In our White Paper on The Scottish Housing Programme, 1965–70, we said that if the local authorities are to be able to carry out the expanded house-building programmes which are essential it is necessary to ease the rate burden by improving the Exchequer subsidies and by pursuing sensible rent policies; that, because of the uncertainty caused by high and sometimes sharply fluctuating rates of interest, the Government propose that the main Exchequer subsidy should be related to a stable interest rate of 4 per cent.; and that the more generous subsidies create an opportunity for all authorities to review their rent policies, so as to ensure that reasonable levels of rents and adequate rent rebate schemes avoid hardship and unfairness to local authority tenants and ratepayers alike.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is a thoroughly unsatisfactory Answer? It does not begin to answer the Question that I put. I want to know what he is going to do to ensure that people pay what they can afford to pay for their houses, in the same way as they pay what they can afford to pay in respect of taxes.
If the hon. Member would look forward with a little less anger and look back to see what he did when he was an Under-Secretary, he would not speak so intemperately. He will be aware that the statutory position is that the fixing of rents is a matter for local authorities. One of the reasons why right hon. Gentlemen opposite failed in house building in Scotland was that they tried to nark, badger and force local authorities, as a result of which they rapidly got nowhere. The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that there are so many bees buzzing in his bonnet that they warp his judgment. The Member of Parliament who presumes to call local authority tenants second-rate citizens declares himself to be a third-rate M.P.
Is it not the case that the owner-occupier paying Income Tax at the standard rate gets a much larger subsidy than does the council tenant? Does my right hon. Friend recollect that not only the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) has referred to council tenants in these terms? The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) described them as shiftless council tenants some years ago.
We should get the heat out of this matter. What Scotland requires is a much augmented programme of local authority building and building for private ownership—owner-occupation. The Government, with their new subsidy rates for local authorities and their help to owner-occupiers, will achieve precisely that.
First of all, might I say in passing to the Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Might I ask him whether he is aware that his hon. Friend has a very inaccurate memory? Secondly, in view of the fact that the General Election has cut the Bill to which he refers, has he any other proposal to make to local authorities for rent rebate schemes which are fair and just?
The noble Lady should appreciate that no one has a better memory for what she said in the Scottish Grand Committee than I have and I can remember the day she said it. On the rent rebate scheme, she knows that local authorities have this power at the moment and they are increasingly using it.
In the White Paper published last autumn, in a circular sent to Scottish local authorities on 25th February, and in many meetings which my right hon. Friend and I have had with individual authorities, on housing, we have urged the importance of adequate rent rebate schemes, which can enable reasonable rents to be charged without causing hardship to tenants with low incomes.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing in England, who said that the state of council house finances was medieval and that something should be done about it? Would he not agree that it is necessary that these rent rebate schemes should be very much the same throughout the country, otherwise the result is the immobility of labour which has done so much harm to Scotland?
I always agree with my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I confirm what the hon. Member said about the idea of having rent rebate schemes which are reasonable. At the moment, on the November, 1965, return, 88 authorities now operate rent rebate schemes, covering 78 per cent. of all council houses in Scotland. That is a record.
This is entirely a matter for the local authorities to decide. There are some local authorities which operate differential rent schemes. This is entirely a matter of local democracy and the hon. Gentleman should trust the local authorities.