HC Deb 06 July 1993 vol 228 cc284-305 10.14 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

I beg to move,

That the Special Grant Report (No. 8) (House of Commons Paper No. 724), which was laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.

The special grant report which is before the House for debate tonight concludes some unfinished business from this year's local government finance settlement.

The report honours a commitment that the then Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), made in the revenue support grant debate last February to provide special financial assistance to certain local authorities. The package of assistance comprises two separate special grants. We expect that, taking the two grant schemes together, between £3 million and £4 million of Government support is likely to be provided during the next 12 months.

The first of the two schemes is a continuation of the special grant in respect of displaced persons from the former republic of Yugoslavia introduced towards the end of the last financial year.

The turmoil in what was once Yugoslavia tragically caused many thousands of people to flee their homes or to be driven from them. That led to the largest number of refugees and displaced persons in Europe since the end of the second world war. Many of those people made their way to this country during the first few months of the Bosnian conflict.

As a result, local authorities in some areas faced the prospect of demands on local services disproportionate to their resources. For example, some 170 people had to be accommodated by Uttlesford district council following their arrival at Stansted airport. That is why the Government agreed to provide financial help to those authorities that were most affected.

In some parts of the country local authorities are still having to cope with the problems associated with the refugees who arrived here last year. We are therefore extending last year's scheme of assistance into the current financial year.

Similar considerations apply to the exceptional costs associated with refugee and asylum-seeking children who arrive in the United Kingdom unaccompanied by parents or guardians. The second grant scheme covered by the special grant report relates to that problem.

The costs to local authorities of responding to the needs of unaccompanied refugee children are considerable. Authorities have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to care for and maintain such children unless they are privately fostered, in which case they have a duty to satisfy themselves that the welfare of the children is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted. The costs are highest immediately after the arrival of the children in this country.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

How many local authorities have applied for the grant and, of those, how many have had the grant application accepted and how many refused? Secondly, does the English language support element of the grant cover travel costs and fees for English tuition?

Mr. Baldry

No one will be able to apply for the grant until the order is approved, so no local authority has applied for the grant this year. There are two grams, one for Yugoslays and the other for unaccompanied children. We expect that a number of authorities will apply for the grants. Whether the grant will be applied will depend on whether they meet or exceed the threshold.

Next year, the pressures associated with unaccompanied children who have arrived in recent years should be fully reflected in standard spending assessments because detailed information from the 1991 census will, for the first time, feed through into the assessments. However, as this year's SSAs do not take account of those data, we accept that there is a case for special financial assistance towards the costs incurred in 1993–94 by the authorities that are subject to the heaviest financial burden.

Generally, local authorities should be able to make provision within their budgets for the costs of dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. The mechanisms of central Government support for local authorities already take account of the sorts of spending pressures that tend to be associated with the presence of refugees.

Most asylum seekers settle in London. The needs of the London boroughs are assessed as high—within SSAs—precisely because they face a range of unusual pressures such as refugee arrivals. For example, in London the children's personal social services element of SSAs is much higher than the national average. For 1993–94, the national average is £35 per head; the averarge per head for inner London is £131.

We take the view—entirely reasonably, I believe—that generally it should be possible for local authorities to budget for the costs that refugees and asylum seekers impose from within the resources provided by SSAs. We believe that SSAs provide the best means of distributing resources to local authorities; they allow the authorities maximum discretion to set their spending priorities in the light of pressures from all residents, whether indigenous or not. We are conducting a review of SSAs and would welcome any constructive suggestions on the methodology that may relate to refugees.

From time to time, however, situations can arise leading to a sudden influx of asylum seekers from a particular area, which may place on certain local authorities burdens that are outside their normal experience. The influx of asylum seekers from former Yugoslavia is an example—hence the Yugoslavian displaced persons grant last year and this year.

It is only reasonable that authorities should have made some provision for contingencies within their budgets. That is why grant is to be targeted at authorities that incur expenditure above a threshold. In 1994–95, the SSAs for authorities with refugee children resident in their areas should provide sufficient resources. That is likely to mean that a further grant scheme will be unnecessary.

Both grant schemes have been modelled on the Bellwin scheme. The principles are broadly the same. A spending threshold set for each local authority represents the amount for which the authority could reasonably be expected to budget as a contingency. Grant will be paid to meet 85 per cent. of the eligible expenditure above the threshold.

We have, of course, consulted the local authority associations about the schemes, and have taken their comments into account. In particular, we have accepted their suggestion that authorities that incur spending under both schemes should not be obliged to spend up to the level of their threshold twice in order to qualify for grant. To respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), local authorities will have the first of several opportunities to claim grant within the next few weeks.

It remains our view that the most appropriate means of distributing resources to local authorities is through their SSAs. SSAs permit local authorities to use their discretion in determining their own spending priorities within the resources available to them, and to weigh up the competing demands on their services from all local residents, whether indigenous or not. Special grants restrict that discretion.

Nevertheless, we accept that there is a good case for making exceptions to this rule this year in view of the timelags that affect the SSA calculations. The two grant schemes incorporated in Special Grant Report (No. 8) should ensure that assistance is targeted at the local authorities that are most in need. I commend the report to the House.

10.22 pm
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

The House will recognise—even at this, a later hour than anticipated—that the movement of peoples seeking asylum across borders is not constant, but fluctuates depending on the world situation. The average number of refugees seeking asylum in this country was 3,736 per month during 1991, and that had changed to 1,796 between January and June 1992. I hope to prod the Minister on more recent figures later.

As part of our meeting their international obligations, countries such as ours quite naturally want to be able to show concern for people who face political difficulties, and who seek asylum. That means that countries such as ours will on occasion want to give certain refugees temporary residence, and at others will want to give permanent asylum to those who seek to escape from troubles in their original land.

Substantial costs are involved, including those in resettlement, social services, education—many of the refugees cannot speak much English—housing and counselling. Local authorities in which people locate after seeking asylum will probably be able to identify many other costs. Indeed, the order itemises a number of areas where authorities may claim grant.

The crucial question is: who pays for those costs on society? Some people in the private sector may be able to make a contribution. Obviously, such contributions are welcomed. Clearly, the charitable sector makes an important contribution in meeting the needs of refugees and other people in a similar plight.

Few hon. Members would argue that the largest burden falls on the public sector. It is a question whether the needs of refugees can best be met through central Government finance or local government finance. That is the question that is raised by the order before us tonight.

If refugees settle throughout the country in an even pattern and at a predictable and even rate throughout the year, certainly it would be possible theoretically to reflect their needs in the way in which the standard spending assessment is calculated for local government annually, if the House accepts that the largest part of the burden must be met by local authorities.

I hope that the Minister recognises that that is not what happens, because the number of those seeking asylum is not constant or predictable, and the spread across different parts of the country is not even. Because of the lack of predictability, it is difficult for the SSA to reflect the needs of any community at a specific time. Therefore, it is right and proper that the Government will meet special needs which cannot be foreseen as they arise.

In the case of the Vietnamese refugees who sought asylum recently, the Government's policy was to ensure that there was, as far as possible, a broad distribution throughout different parts of the country. However, in the case of those refugees from the territory previously known as Yugoslavia, the Government's policy—it is not challenged by the various agencies involved—is that there should be an attempt to cluster those who are seeking asylum in this country, perhaps for good reasons. They will know each other and will be able to stand together in building a new life in the United Kingdom.

My purpose is not to argue about the rights and wrongs of how best to deal with the matter. I want to look at the impact of the lack of predictability on the necessary financial provision. Because of the unevenness and lack of predictability, the current SSA system does not cover the needs of the local authorities where the refugees are located.

Even if we lay to one side all the arguments about what is right and wrong with the way in which the SSA is designed, the formula does not take account of the true costs of providing refugee services. The assumptions that are built into the SSA are not realistic. When the SSA is based on a high assumed tax base, many authorities do not qualify for the special grants, because of the threshold provisions. I can foresee a situation in which some refugees who have located in an authority where there is a higher tax base will be locating in an authority that will not qualify for special grant, and therefore will not be able to meet the needs of many of those who are seeking asylum.

Does the Minister recognise that this system of assistance is based on unrealistic assumptions? It is unrealistic to believe that, in the current financial regime, local authorities have contingency funds that can be used and set aside to meet the needs of refugees.

Most local authorities are already struggling to meet the needs of their ordinary population because of the financial regime under which they must operate. Many of the contingency reserves that those authorities have wisely built up over the years have had to be used to meet those needs.

Where such contingency funds are available, the local population in Conservative-controlled boroughs in London, such as Barnet and Enfield, argue that those boroughs should use those funds to meet the needs that those residents have already identified. It does not make much sense then to argue that the special needs of refugees can be met from funds that should be kept in reserve, especially when those funds are already earmarked for local purposes. In any case, many authorities no longer have such funds.

The Government argue that a threshold system must be introduced, so that part of the assumed cost of meeting the refugee need is built into local government finance, but, with their introduction of the special grant, the Government also recognise that local government lacks the necessary resources to meet that need. The threshold system will not meet the needs of refugees, and boroughs under all political control will have to seek special help from the Government to meet the challenges they face in trying to meet those needs.

Can the Minister confirm that, in the previous financial year, only three authorities received special grant? Can he also confirm that less than £90,000 in total was paid out to meet the needs of those who claimed that special grant? I accept that the Minister is unable to tell us how many authorities are likely to claim special grant this year, although his civil servants may have some idea.

I am sure that the Minister can identify, however, those authorities that applied for the grant last year and were told that they did not qualify because they were assumed to have the resources to meet the need, or had prepared schemes that were not in line with the Government's thinking. I hope that the Minister can supply that information, which has already been requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden).

Since November, responsibility for funding has largely passed to the British Refugee Council and the British Red Cross. Since then, only 240 people from the former Yugoslavia have settled here. As part of the Government's international obligations, however, they have already accepted that 1,000 people, plus up to 4,000 of their dependants, can settle here. Does the Minister believe that more than that 240 will come to our country? To what extent has that already happened?

To allow a proper debate, can the Minister tell us what moneys have already been paid to the British Refugee Council? How much money does he expect to pay this year and in the future to that council to meet the needs of those refugees who have been accepted and are in need of assistance?

The order relates to the period from April 1992 to November 1992. Can the Minister confirm that 6,000 people from the former Yugoslavia came to the United Kingdom between January 1992 and January 1993? How many of them have subsequently left the country or stated their intention to do so? How many refugees applied for asylum up to June this year? How many applications were rejected and how many cases are pending up to the end of June this year?

Can the Minister estimate how much special grant will be distributed to local authorities during the period in which the order will take effect? He may be tempted to say that he will not know the size of the pool available until he knows the demand, but his civil servants would be unwise not to have made some calculations on that matter. It is better that the House realises now that difficulties lie ahead, rather that being told about problems later.

As the Under-Secretary said in his opening remarks, the Government recognise that there is considerable unease at how the formula that flows from the standard spending assessment is calculated. They have already said that they are prepared to review the criteria. In that connection, will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the various local authority associations to consider a fairer and more effective system to deal with the distribution of grant in relation to special needs?

There are many unknown factors, and I do not know to what extent the Minister can answer all the questions this evening. Does he accept that a monitoring system should be established so that Parliament can scrutinise what is happening? We would then not have to debate this matter every year to try to examine what has happened in the past, what difficulties arose and what should be done in the future.

There should be an automatic system of scrutiny. Parliament should know how many people are involved, their geographical distribution and location, how many applications have been received from local authorities and others, whether they have been accepted, and on what grounds. Parliament should know the Government's response to those applications and the cost to the Treasury. Can the Minister give a commitment that he will consider the possibility of providing an annual report to Parliament, so that those matters can be properly scrutinised?

Mr. Madden

My hon. Friend is asking some extremely pertinent questions, and I fear that the Minister may be unable to supply answers, because there is an urgent need for the Government to co-ordinate refugee policy. We have two Ministers on the Front Bench, and the Department of Education is also directly involved.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as refugees will remain in this country for the foreseeable future, there is an urgent need for Government co-ordination led by a single Minister of a senior status, so that the information that he is rightly requesting can be supplied to Parliament annually, at least, and a Minister would be accountable for all aspects of refugee policy?

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have received correspondence from the British Refugee Council, which has made a similar point. The different Departments desperately need to pull together on that important matter, and one Department should be clearly identified as a lead Department, so that decisions can be made more swiftly.

The British Refugee Council makes the criticism that too many of the Government's decisions and initiatives on those matters are short-term, and that a much longer-term approach is needed. Refugees do not come to this country for six months and then suddenly disappear as a problem from the area that they locate. They have housing, education and social service needs, all of which develop as they begin to establish themselves in communities.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, some three years ago, in 1990, when a group of unaccompanied Eritrean children arrived in this country, a delegation of Labour Members from London and other places went to the Department of Health to discuss their needs? We then went to see the Department of the Environment, the Department of Social Security and the Home Office. At that time, we were calling for a serious co-ordination of strategy to ensure that those children were properly looked after and given the necessary support. Three years later, that co-ordination has still not happened.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which has been made to me and others by the various organisations that are trying to provide assistance for refugees. They wonder what difference there is between refugees originating from the former Yugoslavia and those originating from other areas, such as Eritrea and Somalia, and believe that there might be an equally strong case to be made on their behalf.

That is precisely the type of matter that could be disussed between the lead Department and the various local authority associations which are having to meet the needs of refugees generally.

A leader of one such association has suggested that some Government contingency funds designated for refugees from the former Yugoslavia have already been earmarked to deal with problems concerned with refugees from elsewhere in the world who have settled here and for whom no special grants are available. That is another reason why it is difficult to deal with the issue through contingency funds.

We need a long-term, properly co-ordinated approach. So long as Britain plays an important role in international situations, such as in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and accepts international obligations and demonstrates humanity, there will be a continuing need for funds to meet the needs of refugees.

That need cannot satisfactorily be met through the standard spending assessment if the bulk of the burden is to be carried by local authorities. Too many of the issues involved lack predictability. That being so, the SSA system, even if all the anomalies were ironed out, is not the best way to cope with that type of need.

I urge the Minister to be straight with the House and accept that his proposals, while better than nothing, are pathetically short-term. Having accepted the obligation of caring for refugees, which does this country no harm in international negotiations, we risk being accused of failing to make adequate provision for people whom we have identified as deserving.

Will the Minister accept that, despite less than £90,000 by way of special grant, less than £12 per head, having been paid to local authorities last year to meet the needs of refugees, and despite the good work done by some charities and individuals, the main burden continues to fall on local authorities? It is time for a fair deal to be given to councils which must, and want to, help refugees. It is also time for a fair deal to be given to the refugees themselves.

10.42 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I warmly welcome the report and the terms in which the Minister explained its purposes. My local authority, the London borough of Hillingdon, will benefit from the grant referred to in the report. I anticipate that it will benefit by about £550,000 this year. That will be of enormous relief to my constituents in Uxbridge and to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), whose constituencies, like mine, are situated in the borough of Hillingdon.

I agreed with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the standard spending assessment. It is difficult, if not impossible, for local authorities to meet from their contingency funds the high cost of caring for unaccompanied child refugees.

We all know that local authorities are hard pressed. Every pound of expenditure has to be accounted for and there is no spare cash available to meet the substantial costs involved in such an exercise. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North spoke of the need for scrutiny. While I agree with him on that, I must say that the Public Accounts Committee takes a keen interest in the way in which public funds are spent, and it would not surprise me if the Public Accounts Committee involved itself in such affairs in future.

The grant available represents 85 per cent. of Hillingdon's relevant expenditure on unaccompanied child refugees who arrive, principally at Heathrow airport, from Eritrea, Uganda, Angola and elsewhere in Africa. In Hillingdon we do not have much of a problem with caring for people who come from former Yugoslavia; our problem mainly involves unaccompanied child refugees from Africa. For Hillingdon that expenditure amounted to £1 million last year.

The expense is resented by many of my constituents, who find the cost reflected in their council tax bills. It is incurred by Hillingdon because Heathrow airport is located within its boundary and the local authority has a duty, under the Children Act 1989, to care for refugee children who are abandoned at the airport. I am talking about young people under the age of 18. A number of those who have been taken into the care of my local authority have been teenagers in their late teens, just under the age limit. We are not talking merely about tiny children.

The cost to a borough such as mine of caring for anything between 35 and 50 youngsters is substantial. The money is spent on accommodation and maintenance and on promoting the welfare of children who are fostered within the district. It is expensive because sometimes when a child is fostered, he or she takes the place of another child from the immediate vicinity who might have been placed with those foster parents. There are also the costs of publicity and advertising for suitable foster parents. In addition, there is the not inconsiderable cost of interpretation services. It is not surprising that those costs are high when one considers that the young people involved frequently do not speak any English, but a variety of African languages—interpretation is essential.

How do those youngsters arrive in a borough such as Hillingdon, and the furthest extremities of the county of Middlesex? We all know that they come to Heathrow airport because they are abandoned, usually on the passenger side of the terminal, but sometimes on the air side. They often arrive in the United Kingdom having boarded the aircraft at the point of departure in one of the African countries using false papers which have been supplied to them by an unknown agency. They use the papers to pass through emigration, board the aircraft and make the passage to the United Kingdom. Those papers are frequently destroyed on the flight, when they are flushed down the lavatory. Having arrived at Heathrow, the young person waits until the aircraft which brought him or her to this country has departed for another destination.

When the youngsters eventually present themselves before the immigration services, they are unable to speak our language and unable to say how they arrived or with what assistance. It is impossible to refuse them entry or care for them, and the local authority has to take them into care in accordance with the provisions of the Children Act.

My constituents are generous and tolerant, but they ask me some difficult questions. The straightforward question that I hear from my constituents, whether they live in Harefield in the north or West Drayton in the south, is, why do we have to pay the costs of caring for the youngsters when it is a national problem? If national policy is that they should be cared for, surely the cost should be borne by the national Exchequer. That view is very understandable.

Once such youngsters have arrived in this country, there is no realistic possibility of their being returned to the countries of origin, even if those countries are no longer at war. Even if they have child care facilities, it is virtually impossible, because of the provisions of this country's legislation on children, to return them. A child has only to object.

This matter has exercised my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) and Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and myself for more than two years. It is partly as a result of our representations to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as well as to my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), as successive Secretaries of State for the Environment, who have considered the matter with sympathy, that I am welcoming this step. We are confronted with a very difficult problem, which should be dealt with and paid for by the nation rather than by the people of one or two local authority areas.

I welcome what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has said about a review of the rate support grant formula for future years. I am particularly glad to welcome the assistance that he has provided, thus demonstrating that we have a listening Government who are dealing with a very complex problem that requires the sympathy and understanding of all hon. Members.

10.51 pm
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

As I am the Member for a Scottish constituency, it is appropriate that I should first pay tribute to Mrs. Christine Witcutt, who was killed yesterday by sniper fire in Sarajevo. She was delivering clothes and medical supplies in that part of the former Yugoslavia. Mrs. Witcutt represented an organisation called Edinburgh Direct Aid. All hon. Members will want to express their deep sympathy for her family and to make it clear that alongside their great grief is their pride in what she was doing.

I want to ask hon. Members to consider the omissions from this provision. This is a report of the Department of the Environment, issued under local government finance legislation relating to England. There is no reference to or provision for Scotland. We have been told by the Scottish Office that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not have power to make specific grants for this purpose and that if Scottish local authorities face additional expenditure for the resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers, this will be taken into account, in consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in determing the level of aggregate external finance. Any hon. Member who believes such a thing is not fit to be let out on his own. There is no such specific power, although Scottish authorities will face similar additional expenditure in terms of provision for extra teachers and social workers.

I pay tribute to the Scottish Refugee Council and to Scottish local authorities and Government Departments that provide for education, social work, social security, housing and health. I am not so unreasonable as to expect the Under-Secretary of State to answer my questions tonight. I am sure, however, that he will be able to forward my queries to the appropriate quarters and to direct attention to this anomaly, to which my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will also no doubt refer.

On page 7 of the report, paragraph 1(d) refers to the cost of interpretation services, other than costs which have been funded through grant under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. The problem is that section 11 does not apply to Scotland. Labour Members have frequently asked for it to apply, but that has been resisted by the Scottish Office. Therefore, the cost of interpretation services in Scotland does not qualify for additional grant.

The Scottish Office has said that urban aid can be used as the equivalent of section 11 grants, but a recent parliamentary answer confirmed that no projects for refugees or asylum seekers have been funded under urban aid. Worse than that, a project submitted by the Scottish Refugee Council, fully supported by Strathclyde regional council and, I believe, the social services group within the Scottish Office, has been turned down by the administrative arm of the Scottish Office on the ground that it is not appropriate for urban aid.

The lack of necessary powers leads to problems, especially when linked with some recent Government proposals. For example, the setting up of independent further education colleges, with a duty to provide further education in their areas, meant that when the Scottish Refugee Council wanted a 10-week English course for some refugees, Stevenson college charged it £6,250. Of course, the council does not have that sort of funds, so I am pleased that the course has now been funded by the Scottish Office on a one-off basis, using the mechanism of a section 10 grant under the Social Work Acts. However, the council was told that it was definitely a one-off, last-chance grant and not to expect it again.

The problems of refugees will not be solved by a 10-week course, so where will future funding come from? We are dealing with people who have been through appalling experiences and who will probably have health and social problems for a long time to come. Anyone who is realistic about the position in the former Yugoslavia cannot be anything other than pessimistic about the likelihood of further refugees coming to Britain—certainly if we have a decent Government who take their fair share of responsibility.

There is an anomaly because the Scottish Office cannot pay the special grant provided for in the report because the Secretary of State does not have the necessary power to do so. Section I I, which is referred to in the report, is also not applicable to Scotland. The report refers to urban aid, but particular projects have been turned down on the ground that it is not appropriate to refugees.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make these points, and I hope that the Minister will be able to redirect them to the relevant section of the Government. I believe that I have demonstrated that this order is being put forward in a way that will lead to anomalies as between the different countries of the United Kingdom.

11 pm

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I do not want it to appear to be simply a love-in with the Minister on the Conservative side, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I want to express my gratitude to him and to the Government for the measures enshrined in the report.

I represent the whole of Uttlesford district council, which contains Stansted airport. With no disrespect to the efforts put in over a long period by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and the other hon. Members representing Hillingdon, I like to think that it was the circumstances that confronted Uttlesford district council when a planeload of refugees from the former Yugoslavia arrived one Sunday evening that helped to tip the scales in Government thinking about how this kind of situation was to be addressed.

The arrival of 150 or more refugees in a small rural district council area was out of all proportion to the circumstances of that council and its ability to deal with them. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that it dealt with it extremely well and capably. He listened most patiently and sympathetically to the representations that the council subsequently made to him, and I was delighted when there was an indication of a positive reaction.

It is all very well, I say to my hon. Friend—so that I do not appear to speak entirely in terms of fulsome praise —to refer to contingencies, as the Government have traditionally done, and to say that local authorities must be assumed to be capable of dealing with them, but some things are out of all proportion to any kind of preparation for contingencies that an authority can make.

I concede that every local authority in the country can have different forms of contingency. If there is an airport within the boundaries, one may speculate on a certain type of contingency that may flow from that. Other problems, such as a cliff falling away, may occur in a coastal constituency. All manner of disastrous unexpected events can occur. Obviously, therefore, prudent local authorities must be assumed to be making some provision; but there will from time to time be very unusual happenings that must have special attention.

I therefore anticipate that it may be very difficult, in the ordinary mechanisms of dealing with local government finance, to cover all the sorts of situations that may arise, and not just in the field of immigration and refugees. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) put a whole variety of possibilities, in the form of questions, to my hon. Friend.

Inevitably, however, the Government cannot—and a Minister from the Department of the Environment, away from the baleful glare of the Treasury, certainly cannot—make commitments to spend money in almost any circumstances that might arise. But I hope that, if unusual situations do arise, they will be looked at on their merits, and perhaps the House will be asked again to approve unusual measures of this kind to deal with them. I do not believe that they can necessarily be covered through the mechanisms of local government finance.

Very unusual circumstances arose for Uttlesford district council in this case. It is grateful for the way in which the Government reacted, as am I. We have a very satisfactory result for the people I represent in the district of Uttlesford, and I thank the Minister for that.

11.4 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

On Saturday morning, a citizen of the former Yugoslavia came to see me—along with a representative of the British Refugee Council and an interpreter—to talk through his predicament. He has arrived here, has settled in my constituency and has refugee status; his wife has permission to come here. However, his sole remaining close relative—a young adult son, a second-year mechanics student—is not being allowed into the United Kingdom. The wife therefore remains at home in the former Yugoslavia, enduring daily threats, harassment and persecution.

The only other person staying in the family home is the student son's cousin, an 18-year-old who is also unable to come to the United Kingdom. His family have been accommodated in Dewsbury; I shall write to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) probably tomorrow, to enlist her help with the other half of the extended family. No other members of the cousin's family are left in the former Yugoslavia; the other members of both parts of the family are here, or elsewhere in the world.

Two families, then, are settled in two different parts of the United Kingdom. They are part of the small number referred to by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) who have been accepted into the United Kingdom—far fewer, so far, than the number that we were led to expect. They cannot yet be accorded the basic decency of being joined by their closest relatives, because technically they are not dependent—although the cultural and financial reality is that they are entirely dependent: they could rely on no one else if the rest of the family came here as refugees.

The first priority is for the Government to exercise a little humility in regard to what they are doing about refugees from the former Yugoslavia. I do not think that any hon. Member is likely to vote against the motion, because something is better than nothing; 85 per cent. of the cost that falls to local authorities in England and Wales is better than nothing.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

What about Scotland?

Mr. Hughes

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. He is speaking not just for himself, but for his Scottish colleagues. The distinction between the treatment of Scotland and that of England and Wales is unfair, both generally and specifically—for instance, in regard to section 11 grants. The hon. Gentleman makes his case well; perhaps one of his hon. Friends will add to it.

Let me make a generic point. Although we are using the report to top up funds for British local authorities where refugees are settling, in many respects we are probably not yet dealing adequately with the fundamental problem. We must ensure that, when the moment of need arises, people can come into this country to be with their families. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is present. This case, along with others, will wing its way to his desk very quickly. I hope and expect that he will be generous; I do not expect the Government to be difficult about the matter. I trust that it will not be a question of special pleading, and that the basic merits of the case will facilitate the proceedings.

The hon. Members for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) have referred to the haphazard way in which refugees settle, in the first few days, in the country to which they have fled. Most settle in constituencies, districts and boroughs that contain airports. Many come to urban areas—to the capital, and to cities such as that represented by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), where there is a settled immigrant community. Many, however, come to places where it has not been traditional for them to settle as a race, a people or an ethnic group. They come because that is the first place where somebody makes them an offer.

I make no complaints about the number of refugees who have come to Southwark, because it is a moral duty, a theological duty and, some of us would say, a clearly Christian duty, for the rich world to accommodate refugees. But we have had a succession of refugees, from Somalia, from Eritrea and from Vietnam. Many of those people have come to Southwark not because there were hundreds of other people from their countries here before, but because it was the first available place where they could be housed.

My local authority, Southwark, and all the other local authorities, are left to pick up some of the tab because the money from the Government will fall short. The report gives only, at best, 85 per cent. of the money. There may be an argument that the local authority should make a contribution. I do not necessarily dissent from that, but the issue is the fair spread of contributions, when the responsibility is an overall British responsibility. I do not want to be misunderstood; I make no complaint about the fact that we have our share of refugees. My argument is that we as a nation have a duty, which I hope that we shall continue to have, to accommodate refugees.

Compared with most European Community countries, we have been pretty mean in accommodating refugees from the former Yugoslavia. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department looks as if he disagrees, but the number of people who have come into this country recently as refugees, compared with the numbers going into Germany, Denmark and Luxembourg, for example, are small in relation to our population.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will bear in mind the fact that the large numbers of people who have gone to Germany from the war-torn zone of Yugoslavia have not done so as a result of any political decision made in Germany. The German Government have not decided to enable those people to enter; they have simply arrived across the frontier. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also bear in mind the fact that since September 1991 about 70,000 people from former Yugloslavia have come here in one capacity or another.

Mr. Hughes

I do not disagree with either of the Minister's comments. I know what the figures are for the refugee entry that we have allowed, in terms of heads of families and their dependants. I know, too, that the rate has slowed down and that we have still not reached the target. I do not deny what the Minister has said—that, in terms of the number of people who are here because they cannot be where they want to be, the relative burden on us, as a rich country, is smaller than the burden on other countries.

Mr. Corbyn

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact, but the report does not apply to the generality of refugees, but only to those from former Yugoslavia. Many of the problems that his constituency and mine gladly face—in the sense that we are happy to support people who are refugees—will get no recognition and no help from central Government.

Mr. Hughes

I understand that. I know that the order relates only to the former Yugoslavia. One of my complaints is that the Government may be trying to present a compassionate face—in connection with the former Yugoslavia they may have some justification for doing so—when their general response over the years to the needs of local authorities dealing with refugees has not been especially generous or consistent. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has been misled by the hon. Member for Islington, North, who arrived late. The report relates not to one grant but to two. One concerns refugees from former Yugoslavia, but the other concerns unaccompanied children, wherever they may come from throughout the world.

Mr. Corbyn

What difference does that make? That proves my point.

Mr. Hughes

I accept what the Minister says, but the assistance for refugees who are not unaccompanied children is specific to former Yugoslavia. I believe that the House is clear about that, and I do not want to raise a false issue. The report is specifically designed to deal with the problem of refugees from Yugoslavia, and to give local authorities in England and Wales 85 per cent. of the funding to deal with certain categories of refugees that result from that problem.

I have two specific points to make about the detail of the report. The first is about section 11 funding. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said that the provision was absent in Scotland. It is not as generous as it might appear. In many cases, section 11 funding has been reduced from 75 to 50 per cent. Therefore, the report assists in making up a considerably larger gap in meeting continuing needs in the education sector. They are important needs which local authorities and their schools and teachers, with the best will in the world, find it extremely difficult to meet.

In schools such as some in my constituency, there are 28 mother tongues. Each time that a new category of student armies—say youngsters from Yugoslavia who speak Serbo-Croat or whatever—they have to be provided for. I hope that we shall equally be able to grant fund people such as the students to whom I referred at the beginning of my speech who will want to go to university, polytechnic or college to continue their education.

My second point has been referred to by others. What the Minister said about the review of the system for allocating funding and assessing needs is important. The Government are doing a general review. The standard spending assessment mechanism needs to be far more accurate and honest in reflecting differential need, and far more responsive. I have always taken the view that the best judges of what is the best system, if they can agree—I believe that if they are asked to agree, they will—are the local authorities.

I hope that, at the end of the review, the system for making sure that local authorities are compensated for dealing with particular burdens such as those that fall across all the sectors dealing with refugees is one that the local authorities propose and support. If we all knew that the report and others like it came to the House blessed in every detail by the local authority associations in England and Wales and by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the House would be much happier.

11.16 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I am obviously pleased that some money is being provided for refugees from ex-Yugoslavia and unaccompanied children. I shall speak about the shortcomings of the proposals, but I welcome the provision of some money.

The proposals seem to be a minor, low-key response to what for many local authorities is a major problem. They have to cope with large numbers of refugees. It is a pity that the proposals coincide with other action by the Government which will be prejudicial to the interests of refugees. The cut in section 11 funding from 75 per cent. now to 57 per cent. in 1994–95, and eventually to 50 per cent., is particularly prejudicial. It is a pity that that is happening at the same time as the Government have accepted a private Member's Bill which I originated to widen the definition of section 11 funding and make more refugees eligible to receive the money. I hope that the Government will see that that money needs to be matched by a commitment to reverse the cuts.

There seem to be several problems with the specific grant which is the subject of the order. The first problem is the time limitations. The Minister made it clear that he saw the money as a one-off grant. He did not envisage the grant being made in future years, when he expected the SSA system to deal with funding. But that limitation is not the only problem.

If one reads the report carefully, one finds that it covers only refugees from ex-Yugoslavia who arrived between I April 1992 and 6 November 1992, when the visa regime was introduced. One consequence will be that many of the Bosnian refugees whom we will accept through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees programme will not be eligible for funding because they will have arrived after the date on which the order ran out.

It would be too much to expect a retroactive order, but, as has been pointed out, in the past two or three years some London boroughs have spent large amounts of money dealing with unaccompanied children, particularly those who arrived from Eritrea in 1990.

It is strange that we still rely on a formula to distribute grant to local authorities to deal with refugees which was originally devised to deal with the effects of hurricanes, which is what the Bellwin formula was when it was first produced. The last time that it was used was in 1989 when large numbers of Kurdish refugees arrived in this country. I recall then being part of a local authority delegation to the Department of the Environment to discuss that issue.

The issue now, as then, is that the decision whether to admit refugees or asylum seekers to this country is not for local authorities but for the Government or Government agencies. Local authorities have little, if any, control over how many people arrive in their areas at any one time. That depends on existing communities, whether the local authority is located near an airport or railway station and how sympathetic the local authority is.

There is no doubt that which local authorities are likely to adopt a sympathetic attitude to new arrivals is spread by word of mouth, and those that are rightly sympathetic end up being financially penalised. My borough will have to spend more than £300,000 before it qualifies for any money whatever, and some London boroughs will have to spend approaching £500,000.

Local authorities with tight budgets simply do not hold such contingency funds which are not earmarked. Their contingency budgets are set aside to deal with pay rises, interest rate changes and inflation during the year. They simply do not have such amounts of money sitting around not already earmarked.

I am also concerned about the limitations on eligibility. I have already mentioned the time limits and who is eligible from the former Yugoslavia, but what will happen to other refugees? What will happen to local authorities, such as those in east London, where there have been significant arrivals in the past two or three years from Sri Lanka and Somalia? Exactly the same points on dependants apply to those people as to people coming from the former Yugoslavia. Both groups come from countries that have been affected by war and human rights abuses and exactly the same conditions of acceptance of refugees apply to them as to those from the former Yugoslavia.

Why do we have to wait for a crisis before money is found? Why is there no coherent resettlement programme? Why do we have to rely so much on the voluntary sector, the Refugee Council, the refugee arrivals project and on community groups? It is often the community groups that end up putting in a great deal of effort, work and resources to support new arrivals.

It simply is not the case that standard spending assessments can make adequate allowance for such costs. The Minister really gave the game away when he talked about the 1991 census soon being available. That is already two years out of date. It can in no way cope with people who have arrived since. We all know what happens between censuses. The census used for standard spending assessments becomes more and more out of date and unreliable.

To quote London average figures is no answer either. As everyone knows, refugees are not evenly distributed. Even within London, which attracts far more refugees than many other areas of the country, some London boroughs have far more refugees within their boundaries than others. SSAs are simply not sensitive enough to cope with differences between one local authority and its neighbour or with the changes that take place from one year to the next when large numbers of people arrive. We know that there are always anomalies in SSAs. The factors that affect SSAs in large measure are not the arrival of refugees—

Mr. Corbyn

On the point about the attitudes of local authorities, is my hon. Friend aware that the whole system is a positive disincentive to local authorities at the point of arrival and a positive encouragement to them to send them on elsewhere? I am sure that he will be aware that in London a surprisingly small number of refugees are assisted by Westminster city council and a much larger number by councils surrounding the City of Westminster. He can draw his own conclusions from that.

Mr. Gerrard

That is absolutely right, and that pattern is repeated across the country: refugees tend to be concentrated in certain areas, often depending on how sympathetic a local authority is.

Local authorities are being put in the invidious position of having to cut services for other people to provide for refugees. The potential that that creates for resentment and for racism should not be underestimated. The services and items of expenditure that are listed as eligible are virtually all related to temporary services. No doubt it will be argued that SSAs will cover the rest. But how temporary is temporary? As many hon. Members have pointed out, refugees do not stay for six months and then go away.

Local authorities that try to avoid, for example, the use of temporary accommodation, and whose policies are, wherever possible, to put people into permanent accommodation straight away, are the ones who suffer because they do not qualify for the grants that are proposed. In future, the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill will force local authorities into using more temporary accommodation and that will entail much greater cost.

Not all local authorities have to deal with refugees. There are good reasons—often to do with community—why refugees end up in certain local authority areas. We know that local authorities vary considerably in the extent to which they take their responsibilities seriously. At present, those which do take them seriously are penalised. The Government should be prepared to accept their responsibility, but the report does little other than to emphasise the inadequacy of what they are prepared to do.

11.27 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I refer in particular to the plight of refugees from former Yugoslavia: first, because, when I visited both Croatia and Bosnia with the Select Committee on Defence back in February, I saw a little of the mayhem from which people are trying to escape; and, secondly, because I have in my constituency a small reception centre for some of the refugees from Bosnia who have been accepted by Britain. That reception centre is run by the Scottish Refugee Council at Cheylesmore lodge in North Berwick and I may say that people have rightly been made immensely welcome by my constituents. I pay tribute to all the voluntary agencies and to everyone else who has been involved.

I am afraid that there is a slight contrast between the enthusiasm and efficiency of the Scottish Refugee Council in its work and the kind of support that has been forthcoming from central Government. I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place. He may recall that I spoke to him and was in touch with his office. I ended up having to table a parliamentary question to ensure that the initial tranche of £75,000 actually got through to the Scottish Refugee Council to provide for the needs of those refugees.

The situation was absurd. These people had arrived from Bosnia and there they were in a former local authority old people's home which had been refurbished using voluntary work over the weekend. The advice that came from the Home Office when the money did not come through was, "Oh dear. We are in the process of changing our accounting system. Can't they get a loan from the bank to tide them over for a bit?" The money came through, and so far, so good. I understand that the next tranche is due shortly and I hope that we will not have the same problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made the point that the order does not apply to Scotland. I appreciate that not as many refugees come to Scotland as come to other parts of the United Kingdom, but we do have refugees. Certainly, there are the refugees in my constituency to whom I referred. Local authorities are providing back-up and incurring costs and they should be able to get the support that they require to cover those costs.

I stress that the refugees in my constituency are extremely welcome. I am delighted that many of them are resettling in public sector housing in my constituency. However, it would be helpful if the local authority could get an additional capital allocation to compensate for the fact that some of the limited housing stock is being made available to them. Such matters should be taken into account and I fear that that is not happening at present. The same point could be made about education costs and other costs that arise.

There is no way in which the contribution to local authorities in England is begrudged in any way, but the Government should put in place a system for Scotland. It is right that we are debating the order for a special grant for local authorities in England which are affected, but why do we not have something equivalent to support local authorities in Scotland?

I visited the reception centre in North Berwick and was concerned to hear reports of difficulties involving dependants coming to join their families. This point was raised by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I am worried to hear that these people are experiencing difficulties with genuine dependants—they may not be direct relations but they are dependants—who are apparently finding it difficult to join their families who have been evacuated to Scotland.

I wish that we could do more to make it possible for those people to remain in their own country. However, as the United Nations is conspicuously failing to do that, it is right that we should give some of those people a safe haven here. We probably need more of them. Let us get our act together and ensure that there is proper back-up for local authorities, not only in England but in Scotland.

11.32 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I apologise to the House for missing the Minister's speech and part of that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). I was detained outside on an extremely urgent matter and that is the reason why I missed those speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) has given me a full and accurate account of everything that was said. I am sure that the Minister will trust my hon. Friend to relay his words to me. Perhaps not, but we can all read Hansard tomorrow.

My brief point—because I want to give the Minister sufficient time to reply—is that we live in a world in which a large number of people are forced to seek refuge in other countries. The experience of many of those people in their own countries is absolutely horrific. When they finally arrive at a place of safety—in this case, we are talking about this country—they obviously need help, support, consideration and recognition, but they also need respect.

We should recognise that those who seek asylum here are not coming here to be supplicants for the rest of their lives. They have suffered a terrible defeat. They want to make a positive contribution to our society in education, health and many other areas. The enormous achievements of former refugees must also be recognised. I refer to those who fled from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the enormous contribution that they have made in so many areas, as well as those from Chile, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and many other places. We should recognise the positive achievements and not allow the debate to be dragged into the gutter by the xenophobia of some of the popular press in this country. It is important that we recognise that.

There are many inadequacies in the Government's strategy for dealing with this matter. I have had experience of dealing with refugees from a large number of different places and circumstances. I recall the terrible experience of the unaccompanied Eritrean children who arrived here in 1990. There were various reasons why they were unaccompanied. There were understandable reasons why their documents were destroyed, why they sought refuge in this country and why their parents sent them here. Their parents felt that it was no longer safe to keep their children in that country and, because they could not get away, they put their children on planes to come here.

I hope that the Government recognise that the attitude adopted by local authorities at that time was variable, to put it mildly. Some did a great deal to support those unaccompanied children, but they ended up with a large bill because they are demanding children who need help and support.

The problem with the order is that it applies solely to the former Yugoslavia and all unaccompanied children. I am glad that it applies to all such children, but I want to see it extended to provide greater guarantees for authorities and refugees. I do not believe that it is likely, as the Minister so grandly says, that future SSAs will bear in mind the needs of refugee communities. Up to now, they have not. Unless some change is made to the way in which SSAs are calculated, I do not see any likelihood of any future change.

I have the utmost sympathy for all the refugees from the former Yugoslavia. I do not believe that our country has done enough for refugees from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia or wherever. We must do far more and history will not look kindly on the attitude shown to those refugees who have sought asylum. Their situation is terrible and they deserve support. There are, however, refugees from Somalia, Zaire, Angola, Mozambique and many other places who have been subject to equally horrific experiences.

Horror and disturbances do not occur where the BBC and Kate Adie happen to be; they occur where they happen—in many other places other than the former Yugoslavia. The Government scheme for the former Yugoslavia may be inadequate and limited—it does not apply to refugees in Scotland—but if they can introduce it for that country, the same should be introduced for people from other parts of the world.

11.36 pm
Mr. Baldry

With the leave of the House, I will reply to the debate.

Everyone who has spoken has welcomed the report and the grants included in it. It has been a debate about questions and issues and I know that hon. Members have no intention of dividing the House on the order.

The crux of the matter is whether some special grant should be introduced to deal with refugees. It is important to note that the pressures that refugees bring to bear on local services are not different in kind from the pressures that anyone with distinctive needs places on a local authority.

The most appropriate means of central support for local government is through the distribution of revenue support grant, based on SSAs. In general, we believe that authorities should have sufficient resources to cover the costs incurred by asylum seekers and refugees.

The kinds of pressure that refugees exert on local services are picked up in the SSA. Those refugees do not impose additional costs on local authorities because they are refugees; extra costs are incurred because many refugees, though not all, place extra demands on the housing, education and social services provided by those authorities.

The need for such services in an area is already reflected in the SSA. The SSAs of those local authorities in which refugees tend to congregate, particularly in London, are generally higher than those of other authorities precisely because those authorities face the spending pressures that tend to be associated with the presence of refugees. As they are assimilated into the local population, the personal circumstances and characteristics of the refugees are recorded in the various indicators used to calculate SSAs, so that the costs imposed by them are reflected in the resources available to a given area.

Concern has been expressed about the threshold that local authorities must reach before they qualify for grant. It is important to remember that that threshold is, in effect, the equivalent of the product of a tuppenny rate, under the old system, and the equivalent of £5 for a band D equivalent under the council tax. It is not unreasonable to expect local authorities to be able to meet that sort of contingency, and rightly so.

It is also important to appreciate that not all local authorities face the sort of pressures described tonight. For example, Birmingham estimates that this year its costs, under this grant scheme, will be £71,000, which is equivalent to only 0.008 per cent. of its total spending. It is not unreasonable to expect an authority in those circumstances to be able to meet that expenditure out of its contingency and reserve funds.

The order relates to two grants. The first is for Yugoslav refugees and the second is for unaccompanied children. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) asked how much I thought we would be paying out in grants. As I made clear in my opening comments, it may be somewhere between £3 million and £4 million. I was asked whether I would meet local authority representatives.

As I also made clear, we are perfectly prepared to consider any constructive suggestions about how the methodology of the standard spending assessments could be improved to accommodate refugees but, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, that methodology must be robust. We are undertaking a comprehensive review of the SSAs and I anticipate that, within the context of that review, the local authority associations, particularly those in London, will want to make their views known as to how the SSA formula could apply. We shall listen to those views positively.

I was asked whether I would make available to the House an annual report on asylum seekers. I am prepared to provide details to the House on matters for which I am responsible as and when they are requested.

I welcome the constructive comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). I pay tribute to the constructive way in which their local authorities, and many other local authorities, have met the challenges with which they have been confronted. However, it is important to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, who is concerned about unaccompanied children, that the number of unaccompanied children appears to be dropping. In April this year, the total was one from the Ivory Coast, one from Kenya, one from Lebanon, four from Somalia, one from Sri Lanka, one from Turkey and three from Zaire. So we must put the matter into context.

The hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked what happens in Scotland. It is fair to point out that the Scottish Office is in consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the question of refugees, and that COSLA has so far received no representations from member authorities about additional burdens being placed on them by the need to provide services for refugees.

I recognise that the hon. Member for East Lothian has a number of refugee families in his constituency. He described the circumstances relating to them, and I shall draw the attention of ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office to the points that he raised.

The order concerns two grants that have been devised because we recognise that special circumstances relate to the Yugoslav refugees and unaccompanied children. But the methodology of allocating money should enable local authorities to make adequate provision for refugees within their areas. I have no doubt that they can do that.

Of those London authorities likely to qualify for grant for unaccompanied children this year, no authority that will not qualify comes within more than half of the threshold. So very few local authorities will have incurred significant expenditure this year on the two areas that we are considering. For example, the London borough of Barking estimates that it will spend only £15,500; Barnet estimates that it will spend £24,000; Kensington and Chelsea will receive grant; and the London borough of Merton estimates that it will spend £68,000.

We are ensuring that those local authorities that are making significant contributions will be refunded—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKE.R put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 ( Exempted business).

Question agreed to.


That the Special Grant Report (No. 8) (House of Commons Paper No. 724), which was laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.