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Mr. Shaw : I am about to talk about how a company got planning permission in the Monklands district council area.

Mr. McMaster : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing me to raise this matter. Will you confirm that your ruling on my previous intervention correctly made it clear that, although Conservative Members have the right to say what they say, that does not necessarily mean it is true ?

Madam Deputy Speaker : The Chair, happily, has no responsibility for the accuracy or otherwise of hon. Members' points made in speeches. My only concern is whether matters are points of order for the Chair. I have tried to make a distinction between those that are and those that are not. Of course, all hon. Members are free, through an intervention or their speech, to refute matters that are put forward by other hon. Members.

Mr. Shaw : If the hon. Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) have any doubts about the truth of this, I commend to them the information from Scottish Companies House, which shows clearly that S. L. Homes Ltd. lent £35,000 to a family company owned and controlled by the leader of Monklands district council. It lent money in exchange for planning permissions given by Monklands district council. The fact is that the council leader, through his family, is connected to Commercial and Industrial Maintenance Ltd. S. L. Homes Ltd. has received planning permissions in connection with two property developments in the Monklands area. S. L. Homes Ltd. is owned and controlled by Mr. Brian Dempsey, the son of the former Labour Member of Parliament for Monklands, West, who is currently trying to get control of Glasgow Celtic football club.

Mr. McMaster : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Connarty : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Shaw : I give way to the hon. Member for Paisley, South.

Mr. McMaster : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he is a little behind the times. Mr. Brian Dempsey and Mr. Fergus McCann now have control of Glasgow Celtic football club.

Mr. Shaw : The hon. Gentleman may not have checked the corporate returns correctly. Mr. Dempsey has not joined the board of directors and does not exercise control from that point of view, perhaps because he is concerned about the fact that five directors of his company all resigned on 23 December last year, according to information that I have today and that has just been filed at Companies House. Those five directors were appointed by Scottish Legal Life Assurance. Clearly, there is real concern that they had a conflict between their interest in looking after the interests of depositors in Scottish Legal Life Assurance and their interests as directors of S. L. Homes Ltd., a company lending £35,000 to a company owned and controlled by the family of the council leader of Monklands district council.

Mr. Connarty : Obviously, once again the hon. Gentleman is not up to date with what is going on. I understand that the company that was owned by Mr. Brian Dempsey was bought by a major construction company for

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more than £20 million. The company to which he refers is now in the hands of yet another company, which might explain why a relationship between Scottish Legal Life Assurance and Mr. Dempsey's company may no longer exist.

It might be advisable for the hon. Gentleman to step outside the Chamber if he wishes to make accusations against someone whom I know to be a very honourable member of the building profession and who is highly respected in Scotland, not just for his interest in a football team but for the profitable work that he has done for many people in the building industry. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps get back to the drivel that he was talking a few minutes ago.

Mr. Shaw : If the hon. Gentleman is correct, he is admitting on behalf of Mr. Dempsey that the returns at Companies House are false and fraudulent. He should, therefore, be careful about what he is admitting on behalf of Mr. Dempsey, with whom I believe he has no personal financial connection. If the hon. Gentleman is declaring an interest, financial or otherwise, with Mr. Dempsey, I should be interested in hearing the interest that he wishes to disclose.

Mr. Connarty : Let me make it quite plain. I have no financial interest or any other interest in the business of Mr. Brian Dempsey. In fact, I have even less interest in the football team in which he has an interest than most hon. Members in Scotland. I have no connection at all. I am suggesting to the hon. Gentleman that if he wants to throw mud at limited targets--because of the political process, the limited targets that he has chosen at the moment have little redress--he should be willing to step outside the House when he talks about someone who is respected in the business community in Scotland. As the gentleman's father was a Member of the House--James Dempsey was my Member of Parliament for a number of years and is a very honourable man--the hon. Gentleman should really restrain himself in the vilification in which he participates in the House. It does not do him any credit. If he steps outside the House, it may do him a great financial disservice.

Mr. Shaw : The hon. Gentleman seems to be keen to defend Mr. Dempsey. Perhaps he would like to explain why, when Mr. Dempsey was on the board of directors of S. L. Homes--he is still recorded at Companies House as being on the board of directors--the company, having obtained planning permissions in the Monklands area, then paid the leader of the district council's family company £35,000. Why did Mr. Dempsey authorise that payment ? There is no mud, and no distortion ; it is on record at Companies House in Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman can look it up for himself in the records of Commercial and Industrial Maintenance Ltd.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Get on with it.

Mr. Shaw : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am trying to get on with it, but there have been a good many interruptions from his colleagues, which he could stop if he wanted to.

Mr. Vaz : The hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish.

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Mr. Shaw : The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not. He and I have discussed fraud in other debates, and have listened to each other's speeches with great interest. This is a matter of fact.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I cannot allow a conversation between the hon. Member who has the Floor and another hon. Member sitting on the Front Bench--or anywhere else, for that matter.

Mr. Connarty : The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he had debated questions of fraud. Is he now accusing Mr. Brian Dempsey and any member of Monklands district council of fraud ?

Mr. Shaw : Certainly I should like an answer to my question. I think that many people will take different views on how family members come to be employed by the council, how people who pay their subscription to the Labour party get jobs on the council, how planning permissions are obtained on the council and how money changes hands around the time planning permissions are granted. People are going to ask, "How has this happened ? Why do all these transactions seem to coincide, involving jobs, money and membership of the Labour party ? How is it that money has gone from S. L. Homes to a company owned by the family of the leader of Monklands district council at the same time as the granting of planning permissions to the property development company ?" The position is less than satisfactory.

Mr. McMaster : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am no more here to defend the integrity of Brian Dempsey--although I think he has a lot of integrity--than he is here to defend that of Pamella Bordes, or some Daily Star photographer who was badly beaten up outside his house. Let me ask him a question, however, when will he stop misrepresenting Monklands, and start.

Mr. Shaw : That shows the desperate lengths to which Labour will go to cover up the matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am taking facts straight from Companies House, and that I have researched the information. As I said earlier, it comes from Labour's own statements ; even its own report contained a mild criticism of Monklands district council. The hon. Gentleman is becoming very desperate. He is getting things out of proportion.

The losses in four council companies in Monklands--the Quadrant shopping centre, MDC Windows, the Time Capsule (Monklands) Ltd. and Summerlee Heritage Trust--amount to £6 million in three years. We are all paying for those losses ; every man, woman and child in the country is paying for them, through taxation. Mysteriously, several of those companies have managed to win tenders from the council. It has been suggested to me that that is because the tenders from competing companies are always opened in advance, and the council companies are told what to bid. It is strange that loss-making companies always manage to win tenders in Monklands when they are controlled by the council.

Earlier I paid tribute to Dover district council's housing department. I should now like to deal with some of the problems in Monklands district council's housing department so that a proper contrast can be drawn between a good council and a bad council. Monklands is a very bad council.

Labour's policy in Monklands has been against council house sales, except where those sales are to councillors and

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their families. The council policy has been extended to allow sales to councillor's sons as well. Mrs. Willamina Wylie, a 63-year-old widow, was not allowed to buy her council home at 36 Newlands street. However, Councillor Gilson's son at 28 Newlands street was allowed to buy his home. Two other council tenants in Newlands street were refused. The council could not explain the position to the ombudsman and, for that reason alone, Monklands district council was found guilty of maladministration in its housing department.

When Martin Dempsey, a Labour party member, ex-councillor and now a council employee--the Labour party looks after its ex-councillors in Monklands-- needed a council house, he was put ahead of 300 homeless people. He beat Mr. Lenny Miles and his fiancee who had been waiting for a council house for four years. Of course, Mr. Lenny Miles and his fiancee are not paid up members of the Labour party, so they have to go to the back of the queue when Mr. Martin Dempsey is involved. Other abuses of the housing department are numerous. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that an independent housing department is essential if the housing is to be managed fairly between all applicants and repairs are to be carried out fairly, without preference to individual tenants. Transfers can be abused to the extent that councillors and their families receive preferential treatment unless there is proper independence.

Additionally, decisions about which homes are improved can be made fairly and properly only in an independently run operation. Much council money is spent on housing repairs and improvements. Decisions about the allocation of that money mean that considerable power can be exercised over the lives of ordinary people. Allegations of preferential treatment for councillors and their families are commonplace in Monklands.

Factors that give rise to a lack of independence in housing decision-making in Monklands include the fact that the wife of the director of housing is employed in the council's Time Capsule leisure centre. It compromises his independence and he must ask whether he can make independent decisions when his wife's employment is controlled by councillors who can cause him personal financial loss if he does not go along with the decisions that they want him to make.

The provost of the council, Councillor Gilson, is a former convenor of the housing committee. He has a daughter working in the housing department. The convenor of the general purposes committee, Councillor Fitzpatrick, has a wife who is a senior housing officer and a nephew who is a rent officer. The convenor of the housing committee, Councillor Betty Leitch, is also compromised by the fact that she has a daughter employed in the library service. All that has led to a number of problems involving housing decision-making. Some years ago, Councillor Gilson moved from his council- owned property in Henderson street, which is regarded as a fairly poor area, to a better council house in upmarket Blairpark ward, which is not the ward that he represents. He proceeded to buy that house using his full discount for the years in his previous house. There is a feeling locally that the move was arranged by Labour councillors in order to provide him with a virtual gift of a comparatively upmarket house. Councillor Gilson bought his home at a time when he publicly supported Labour party policy against the sale of council houses. Councillor Smith obtained a council tenancy amid

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much controversy last year in an upmarket area, which is not the ward that he represents. I have mentioned Martin Dempsey, the ex-councillor who managed to get a council house. Councillor Cairns has managed to get a house that was bought by the local regional council. Also, Christopher Barrett, the son of ex-councillor, Joe Barrett, now a local Labour party treasurer, who unfortunately had to resign as a councillor because of a little problem connected with a fiddle involving his expenses, obtained his grandfather's council house at 15 Dunothar avenue. No one locally ever saw Christopher Barrett sleep a night in that house, yet the grandson's name suddenly appeared on the electoral register and he suddenly became eligible for a tenancy in a house with which he had no connection other than the fact that his grandfather lived there. Meanwhile, many homeless people in Monklands were denied council houses.

I now move on to the finance department, where a £1,000 cheque made out to a local builder recently went missing. It was discovered two months later to have been paid into the leader of the council's personal bank account, despite the fact that it was made payable to a local builder. The finance department altered the records of the council to pretend that the cheque was a payment to the council leader for his expenses. It did not tell the auditor, who discovered it only when a Scottish Television programme identified that this had happened last year. The council had kept this secret to itself.

Mr. Connarty : I am sure that with his deep knowledge of Scottish local government, from the perspective of Dover, the hon. Gentleman will realise that any misappropriation of funds or expenditure outwith the financial remits of the council would bring a qualification by the auditor on the council's accounts. I read its accounts because the hon. Member has given us such a reason to be interested in Scotland, but I could find no such qualification. In fact, I found a clear statement that there was no qualification on the accounts of Monklands district council. Can he explain why that should be so, as he appears to be accusing the finance department of losing a cheque for £1,000, misappropriating it and putting in a different account under a different title ?

Mr. Shaw : I am not responsible for the district auditor's report, but the leader of the council does not deny that the cheque was made out to a local builder. Nor does he deny that it ended up in his bank account and that he had signed it on the back and endorsed it. If the district auditor did not feel that he had to refer to that in his report, that is a matter for him, but it does not say much for audit standards if the auditor felt that he could not refer to the fact that the council's finance department had altered its records to make that cheque, made payable to a local builder, an advance on expenses.

The law and administration department has recently had a problem--after the audit date to which the hon. Member for Falkirk, East referred. A taxi licensing fraud has been discovered ; some £45, 000 is estimated to have gone astray. The police are investigating ; an employee has resigned.

I shall conclude by saying that the standards of local government in many areas of the country are quite high--in areas under Conservative administration and control. In Monklands, the country is being let down. Matters are serious and are getting worse in Monklands. Serious matters are being brought to people's attention week in and

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week out in Monklands. The fact is that there is nepotism, corruption and wrongdoing in Monklands. That has been established in the local newspapers and accepted widely, yet we still have silence from the Leader of the Opposition. We still hear nothing from him. 3.23 am

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) on being selected to propose a motion on the subject of local government. The nation is fortunate that the debate has taken place so early in the morning and that so few people have had to endure the rantings and sheer nonsense that purport to be his speech.

Perhaps one should look into the individual psyche of the hon. Member to find out why he has not used the debate to raise important issues of concern to his constituents. We have heard about Redbridge, Islington, Lewisham and even Tameside but there was no mention of Pineham ward and the events of 25 November 1993 which, I am sure, are etched on the hon. Gentleman's heart.

This is no ordinary man ; this is a man obsessed, a man in need of help. Monklands has become a means by which the hon. Gentleman obtains self- gratification. There is another word for it but I understand from the Clerks that it is unparliamentary so I shall not use it. I can only repeat the advice given to him by his mother many years ago : if he keeps going on about it, there is a real danger that he will go blind.

It is time that Tory scaremongering and petty politicking was blown open. The Conservative party and the hon. Gentleman are attempting to use diversionary scare tactics to cover their sordid footsteps but it will not work. Where there is so much as an insinuation of incorrectness in local authorities, we as a party insist that it is investigated, not behind closed doors with Members of Parliament manoeuvring and interfering in due process but out in the open where public scrutiny ensures that it is properly dealt with.

However, in a recent interview, the hon. Member for Dover revealed the Conservative party's true view of how local authorities should be run--not democratically by councillors but by certain Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Member for Dover, interfering. He told the Local Government Chronicle :

"MPs have to be tough. If there are any suspicions about a councillor and his actions, whatever party he may belong to, then that party has to question whether he should be readopted." The report continues :

"Mr. Shaw said he had taken such action in his constituency." In the light of the comments of the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups on Dover council, Councillor Sansum wrote to the hon. Gentleman asking him to clarify which councillors he had removed in his democratic selection process.

There was a great deal of correspondence between the hon. Gentleman and Councillor Sansum, ending with a letter dated 8 July 1993 and signed by the hon. Gentleman. I have a copy of it and I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman of its contents. He wrote :

"I am far too busy on constituency matters to worry about the press being 100 per cent. correct."

That is his view on accuracy and the way in which he is quoted.

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Mr. McMaster : The admission of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) that he is too busy to worry about whether the press is 100 per cent. correct is similar to the comment that I believe he made to a female photographer of the Daily Star at about the same time.

Mr. Vaz : That may be so, but I do not know whether it has anything to do with local government. I am, however, grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out.

The hon. Member for Dover is not so keen to intervene when his constituents face ruin and hardship because of the closure of mines. Labour follows the law, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has twice written to the Secretary of State for Scotland stating that, if there is any evidence of impropriety, an investigation must be instigated. That has not happened. Allegations should be made through the channels of evidence and proof, not in behind-the-hand whispers.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber earlier today when the Prime Minister said :

"If the hon. Gentleman has any firm charges to make, perhaps he should make them other than by innuendo and under privilege of the House."

They are not my words, but those of the Prime Minister. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Dover has the guts to go outside and make the allegations that he has made tonight.

Over the past year, the Labour party has continued to grow at local level. We are now the largest single party in local government with 9,129 councillors compared to the Conservatives' 7,846 and the Liberal Democrats' 4,088. To the lists of councils that we control we now add Derby city council. I wish the new Labour authority there all success.

The reason for our success in local government is simple and irrefutable. It is that people have seen that Labour councils offer the best services at the most reasonable rates. Labour is proud of its achievements in local government. There is a plethora of examples of excellence in local government. For example, Labour leaders such as Teresa Stewart in Birmingham, Grahame Stringer in Manchester, Phil Homer in The Wrekin, Margaret Moran in Lewisham, Jeremy Beecham in Newcastle, Brian Flood in North Tyneside, John Ingham in Plymouth, John Taylor in Nottingham and many more continue to struggle to provide the best services possible under a Conservative regime that has made Britain the most centralised country in Europe.

The Government have set themselves the task of destroying local authorities and, with them, the democracy that has acted to restrain the corruption with which the hon. Member for Dover is so infatuated. Since 1979 the Conservatives have introduced 155 separate Acts of Parliament interfering with and undermining local government. Not one of those Acts has improved, or really attempted to improve, local democracy. Local individuals are now more remote from the decision-making process than at any time in living memory. People's taxes are no longer spent locally to improve conditions and services. Instead, they are directly controlled by Westminster, where absurd equations are used to calculate what percentage of money raised locally may be spent locally.

The Government have adopted a cynical chain of blame, which ensures that local authorities are held responsible for decisions that are made by Ministers and their henchmen. If ever it seems that Ministers are to be held responsible for their despicable decisions the truth is quickly shielded or

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the blame passed on more quickly than bad news. The three local government Ministers--the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who is here tonight--adopt the "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" stance when the blame comes round, or use the Prime Minister's favourite phrase, "It's not a matter for me."

The Conservative party has presided over the destruction of all that British democracy had to be proud of--the destruction of open and democratic government, once seen as a tenet central to Conservative ideals. Lord Salisbury, one of the Conservative party's greatest leaders, praised and respected local government and insisted on increasing the powers of local authorities. As he said in 1885--119 years ago--at a rally in Newport :

"Large reforms in our local government are necessary and in the direction of increasing powers to local government. You must provide local government with sufficient power and add to this power by diminishing the excessive and exaggerated powers which have been heaped upon central authorities in London."

The Government are guided by self-interest and they fear open, just and democratic local government. They should return to Salisbury's ideals, and not the questionable basics to which some Ministers have been happy to return.

Yesterday, during Department of the Environment questions, we had yet another example of a Conservative Minister changing his tune to suit the situation. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, in reply to a question on the council tax, went into a long and--may I say ?--flawed explanation as to why it is incorrect to use average council tax rates to compare different councils. Three questions later the same Minister was merrily comparing authorities, using--yes--average council tax rates. The confusion is understandable because, no matter how the Conservatives have tried to hide it and Ministers have tried to wriggle, as the Prime Minister did earlier today, the fact remains that, in the financial year 1994-95, average council tax bills per household will be £40 lower in Labour areas than in Conservative areas and £26 lower than in Liberal Democrat areas--and this at a time when Conservative-led authorities are receiving massive funding, poured into them at the cost of the most needy.

Wandsworth council receives 11.6 per cent. of the non-needs-related grant for the whole of Britain, even though its population constitutes only 0.5 per cent. of England's. If, however, the Conservatives wish to talk about tax, should not we scrutinise their record nationally ? Before the last election the Conservatives, in their do-anything, say-anything panic to win power, promised that there would be no new taxes and that they would cut taxes year on year.

Mr. McMaster : I realise that I am asking my hon. Friend a question that it may be difficult for him to answer, but can he imagine why the hon. Member for Dover is the only Member to record in the Register of Members' Interests the fact that his companies are "dormant" ? Is there any tax advantage in doing that ?

Mr. Vaz : I do not know, but I am sure that we shall be down at Companies house tomorrow checking the records, as the hon. Member for Dover spends more time there than he appears to spend in the Chamber--or in Dover.

The Government's promises were made not on a wet night in Dudley, but at every press conference and public meeting that the Conservatives held before the general

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election. Now, less than two years later, we are faced with tax increases and new taxes. Most people--those earning less than £60,000 a year--are now paying more than they were when Denis Healey was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and promised to tax the rich until the pips squeaked. Under the Conservative Government, not only have the pips squeaked, but the juice has run dry.

The revenue has been wilfully squandered on toadying up to Conservative supporters and attempting to cover up the economic bankruptcy and failure of Conservative dogma. Under Conservative party rule not only have people had to endure spiralling tax, uncontrollable unemployment rates, mounting crime, decaying infrastructure and a breakdown in social standards, but the means of correcting those unacceptable changes have been placed beyond the reach of the people most affected.

The growth in influence of that much-loved Tory master, the quango, has reached the stage where quangos' budgets rival those of local authorities. If they continue to increase in influence, it is calculated that by 1996 quangos will control £54 billion of public money--almost a quarter of all Government expenditure.

The most worrying aspect of that development is that quangos can spend their money as they please, with no checks whatever, whereas the way in which local authorities run by democratically elected councillors allocate their budgets is under the direct control of the Conservative party--most notably through the draconian capping legislation so adored in Marsham street. Quite rightly, if a councillor is found to have committed fraud or wasted council money, he or she will be surcharged, or will be subject to criminal proceedings. Yet when questions are asked, members of quango boards are carefully and gracefully allowed to retire from their positions with a golden handshake and a gong.

Quangos are not only undemocratic and unprincipled but inefficient. For every £60 lost by central Government and quangos in fraud, mismanagement and waste, only £1 is lost by local government. The Property Services Agency lost £65.6 million, and Wessex health authority wasted £20 million on a computer that did not work. West Midlands health authority squandered £10 million on botched privatisation ; the chairman resigned and was given a golden handshake.

If those standards were repeated in local authorities, there would rightly be public outcry, and the events would have to be fully investigated. The hon. Member for Dover would no doubt have booked his air ticket or rail ticket just to have a look at the area, like a grand inquisitor. But with the quangos everything is done to conceal the true situation of the Tory placemen and placewomen.

Mr. McMaster : One of the other allowances that Members of Parliament are fortunate enough to obtain--it is absolutely legitimate--is an office costs allowance. We all try to spend that to our satisfaction. At one time the hon. Member for Dover derived great satisfaction from his office costs allowance.

Mr. Vaz : I am grateful for that information from my hon. Friend. Probably because the successes are Labour run, the hon. Member for Dover is insistent that we concentrate not on the successes of local councils in continuing to provide efficient services to local people, but on alleged impropriety.

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There are a few home truths that the Conservative party has tried to keep hidden from scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Conservative Brent. Brent has the worst record on arrears. It is also difficult to know who is in control of Brent on any given day. Councillor Blackman's Tory group, if one may call it a group, splits amoeba-like every few months. Tory councillors move resolutions on a range of bizarre subjects, including female circumcision. What a shambles. Nationally the Government have failed to collect £1.7 billion of tax owed for 1992-93. The eight highest council rent chargers in London are Conservative, with the local authority of the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction having the worst record. Westminster and Wandsworth combined owe £552 million. The three London boroughs with the largest debt per head are all Conservative.

In contrast, Labour councils not only have lower council taxes but have won national awards for efficiency and quality of service at a greater rate than those controlled by any other party. That is the true result of Labour control. Which councils did the Secretary of State choose to launch City Pride ? Manchester and Birmingham, two excellent Labour councils. It must also be realised that where Labour authorities have got themselves into financial difficulties it is because they have tried to provide for local people and invest in their future, not cynically squander resources in attempts to influence the political balance of a borough.

Local government needs to be supported, not ridiculed. There is a new breed of civic entrepreneur who, if given the opportunity, can lead the country forward bravely into the next millennium. Such people have to be free to do so, free from the shackles of central Government and openly responsible and accountable to their electorate. I have seen for myself the abundant talent in local government during the progress of the City 2020 inquiry, of which I am chair, as it has travelled the length and breadth of the country. Unless we return to a time when local government provided a tool of municipal pride, we will continue to see our cities and society dragged down through the mire of corruption and dirty dealing. This is not a private vision held by the Labour party. It is echoed by the private sector over and over again, most recently by the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, when he demanded on Monday that central Government allow councils greater flexibility over their own functions, particularly through greater control of their own money.

Local government, through democratic and accountable control, is the most efficient means of providing services for local people. Local councils need to be freed from central Government intervention so that once again people receive what they want and need most efficiently instead of suffering the present system which provides only for Conservative supporters on the boards of various unrepresentative bodies.

As the hon, Member for Dover mentioned the debt of Labour councils, I shall end by pointing out to him and to the House that the Government have borrowed twice as much in a single financial year as the net total that Labour councils have borrowed over 60 years. The Government's public sector borrowing requirement for this year alone is £49.8 billion. The total external debt of all Labour local councils, built up over decades, is £22.7 billion. The

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Government's borrowing for 1993-94 is more than communist China's over 50 years--China's external debt at the end of 1992 was £45.8 billion. Westminster and Wandsworth each have a bigger debt than Mongolia. Conservative Croydon has a bigger debt than the Seychelles.

Those are debts that are currently owed. We need no lectures on debt from the Conservative party, and we expect to receive none. It is time the Government understood that local government needs to be able to carry out its functions in the best way it can. It is time that a real civic vision was realised.

3.43 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I am responsible for local government in England, andit is perhaps not surprising that at this time of the night the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) had to have recourse to that sort of knockabout speech. Local government is, of course, very important. I would certainly be prepared to make a prediction here and now at the Dispatch Box that after the local government elections in May there will be more Conservative councillors in England and fewer Labour councillors. The hon. Gentleman knows that people in the Labour party are worried that it will lose control of councils such as Birmingham, Kirklees and others. One of the reasons why it will lose is that people know that Conservative councils cost less. Let me try to help the hon. Member for Leicester, East with his problem on averages. It is simple. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) wishes to pretend that the way to assess council tax payments fairly is by an average council tax. But, of course, no one pays an average council tax. People pay a particular band. If one compares band A with band A and band B with band B, Conservative councils cost less.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Baldry : No, let me explain this to the hon. Gentleman. If one takes the average of Conservative councils at band A and the average of Labour councils at band A across the country, Conservative councils cost £99 less than Labour councils at band A. If one takes each and every separate band, Conservative councils cost less. People understand and appreciate that. They can see it in their own council tax bill. They can compare it with neighbouring authorities. They are not stupid. They appreciate that to take an average of the totality of the housing stock of an area is to produce a statistically meaningless figure. The hon. Gentleman knows that, too.

Mr. Vaz : Is the Minister saying that the Conservative party and the Government have never compared the average figures ?

Mr. Baldry : I have just explained to the hon. Gentleman that the only average is the average of all the Conservative band A council taxes compared with the average of all Labour band A council taxes. Whatever band one chooses to take, band for band

Mr. McMaster : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman has been up and down like a yo-yo all evening. He has ants in his pants.

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Of the 10 highest council taxes announced, seven are from Labour authorities and none has been set by a Conservative council. Of the 10 lowest council taxes announced, none has been set by a Labour council. Let us take the highest 10 councils taxes at band C, although one could take any band. The highest is Liverpool, where two different factions of the Labour party are busily disputing who should run Liverpool.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East thought that the Labour party might gain seats in Manchester. I should be surprised at that, as Manchester Labour group has set the second highest council tax in the country at £691 for band C. Newcastle upon Tyne, Coventry, Langbaurgh, Salford, Bristol, Cleethorpes, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, all Labour controlled, are in the top 10.

When one looks at the lowest 10 council taxes, one sees not one Labour name among them.

Mr. McMaster : Does the Minister accept that we need no lessons in arithmetic from him ? Did he not come to a European Standing Committee yesterday morning which eight Conservatives and seven Opposition Members had the right to attend and yet he managed to lose ? Is that some sort of record ?

Mr. Baldry : I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman can add up to 15. If that is the best that the Labour party can do, even at 3.48 in the morning, it may well explain why I am perfectly content to rest with my prediction that after the local government elections there will be more Conservative councillors in England and fewer Labour councillors.

Mr. Connarty : Will the Minister give way ?

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