In their place the government is considering neighbourhood forums - local assemblies bringing residents together in occasional meetings to make important decisions. Critics fear that this could give town dwellers undue influence over the affairs of less densely populated rural areas.
Environment minister Michael Meacher let slip the plans at a previously unreported fringe meeting during last week's Labour Party conference when he revealed ideas for reform of 'rural governance'.
Many parish councils were criticised for be unaccountable, he suggested. In some cases 'their powers might need to be extended' - but otherwise 'we need to look at alternatives'.
Whitehall sources confirmed that abolition is an option being investigated as part of a rural white paper due to be published in Novemeber. At the weekend, Mr Meacher insisted no final decision had yet been taken. 'I'm not objecting to parish councils. But are they sufficient and adequate? That's the question we have to answer'.
Parishes as units of civil administration date back to the 16th century, although they have been elected for only the past 100 years.