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Mr. Pickles: What about the single transferable vote system and the multiple transferable vote system in operation in Italy, which both readily lend themselves to gerrymandering?

Mr. David Shaw: And corruption.

Mr. Pickles: And corruption.

Mr. Rendel: I am not sure what arguments the hon. Gentleman has to back up his assertion. He has given none. There is plenty of corruption in Italy, but it does not involve gerrymandering the electoral system.

Of Lady Porter, on page 417 of the report the auditor concludes:

Mr. Shaw: Can the hon. Gentleman say how it is possible in designated council house sales--a policy that I have supported--to determine whether the people moving in, or the existing residents if the house is sold to them, are Conservative or Labour voters? How is it possible to know that Labour voters have turned into Conservative voters as a result of the contract of sale?

Mr. Rendel: Once again the hon. Gentleman misses the point. The policy was not meant to turn Labour voters

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into Conservative voters but to ensure that people who were more likely, in the nature of things, to be Conservative voters lived in certain wards and that those who were more likely to be Labour voters lived in other wards where their votes did not matter. It is not a question of turning people's votes or knowing about each individual voter or house owner.

On page 418 the auditor states:

On page 419, the report states:

On page 422, the auditor states:

The evidence is damning and public and in the auditor's report for all to see and form a judgment on. The fact that six people were found guilty of wilful misconduct in their misuse of taxpayer's money does not exonerate others who received stinging criticism for their failure to put a stop to malpractice. In that, we must include, sadly, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg). The auditor has made it clear that the hon. Gentleman knew that gerrymandering was going on and did nothing about it and that he should have taken action to stop it. He is excused from any surcharge on the ground that he did not realise that he had a duty to stop the gerrymandering.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman has continued this ridiculous line about my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg), who was exonerated in the report. If he cared to look, he would find that it was clear, and accepted by the auditor, that my hon. Friend accepted the legal opinion given by the Westminster solicitors that what was taking place--and this may still be proven to be so--was legal. On that basis, we have only an opinion of the auditor in hindsight but it does not change his overall finding. It is time that the hon. Gentleman withdrew that line.

Mr. Rendel: The relevant section of report states:

The case is clear.

The question that we and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West have to answer is whether a man whose moral judgment allows him to take no action to

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put an end to malpractice is a fit person to be a Member of the House? The only honourable course for a Member so heavily criticised for his poor behaviour in public office is to resign. The hon. Gentleman has condoned gerrymandering and so undermined the basis of our democracy. He should go.

Mr. David Shaw: The hon. Gentleman is a councillor.

Mr. Rendel: No I am not.

Mr. Shaw: The hon. Gentleman was a councillor. Will he confirm that his Liberal group on the council never took a political decision?

Mr. Rendel: I am staggered by that question and do not quite know how to answer it. All political groups are in the business of taking political decisions. It is an amazing question. I shall continue and perhaps not take any more interventions.

Mr. Gunnell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rendel: I hope that this intervention will be more sensible than the previous one.

Mr. Gunnell: It was not the taking of a political decision that was wrong but the decision to use council money for the illegal purpose of gerrymandering. That is the auditor's charge. Of course the Westminster Tories are entitled to take political decisions but the auditor must decide whether they were reasonable.

Mr. Rendel: That is correct and I thank the hon. Gentleman. Every decision taken by any council or by the House must be classified as political. If we did not take political decisions, we would have no purpose whatever. Some members of the public may think that, but hon. Members like to think that we have some purpose.

To continue on a more sensible note, if Conservative Ministers showed signs of remorse for what their colleagues did in Westminster, it would be easy to be more charitable and to regard the matter as a problem caused by a small clique going awry.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment have thrown back their opportunities for repentance and have shrugged off the findings of the seven-year inquiry. To them, a guilty verdict means nothing. Such is their arrogance in power that they feel impervious to the judicial system. That senior Conservatives committed the offences that they did for party political gain is a scandal--but the indifference of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of State to that misconduct and to the process of law is truly shameful. By their failure to take action to remove the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West from the Conservative party and from the House, they too are condoning gerrymandering. They have brought dishonour to the House and to their party, and they too should go.

6.29 pm

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): Last Thursday, and again this afternoon, the House was treated to a shameless and cynical display of what I can only refer to

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as humbuggery rarely equalled even by its author, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), on those two occasions. I am disappointed not to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, for there is the true inheritor of the mantle of Herbert Morrison. The hon. Gentleman accused the erstwhile members of Westminster city council of heinous municipal misdeeds. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) went even further and described them as crimes. He will be disappointed to learn that gerrymandering--unattractive though it may be, and it occurs in the hon. Gentleman's party as in others--is not a crime or a criminal offence.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras accused leading members of Westminster city council of being in cahoots with the city's officials and with the whole Tory party, from top to bottom--including Conservative central office and No. 10 Downing street. The hon. Gentleman's promise last Thursday that an incoming Labour Government would establish a public inquiry rings hollow when one recalls the rich heritage of local government waste, incompetence, chicanery and gerrymandering presided over by Labour-controlled councils since the early years of this century.

The hon. Member made much of Herbert Morrison's motives for building council houses in London, but he said precious little about Herbert Morrison's famous phrase:

Ms Armstrong: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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