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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 5:50 pm, 1st February 1995

We are not hear to discuss what a future Labour Government might do. We are here to deal with a proposition that the Government are putting forward today. It is fairly unlikely that the Labour party will be in charge of the country within the forthcoming financial year, although I hope that we are. We look forward to dealing with the problems and making the best of the opportunities. We are discussing the Government's proposals tonight, and it is up to them to defend them.

The Government's figures suggest that, during the next three years, council tax payers will have to find an extra £2.8 billion in council tax. That is equivalent to 1.5p on the standard rate of income tax. They will have to find that not just next year, but the year after and the year after that. People can expect to pay more and get less.

Ministers try to give the impression—God knows the Secretary of State has taken enough time in doing So tonight—that the formula is objective and is as "fair as humanly possible", as the Secretary of State said. However, the standard spending assessment is based on the Government's assessments of need, and one does not need to be a member of the Royal Statistical Society to see that that cannot be right.

Never mind how the Government arrive at their criteria for deprivation—what one should do is judge them by the outcome. According to the Government's social index of need, Westminster is more deprived than Brent, Lambeth or Southwark; Runnymede is more deprived than Oldham or Liverpool; Hove is more deprived than Hartlepool; Salisbury is more deprived than Knowsley; Windsor—I know that it is going through a bad time at the moment—is more deprived than Bury, Langbaurgh, Ipswich, Thurrock or Darlington. I do not think that anybody believes that that is right.

The system is a party political racket, and everybody knows it. It has been designed to help Tory areas and to help keep Tories in power. A supreme example is the special fiddled funding for Westminster. Westminster used to be the Tory flagship, but scandals are turning it into the Tory ship of shame. If the Conservatives think that Westminster is their flagship, they should remember that their last flagship was the poll tax, and Westminster will sink them like the poll tax did.

Time and time again, the Government have rigged the grant to help Westminster, first to keep down the poll tax and then to keep down the council tax. The Secretary of State may say that there was no rigging. Let me read from a note prepared for Lady Porter, the leader of Westminster city council, on 9 May 1989. The note compliments the Secretary of State—he was not the Secretary of State at the time—and says that he is the "most alert" of Ministers to political nuances, and that he would be particularly conscious—