LORD HAILSHAM, a former Lord Chancellor and a senior Conservative, last night questioned the publication of the district auditor's provisional findings.
He demanded, in exchanges on a government statement to the Lords: 'What would one think of a judge who, halfway through a case, said he was minded to find the accused guilty but that the accused would have the opportunity of making his defence?
'Grave charges ought not to be made unless the person accused has the right to rebut.
'I understand that the right of the accused in the present case to rebut the charges has yet to be made. I am deeply concerned at what has happened.'
Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, a former Conservative minister, wanted to know whether the procedure was 'usual or unusual'.
Lord Elton, another former Conservative minister, suggested the case should be treated assub judice.
Lord Campbell of Alloway, a Conservative, said that, from information published, 'there doesn't appear, so far as I can see, to be any evidence as to those very serious charges or of misappropriation of funds'.
The Earl of Onslow, another Conservative, suggested Britain was taking the matter 'miles more seriously than any other country in Europe' would have done.
He claimed: 'France is corrupt up to its eyeballs and the Italians and Spaniards are the same.'
However, the Earl of Arran, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, defended the district auditor's actions and added that technically the provisional report was not sub judice.
He also said it would be 'extremely unwise' for Westminster to continue its policy of designated sales while the matter was still under investigation.Reuse content