Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 10th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 3:30 pm, 10th July 2003

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. I repeat what I said earlier. We have the most local form of local government. We have thousands and thousands of parish councillors. I am a county councillor and the patch that I represent has 12 parish councils. I attend quite a lot of them. They debated this code of conduct. They went along with it after a lot of discussion and unhappiness but accepted it as the law of the land.

The Minister's reply was far too simple. Everyone wants probity. Anyone should declare any interest in planning issues, and 99.9 per cent of people in local government have done that, whether at parish, district, county or metropolitan level. Obviously one gets the odd person who does not obey the law, whether in local government or any other field. This legislation is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I was involved with Hilary Armstrong, the then Minister for Local Government when this legislation was talked about. I was Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association. At that stage it was not envisaged to include parish councils in this rigorous code of conduct. We concentrated on more major councils.

The Minister quoted a lot of ammunition from the Standards Board. Most parish council complaints concerned four-letter words. Therefore the Standards Board has sat for hours and hours at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds just because people complained about name-calling. The cases he quoted were serious, but I repeat that we do not need a sledgehammer to crack a nut. As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, we do not suggest that there should be nothing at all for parish councils. We suggest removing the onerous conditions of the Standards Board and replacing them with something more simple for parish councils. We will reflect on what the Minister has said, but for today I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.