Written evidence submitted by Dr Judi Sutherland, former town councillor in County Durham


As a former town councillor in County Durham, at the lowest level of local government, the Nolan Principles were presented to me as the standards I should attain, but of course they are not specific or detailed enough to give us chapter and verse on what to do and what not to do. We were on occasion referred to the Local Government Act 2000 (as amended). If we fell short in any way, we were referred to the county Electoral Services department for investigation.

I am sure that the Nolan Principles are familiar to most of our Members of Parliament too. The problem is that there seems to be no sanction at parliamentary level for breaching those principles. It of course is and should be difficult to unseat a democratically elected representative, but the current arrangements assume that if an MP is tempted to breach the Nolan Principles, that he or she would be too afraid of the reputational damage, which would be a substantial deterrent. However, our current political climate shows that we cannot rely on our politicians to be honourable men and women. They will lie, slander, resort to hate speech, grant favours in return for financial benefit to themselves or their party, reward cronies and fleeting sexual partners with honours and with government contracts – we see Nolan Principle breaches daily, they don’t care, and there is no redress. Our broadcasters are so dependent on the patronage of government that they dare not report on the facts. Even criminal investigations by the police are quietly dropped. It seems like our whole system is rotten.

I am not sure that the Committee can tackle this alone. There needs to be root and branch reform of our political party funding, our honours system, the transparency of government contracts, and maybe even a written constitution, because right now there is no sanction and the good governance of this country is being stripped away piece by piece.

I think it should be within the powers of the Committee to suspend Members of Parliament, to initiate and facilitate recall petitions, and to liaise with the DPP on supporting prosecutions without fear or favour. If your members are brave enough. Right now you have no teeth.

Another problem is that our current law on Misconduct in Public Life is not fit for purpose. Not only does the individual have to be clearly acting in their public role when committing an offence, but the law only envisages the crime of obtaining pecuniary advantage, rather than political advantage. It is easier for a councillor to be convicted for passing a dodgy planning application for £50 than for a government minister to be convicted for lying to the public during a referendum campaign and misapplying public funds in awarding contracts to companies unfit to carry out the work required.. This cannot be a fit state of affairs in one of the greatest nations on earth. I wish you luck, you have your work cut out.

22 October 2020