Conduct of Members

December 2nd, 2015 by James Goudie KC

The Welsh Government has issued a Consultation, for response by 10 January 2016, seeking views on the contents of two Statutory Instruments, both to be made under Part III of the Local Government Act 2000, in relation to the conduct of councillors in Wales.  They are the Local Government (Standards Committees, Investigations, Dispensations and Referral) (Wales) Regulations 2016 and the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016.

The draft Code Amendment Order amends paragraph 15(2) of the Model Code to put it beyond doubt that all personal interests disclosed under paragraph 11 of the Code, not just those financial and other interests falling within a category mentioned in paragraph 10(2)(a), should be entered in the register of members’ interests. The draft Code Amendment Order omits from the Model Code the requirement to report a potential breach to the Ombudsman.  The requirement to report a breach to the Monitoring Officer is retained. This does not prevent a member from quite properly reporting a potentially serious breach of the Code to the Ombudsman.

Paragraph 10(2)(b) of the Model Code provides that a member has a personal interest in a matter if a member of the public might reasonably perceive a conflict between their role in taking a decision on that matter on behalf of the authority as a whole, and their role in representing the interests of constituents in their ward or electoral division, as appropriate. This aspect of the Code has given rise to unintended consequences in its practical application. The equivalent provision in the 2001 Model Code of Conduct was framed so as to apply to an executive member acting alone in taking a decision on behalf of the authority. The wider wording of the provision in the 2008 Code has been read by authorities as applying to members when acting collectively, e.g. on a planning or licensing committee, and has been seen as potentially precluding members from participating in any decisions affecting their ward.  Paragraph 10(2)(b) is also potentially in conflict with Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011, which aims to clarify the law covering predetermination in England and Wales.

The draft Code Amendment Order omits paragraph 10(2)(b) from the Model Code in order to overcome the practical difficulties encountered with respect to constituency interests.  However, a member taking a decision on a matter should keep an open mind until they are in full possession of all relevant facts and act objectively and in the public interest in accordance with paragraph 8 of the Model Code.

 The draft Standards Committee Regulations amend the Standards Committees (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2283, the Local Government Investigations (Functions of Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2281, and the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2279.  There are amendments to facilitate the establishment and operation of Joint Standards Committees; a change to the term of office of local authority members of Standards Committees; changes in relation to the publication of misconduct reports; provision for the referral of misconduct reports to another authority’s Standards Committee; limitation upon the period of suspension imposed by a Standards Committee so that it does not extend beyond the end of a member’s term of office; a proposed procedure for an application for permission to appeal a Standards Committee determination to the Adjudication Panel for Wales; and provision for the referral of a dispensation application to another authority’s Standards Committee.

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