Peter Lilley MP accuses LibDems of blocking moves to axe parish council red-tape

- Monday, 21st July 2003

 

Conservatives push in Parliament to abolish draconian parish code of conduct

Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, today criticised Labour and Liberal Democrats for blocking Conservative moves in Parliament to abolish the unpopular parish councillors‘ code of conduct. Following the announcement by Iain Duncan Smith that Conservatives would abolish this red-tape - which affects Hertfordshire‘s parishes - Conservatives tabled an amendment to the Local Government Bill, currently in the House of Lords, to revoke the regulations.

But both Labour and Liberal Democrats opposed the move to axe the flawed regulations - despite the fact that Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons had previously voted with Conservatives against its very introduction.

Peter Lilley said: "We are standing up for Hertfordshire‘s parish councils in the face of growing Whitehall interference. Labour‘s draconian code of conduct has resulted in resignations across the country and is discouraging more people from getting involved in this vital tier of community life."

Peter Lilley singled out the Liberal Democrats for particular criticism,
"This is further proof that Liberal Democrats face both ways. In the House of Commons, they opposed the code of conduct; in the House of Lords, they supported it. Conservatives are the only effective opposition in Parliament and consistently stand up for local parishes and local people across Hertfordshire."

Notes to Editors

Liberal Democrats - facing both ways

In March 2002, Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons voted for a Conservative move to block the unpopular and draconian new Parish Councillors‘ Code of Conduct (Adrian Sanders MP and John Pugh MP voting against in Committee, SC Debs, Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 19 March 2002). Labour votes pushed it through.

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200102/cmstand/deleg6/st020319/20319s06.htm

Yet in the House of Lords, when Conservatives recently tabled an amendment to the Local Government Bill to revoke the code, Liberal Democrats opposed the move, asserting, ‘we do not support the amendment‘ (Baroness Maddock, LibDem local government spokesman, HL Debs, col. 478-9, 10 July 2003).

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds03/text/30710-13.htm#30710-13_ignore0

/continued...

Parish councillors resigning - press reports

Press reports indicate how the Whitehall-imposed code of conduct is unpopular and excessive.

"The imposition of a Westminster-style ‘code of conduct‘ and ‘register of interests‘ for unpaid parish councillors has pushed volunteers from all over England to the verge of resignation. They see it as an invasion of privacy that has provoked a revolt" (The Times, 22 June 2002).

"Members of Britain‘s parish councils are resigning in droves in protest at an attempt by the government to force them to register their financial interests. Most parish councillors are as far removed from the modern politician as it is possible to be, their responsibilities often limited to issues such as keeping the grass of the village green in good order. But under rules introduced by their Westminster colleagues, the men and women who make up Britain‘s 10,000 parish councils are being forced to register all gifts or benefits in kind worth more than ?25." (Sunday Times, 16 June 2002).

"Since we reported last week on the imminent introduction of a code of conduct requiring parish councillors to declare shareholdings and act as whistleblowers on their colleagues, readers have warned us of a mounting crisis in the system... There is a suspicion in rural areas that the Government is seeking to undermine, then abolish, the entire network of parish councils, which are the most local and responsive form of democracy." (Daily Telegraph, 8 February 2002).

Parish councillors standing down - independent study

The University of Aberystwyth, in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, published a report in May 2002 on Participation, Power and Rural Community Governance in England and Wales. The report found "nearly two-fifths of parish, town and community council wards do not attract sufficient candidates to fill all available seats in regular elections" and "there has been a decline in the number of contested parish council elections over the last decade, with the sharpest decrease occurring for smaller parishes" (p.2).

In addition, "the overall picture revealed by these findings is of a significant shortage of candidates coming forward to stand for election to town, parish and community councils. Moreover, comparisons with previous surveys suggest that the problem of finding candidates is worsening... it has been suggested to us that one factor behind the lack of candidates is that being a parish councillor is seen as an onerous task with little reward.... The introduction of the new Code of Conduct may prove a further disincentive. In our case studies for the second phase of the project we have found two parish councils whose members are threatening to resign en masse rather than sign the code. This opposition to the ‘modernisation‘ programme from established councillors may be reflected in an even greater shortage of candidates in the next round of elections" (p.18).

Code of Conduct - Background

Under the Local Government Act 2000, the Labour Government issued a mandatory Model Code of Conduct for parish councils in 2001 (SI 2001, No. 3576).

http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2001/20013576.htm
Many parish councils are concerned that these new regulations are draconian, especially considering that parish councils do not control sizeable budgets. It introduced: (i) a register of parish councillors‘ interests - including their employment, business and any property they own, (ii) a requirement to register any gift or hospitality over ?25, (iii) a requirement to disclose any personal interest or interest of their spouse or relatives, and withdraw from the room if those interests are discussed.

The Code forces national investigation by the Standards Board for England of even minimal infringements. Parish councillors have a duty to make written allegations about the actions of other councillors (clause 6).

 

 

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