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Mr. Jonathan Aitken (South Thanet): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his splendid recitation of the high economic crimes and misdemeanours that the Lib-Lab county council leadership have inflicted on the people of Kent.

My hon. Friend has mentioned borrowing. May I point out, as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that there has been mismanagement not only by Lib-Lab councillors but by Lib-Lab financial alcoholics. They have increased Kent's borrowing by 40 per cent.--£140 million--up to a record-breaking £496 million. That means that a debt burden of £9 million or £10 million per year has been inflicted on the people of Kent in the form of extra interest charges.

Perhaps the most bitter drink of all in this financial alcoholism is the way in which salaries have risen. Is my hon. Friend aware that Kent's director of education, who is presiding over the unkindest and harshest cuts of all, is now drawing a salary of £99,000 a year? That is more than many permanent secretaries receive for much bigger responsibilities. Surely it is time to halt this wicked mismanagement at all levels.

Mr. Dunn: My right hon. Friend has put his point effectively and well. That is the point of this debate. All Conservative Members are conscious of the massive disinformation campaign that has taken place by means of Kent county council's publicity and propaganda machine, aided and abetted--indeed pushed--by the Labour and Liberal Democrat leadership at county hall.

What I find so inexcusable is the use of fear in the campaign. Residents are told that their fire cover may not be guaranteed, and that retraining and adult education services may be curbed.

Dame Peggy Fenner: It is an indescribable insult to Medway residents that the list of proposed cuts includes two retained fire stations and another fairly large station in Stroud--three fire stations in one area. We are talking about the largest conurbation and, indeed, the largest industrial area in Kent, which is about to become a unitary authority. It is disgraceful to do that to three fire stations.

Mr. Dunn: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am sure that she will waste no time in telling her constituents of the commitment given by the Conservative leadership in Maidstone. Indeed, the message that emerges from this debate is that those who wish to guarantee their services must vote Conservative on 1 May.

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It was suggested at one stage that fire cover at Dartford fire station might be reduced by one pump, and that the retained fire station at Horton Kirby might disappear entirely, but those proposals have been withdrawn--for the time being. Given the huge development that is taking place in north Dartford, in the Thames gateway area, is it not extreme lunacy to speculate for a moment about reducing fire cover when the population is set to increase by thousands, and many millions of people will be coming into our county at Bluewater and Ebbsfleet--an interest that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham?

This is lunacy of the knee-jerk kind, but it is not actually a knee jerk. Four years ago, when the county council passed into the hands of the evil empire, I predicted that, come the county elections, it would do precisely what it is doing now: attack the elderly, the young, the disabled, voluntary groups and those who enjoy cultural and leisure pursuits through our library services. Why? Because that is the only way in which the council can hang on to its administration at county hall--by the use of fear.

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend is making his points about a matter on which we all feel strongly with characteristic understatement. Will he emphasise the extraordinary divide between Labour and Liberal politicians at local level, and the Opposition Front Bench? We have heard from the shadow Chancellor that no extra money from the centre will be provided in the form of revenue support grant. Indeed, if the Labour party phases out the area cost adjustment, as it proposes to do, Kent will have £10 million or £15 million a year less. Is there not a certain discrepancy here?

Mr. Dunn: I entirely agree. The loss of the area cost adjustment would affect Kent to the tune of at least £10 million. That may please members of the Opposition parties, who never understand such matters.

Ms Armstrong: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dunn: No, no, no, a thousand times no.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was exactly what I was waiting for. You will be aware that 10 Conservative Members representing Kent have either spoken or intervened in the debate, and you will have heard that denial of the right of a Labour Member to intervene. Would you say that that--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members know that it is entirely up to the hon. Member who has the Floor to decide to whom he does, or does not, give way. I call the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), and ask him to address the Chair.

Mr. Dunn: Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member--the hereditary Member--for North-West Durham; I have no desire to stop her from speaking. Would that I could. I believe that, when she is put in her coffin, she will still be talking when they nail the lid on.

During the past four years of socialist rule at Maidstone, there has been a ballooning of staff. Staff numbers have risen by more than 1,000. That is profligacy

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in the extreme, and takes no account of the auditor's recommendation that the council should restructure itself and redress the staffing imbalance to reflect the moving out of the county of the police service, further education colleges and the career service, and the fact that many primary and secondary schools are to become grant-maintained.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): My hon. Friend rightly referred to the direct connection between the maintenance of good-quality services in Kent and the Conservatives' winning back control of the county council. Only yesterday, I received a copy of a letter from the chairman of the governors of the outstanding Judd grammar school in my constituency--one of many outstanding grammar schools in our county--to those who style themselves the "co-chairpersons" of the education committee.

The letter complains bitterly about the draconian cuts that the Labour and Liberal-controlled county council is seeking to impose on the school. In his letter, the chairman of the governors describes the cuts as "nothing less than scandalous" and "totally irresponsible." Does my hon. Friend agree that everyone in Kent with a child at a grammar school, and every person who has the prospect of having his child at a grammar school, knows that, as long as Kent county council remains in Labour and Liberal Democrat control, he can have no confidence in his child's future grammar school education?

Mr. Dunn: I agree with my right hon. Friend and declare an interest, because my son is a pupil at the Judd school, as is the son of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Gravesham. My right hon. Friend's point applies not just to grammar schools, but to high schools, the city technology colleges and all primary and secondary schools that become grant-maintained. They would lose all the freedoms that they currently enjoy as a result of Conservative legislation, because Labour and the stalinists at county hall wish to take back into local authority control all the schools that dared, as a result of parental ballots, to go outside local education authority control.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover): My hon. Friend has spoken about the wasteful use of staff in Kent. At a recent constituency surgery, I met two parents and their disabled son. They were almost in tears because they were being asked by Kent county council to pay higher social services charges. The council plans to increase staffing in social services by 80 people, but it is hitting disabled people and their parents.

Mr. Dunn: That is a wicked example of precisely what is taking place. I use the word "wicked" in the old sense and not in the fashionable modern sense. It is also unforgivable that senior county council officers--well-respected professional men and women--are being forced to act politically in the public domain because of the inadequacy and incompetence of the Lib-Lab regime at county hall.

In the past four years, there has been tremendous dereliction of duty. A left-wing, old Labour party has been trying to work alongside a weak Liberal Democrat party, and they want to be all things to all persons--I think that that is the politically correct way to say it. Instead, there

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is chaos, anarchy and incompetence. I might be accused of using strong words, but they express what my constituents feel.

The Opposition parties have misjudged the mood of Kent people, who better understand the problems and the debates than they are given allowance for. They know that the county council has pulled the roof upon its own head by failing to deal with the rising damp in the foundations. That is a lovely metaphor which I might use again in another speech. We are debating the future of our county. The present administration has lost police, further education colleges and the careers service, and many schools have become grant-maintained.

Mr. Gale: Will my hon. Friend add to his list the fact that the Labour-Liberal coalition is targeting the most vulnerable people in Kent--the elderly and the disabled?

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