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To lie upon the Table.

25 July 2007 : Column 1011

Nursery Care

10.48 pm

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): This is a petition from professional nursery staff, parents of nursery age children and others. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

HMRC Office (Newport)

10.49 pm

Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): I present this petition on behalf of my constituents who are concerned about the possible closure of, and relocation of jobs from, the tax office in Newport city, which is regenerating and working hard to attract jobs and investment.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

367 Bus Route (South London)

10.50 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to present this petition from residents of Croydon and others who are concerned about the implications of the free bus pass for under-18s, as it affects current capacity on the 367 bus route. They are also concerned about the issue of antisocial behaviour, with youth gang warfare in the locality, and are therefore seeking extra policing to deal with the matter.

The petition states:

25 July 2007 : Column 1012

To lie upon the Table.

Handley Hill Primary School

10.51 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to present a petition on behalf of the community in Handley Hill in Winsford in the county of Cheshire in my constituency, and those interested in the maintenance of primary education in Handley Hill.

The petitioners—more than 1,115 of them—are particularly concerned. Their small community has rapidly gathered signatures in support of a school that is now threatened under an absurdly named closure programme by the local education authority called TLC. Those initials are normally referred to much more kindly, but in this case they stand for transforming learning communities, which is a disguise for a proposal to close this school. Its excellent teaching is vital to the community. The committed governors, parents, grandparents, friends and indeed pupils of this excellent school are deeply concerned that its absence from education provision in a town that is often challenged by many socio-economic and behavioural issues would cause adverse consequences to a town that needs to be supported.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

A264 Langton Road (Tunbridge Wells)

10.53 pm

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I rise to present a petition on behalf of 767 constituents who are concerned about the safety record of the A264 at Heathgate Corner, a stretch of road that has a notorious accident record stretching over many years.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

25 July 2007 : Column 1013

School Bus Service (Burton Latimer)

10.54 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I wish to present a petition about the loss of the school bus service from Burton Latimer to Latimer community arts college, which was presented to me today by a delegation of 32 pupils and parents from Burton Latimer together with the Burton Latimer town mayor.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

25 July 2007 : Column 1014

London Population (ONS)

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

10.55 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I might have cut things a little fine for my question this morning, but I have had ample leisure to repent while waiting for the debate this evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an important issue for many Londoners.

It is appropriate to raise population statistics compilation in London with the Exchequer Secretary, who earlier today dealt with the motion about the chair of the Statistics Board. There is a link. In the earlier debate, several hon. Members referred to the general population’s lack of confidence in official statistics. I believe that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made the point that one of the biggest causes of lack of confidence in official statistics is that they are sometimes demonstrably plain wrong. That is exactly the problem with the methodology that produces the official population statistics for London.

London Councils, which has been most anxious to hold such a debate, compiled compelling evidence that the methodology that the Office for National Statistics used to calculate the population of London is seriously flawed. Consequently, the official population statistic significantly understates the capital’s population. London Councils has repeatedly raised the matter with the ONS and the previous Treasury team of Ministers without success—hence its desire for a debate, and I am happy to do my best to oblige.

Lack of confidence in the London population statistics is not new. Westminster city council eventually successfully challenged the population estimates for its city and borough in the 2001 census, which had to be revised upwards after manifest errors were discovered. It was able to point out precisely what had gone wrong. Regrettably, the position has not improved. For reasons that I shall describe, the current methodology of the ONS is flawed and it now proposes to move to a different methodology, which is equally flawed, as can be demonstrated.

It may seem an arcane point, but official population statistics are important. They form part of the basis of important forward planning, such as where more homes, schools and health care facilities should go, long-term policy decisions about, for example, where new transport infrastructure should go, and operational decisions about police numbers for each borough and fire service cover. The risk assessment includes population levels and it is therefore important that the statistics are accurate. They are also important because they are part of the formula to allocate Government grant to councils for local services. If they do not reflect where the people who use the services are, resources will not be directed correctly. That leads ultimately to waste. The concern of London Councils, therefore, is that the funding cake for local government should be divided up on the basis of accurate figures, whatever its size. If it is not, the risk is that London might lose out unfairly. I should like to address that issue in a little more detail.

25 July 2007 : Column 1015

In summary, when London Councils compared the theoretically based estimations of population with detailed work that had been done on the ground in a number of London boroughs, it was able to demonstrate serious underestimation, in particular of the amount of in-migration to the capital. For example, the evidence shows an underestimation of 3,300 people in Enfield and of 2,000 people in Brent, as compared with the number of people who are demonstrably there on the ground in those boroughs. In Newham, it was possible to demonstrate that there were 750 more schoolchildren than were “officially estimated”—the key point is that, unlike the estimates, the schoolchildren are actually there. Similar demonstrations of inaccuracy have been made in Croydon. The problem is not just a London problem. Outside London, Slough has demonstrated an under-calculation of 6,000 people in its population.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning Croydon. The borough has also seen a downward revision on the various ONS calculations and assumptions. However, that has come at a time when the number of migrants registered with GPs was more than 37,000 in the five-year period to April 2007 and when the number of national insurance numbers given out from 2002 to 2006 was almost 18,000. I also know from correspondence with the Jobcentre Plus office that national insurance number registrations accelerated to 7,000 in the first 11 months of the following financial year. Places such as Croydon are suffering from problems in their local government settlement, such that the rate at which they are delivering universal services—that is, non-social services and non-education provision—is only a quarter of the rate for other London councils. Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures for migrants are having an impact on the local government financial settlements that councils enjoy?

Robert Neill: They certainly are. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is not good enough for the Government to say, for example, that migrants frequently move on quickly. That is not demonstrated by the evidence on the ground and nor does it deal with the point that, for a period, migrants live in London, which is often the first port of call. While they are there, they are using London services, and the cost of that has to be met in one way or another.

It is fair to say that those shortfalls are recognised by other responsible bodies, not just by the London boroughs. I remind the Exchequer Secretary of a piece in The Guardian in April, in which the Home Office Minister responsible for immigration said that

That is an acceptance by one of the Exchequer Secretary’s colleagues in Government that the ONS needs to improve its act. Referring to the current method of calculating in-migration, which is based on the international passenger survey—a small sample survey of people arriving—the Governor of the Bank of England said last November:

25 July 2007 : Column 1016

That is a pretty unanswerable point. Lord Bruce-Lockhart, the chairman of the Local Government Association, has said:

The Mayor of London and the London assembly have both complained about the inadequacy of the figures going back to the 2001 census. The Mayor has commented on the fact that the Lisson Grove estate, which contributed substantially to his majority when he was a Member of this House, seemed to have disappeared from the census calculations. It is not often that I agree with the Mayor of London, and I could not agree with him on that one.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is not a matter of party political tension? It is a shared view across the parties and among independent people across Greater London. Is he also aware that in constituencies such as mine there is a turnover of those registered of between 25 and 40 per cent. a year? The reality is that, unless we have a five-yearly census or, even better, an annual opportunity to count, we will never begin to catch up and accurately measure the numbers in a way that can be reflected in an accurate apportionment of grant by central Government to local government.

Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is consensus on this between all three parties in the Association of London Government, and this view was endorsed by its leaders committee in its most up-to-date report only a few weeks ago.

I have set out why this matter is important for the levels of funding for personal services, adult services and children’s services, the capitation formula for primary care trust funding and the dedicated schools grant. All those issues and more depend on getting this right. The criticisms have been well set out and, with respect, it is not good enough for the Government to retreat into the position that they and the ONS have so far adopted, saying that they have used the best available statistics. In this case, the best available statistics are demonstrably wrong.

The final piece of evidence that I should like to pray in aid is a survey by the City of Westminster which shows that some 40,000 new national insurance numbers were issued to residents of Westminster between 2002 and 2004. That represents a 17 per cent. increase on the 2001 base population. It might shock hon. Members to learn that that survey also shows that about 20,000 people arrive at Victoria coach station every week, predominantly from eastern Europe. For at least some of the time after they arrive in the UK, they will be in London.

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