§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the implications of the High Court judgment this morning regarding the budget limit of the social fund.This is an important matter, because the court has ruled that the Government's budget limit on the relief of poverty is unlawful. The court has thus invalidated the centrepiece of the Fowler reviews of 1988. That is very important, because it is clear that tens of thousands of some of the poorest and most vulnerable families in the country have now been illegally denied their essential entitlements because of the unreasonable rigidity and inflexibility of the Government's approach.
It is a specific matter, because the court's judgment concerns specific cases. A family with seven children who moved from a three-bedroomed to a five-bedroomed council house when the parents were reconciled after separation were illegally refused a grant which forced their daughter aged 15 to share a single bed with their five-year-old girl. A 19-year-old who was forced to leave home by his father's violence was illegally refused a grant to buy furniture for a council flat.
The matter demands urgent consideration for two reasons. First, the High Court made it clear that the Government's power to withhold payments because the budget is exhausted is illegal. The Government must now immediately remove the budget cap that they have 938 wrongly placed on the essential needs payments for families in poverty. Those payments were running at £400 million a year in 1987. They were cut under the social fund to only £140 million last year, and there has been only a paltry £3 million increase this year. That is why the social fund refusal rates are now running at an iniquitous 50 to 60 per cent. and why the court found that a restrictive budget is incompatible with the proper exercise of discretion.
Secondly, the Government must now undertake to recompense retrospectively all those families whom the judgment shows have been illegally cheated out of their entitlements in the past.
For these precise and fair reasons, I beg leave to move the Adjournment of the House so that what is now shown to be a fundamental flaw in the Government's social security policy can be fully debated and an injustice put right.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the implications of the High Court judgment this morning regarding the budget limit of the social fund.As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20 I have to announce my decision without giving reasons to the House. I have listened with concern to what the hon. Member has said, but, as he knows, I have to decide whether his application should be given precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the requirement of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.