Sweeping changes in the way complaints against councillors are investigated to reduce the number of "minor, vexatious and politically-motivated" allegations were advocated yesterday by Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

He told the fourth annual assembly of Standards Committees in Birmingham, that moving to a locally-based system for investigating such complaints would help improve the ethical culture in local authorities and improve public trust.

Sir Alistair pointed out that a locally-based system of investigation would be far more effective and provide the opportunity for local committees to end the abuse of the current system for political ends and petty points-scoring.

Sir Alistair called on the Government to change the law to enable the handling of complaints to be undertaken by local committees, overseen by the Standards Board for England.

"The current framework appears to be encouraging minor, tit- for- tat and politically motivated complaints as a way of discrediting political opponents, sometimes for very long periods of time while complaints are investigated.

"Then there are a very high proportion of cases where the finding is 'no evidence of breach' or 'no further action' in addition to the 75 per cent of complaints that do not even warrant investigation."

Sir Alistair continued: "More important is the fact that a locally-based system will offer the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of minor, vexatious and politicallymotivated complaints, hence reducing the overall burden.

"Standards committees can and should take a robust line to ensure that the ethical framework is not abused for political ends, petty points-scoring and media scare stories. This can only be done effectively locally - not from offices on the Thames," he added.