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Ms Hughes: I shall obtain proper advice on that point. However, subject to that advice, I would say that nothing is outside the bounds of a district auditor's inquiry into the use of public money. I would be very surprised if the terms of an agreement that require the use of public money could be kept secret from a district auditor if he decided to examine the case. I shall obtain advice on that point, but it might provide a route that my hon. Friend might want to pursue.

One of my hon. Friend's main requests was for me to instigate an inquiry, possibly a public inquiry. In law, I cannot do that. Councils are directly elected bodies, and people who write to me with complaints about their councils are constantly surprised by the lack of powers that central Government have to intervene in their business. In the normal course of events we can trust our councillors and their senior managers to deal with issues appropriately, and it is right that we cannot intervene willy-nilly. Even when there is a belief, such as that described by my hon. Friend, that matters have not been handled properly, we cannot intervene. However, there may be recourse through the district auditor, and if my hon. Friend wants to pursue that, I will seek an official view on how best he can do so.

Question put and agreed to.

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