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Mr. Colvin: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but one of the most active animal welfare organisations is Compassion in World Farming. Should it not turn its attention to the world, rather than concentrating--as it seems to do--entirely on the United Kingdom? Ports are picketed and ferry companies are threatened in order to prevent the export of live animals. Yet the UK animal transport regime is probably better than any in the world. Would it not be a good idea for welfare groups to turn their attention to the continent, where so much abuse continues?
Mr. Jones: I agree that concerned individuals in the UK concentrate on conditions in this country. Sadly, if they got their way the conditions that they deplore would be exported to other countries, whose products the UK imports. The compassion that such organisations display should be directed at animals in other countries as well. By and large, British farmers have the interests of their livestock at heart. I should be loth to see the practices that the hon. Gentleman cited exported to other countries.
Column 1189We have a responsibility to see that our animals are well maintained. It does no animal good to suffer the unfair treatment that the hon. Gentleman described in other countries. I welcome the Minister's response.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): I am grateful for the opportunity provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) to debate the pig industry, and I thank him and the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) for their contributions.
Both mentioned sow stalls and tethers, which have been discussed under the EU directive. I am disappointed that it allows the continued use of tethers in member states until the end of 2005 and does not address stall systems. The UK voted against that directive because it falls far short of our high standards of animal welfare, which we have sought to extend throughout the Union.
My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman stressed the importance of the UK's high standards and the need for unanimity among EU states so that competitive difficulties are not created between Union countries and the UK. I assure the House that we will continue to pressurise the EU to raise its standards to our high level.
We accept that farrowing crates make a valuable contribution to the welfare of piglets. We are funding research into alternative systems, but the risk of piglet mortality is too high to recommend any of them yet.
The Government appreciate the importance of our pig industry. It is a vital sector of agriculture, with total annual production amounting to 1 million tonnes of meat worth around £1 billion at the farm gate. It is a considerable industry. It runs neck and neck with poultry meat as the most popular meat in this country, and leads in most European countries. Annual production of pigmeat in the European Union is a staggering 14 million tonnes, twice the European level of poultry meat production.
I am, of course, aware that pig producers have had a very difficult time. My colleagues and I regularly meet individuals from the industry and the representative organisations. Hon. Members have, moreover, been assiduous in their representations on behalf of the industry. We are, therefore, very fully briefed and I have a great deal of sympathy for the industry's case, which my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside has outlined tonight.
My hon. Friend mentioned the pig cycle, whereby good profitability leads to herd expansion, increased supplies and, ultimately, falling producer prices; it is characteristic of the market. The recent period of low prices and poor profitability, which has affected pig industries throughout Europe, not just in Britain, has come about for exactly that reason. On this occasion, the trough in the pig cycle has lasted much longer than anyone in the industry expected. Cycles have their ups as well as their downs, and the signs are that a long-delayed improvement may now be under way. I am sure that we are all aware that the improvement is somewhat fragile. It is only in the past three weeks that we have seen a small rise in average pig prices, but that is most encouraging and we hope that the rise will continue.
Column 1190The August pig survey results show that in most member states, weak prices have led to cuts in the breeding herd. This is most important. The total EU breeding sow numbers were 3 per cent. down on a year earlier and there were reductions in all countries except Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Pig producers are in a sector that is very much reliant on the market. I know that, for the most part, they are pleased to operate with minimal interference from Government and from Brussels. For that reason, we are determined to ensure that our pig producers are not disadvantaged by other member states of the European Community paying illegal subsidies, however well hidden, to their industries. Hon. Members have mentioned that point; we consider it to be a matter of great importance.
When market conditions are poor, there are always rumours of illegal assistance. If we have any evidence at all, we take it up with the country concerned and with the European Commission. It is, after all, the Commission which has direct responsibility for policing the rules of the Common Market. We have questioned a number of countries--some have already been mentioned in the debate--including Spain, Italy, Denmark and Ireland. So far, only in the case of France have we obtained firm evidence of illegal aids to the pig industry. The example of the illegal French aid scheme demonstrates our commitment and enthusiasm on this point.
We first came across evidence of the French scheme in September 1993 and raised it in that month's pigmeat management committee. We have not let up since. My right hon. Friend, the then Minister, regularly raised it in the Council of Ministers and with Commissioner Steichen. We also pressed the point in every monthly management committee. The Commission eventually took action, under article 93(2) of the treaty, against a FF30 million interest relief scheme and the Stabiporc price stabilisation scheme. The Commission has ordered the French Government to recover aid paid illegally.
I hope that both my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West will be encouraged by the fact that we relentlessly pursued the matter because we believed that we had good evidence. We are pleased that the Commission has the evidence before it. We are now awaiting confirmation from the Commission that recovery of the money has started. We will not let France off the hook. French producers should not be able recklessly to expand their herds in the knowledge that their Government will rescue them. I assure the House that, if my Department is given information that stands up about any evidence of fraud or subsidies that put our industry at a disadvantage, in this or any other agricultural sector, we shall pursue it too. The free market works well in the pigmeat sector, and we are determined that it should operate without interference.
Concern exists, and has been expressed tonight, about the phasing out of sow stalls and tethers, particularly because our welfare requirements are stricter than those set out in the EC directive. The current rules stem from a private Member's Bill introduced in 1991 by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), with overwhelming parliamentary support. That Bill would have banned stall and tether systems within five years: it would have come into force in 1996.
Column 1191We took the view that such a short phase- out period would be damaging to the industry, and pressed for a deadline that would give the industry time to make the adjustment at a containable cost. As a result, our regulations required the replacement of stalls and tethers by 31 December 1998. The Bill was withdrawn.
The recent long period of low profitability has, of course, affected the ease with which pig producers can comply with that extended timetable. We have received many representations on the point, some of which my hon. Friend has echoed tonight. It has been suggested, for instance, that the timetable should be extended to correspond with the EC directive; that would ban tethers by 2005, but not stalls. Such a proposal, however, ignores the clear view of Parliament, expressed in 1991 and confirmed in a debate on welfare regulations earlier this year. My hon. Friend recognised that there was unlikely to be any change, and I see no realistic prospect that the House will now adopt a different timetable.
It has also been put to us that sows should be kept in stalls during the early part of their confinement, on welfare and productivity grounds. The National Farmers Union recently produced a paper arguing exactly that point. We are reading the paper and taking veterinary advice on it; my officials will discuss it with the NFU shortly.
My hon. Friend mentioned the campaign for higher tax investment allowances. As I think he recognised, that is a matter for the Chancellor, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will draw it to his attention. Many of the letters sent as part of the industry's campaign arrived too late this year to influence the Chancellor before he had made up his mind; in fact letters are still coming in, even after the Budget speech.
We are aware of the strong feeling in the industry. The Chancellor has made it clear that he does not wish to disturb the neutral tax policy that he has established so carefully, whereby tax allowances reflect the actual life of buildings rather than providing distorting incentives. I can reassure my hon. Friend, however, that the Department considers Budget representations relating to agriculture very carefully, and that if representatives of the industry make known their views in good time for the next Budget we shall consider them carefully when the Department discusses tax changes with the Chancellor.
We are proud of our high standards of animal welfare. I am grateful to both hon. Members who have spoken for their endorsement of those standards. We believe that they are an example to the rest of the Community, and want them to be extended throughout the Community. We are disappointed that our objective has not yet been achieved. In the meantime, I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have undertaken not to introduce further unilateral welfare measures that would undermine the competitive position of our producers.
To help the industry, we are funding a substantial and wide-ranging programme of pig research amounting to some £1.6 million in the current year 1994-95. Of that, £447,000 is being spent on research into alternative systems of husbandry in response to the stall and tether ban. We have also contributed to advisory booklets produced by the pig welfare advisory group and have sponsored meetings organised by the Agricultural Development Advisory Service on our behalf to provide additional advice to pig producers on alternative systems.
Column 1192I am sure that the future of our industry lies in getting across to consumers the message about the unrivalled quality and value of the British product and the high welfare conditions under which British pigs are produced. It would be helpful if the welfare organisations could use some of their formidable powers of persuasion to demonstrate to consumers the high welfare standards employed by British pig producers.
We apply high standards but the fact that the consumer often chooses imported products made from animals that have not been raised under such high standards of welfare sets us all the challenge of raising the consumer's awareness. The consumer must be made to realise that when he buys British pork and bacon he is buying meat from animals that have been reared under humane conditions. The recently announced British quality assured pigmeat initiative, in which all parts of the British pigmeat industry have co-operated, is equally important in getting the message across. We want it to develop successfully and there are encouraging signs that it will do so.
Our processors, retailers and producers are working to distinguish British pigmeat from that produced by our competitors on the grounds of high quality and welfare standards. Only recently I attended the food fair in Sial in Paris and was enormously encouraged that the British charcuterie stand was very successful and the subject of great interest.
It is important that our producers take every opportunity to add value to their pigmeat products to the benefit of everyone in the production and marketing chain. I know that some British processors are using high-quality traditional pigmeat products and innovative ones to increase our market share and exports.
We are self-sufficient in pork and have achieved record levels of exports in the past two years, but we still have much ground to make up in the bacon sector. The efforts of the industry through the charter bacon scheme, which is now part of the British quality assured pigmeat initiative, have established the British product as a major supply. We have around 43 per cent. of the market share, the remainder being in the hands of the Danes and Dutch. I wish that when people are deciding what to buy in the supermarket or the butcher's shop they would bear in mind not only the quality but the welfare standards behind British products.
We have recently heard of a number of enterprising processors taking back markets from the imported product, which is an encouraging trend. I am sure that it is within our industry's capabilities to make further gains so that we become wholly self-sufficient in pigmeat and perhaps even become a net exporter. The signs are that in 1995 we shall see better returns and improved profitability for our pig producers although I do not dismiss, and assure my hon. Friend that I share, the concern which was perhaps behind his recent roasting when talking to the producers in his constituency.
I am confident that the British industry has a sound and promising future and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject.
Mr. Colvin: I intervene because I was under the impression that my hon. Friend was coming to her peroration but had not answered my question about grant aid. Under objective 5a, money would be available from the European Union. I think that the current rates are
Column 1193about 25 per cent., or 40 per cent. for eligible capital investment. I wondered whether the case could be made for grant aid to carry out the improvements that the debate is about.
Mrs. Browning: I am sorry that I did not respond specifically to that point in my hon. Friend's speech. I am not in a position to make pledges on grants or other financial assistance tonight, but I can assure my hon. Friend that his question will be considered. I shall certainly take that message back with me and when grants are being considered in future, if there is a possibility of giving assistance we shall certainly study it seriously. I shall have to return to my hon. Friend on the subject at a later date.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity to discuss that important sector of agriculture tonight, and I thank him and the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West for their supportive contributions.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I am one of the Members of Parliament for the London borough of Wandsworth, a council known in London and perhaps in other parts of the United Kingdom for having one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country. I intend to explain the price that the people of Wandsworth have had to pay for that low tax.
I live in the borough, whose local authority has two basic objectives-- first, to keep its council tax as low as possible and, secondly, to get rid of as many of its local authority
responsibilities as it can. In both objectives it has been helped in every possible way by the Government, who have worked hand in hand with it. Indeed, Wandsworth has been the testing ground for many Government policies, and no council has more willingly offered to try out any policy. The former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, idolised the council, which indeed was her servant. Its attitude could be summed up in the phrase, "And what next, O leader?" Whatever Lady Thatcher wanted, it was more than willing to help her to test it out.
Wandsworth's reward was generous Government help with funding, which in the days of the poll tax allowed it to set no poll tax. We all know that unless revenue is coming in, the cost of services has to be found in some other way. Wandsworth's solution was the privatisation of some of the services formerly run by the council, cutting other services and closing things down. No council in the country has been more ruthless in doing that than Wandsworth, always with the full support of the Tory Government.
Let us look back over the years. The Tory council in Wandsworth came to power at about the same time as the Tory Government, since when its policies have hit people and the services that are now needed in the borough.
There are now two Wandsworths. The first consists of people who have moved into the borough and who often need very few council services. They say, "If my dustbins are emptied, the streets are kept reasonably clean and the street lights are working, that's it; I don't want or need anything else." The second is made up the people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest, who need the services that local authorities used to provide, and many still do. Since the Conservatives won control, the provision of services to meet real needs has declined. I have already referred to the Government's generous funding of Wandsworth council. The Government are still maintaining that funding, but the signs are that it will not continue indefinitely. We are facing what, by any standards, are the worst and most vicious cuts that we have ever seen in the London borough of Wandsworth.
From whatever direction one enters the borough, one sees signs that read, "Wandsworth the brighter borough". One would never see signs reading, "Wandsworth the caring borough," because the borough is most certainly not caring.
I sought this debate to highlight what is happening in the borough and how that will affect services and jobs. The policy now being followed is meant soleey to keep the council tax as low as possible and to get
Column 1195rid of any services that are currently being run by the local authority. That will be achieved by closing existing services and handing other services over to private contractors to run and to charge what they want. It might also be achieved simply by cutting grants.
No matter how hard organisations try, we know that in the present economic climate they will not be able to make up for the loss of funding that many organisations now receive from the council. I represent Tooting, which, with the other two parliamentary constituencies in the borough and every area and section of the borough, will be hit by those policies. People from all backgrounds running all kinds of services have tried to express their concerns. Someone sees those people, but, as I am told time and again, that person does not listen and most certainly does not care.
I quote from a letter that appeared in the local press. The local press has put the very deep concerns expressed by the people of Wandsworth on its pages week after week. The letter was sent by Jane Taylor, an executive committee member of Age Concern Wandsworth. It was published in a local paper on 13 October. It is headed: "Elderly had been robbed of rights."
"Age Concern Wandsworth is outraged at council plans to sell residential homes and close day centres.
These plans will affect those most vulnerable, the very old and frail who are socially isolated.
No discussion or consultation has been made with those who use these services and they have been given very little time, if any, to make their views known.
When Community Care legislation encourages joint working practices with the health services and the `independent sector', this council has decided to go it alone!"
The letter continues:
"We would hope that any arrangements to move older people from their home will be done with sensitivity and care.
Undoubtedly, most of the residents will be devastated not only from the physical moving, but, more importantly, by the psychological upheaval this will cause . . .
Age Concern Wandsworth opposes the decision to close the day centres and luncheon clubs.
As the only means of entertainment, in Wandsworth, for older people who are potentially socially isolated and vulnerable, we have been inundated by callers wishing to express their shock and outrage. Again, our concerns are that these decisions were made without discussions with health care workers and other professionals." No one can ask me, "Age Concern? Who is it? What does it know?" That letter sets the scene for the brutal, uncaring policies that will be followed by the London borough of Wandsworth. All hon. Members, no matter what party or what area of the country they represent, know that services are needed by people of all ages, but, under the policies that will be followed by that local authority, not one service in the borough will be unaffected.
It is a matter not only of the services that will be affected but of the loss of jobs that will follow. We know that, whoever may take over those jobs, or what is left of them, will do so under new contracts and worse conditions than exist now. Wandsworth already has high unemployment. At the previous unemployment count for Greater London, Wandsworth was the eighth highest.
Column 1196I have spoken of the closures and cuts and how they will affect all areas of the borough, and there are plenty of them. Let us consider first the closure of the George Potter old people's home. There is absolute outrage in all sectors of the community at the closure of that home. The letter from the executive committee member of Age Concern referred to that home and the problems that the residents could face.
Day centres for the elderly--for example, the Shakespeare, the Queenstown, and the Penfold--in different areas of the borough of Wandsworth are to be closed. In my constituency, the Church lane day centre, which is very popular with local people and which is staffed by dedicated people who are well liked and respected by those who use it, is to close and become a centre for the frail elderly. However, no other provision is to be made in the area for people who now use it. No one in the borough of Wandsworth and no councillor or officer who works for the authority can say, "It's not needed; it's not popular with the local community." It is certainly used and it is very popular.
Longhedge, Holybourne and Park Lodge residential care homes are to be sold. Who will run them and be responsible for the care and living standards of their residents? As the letter from Age Concern-- from which I have quoted already-- says, there has been no consultation whatsoever with the people affected most directly by the sale of the homes: those who live in them.
Funding cuts will take place across the borough of Wandsworth. The Battersea arts centre, a well-known and respected arts centre, will lose £20,000 from its grant and Wandsworth youth advisory service will lose £22,000. At a time when most people would be looking to increase their involvement with young people, many of whom are out of work and are finding life very difficult, a service to which they relate and which relates to them is to have its funding cut by £22, 000. The Garfield community centre will lose £4,700 and the Roehampton community council will lose £4,474.
All types of local groups will have their funding decreased. Many such groups have worked with the people of the borough for a very long time and have proved their worth within the community. One has to ask where the Minister and the people who run Wandsworth council expect those organisations to find other sources of funding when we all know how difficult it is to raise money.
Funding of the local citizens advice bureau will be cut, but I understand that no firm figure has been given yet. Funding of Battersea neighbourhood eye centre will be cut by £28,000. I could list many more local groups that will suffer similar funding reductions.
Balham family centre is located in my constituency. The centre, which has operated for a long time, is highly respected and its work has been quoted often in Government publications. That is a recognition of the skill and competence of those who run the centre and of how well they have performed their duties over the years.
Column 1197In a letter dated 24 November, Caroline Hartnell, the chairperson of the centre, says:
"We understand from Jeff Turmath, our Wandsworth Council liaison officer, that it is proposed to reduce the Family Centre by 20 per cent. from April 1995-- a reduction of around £18,000. We feel that a cut of this magnitude would have a very detrimental effect on the work we do".
The centre provides a creche for 15 children aged 18 months to three years four mornings a week. It provides a latchkey project for 29 primary school children of working parents, a school drop-in club four days a week for 10 children aged eight to 13 and lunches for the centre's users and other local people.
The letter from Caroline Hartnell continues:
"If our grant is cut by 20 per cent., we will probably be forced to cut our lunch service as we would not want to cut any service provided specifically to children. However, we feel this would seriously detract from all the other work that we do. The lunches are used by many parents and children who use the centre. Many of these are one-parent, low-income families; some are living in bed and breakfast or temporary accommodation. We see the lunches as having two main functions, social and nutritional."
There we have a very clear example of what effect the envisaged cuts of some £18,000 will have on the work done by the centre. What annoys me, and so many people who live in the borough, is that the council cannot say- -dare not say--that its problem is that its council tax is so high that it cannot afford to give grants to local groups. It just cannot say that.
The council now says that it will announce shortly that it will be losing money from the Government, and because it is totally committed to its low council tax, it will fight to the death to keep it. Anything that stands in the council's way in keeping the council tax low can simply go the wall.
Many of the services are, sadly, going to the wall, with all the effects that that will have on the very people who need and make use of them. I have touched on only a few items, but the list of cuts that hurt people and the local community goes on. All hon. Members know that our constituents go to district housing offices for a range of reasons. They may go to pay their rent, or if they have problems in their home. However, six offices are to be closed in the borough of Wandsworth.
Home help charges are to go up from £2.30 to £2.70 an hour. Forty pence may not sound like a great deal, but it is if one has a low income and needs a home help. Hon. Members know how valuable and vital home help services are to many of our constituents, wherever we may live or represent.
I shall give another example of the problem. Hundreds of properties in the borough are boarded up, and for one reason only--to be sold. The December issue of the council's newspaper contains photographs of council properties that are now being advertised for sale. Yet this is the borough that has one of the highest number of people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation of the London boroughs. When people are put into such accommodation, someone has to pay for it--the rest of the community in the borough.
When people become homeless and need bed-and-breakfast accommodation, the one thing that Wandsworth council avoids at all costs is putting them into accommodation in the borough. It will house
Column 1198people anywhere it can, in any other London borough, rather than in those people's own borough. That policy has created problems for youngsters, who may have to travel a long distance back to the borough to attend their local schools.Those who are lucky enough to have a job, but who have to move into bed-and-breakfast accommodation outside the borough, have to cope with the problems of travelling and increased costs.
Such is the utter stupidity of Wandsworth's housing policy that people are put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, at great cost to the community and with all the upheaval that that causes them, when there are hundreds of empty properties in the borough, waiting to be sold. So much for Wandsworth's claim to be "the brighter borough". For the vast majority of its residents, it most certainly has not lived up to that claim in 1994, nor will it in 1995.
I recently wrote to the Prime Minister to express my concern that the borough's policies would hurt not only the local community but the most vulnerable. He did not respond; he sent my letter to another Department. I received the usual reply, which stated:
"We have total confidence in the policies followed by Wandsworth council."
How out of touch can Ministers get? I quoted two letters, one from Age Concern and the other from the chairlady of the Balham family centre. Those organisations are held in great respect and are closely involved in providing services to the people of the borough. I have been told by Ministers, however, that they have total confidence in that borough's policies.
I have already referred to the two Wandsworths that exist. The local people and I accept that the Conservative party controls the borough because it sets an extremely low council tax and has attracted new residents who have little need of council services. The Conservative party is aided and abetted in keeping control of the borough with Government help and its utter obsession with keeping its council tax as low as possible.
As the council prepares its budget for the coming year, we in the borough believe that it is engaged in the most ruthless attack against the services that people admire and want to use. We all know that people needing services and organisations losing funding cannot now turn from the council to other organisations. We all know that it is extremely difficult to obtain additional funding for other projects, let alone to try to maintain the sizeable sums that many organisations in the borough are shortly to lose.
Governments have responsibilities. They can put pressures on local councils. They can question what they do. Indeed, the Government do so repeatedly in their dealings with councils in which they do not have "total confidence". When it does not suit the Government to accept the policies of local authorities, they never cease to attack and to curb them. The Government cannot say that they do not have the necessary power or the responsibility.
I hope that the Minister and his Department will challenge what Wandsworth council proposes to do in the coming months. The other two Members who represent parts of the borough are the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), the Under-Secretary of State for Health, and the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). I understand why the hon.
Column 1199Member for Battersea is not in his place: he is, after all, a Minister. I do not wish to attack other hon. Members. Where the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, only he would know.
The issues that I have raised affect the three constituencies in the borough. I beg the Minister not to say, "I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but we have confidence in the council." The lives of people of all ages are at risk because of the council's obsession with a low council tax. If not tonight, I beg the Minister to think about what I have said. I ask him to contact the various organisations that I have quoted and to listen to what they say. Let him hear whether they have any confidence in the
Conservative-controlled borough of Wandsworth. I can tell him that he will not learn of any confidence as a result of any research with which he or his Department may wish to be involved. The organisations to which I have referred will express no confidence.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on securing the debate. I congratulate him also on the eloquent and passionate way in which he has exposed the problems that his constituents and others in the borough of Wandsworth are facing.
My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the concerns expressed by many organisations who work with local people and see the impact of the cuts that are threatened. He has quoted the concerns of Age Concern, which is appalled by plans to close day centres and sell residential homes without consultation. He has quoted the sad histories of local community centres, including the Balham family centre in his constituency. Vital services are threatened by cuts. He has mentioned many other voluntary organisations, such as arts centres and youth services, which face the prospect of similar damaging cuts. That catalogue of misfortune suffered by the residents of Wandsworth is all the more extraordinary when viewed against the background of the vast sums of public money that have been, and continue to be, lavished on Wandsworth council by the Government. Let me give some figures. In 1993-94, Wandsworth council received £33.8 million in transitional relief payments to reduce the cost of the council tax. That represented a staggering 25 per cent. of the total transitional relief subsidy made available to the whole of London. Wandsworth, one of 32 London boroughs, received 25 per cent. of the total relief made available in the capital--8 per cent. of the total relief made available to the whole country. Wandsworth does not contain 8 per cent. of the population of the country; it received, in 1993-94, 8 per cent. of the total money made available for transitional relief.
If that were not bad enough, the figures for the current year, 1994-95, are even starker. Although the sums are decreasing, because, as we all know, the transitional relief programme is decreasing, the £22 million that Wandsworth receives in the current year from the Government is no less than 44 per cent. of the total money made available by the Government to local authorities in London to reduce the council tax through transitional relief and about 17 per cent. of the total relief made available to local authorities throughout the country. Wandsworth does not contain 17 per cent. of the
Column 1200population of Britain, but it receives 17 per cent. of the total sums made available by the Government for council tax transitional relief in the current year.
Taking into account the estimated expenditure next year of a further £12.5 million, a grand total of almost £68 million will have been made available by central government to the London borough of Wandsworth in three years. Currently, the estimates that we can see show that there are approximately 17,000 council tax payers in the highest bands--bands F, G and H--in Wandsworth, who will each have received more than £1,000 in transitional relief in that period. I am talking not about council tax payers in the lower banded properties but about those in the highest banded properties. That is a measure of where that relief is going.
In addition to council tax relief, the Government spent in Wandsworth £26 million in standard spending assessment reduction grant in 1994-95 and will spend a further £21 million in 1995-96. We all know what that is about: a crude process of buying votes, by cushioning Wandsworth residents against the cost of the council tax, when the council had been able to create a position whereby it charged no poll tax at all. Instead of those vast sums of public money--£68 million in transitional relief alone in the three years 1993-94 to 1995-96--being used to help finance desperately needed services in Wandsworth or in the capital's areas of greatest deprivation, they have been used to keep a fundamentally rotten Tory regime in power in Wandsworth council, matching the similar largesse that has been offered by the Government to the similar regime in Westminster.
Let us examine some of the outcomes for Wandsworth residents resulting from that remarkable largesse. What has the borough achieved with its vast slush fund of Government grant? What records does it proudly hold? My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting rightly highlighted the unenviable record that Wandsworth has held for the past two years of having the largest number of homeless families in bed-and-breakfast hotels of any London borough. Mercifully, the numbers are decreasing, but at one time a year and a half ago, there were more than 400 families in bed-and-breakfast hotels who had been placed there by Wandsworth council.
Bed and breakfast is symbolic of all that is wrong with current housing policy--unsuitable, cramped, often squalid and unsafe accommodation for homeless families who should be provided with secure, safe homes, and, to add insult to injury, at vast cost to the public.
Do not take my word for it. Let us read the words instead of Councillor Mark Simmonds, then the chair of the housing committee in Wandsworth, who, a year ago, wrote:
"The cost to Wandsworth of the 1,300 or so temporary units of accommodation of all types is costing an average of £7,000 per family per year or £9m in total in 1993/94."
What a record. What a waste of public money.
One reason why Wandsworth has had so many homeless families in temporary accommodation is that, as my hon. Friend rightly highlighted, it has deliberately sold off large numbers of council homes, some to existing residents, some on the open market, but with an explicit aim of increasing the number of council leaseholders to match the number of council tenants by the end of the lifetime of the current council.