Nolan takes hard line on corruption

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The Independent Online
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.

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 corruption in Westminster, Whitehall, quangos and town halls, should be covered by the new criminal offence while those alleged to have carried out lesser misdemeanours should be dealt with under disciplinary procedures.

And in a move which 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 surcharging of councillors and town hall officials should 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 Nolan Committee, which was set up by John Major to investigate standards in public life following the cash for questions scandal. Lord Nolan and his team are keen to see an end to the current 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 which the District Auditor John Magill used. He found her guilty of misusing her power and influence and masterminding the pounds 31.7m Homes for Votes plot, to ensure a permanent Tory majority on Westminster Council.

The damning verdict was delivered by Mr Magill, whose seven-year inquiry concluded: "The council was engaged in gerrymandering, which I have found is a disgraceful and improper purpose."

Shirley Porter and four of those accused are due to explain their conduct in the High Court in October when they appeal against the auditor's findings.