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Mr. Betts: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No.

Having left the auditor's report on one side, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras repeated his concept that, somehow or other, the standard spending assessment system was rigged, and had distributed central Government grant in favour of Westminster city council. He did so on the basis that, having said it so often, he pretends that everybody knows it. If one continues saying something as often as one can without examining the facts, it is easy to say that everyone knows it.

It would be reasonable and dispassionate, however, if we went through the allegations carefully and saw whether they carried any weight. The hon. Gentleman tends to portray Westminster as a leafy suburb devoid of any problems--

Mr. Grocott: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State has repeated that it would be quite

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inappropriate and wrong for him, in his high office, to make any comment that might be prejudicial, yet the amendment to our motion, which is in his name, specifically congratulates Westminster city council on the services it provides. The amendment states:


    "Westminster City Council provides high quality services at a value for money price."

How can the Secretary of State claim that he is not making judgments, when his amendment does just that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Secretary of State is responsible for his own speech, but I have already made a ruling--which I hope the House heard clearly--in respect of the scope of the debate. I have already explained to the House that at this stage debate is not prejudicial to any court hearing.

Mr. Gummer: It is with very great care that the amendment that stands in my name and the names of my right hon. Friends refers to the provision of services by Westminster city council in 1996, or at this moment. That is not prejudicial to anything, because the case before the courts refers to events which, if they occurred, were some time ago, and were unconnected with the amendment before the House. The hon. Gentleman knew that, and that is why it is a pity that he raised the matter again.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred to Westminster as if it were a leafy suburb devoid of any of the problems that characterise other inner-London boroughs. The hon. Gentleman is living in an entirely different world. I imagine that he is trying to catch up with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and clearly spends far too much time with his new found middle-class status.

The real Westminster is very different from the well-to-do picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. In his speeches in the House over many months, he has never mentioned north Paddington, Queen's park or Church street; he discusses only Belgravia and Mayfair. Evidently, new Labour talks about only certain parts of Westminster.

Last week, I invited the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to take a trip with me. I suggested that we might visit all the long-sea outfalls of the United Kingdom to see the effect of water privatisation. The hon. Gentleman did not take me up on that, so I shall propose a shorter trip--one from Westminster to Pimlico. If he would accompany me, he would pass the Peabody Trust's Horseferry road and Old Pye street estates, the Grosvenor and Regency estates, the Millbank estate and the Lillington gardens estate. He would see the estates of some of the most difficult parts of London.

The Government base our assessment not on the hon. Member's general comments, but on the facts. More than 100 languages are spoken in Westminster's schools, and 5 per cent. of Westminster's pupils are refugees. Of course, I am not referring to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who moved to Westminster in order to take advantage of its fine services.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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Has the Secretary of State notified my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn about his intention to launch that disgraceful attack?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair knows nothing about that. How the Chair can rule on that, I just do not know.

Mr. Gummer: I am happy to say to the hon. Member for Blackburn that, if he does not live in Westminster, but sends his children to school there, I am sorry that he does not send his children to school in the borough in which he lives.

In Westminster, 17 per cent. of pupils come from homeless families. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) should listen to the facts, as they might help him to compare his own borough with Westminster.

In Westminster, 45 per cent. of pupils have English as a second language, compared with a national average of below 10 per cent. So when the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras says how ridiculous it is that Westminster gets sufficient resources to deal with those problems, he fails to recognise that 45 per cent. of pupils there have to be taught English. The turnover the pupils at a school such as St. James and St. Michael is 109 per cent. The turnover at Hallfield school is 59 per cent. So let us recognise the difficulties with which Westminster--along with many other London boroughs--has to deal.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I look forward to it.

Westminster has a higher density of population than Hackney, Islington, Lambeth or Southwark; a higher proportion of people likely to be from ethnic minorities than Hackney, Islington, Lambeth or Southwark; a higher proportion of people living in overcrowded accommodation than Islington, Lambeth or Southwark; a higher proportion of elderly people over 85; and a higher proportion of elderly people living alone than Hackney, Islington, Lambeth or Southwark.

Therefore, whatever else can be said about it, Westminster--like other London boroughs--clearly requires particular help with its heavy responsibilities and special difficulties. The cheap jibes of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras suggest that he knows only what he can see of Westminster from the House of Commons, and that does great damage to his reputation as a London Member.

Mr. Banks: I remind the Secretary of State that Westminster also has a higher proportion of bent councillors that Lambeth, Islington or Southwark. I note that he did not mention Newham. Were Newham confronting the problems that he has just read out, these would seem like halcyon days.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also explain why Westminster found it necessary to move large numbers of its homeless people into the London borough of Newham while keeping its own properties empty, waiting to sell them to potential Tory voters?

Mr. Gummer: The reason why I made no comparisons with Newham was that I was making comparisons with

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inner-London boroughs that were adjacent or opposite to Westminster in order to be as fair as possible, and I shall continue to do so.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. I will give way later to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know well and know to be very interested in London's problems, but I want to continue making what I consider an important point in the context of my argument with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

The hon. Gentleman has said that, for the purposes of grant distribution, the Government treat Westminster as the fourth most deprived place in Britain. That is not true. It is true that Westminster comes fourth on the social index, which is part of the SSA methodology, but it has a much lower score on the other indicator of deprivation, the economic index, on which it comes 64th.

The five indicators that make up the social index are: shared or non-permanent accommodation; overcrowded accommodation; households in rented purpose-built flats; residents born outside the European Community, the old Commonwealth and the United States of America; and homelessness acceptances. Those are the criteria against which every council is measured, in exactly the same way, and it is on those criteria that Westminster is seen to have the problems it has. If the hon. Gentleman wishes them to be changed, I hope that at some future time--obviously, he will want to think about it--he will tell us which of them ought not to be included.

The hon. Gentleman has advanced another argument. He has argued that Westminster ought to receive less money because it is currently benefiting from some special treatment by the Government. I have examined the position very carefully; I do not think that it is possible to act in that way, and, if I thought it possible, I would not think it right.

If the hon. Gentleman had right on his side, he would have to prove the following. First, he would need to show that the system applied to Westminster is different from that applied to other local authorities. Secondly, he would need to explain why, if the current system is rigged in its favour, Westminster did better under the last Labour Government than it does under the present Government. If we have rigged the system, it is surprising that we have rigged it so that Westminster does less well than it did when the hon. Member for Blackburn was advising the last Labour Government.

I note that the Labour party tries to cover that up. I shall repeat it, so that Hansard can record it again. If Westminster is being supported by some unsuitable activity, why does it do less well under the current system than it did under the system used by that earlier Government?

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman would need to explain why his doughty champions, the Labour leaders of the local authority associations, are not demanding a radical overhaul of the system. Fourthly, he would need to quote significant expert opinion supporting his case. Finally, he would need to promise major changes to the SSA methodology in the event of a Labour Government. If the

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position is as the hon. Gentleman states, he ought to say publicly that, were there ever a Labour Government, they would change it, and he ought to say how they would change it.


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