HC Deb 08 July 1997 vol 297 cc389-90W
Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Prime Minister when he expects to receive the Third Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life; and if he will make a statement. [7541]

The Prime Minister

The Third Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under the Chairmanship of Lord Nolan, is being published today as Command Paper 3702. I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

We are committed to ensuring the highest standards in public life in this country. I am grateful to Lord Nolan and his colleagues for the significant contribution that they continue to make towards improving the standards of conduct throughout the public sector. Their Third Report covers local government in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Committee received wide-ranging written submissions and heard extensive oral evidence in open proceedings. It has concluded that there are: an enormous number of dedicated and hard working people in local government. It has, however, identified that there is a lack of clarity about rules or expectation of proper behaviour, which it believes is because the responsibility for the maintenance of standards has moved away from local government.

The Committee is, therefore, proposing that in the new climate of improved relations between central and local government, a new start should now be made on building an ethical framework for local government. This would take the best of what already exists, but place responsibility with local government itself. In this context the Committee has unanimously made some forty detailed recommendations. These, if implemented, would result in a radical restructuring of the ethical framework in which local authorities—their members and officers—operate.

I welcome the Committee's careful examination and analysis of conduct—both of councillors and of officers—in local authorities. Their confirmation of the strengths of local government in Great Britain is reassuring, and demonstrates that there is a firm foundation on which we can build. We entirely accept the Committee's conclusion that now is the time to make a new start on the ethical framework for local government.

Accordingly, we shall now be consulting widely on the Committee's specific recommendations, including with the Local Government Association, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Welsh Local Government Association, the Audit Commission of England and Wales, and the Scottish Accounts Commission. In parallel with this consultation the Nolan Committee will be consulting on a proposal for a new statutory offence of misuse of public office, which would apply across the public sector, including local government. Copies of the Committee's consultation paper are available with the Report.

Our intention is to work in partnership with local government to establish a framework for local authorities guaranteeing the highest standards of conduct. Such a framework will be central to achieving our manifesto aim of more independent but accountable local government.