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 of whom were instantly suspended by Tony Blair, the Labour leader.
Former Scottish minister Allan Stewart (C, Eastwood) drew loud 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."
George Robertson, Labour's Scottish affairs spokesman, welcomed the move but dubbed it "belated" and said an inquiry should have been set up two years ago.
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."
Just before Mr Lang's announcement, George Foulkes (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) demanded an inquiry into the 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 the association's chairman was "chairman of the council's housing committee, whose secretary is the council's housing officer.
He demanded: "Is this not the kind of corruption that ought to be investigated.
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