Nolan urges hard line on corruption

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A New crime of misconduct is to be recommended in a report to be published this week by the Nolan Committee investigating standards in public life, writes Catherine Pepinster.

Coming just days after the Downey findings against the two former Tory MPs Tim Smith and Neil Hamilton, the report will urge that a distinction should be made between corruption (such as bribery or fraud) and improper behaviour. It will recommend that corruption in Westminster, Whitehall, quangos and town halls should be covered by the new offence, while those alleged to have carried out lesser misdemeanours should be dealt with under disciplinary procedures.

And in a move that will be welcomed by Dame Shirley Porter and her five colleagues found guilty of masterminding vote-rigging in the City of Westminster, the 10-strong committee will recommend that the surcharging of councillors and town hall officials should be scrapped. "It's clearly not fair that a junior town hall official could be surcharged such huge amounts yet a highly paid MP does not pay a similar price when he has committed an offence," said one Nolan Committee source.

The report follows a year-long study into local government by the committee, which was set up by John Major to investigate standards in public life after the cash-for-questions scandal.

Lord Nolan and his team are keen to see an end to the method for investigating town hall malpractice whereby the district auditor is judge, jury and prosecutor. Dame Shirley and her colleagues have persistently criticised the powers used by the District Auditor, John Magill.