§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the consequences of rate capping in Lambeth.Those consequences are specific and immediate because today 31 Labour councillors and one former Labour councillor have received information from the district auditor of an immediate surcharge of £126,947 for loss of housing benefit and loss of what is called "Crown contribution in lieu of rates" together with the threatened loss of further massive sums by way of surcharge, possibly as high as £750,000. Today, the municipal equivalent of the rack and thumbscrew have been wheeled into Lambeth to threaten councillors with bankruptcy and disqualification. This process is conducted on a presumption of misconduct, not of innocence.
This matter is important because, whatever side one takes in the controversy, rate capping is indisputably a device to force councillors to depart from their promises, principles and consciences and to change — at least temporarily—through an unelected district auditor, the political control of the council.
The matter is urgent because, once the surcharge is raised, there can only be a matter of days during which an objection can be lodged and an appeal made to the High Court. Once that happens, the rules of order of the House could remove from discussion in this Chamber the predicament and problems faced by Lambeth.
It is urgent, too, because the consequences of today's decision and the logical conclusion would mean massive redundancies, cuts and the subversion of a democratically elected council in a borough with the highest unemployment, the highest number of unfit dwellings and almost the highest crime rate in London, and many other very high indices of deprivation.
A debate would allow the Government, even at this late stage, to recognise their responsibilities, admit the amount of money that they have deprived Lambeth of and avoid the damaging consequences of this current confrontation.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that this application should take precedence over the orders of the day so that these matters may be discussed in the House and the House may assert that intimidation and presumption of guilt have no part to play in the process of democracy whether at central Government or local government level.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the consequences of rate capping in Lambeth.I have listened with great care to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.