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Mr. Dobson: There is a paragraph or two later in my speech which deals directly with that absurd equivalence that the Tories have invented.

As a result of those policies, homeless families were left living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and hotels. Other families were left in overcrowded and degrading conditions, while flats that became empty were sold to people who were confidently expected to be Tory voters. To get council tenants to move out, they were unlawfully offered grants by the council. Later, a Government grant scheme designed to get sitting tenants to move out to make room for homeless families was extended in the case of Westminster to induce families to leave so that their flats could be sold. That required the consent of the then Secretary of State, which was given after representations from the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler). His intervention at that time was understandable, after the former chair of Westminster housing committee had produced a paper for a Tory policy seminar, which specified as an objective:

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): The hon. Gentleman dismissed my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) too lightly. I have a thorough knowledge of Camden because I was the vice-chairman of the Camden housing committee when the Branch Hill estate came up for grabs. We did not wish to build those expensive houses. We preferred to spend the money on less expensive housing in the borough, which we would have done had we retained control. As it was, Labour was trying to disrupt Lord Finsberg. The Labour-controlled council went on to build 600 houses on tennis courts and woods, which were zones for public open space, simply to get people out of South End ward, which was a Tory marginal. Gerrymandering.

Mr. Dobson: Call me old-fashioned, but I have always believed that living in homes close to Hampstead heath should not be confined to the rich, but preferably should be available to everybody.

The law required Westminster council to give housing priority to persons occupying insanitary or overcrowded houses, large families, people living in unsatisfactory housing conditions and certain homeless families. The council's own policies required it to give priority to what it called category A medical cases. Some of the purchasers who moved into empty flats may have fallen into those categories, but not many. Indeed, the families in those categories of need were exactly those who lost out as a result of the council's designated sales policy.

Before we touch on the question of individual liability, lawfulness or the cost to the taxpayer, I invite the Secretary of State to tell us whether he condemns Westminster city council for ignoring the needs of the

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homeless and the sick. Is that how he believes a council should behave? The Secretary of State makes no contribution.

The auditor has found that that electorally motivated policy cost a fortune: a total of £31.6 million, made up mainly of such items as selling flats to newcomers at lower than the market value, loss of rent, grants to tenants to move out and the extra cost of providing further temporary accommodation for homeless families. Whatever the cost of each of those items, they were not obscure inventions of the auditor. They are the obvious, predictable losses that were bound to result from such a policy, and so the auditor has found.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not.

It is difficult to exaggerate the huge scale of a total loss of £31.6 million. I have checked the total budgets of every council in England. No fewer than 272 have less to spend on the services that they provide each year for all their local people than the £31.6 million used by the Westminster Tories to win eight wards in a local election.

I should like to cite some examples. Brighton's budget is £23 million, Blackpool's total is £20 million, Basildon's is £20 million, Chorley spends just £8 million, Crawley's budget is £10 million, The Wrekin's £17 million, Corby's £5 million, East Staffordshire's £10 million, Forest of Dean's £7 million, Gloucester's £11 million, and Exeter and Lincoln each have only £10 million a year to spend on services for their local people.

Yet all the areas that I have mentioned, and hundreds of others, are represented wholly or in part by Tory Members of Parliament who cannot raise their voices in criticism of Westminster's scandalous misuse of £31.6 million--far more money than their local councils are allowed to spend in a year on the people whom those Tory Members of Parliament claim to represent.

Mr. Jenkin rose--

Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Dobson: No, I have said that I shall not give way.

Let us remember that the money was spent just for electoral advantage. Just imagine £31.6 million being spent to win eight wards in a council election. The election expenses work out at £4 million a ward.

That was not the only public money that was devoted to keeping Westminster Conservative in the 1990s. Public money was also devoted to that by central Government when they introduced the poll tax during that period. The first exemplifications of the poll tax showed that the poll tax in Tory Westminster would be about the same as in Labour Camden next door, and that it would cost many people more than the rates.

That is of course what happened in many other places, but, by then, the Westminster Tories were getting used to the idea that the law did not apply to them. So they lobbied for the grant system to be rigged to bail them out. Lobbyists were hired and local Members of Parliament went on delegations. The reports and briefings produced

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by the lobbying firm GJW showed which Ministers were approached. They included the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who was then a Minister at the Department of the Environment and is now the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The briefings record:

A further report by the lobbyists states:

The report also referred to a paper entitled, "Electoral Disaster: the effects of safety netted community charge on some households in the City of Westminster", which specifically referred to the effects on what were called

The report recorded that the paper had been sent to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and that the lobbyists had discussed it with the right hon. Gentleman's political adviser.

The paper referred to the effects of the poll tax on "identified, aspiring Conservative voters" in Little Venice and Cavendish wards, and stated:

The paper also called for the needs assessments in the Government grant to be skewed to help Westminster--and that was a lesson that the right hon. Gentleman certainly learnt. At the end were six tables said to

The paper explained:

Table 7 extended the analysis of the effect of the community charge on Cavendish ward. It selected all pledged Conservative voters in Great Titchfield street and Hanson street and added:

So what happened? As requested by Westminster, the Government duly rigged the grant system to give the council enough money to levy only a low poll tax. Tory central Government found about £25 million in extra taxpayers' money to help Westminster win those same eight marginal wards.

The rigging continues to this day. Having artificially kept down Westminster's poll tax for electoral reasons, the Government now artificially keep down Westminster's council tax for the same reasons. According not to me but to the present chief executive of Westminster council, the assistance is

because the council gets grant to compensate for visitors, yet is also allowed to keep the £20 million or more that those visitors pay in parking charges.

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Such is the extra subsidy given to Westminster that if it were applied to the whole country, no more than a handful of councils would need to levy any council tax. Most would be able to pay out annual rebates; Tamworth, Southampton, Redditch, Portsmouth and several other places would be able to pay rebates of more than £900.

That is not the end of the electorally motivated scandals in Westminster. The recently published Barratt report found the council, led by the same prominent councillors involved in the homes-for-votes scandal, guilty of knowingly placing homeless families in asbestos-ridden blocks of flats, and said that that decision had been

It is hard to think of a worse example of the degenerate nature of the present Tory party than that--putting lives and health at risk for party political advantage. And the scandal goes to the top, because--

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