Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

King's College London Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time.

Clause 5 [Transfer of property, etc.]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham) moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 5, line 32, after ("include") insert ("such interests as the Schools may have in")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak to all the proposed amendments.

All the proposed amendments, which are technical, are to references to properties or to interests in property owned by the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals, later called "the Schools", and specified in the schedules to the Bill.

Clause 5 provides that all the property of the schools will transfer to King's College, London, later called "the

9 May 1996 : Column 210

College", on the appointed day. Subsection (4) of that clause goes on to provide that the property which would be transferred includes the properties and interests in property specified in Schedule 1.

Clauses 6 and 7 would restrict the use by the college of certain of the transferred properties, including the properties specified in Schedule 2. The proposed amendments to Clause 5(4) and Clause 6(6) cater in general terms for the possibility that before the appointed day there may be alterations to the land holdings of the schools specified in Schedules 1 and 2. They prevent inconsistency arising between the property interests which are actually transferred--that is the property interests owned by the schools at the relevant time--and the property interests referred to in the Bill as listed in the schedules.

The proposed amendment to paragraph 15 of Part IA of Schedule 1 is to take account of a change in an interest held by the schools in a particular property which has taken place since the Bill was deposited. The Bill as deposited has a description of an interest which is no longer correct and the amendment would rectify that.

The proposed identical amendments to page 11, line 18, and to page 19, line 8, rectify an error in the Bill as deposited. The title number of a particular property included in both Schedules 1 and 2 is incorrect and the amendments would substitute the correct title. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Constitution of Continuing Trustees of Schools]:

The Chairman of Committees moved Amendments Nos. 2 and 3:

Page 6, line 16, after ("means") insert ("such interests in")
Page 6, line 17, after ("Act") insert ("as are transferred to the College under section 5 (Transfer of property, etc.) of this Act")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Specified freehold or leasehold properties and other interests in property and trust funds transferred to the college]:

The Chairman of Committees moved Amendments Nos. 4 and 5:

Page 11, line 18, leave out ("101653") and insert ("101683")
Page 11, leave out lines 43 to 45 and insert--
("(15) An interest in Phase 3 of Guy's Hospital Redevelopment")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Specified properties subject to restrictions]:

The Chairman of Committees moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 19, line 8, leave out ("101653") and insert ("101683")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

9 May 1996 : Column 211

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Westminster City Council: Auditor's Report

3.36 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question that has been asked in another place about the auditor's report on Westminster City Council. The reply is as follows:

    "Madam Speaker, the appointed auditor for Westminster City Council, Mr. John Magill, has today published his findings in relation to the objections to the accounts of Westminster City Council in the form of a public interest report, made under Section 15(3) of the Local Government Finance Act 1982. He has at the same time published a statement of reasons on which his decisions are based.

    "This case is still subject to the due process of law. In these circumstances, it is appropriate for me to inform the House about the auditor's decisions, but not to comment on them.

    "The auditor's decisions are that 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 this amount. He has decided not to uphold the objections in respect of Councillor Judith Warner, Mr. Barry Legg MP and Mr. Robert Lewis.

    "The auditor has now issued his certificate. Those surcharged have 28 days from the date they receive the auditor's statement of reasons to appeal against his decision to the High Court. I understand that they intend to do so.

    "I have made it clear that I would condemn utterly any failure to meet the highest standards of propriety whenever it is found and whoever is found guilty.

    "If the decisions in respect of Westminster are upheld by the courts I shall not hesitate to condemn those responsible, as in any similar case. But neither the Government nor this House nor I should pre-judge the findings of the courts".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.38 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating in the form of a Statement the response made to a Private Notice Question in another place. I agree with the Minister that Members on all sides of the House are anxious to preserve the highest standards of propriety in local government. Nevertheless, the district auditor's report confirms that Conservative councillors on Westminster City Council were guilty of unlawfully using

9 May 1996 : Column 212

£31.6 million of public funds for the benefit of the Conservative Party. They conspired to deny housing to homeless families and instead to sell council flats which fell empty to those who they assumed would be Conservative voters.

The scale of this is enormous. The loss to public funds is difficult to exaggerate: £31.6 million would buy more than 600 new homes or 10 new schools; it would pay the salaries of 1,200 extra teachers. No fewer than 272 councils in England have less to spend in one year on services for all the people in their area than the Westminster Conservatives squandered on this scheme.

This is probably the biggest single financial scandal in the history of local government. But it is a scandal not just about money. It shows how a Conservative council, with the support of massive subsidy from a Conservative Government, conspired to deny decent homes to homeless families; to treat homeless families harshly; and to drive them out of Westminster to be rehoused elsewhere. The report is not just an indictment of the Conservatives in Westminster; it is an indictment of the Tories in government. They will stoop to anything to win elections.

Lord Tope: My Lords, first, I must apologise to the Minister because I missed the Statement. It came rather sooner than I expected but I heard it being made in the other place. I find the Statement predictable but no less disappointing for that. I feel that we are in great danger of allowing the quite proper process to obscure the real issues we should be examining. After many years of investigation, the district auditor has found proven a number of practices which, whether, in the end, found lawful or unlawful, nevertheless fall far below the standards we expect from all parties in local government. That is beyond question, whatever legal technicalities may arise.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, describes it as probably the biggest scandal in local government. My noble friend Lady Seear whispered to me, "What about Lambeth?" Let us not argue about the scale of how bad this is. We are talking about a magnitude of proven and deliberate wrongdoing in local government the like of which we have not seen before. We are not talking about obscure councillors but about leading councillors deliberately using their council for electoral purposes and for gerrymandering to the disadvantage of those least able to help themselves.

From time to time things happen in councils controlled by any of our parties of which we are not proud, although never on this scale. One of the true tests is how the party deals with such issues. Whatever may be the end of the legal process, I hope that the Minister will accept that many in this House and in local government will look to the Conservative Party to see how it deals with an issue where leading members of that party have fallen far short of the standards expected of them.

Finally, I wonder whether the Minister is aware that the district auditor in this case, John Magill, has recently been appointed district auditor to the council which I lead. In the light of that, I wish to conclude by asking the Minister for an assurance that the Government accept that Mr. Magill, my council's district auditor, is without question

9 May 1996 : Column 213

independent and a man of integrity and that we may accept his judgments because today the Government appear to be casting some doubt upon them.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page