exploding. Let’s take an example from the news last week. It was reported that James Duddridge, a Tory MP who was minister for Africa from 2014 to 2016, is being paid £3,300 for eight hours work a month by a lobbying company called Brand Communications.

It’s one of the few lobbying companies not to have signed up to the industry’s code of conduct, which prohibits employing sitting MPs. You may say that makes it a nasty firm, but I don’t blame it. Why would it sign up to extra rules if it doesn’t have to? That’s like volunteering to observe a lower speed limit than the one prescribed by law.

The law is absolutely fine with Duddridge’s little earner. Former ministers’ jobs just have to be approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, itself described by the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee as a “toothless regulator” (these committees are so bitchy!), since it has no statutory powers of redress. Then again, as its rulings are almost invariably “That’s fine”, what powers does it really need?

Duddridge himself says it’s all legit because Brand Communications is “not a public affairs company”, but the company’s website says “James will bring his deep knowledge of Africa, experience of operating at the highest levels of government and extensive networks to Brand Communications”, which sounds a bit public affairsy to me.

But I don’t know: maybe it’s fine. We can’t know it’s definitely not fine. Admittedly, according to the Times, the head of one of Britain’s leading lobbying firms called it “an appalling example of bad practice”, and the chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants said, “MPs should not be lobbyists. It is wrong to be a lobbyist and make the law at the same time,” but maybe it’s still fine.

Maybe James just pops in once a month and is incredibly helpful in ways that don’t conflict with his public duties. Maybe he’s full of creative ideas, a huge boost to office morale and a master of clearing photocopier jams. And then he pops back to parliament and doesn’t think about Brand Communications until the next month, no matter what issues concerning their interests cross his desk as an MP and member of the Commons International Development Committee. Yes, maybe it’s fine.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/01/lobbying-firms-mps-james-duddridge-brand-communications

“Ministers to tighten disqualification criteria for councillors and mayors”

“Individuals who are given an anti-social behaviour injunction or a criminal behaviour order or who are added to the sex offenders’ register will no longer be able to be a councillor or elected mayor, under reforms put out to consultation this week.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the planned changes to the disqualification criteria for councillors and mayors “would ensure those who represent their communities are held to the highest possible standards”.

Under the current rules anyone convicted of an offence carrying a prison sentence of more than three months is banned from serving as a local councillor.

Local Government Minister Marcus Jones said that while this might have prevented criminals from becoming councillors, it did not reflect modern sentencing practices.

He added: “Councillors hold an important position of trust and authority in communities across England. We need to hold them to the highest possible standards.

“The current rules are letting residents and councils down by not preventing people who should never be considered for such roles from standing for election.

“The changes the government is proposing would help make sure anyone convicted of a serious crime, regardless of whether it comes with a custodial sentence, will not be able to serve as a councillor.”

The DCLG said the proposed measures would “bring rules much more into the present day” by including the alternatives to a prison sentence also becoming a barrier to being a councillor.

The changes, if implemented, will apply to councillors and mayors in parish, town, local, county and unitary councils, combined authorities and the Greater London Authority.

The ban would prevent an individual standing in an election or if they are already a councillor or mayor, require them to stand down.

The consultation, which can be viewed here, runs until

5 pm on 8 December 2017

It proposes updating the disqualification criteria in section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972, paragraph 9 of schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, and section 21 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to prohibit those subject to the notification requirements (commonly referred to as ‘being on the sex offenders register’) and those subject to certain anti-social behaviour sanctions from being local authority members, London Assembly members or directly-elected mayors.

The consultation does not propose changing the disqualification criteria for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

The proposals do not extend to the Council of the Isles of Scilly or the Common Council of the City of London.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php

“Council calls for new powers to discipline councillors”

Relax Diviani and Randall-Johnson – it isn’t EDDC or DCC and never will be while you and your mates are in charge!

“Thurrock Council has written to the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to request legislation for a new ‘Right to Recall’ councillors in the event of significant conduct or ethical breach, similar to that put in place for Members of Parliament by the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

The council said that it is also looking into the possibility of introducing its own recall scheme and has asked its monitoring officer to investigate ways that this could be established without new legislation.

Deputy Leader, Cllr Shane Hebb said: “The council’s Monitoring Officer has been looking into the legalities of such a change, and I’m pleased there were many voices across the council chamber who were in favour of a higher form of accountability.

“If changes were to be implemented then, should a councillor fall foul of an agreed set of criteria – like not attending meetings, conviction of a crime or breaching the members code of conduct – voters would have the choice to recall their representative and go to the ballot box to choose another candidate.

“As councillors, we are effectively immune from our residents calling time on any bad practices until a future election. It is the belief of this council that significant lapses of judgement and behaviour do warrant sanction far sooner in some instances, and that our bosses – the electorate – should have a say in calling time on such elected representatives.”

The Localism Act 2011 removed many of the sanctions available to councils to discipline misbehaving members and a number of surveys of monitoring officers since then have found that the standards regime introduced by the act is considered inadequate to deal with code of conduct breaches.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php

Owl was right! The tiniest, infinitesimaly small tap on Randall-Johnson’s wrist!

From the blog of East Devon Alliance Devon County Councillor Martin Shaw:

“Sara Randall Johnson exonerated of breach of rules but reminded of ‘the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act’

I’m posting extracts from the minutes of Devon County Council’s Standards Committee yesterday, concerning the allegations about Cllr Sara Randall Johnson’s Chairmanship of the Health Scrutiny Committee’s special meeting about the Seaton, Honiton and Okehampton hospital beds – mostly without comment, because I haven’t yet had time to fully absorb them or to decide with colleagues how to respond. One brief comment at the end, though …

The resolution, unanimously agreed, states

(a) that the Investigating Officer’s Report be acknowledged and endorsed as an exhaustive and thorough piece of work;

(b) that the Committee finds that the allegations are not proven and that there has not been any breach of the Code of Conduct or that they disclose any sufficiently serious potential breach that might warrant punitive action or sanction or that the subject member failed to apply one or more of the Principles of Public Life;

(c) that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the subject member failed to adhere to the Code of Conduct or had failed to treat others with respect or had failed to act in the public interest or had acted improperly or did not have regard to the relevant facts before taking part in any decision making process as alleged, specifically, in relation to paragraphs 4 and 5(a), (c), (d), (g) and (h) of the Code and that that complaints cannot therefore be upheld;

(d) that, notwithstanding the above, the Committee accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired: Group Leaders should therefore be asked to remind Members of the need to conduct themselves appropriately and respectfully at all times;

(e) that, additionally, the subject member be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the ‘health service’ to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act; the difference between perception and reality being not easily countered;

(f) that in light also of the evident lack of awareness of some Members of the procedures to be followed at meetings, further training be offered (i) to Members on the rules of debate including procedures relating to the moving of motions and amendments and voting at committee meetings and to remind them that assistance was available through the Council’s Democratic Services & Scrutiny Secretariat to help them in ensuring consideration of any matter by a Committee and in drafting motions or amendments and (ii) to Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees, generally, relating to the management of those procedures at meetings;

(g) that Members be also reminded of the need to ensure microphones are switched on and used particularly when meetings are webcast and that Officers examine the potential within the current audio system to ensure that Members’ microphones are switched on remotely, if necessary, to ensure that their contributions are heard and recorded on the webcast; [This would appear to relate to the fact that Paul Diviani’s comments cannot be heard on the webcast]

(h) that, additionally, the Procedures Committee be asked at its next meeting to ensure the wording of the Council’s Constitution in relation to the appointment and membership of Scrutiny Committees is accurate and consistent throughout and reflects the provisions of the law and that the presentation of information about such appointments at the Annual Meeting of the Council is similarly made clearer in future; and

(i) that complainants be advised that any complaint over the conduct of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee’s Co-opted Member cannot be dealt with by the County Council and that as that Member was currently an East Devon District Councillor any such complaints should be referred to East Devon District Council’s Monitoring Officer.

Additional comments from the Investigating Officer about the Committee’s ‘scrutiny’ of the CCG’s proposal:

‘In relation to concerns that the subject member did not guide or direct Committee Members sufficiently robustly to discuss the relevant issues set out in the papers before that Committee or upon which representations had been made direct to Members, the Investigating Officer recognised that the subject member had been at pains to allow all parties present and able to speak with the Clinical Commissioning Group’s representatives, public speakers and local Members attending under Standing Orders addressing the Committee first and speaking on any aspect of the situation as they saw fit. Thereafter Members of the Scrutiny Committee were invited to speak – without restriction as to subject or time – to enable them to raise any issues they may have wished so to do and enable an informed discussion/debate: only then coming to a view, having first heard all the arguments.

‘It was felt to be entirely reasonable to have assumed that Members of the Committee had read and digested the information before and that it was for Members themselves to refer or raise in debate and discussion any specific issues they felt were necessary or worthy of so doing. The Investigating Officer was of the view that it would be wrong for anyone to assume that there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’

COUNCILLOR SHAW’S COMMENT:

My comment – no one said ‘there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’ What we said, and I still say very strongly, is that there was not proper consideration, let alone scrutiny.

The full minutes, which will be posted on the DCC website shortly, are here: Standards Committee 29 August 2017 “

Sara Randall Johnson exonerated of breach of rules but reminded of ‘the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act’

(At least) five of EDDC’s councillors are also Freemasons

Ian Hall – Axminster Rural and Axminster DCC
Ian Chubb – Newbridges and Whimple and Blackdown DCC
Tom Wright – Budleigh
John Humphreys – Exmouth Littleham
Andrew Moulding – Axminster Town

http://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/dozens-devon-councillors-are-freemasons-342713

That’s a clean sweep for Axminster which must give the boys plenty to talk about at their Lodge(s). And all of them Conservative majority councillors wearing many hats in many posts, both at DCC and EDDC.

And that’s only the ones who declare it!

Why is it a problem? This very old article (1966) is still pertinent today:

Freemasons who sat on a council’s planning committee have been found guilty of malpractice after a lengthy inquiry by the local-government ombudsman.

The investigation into their activities on the council at Canvey Island, Essex, began after complaints that they had given a fellow lodge member the go-ahead to build a leisure complex. …”

The ombudsman said:

“Freemasonry is generally viewed with suspicion among non-Masons not least because of the secrecy attached to the `craft’ … in my view, knowing that a councillor and a planning applicant are Freemasons and members of the same lodge, members of the public could reasonably think that such a private and exclusive relationship might influence the member when he came to consider the planning application.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/in-a-small-town-where-the-tories-and-masons-hold-sway-1312466.html
(where you can also see details of other councils and councillors in Devon).

Though, nowadays, we don’t have a national standards board or a “National Code of Local Government Conduct” – both were abolished by national government some years ago.

Leaving each council to decide on its own standards – hhhmmmmm!