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Mr. Gummer: If that is wrong, why did Westminster do better comparatively when the Labour party was in power, when it was seen to be more deprived proportionately than many of the places that the hon. Gentleman mentioned? Why did it do better when the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) did the figures than it does now, when they are calculated objectively?

Mr. Dobson: If the Secretary of State inquires, he may find that the council tax--or, as it was then, the domestic rates--in Westminster was roughly comparable with those everywhere else. Westminster's council tax payers are now being subsidised by those everywhere else. He knows it; everyone knows it. It was the object of the exercise.

That was why, when the poll tax was being introduced, Lady Porter said in a memorandum that the man who is now the Secretary of State was more acutely tuned into the political consequences of the original proposal for the share-out, because it would have hammered Westminster and Labour authorities in London would have done better. He knows that it is political and always has been.

Mr. Curry: I should like to help the hon. Gentleman with his analysis. The last Labour Government, as my right hon. Friend said, was more generous to Westminster, and that was on the basis of a needs analysis. Westminster's need per head was 486 compared with 327 for Liverpool--a difference of 49 per cent. In 1996-97, the SSA paid in Westminster will be £1,265, and that for

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Liverpool will be £944--a difference of 34 per cent. On the needs analysis, the Labour party gave greater support to Westminster than the present Government do.

Mr. Dobson: Will the--

Mr. Gummer: Come on, answer.

Mr. Dobson: This week, we have had to put up with three amazingly lengthy performances by the Secretary of State and, if he does not mind, I wish to make my speech in my own way and give my answers in my own way. If the Minister of State, who rushes to the aid of the Secretary of State, wants to give the full picture, will he tell us what the rates were in Liverpool, Westminster and the other areas? The sole object of that exercise has been, and is now, keeping down the poll tax and then the council tax in Westminster.

I admit that there are deprived parts of Westminster, such as the ones where Westminster city council housed homeless families in asbestos-ridden blocks of flats. That is not half the story. The Westminster protection racket does not stop there. Massive benefits flow to Westminster from the way in which the grant system treats visitors. For grant purposes, the Government deem that Westminster's resident population increases by 81 per cent., the residents being augmented by commuters and other day and overnight visitors. So Westminster receives more money to meet the needs of those visitors.

Those same visitors add not only to Westminster's costs but to Westminster's income, in particular through parking charges. The income from parking charges is in excess of £20 million a year, which is more than about half the district councils in this country have available to spend in a year. That £20 million excess is not offset against the extra grant for visitors. It is added to it. Westminster receives the extra grant and the income from parking charges. That allowance-for-visitors fiddle does not end there--it becomes even more amazing.

For grant purposes, the Government assume that the visitors to Westminster, like the residents of Westminster, are also the fourth most deprived people in Britain. So, for example, 12 per cent. of the people staying at the Ritz or Savoy hotels tonight will be deemed to be severely overcrowded, thus qualifying Westminster for extra grant. That is the truth of it. All that of course makes no allowance for the £7 million that Westminster received in the past for spending on flood defences, which were never built, or for the £2 million that it received towards the cost of the English National Opera--£2 million that the opera company never received.

It is no good the Secretary of State trying to deny it. The chief executive of Westminster city council accepts that it is true. In an internal memorandum, he said:

Ms Walley: Some months ago, 14 people from Staffordshire came down to Westminster as visitors to lobby the Secretary of State for Education and

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Employment for more money in the standard spending assessment for Staffordshire, so that we could have extra teachers in our classrooms. Those people looked with envy at the buildings in Westminster. They also looked with envy at the extra 4,800 teachers available for pupils in Westminster--at the expense of teachers in Staffordshire.

Mr. Dobson: The awful thought for my hon. Friend is that, if those visitors came down by road, they almost certainly contributed to increasing Westminster council's funds. One of the great ironies is that, every time people come by road to lobby the Secretary of State, they help to make the racket an even bigger one.

To be fair, the special help for Tory areas does not begin and end with Westminster city council. Depending on how they are defined, there are only 13 or 14 Tory councils in the country, which makes it easy for the Government to target help on them. It could be described as precision-bombing with money. That is what the settlement has done. According to the Government, Runnymede--I repeat, Runnymede--is the 38th most deprived place in England. It is more deprived than Liverpool, Knowsley or Warrington and more deprived than Easington or Wakefield--which includes Hemsworth--after the pit closures.

According to non-Government assessments of deprivation and wealth, Runnymede is not the 38th most deprived place in Britain. Quite the opposite, it is the 40th most wealthy place in Britain, if judged in terms of realities such as the proportion of households with three or more cars, the size of the house or the number of households in which average pay is above the higher tax-rate threshold. I do not say that those criteria are perfect, but they are much nearer to reality than the Government criteria, which are the reverse of reality, that are applied to some areas.

According to the realistic criteria, another Tory area--Surrey Heath--is the best-off place in Britain. If one knew the area--it is near Camberley, Chobham, Bisley, Windlesham--one would have to conclude, from the visible evidence, that Surrey Heath was pretty well-off. However, it is not well-off according to the criteria that the Government used in calculating their grant to local councils. According to those criteria, Surrey Heath is more deprived than 83 other councils in this country, including Barnsley, Allerdale, Bolsover, Ellesmere Port and Warrington.

If we shift a little to the north, Huntingdonshire, which is represented by the Prime Minister, according to the realistic criteria that I have spelt out, is the 43rd most wealthy place in England. However, according to the Government, it somehow qualifies for a higher deprivation rating than all the councils that I have just mentioned, apart from Barnsley. The Prime Minister's Government recognises that Barnsley is just marginally more deprived than Huntingdonshire. I do not know what that says about what the Government have done to Huntingdonshire during the past few years.

It is almost impossible to spell out the scale of the financial gerrymandering that the Government have used to bail out their friends on Westminster council. Some time ago, when we made these points, Ministers suggested

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that there was some independent back-up research, from Bristol university, for placing Westminster fourth in the deprivation scale. The Minister of State nods. Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you look at the table produced by Bristol university, it contains even more bizarre rankings than that which places Westminster fourth. According to the table that the Government want us to accept, the Scilly Isles are ranked third. I do not think that the Scilly Isles are more deprived than Barnsley, and Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not suppose you do either.

On the next page of the tables that have been worked out by the people at Bristol university, it shows that Westminster is ranked 96th. It is clearly just a racket. It is the grants-for-votes scandal. The scale of the scandal is difficult to exaggerate, so I shall not even try. I shall rely on the Government's own figures, which show that if every council in the country received the same grant per head as does Westminster city council, 94 per cent. of councils would not have to collect any council tax at all. Instead, most of them would be able to pay out rebates. Seventy per cent. of them would be able to pay out rebates of more than £500, and nine councils--including Southampton, Portsmouth, Redditch, Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth and Wellingborough--would be able to pay out rebates of more than £900.

Let us examine the education SSA for this year. If Kent received the same help per pupil as does Westminster, it could have taken on an extra 4,600 teachers; Staffordshire could have taken on 3,250 extra teachers; Essex could have taken on 5,650 extra teachers; Nottinghamshire could have taken on 2,500 extra teachers; Warwickshire could have taken on 1,400 extra teachers; and Shropshire could have taken on an extra 890 teachers. Wakefield, which includes Hemsworth, could have taken on an extra 1,470 teachers. However, those councils could not do that. Instead, they were forced to make cuts and increase class sizes. That is what happens in other parts of the country. Even that--

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