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(b) in subsection (3)(c), for "an islands or district council" substitute "a local authority".'.

No. 211, in page 229, line 12, leave out from 1' to

, for' in line 13 and insert (interpretation)

(a) in subsection (1)

(i) after paragraph (h) insert "and" ; and

(ii) paragraph (k) and the word "and" immediately preceding it shall cease to have effect ; and

(b) in subsection (3)(a)'.

No. 301, in page 229, line 14, at end insert

( ) In section 2 (defined activities), after subsection (9) insert

"(10) Without prejudice to his powers to make orders or regulations under any other provision of this Part of this Act, the Secretary of State may by order provide that, from 31st March 1995 or such later date as may be specified in the order until such date as may be so specified, being a date not later than 31st December 2001, the provisions of this Part of this Act shall apply in relation to local authorities subject to such modifications as may be so specified.".

( ) In section 15 (orders, regulations etc.), in each of subsections (2) and (5), after "section 2(9)" insert "or 2(10)".'. No. 212, in page 229, line 21, at end insert

(a) after the entry relating to the Peak Park Joint Planning Board insert

"The Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority." ; and (b)'.

No. 213, in page 230, line 48, at end insert

( ) In section 67B(2) (tests to check whether defects have been remedied), for "a region or islands area" substitute "the area of a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994".'.

No. 148, in page 242, line 41, after (interpretation)' insert (a)'.

No. 149, in page 242, line 44, at end insert ; and

(b) in the definition of "relevant water body", in paragraph (b), for "a water authority within the meaning of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980" substitute "a water and sewerage authority established by section 61 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994".'.--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Schedule 14 --

Amendments made :


No. 150, in page 244, line 14, column 3, at end insert


                                                            |'In section 36, in subsection                              

                                                            |(2), the words "and thirty-                                

                                                            |six" and "and twenty-three"                                

                                                            |and subsections (3) and (6).'                              

No. 232, in page 247, line 44, column 3, at end insert


                                    |'Section 31(4).'.                  

No. 165, in page 248, line 31, column 3, at end insert


                                                            |'In section 100(3), the words                              

                                                            |from "and to an additional                                 

                                                            |fine" to the end.'.                                        

No. 233, in page 248, line 52, column 3, at end insert


                                                        |'In section 133, subsection                            


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No. 166, in page 249, line 2, column 3, leave out Section' and insert


                                        |'Sections 142 and'.                    

No. 151, in page 249, line 52, column 3, at end insert


                                      |'Section 193(2).'.                   

No. 214, in page 249, line 59, column 3, leave out subsection (1A)' and insert


                                                            |'subsections (1A) and (13).'.                              

No. 234, in page 250, line 18, column 3, at end insert


                                |'Schedule 14.'.                

No. 215, in page 250, line 36, at end insert


'1975 c. 24.                   |The House of Commons          |In Schedule 1, in Part IV, the                               

                               |Disqualification Act          |entry relating to Her                                        

                               |1975.                         |Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant                                    

                                                              |or Lieutenant for an islands                                 

                                                              |area in Scotland and, in the                                 

                                                              |entry relating to Her                                        

                                                              |Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant                                    

                                                              |or Lieutenant for the district                               

                                                              |of the city of Aberdeen,                                     

                                                              |Dundee, Edinburgh, or                                        

                                                              |Glasgow, the words "the                                      

                                                              |district of".'.                                              

No. 235, in page 251, line 6, column 3, after 22' insert


                                                            |', in sub-paragraph (1), head                              

                                                            |(c) and, in sub-paragraph'.                                

No. 236 in page 251, line 11, column 3, leave out paragraph' and insert paragraphs 24A and'

No. 237, in page 258, line 8, column 3, at end insert


                                                          |'In section 27(4), the words                             

                                                          |from "Without" to "Act".'.                               

No. 152, in page 258, line 14, column 3, at end insert


                                                              |'In section 121, in subsection                               

                                                              |(6), the words from "and                                     

                                                              |of" to "that proposal" and,                                  

                                                              |in subsection (7), the words                                 

                                                              |from "but the" to "his                                       

                                                              |consent" and the word                                        


No. 216, in page 258, line 14, column 3, at end insert


                                                        |'In section 122(2)(b), sub-                            

                                                        |paragraph (iii) and the                                

                                                        |word "and" immediately                                 

                                                        |preceding it.'.                                        

No. 217, in page 258, line 52, column 3, at end insert

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                                                                |'In section 95(2), the words                                   

                                                                |"or by the district council".'.                                

No. 238, in page 258, line 53, column 3, leave out paragraph' and insert paragraphs 27(3)(a) and'.

No. 218, in page 259, line 27, column 3, after words "' insert and'.

No. 239, in page 259, line 45, column 3, leave out paragraph 11' and insert


                                                        |"in paragraph 11, the words                            

                                                        |from "and", where it first                             

                                                        |occurs, to the end.'.-[Mr.                             


Clause 176 --

Consequential and supplementary provisions

Amendments made : No. 111, in page 122, line 10, after 1968 ;' insert

"joint committee" and "joint board" have the meanings given by section 235(1) of the 1973 Act ;'.

No. 112, in page 122, line 12, after 2' insert of this Act'.--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 178 --

Short title, commencement and extent

Amendment made : No. 192, in page 123, line 16, after Act' insert , except section 158,'.


Amendments made : No. 153, line 21, leave out from to' to children's' in line 22. --

No. 154, line 22, after hearings ;' insert

to amend the procedure for making byelaws under section 121 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 ;'.--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Bill to be read the Third time tomorrow .

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Revenue Support Grant

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

9.57 pm

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) : I congratulate you, Madam Speaker, the Ministers and my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench on the speedy way in which you cleared the important business on the Bill so that I could start my even more important business on the Adjournment. I refer, of course, to the subject of the rate support grant settlement, particularly as it affects my constituency and the City of Westminster.

The Minister is well aware that I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to speak, once again, on this subject. During the past four years, I have spoken on innumerable occasions and asked innumerable questions, both written and oral, on the rate support grant settlements. I asked a further question about it today. I was moved to ask for the Adjournment debate because of an answer I received from the Prime Minister to an oral question. I asked the right hon. Gentleman :

"Is he aware of the fact that if Westminster city council had received the same rate support grant per head of population as the borough of St. Helens it would have been forced to charge £1,019, instead of £245, for a band A property ? Will the Prime Minister explain to my constituents how a rate support grant settlement that throws up such huge disparities is not politically corrupt ?" I shall not bore the House with the Prime Minister's entire reply. It is sufficient to say that towards the end of the exchanges on the question he spoke of

"some of the reasons why Westminster is so efficient and some of the reasons why the council deserves to be re-elected."--[ Official Report , 3 May 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 591.]

The Prime Minister's answer demonstrated that Her Majesty's Government were still attempting to brazen out the rigging of the grant support system in favour especially of Westminster city council and of the London borough of Wandsworth, which are often described as Tory local government flagships.

I think that all of us were also aware of some of the allegations that were surfacing about what was or was not to be broadcast in the BBC "Panorama" programme about the affairs of the city of Westminster. Indeed, I think that all of us who watched the "Panorama" programme on Monday night agree that it portrayed a shocking story of graft and corruption at the very heart of this country--the city of Westminster--and it was corruption on a scale which, I believe, is without precedent in Great Britain.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Mr. Evans : Anyone who watched that programme recognises that Her Majesty's Government strong-armed the BBC into keeping the programme off the air during the period of the local government elections. The BBC should be condemned for bowing the knee to the threats and intimidation to which it must have been subject. That was a programme about local government in Britain in the 1990s, which everyone had a right to see, and it should have been shown for people to watch. The votes of the people who saw the programme would have been influenced because they would have recognised, not only that there was serious corruption in the city of

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Westminster, but that it was obvious that Ministers, and in one or two cases Conservative Members, had gone along with what had happened in that borough. Although I note, and will accept, that Members of Parliament have said that they had no knowledge of what was going on in the city of Westminster, it is interesting that, as far as I am aware, none has condemned anything that took place in that borough. I shall concentrate on the difference in treatment of the city of Westminster and of my constituency and the borough that I represent--St. Helens. They are boroughs with similar populations and similar duties and responsibilities to their electorate. Apart from the huge discrepancies in the grants that they receive, their performance differs.

The Prime Minister, in his answer on 3 May, praised Westminster for its efficiency. If that was correct, one would have assumed that when the district auditor reported earlier this year on the accounts of Westminster city council he would be able to praise the borough. Far from that, the district auditor condemned, in terms which I have never seen before, the activities of the council and, as all of us understand it, a number of councillors in the borough and a number of the officers of the borough are facing surcharges approaching £21 million. The Evening Standard last night suggested that, following further investigations, the likely bill for the irregularities is approaching £55 million. We shall all be interested to know the outcome.

St. Helens is a borough which was hard done by by the Government in the past three or four years. The district auditor's report for St. Helens highly praised the borough and all that it had done in the past year.

"In his annual report, District Auditor Frank Kerkham gives special mention to the Council's sound and business like' management.

Among services most praised was the way the Authority collects and monitors Council Tax collections. He says : By the end of October 1993 the money owed in Council Tax was £4.9 million. This represents 3.9 per cent. of the gross debit for three years of the community charge's existence.'

This represents a good performance given that the Authority has had to introduce and collect the Council Tax in tandem with collecting residual community charge."

He went on to praise the borough in a number of other ways. Thus a borough that had been desperately strapped for support grant from the Government was praised for its efficiency by the district auditor. Because revenue support grant is distributed according to the standard spending assessment formulae, this year Westminster received £2,622 per primary school pupil whereas St. Helens received £1,851--a difference of £770. Does it cost that much more to educate a primary school child in Westminster ? In secondary education, the position is even worse. Westminster receives a grant per pupil of £3,677, whereas St. Helens receives £2,590 per pupil--a difference of more than £1, 000. Why should St. Helens school children be regarded as so much cheaper to educate than children in Westminster ?

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : I appreciate the opportunity to support my hon. Friend in his Adjournment debate. The comparison that he makes between the boroughs of St. Helens and Westminster is identical to the comparison between Wakefield district council and

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Westminster. Will my hon. Friend mention the other authorities in the Webber Craig group, which is a group of authorities that includes St. Helens and Wakefield ?

My hon. Friend mentioned SSAs. In March 1994, the Secretary of State issued a report that said :

"The Government has consistently taken the view that SSA is an appropriate benchmark against which to consider whether spending decisions of an authority have resulted in a budget which is excessive."

Neither St. Helens nor Wakefield has spent excessively. The figures for education in Westminster are evidence of excesses. If there was to be capping, that is where it should have been.

Mr. Evans : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to the attention of the House the fact that his authority, like another five authorities that are grouped in what is known as the Webber Craig group, which are well known to the Minister, suffers from similar problems.

The position with social services is just as bad as that with education. Westminster receives more than £18 million more for its social services than St. Helens. The position was graphically described in the St. Helens Star on 6 January 1994 when it said : "St Helens received a massive £18 million less a year than Westminster to spend on these vital services. That's £994 less to spend on each of our elderly people.

For every elderly person living in the Borough, the Council receives just £131 compared to Westminster's £257--almost double what St Helens receives."

That shows how an authority at one end of the country receives substantially more to look after its elderly citizens than a borough at the other end of the country.

St. Helens has had a raw deal ever since SSAs were first established. Because of how they were calculated, St. Helens has had to cut no less than £20 million from its budget in the past three years. The council has had to close a library, an elderly persons' home, a family centre, a day nursery and a day centre and increase charges for school meals, meals on wheels and home helps. Regrettably, the cuts have been inflicted on the elderly and the very young--the most defenceless people in the community.

I want to put to the Minister some of the questions that constituents have asked me on many occasions. In the borough of St. Helens there is considerable resentment about how people are treated. I pay tribute to the local newspapers, the St. Helens Star and the St. Helens Reporter , which have regularly featured these issues so that citizens may understand precisely what is going on.

How can it be fair that an authority such as the one in Westminster, with a population only 4 per cent. higher, receives 70 per cent. more in terms of SSAs and 116 per cent. more in revenue support grant than my council ? The sums of money involved are huge. My constituents, who know that their council is efficient, would have to be charged twice the council tax that people in Westminster have to pay. Obviously they are extremely angry about this.

The Government's SSA of £220 million for Westminster is supposed to reflect the council's need to provide services at a standard level. Does not the fact that Westminster spends £3 million less mean that it is failing to provide services at that level ? Is not revenue support grant distributed according to SSAs ? If Westminster is spending less than the SSA, it must be receiving rate support grant in respect of expenditure that it is not incurring. Surely that cannot be justified.

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If the Prime Minister argues, as he did in a parliamentary answer to me on 3 May, that Westminster has achieved efficiency savings--he pointed out that £11 million had been saved as a result of compulsory competitive tendering : the equivalent of £110 in council tax--why is the council still receiving rate support grant as if it had not achieved those savings ? Should not its SSA be reduced to reflect them ?

The Prime Minister's reference, in his reply to me, to the loss of SSA in Wandsworth was irrelevant. I had not mentioned Wandsworth ; I had referred simply to Westminster and St. Helens. It is true that Wandsworth lost standard spending assessment, but it was given £26 million in SSA reduction grant to cushion the effect. Westminster received a reduction grant of £7 million. Both authorities benefited because of the change in SSA methodology. There was no such cushion when, in 1991, St. Helens was capped. We lost £6 million, on the basis of the national average, as a result of the switch from what was known as grant-related expenditure assessment--GREA--to SSAs. There was no preferential treatment for St. Helens on that occasion. I am quite happy to put on record the fact that we in St. Helens and the other Webber Craig authorities are grateful for some of the changes in SSA calculations this year. I should like to make it clear that they have been beneficial. We recognise that the inclusion of the long-term unemployed--a measure for which we fought for a long time-- has been advantageous, and we give credit to Ministers for listening to the arguments that we put forward in meetings last year and for going part of the way towards meeting our case.

In answer to my question 7 today, the Minister of State indicated that discussions with the local authority associations about revision of the SSAs were continuing. I and, I am sure, my colleagues in the Webber Craig authorities warmly welcome those discussions and trust that they will be brought to a happy conclusion.

I should like to ask the Minister to consider the inclusion of two or three items. We believe that account should be taken of the fact that the provision of nursery education ought to be based on the actual number of children rather than on proxy figures. After all, we know exactly how many under-fives in St. Helens are being educated. Could not the actual, not the proxy, figures be used ? The construction of the additional educational needs index should also be reconsidered, as it is based on three rather broad proxy figures : children of lone parents, children of benefit claimants and children of ethnic origin.

I suggest that the numbers of statemented children could be considered in this context--they are statemented, after all, so as to receive the special education that they so badly need. I also suggest that the assessment of the number of children at risk should be based on actual numbers, not on proxies. St. Helens, like most other authorities, knows exactly how many children are on its at-risk register.

As I said the last time I spoke in a debate on this subject--indeed, I have often said it--local government finance is a complex, mysterious and arcane subject, and I suspect that only local authority finance executives understand it. The rest of us have to work very hard--I suspect that the Minister sometimes has to work even harder--to keep up with the jargon and the changing patterns involved in mastering this complex subject.

I should point out, however, that local government finance affects every person in the land. After all, it used

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to be reflected in people's rates ; then in the community charge ; now in the council tax. It is thus important that we try to get it right. I thank the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary for listening to the authorities and trying to produce a fairer system. They can rest assured that if they produce figures which are fairer, and which therefore benefit our hard-pressed constituents, we will be grateful.

10.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : It will help the House if I briefly set out the general principles and mechanisms of the local government finance settlement before turning to the points about St. Helens made by the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans). I hope that both the St. Helens Star and the St. Helens Reporter will give my comments extensive coverage.

Government support for local authority spending this year will be £34.3 billion, a large sum of money representing an increase of 1.7 per cent. on the amount spent in the previous year. That is fair settlement, consistent with our determination to maintain a firm grip on public spending, of which local government accounts for about a quarter. Clearly, the total amount of money available for local government spending has to be distributed to the various local authorities in the fairest possible way--there is no argument about that.

That is done by means of the revenue support grant, which is distributed to local authorities by reference to standard spending assessments. SSAs are an objective, statistically based measure of the amount that an authority needs to spend to deliver a standard level of service. In other words, having regard to different populations and different needs, each local authority should be treated--and as far as the Government are concerned, will be treated--equally.

Our aim is to ensure that the available resources are divided fairly, so that each authority is placed on an equal footing. Of course, that is not an easy task. In evidence to the Environment Select Committee, the local authority associations said :

"The distribution of grant to 420 authorities in England on an equitable basis is a complex task and it is not surprising that the extensive analysis and research over the years has shown that there are no simple answers."

But we do try extremely hard. The Audit Commission observed that "the SSA system . . . is a more sophisticated system for equalising needs than any overseas system examined in this study and it is an improvement on its predecessor in many respects."

Last year, we carried out a thorough review of the calculation of the standard spending assessment which incorporated an in-depth look at all the points that the hon. Gentleman raised relating to St. Helens. The review was prompted by the need to incorporate new data on social conditions from the 1991 census, but we also took the opportunity to carry out a root and branch review of the SSA formula more generally.

The review was carried out in close co-operation with the local authority associations. We made the underlying data freely available to the associations and provided exemplifications of any option which the associations wished to consider. I and ministerial colleagues also met delegations from more than 30 individual local authorities to hear their views and discuss their ideas.

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The Environment Select Committee has recently produced a report on SSAs. One of the Committee's first conclusions in that report is this :

"We welcome the openness with which this year's SSA review has been carried out, and we trust the approach will continue in future years."

So do we.

One of the Committee's final conclusions is :

"We recognise that the changes to the SSA methodology this year have led to some commonsense improvement in the 1994-95 proposals." I hope that we will continue to earn the commendation of independent experts and the Select Committee for the fact that our proposals for SSAs are arrived at through open and co-operative discussion and are both common sense and fair.

Mr. William O'Brien : Will the Minister give way ?

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