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Mr. Dobson: I do not need to repeat the point that my hon. Friend so clearly made.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not.

As everyone knows, the auditor has done a very thorough job. He has sifted through tens of thousands of pages of documents. He has carried out a grand total of 135 interviews involving 50 people. Lady Porter was interviewed 12 times, always accompanied by her lawyers and other advisers. On one occasion, there were so many of those advisers that they could not all get in the room. The auditor gave her documentation in advance of the interviews and offered her the right to make written representations. She cancelled appointments and even asked the auditor to fly to Israel to interview her there.

Then there is the question of what the innocent do with their money.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No.

Following the auditor's preliminary report, Lady Porter sold up her personal holdings in Tesco and moved away. Is that the action of someone who is certain of her innocence?

At the time when they were harming the homeless for electoral advantage, the Tories were so ashamed that they kept secret what they were up to. Now they claim that they had legal advice that it was okay. That is just not true. In March 1987, at a Tory seminar that included the right hon. Member for Westminster, North, the then chair of the housing committee warned of the possibility of surcharge. In the same month, the Westminster city solicitor wrote to Lady Porter:

Lady Porter was specifically advised:

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Two months later, the council consulted a QC, who is certain that he advised that it would be unlawful to target sales on the eight marginal wards and that any disposals of property had to be on legitimate housing and planning grounds. The only response from the Westminster Tories was the smokescreen of extending the policy to cover other wards while still concentrating the sales in the marginal wards, to achieve the electoral targets that they had set. Far from acting on their legal advice, it is clear that Lady Porter and her colleagues acted contrary to it. So much for all the excuses put forward by the Westminster Tories and their friends.

The Prime Minister's other excuse for not condemning the Westminster Tories is that neither he nor his Ministers condemn councils that are being investigated until the process is complete. Clearly, the Prime Minister has either just adopted that new, principled approach or his memory is so faulty that he is not fit to be Prime Minister. Up to now, he has been ever ready to leap to attack any council accused of wrongdoing--provided that it is a Labour council. To give one example, he described Monklands council as a disgrace while it was being investigated by a QC nominated by the Secretary of State for Scotland. On 15 December, that inquiry cleared Monklands council of breaking the law. No apology has been forthcoming from the Prime Minister, nor, for that matter, have we heard one from the hon. Member for Dover, who has just accused me of lying. Yet the report states:

Neither the Prime Minister nor any other Cabinet Minister can put together one cogent reason for not condemning Westminster. Neither innocence nor principle nor precedent is on their side. The real reason why they will not condemn Westminster is that the Tory party, from top to bottom, from central office to 10 Downing street, from Whitehall to Westminster, has been in these scandals up to its neck. The Tories are still at it--giving Westminster council millions of pounds more grant than it is entitled to, helping it to cover up and evade responsibility and letting it off discharging its duty to the homeless.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not.

Some Tories have tried to justify the outrageous conduct of Westminster Tories by saying that Labour councils build homes for party political reasons. In particular, those of a historical bent have claimed that under Herbert Morrison, London county council built homes all over London that were filled by people who felt grateful and therefore voted Labour. Perhaps they did, but there is no equivalence between Herbert Morrison's LCC and other Labour councils on the one hand and the scoundrels in Westminster on the other.

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Labour councils used the powers given them by Parliament to provide decent homes for the homeless and for others who had nowhere decent to live. They did it proudly and in public. There is no comparison between them and the Westminster Tories, who decided, shamefully and in secret, to use their powers unlawfully to deprive homeless families and families living in overcrowded, unhealthy and degrading conditions. They decided not to house them but to deprive them of somewhere decent to live. Instead, they left those families to rot in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and hostels. Worse still, they placed some in asbestos-ridden flats--all to help rig a council election in eight wards.

Those terrible decisions were taken by rich and powerful Tories. The victims were homeless families, who are usually poor. Sometimes they include men, but most homeless families consist of a poor woman and the children of that poor woman. What a life for those children--often having to cook, eat, sleep, wash, live, play and try to grow up in one rotten, shabby, infested and overcrowded room. Those children should have been helped by those in authority, but in Westminster they were not. Instead, the Tories ordered council officials to be mean and nasty to the homeless children.

Above the doorway of the Old Bailey, these words, taken from the Book of Psalms, are carved in stone:

The Tories have reversed those ancient laws, which should guide the conduct of mankind. The Tories now defend the wrongdoers who punished the children of the poor. Their party and Government have sunk so low that they are beyond redemption. The only thing that they can do now is go--and go before they do more harm to more homeless families in our country.

4.25 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer): I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

I will begin by addressing the remarks by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) concerning the auditor's inquiry. The auditor to Westminster city council issued his note of provisional findings and views on objections made under section 17(3) of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 on 13 January 1994. They were issued only to the parties to the objections and to the council. The auditor also made a short public statement summarising the process and his findings, which were that 10 former council members and officers should be surcharged--one of whom, Dr. Michael Dutt, has since died--and that seven former council members and officers, including Dr. Dutt, should be disqualified from office.

The auditor invited those to whom his provisional findings were adverse to show cause why he should not take action against them. The respondents requested an

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oral hearing, which was set for October 1994, to allow the parties to instruct counsel and to prepare their submissions. The full hearing lasted 34 days and was completed on 7 February 1995.

The auditor published his final decision and made a public interest report on 9 May 1996. He has issued a certificate in the sum of £31,677,064 to each of Mr. Graham England, Mr. Peter Hartley, Mr. Paul Hayler, Mr. Bill Phillips, Dame Shirley Porter and Councillor David Weeks, under section 20 of the 1982 Act. They are jointly and severally liable for that amount.

The auditor decided not to uphold the objections in respect of Councillor Judith Warner, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) and Mr. Robert Lewis.

Those individuals surcharged have 28 days from the date that they receive the auditor's statement of reasons to appeal against his decision to the High Court. I understand that a notice of appeal was lodged yesterday evening.

In my reply to a private notice question from my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) on Thursday 9 May, I made it clear that I was not going to prejudge the outcome of the appeals process that will follow. That remains my position. It would not be right, proper or decent to condemn people until the courts have had their say.

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