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September 04, 2006


Johnny Prescott has done it again:

Councillors have been banned from discussing local park-and-ride schemes if they own a car under an ethical watchdog created by John Prescott.

This is from a report about the Standards Board. Clearly local councillors are held to a higher standard of behaviour than the Deputy Prime Minister himself, of course, this is as it should be. Do as I say, not as I do is the motivating factor for all politicians.

The report's authors - Owen Paterson, the shadow transport minister, and Gerald Howarth, the shadow defence minister - said they were shocked by the scale of the chaos the Deputy Prime Minister had created.

There is particular concern about the board's belief that councillors should not be allowed to debate a subject if they have already made up their minds on the issue — the crime of "predetermination."

Councillors on South Cambridgeshire district council, for instance, were warned that they should not "pronounce on a park-and-ride scheme if they drove a car", says the report, A Question of Standards.

The report adds that the councillors were also told "they might be disqualified from discussing the siting of a mobile phone mast if they themselves used a mobile phone".

Of course, this is something that has been in the Christopher Booker column for months now. Remarkable how ideas from there spread to Owen Paterson really, isn’t it?

September 4, 2006 in Your Tax Money at Work | Permalink


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I only wish more people, especially investigative journalists and politicians, took a lead from Booker.

Posted by: Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny | Sep 4, 2006 9:12:34 AM

But don't councillors who walk and councillors dependant on public transport also have vested interests in park 'n' ride - not least because park 'n' ride reduces traffic congestion in urban centres where town halls are apt to be located?

If so, why aren't they also banned from voting on park 'n' ride issues too? Despair not and think creatively. Presumably councillors arriving at the relevant meetings by heliocopter can consider these things with untainted objectivity.

Posted by: Bob B | Sep 4, 2006 10:22:38 AM

This is madness isn't it? We had a local independent councillor here suspended and investigated for the offence of "predetermination", for speaking against a planning application, when he had had the nerve to speak against it before....

Christ knows local democracy is in enough trouble, this god-awful mess might be enough to kill it.

Posted by: Frank Fisher | Sep 4, 2006 12:00:38 PM

Booker's problem is his obsession with the EU tends to make him declare things to be an EU-plot when they're obviously not, and as such when he might stumble on something you have to treat it with massive scepticism.

I'll give you a good example from a few month's ago - this article on road-pricing. Maybe it is a great big EU plot, or maybe Alistair Darling really is concerned about reducing traffic congestion.


Posted by: Matthew | Sep 4, 2006 12:37:57 PM

Tim, I'm really curious about this obsession you and the Telegraph have with John Prescott. I mean, his last involvement with this affair seems to have been when he set up the board five years ago - isn't the story interesting enough on its own merits?

Tim adds: Because I’m jealous of his widely reported manliness, of course.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 4, 2006 12:56:25 PM

The chipolata chump enhances any story.

Posted by: dearieme | Sep 4, 2006 3:26:59 PM

Presumably water supplies, drainage, sewers etc can not be discussed by those councilors who drink water or take a dump.

Which leaves local government with control over what exactly?

Posted by: Neil Craig | Sep 4, 2006 5:57:59 PM

Maybe this is a bit like Health & Safety legislation. Not at all bad in theory, but a total diaster when put under the control of semi-educated functionaries with Hitler complexes.

Posted by: towcestarian | Sep 4, 2006 8:29:39 PM

It's very like the problem with Health and Safety legislation, in that you've go over-zealous officials being asked for advice and their coming up with utterly far-fetched warnings about the possible legal challenges that might arise if someone were to interpret the provisions in a particular way.

Predetermination isn't even part of the legislation; it's a common law doctrine which particular monitoring officers are interpreting in weird and wonderful ways in their advice.

There was, people may recall, some publicity about this around the time of the council elections when the Monitoring Officer for Chester took it upon himself to advise candidates that any prospective councillor who had expressed a ‘pre-determined’ view on any issue could not, ‘as a matter of law’, take part in any decision relating to that issue. This covers ‘any expression of opinion in any election material, newsletters, letters of press coverage’. The only way a candidate could refer to contentious issues, Mr Kerry advised, must be along the lines of “From what I know at the moment, I am concerned by...”.

I asked a councillor friend of mine about this (different council) and he said he'd checked it with their Monitoring Officer who said it was complete balls and that no court had ever interpreted it that way. The fact that councillors have, for years, taken part in council discussions on topics about which they've already made their views perfectly clear, without anyone trying to argue that it's in breach of the common law, should have been a bit of a give-away.

Posted by: NotSaussure | Sep 4, 2006 9:42:13 PM