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

Government proposals for parish councils were intended to enhance their role and better equip them to meet the needs of their communities - not to abolish them, DTLR minister Lord Falconer insisted.

He was replying to Conservative Baroness Knight who said the government's code of conduct would mean unpaid parish councillors having to put on permanent public display every detail of their income, what shares they had, what property they own, who employed them, what union they belonged to and full details of any gift valued at more than£25 - even those from relatives.

She asked: 'Is it right that in a free country they should be ordered to inform against their colleagues? Does he hope that with those fearsome rules in place, people will not volunteer to do that job and that parish councils will wither on the vine?'

The minister said that account bore no relation to what the regulations said. The parish councillor was required to register his or her job, who employs him or her, and anyone who has made a contribution to election expenses. If the councillor has an interest in a corporate body in the parish, details must be given; if he or she has a contract with the parish council, details must be given; if he has land in the parish, he or she must identify where it is; and councillors have to state whether they have any land on which they are tenants or any premises for which they have a licence in the parish.

Lord Falconer said there had been a three-month consultation on the draft code of conduct. The National Association of Local Councils and the Association of Larger Local Councils were fully consulted and supported the proposal.

He added: 'Some parish councils have budgets of around£1m. If there is, for example, a contract between the parish councillor and the parish, it is right that that should be disclosed. This is not the intrusive document that the noble baroness suggested. It is a sensible document that is in line with other councils'.

Lord Marlesford, who is chairman of a parish council, said his colleague baroness Knight had slightly overstated some aspects of the code, it was in many respects OTT. 'It is not well drafted, it is intimidating and provocative and it is not going to encourage people to give basic service at the grassroots of democracy', he claimed.

Conservative Baroness Platt, president of the Essex Association of Local Councils, asked the minister if he had considered that the local farmer who owned land might also be chairman of the local football club. 'Interests involving local farming and the football club would affect his attendance at a parish council meeting. What appears right from Whitehall does not appear right from a parish council', she added.

Lord Falconer said the government, as part of its initiative to strengthen local democracy at parish level, would review the operation of parish polls, including the number of voters required to request a poll in large parishes and town councils. Any change would require primary legislation.

'We will consult interested parties on how the parish poll provisions should be reformed. On the one hand, that will provide certainty and prevent abuse and, on the other hand, it will allow local people to have a real say on local issues that really matter', he added.

Hansard 30 Apr 2002: Column 565-567

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