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Part of Orders of the Day — Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd June 1957.
I am disappointed that the Joint Under-Secretary of State has not risen to accept this Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] We have seen him before rise hurriedly with open arms to welcome an Amendment—when, admittedly, it did not cost the Government very much to do it. This Amendment would not cost the Government a penny. You, Mr. Speaker, will agree that if it would cost the Government a penny you would not have called the Amendment. This Amendment relates to the local authorities.
Hitherto, one of the conditions for getting a subsidy has been that the local authority also has had to pay a subsidy out of the rates for houses provided. There might have been some logic in the Government's doing what they are by this Bill, cutting the national subsidy for new houses, if they had given power to the local authorities to do the same thing in respect of houses still to be built, but what logic is there in giving the local authorities this power to terminate what has been a contract relating to every subsidy granted by every Government since 1919?
Our Amendment draws a dividing line between houses which have already been built in Scotland and those which are still to be built. Those still to be built would get the national subsidy from the Government; and the local authorities would be free to decide whether or lot to give subsidy. Acceptance of our Amendment would mean that the contracts made, and the existing statutory provisions, would still rule for those houses which have already been built. Let us realise that this cutting of the subsidy does not affect those houses for which subsidies are still being paid under previous Acts. The contract which the Government made with the local authority stands.
We say that the provision of that contract, that there should be a statutory subsidy from the local rates, should equally stand. We do not think it right that the Government should decide now to rescind the provisions in the Housing, Town Planning, etc. (Scotland) Act, 1919, in the Housing Act, 1923, in the Wheatley Act of 1924 and in all the Acts of Parliament which annually provide a subsidy on condition that the local authority equally provides a subsidy. Therefore, from the retrospective aspect, we think this legislation wrong.
The general effect of adopting the Clause unamended is to give power to raise rents and that it indicates that the Government want local authorities to raise rents throughout Scotland. It can have no other effect, if the local authorities take advantage of the Clause, the removal of the local subsidy will mean that the rents will have to be increased by that amount for every house built in Scotland since 1919 on which subsidy of some kind is still paid.
In Dumfries, the county authority is so ready to accept the advice of the Government that the rent and rates for "prefabs," those blots on the landscape, are £130 a year. Is it not shocking that a Government which call upon the workers for a wage freeze and whose Prime Minister lectures us every weekend and says, "Let us have some stability" should go out of their way to indicate to the local authorities that what they really want is a rise in rents?
Many of those concerned in Dumfries are miners. Far be it from hon. Members opposite to lecture miners who are now faced with having to pay £130 a year for "prefabs." Amy of those affected are agricultural workers. What crazy kind of policy is this that the Government should lecture us not to do anything that will affect price stability and should then go gratuitously out of their way to indicate to local authorities that they should raise rents all round? It is bad law and bad principle to undo what amounts to a condition of contract in granting subsidies, which has existed from 1919 to 1957. In justice to the tenants and to make sense of economic policy it would be far better to accept the Amendment.
We on this side of the House tried to wipe the whole thing out in Committee. We recognise that the Government are determined to go on with it, but if they must start a new policy it would be far better to start it with houses that are still to be built. If the Government retain all the obligations entered into under Acts of Parliament in respect of houses already built, then, equally, the local authorities should accept and continue to carry out their obligations in respect of those same houses.
I have no doubt that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will tell me that it does not matter and that the local authorities can please themselves. Parliament decided in 1919, 1923, 1924, 1931, 1933, right up to 1952 and again up to last year that local authorities must make a contribution. Surely Parliament had in mind that it was only right that if the Government were providing their share the local authorities should also provide theirs. That principle still stands.
The hon. Gentleman may say that the local authorities will continue to pay the subsidies. Many of them will, but there are local authorities like Dumfries County Council which will be only too glad to say, "This is what the Government want us to do." Like loyal Tories, they will follow the Government, just as loyal hon. Members opposite will go into the Lobby at the behest of the Chief Whip.