§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I beg 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 announcement today by the Secretary of State for Scotland about the use of his powers under recent local government legislation to reduce the rate poundages of certain local authorities in Scotland, irrespective of the wishes of the democratically elected local councillors".I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland had, at lunchtime today, a press conference in Scotland and announced his intentions in respect of four councils.— Lothian regional council, Glasgow, Kirkcaldy and Shetland councils—which have been ordered to reduce their rate poundages under the recently amended local government legislation.
I have gleaned information from the press and from talk in the Corridors, although I have heard nothing so far in the House, to the effect that four authorities are still being ordered to reduce their rate poundages by an unacceptable so-called compromise figure. Shetland, for reasons that we can all guess—reasons which are not surprising but not always entirely creditable—has been let off the hook entirely.
The matter is specific by any standards, because we are faced today with an arbitrary decision of the Secretary of State on a fundamental issue of local democracy. It is important because many hon. Members feel strongly about the ruthless and irresponsible attack that has been made on the freedom and rights of councillors, who have a much better mandate from their electorate than the Secretary of State will ever have. The matter is important also because it involves a gross discourtesy—I use those words after some thought—to the House that the Secretary of State should be in Edinburgh, making announcements to the world and his wife, but has not appeared in this House to explain the position. It is offensive and unjustifiable.
I believe that it would be an extremely important step, in defending the rights of hon. Members, if the Secretary of State were forced to give an answer in a debate in the immediate future as to what he has been doing and what he has been trying to avoid by the method that he has chosen.
The matter is urgent because I understand that the four local authorities have been given until 6 July to capitulate on what I believe is a totally unacceptable compromise figure which has been plucked from the air by the Secretary of State. I do not think it is right that they should be forced into submission — which I believe is the intention if they do not capitulate—by orders which are apparently to be steamrollered through the House and which will have the support of only a tiny minority of hon. Members who represent the local authority areas in question.
It is essential that the House should have a chance to discuss the whole matter before final decisions are taken and before the orders are laid. It is clear that the acquiescence of this House, in what is no more than a squalid piece of blackmail, is a threat being used by Ministers to try to force local authorities to give way.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the announcement today by the Secretary of State for Scotland about the use of his powers under recent local government legislation to reduce the rate poundages of certain local authorities in Scotland, irrespective of the wishes of the democratically elected local councillors.I appreciate that it is a very important matter in Scotland and elsewhere, but, as the House knows, under Standing Order No. 10 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration and I have listened carefully to the representations of the hon. Member, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept your ruling, of course, but would you agree that it is a gross discourtesy to the House that a statement should be made first to the press in Edinburgh and not to the House of Commons, particularly when there are no statements being made to the House this afternoon? It would have been perfectly possible for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement in the House. Can you not use your power, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the House, to direct the Secretary of State for Scotland in future to make statements in this House and not to the press in Edinburgh?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not really a matter for me. I take the view that statements should be made in this House before the press receive them. Nevertheless, it is a matter for the Government. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who is an experienced parliamentarian, will no doubt find other ways of raising the matter.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I do not want to challenge your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garcadden (Mr. Dewar) has made a very important point of concern to many people representing Scottish constituencies. I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker—or the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), who is on the Government Front Bench—could tell us whether the House in the near future will have the opportunity to debate this very important matter and to come to a decision so that the views of the elected representatives of the people of Scotland can be expressed, instead of some stooge of a Minister giving out a press notice in Edinburgh—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The point of order should have been addressed to me. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) was, I think, addressing members of the Government Front Bench who, I am sure, have heard what he said.