All 3 Lord Udny-Lister contributions to the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022

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Fri 4th Mar 2022
Mon 21st Mar 2022
Local Government (Disqualification) Bill
Lords Chamber

Order of Commitment discharged & Order of Commitment discharged
Fri 1st Apr 2022

Local Government (Disqualification) Bill

Lord Udny-Lister Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I am reminded of the fact that the strength of your Lordships’ House is when we can come together to improve legislation and close legislative loopholes in an attempt to strengthen our democracy and protect the citizens of our country.

In this Second Reading, together we have the opportunity to prevent sex offenders serving in local government. As someone who, like many noble Lords present, started their public service at the coalface of politics by serving as a local councillor—I did so for 35 years—I was surprised, in fact horrified, to learn that a loophole exists in our legislation that allows sex offenders to avoid disqualification from local office.

When we consider the role of local councillors in the community, we must think of the position of trust that they hold and the work that they do, often with the most vulnerable members of our society. I do not need to go into depth on this point, as the duties undertaken by our local representatives, while perhaps not celebrated enough, are well known to noble Lords present. However, I reiterate from my own experience as both a former councillor and a former council leader that, every day, councillors and those holding local office across the country work closely with children and vulnerable adults. We must therefore do everything we can to ensure that those who are convicted of a sexual offence are barred from the privilege of serving their local communities on a local authority.

The loophole that exists is found in the legislation that covers disqualification from office in local government. Noble Lords will be aware that, if someone is subject to a custodial sentence, they are automatically disqualified from their elected post. However, bizarrely, when a sex offender does not receive a custodial sentence but is still deemed to be that much of a threat that they are placed on the sex offenders list, there is nothing in law to prevent them taking up office in local government.

The fact that someone who has committed offences of the most grotesque nature can then be allowed to stand for election and occupy a position of trust and responsibility in their community is an outrageous flaw in our electoral law and something which I hope that noble Lords will help to correct with the passage of this Bill. In observing the proceedings and passage of the Bill through the other place, I was appalled to learn that due to this legislative loophole, individuals on the sex offender register have been able to retain their seat after refusing to resign. This is simply outrageous, as holders of office in local government should, as the majority of them are, be people who embody the values of public life and abide by the laws of this land. This loophole casts an unsavoury shadow of doubt over the security of the vulnerable, especially children, and we therefore have a duty to come together, not only to strengthen our law but to strengthen trust, integrity, and confidence, in our system of local government.

We have before us a relatively short yet slightly complex Bill, which seeks to remove the loophole I have just described. The Bill is not intended to reform the complexities of other areas of electoral law, nor should it be seen as an opportunity to bring about wider disqualification clauses. The Bill is about acting swiftly to safeguard the vulnerable. It will update the disqualification criteria for local government members, including councillors, mayors of combined authorities, the Mayor of London, and London Assembly members, who are subject to relevant notification requirements or orders due to their sexual misconduct, preventing them not only standing for office but remaining in office. If they have already been elected to serve, we are aiming to fix the current as well as the future.

In this country, our system of local government is deeply rooted in having strong local representation of people who are of good character, worthy of trust and beyond reproach. Through the Covid-19 pandemic, I witnessed first-hand a resurgence of the role and duties carried out by our local officeholders on the ground, and I can foresee the duties of our locally elected representatives only being extended in the future. Therefore, we must ensure that only those with integrity can stand to serve. Those holding office in local government today are tasked with making decisions on behalf of children and vulnerable adults. Therefore, it is obvious that those trusted to make decisions should be of irreputable character.

Our local representatives deserve our utmost respect. The vast majority work tirelessly to strengthen the country and are the very foundation of our democracy. However, sadly, there are rare occasions when the behaviour of some falls below the standards that the public expect, and when cracks appear in the foundations of our democracy, we in this place must strive to seal the gaps.

It should be noted that the Local Government Association, in its quest to ensure that the highest standards of integrity and conduct are present in public life, supports the objectives of the Bill. The Bill received cross-party support in the House of Commons and arrives in your Lordships’ House with the support of Her Majesty’s Government. I thank Sir Paul Beresford, who championed the Bill through the House of Commons, and the Government and opposition parties for their support so far. I further pay tribute to the officials who have combed through the complexity of our electoral legislation to help ensure that the Bill is sufficiently primed to close the loophole mentioned.

I hope your Lordships will look favourably on affording the Bill a safe passage through this House, so that together we can close a loophole and thus strengthen our democracy for the better. I beg to move.

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Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I say thank you very much to the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and the Minister for their support for this Bill. In particular, I thank the LGA, which has been very supportive on its journey. I fully understand the arguments about why this should be widened to other groups, but an argument has been clearly made by the Minister about why that should be done by other mechanisms in another place. This will deal with the problem in local government and I urge you to support it. I also thank the Minister for his kind words.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Local Government (Disqualification) Bill Debate

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Lord Udny-Lister

Main Page: Lord Udny-Lister (Conservative - Life peer)

Local Government (Disqualification) Bill

Lord Udny-Lister Excerpts
Order of Commitment discharged
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 14 January 2022 - (14 Jan 2022)
Moved by
Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Local Government (Disqualification) Bill

Lord Udny-Lister Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, in moving that the Bill do now pass, I thank noble Peers across the House for their support for this small but, I believe, important piece of legislation. I am grateful to the Legislation Office and the Minister at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for all the help and support I have received on the Bill’s journey. I also thank Sir Paul Beresford in the House of Commons, who took the Bill through there. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we welcome this legislation. I pay tribute to Sir Paul Beresford for promoting it in the other place and to the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, for sponsoring it here. It is a small but important piece of legislation and we very much welcome it.