§ Mr. Hattersley
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which falls wholly within ministerial responsibilities and which should have urgent consideration, namely,the duty of the Government to publish immediately the criteria against which they will judge whether local authorities are to be penalised by a reduction in their supplementary rate support grant.This is a matter of complexity, but it is also a matter of considerable democratic importance. A number of local authorities are about to be punished for what the Government call over-spending. Yet the rules that define that offence have not been made available to local authorities. Therefore, at the moment it is impossible for them to know how they can avoid those penalties. The Opposition believe that it is urgently necessary for local authorities to be provided with that information.
The Secretary of State has already announced that he will withhold grants from 20 authorities, and he has described guidelines under which and within which every local authority could be penalised. The guidelines cover 241 authorities out of a possible total of 450, and there is no way in which those authorities can know how they can avoid the penalties and how they can receive the full amount of rate support grant to which they are entitled.
Responding to your wish that there be the briefest of discussions, Mr. Speaker, I shall describe neither the uncertainties of local authorities which put them under the most deplorable and intolerable conditions nor how the Secretary of State may use his discretion in a way that I would describe as arbitrary and possibly capricious. I simply repeat that at this moment local authorities cannot be told and do not know how they can avoid penalties with which they have been threatened by the Secretary of State.
553 To the Opposition it seems an elementary item of justice that the rules governing the conduct of local authorities, the breaking of which results in punishment, and the observance of which results in absolution, should be published in time for local authorities to respond to the Secretary of State's threats in the knowledge of the penalties and offences.
On many occasions this week the Opposition have pressed the Government to make clear those rules. The information necessary to do so is now at their disposal as local authorities made new returns for spending available to the Department by Friday last week. We asked the Government to make clear those rules at Question Time and during the debate on the Summer Adjournment. It is an elementary item of justice that the offence should be publicly defined. That will only happen if the House debates the matter at the first possible moment.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namelythe duty of the Government to publish immediately the criteria against which they will judge whether a local authority is to be penal-issued by a reduction in its supplementary rate support grant.I listened with great care and anxiety to the right hon. Gentleman, who has undoubtedly raised an important matter. But, as the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors that are set out in the order, but to give no reasons for my decision. As I said, I listened with great care to the right hon. Gentleman, but his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.