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Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not usually raise points of order, and this has nothing to do with the debate. It has struck me in the
 
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past 24 hours, particularly in the past two hours, that developments of remarkable significance are taking place in the Gaza strip and Israel, with Hamas claiming to be the majority party after the recent election.

We have had statements from most countries concerned, including the United States. We know what Israel's attitude is—it refuses to deal with Hamas until certain conditions are met. We know that large sums of money may be withdrawn from the Palestinians as a result of the election, and there are pending possibilities even of military action in the area. What we do not have is any sense of the Government's position with regard to that remarkable election result.

I have just heard that within the past hour the Prime Minister made some form of statement to the media, yet no member of the Government sees fit to come to the House. As we are not sitting tomorrow, have the Government indicated to you when they are likely to treat the House with courtesy and give us some indication of what their attitude is and what their responsibilities will be as a result of the election?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am not aware of any request from the Government to make a statement on the matter. Equally, the Chair is unaware of the contents of anything that is being said by the Prime Minister or any other senior Minister on the subject. The Minister on the Government Front Bench will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. The situation could be remedied within the earliest possible period and the right hon. Gentleman could seek to encourage that by putting in a request for an urgent question. Mr. Speaker has always indicated that Members impatient for information can try that route, even though he does not guarantee that he will be able to grant it. The House will also have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, and we must await developments at the earliest possible moment.

4.42 pm

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): I want to say a few words about my experience as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, although I feel a little like an impostor this evening, as I ceased to be a member of the Committee just before the last election because of issues that were developing locally in my constituency relating to community cohesion and demography. In one sense, the reason that I came off the Committee is one of the reasons that I am interested in the debate about the workings of the PAC and am keen to participate in its work in the future.

I am particularly interested in the relative efficiency of state activity through investment in the reform of public services, alongside a more dynamic analysis of demography and resource allocation with reference to spatial economic development and population movements, especially in urban communities. That is the context for my remarks. I was a member of the Committee at the time that it prepared some of the   reports to be discussed today, and some of the comments that I made then related to the question of how the state could keep up with and make sense of rapid movements of populations, especially in urban communities in cities such as London, and especially in poorer parts of the city, such as the east side of London, which I represent.
 
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First, on the working of the Committee, I, too, want to put on record the extraordinary servicing of the Committee supplied by Nick Wright and his team. They do an admirable job and are a credit to the public service. I pay tribute to the work of the National Audit Office, the rigour of its analysis and contribution to public debate, and the amount of money that it saves taxpayers. The PAC is a unique space to consider the relative efficiency of state activity, in that it allows for discussion of a pan-governmental strategy and with accounting officers and key civil servants. We are not just awash with the contributions of politicians.

The issues that the PAC covers are centre stage politically. The unanimity reached on the Committee's work, despite the fundamental fault lines between the departure points from which the different parties consider the activities of the state, has always interested me. I sense that the Conservative party, for example, sees state intervention as essentially destructive to the efficiency of economic interrelationships, whereas the Labour party deems the relative properties of state activity from a more benign departure point. It is interesting to see how those are reconciled in the Committee's work, which is a comment on the abilities of the Chairman.

On investment and reform, I want to address the issue of demographic movements in urban communities. A number of the debates in and reports of the PAC inherently assume that there are static populations and therefore static issues of resource allocation, but there might be a case for trying to build in a more dynamic analysis of the sheer scale of population movement below the radar. I shall give a couple of examples.

I recently asked a number of parliamentary questions about the population of the borough of Barking and Dagenham, of which I am one of the representatives. The Office for National Statistics replied that the population stands at 164,600 and that that has fallen since 2001, when it was 165,700. Anyone who lives in the community that I represent is aware that there has been massive migration into the borough. However, that is not caught in the headline assumptions for public policy purposes of the baseline quantitative allocation of resources to any public service.

The Government have accepted that there is a minimum of 570,000 unauthorised migrants in the country, not including dependants, and the NAO has said that there are 280,000 failed asylum seekers in the system. From informal discussions with Ministers it seems that the assumption is that the majority of those people are in London, and they do not live in Kensington and Chelsea. There is a magnetic pull towards poorer communities and areas with lower cost housing. The cost of housing in Barking and Dagenham is the lowest across the city.

Alongside those unauthorised migrants, the massive house price inflation over the past four or five years has created a magnetic pull to the area for families who aspire to their first step on the property ladder. The third element is that, as a result of the consequential effects of the right to buy, the private housing market has become much more vibrant. That has meant lower rents, which other local authorities have used as a reason to transfer a lot of their priority-housing families.
 
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Cumulatively, therefore, there has been a massive transfer of people into the borough. That is off the radar of the headcount for public policy making. I do not see how a dynamic analysis can be pulled together in order to interpret the relative efficiency of state activity—arguably in communities that are most in need of a dynamic form of state intervention. We have an extraordinary legacy of poverty and under-investment in poor quality public services. In trying to reconcile that legacy with the dynamics at work in global cities such as London, we return to the question of how to gauge the relative properties of state activity.

The massive movement of people into the borough has not just happened over the past two or three years. Dagenham also sits centre stage in the so-called Thames Gateway, the population of which is set to rise by 700,000 or 800,000 over the next 10 or 15 years.

The headcount in my borough, for public purposes, is about 165,000, and the assumption is that it will grow by 35,000 to 40,000 over the next 10 years. We can therefore assume a 33 per cent. increase in the number of people in the borough, even on the basis of the statistics that we currently use for public policy making. The data supplied by the Mayor of London from the Greater London Authority's data management and analysis group—"Statistics of schools in London"—demonstrate that, over the past three years, there has been an increase of more than 10 per cent. in the school roll in the borough. This is despite the fact that, for public policy purposes, the communities are deemed to be quantitatively static, in that they remain at 165,000. If we assume an increase in the population proportionate to the increase in the school roll, we can assume that the population figures could be at least 10 per cent. higher than 165,000.

The tabulations showing the breakdown according to ethnic background in the borough's schools show an extraordinary demographic shift in the qualitative makeup or heterogeneity of the community. Over the past two years, the proportion of white British kids in the schools has dropped by more than 9 per cent., and, year on year, there has been a 4.5 to 5 per cent. increase in the number of children from black African communities in the primary and secondary schools. We can therefore begin to piece together the extraordinary transformation that is occurring in the size of the borough and, within that, the massive change in the demography of the racial makeup of the borough, neither of which is being caught by the analysis supplied by the Office for National Statistics for the purposes of public policy making in relation to the population of the borough.

I shall tell the House why this is important. The reason that I left the working of the Public Accounts Committee was because we were having a massive outburst of far-right activity in our community. Over the past year and a half, we have had five local council elections, at each of which the British National party has polled an average of 35 per cent. of the vote.


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