Local Government Corruption

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he has taken to curb fraud and corruption in local government.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The prevention and detection of fraud and corruption is the responsibility of the members and senior management of local authorities, with the support of the auditor. Where the system has failed, the police also have a role to play. I welcome the recent announcement by the Audit Commission of a study into fraud and corruption and if the study finds that local authorities or auditors need new powers I will certainly be willing to consider its proposals.

Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley

In view of the widespread and worrying expansion of corruption, extending to places such as Hackney, where fraud worth £40 million has been reported, will the Minister tell the House whether his proposals will cover incentives and protection for the people who have the courage to expose those practices? Will his study of malpractice cover contracting out by local authorities and all that has happened in that connection under Labour local authorities?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I trust that I speak for the whole House when I say that we share my hon. Friend's concern about fraud, wherever it occurs. On my hon. Friend's serious point about the risks that may be run by whistle blowers, as I think they are called, if there is any evidence that further protection is needed I will examine it carefully. On the wider powers in respect of compulsory competitive tendering, on which there is a later question, I can assure my hon. Friend that we have significant powers at present and that we shall not hesitate to use them whenever and wherever there is any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Does the Minister accept that the main cause for worry about fraud in local government emanates from the Secretary of State's office—the kind of fraud which deprives authorities such as my own borough of Sandwell of resources while showering largesse on some of the richest boroughs in the country such as Westminster and Wandsworth? Judging from his earlier reply, even the current Secretary of State is so embarrassed by the scale of fraud that he has at last—not before time—promised us a review.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The hon. Gentleman makes light of the very serious subject of fraud in local government. That is the subject of the question and I had thought, perhaps wrongly, that it was something against which the House was united. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cheapened the argument as he did.