The LGA supports the objective of the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill to ensure the highest standards of integrity and conduct in public life. We agree that it is right that individuals convicted of sexual offences outlined in the Bill should be disqualified from running for public office or retaining their seat if already elected.
- The Local Government (Disqualification) Bill updates the disqualification criteria for local authority members (Councillors, Mayors of combined authorities, the Mayor of London and London Assembly Members) to explicitly disqualify individuals who are subject to relevant notification requirements or orders due to sexual offences from standing for or remaining in office.
- The current disqualification criteria for Councillors, directly elected Mayors, and London Assembly members are set out in various legislation. Regarding criminal activity not related to election practices, a person is disqualified from standing for election or holding public office if they have been convicted of any offence and have received a sentence of imprisonment (suspended or not) for a period of not less than three months without the option of a fine.
- The LGA supports the objective of the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill to ensure the highest standards of integrity and conduct in public life. We agree that it is right that individuals convicted of sexual offences outlined in the Bill should be disqualified from running for public office or retaining their seat if already elected.
- With the creation of new offences and new sentencing regimes, some offences like certain sexual offences do not result in a custodial sentence. Therefore, councillors convicted of offences, which previously would have resulted in disqualification, are now able to retain their role if elected or run for election even if recently convicted. We fully support the aim of updating this position so that offences that have unintentionally fallen out of the scope of the disqualification criteria are brought back into scope. This is essential to ensure that the public continues to have confidence in their elected representatives and local democracy.
- However, it is not right that these proposals apply only to Councillors, Mayors and Assembly Members. Police and Crime Commissioners and Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords must equally be disqualified from public office if they are convicted of similar offences as outlined in the Bill. The Bill would create further discrepancies in the disqualification and standards regime that applies to local and national politicians.
- Councillors are already subject to more stringent disqualification criteria than Members of Parliament. Individuals who have received a prison sentence of three months or more in the five-year period before the election are disbarred from standing as a councillor or must stand down if convicted after their election. The equivalent provision barring an individual from standing for or sitting in Parliament applies if they are subject to a current conviction to be imprisoned for more than a year.
- We therefore urge the Government to find Parliamentary time to urgently bring forward separate legislation to broaden the coverage of the provisions laid out in the Bill to include Members of Parliament and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).
- The LGA does not support amendments NC1 and NC2 recently tabled to this Bill which add a broader range of potentially minor and historic offences to the councillor disqualification criteria. If accepted, these amendments would be disproportionate and would preclude individuals who have already paid their debt to society potentially decades previously from giving back to their communities by becoming a local councillor.
Consultation on disqualification criteria for councillors
In 2017, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, now Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities, consulted on proposals to update the disqualification criteria for councillors and mayors to bring it into line with modern sentencing practice.
The proposed legislation would ensure individuals whose behaviour has led to a conviction or enforcement action resulting in an individual being subject to the notification requirement in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a Sexual Risk Order, a civil injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order.
An individual can become subject to notification requirements by committing certain criminal acts or being issued with certain types of civil orders:
- Being subject to sex offender notification requirements is an automatic consequence of being cautioned or convicted of sexual offences listed in Schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
- Sexual Harm Prevention Orders are civil orders intended to protect the public from offenders convicted of sexual or violent offences and result in notification requirements.
- Notification Orders are civil orders intended to protect the public in the UK from the risks posed by sex offenders who have been convicted, cautioned, warned or reprimanded for sexual offences committed overseas. Notification Orders result in notification requirements.
Then as now, the LGA welcomed proposals to add notification requirements and orders for sexual offences to the disqualification criteria for local elected members. However, the LGA did not support proposals to add Anti-Social Behaviour and Criminal Behaviour Orders to the disqualification criteria and called for parity of standards across local and national elected representatives (LGA submission to the consultation on disqualification criteria for councillors and mayors, 2017).
In October 2018, the Government published their response to the consultation. It confirmed their intention to legislate to update the disqualification criteria for local authority members and elected mayors to bar individuals subject to notification requirements for sexual offences, a Sexual Risk Order, a civil injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order from standing for election or holding public office.
The proposed Local Government (Disqualification) Bill would put in place elements from the Government’s consultation relating to sexual offences only, in line with the LGA’s response to the consultation.
Amendments NC1 and NC2, tabled by Sir Christopher Chope MP (Conservative, Christchurch) would prohibit an individual standing for or being a member of a local authority if they have ever been convicted for an offence under Section 5 and 5a of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and convicted for an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1972.
The LGA does not support Amendments NC1 and NC2. The current disqualification criteria for local elective representatives already prohibits candidates standing in elections if they have been convicted of the crimes set out in these amendments and have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more.
These amendments mean if someone has ever been convicted for minor offences under these Acts that did not carry a prison sentence, or if someone had served their sentence several decades previously and had already repaid their debts to society, they would never be able to give back to their communities by becoming a local councillor.
These amendments also only apply to candidates or members of a local authority in England and not mayors of combined authorities, the London Mayor and London Assembly Members. They would therefore add further discrepancies to an already complex disqualification and standards regime that applies to local and national politicians.