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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Mr Nirj Deva Mr Nirj Deva , Brentford and Isleworth 8:59 pm, 1st February 1995

The financial settlement is indeed a tough one, but it is also well considered. I pay a small tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, whom I know well and have met on several occasions to talk about the settlement in Hounslow. He listens. He absorbs. He is a master of his brief, and he acts on the advice and information that he has.

I listened to the points made by Opposition Members. One would think that the Conservatives—particularly the Minister—are a group determined to inflict pain and suffering on a vast area of the countryside. Let us for a few minutes examine what the Labour party has been doing. We all know that the Labour party has not been in power—national Government—for the past 15 years. I think that I am correct in saying that the leader of the Labour party stated, in The Spectator, on 1 October 1994: I don't think the character of any party becomes clear until you're in power. It has not been in power for the past 15 years, and the character of the Labour party in national Government may not be clear, but what is clear is that the Labour party has been in power. It has had control of vast areas of the country through the local government system. Let us look at that record to see what the character of the Labour party in power has been.

Even the Tribune on 15 May 1992, was forced to concede that Labour local government is lacklustre and incompetent…ineffectual or rotten Labour councils…have been a feature of political life for as long as anyone can remember. Let us look at the council tax bills, band for hand—bands C and D. The average charge for band C in a Conservative-controlled local authority is £429, but in a Labour-controlled local authority it is £560. For band D in a Conservative-controlled local authority it is £482, but in a Labour-controlled local authority it is £635. Why is it more expensive to live in Labour-controlled authorities? At this point, I ask my hon. Friend about something that has concerned me for some time. We cap local authorities—Labour and Conservative. By so doing, we do not expose the profligacy of Labour-controlled authorities to the tax payer. If we do not cap them, some will go completely over the top and will never be elected back into power. That is something that my more learned hon. Friends must think about.

Let us look at more figures. We know that some Labour-controlled local authorities are indeed in deprived areas, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, but does that mean that they cannot collect their taxes? If one look at the rate of tax collection in Labour-controlled local authorities, one will see that Lambeth has collected only 48 per of its taxes, Hackney, 67 per cent., Islington, 67 per cent., Southwark, 73 per cent., and Newham, 73 per cent.

Let us look at rent arrears. Is it so difficult to collect council tax and council house rents? Why has Hackney collected only 31 per cent., Greenwich, 25 per cent., Newham, 24 per cent.—