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Mr. Shaw: My right hon. Friend makes the valid point that, if anyone needs adult education in Kent, it is the Liberal-Labour county councillors, because they cannot tell when a positive figure--an increase in expenditure--is an increase and not a reduction. At public meetings, they cannot tell the truth--that an increase in expenditure is extra money that is available. They insist that it is a reduction. That shows the fraudulent nature of their mathematics, accounting and budgeting.

The St. Margaret's-at-Cliffe fire service is called out some 100 times a year. In a busy year, it has been called out 170 times. That is what Kent county council under Liberal-Labour control wants to take away from us in St. Margaret's-at-Cliffe and Dover: a service that is regularly used and regularly needed by the community, and an emergency back-up service for the wider Kent community. The service is necessary. It shows the hypocrisy of setting up safety committees, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has said, when they do nothing but talk and produce paper. What we are talking about is real action to save people's lives.

There is a clear message from the budgetary exercise that Kent county council is undertaking: the Labour and Liberal parties in Kent have done a repeat of the Labour-Liberal pact in the 1974 to 1979 period. They have brought Kent to the point of chaos, to the point where there are demonstrations at Maidstone and to a winter of discontent, just like there was under the Labour Government in 1978-79; but we have pledges from the Conservative group leader that, if the Conservatives are elected to control Kent county council on 1 May, those cuts will not take place. There is therefore a clear message: "Vote Conservative if you want services, a sensible council and sensible budgeting."

11.47 am

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): When I hear Conservative Members attacking Kent councillors for visiting countries, I am minded to say only that those Members should be careful because people in glasshouses should not throw stones. The people of Kent should know that the great majority of Members of Parliament for Kent, all of whom are Conservative, have on many occasions over the years been abroad at public expense, on travel paid for by the British taxpayer.

I rise on behalf of the many hundreds of thousands of people in Kent who are denied a Labour voice in the House of Commons. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker,

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that all 16 Members of Parliament for Kent are Conservative. The voice of Kent Labour has not been heard in the House of Commons for 18 years. Conservative misrepresentations in Kent's affairs have repeatedly gone unchallenged. Their endless stream of untruths, party propaganda and distortion of facts is a travesty of justice. [Interruption.] I seek your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In terms of its Members of Parliament, Kent is a one-party state--it has no Labour Members--in which there is no place for the truth.

It has become increasingly clear to my hon. Friends that there is a co-ordinated attempt by Kent Conservative Members of Parliament to orchestrate a campaign of disinformation in the media. Those same Members use the Chamber of the House of Commons to launch their--thus far unchallenged--attacks. Today, Parliament will hear the truth--the other side of the story: the counter-case. It is the story of a council valiantly striving to defend its ratepayers from cuts in public services. It is the story of a council desperately trying to avoid imposing hardship--

Mr. Gale: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been in the House for 14 years and I have always been under the impression that it is not customary for Members to read out speeches--particularly speeches prepared for them by other people.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is correct about the custom. The copious use of notes, however, is unfortunately allowed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I am using notes for reasons of clinical accuracy. It is important that the people of Kent know the truth--as opposed to the statistics bandied about the Chamber for the past few years. My accurate figures were produced for me, at my request, by Kent county council. I asked for the figures so that I could use them in this debate.

Sir Roger Moate: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although the hon. Gentleman claims to be using notes for clinical accuracy, he has in effect just admitted that he is reading his closely typed speech. Surely that is contrary to the rules of order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: We shall see how we go. References to facts are entirely in order, but reading a speech would be wrong.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Hon. Members from most other counties, including many Conservative Members, have in recent years spoken for the people they represent, and have even joined in deputations to Ministers. Not one of Kent's 16 Conservative Members of Parliament, however, has stood up for local services or represented the county authority.

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

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I am afraid that I cannot give way. There have been 16 Conservative interventions in this debate. I am the first to put the other side of the argument.

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Most Conservative Members from Kent have taken every opportunity to make cheap political capital out of the problems that the county council faces--problems that result from policies for which they themselves have voted in the House of Commons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I do not intend to give way. There have now been 17 Conservative interventions.

These Conservative Members have misrepresented the financial settlement year after year; and this year is no exception.

Mr. Rowe: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that this is a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Rowe: It is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is of course entirely for you to judge whether, in the interests of clinical accuracy, the hon. Gentleman should read his speech; but it seems to me that reading a speech that makes assertions about things that, when the speech was written, could not have been known is stretching the rules rather far.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair makes no comment on the contents of speeches--although this morning I have already had to stress that it is the occupant of the Chair who must be addressed. Meanwhile, I shall make my judgment as the speech progresses.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Two years ago, the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) tried to claim on local radio that Kent had received a spending increase of £26 million, when the real figure was £6 million. He did so by misrepresenting the money for community care that had been ring-fenced to cover responsibilities transferred from central Government--

Mr. Jacques Arnold rose--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: This year on 23 January, at column 1077 of Hansard, the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) accused Kent county council of demanding a real-terms 10 per cent. increase just to stand still. He repeated his accusations during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. In fact, the council has stated that it needed that sum in cash terms to meet its pay and price commitments and to finance extra commitments imposed on it by demography and new legislation.

Both those allegations reveal that neither hon. Member understands the interests--

Mr. Arnold: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is making inaccurate claims about what I have said. Should he not give way to allow me to correct those claims?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is technically in

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order, but it is a custom of the House, when an hon. Member refers to another by name, that the former should give way to the latter at a suitable point. I am sure that that custom will be observed this morning.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: As I was saying, what both contributions reveal is that the intricacies of local government are not understood by the two hon. Members to whom I have referred. The more they protest, the more they demonstrate either their ignorance or perhaps their malevolence.

Let us examine the facts. Kent is effectively capped at 1 per cent. above standard spending assessment. That compares with the shire county average of 1.8 per cent., and with some counties that are capped at more than 5 per cent. Over the four years to 1997-98, Kent will have been allowed to increase its spending by only 8.7 per cent.--a figure that may surprise the House. That is far less than was needed to cover pay and price increases, let alone increased demand for services.

Between 1993-94 and 1997-98, Kent's capital financing costs--its debt charges--rose by £14 million, and its allocation of SSA for that element fell by £2 million, leaving a gap of £16 million. That is almost entirely attributable to capital projects, especially road projects embarked on by the former Conservative administration.

In 1997-98, the county council will face a superannuation payments bill of £3 million more than the bill three years ago. That will result from the decision of the former Conservative administration to cut its contribution, and from new Government regulations forcing higher contributions on the council.

Next year, the county council will have to spend £7.8 million more than SSA allocation to provide fire cover in line with Home Office standards. For the same period, its fire services SSA element will rise by £1.6 million. Despite savings of £500,000--the figure given earlier in the debate was wrong--involving the closure of some retained stations, the county council will need to increase spending by £2 million to cover pay and prices and service pressures. Those three items alone are costing the council a total of £37 million.

Representatives of the local authority have made representations on the three items to the Minister of State concerned. Perhaps today the Under-Secretary will give Kent some response to the representations which it has made and which I repeat here today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gravesham is trying to shout me down. For five years, we have heard the case put by Kent Tories. When, finally, a Labour Member finds a slot to raise these issues in the House, the Tories shout me down because they do not want the truth to come out.

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