SADDLEWORTH Parish Council is making their voice heard in response to a national consultation on councillors holding public office if they are found guilty of serious crimes.
Saddleworth woman, Holly Wood, helped to trigger the consultation, backed by Parish councillors, after campaigning to have Cllr Mike Buckley removed from office.
Cllr Buckley signed the sex offenders’ register in January 2016 after being found guilty at Manchester Crown Court of downloading indecent images of young boys.
He has been removed from all committees on Saddleworth Parish Council following a vote by fellow councillors, but could not be deselected as a councillor.
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, convened a meeting between Parish Councillors and Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government, in May 2016 to discusses the rules.
Now, the Government has launched a public consultation on the criteria required to disqualify individuals from public office.
The new rules could mean anyone given an anti-social behaviour injunction, criminal behaviour order or added to the sex offenders’ register would no longer be able to hold elected office in their communities.
Current rules make clear that anyone convicted of an offence carrying a prison sentence of more than three months is banned from serving as a local councillor.
Many of the current regulations were implemented in 1972, before the sex offenders register or other non-custodial orders existed.
Councils and individuals across the country are invited to have their say in the consultation by answering five ‘yes or no’ questions, and sharing any further views.
The questions were discussed and voted on at last month’s Saddleworth Parish Council meeting, and suggestions for further scrutiny put forward.
Cllr Nikki Kirkham, chair of the Parish Council, suggested political parties should have three minutes each to speak on the topic, rather than councillors individually putting forward their thoughts, but the majority of the council voted against her motion.
Speaking about the consultation, Cllr John Hudson said: “To ensure future sentencing practices keep pace with changes in public attitudes and sentencing options, a thorough review and consultation exercise should be conducted at least once every ten years, the frequency being enshrined in legislation.”
Cllr Fryer suggested: “It should be brought into law that anyone who represents a council should go through a Disclosure and Barring Service check when elected.”
Cllr Knotts added: “It is suggested that a recall act is developed for any elected official who contributes to the violation of human rights of children, or who commits other crimes, irrespective of being sentenced to a prison term or not.”
Currently a recall petition is triggered if an MP is sentenced to a prison term or is suspended for at least 21 sitting days and if at least 10 per cent of eligible electors sign the petition, the seat would be declared vacant and a by-election would follow.
These suggestions were confirmed by Saddleworth Parish Council after a vote of 13 for, one against and two abstentions.
The Saddleworth Parish Council’s answers are:
- Q1. Do you agree that an individual who is subject to the notification requirements set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (i.e. who is on the sex offenders register) should be prohibited from standing for election, or holding office, as a member of a local authority, mayor of a combined authority, member of the London Assembly or London Mayor? YES
- Q2. Do you agree that an individual who is subject to a Sexual Risk Order should not be prohibited from standing for election, or holding office, as a member of a local authority, mayor of a combined authority, member of the London Assembly or London Mayor? NO
- Q3. Do you agree that an individual who has been issued with a Civil Injunction (made under section 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) or a Criminal Behaviour Order (made under section 22 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) should be prohibited from standing for election, or holding office, as a member of a local authority, mayor of a combined authority, member of the London Assembly or London Mayor? YES
- Q4. Do you agree that being subject to a Civil Injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order should be the only anti-social behaviour-related reasons why an individual should be prohibited from standing for election, or holding office, as a member of a local authority, mayor of a combined authority, member of the London Assembly or London Mayor? YES
- Q5. Do you consider that the proposals set out in this consultation paper will have an effect on local authorities discharging their Public Sector Equality Duties under the Equality Act 2010? NO
- Q6. Do you have any further views about the proposals set out in this consultation paper?
The government is asking councils and communities for their views on the proposed changes. The consultation is available until 5pm on December 8. You can view the consultation paper and respond online.