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Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): Will the Minister recognise that the floor, though welcome, is

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an insufficient fix to meet the dismaying problem of the very poor response rate to the census, particularly in inner London boroughs? Is it not plausible that part of the problem is the fact that asylum seekers have been given insufficient help in filling out their forms? As at least some of the newcomers from Sangatte will probably find their way to inner London, will the Minister say what plans he has to make sure that local authorities are properly compensated for the costs that they face, at least in the short term?

Mr. Raynsford: Last year the right hon. Gentleman was complaining about the ceiling for Kensington and Chelsea. Had we taken on board his representations that the ceiling was unfair, there would have been no finance for the floor, from which his authority is a beneficiary this year. The census issue is a complex and serious one, and I know that a number of authorities that have seen a substantial reduction in their population in the latest census data compared with what was anticipated are naturally concerned. However, the floor provides protection for those authorities, as I acknowledged in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). I say the same to the right hon. Gentleman. As far as asylum seekers are concerned, the Government are keen to ensure that there is a robust regime in place to handle our responsibilities and to ensure that there is effective help for authorities that have to meet additional costs because of the presence of asylum seekers in their area.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): My right hon. Friend should be congratulated on finally getting rid of the anomalous and unfair standard spending assessment system; that will be widely welcomed. He has said that one of the factors that he takes into account is the relative ability of authorities to raise council tax. Does he agree that many authorities in the south of England that benefited from the fiddling of the former Government have low council tax bases, and that their ability to raise funds from council taxes is far greater than authorities such as—to pluck a couple out of the air—Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead? Does the settlement fully reflect those differences and, if not, why not?

Mr. Raynsford: I am pleased that my hon. Friend acknowledges the progress that we are making in terms of grants to local government, and in eliminating some of the anomalies and unfairness inherited from the previous Government. I believe that the settlement announced today is good news for both Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, both of which have received significant increases. Above all, my hon. Friend will be pleased that there is in place a framework that acknowledges the needs of more deprived communities. Deprivation is taken into account and the resource equalisation process helps authorities with high needs but a low council tax base. That is an important element in our new structure.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We must now proceed.

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Points of Order

2.30 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order, of which I have given Mr. Speaker notice. I seek your help, because this is the second time that I have had to ask for assistance in obtaining a reply to correspondence that I have sent to the Department of Health. I wrote on behalf of a general practitioner in my constituency, Dr. Stephenson, on 21 June, and despite tabling a named-day question that was due for answer on 25 November, I have been unable to obtain a response from the Department. May I ask for your support in ensuring that the Department responds more efficiently to requests for information from Members of Parliament?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I suggest that the hon. Lady place that information before the Select Committee on Public Administration.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I recognise the difficulties that the Chair always has on statements such as the one that we have just had, in which so many Members wish to speak. As the only Surrey Member of Parliament who was standing, I was, unfortunately, unable to intervene to protest at the inadequacies of the local government settlement for my area. Can you advise me how I might approach the difficulty that we have when the Minister is armed in advance with the figures for the settlement and the percentages? We cannot get those figures unless we leave the Chamber at a time when we are seeking to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair. The Minister was insufferably smug in responding to every Opposition question with figures in front him that we did not have, and which we could not get unless we left the Chamber. If we did so, we would not have been able to catch your eye. Can you advise us whether it might be possible, with future statements on local government finance, for the Minister to release the figures to all Members of Parliament half an hour before the statement starts, so that we can see the inadequacies of the Government's redirection of funding to their friends in the north before we come into the Chamber?

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I realise that a statement of that importance and magnitude has a dramatic impact on the constituencies of all hon. Members, but the occupant of the Chair ought to have in mind the necessity to call people from the counties. No Derbyshire Member was called, although three—the

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hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) and myself—were attempting to speak on an issue that has been great importance for a number of years. I do not think that a Member was called from the east midlands, which has been left out on area cost adjustment. Mr. Speaker told us the other day that he would allow statements that he regarded as important to run on. No statement is more important for all our constituents than the one that has been made today.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yes, I am sorry that I was not called, but I do not complain. All I will say now is that Bolsover hit the ceiling—12.5 per cent.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not notice many Members from Essex being called during the statement, either. We are one of the largest counties in the country. As 75 per cent. of all the county council's money comes from central Government, this issue is vital to 1.5 million people. May I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), that in future when we have a statement on matters as technical as local government finance, it would be helpful if we could at least be given 30 minutes to look through the papers before we have to respond to what the Minister says?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have considerable sympathy with the many hon. Members who were rising in their places, but whom I was not able to call. It is exceedingly difficult, and those who occupy the Chair try their best, bearing in mind the fact that, of course, some hon. Members have been called during earlier statements on local government finance. I was very aware that hon. Members were leaving the Chamber—I assume, to go to the Vote Office—and returning with bundles of papers, and in no way does that mean that the occupant of the Chair is unlikely to call them during such a statement.


Income Tax (Earnings And Pensions)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Mr. Secretary Smith, Mr. Paul Boateng, Dawn Primarolo, Ruth Kelly and John Healey, presented a Bill to restate, with minor changes, certain enactments relating to income tax on employment income, pension income and social security income; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 13].

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[1st Allotted Day]


Government Drugs Policy

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2001–02, on The Government's Drugs Policy: Is it Working? (House of Commons Paper No. 318-I); the Government's reply thereto (Cm. 5573); and the Home Office's Annual Report 2001–02 (Cm. 5406).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, pursuant to Resolution [26 November],

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I advise the House that the 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches comes into operation when the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) finishes his speech.

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