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Fishery Limits (Amendment)

Mr. Austin Mitchell accordingly presented a Bill to provide that the Fishery Limits Act 1976 shall have effect regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972; that Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 shall have effect as though it had not been repealed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration etc.) Act 1993; and to confer upon the Secretary of State powers to license fishing vessels to fish within United Kingdom waters, to exclude specified vessels or vessels of specified nations from fishing within United Kingdom waters, to negotiate common policies with other countries to preserve fish stocks, and to invalidate any provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Community; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 July and to be printed. [Bill 129.]

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Opposition Day

[13th Allotted Day]

Westminster City Council

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.45 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I beg to move,

On Thursday, the district auditor found that leading Tory councillors on Westminster city council, assisted by council officers, the most senior of whom had originally been seconded from the Department of the Environment, had used £31.6 million to promote the electoral advantage of the Tory party at the expense of homeless families, tenants and taxpayers in Westminster. The district auditor concluded that that was unlawful, improper and disgraceful.

This homes-for-votes scandal is the biggest single scandal in the history of any local council, but it was not the only scandal in Westminster, and individuals who were found guilty and surcharged are not the only people involved.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I will not give way at this time.

The financial scandals in Westminster now total over £100 million, so there are more auditors' reports to come. The Tory party and Government have been involved for a decade with the Tories on Westminster city council in a squalid effort to make sure that Westminster council remains Tory controlled. They have done that whatever the cost in money, in law breaking or in the harm done to homeless families and other people who had a right in law to turn to Westminster council for somewhere decent to live. That is why the Prime Minister and every other leading Tory refuses to condemn what has been going on in Westminster.

The Prime Minister dare not condemn the wrongdoers because the wrongdoing has been known about, condoned and connived at by the Tory party and Government. Not only have the Government condoned the scandals, they have rigged the Government grant system, first to fix the poll tax in Westminster before the 1990 local government elections and secondly to keep down the council tax in Westminster. In recent years, the Government have been giving Westminster at least £20 million a year more than can be justified on any fair criteria. During that time, many Westminster services have been among the most expensive in Britain, but no Government action has been taken and not a word of ministerial criticism has been uttered because the Government have been accessories to what was going on.

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In the 1986 council elections, the Tory majority on Westminster council was reduced from 28 to just four. The Tories retained control of the council by a 106-vote majority in Cavendish ward, which borders my constituency. Emerging from that bruising encounter with the electorate, the Tories contemplated worse to come in the 1990 elections, but the Tories in Westminster did not decide to change their performance or their policies--they decided to change the electorate instead. If they could not persuade enough local residents to vote for them, they would get in new people who would vote for them. They did that by concentrating a policy of designated sales of council flats in eight marginal wards. According to the former Tory chair of housing in Westminster, that started with a breakfast meeting between Lady Porter, the leader of Westminster council, and the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), who at that time was the leader of Wandsworth council, which was, she said:

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Dobson: I shall not give way for the time being.

In September 1986, a secret paper was produced by officers of Westminster council's planning department. Its title gives the game away: "A Strategy for 1990--the Wandsworth Experience". It was a four-year strategy formulated by council officers to win the local elections due in 1990. The paper bemoaned the limited opportunities socially to engineer throughout Westminster, but added:

The paper was written by a council officer, a public official, paid for by the public.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman and then perhaps he will sit down for a bit.

Mr. Arnold: Does the hon. Gentleman recall, in the 1970s, when he was leader of the London borough of Camden, the building of the Branch Hill council estate in Hampstead for four times the cost of what could have been provided elsewhere in the borough, and that the only common denominator was that the estate was in the Conservative marginal seat of Hampstead? Who is he to lecture the House of Commons on gerrymandering?

Mr. Dobson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been briefed by Tory central office, but it should do a little better than that. If we had been trying to gerrymander, we would not have built the estate in the safest Tory ward in Hampstead.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Dobson: I shall not give way.

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The main aim of that election strategy was to gerrymander the electorate by shifting council tenants out of marginal wards into safe Labour wards, and by shifting homeless families out of Westminster altogether. Contemporaneous notes by council officers, revealed during the auditor's investigation, report discussions and decisions by leading councillors in the following words, all of which are accurate quotations:


    how can we get the homeless out of Westminster?

    homelessness--be mean and nasty

    determine if more cases can be exported

    cash to homeless persons to get lost".

Those quotations are all from handwritten notes by the council's paid officials. Official papers and minutes, prepared by those same officers, refer to

and state that

The copy of the document containing the last quotation bears a manuscript note from the council's solicitor saying:

He added:

The council officer who prepared the paper confirmed to the auditor that he was working full time on monitoring progress towards meeting the electoral targets in the marginal wards.

From that and much more evidence, there can be no doubt that the whole approach by the Tory leadership of Westminster city council was geared not to the well-being of the people of Westminster, but to the electoral well-being of the Tory party. So there can be no doubt that those councillors set about emptying council flats and selling them, instead of using them to provide decent housing for homeless families and others living in overcrowded and degrading conditions.

Whatever the council may have said in public, in private, it made no bones about this being its top priority. Lady Porter prepared a note for the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, which said:

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): I have no wish at this stage to defend or excuse Lady Porter or Westminster city council. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the fact that the same local government finance system that may have benefited Westminster city council also benefited the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, which are very inefficient and incompetent Labour strongholds. Can the hon. Gentleman lay his hand on his heart and say that Labour councils, when they were able to spend vast sums of taxpayers' money on building

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council houses, never used that money to build the Tories out of marginal wards? In the borough of Islington where I fought three successive elections, Labour succeeded in doing just that.

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