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Town and Country Planning

That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 9th February, be approved. —[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Public Audit

That the draft Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 (Relaxation of Restriction on Disclosure) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 9th February, be approved.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Social Security

      That the draft Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 31st January, be approved.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

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Local Government Finance (Southend)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

7.5 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I address the House tonight with the emotions of sadness and anger. I feel sad about what I have to say because, as the Minister will no doubt recall, I raised Southend's financial settlement in January last year, again on the Adjournment, and I very much regret that many of the points that I made then I will have to repeat this evening. I feel angry because there is a great sense of injustice about the way in which Southend residents believe that they have been treated over the local government financial settlement.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to two headlines in our local newspapers this week. The headline in the Southend Times is, "Who would want to take on this job?" It is talking not about the job of Prime Minister—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is keen on that job, and I very much hope that he gets it after the general election—but the job of leader of Southend council, for it continues: "Southend Council in search of new leader to take on the unenviable task". The headline in the Yellow Advertiser is, "Council leader resigns over population figures 'debacle'", followed by, "Forced out by row". Having seen the correspondence between the Minister and the present leader of Southend council, I hope that the Minister agrees that it is very sad that Councillor Howard Briggs has decided to resign as leader of the council in May.

On Valentine's day, the mayor and mayoress of Southend went to No. 10 Downing street, leading an all-party delegation comprising a wide variety of local groups. We handed in this scroll, which said:

Many organisations that represent the local community, including the Southend Association of Voluntary Services, Friends of the Palace Theatre, the Southend Carers Association, Growing Together, Trust Links and Southend Youth Council, to name a few, supported the scroll.

Since I have been Member of Parliament for Southend, West, the council has not been solely led by the Conservative party. From 1994 until 2000, it was run
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by the Liberal and Labour groups. I stress to the Under-Secretary that I am not responsible for running Southend council—no Member of Parliament is responsible for running a local authority. The councillors and the leaders do not phone the local Member and ask what they should do about a specific issue—that is not the job of a Member of Parliament. However, whatever the political complexion of the local authority, if the council feels hard done by, it is the Member of Parliament's job to raise the problems.

I get the impression that there has been a good relationship between the Conservative council and the Government. Indeed, the Conservative-led council would say that it had done everything that it could to support the various Government initiatives. However, the council now feels badly let down because of the census. I want to share with the Under-Secretary a few extracts of Councillor Howard Briggs's budget speech.

Councillor Howard Briggs was born in the town and is well known, but I do not think that he could be described as a professional politician. He was a popular and successful local dentist. Eventually, local people thought that he had a civic contribution to make and thus he became a councillor and genuinely believed in what he and others wanted to achieve for the town.

Councillor Howard Briggs spoke about cuts in his budget speech and said:

He continues:

It is crazy for the Government to accept that Southend has lost 10 per cent. of its population in 10 years.

Councillor Briggs goes on:

The Under-Secretary will recall that, when I took part in a debate a few weeks ago, I said that my constituency was No. 1 out of the 659 for people aged between 100 and 112. Councillor Briggs states:

On 14 February, Councillor Briggs and others met the registrar of the Office for National Statistics to try to resolve the issues. The ONS believed that the primary care trust and housing figures were insufficiently robust to be a factor in the calculation, although it accepted that there were disturbing variations in our figures that
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were not to be found anywhere else. The basis of its argument was that the 2001 census was accurate, and that the 1991 census and all the mid-year estimates since then must have been wrong. It was obviously unaware of the disastrous effects that its conclusions had had on the income stream in Southend and admitted that it might have handled the problem in a different manner had it known of them. It would have been possible for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to accept the figures and apply them to Southend over a period of years.

Councillor Briggs went on to say that he had adopted

Councillor Briggs ended his budget speech by saying:

I want to end with some thoughts for the Minister. People in Southend feel an enormous sense of injustice. Local residents feel unjustly treated in terms of the health service, education, law enforcement and the way in which asylum and immigration issues are handled. Most of all, they feel unjustly treated in terms of the financial settlement. I know that the Minister has heard many of these points before because I have initiated a number of Adjournment debates over the years, with mixed success. I fully understand the limits faced by Ministers, who have to take advice, in these circumstances, but I am asking the Minister tonight to hold out his hand to help Southend. We feel as though we have been kicked in the teeth. We had some terrible publicity recently from a BBC1 television programme entitled "Drunk and Dangerous", which did not show any of the participants in a good light.

Southend is full of hard-working, honest, genuine people who just want to make the most of their opportunities, whatever the Government of the day are. To say that we have a shortfall of this huge number of people—nearly 20,000—is just crazy. Every time I conduct a surgery, a number of asylum seekers come to see me with their problems and I do my very best to help them. They always show me letters telling them that they should not remain in the country, but they now have families. Of course, they never took part in the census, yet not one person was prosecuted in our town. How can we have 178,000 people registered for health care, when we are told that we have only 160,000 people in Southend? Over the past few weeks, I have tabled all sorts of questions that Ministers have answered honourably. All those questions indicate that Southend has many more than 160,000 people.

I want to end with this request. I ask the Minister to consider again how those census figures were handled and, if it is not too late, to try to reconsider the basis on
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which the financial settlement was made. I say genuinely to the Minister that I am prepared to ask all the residents of Southend to stay in their properties on one day and, if he has the time, perhaps he and I will go around all the properties and do a count. There is no way that the population has shrunk in Southend. Some of our big houses have been divided into flats. We have many more people living in Southend now than in 1991.

I am not here tonight to argue politics with the Minister. I am merely asking for justice in Southend and I ask him and his colleagues to do everything that they can to re-examine the census figures and make sure that justice is done for local residents.

7.21 pm

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