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Westminster City Council: Auditor's Report

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 17 April 1996

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When the report by the district auditor on Westminster City Council will be published.

My Lords, the timing of this report is a matter for the auditor. However, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on his prescience as the auditor has today announced that he intends to publish his findings on 9th May.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful Answer. Does the Minister agree that this long-standing saga of allegations of sleaze and corruption against the Conservative Westminster City Council should be cleared up as quickly as possible? Is he aware that many people will say that the delays have been deliberately orchestrated to buy time until after the local elections on 2nd May, as confirmed by the Minister? Will he also give an assurance that there will be a quick resolution of the problem? Does the Minister agree that local government throughout the country is tainted by these allegations and it is important that the whole matter should be cleared up as quickly as possible?

My Lords, the entire procedure is a matter for the district auditor and has nothing whatever to do with the Government.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House when the auditor will look at Lambeth?

My Lords, I have no information, except to say that Lambeth has improved remarkably since the change of party in power.

My Lords, the Minister has said that it has nothing to do with the Government. I rather feel that it has. Will the noble Lord explain to the House exactly what the procedures are once the report is published, whether there are any remedies available to those who are alleged to have been guilty of misdemeanours, whether they are entitled to appeal and whether, if certain persons who have taken up residence outside United Kingdom jurisdiction are found to be culpable, the Government propose any remedy to make sure that they pay their money?

My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williams, into the further realms of his speculation. However, I can tell him that the district auditor has said that he intends to make public his report as well as his reasons. Following that, as I understand it, any party to the report has six weeks in which to appeal to the courts against the findings of the district auditor. If that takes place, the matter will follow its ordinary procedure through the courts.

My Lords, as a resident of Lambeth I am grateful for the noble Lord's comment about improvements in that area. I would be even more grateful if he would agree that this has resulted from a dramatic increase in the Liberal Democrat vote which now greatly exceeds the Tory vote.

My Lords, now that the two Front Benches have entered into this Question, does my noble friend share my regret that this House, of all places, should descend to this kind of sleazy innuendo which is out of keeping with our responsibilities?

My Lords, I would prefer that such questions were not asked, but I shall answer them to the best of my ability if they are.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not conservatism that corrupts but power, and that if misdemeanours of the type alleged are committed it is incumbent on all of us to see that they are treated in such a way that they do not happen again?

My Lords, we unreservedly condemn improper conduct in all spheres of public life, but I have no comment whatsoever on this particular case.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that power does not corrupt; power tends to corrupt?

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the correct quotation from Lord Acton is that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

My Lords, as to the quotation from Lord Acton, I prefer the version of the noble Lord, Lord Acton, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.