A loophole that fails to disqualify some sex offenders from standing as councillors will be closed via new legislation.

MPs gave their backing to the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill, which seeks to extend the disqualification criteria in England for councillors, mayors and London Assembly members.

Existing legislation disqualifies from local government anyone convicted of a custodial sentence of three months or more – suspended or not.

But Communities minister Kemi Badenoch said the change is required to ensure those sex offenders given court orders rather than a jail term are disqualified from standing for election or holding office in a local authority in England.

The Northern Echo: Communities minister Kemi Badenoch. Picture: PA WireCommunities minister Kemi Badenoch. Picture: PA Wire

She told MPs: “While the existing law may have been effective in addressing serious cases of criminal behaviour, it does not take account of the non-custodial sentences that courts now issue for sexual offences.

“These are individuals who are on the sex offenders register and are subject to the notification requirement, which manage sex offenders’ behaviour because they pose a risk to children or vulnerable adults.

“This Bill is important because it will bring the current disqualification criteria for local authorities in line with modern sentencing practices.

“Clearly, no community should have to tolerate a convicted sex offender either standing or continuing to serve as their local representative.”

Law will target people on sex offenders register

Ms Badenoch also praised the “vast majority” of England’s 120,000 councillors for their “deep sense of public duty”.

Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), who brought forward the Bill, said: “This is a tiny, tiny specific response to a heavy demand by a number of members and a number of councillors where an individual has been able to stand or remain as a councillor in spite of being on the sex offenders list because they’ve not been actually put in jail.”

Labour offered its support to the Bill and it received an unopposed third reading.

It will undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords at a later date before it becomes law.

Earlier, at the report stage, Conservative former minister, Sir Christopher Chope suggested the proposals should be extended to disqualify people who have committed a drink or drug-driving offences from serving as local councillors.

The Northern Echo: Conservative former minister, Sir Christopher Chope. Picture: PAConservative former minister, Sir Christopher Chope. Picture: PA

But Sir Paul voiced concerns over the impact of such proposals, noting: “I had visions of some poor councillor who had the misfortune of being convicted in the late 1970s for a minor drink-driving offence when a student – and I remember my life as a student, I got away with it – when they were driving their battered Mini car around the university campus.

“This person may have gone on to serve as a councillor or even a mayor for decades, providing great service to the community only to be disqualified at a stroke by the conviction many years ago, therefore forcing a by-election.”

Sir Paul also suggested it could lead to “aggressive partisan trawling” for past convictions to be “used as a tool to unseat councillors”.

The amendments were later withdrawn by Sir Christopher.