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Mr. Couchman: No, not at this time. Herbert Morrison said:

Ms Armstrong: When did he say that?

Mr. Couchman: He was leader of the Labour London county council between 1934 and 1940. Between 1934 and 1939, 84,000 council houses were built in London, and the Conservative party did not control London for another 30 years. Herbert Morrison was remarkably successful. The man who became Lord Morrison of Lambeth set out deliberately to ruin areas that he judged to be middle class, suburban and hostile to the Labour party. Did I say Lambeth? There is a resonance. It is the acme of appalling loony left councils.

Ms Armstrong: Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. Couchman: No, I want to make some progress. The hon. Lady has already made several speeches this afternoon, and doubtless we shall have to listen to her again at half-past nine.

Who was Herbert Morrison? He must have been old Labour--but in a straight dynastic line, old Labour gave way to new Labour. Herbert Morrison passed down his Tammany skills to his grandson, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)--that Rasputin of new Labour.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, playing the part of Captain Humbug to perfection, failed to remind the House of his time as leader of Camden council. He failed to tell us about the report in The Observer in 1975, which calculated that Camden had the highest

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spending on housing per head of population of any area in the country, by far the highest Government housing subsidies per head of any other area, the highest management costs in the country, by far the largest housing revenue account deficit per head of any other area, the highest rent arrears in the country, the largest programme of buying up already tenanted and adequately run blocks of flats, and by far the most council housing schemes. I wonder why the hon. Gentleman failed to tell us all that? He is probably embarrassed by comparisons between Camden and other councils, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described at length.

Mr. Betts: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has spent a long time talking about Camden, Herbert Morrison and other issues that I cannot find in either the motion or the amendment. Will you give consideration to whether the hon. Gentleman is in order?

Mr. David Shaw: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When Madam Speaker was in the Chair, and Mr. Deputy Speaker before you, the Opposition cited Liverpool and a number of other councils, including Monklands. You ought to be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the debate has gone extremely wide.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): As I understand it, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was making comparisons, which is in order. It would not be in order if no reference was made to the subject under discussion. I am not aware from my short time in the Chair that that has been the case.

Mr. Couchman: Are you saying, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have not mentioned Westminster city council?

Madam Deputy Speaker: On the contrary: from the short time that I have been in the Chair this evening, I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman--by the token that I have just given--has been out of order. In other words, the hon. Gentleman is in order.

Mr. Couchman: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Camden is at the heart of folklore about bad local government. It not only rivals Islington, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth--it is probably ahead of them in its grants to way-out groups in the name of political correctness and in neglecting its social service responsibilities. As a former chairman of social services, I deprecate that appalling lack of responsibility.

Ms Glenda Jackson: If the hon. Gentleman is not out of order, he is way out of time. I presume that he is referring to Camden in 1975. We are now in 1996, debating corruption in Westminster city council. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Department of the Environment persistently praises Camden for its management of housing stock and for the way in which it deals with its lets? Camden has also received a citizens charter mark for the speed and efficiency with which it runs its housing benefit office.

Mr. Couchman: I was referring to Camden not in 1975, but in 1994 when a report about children in the care

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of Camden's social services department was made public. That report revealed that there were no coherent policies in place and that Camden's expenditure was among the highest in London. The money was spent to such poor effect that in some cases the council's records did not show where the children had been placed. The district auditor himself had to track down one child. Adoptions were not progressed--some had stalled three years. Many children had not been sent to school, and children were not prepared for adult life. One child approaching 18 had not been seen since 1988. Camden also appears to have been profligate in purchasing a computer system for £1.5 million, which it obviously did not use during those years.

Mr. David Shaw: If there has been so much child abuse in Camden and Islington, why has no district auditor found the basis for surcharging the Labour councillors responsible?

Ms Glenda Jackson: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) made no reference to child abuse in Camden or Islington. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) yet again to show that his turpitude is matched only by his ineptitude in so grossly maligning local authorities in relation to a matter that is not on the Order Paper and which has not been raised by the hon. Member for Gillingham?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not responsible for the content or accuracy of the speeches made by hon. Members. I have already explained that I will allow a certain latitude in drawing comparisons between councils. However, I expect hon. Members to return to the substance of the debate.

Mr. Couchman: I do not want to go into the detail of the extraordinarily high tax bills laboured on the ratepayers of Camden, as we are here to discuss Camden council's neighbour, Westminster council--which runs its affairs much better, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made clear. What a sorry tale the comparisons of those two neighbouring councils have been.

I hold no brief for those people in Westminster council who may have abused or misused their elected positions if the courts find them culpable. However, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) was at pains to condemn them as though the due process of law had been exhausted, but the due process of law has not begun. The district auditor is not a lawyer and the courts will decide whether his findings are correct.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Has the hon. Gentleman been listening?

Mr. Couchman: Yes, I listened very carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is entirely proper that the people who have been named by the district auditor have the right to take their case to the courts, to be heard and to have their case examined by the due process of law.

Ms Hodge: Of course those people have the right to appeal, but this is a report in the public interest. Does the

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hon. Gentleman agree, therefore, that the members of Westminster council, under their statutory obligations, will have to discuss this report in the public interest? They do not have the privilege that hon. Members have in the House. If it is a duty for them to discuss the report, how can it not be a duty for hon. Members also to discuss it?

Mr. Couchman: I presume that the former leader of Islington council--the hon. Lady obviously spoke from experience--wishes to deny the due process of law to the six people involved. The appeal to the High Court of Justice, followed by a possible appeal to the Court of Appeal and beyond represents the continuation of the due process of law. The district auditor is no substitute for a magistrates court or a Crown court; he is an accountant. In the case of the Westminster inquiry, I am certain that he is a distinguished accountant, as he is a senior partner of Deloitte Touche. I believe that he is a part-time district auditor because he retains his responsibilities with that firm of accountants.

As I said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last Thursday, I am concerned by the process that has brought these people--whom some would call the Westminster Six--to their predicament. I am extremely concerned that the accountant district auditor has acted in the roles of investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman.

Mr. Rendel: The hon. Gentleman is saying that the auditor is merely an accountant and not a lawyer. He is casting a great slur on magistrates who are not lawyers.

Mr. Couchman: I am not casting slurs on magistrates. My wife is a magistrate and I respect her integrity. Magistrates rely on the advice of lawyers and their decisions can be appealed. I am concerned that we have asked the same person to have the multiple roles that I have just described. That is against the principle of natural justice. I am worried that the Government prescribed those roles to the same person in the Local Government Finance Act 1982.

The hon. Member for West Derby asked me where I was on 14 February 1986 when his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) introduced his Disqualification and Surcharge of Councillors (Abolition) Bill as a private Member's Bill. He will be amazed to hear that I can actually tell him: I was in my constituency speaking to some 200 people about the Government's proposals for Sunday trading. Had I been here, I would have expressed my concerns.

Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot introduce any measures to revisit the 1982 Act while the Westminster case is proceeding, it seems to me that this is a most unsatisfactory process--the fact that the investigator, the prosecutor and the adjudicator is the same person and has the power to impose an unlimited fine, for that is exactly what the surcharge is. The auditor has suggested an enormous sum in this case.

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