Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, welcomed the news that the next Conservative Government will abolish the unpopular and heavy-handed code of conduct for parish councillors. The announcement was made by Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, at the Local Government Association‘s annual conference in Harrogate.
Peter Lilley said: “Many parish councillors in my constituency have been concerned about Labour‘s draconian code of conduct. Across the country, the number of people getting involved in parish councils has been falling because of it.
“The Code fails to distinguish between major and minor breaches. It is ridiculous to require registration of interests by parish councillors‘ nephews, grandchildren and even partners of such people for small sums. This heavy-handed intervention fails to appreciate that parish councillors overwhelmingly are honest and well intentioned. (This is yet another sign that Labour do not understand or care about rural communities). I believe this Code is flawed and will vote to revoke it.
“I value the work of our parish councillors, and will stand up for them in the face of growing Whitehall interference.”
Notes to Editors
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).
– Many parish councils are concerned that these new regulations are draconian, especially considering that parish councils do not control sizeable budgets. It introduces: (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).
– 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).