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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister resisted calls from Labour and Conservative MPs to amend or restrict implementation of the new code of conduct and registers of interest for parish councillors.

Later, at prime minister's questions, Tony Blair refused to withdraw the measures.

He was asked by David Heathcoat-Amory, Conservative MP for Wells, asked how the prime minister could reconcile 'his professed belief' with what the government was doing to local parish and town councils by imposing a highly bureaucratic and intrusive code of conduct and register of interests on those voluntary councils.

In his own constituency alone, that had caused the resignation of two entire councils and many individual councillors.

Mr Blair refused to withdraw them, adding that there were extensive consultations before the proposals were introduced. The government believed in greater openness and transparency in parish and local councils.

David Taylor, Labour MP for North-West Leicester and a parish councillor, said while the government's policies for parish councils seemed broadly well-intentioned the reuirements for registration of interests seemed 'over the top' for smaller authorities. Where, for example, parish councillors in Appleby Magna, Kegworth, Measham, Snarestone and Swannington decline to sign, and resign, the country was losing a wealth of experience and commitment.

He claimed the present code was more rigorous for councillors in communities of 600 with a budget of£4,000 than it was for ministers in a country of 60 million with government budgets of more than£400,000m.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP for Cotswold, said not only the financial interests of the parish councillors had to be declared, but those of their wives, of their children - even of their nephew's wives. That was wholly disproportionate and 'a monstrous slur on our fellow citizens'.

He asked whether, even at this late stage, the government would exempt small parish councils with a precept of under£5,000 from the code and register.

Christopher Leslie, minister in the office of the deputy prime minister, said the measures were a fundamental principle of democratic accountability and should be adhered to, not least because they arose from a recommebation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. They were perfectly fair and not at all onerous, and affected only matters relating to official duties.

'I seriously believe that, as a fundamental democratic principle of accountability, we need a system wherby relevant interests are declared and a register is available for communities to see. It is important that that should apply to councillors to councillors at all levels when making decisions that affect local communities', he added.

Hansard 3 July 2002: Column 207-208; 216

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