HL Deb 15 March 1990 vol 516 cc1642-4

3.24 p.m.

Lord Jay asked Her Majesty's Government:

In view of the report of the London District Auditor that the City of Westminster Council has been responsible for unlawful and unauthorised financial transactions, what powers they have to protect the residents of Westminster from the effects of such transactions.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the auditor of the City of Westminster has reported his provisional conclusions to the city council on certain transactions. When he reaches his final conclusions, the action that can be taken rests with the auditor and the courts and not Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Jay

My Lords, as this Government have interfered more in local government than any other government in living memory, are they at all worried by the extremist policies of this local authority, even when the policies extend to breaches of the law?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I should like to think that the Answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in the first instance made it quite clear that the rule of law is being followed. I cannot agree with the supposition that Westminster is an extremist authority.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the reference in the Question to the protection of the residents of the City of Westminster, is my noble friend aware that those of us who live in adjoining boroughs are plain jealous of them since the City of Westminster has managed to fix the community charge at a reasonable level?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's contribution to the Question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister say whether or not the Government agree that the selling of cemeteries for a few pence by Westminster City Council has become a national issue? Do Her Majesty's Government give their blessing to that form of transaction which has irritated people throughout the entire nation?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the Government would be accused of gross intervention if we started to interfere in the affairs of a democratically elected body. I should not wish to be the man to try to defend such a policy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in his Answer the Minister stated that the district auditor's findings were preliminary. Will he do his best to ensure that the district auditor now produces his final report in good time for the electors of Westminster to receive it before the election on 3rd May? Will he confirm the Government's view that the remedy lies with the electors of Westminster and that this is their opportunity to turn out this dishonest administration?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, this matter has been very widely aired. I think that no one in your Lordships' House would disagree with that. I am sure that the electorate of Westminster will be able to make its decision in the way it feels appropriate.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, did not my noble friend make it clear in his Answer that the ultimate criterion in this matter lies with the courts?

Lord Hesketh

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the fixing of the poll tax in Westminster has already been raised and answered by the Minister. Is he aware that the poll tax fixed in Westminster is subsidised through the safety net by community charges that are paid or will be paid in the East End of London?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is under a misapprehension. I went to some lengths not to refer to the community charge when the matter was raised earlier under this Question. The noble Lord's question is rather wide of that on the Order Paper.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that an unauthorised and unlawful transaction is not worthy of being stigmatised as being "dishonest", as is suggested by the Opposition Benches?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, nothing has appeared before a court. That is important.

Lord Jay

My Lords, whatever the district auditor does, would not the happiest solution to the troubles be for the militant lady who leads the council now to resign?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, all members of Westminster City Council will be up for re-election.