Lang backs Monklands report

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The Government finally announced a statutory inquiry yesterday into alleged corrupt practices by councillors on Labour- controlled Monklands council, accused of employing their relatives and biased spending in favour of Roman Catholic areas.

Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, had insisted until yesterday's Commons announcement that there was not enough evidence for an inquiry. Earlier this month, a report by Professor Robert Black, commissioned by the council itself, found against the councillors, all 15 of whom were suspended by Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

Labour's National Executive yesterday stiffened the party's disciplinary action against the councillors, suspending them as well from the new North Lanarkshire council, which replaces Monklands next year.

George Robertson, Labour's Scottish affairs spokesman, welcomed the Government's move but said an inquiry should have been set up two years ago.

The Tory MP Allan Stewart, a former minister at the Scottish Office, drew Labour protests when he told the House: "There is nothing terribly unusual about Monklands. Most Labour councils in the west of Scotland actually behave in exactly the way that Monklands have."

Mr Lang said: "I have considered the contents of Professor Black's report very carefully. On the basis of its contents, I have concluded that in principle there is now a case for initiating a statutory inquiry. This will concentrate on the allegations that the council have failed to comply with the statutory obligation on them under section seven of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to appoint staff on merit."

Before Mr Lang's announcement, the Labour MP George Foulkes demanded an inquiry into Independent-controlled Wigtown council in Mr Lang's Galloway and Upper Nithsdale constituency. He said it was planning to transfer all its council housing stock to a private housing association - using public money - but claimed the association's chairman was "chairman of the council's housing committee, whose secretary is the council's housing officer".