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Mr. Gummer: Of course I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think you will agree that to prove whether there is value for money, it is not unreasonable to compare how ratepayers' money is spent in neighbouring authorities. It is a sort of comparison shopping, as to which provides the better value for money. Value for money is a precise comparator, and it is the one I wish to use. Islington is not dissimilar to Westminster, but it gets more Government grant. If authorities received the same rate support grant per head as Islington, most of them would be able to give a rebate.

Mr. Foulkes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I tried the Minister's tactics about 10 years ago, and Mr. Speaker rightly ruled me out of order. One can make only passing references to certain issues, but the Secretary of State is dealing with Islington, and comparing it--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Chair will decide what is in order.

Mr. Gummer: Westminster council has a lower rate support grant per head than Islington, and is doing better than that council. The Opposition do not want me to speak about Islington, for a good reason. It is a dreadful council, and performs appallingly.

If I were to go through the comparisons, Labour would be extremely embarrassed, but the one thing that I shall not do is to draw attention to, refer to or comment upon the internal report on what has been happening in Islington's social services department and elsewhere. That would be entirely wrong, and I would not do it. Therefore, one ought to rely on the figures. That is what I am doing, and it is quite clear that Westminster does much better than Islington, although it has special difficulties.

In Westminster, 99 per cent. of vital social services equipment costing less than £1,000 is provided within three weeks of assessment. Camden manages 75 per cent., and Southwark only 60 per cent. Hammersmith and Fulham says that it managed 71 per cent., while Islington says that it managed 60 per cent., but again the Audit Commission has its doubts about the figures provided by those last two councils.

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Children with special educational needs wait longer to be statemented elsewhere in London. In Westminster, 70 per cent. of special educational needs statements--[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not like Westminster comparisons, but it is time that they listened to them, because they do not understand.

In Westminster, 70 per cent. of special education needs statements were prepared within six months. Camden managed 70 per cent. as well. Islington managed 50 per cent., Southwark 32 per cent., and Hammersmith and Fulham only 29 per cent. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras built himself up to a fury at the end of his speech, but I remind him that, without any allegations, statements or standpoints, in Westminster, 70 per cent. of children most in need were statemented within six months, and that, in Hammersmith and Fulham, 29 per cent of such children were statemented.

All the indicators I have referred to and many more, if I had time to cover them, show how well Westminster does compared with authorities run by the Labour party. People do not pay more for those high-quality services. They have the lowest council tax bills--£295 at band D. That is £430 less than Hammersmith and Fulham, £436 less than Southwark, £484 less than Camden, and a staggering £558 less than Islington, a council that has a higher RSG than Westminster. The issue is therefore clear: people get a better service at a lower cost.

In conclusion--[Hon. Members: "Hooray."] Labour Members want me to stop because it is hurtful and embarrassing to them. The more the figures come out, the more the comparisons are shown and the more we see what it is like under Labour, the more Labour Members are embarrassed and the more the public recognise that that embarrassment is caused by what is happening now. That shows why Labour Members have to pretend that there is a plot to support Westminster. Otherwise, they could not explain away how bad Labour local government is in London.

Ms Glenda Jackson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I will not give way to the hon. Lady.

In London, Labour councils are charging more and delivering less--we see that on the facts of the case. The reason is that Conservative councils run their business more efficiently, and therefore are more able to help people most in need.

Before anyone starts talking about homelessness, I point out to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that the rough sleepers initiative, which I have promoted, pressed and protected, is one of this country's most successful operations, and that it has dramatically reduced the number of people who sleep rough, it has found homes for a large number of them, and it is widely supported by organisations and voluntary movements which are not Government supporters, but which believe that our approach to homelessness has been right, generous, determined and continued.

If the Labour party spent its time trying to explain to the country why, today, Labour councils cost people more and deliver less, it would be in a better position to condemn, if and when a court has made its decision. I will not condemn in advance, but if the court were to

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find that any of the people who have been named are guilty of what they have been named for, I would be the first to condemn. My condemnation will be weighty because it has waited for the evidence of a court of law.

5.24 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Some of us must feel speechless after that exhibition of sanctimonious gobbledegook from the Secretary of State for the Environment. He tells us that he does not want to prejudice the appeal to the court, yet he spent the last part of his speech doing precisely that by defending Westminster city council's record and the crooks who have been found guilty by the district auditor. Why are they appealing?

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the people in Westminster as crooks?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not out of order, but I remind hon. Members that they should be moderate in their expressions.

Mr. Couchman: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been at great pains to tell us throughout his lengthy speech, these people have recourse to the courts of law, they have not been found guilty in the courts of law and, therefore, they should not be called crooks. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. So far, the debate has been in order or the occupant of the Chair would have ruled that it was not.

Mr. Skinner: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As mention has been made of whether it is parliamentary to use the word "crooks", may I remind you that, in my time as a Member of Parliament, Tory Ministers and Tory Back Benchers have several times accused people in Labour local government, some involved in surcharge, some not, of being crooks and that they were never once pulled up by the occupant of the Chair. The Secretary of State for the Environment has never apologised for it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members will not have been pulled up because they were not out of order. I have ruled in a similar way.

Mr. Wareing: It is strange to hear such interventions from a Tory Member. I wonder what Lady Porter and the crooks in Westminster are appealing against if it is not the fact that they have been found guilty. I have never heard of anyone appealing against being found not guilty.

I was intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) because, following the statement of the Secretary of State for the Environment last Thursday, he said that

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Where was the hon. Gentleman on 14 February 1986 when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) introduced the Surcharge and Disqualification of Councillors (Abolition) Bill, which sought to restrict district auditors' powers? My hon. Friend was seeking to ensure that councillors should be removed not by an unelected district auditor, but only by electors--in that case, the electors of Liverpool. However, when Liverpool, Lambeth and, going further back, Clay Cross were being criticised, Conservative Members were not reticent in their criticisms. They did not wait to hear whether Liverpool, Lambeth or Clay Cross were going to appeal to a court of law. They were quick to step in and to attack people, who, far from committing the sins of Lady Porter and the crooks in Westminster, were seeking to help people. Those councils were not pushing poor vulnerable people into asbestos-ridden flats. They were not selling cemeteries for 15p a time. We can argue about whether they were misguided in their financial methods, but they were trying to provide decent homes. They provided more homes between 1983 and 1987 than probably any other local authority in Britain.

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