Brooke in surcharge warning

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Peter Brooke, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, added his voice yesterday to claims that the Westminster homes-for-votes inquiry would deter people from becoming councillors, writes Steve Boggan.

Acting in concert with Westminster councillors who lobbied their district auditor, Mr Brooke - MP for the City of London and Westminster South - expressed concern that councillors could be surcharged and disqualified for implementing policies that had been legally cleared by council officers.

Nine Westminster councillors face millions of pounds in surcharges if John Magill, the district auditor, decides later this year that their policy of attracting potential Tory voters to marginal wards amounted to wilful misconduct, even though it was cleared by lawyers.

Mr Brooke said it was unfair that councillors whose decisions were challenged in court did not enjoy the same privileges as government ministers. They had to pay for their own legal representation and were personally liable for any money they were deemed to have misused.