Parliament & Politics: Full report sought on council's flat sales

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JACK STRAW, Labour's environment spokesman, yesterday demanded full publication of a report examining allegations that Westminster City Council sold homes to people who would vote Tory and bring election victory in 1990.

A four-year report by the district auditor, which has cost more than pounds 1m, is to be published today. But the auditor has said that, because legal proceedings may follow, he will not publish his full report, nor answer questions on it.

John Magill, a senior partner of the chartered accountants Touche Ross, and the appointed auditor of Westminster council, will give a five-page summary of his 'provisional findings' and outline his next steps. He has investigated claims that the council spent millions in public money to ensure marginal seats were kept in Tory control. The allegation was that council flats in eight marginal wards in the City were sold to Tory supporters.

Mr Straw plans to raise the matter with his opposite number, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, as a point of order in the Commons. He said in the House yesterday that it was always understood that primary evidence, such as transcripts of interviews, would be available to the parties concerned but, if there were to be further proceedings, not the public. But the auditor would make public his report based on his findings.

Mr Straw said it now appeared that the report would not be available to MPs or the public. 'It is as if a judge of the High Court, after a four-year action, said: 'This is what I have decided, but I am not telling the public why, nor what weight I have given to the evidence'.'

The auditor's report is understood to examine allegations that Dame Shirley Porter, then leader of the Conservative council, and Barry Legg, now Conservative MP for Milton Keynes, were involved in selling council homes in 'battle zone' wards.

Mr Straw said that the report was a matter of great public interest. 'Since copies will be issued to the parties, it is almost certain that further copies will be made, and then passed round like illicit copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover.'

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