Wrongdoers go unpunished; Inside Parliament

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The Conservative Party has sunk so low that in the affair of Westminster City Council it reversed the moral stricture from the Book of Psalms which is set above the door of the Old Bailey, the Commons was told yesterday.

In a graphic conclusion to his denunciation of all concerned, from 10 Downing Street through Dame Shirley Porter to council officials, in the "homes-for-votes" scandal, Frank Dobson said the Tories were "beyond redemption". Above the door at the Old Bailey were the words: "Defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoers", the Labour environment spokesman said.

"The Tories have reversed these ancient laws that should guide the conduct of mankind. The Tories now defend the wrongdoers who punished the children of the poor."

Homeless families, mostly single mothers with children, were high among the victims of the council's efforts to rig the electorate in eight marginal Westminster wards, he said. Families had been left to "rot" in hostels or placed in "asbestos-ridden" flats.

Labour's motion, rejected by 288 votes to 267 after a noisy, political- knockabout of a debate, called on the Government to condemn the "malpractice on an unprecedented scale" revealed last week in the report of the district auditor, John Magill.

Dame Shirley, the former leader of the council, and five colleagues were ordered to repay pounds 31.6m of public money. Failure to condemn the gerrymandering would be regarded as "further evidence of electorally-motivated support for the council," the motion stated.

Tory David Shaw was described by one Labour MP as "the vilest man in the House" after he alleged that Mr Magill had "an appalling conflict of interest". Mr Shaw, MP for Dover, linked the auditor to a former Westminster Labour councillor employed by a company connected to Mr Magill's firm, accountants Touche Ross.

The people John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, was keenest to condemn were Mr Dobson and those Opposition MPs prepared to accept the findings of the district auditor.

The Surcharged Six lodged a notice of appeal on Monday. "It would not be right, proper or decent to condemn people until the courts have had their say," Mr Gummer insisted.

Mr Dobson wondered how long the restraint of Mr Gummer and the Prime Minister could last. "When is an outcome not an outcome? Lady Porter is a very wealthy woman. She can afford to keep on appealing," he said. "When will Mr Gummer condemn?"