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Councillors (Financial Interests)

Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 30 January 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish in the Official Report the guidelines used for granting dispensation to members of local authorities to speak and vote on issues in which they may have an indirect financial interest.

The guidelines used for deciding applications for dispensations have been published in appendix II of DOE circular 105 of 1973, copies of which are in the Library of the House.

In view of the Secretary of State's U-turn over councillors who are parents with children at local schools, will the Minister give us an assurance that before any further similar decisions are imposed on councillors he will first make a statement to the House?

There is no question of any U-turn on this matter. This is the standard procedure that has been followed by successive Governments. My right hon. Friend took no decision. It is for councillors themselves to determine whether they have a pecuniary interest and, if they have, to make application for a dispensation. However, in view of the wide interest in the matter it was thought right to issue a general dispensation.

Is the Minister aware that that is not generally known and that there is great confusion and anger among councillors? Will he make it absolutely clear that any councillor with children at school, or who may have children at school, will have the right to vote on these issues? Will he say that from the Dispatch Box and not refer us to something in the Library?

:The question referred to the publication of the general rules. They have been published and copies are available in the Library. I am happy to confirm what the right hon. Gentleman said. In addition, every local authority has been or is being advised of this matter and I hope that my statement today will help clarify any further misunderstanding there might be.

Does not the Minister agree that it is high time we had a full review of the provisions relating to the disqualification of councillors who have an interest as council tenants or as parents? Does he not agree also that to disqualify councillors on that sort of ground from exercising the functions for which they were elected is to pervert the intentions of the provisions relating to pecuniary interest?

This matter was reviewed both by the Redcliffe-Maud committee and by the Royal Commission which inquired into the standards of conduct in public life as recently as 1977. Both bodies considered that there was no need for any change in the basic provisions that exist under the Act.