I have had on many occasions the opportunity of replying to debates raised by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) but I must confess that I have rarely found myself so completely in disagreement with some of the statements and, if I may say so, misapprehensions which he has voiced tonight.
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman felt that he was unfairly treated about his Question but, with great respect, the key phrase in it is:
… What precautions are taken against landlords charging excessive rents …
and that is a matter over which the National Assistance Board has no authority. Quite rightly, it went to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I think that the hon. Member knows my right hon. Friend well enough to know that he does not find it necessary to "pass the buck". He is always ready to answer for his Department when the occasion arises.
The hon. Member raised two quite separate issues. The first is the level of rent fixed by the landlord and the conditions under which he does it, which is properly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The second, and quite separate, matter is the very important issue of the level of the allowance which the National Assistance Board makes towards the rent of a person on National Assistance. As he knows, the Rent Act, 1957, freed from control all dwellings with a rateable value of over £40 in London and Scotland and over £30 elsewhere, all owner-occupied houses and all new tenancies, the last being the category that is relevant to the case which the hon. Member has raised.
Rents of decontrolled property, however, could not be increased before 6th October, 1958, except under a three-year agreement. On the initiative of the Board, a record was kept until 1958 to see what impact the provisions of the Rent Act had on rent allowances paid under National Assistance. I cannot give the hon. Member figures up to this date, but the figures then, which cover the operative period, give a fair analysis and I have no reason to believe that they would be substantially different in form today. At that time a total of 1,100,000 rent allowances were being paid: 368,000 tenants were in council property not subject to rent control; and these rents had varied from time to time. This leaves over 700,000. The total number of cases recorded, over the whole period in which increases under the Rent Act had been reported in respect of decontrolled accommodation, was only 4,000. By far the majority of the increases which were allowed by the Board have occurred within the statutory limits applied by the Rent Act to controlled premises.
In the case mentioned by the hon. Member, the lady is aged 30 and has two children. She had been living with a man who was a tenant of the premises. Presumably he contributed to her maintenance and was at the time the controlled tenant of the house. In March, 1958, he left her, but the landlord allowed her to remain in the premises although she had no direct title to the tenancy. But her tenancy, being a new one after July, 1957, was thereafter not subject to control. The rent remained at much the same level, which was 13s. 8d. a week, until October this year, when it was increased to £2. The dwelling is a terraced house of four rooms.
The hon. Member will appreciate that, whereas the National Assistance Board has responsibility for the rent allowances which it grants, it can have no responsibility for nor authority over the rent which the landlord charges. In the circumstances of this case, the Board considered the £2 rent to be too high, and it advised the lady to that effect. But to give her reasonable time to find alternative accommodation, and in accordance with the sympathetic manner in which the Board deals with these cases —something of which I am sure the hon. Member approves—it undertook to allow her rent at £2 a week for a period of four weeks while she looked for alternative accommodation. She found it well within that period, in Haslingdon, at 16s. a week.
In view of what I am sure were the sincere misconceptions of the hon. Member about the manner in which the Board pays these allowances I should like to give evidence of another example of the Board's practice.