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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 was interested to hear the Joint Under-Secretary's closing remarks. He used a familiar phrase. He said, "This is a realistic policy". Whenever I hear a Tory talking about a "realistic" policy, I know that ordinary folk are to "get it in the neck". That is what always happens when a Government spokesman says "We must introduce an element of realism", so I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman declines to accept the Amendment.
I was also struck by the rather naïve manner in which the hon. Gentleman said, "We are doing nothing. We are just leaving this to the local authorities." But the Government are doing something. They are giving the local authorities a lead. The fact that the Government are now saying "You need not pay anything" is an indication to the local authorities that they need not pay anything. The hon. Gentleman may not be in the inner councils of his party, but surely he knows that that is the message which his party intends to send to the local authorities—that they can stop paying the subsidy.
What does the hon. Gentleman think the so-called municipal ratepayers' associations and progressive associations throughout Scotland will say when they know about the Clause? They already say, "Why should we subsidise the people in municipal houses?" The Government have not the courage to say, "We think they should be subsidised in the same way as the Government have subsidised them." By telling the local authorities that they need not pay anything at all, the Government are providing them with an argument to reduce the subsidies.
Several times during our debates on the Clause I have asked—I have never been able to get the information—what would happen to rents if a local authority decided to pay no subsidy. In introducing the Bill, the hon. Gentleman said that rents would be increased by £5 a year as the result of the Measure. He has just told us that the average rate contribution per house is £6 10s. at present, but we have been told in other quarters that it will, in practically every case, be far higher than that. At all events, this comes to a figure of £11 10s., which means an increase of about 4s. 6d. per week on the rent. If the local authority has been paying more than that, the increase will be more. Does the hon. Gentleman think that tenants will pay these amounts without unions submitting claims for increased wages? Is that what the Government want?
The Prime Minister made a great speech at the weekend, using the Edwardian language which is typical of him. He spoke about "masters and men" getting together, which is language redolent of the beginning of this century. Surely he does not expect them to get together on the basis of this increase suddenly being thrust upon tenants by the Government's action.
The Amendment deals with the narrower point of whether or not local authorities should be able to stop the rate contribution in respect of houses which have already been completed. Surely there is no case at all for doing that. The hon. Gentleman did not produce a real argument. For what it was worth, his argument was that the Government no longer relate the subsidy to the cost of the house. I never knew that the subsidy was particularly closely related to the cost of the house. It is true that we fought for the subsidy to be increased when the cost of the house went up, but we were not successful. The housing subsidy has depended to a great extent upon what Government has been in power, and it has gone up and down accordingly ever since its introduction. Consequently, the hon. Gentleman's premise is not correct to begin with.
However, the Joint Under-Secretary says that, because the Government no longer relate the housing subsidy to the cost of the house, local authorities should not do so. The local authority subsidy has been related not to the cost of the house but to the Government's subsidy, and all we ask is that it should continue to do so in respect of those houses for which local authorities have already undertaken to pay a contribution. Surely it is logical that, if the Government intend to continue to pay the same subsidy in respect of those houses which have already been completed and the local authority subsidy is related to the Government subsidy, the local authority subsidy should also be continued. I should have thought that that was logical and reasonable and a course to be commended.
Apparently, however, it is nothing of the kind, and now we have a position in which nobody knows where he is. Even though they live in houses built before the Measure will come into operation, thousands of tenants in Scotland are worried about the possibility of rents increasing by 4s. or 5s. a week. Having regard to the example set by the Dumfries-shire County Council and the rents which are being charged by some other local authorities, these people have very good reason to worry.
I gave a number of examples from Dumfries-shire in Committee. The hon. Gentleman knows the conditions. He has received deputations about the matter. If this sort of thing happens all over Scotland—that might well be so—it will cause serious discontent, and that will have a bad effect upon industrial output. The Government have talked about doubling our standard of living in twenty-five years. At the present rate, under this Government we shall be halving our standard of living in twenty-five years.
I would urge the Joint Under-Secretary to look at the Amendment again. It is logical and does not stop the Government implementing this policy for new houses. However, we suggest that at least the Government should not ask local authorities to stop the subsidies already being given. The Government will not solve the financial difficulties of local authorities in that way. The Government are supposed to be considering local authority finances. I have seen no great ideas yet produced by the Government for solving the difficulties.
Perhaps this is one of the ways by which the Government hope to be able to say to local authorities that they have made it possible for the authorities to solve their own financial problems. The Government need not expect many authorities in Scotland to accept that argument. Certainly, Labour local authorities will not. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reconsiders this matter before the Bill goes to another place.