HC Deb 30 November 1999 vol 340 c143
11. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

If he will make a statement on the future of parish councils. [99017]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes)

I repeat that we have no plans to abolish parish councils. Our clear and consistent policy is that parish councils will continue to play a key role in many of our towns and villages.

In our forthcoming rural White Paper, we intend to address further how we see parish councils playing their part in rural local governance.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and agree with her that parish councils play a vital and valuable role in our towns and villages. Can she confirm that the Government have created 33 new parish councils since they came to power, and will she join me in condemning the irresponsible scaremongering contained in a letter that was sent to all parish councils in Suffolk by the leader and deputy leader of the Conservative group, saying that parish councils might be abolished? Is not that a waste of the money of council tax payers, who had to pay for the paper on which it was written?

Ms Hughes

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a waste of taxpayers' money, and that scaremongering is being supported by Conservative Front-Bench Members for their own political ends. Yes, the Government have created another 33 parish councils since May 1997, and we intend to create another 25 before elections in May 2000. That is our commitment to parish councils. We want them to play an enhanced role in rural communities and in local governance at all levels. Therefore, we intend to strengthen and support parish councils.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

At the Labour party conference, the Minister for the Environment said that parish councils should be replaced by something revolting called neighbourhood forums. Can the hon. Lady confirm that that is wrong, and that the proportion of elected members on parish councils will not be reduced?

Ms Hughes

My right hon. Friend did not make those remarks. That is not our policy, and I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the Conservative party, purports to believe everything that he reads in the newspapers. I have made our policy clear—we support parish councils.

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