The first Amendment which has been selected is No. 124, and with it the House can discuss Amendment No. 125: in page 50, line 34, at end insert:
'; to the duty of an authority as a public body to provide housing to meet social needs; to the opinion of an authority as to what is a reasonable rent and to the effect on the economy and on the general market in housing of increases in rents'
I beg to move Amendment No. 124, in page 50, line 32, leave out from ' circumstances ' in line 32 to to ' in line 33 and insert;'.
The object of this Amendment and the one which is taken with it is to modify the principle of fair rents in such a way as to take acocunt of a number of factors which are mentioned in Amendment No. 125. One thing which is clear, whatever else is not, is that if these Amendments are not accepted the Government will have taken the conscious and deliberate decision to make housing in Britain dramatically dearer, and it will take a significantly higher proportion of the family income as opposed to other needs. I am not arguing this afternoon, nor have I ever argued, that rents should be permanently frozen when other prices are rising, but I am arguing that the dramatic rise in the relative cost of housing under this Bill will have the most serious consequences.
Even in the last decade the cost of housing has gone up relatively to other things. Taking 1960 as representing a base of 100, the cost of living index from 1960 to 1971 went up from 100 to 164, but the cost of housing increased from 100 to 222. The Government are now proposing under Clause 50 and subsequent Clauses in the Bill to impose a much more savage rise over a much shorter time, a rise which is to be imposed even if present rents fully cover the cost of housing and the local authority has a surplus in the housing revenue account.
A random example is that the constituency of the Secretary of State for the Environment who has not attended a large part of the Report stage of the debate, has a surplus of £145,000 in its housing revenue account. Despite that, the Chairman of the Worcester Housing Committee will have to go to the tenants in Worcester and say "Although you are paying the full cost of your housing and there is a surplus in the housing revenue account, we intend to impose upon you this large additional increase in rents."
There is some conflict about the amount of the increase. I am talking about Council rents but I shall come on to other parts of the matter later. On the one hand, we have the Department of the Environment's consultative document of December, 1970. which was circulated to the local authority associations and skilfully and sensibly borrowed for a period by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). The document gave a lot of regional averages and showed that on average there would be a doubling or more of council rents by 1976–77. This estimate was accepted by most outside commentators. It was found plausible by Mr. Frank Othick, who is one of the most expert commentators in this sphere. It was confirmed by information that we had from our own individual authorities. This information in some cases showed rent increases and a level of rents much higher than anything that had been supposed.
I quoted in Committee, and I quote again, one example from the Borough of Camden where an officers' report to the housing committee showed that on new estates now being built fair rents would be about £25 a week, £1,000 to £1,500 a year, with rates of about £8 a week on top. It was not, as the Minister occasionally tries to suggest, a matter of scaremongering by the Labour Party. We are only quoting official departmental estimates and authoritative local authority opinion. However, the Minister came to the Standing Committee on 8th February and 29th February and tried to challenge these estimates by producing much lower figures of the likely increases. To show the likely fair rents in 1976–77 he said that eight county boroughs and three London boroughs will show an increase of about 50 per cent. rather than the 100 per cent. which we, like others, had been assuming. The Minister's figures were greeted in Committee with a good deal of scepticism. The position was not clear. It was not explained by the Minister why the departmental figures of September, 1970, drawn up with all the resources and skill of the Department, should have been so wrong.
Mr. George Forster, the Financial Editor of the Local Government Chronicle, examined the figures which the Minister gave us in Committee and indicated that the Minister's sample of authorities was not only tiny but untypical, because all authorities quoted started with rents a good deal higher than the average so that the likely increase would almost certainly be lower than the average. Moreover, it seemed incredible to all of us on this side of the Committee that the estimates of the likely level of fair rents should now be lower than the estimates made in December, 1970, when the most obvious thing that has happened between December, 1970, and now is a further huge increase in prices. This latest estimate by the Minister also seemed implausible to us because these rent increases appeared to bear no relation that we could discover to the level of so-called fair rents in the private sector with which fair rents in the public sector are to be made broadly comparable. I am not prepared to withdraw the estimate that we on this side of the House have made that unrebated rents will on average double by 1976–77. The overwhelming weight of evidence supports this view, unless under the pressure of opposition from this side of the House, Labour groups in local authorities and tenants the Minister is backtracking on the basic principle of the Bill. If he is not doing that I stick to the estimates that we have made.
What is not in dispute is that rents this year will have risen by 50p in April or will rise by £1 in October, except for the tiny number of authorities covered by the so-called 2 per cent. amendment. That will be a rise of between 15 and 25 per cent. Rents will rise next year by the same amount, between 15 and 25 per cent., and rents in about four years' time will be up by 50 per cent. if the Minister is right and 100 per cent. if, as I am certain, we on this side of the House are right. The rough average increase of the 12 or so authorities is 50 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will correct me on that when he replies or whenever it is convenient. I take the rough average of the figures of increase which he gave.
Surely this is a most extraordinary policy, particularly at this moment. Ministers are constantly telling us that the control of inflation is the Govern-men's top priority. So it should be. Prices are still rising at the rate of 8 per cent. a year. Wages are still struggling to catch up and keep pace with the rise in prices. It is right, therefore, that the Government's top priority should be the control of inflation. For once I agreed with the Prime Minister when he spoke in his last broadcast on television after the miners' strike about the challenge of rising prices. He called it
that bugbear that faces any Government in modern times ".
The fight against rising prices must he one with no holds barred.
What are the Government actually doing in this "fight with no holds barred" against the "bugbear of rising prices "? The fact is that they are doing little except wringing their hands and blaming the whole thing on the trade unions, the railwaymen, Mr. Jones, Mr. Scanlon and any scapegoat they can find. In the meantime they are fighting as ruthlessly as they can every public sector wage claim.
What could the Government do? I will not be tactless and talk about cutting prices "at a stroke ". That seems a long time ago now. Surely the Government could be restraining the public sector prices which are under their control. Instead of doing that the Government are deliberately engineering a savage increase in the most central and sensitive of all public sector prices; namely, rents. It is not only a matter of council rents, because there will be an increase of private rents which will be greater, if anything, than council rents. This rent increase is a factor which spills over to the owner-occupied sector. Higher rents in the private sector mean higher house prices, and the exodus from council houses, to which Conservative M.P.s and private builders are looking forward with such loving relish, will push up house prices in the private sector.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that people on certain economies, old-age pensioners and people of that sort, are suffering from rising prices. However, he ought not to be allowed to claim that wages have not kept up. Over the last 10 years wage increases on average have been more than 100 per cent. and costs have risen by 69 per cent. Let him put on record that people are suffering hardship but that wage increases are an element which have been ahead of price increases. This House of all places should recognise that.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that inflation for the bulk of the population is not a serious matter. That is not the view of his Prime Minister or Cabinet. The Prime Minister has said
that bugbear that faces any Government in modern times. The fight against rising prices must be one with no holds barred.
It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, whatever the hon. Gentleman thinks, regard the fight against rising prices as being their top priority.
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to give the House the benefit of my experience of the trade union of which I am President—APEX—which supports all that he has been saying? In the strike in which we are involved concerning several thousand people in Liverpool, when we got them to the point of going back, the Liverpool Corporation gave notice that it was putting up rents by £1 a week under the proposals in the Bill. That immediately affected the atmosphere in the meeting. The proposals were rejected out of hand and the strike continued. That is a dramatic illustration of the effect which the Bill can have on the economy as a whole.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend who, as president of his union, has great experience in these matters. His view totally confirms what I thought was accepted on both sides—that inflation under modern conditions was a disaster and should be the top priority for any Government to try to bring to an end.
Given that that is the situation, for a Government deliberately to force up house prices seems to make nonsense of any claim that they might have to an effective anti-inflationary policy. That is why Amendment No. 125 suggests that fair rents, amongst other criteria, should be determined with an eye to the effect on the economy. The first objection to Clause 50—
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have given way twice in five minutes and many hon. Members wish to speak.
The first objection to the Clause, un-amended by our Amendment, is that it is wildly inflationary, that it runs wholly counter to the Government's alleged top priority of countering the bugbear of rising prices, and that, as my hon. Friend has shown, this rise which will occur will not only set off higher wage claims than would otherwise be made, but cause serious family hardship.
As soon as we talk about hardship, we are met by the smug refrain, "Look at all the rent rebates. Look at all the rent allowances. Look at the 40 to 45 per cent. of council tenants who will receive a rebate and the 30 per cent. of private tenants who will receive private rent allowances." We are told of the Government's unprecedented generosity and unparalleled help for the poor and the marvellous new extension of the Welfare State. It is the moment when the Minister brings out that famous quotation from Karl Marx,
to each according to his needs ".
I am in favour of the principle of rent rebates. As I have many times made clear, I welcome the decision to bring in the new private rent allowance. But we must look this gift horse rather carefully in the mouth. It is as well to be suspicious of a Conservative Government when they are bearing welfare gifts.
When we look carefully at what is being proposed, we find some facts which I hope are familiar to hon. Members who served on the Committee but which may still not be familiar to hon. Members who did not have the privilege, to use an ironic term, of sitting through our 57 sittings.
The total cost of paying rent rebates and allowances in 1975–76, excluding Supplementary Benefit Commission payments —we had all this discussion in Committee on 18th January—will be £300 million. That cost is covered in the following ways. The rent rebate subsidy and the rent allowance subsidy will cover £160 million of that cost. Another £40 million will come out of the rates—a much bigger burden on the rates than exists now and one which will fall with appalling inequity on different types of housing authorities. On the one hand, the burden will fall heavily on authorities with a mass of very poor rented housing whereas, on the other hand, on authorities with a large amount of owner-occupied housing the burden will fall lightly. The remaining £100 million will come out of the tenants' fair rent incomes. In other words, this unparalleled generosity, this great extension of the Welfare State, is paid for to the extent of one-third by council tenants themselves, and incidentally, with no help from either the private tenant or the owner-occupier. In this way council tenants take over from central Government one-third of the responsibility for dealing with poverty and maintaining incomes.
However, leaving aside the question of who pays, it is surely an extraordinary and deeply ironic justification of so-called fair rents that far more people than now will receive a rebate. After all, it is obvious that the higher the rents the more people will need rebates. If this is to be a matter of pride, why not treble or even quadruple rents? The Prime Minister could then quote even larger figures of the numbers eligible for rebates. Making more people eligible for rebates is not a matter for pride; it is a matter for deep regret. No doubt rebates are a necessary feature of our present arrangements in housing as in other spheres, but rebates on this scale, necessitated by the level of fair rents, surely carry with them the most serious disadvantages.
The scale of rebates is unprecedented in housing or, indeed, in any other sphere. At the moment, about 10 per cent. of council tenants receive rebates. Under the Bill, according to the Government's figures, 40 to 45 per cent. of council tenants will receive rebates and 30 per cent. of private tenants. Altogether that means that between 2/ million and 3 million tenants will be eligible for rebates. To establish eligibility, a considerably greater number of people will have to be means-tested. So we are talking probably of about 4 million heads of households who, as tenants, will in future come within the scope of means-testing.
Two obvious problems arise. First, that of take-up, with which I will not deal in detail. The precedents are by no means wholly encouraging. The take-up figures for the family income supplement, school meals, rate rebates, and the GLC rent rebate scheme, which is largely based on what are nearly fair rents in London, are disappointing. The Minister is fond of quoting Birmingham. Indeed, there have been some curious goings on between the right hon. Gentleman and Sir Francis Griffin in the last two or three days. The right hon. Gentleman ceased to be the Minister for Housing and Construction; he became the election agent for Sir Francis Griffin in the Birmingham municipal elections recently. At any rate, let us look at Birmingham, which he is so fond of quoting. The Minister frequently tells us that, as we know, Birmingham alone of all authorities has a private rent allowance scheme. The take-up for that scheme has been derisory. It has been far less than the Conservative authority hoped.
Mrs. Freda Cocks, who today, though not tomorrow, is Chairman of the Birmingham Housing Committee, in a paper published in "Housing Review" of January-February, 1972, said:
It may be that people are reluctant to fill in forms and apply for benefits so long as they can pay their rent, however hard the struggle. At the same time, there is always a reluctance to reveal earnings and many old people are frightened by complicated forms despite the fact that we have tried to make ours as simple as possible.
These are self-evident truths to most people, apart from Mrs. Freda Cocks and perhaps the Minister. These are the facts. This is why I fear—I certainly do
not hope—that there will be an extremely low take-up. Mrs. Freda Cocks talks of complicated forms. We have all seen forms from different authorities which have to be filled in when a claim for rent rebate is made.
I have here a form which, curiously enough, comes from the Minister's previous constituency, Preston. Looking through the pages of explanation, it is quite clear that many people will not bother to fill it up, will be too proud to fill it up, or will simply be puzzled by the intricacies and complications of all that they are expected to do.
Does the form contain the new rule that if there is a mistake in one question the applicant will be subjected to five years' imprisonment under the terms of the Theft Act, 1968?
I thought that I had read the form with reasonable care. However, even with my tolerable advantages, I am unable to answer that question. This simply shows what appalling difficulties people will have in filling up the form.
I am afraid that we shall have a low take-up because of the complications of the scheme. Even if we get a reasonable take-up, which is unlikely, it will create the most serious problem of incentives.
Figures have often been quoted in this House and in Committee—I will not therefore quote them again—which show that at certain income levels if a man's income rises because he works harder, works more overtime, goes to a better job or obtains a wage increase, first, he loses the family income supplement, then he starts to pay income tax, then he pays what are now sharply graduated National Insurance contributions, and then, one by one, he loses his rebates on school meals, prescription charges, rate rebate and now the rent rebate.
At certain income levels at the end of the day he gets practically nothing of the increase in wages. He finds that the increase is reflected in virtually no increase in his standard of living. In other words, he is effectively paying income tax at a rate of nearly 100 per cent.
This is an extraordinary achievement for a Government who are always talking about incentives and muttering about the scroungers, scrimshankers and lay- abouts while proclaiming the doctrine of hard work, yet they tamper in this totally irresponsible way with the incentives to work.
I say seriously to the Government that they are playing with fire. I have said this before in the House. Many hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite have not yet awakened to what the Government are doing. The means-tested State which we are now entering may have a profound and long-term effect on incentives and attitudes to work. I cannot believe that these consequences have been thought through.
There is a basic and fundamental question. Do we want to extend means-testing in this way to perhaps 3 million or 4 million people, including people on average earnings and some on more than average earnings? In other words, is it right that we should be supplementing the income of the worker of average earnings, perhaps a comparatively well-paid family man? We do not need to do this because the Government are disperate about public expenditure. Already in the Budget they have given away enormous sums in tax reliefs and concessions. They are in a position to avoid the danger of means testing on such a massive scale.
The Government's justification for all these consequences of fair rents is invariably that because the Labour Government introduced fair rents for the private sector in the 1965 Act, the principle is somehow sanctified and that what the Government are now doing is merely a matter of logic by extending it to the public sector.
But it is a not a matter of logic in the slightest degree. The 1965 Act was passed to deal with a crisis situation arising out of decontrol under the 1957 Act in conditions, notably in London, of appalling housing shortage. This situation does not exist in the council house sector and therefore there is no analogy between the two positions.
The Act of 1965 was directed towards a declining sector of housing—the private rented sector has declined a good deal further since then—and there is no reason why the same principle should apply to the council house sector. This point was made by the Prices and Incomes Board in its 1968 Report, when it said:
it would be anomalous to relate the rents of the growing to those of the declining share
—the public sector to the private sector"—
and this anomaly would increase with the years, so that as a long-term principle the concept is likely to lose its validity ".
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to being anomalous, this concept of fair rents is absolutely ridiculous? For example, in Merthyr Tydvil we are asked to use the private sector criterion, which fixed 54 different rents in seven years, to cover 6,000 council tenancies. In most parts of Wales the rents fixed in the private sector bear no comparison with those to be fixed in the public sector. In other words, it is impossible to use the private sector as a base for fixing the 260,000 public sector rents in Wales.
My hon. Friend draws attention to a point that was discussed in Committee. It is an important practical difficulty and I agree that the tiny base of private rented housing which we are supposed to use for the enormous structure of the public sector does not stand examination. However, I am concerned at this stage with the principles underlying the 1965 Act and this Measure.
The 1965 Act, which is always argued in aid by the Government as a justification for this Bill, was intended to give the private landlord a reasonable profit to maintain his property adequately. But the local authority is not in the market as an entrepreneur or private landlord. It is in no way analogous to the private landlord.
Local authorities have certain statutory housing functions. They do not operate commercially. In any case, apart from that obvious and general argument, the basic fact remains that local authorities do not need a fair rent from every dwelling to cover the cost of maintenance and improvement.
I need not argue this point in detail because it has become clear since the White Paper was published that over much of the country fair rents in the public sector will produce an income far exceeding the costs of maintenance and improvement. Indeed, they will produce a rent income which, after having contributed in the way I have described to rebates and allowances, will give a considerable surplus in local authority housing revenue accounts, half of which will be filched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
This concept of a surplus far beyond what is needed for maintenance and improvement shows that the intention behind the Bill has nothing whatever in common with the intention behind the 1965 Act. If the intentions were the same in the two cases, the whole concept of the surplus would have to be withdrawn from the Bill.
In fact, the Government make no serious pretence at treating the two sectors in the same fashion. The private tenant has the right to appeal before the rent scrutiny committee. The council tenant has no similar right. The private tenant has the right to have his house individually assessed. The council tenant has no similar right. The council tenant has a right of appeal against his rent assessment. The council tenant has no similar right.
No. I will not give way.
The difference in treatment between the two cases, the private and public sectors, is so great that the Council on Tribunals compelled the Government to change the name of the scrutiny body in the Bill from the rent scrutiny committee to the rent scrutiny board because it insisted that there was no comparability in the treatment between the sectors.
On every count the council tenant is treated by the Government as a second-class citizen. He has only one privilege denied the council tenant or owner occupier he is paying an extra housing tax through the medium of the surplus.
Clause 50 unamended will involve more inflation, more family hardship, a desperate problem of incentives and gross inequity between council tenants and the rest. The Clause needs drastic change and that is what we seek to achieve by these Amendments.
I agreed with the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) when he spoke of the risk that as our housing policy evolved a disincentive effect might appear. However, I do not accept that as a fundamental or necessary ingredient of the scheme.
Until we manage to achieve a merger between social security and the income tax system this problem is liable to crop up from time to time. The answer is to secure a merger of the two systems, and I urge the Government to consider carefully the levels of rebate compared with the levels of income and benefit.
As I listened to the right hon. Member for Grimsby I thought that I had never heard a speech proposing an Amendment which paid so little regard to the Amendment. It seemed that the right hon. Gentleman was embarrassed by the nature of the Opposition proposal and realised its absurdity. This puts me in some difficulty because I have a touching belief that in a debate about certain Amendments it is perhaps proper to refer from time to time to such Amendments, and indeed I propose to do so, because I think it would be wrong not to do so.
What comes out of that is something we have observed many times before in the course of our somewhat lengthy debates in the Committee. It is that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are very good at putting forward arguments as to what is wrong with the Government's policy but are singularly bad at setting out what is their own policy. The truth of the matter is, as the country knows, that in the last few years the Labour Party has completely failed to find a housing policy. I will not go back to quote the perhaps too-often quoted words of the Opposition Chief Whip on this subject, but it was quite evident in the 1970s that the Labour Party had run out of ideas about housing policy, and it became increasingly evident in the Committee proceedings that they have not since found any.
It is rather strange that the right hon. Gentleman, who stood for the Deputy Leadership of his party as the great policy-maker—not in itself a bad course —should so conspicuously fail to come forward with a young policy. The fact that he did rather badly in that election is perhaps because in his own party his execution was believed to be not quite as good as his intentions. At any rate, it seems evident that the Opposition has no housing policy, and this has been revealed again and again.
The truth of the matter, when we look at this question, is that it is not an easy question. I will come back in a few moments to the broad principle of the fair-rents approach, as to the other alternatives, but before I come to that I should like to refer briefly to the proposals put forward in the Amendments before us.
Frankly, I do not completely understand what is meant, for example, by Amendment No. 124. As I understand it, is is proposed that the phrase "other than personal circumstances" and the words "and in particular" should be omitted. I should very much like to know the intention of that. I do not think we have had any explanation from the other side. Does this mean that when fixing rent levels regard should be had to the personal circumstances of the tenants? Is that what the Opposition is saying?
Of course, the personal circumstances of the tenants are a very important factor in our scheme, because this is what the rebates system is all about; this is a means of adjusting the personal circumstances of the tenant to the rent. But what does the Opposition mean when it moves that we leave out those words? Does it think that the rent should be fixed on the basis of one person's income being such and such and another person's being something else? I think we are entitled to have some idea from hon. Members supporting this Amendment as to its meaning.
Coming to the next Amendment, No. 125, which we are debating with Amendment No. 124, again I should like some clarification. The Amendment brings in the idea that there should be a duty to provide housing to meet social needs, that this should be one of the considerations which a local authority should take into account. At first glance that is a fairly unexceptionable sentiment, but it suffers from the fact that it is very hard to know what it means.
I have said in the Committee, and I repeat here, that I do not believe that housing, as far as the total population is concerned, should be a social service. I do not think that anyone can dispute that there is a very strong social-service element in housing, and this must continue to be so. I would not dream of arguing that we could switch the whole of housing over to the market sector just like that. On the other hand, I believe that for the majority of the population, and certainly the majority of the wage-earning population, housing should be seen not as a social service but as a commodity, like food or one of the other equally necessary things which we do not have to look on as a social service.
What I am trying to find out is what the Opposition means when talking about
the duty of an authority as a public body to provide housing to meet social needs ".
What is the point of that expression?
Then it is argued that an authority should provide a view as to what is a reasonable rent. This is another ingredient in the Amendment which surely begs the entire question. We have local authorities across the length and breadth of this land with very different views and political backgrounds, operating in all sorts of different areas. Simply to say that they should assess their notion of a reasonable rent without giving any guidance again seems to me to be begging the question. How would it be interpreted by the local authorities? I think they would be very hard put to it.
This, again, reflects the fact that the Opposition has been unable to make up its mind on this crucial point of what should be the system of rent assessment in the public sector.
I want to try to get to know from the hon. Gentleman whether, in view of his lack of local government experience, he understands the present situation. All our Amendment is seeking to do—and it may get across to him eventually—is to maintain the status quo. All it is saying is that local authorities should have the power to decide the level of rents in their areas according to the various criteria laid down. We can understand the hon. Member's ignorance on these matters. That is all we are trying to do.
It is difficult to answer the hon. Gentleman. With regard to my lack of local authority experience, I merely say that I have been a member of a local authority for over three years and in fact was on its housing committee, so I think I can claim some local authority experience. I will give him this: he was the one Member on his side of the Committee who regularly answered that there was no need to change anything at all, that it was all very splendid and that the only reform necessary was to reduce rents all round. That was his point of view and no doubt he is entitled to it, but I do not believe that any of his hon. or right hon. Friends are prepared to say that there is no need to do anything about local authority rents. I do not believe that any authoritative commentator in the country would say that everything is all right and that there is no problem.
The Opposition Front Bench know this. They know there is, and has been, a complete muddle in this area and that they, like us—although they would have taken much longer—would have had to bring forward some method of reforming the housing finance system. They cannot make up their minds on that side of the House what is the right system. We know that some of them believe that the pooled historic costs system is right and others that pooled historic costs should merely provide an upper limit. Indeed they put forward an earlier Amendment to that effect, but in that the only requirement was not to exceed the pooled historic costs; there was a divergence between them on that.
The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who is not here today, advocated that regard should be had to the means of the tenants of the particular area in fixing rents. This is a point of view, I suppose, and it may be that the words I quoted earlier—the omission proposed in the Opposition's Amendment—were a polite nod in his direction that is the only plausible explanation I can give. And the hon. Member for Bosover (Mr. Skinner) has his own particular view that the solution is to reduce all rents.
The proposition in this Amendment will not hold water. The next requirement, if I understand the Amendment correctly, is that the local authority should have an opinion as to the effect on the economy and on the general market in housing of increases in rents. I think I am right in assuming that the duty of the authority would cover both the nature of the reasonable rent and the effect on the economy.
Is it not a fact that this would be imposing on housing authorities the problem of arriving at highly subjective decisions which in different parts of the country should lead to different decisions?
My hon. Friend, with his Welsh intuition, has anticipated what I was about to say. That is a very fair point. Are local authorities qualified to pronounce on the general effect on the economy of rent levels? Is that what local authorities are for? Do we set up local government in order to have views about general economic tendencies?
In my view, local authorities exist to provide certain services to their communities, including the provision of housing. But I do not think that they are in a position, equipped or qualified in any way to advance economic theories. I know of no local councillor who has stood on the platform saying that he was an expert on economics and should, therefore, be elected to a council. Although local authorities certainly employ people to handle their finances, and expert people, they are not appointed for their general economic skill but for their skill in dealing with local authority finance specifically. So it seems to me quite an implausible and unreasonable suggestion that local authorities should be expected to comment on the general effect on the economy of different rent levels. It is equally doubtful whether they are qualified to talk about the effect on the general market in housing of increases in rents. Obviously there is a relationship between the two.—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen wish to interrupt, perhaps they would care to do so in the proper manner.
Why does the hon. Gentleman say that a local authority has no knowledge of the effect on the general housing market of the increases in rent? Surely it ought to be, and in most cases it is, the function of the local authority to have a knowledge of the housing situation?
They must clearly pay some attention to what is going on around them, but I do not believe that in the past they have been equipped to put forward knowledgeable points of view about the private sector housing associations and the totality of housing policy throughout the country. They are designed and intended to deal with the problems in their own areas, which, by and large, they do very well. They are not intended to produce general economic observations on trends throughout the country.
Following the example of the right hon. Gentleman, who did not give way on every possible occasion, at least not to this side of the House. I shall not give way.
It seems that the Amendments are not serious Amendments. I suppose the fact that the right hon. Gentleman spent absolutely no time talking about them is an indication of his contempt for his own or his colleagues' draftsmanship and suggestions.
I turn briefly to the more general question of the decision to go ahead with fair rents as opposed to any other basis for local authority rents. I am the first to acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult question. I would not claim flatly that fair rents are the only answer. I can see that there are arguments for a variety of different systems. If one looks into what has been written in documents such as the report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, one sees that the arguments are very complicated and that there are pros and cons to most of the systems put forward. I do not say that the Prices and Incomes Board came down in favour of fair rents. We know that it did not. Nevertheless, I should like to go over the different options that seem to have been before my right hon. Friend and the Government, and to make one or two comments on them, and on the reasons for this particular decision, insofar as the Opposition favour pooled historic costs.
There is a case for pooled historic costs. I suppose that they are a reasonably manageable way of approaching this in some respects. They have a certain basis in what exists at present and could be said to grow out of it. A point that has been made repeatedly by my right hon. Friend is that they have great anomalies about them. The Opposition have not faced the fact that the consequence of opting for pooled historic costs would be an enormous diversity in the levels of rents throughout the country. We know that in some areas, with a large housing stock built a long time ago, with very little need in recent times or the near future to build a great deal more, the level of rents would be very low. We know that in other areas, which may have a much greater social need and which have had in recent times a very substantial housing programme and the expectation that it will continue in the future, under the pooled historic costs system the level of rents would be very high. There is not much doubt that in some cases it would be higher under pooled historic costs than under the fair rents system. It is very anomalous.
Presumably the hon. Gentleman must be aware that all those commentators who have suggested pooled historic costs have assumed, as people sometimes assume, that they would be accompanied by a subsidy system designed to iron out the anomalies the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. While I am on my feet, what does the hon. Gentleman think of the efforts of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with precisely the difficulties he is describing?
Both the Prices and Incomes Board and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have said, as I understand it, that pooled historic costs may be appropriate as a short-term approach, but neither of them thought it ideal as a long-term approach. The Prices and Incomes Board sought some system of replacement costs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has the notion, I believe, that he will in due course move on to fair rents after an interim period on pooled historic costs. It does not seem to me that the arguments for it have been accepted by either the NBPI or my right hon. Friend.
There are, therefore, considerable snags about pooled historic costs. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that it is possible to introduce subsidies to offset discrepancies between one area and another. But that by no means invalidates my argument. Even if one removed the grosser anomalies by special subsidies, one will still be left with general anomalies throughout the land.
The Prices and Incomes Board favoured the system of replacement cost as an ideal. Instinctively one has a great deal of sympathy with that approach. It has about it a dynamic aspect as opposed to the static approach of pooled historic costs. It offers the prospect that renewal will be a prime consideration. On the other hand, one cannot but acknowledge that there would be bound to be very considerable complications about replacement costs. I have not seen a full argument and description of how a replacement cost system could be made to work, and I should have thought that, at the very least, it would tend to be a faily unpredictable system and that there would be a considerable variation in its incidence throughout the country.
Thirdly, I turn to the system which my right hon. Friend has adopted, namely, the fair rents system. The Prices and Incomes Board argument that it was a mistake to peg rent levels to a declining sector had nothing like as much force as the Board believed. This was the strongest of its objections to applying the fair rents system to the public sector. I suppose that one can see half an argument in what the Board said. But if one looks at the reality in the country, one finds by and large enough private sector housing in nearly all parts of the country to provide the degree of comparability which is needed. It may well be that there would be difficulties in some parts of the country where there is a very small element of private housing and a very large element of public housing. I do not dispute that it may be more difficult in some areas than in others. But over the country as a whole the problem of availability will not be an overwhelming difficulty. I do not believe that we have solid evidence to say that this would be so.
The great merit of the fair rents system, a point made by my right hon. and hon. Friends time and again, is that it is, as the word implies, a "fair" rent in that it is a rent which has an equitability between different parts of the country. There will not be the roulette ingredient which exists perhaps in local authority rents between one area and another, and, equally important, there will not be the same element of luck between the public and the private rented sectors. At present the degree of luck is of decisive importance in the lives of many people renting housing.
We must try to find a somewhat more rational, more objective system of settling council rents than has existed. The supreme merit of the fair rents system is that it is a pretty objective system, and it is for that reason that I support it.
Has not the hon. Gentleman ignored the true reason why it is unfair to apply this system to council rents? The difference between private rents and council rents is that the fair rent fixed for private rents is supposed to include a reasonable profit for the landlord, whereas local authorities have no wish or intention to make a profit out of their tenants.
There are two ways of looking at the matter, as has been apparent throughout all our debates. Looking at it from the point of view of the landlord we see that the point the hon. Gentleman made may be true, that in one system there is the clear need to provide a landlord with a certain profit and in another system there is not, but the Opposition have never been able to explain why those people who are lucky enough to get a place on the housing list should be charged a rent which gives them an appreciable advantage as against other tenants. What the fair rent system does essentially is to relate the charge to the value of what is provided. A house or flat is provided at a certain level. It is said "This is a reasonable charge ", and it seems fair that the tenant should pay it unless his income is low enough to qualify him for a rebate or rent allowance.
A great deal of the Opposition's argument has been that the fair rent system is vindictive. The answers are fairly clear. First, there is the rebate scheme. I said earlier that I have one element of unease about the way in which that scheme may work. The position must be watched, and it can be remedied. It is not an insuperable difficulty. Experience suggests that the rents will be below the market level, as the Francis Committee found. A figure of about 20 per cent. below is often quoted.
I also believe that the word "locality ", which is among the criteria by which rents should be charged, will tend to act as a means of keeping down council rents. This is a difficult point. We may see the word interpreted in different ways in different parts of the country, because there is some scope for variance. But when it comes to the point a ritzy block of private flats very near to a block of council flats will be assessed in such a way as to recognise that the level of rent appropriate for an expensive private block is not appropriate to a council block. In other words, I think "locality" will tend to have a real meaning when those factors are assessed and will act as a check on the increases, though we shall not know until that point has been reached.
To sum up, I believe that, out of the many possible approaches that exist, my right hon. Friends have plumped for one with a certain logic about it and one which provides the possibility of an objective approach, which has been lacking in all the muddle so far.
I support the Amendment. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) referred to the question of definition of social need and whether a local authority is fit to decide that. The great majority of local authorities, certainly those with any competence, can take a general view of the housing needs in their own areas, as Seebohm recommended. It is a very bad housing authority which does not know the situation as regards both privately-rented houses and the number of owner-occupied houses, or the general situation. It can only decide how many houses to build in the light of its knowledge, and the great majority of local authorities, certainly the competent ones, have that knowledge. Therefore, it is correct to take into consideration the question of social need as decided by the local authority.
If my hon. Friend tries to put a question to the Minister about this issue of the local rent and the local housing situation, he will immediately be referred back to all the authorities. The right hon. Gentleman has not the courage or knowledge to answer him.
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's intervention. One of the greatest of social needs is housing need. This is the point which the local authority can comprehend better than any other body.
Let us take the question of the general economic circumstances. Most local authorities know something about economic circumstances in their areas. They know, for example, the wage rates and the amount of unemployment. They are able to decide the economic results of any rent increases much better than a rent scrutiny board composed of, or dominated by, certain professional gentlemen who probably do not know, and do not have to know, the economic circumstances and what the effect of a rent increase will be.
The hon. Gentleman devoted half his speech to saying that Labour has no policy on the matter. I think the existing method of giving subsidies is not so bad, by and large. It may be that in this sector or that certain improvements could be made. I do not say that the system is perfect, but by and large it is not so bad, and that is the view of local authorities.
I said in Committee that the idea of giving subsidies largely on the basis of historic cost, the cost when the house was built, was on the whole sensible. On that basis, the subsidy given today under the Housing Subsidies Act is vastly different from that given before the war. The national subsidy used to be £7 10s. before the war, but now it can amount to £200 or £250 a year. That deals with the problem which the hon. Gentleman raised about different situations in different areas, such as one area having a large stock of pre-war council houses and not having to build any today compared with a local authority which must build today because of a great need in its area. Birmingham is such a local authority.
The Labour Party policy, as embodied in the Housing Subsidies Act of the Labour Government, dealt precisely with that matter. It left the pre-war houses as they were, with a very small subsidy, and gave an extremly large subsidy to local authorities with a big housing programme to fulfil today. That is right. It dealt with the problem the hon. Gentleman raised, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said, on the question of subsidy.
Now all these subsidies are wiped out. The Housing Subsidies Act, apart from the transitional arrangements allowed for in the Bill, goes out of existence and within two or three years will have no effect whatever. This is a complete refutation of what the hon. Member for Aylesbury was saying. This Bill does not deal with the inequities facing the local authority which has a large house building programme. It does the opposite and takes away the massive relief given by the Housing Subsidies Act. If it was not for that Act Birmingham would have stopped building houses a long time ago, and that applies to many other local authorities.
The question of pooled historic costs was raised. Very few local authorities base their rents today upon the historic costs of this or that house. The vast majority apply the system of pooled historic costs. This is why by and large we propose a continuation of that system.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right; it does not restore the former system. We can do that only if we stop the Bill and defeat it on Third Reading. This Amendment would simply bring about a mitigation of the iniquitous system proposed here. By imposing a duty on the rent scrutiny board to consider such matters the Amendment would mitigate the effect of the Bill.
We are not discussing simply an abstract system. We are not discussing in a vacuum whether this or that system is better, as an exercise of pure logic. The whole object of this part of the Bill is to bring about a substantial increase in council rents—what we consider to be an unfair increase—meaning that council tenants will have to bear costs at present borne by the Government. We consider this to be an attack upon council tenants, which is why we object to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman referred to certain ambiguities in the Amendment, but there does not seem to be anything ambiguous about it. These are matters which the rent scrutiny board will have to consider. The weight it gives to them will be a matter for the board. But there are certain ambiguities in the Clause as it stands. The hon. Gentleman also referred to comparability. It is assumed that council rents will be decided upon comparability with the private sector, although the Clause does not say so. The Minister does not provide a statutory basis for this.
How that will be done in areas such as Birmingham I do not know. A proposition was recently put to the Minister by the local Tory group in Birmingham arguing that the rents could not be decided on a comparable basis because there were few privately rented houses of that character. If they are not decided on a comparable basis, how will they be decided? How shall we find the market rent for a council house? How shall we find the scarcity element to be allowed for in the council sector? We do not know the answer, and the Minister has never given us one. Even the former Under-Secretary, who knew something about the Bill, never gave us an answer.
I notice that Birmingham in its representation to the Minister suggested that the general wage level in the area should be considered, saying that it is undesirable that there should be a rebate system embracing a large proportion of rent-payers. I do not know what the Minister says about this. So far he refuses to comment upon Birmingham's representations. Is this a valid method for decid- ing the rents, bearing in mind that a large number of people will have to qualify for rent rebates? Maybe the Minister will throw some light upon this problem. In the meantime I support the Amendment, which will mitigate in some way the hardship caused by this Clause.
In the earlier exchanges between the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) the hon. Gentleman had the courage to say what he really wanted, which is the maintenance of the status quo.
Many observers political and economic believe that the system should be radically changed. I recall the words of a Housing Minister some years ago when he referred to the present system of council rents by saying:
The present system has led to the existence of a cosseted and privileged class in our society—The Council House Tenant. These people are jealous of their privileged position because a council house is a prize hard to come by. Charge the rich man £1,000 a year rent—that'll sort the problem out.
I reject that completely as a wrong philosophy although we know that it was the view held by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he was Minister of Housing in 1966. It is wrong because if we started charging council tenants a rent of £15 or £20 a week when it was unjustified in the context of the value of the house then it would indeed be an unfair rent.
What hon. Members opposite will not accept, what they deliberately attempt to conceal from local authority tenants, is that no tenant will have to pay more than he or his family can reasonably afford. On that basis it is a system of fair rents. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in a speech which I can only regard as sneering and supercilious—
Yes. Bearing in mind the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has described my right hon. Friend's speech, it is obvious that my right hon. Friend caught him on the raw and it was therefore a good speech and very much to the point.
Far from catching me on the raw, I have heard so many of them over so many tedious hours in Committee that they have become boring. It is a pity that a man who has put himself forward for such senior office in the Labour Party should descend to such a low level in the House.
When the right hon. Gentleman, again in his sneering way, refers to what he calls Tory welfare gifts which should be looked at very closely, the inference is that only the Labour Party is concerned about people's welfare. The Tories help the people who need to be helped in a practical way and not by uttering the pious hopes so often reflected in the speeches of hon. Members opposite. What we are doing by the rebate scheme is to give assistance to those sections of the community living in local authority houses who really need it.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that he was gravely worried about the take-up of the rebates. I can only speak for an area which I know well and of which I have the details. Already in the County Borough of Brighton more than 40 per cent. of council tenants have taken up the rent rebate under the new scheme. The scheme laid down in the Bill has already been brought into operation by the housing authorities in Brighton. They have done much more than bring in the scheme, they have sent a letter to every local authority tenant which includes this phrase:
If you have any doubts about the scheme or the completion of the form my staff are ready to help you on application at your rent office.
My county borough is prepared to go further. In Brighton every elderly person and every family who have not applied for rent rebate and who might be entitled to it will be approached discreetly by officers of the council to make sure that they are fully aware of their rights. I suspect that hon. Members opposite do not want local authority tenants to take up their rights so that they can exploit the situation politically, as they have done so shamefully in the local elections.
The extra staff will be paid for by the ratepayers of Brighton. I am delighted that extra staff have been taken on to explain the rebate scheme and to visit people in their homes. I do not believe that a single ratepayer in Brighton will begrudge the cost—which might be £50,000 a year in extra staff—to ensure that local authority tenants get their rights and that everyone who is entitled to a rebate receives one.
I am sad about it. It is just another example of their pious words. When it comes to action it is a different story.
A scurrilous leaflet produced by Transport House was widely circulated during the local elections. The leaflet is deliberately designed to frighten old people, the weak and the uninformed. I will read the first paragraph, which is in thick black type:
Your rent is going to double. The Tory Government's new rent Bill means that you will be paying £2, £3 or £4 a week more in rent.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that a large number of people will read no further than that. They will immediately take in that point. In practice, the vast majority of people do not read in great detail leaflets which are put through the door. I object to the first paragraph being in heavy black type whereas the rest is in much smaller type. I object to the reference to rents being doubled immediately the Act comes into operation when we all know that it is totally untrue. It may give the members of the Labour Party some temporary advantage in local elections but when the people see the Act in full operation it will rebound in their faces.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) in Committee achieved the distinction of being even ruder and more offensive to council tenants than was the Secretary of State for the Environment in his persistent refusal to consult them. The speech to which the hon. Gentleman has treated the House today is fully in line with his speeches in Committee.
I would rather comment on the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) who has rendered the House a considerable service. He has attempted today what the Secretary of State and the Minister have consistently failed to do, and that is to try to explain why the Government have chosen the system of so-called fair rents as the method by which rents are to be assessed. The hon. Member for Aylesbury compared this method with other systems and tried to show why the method of so-called fair rents was preferable. I applaud him in his heroic effort, but I fear that he failed to satisfy hon. Members on this side of the House.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury did not give the real reason why this system recommends itself to the Government. The real reason was let out of the bag by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he revealed that the object of the Bill was to save the Exchequer £200–300 million a year in subsidies. This is the only system which will bring this size of yield to the Government. It is the only system which will double the rent of the average council tenant.
When hon. Members claim that the effect of the Bill will be to double council house rents, a pained expression appears on the face of the Minister, and sometimes indignation distorts his features and he uses words like "scaremonger-ing ". But we are not the only people who have said that the Bill will lead to the doubling of rents. Virtually every independent authority on housing outside the House thinks so, too, because the existing level of fair rents in the private sector is almost exactly double the average council house rent for a comparable property.
The average fair rent which has been assessed is 2·2 times the gross rateable value. The average council rent is 1·1 times the gross rateable value. Ministers have said that they want to treat council tenants as far as possible in the same way as private tenants and that is why they are adopting this system of fair rents. If that is the object of the exercise, it is clear that council rents will double.
Will the hon. Gentleman say, if this is so objectionable, why it is that his Government when in office exposed private tenants to this sort of increase without benefit of rebate? Private tenants were placed in the position of paying much higher rents without any help from the Labour Government.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has explained the circumstances in which the 1965 Rent Act was introduced. Certainly it did not lead to a doubling of rents at the time that it was introduced. To the extent that rents in the private sector are now at their present level, surely the case is overwhelming for a re-examination of the basis on which private rents are assessed, rather than for the Government to try to jack up council rents to the same level.
I admit the culpability of the last Labour Government in not introducing a scheme of private rent allowances. I very much regret that they did not do that. Every hon. Member on this side of the House welcomes the proposal for private rent allowances, though we are critical of the way in which the Government are implementing it. But certainly it will be the intention of a future Labour Government to continue private rent allowances so long as a private sector exists.
Unfortunately the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) is no longer in the Chamber. During the course of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, the hon. Gentleman intervened to make the point that wages had been going up at a faster rate than prices and that, as a consequence, it was acceptable that rents should be pushed up to a level exceeding the rise in the cost of providing the accommodation. That was an extraordinary remark. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would suggest that mortgage repayments should go up year after year along with rises in salaries and wages irrespective of the fact that the cost of the houses concerned had been set when the mortgages were taken up. I wonder what the electors of Peterborough would say if the hon. Gentleman told house owners there that they ought to be making increased mortgage repayments year after year because their wages were rising at a faster rate than the cost of the mortgage repayments that they were asked to meet.
It is clear that the purpose of this proposal to move to fair rents for council houses is to wage a naked act of class war against council tenants. The Association of Municipal Corporations, which at present is a Tory-dominated body, though today is the last day on which it will be controlled by Tories, in a letter sent to all Members of Parliament last week described this Bill as
…a raw deal for local authorities rather than a fair deal.
That is the case. But for tenants it is much worse than a raw deal. It is a deliberate attack upon their standard of living. It is because we want to mitigate the effect of the Bill that we have moved the Amendments to which my right hon. Friend has referred. We want to try to mitigate the effect of this legislation upon council tenants throughout the country. No hon. Member who has council tenants among his constituents can fail to support these Amendments in the Division Lobby if he has their interests at heart.
This has been an extraordinary debate in many respects. First we had the speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in which he seemed to be using these Amendments chiefly to support his criticisms of the general housing philosophy and policy of the Government. Then we had the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) using the Amendments to support and explain his affection and preference for the old system. Later, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) had the candour to admit that he recognised that the policy of his own Government had been at fault since they had failed to assist those whom the present Bill will assist.
My own reading of the Amendments is that certainly they do not restore the old system, for which the hon. Member for Aston has a great deal of affection and preference. Nor do they go hack, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested, to the system which has prevailed until now, though he said that he wanted to go even further. I confess that I did not quite understand what he meant by that—
The hon. Gentleman has it all wrong. I understand his problem. I was attempting to describe, in answer to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the extent to which our Amendments dealt with the criteria that would be needed to take us back to the status quo which would apply if subsidies were not removed. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, that cannot be dealt with, because it has been taken care of by the Money Resolution. But it was merely a question of criteria as distinct from levels of rents.
I appreciate that. But these are three distinct views of what we ought to have, and those right hon. and hon. Members to whom I have referred have attempted to use these Amendments in three different ways.
The Amendments merely have the effect of upsetting completely the balance and basis of this proposed legislation. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite might wish to do that. However an important part of this system is that there shall be rebates and allowances extending over the whole range of rented accommodation. I remind hon. Members that in response to appeals, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has announced that he will arrange as soon as possible for allowances for those who live in furnished premises as well.
As I have understood the arguments in Committee and in subsequent speeches made in the country, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are strongly in favour of this extension of allowances to furnished lettings. It means that we have the basis of a very wide scheme of rebates and allowances extending over the whole of rented accommodation, whether it be provided by local authorities, by private individuals, by companies or by housing associations, and whether it be furnished or unfurnished. It is obvious from that that such a wide system of rebates and allowances, which apparently is supported by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, cannot conceivably be supported by the old system—
May I make it clear that, although we on this side support these rebates to those in furnished and unfurnished private tenancies, we do so on the basis that these rebates are not taken from council tenants? In other words, we are for rebates for poor people, but we do not believe in robbing poor Peter to pay poor Paul. That is the difference between us.
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman refers to robbing poor Peter. The basis of this is that nothing will be taken away from poor people with small resources. Those are the very people who will receive help.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the council house tenant who is poor will receive help and that only the well-to-do council house tenant will be penalised? Is he saying, for instance, that the council house tenant will be helped more than the property speculator? Will not the owner occupier or the person buying two or more houses and paying only an eighth of the interest charges because of surtax relief receive more help than the council house tenant?
I am saying nothing of the kind, because it has nothing to do with the Amendments. However I shall comment on that obliquely if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to.
The point that I am making is that both sides support the idea of giving allowances and rebates over a wide area. This is different from anything that has obtained in the past, and the hon. Member for Romford regrets that this kind of provision was not made by his Government when they were in office.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will grasp the point that I am trying to make. The Bill is being introduced at the same time as there is to be a reduction in the Exchequer contribution to housing. We are opposed to that reduction. That is the difference between the two sides of the House. We believe in providing additional allowances in the private sector, and in the furnished sector, by means of a greater, not a smaller, Exchequer contribution. That is the difference between the two sides of the House. Does the hon. Gentleman now understand the point that I am making?
The hon. Gentleman has introduced his own personal, novel and new objection to the Bill. It is an objection that has not been made so far. We have been told in the past that the Opposition object to the principle of the Bill, and not merely to some of its details. The fact is that there will not be the kind of reduction to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
In the past, local authorities have done their best but, with the best will in the world, the kind of help which they have been able to give to individuals can only be described as indiscriminate. The allowances and rebates provided under the Bill will be calculated on a scientific basis. I sincerely hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will help every effort that is made to publicise and bring to the notice of those who deserve these benefits all the information which they should have about them.
The Amendments will not achieve what we have been told hon. Gentlemen opposite want to achieve. They will change in detail the basis upon which the rent will be assessed but I cannot understand why, by, their first Amendment, hon. Gentlemen opposite should want to include personal circumstances because, if that were done, they would be included twice. Personal circumstances would be included when fixing a fair rent and also in considering the rebate for allowance, which would be an absurdity.
The hon. Gentleman—and others—has misunderstood the purpose of including that phrase in the Amendment. I did not draft it but, as I understand it, there are personal circumstances apart from family income which could legitimately be taken into account when considering what would be a fair rent. For instance, consideration might be given to how long someone had been a tenant in the same premises, and how much rent he had paid in the past. If someone had been a tenant for 25 years, he might be treated rather differently from a new tenant in a similar place. That is one aspect which could be covered by a phrase of this kind, but which would not be covered by the existing rebate scheme.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempt to explain what nobody else has tried to explain. The speeches that we have heard from the benches opposite so far have not attempted to define the reason for the inclusion of these words.
I agree with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) about Amendment No. 125. In many instances this provision will impose on local housing authorities duties which they are not equipped to carry out. I do not see how they can be asked to assess the effect of rents on the economy. Different authorities might have different ideas about what effect they would have. There may be a change of political control from one year to the next, and a different view might be taken. It would be absurd to impose on local authorities the duty to assess rents in accordance with their highly subjective views of what the effect might be on the economy, and I cannot see that my right hon. Friend should have any difficulty at all in explaining to the House why we should not accept these Amendments.
We have heard some remarkable speeches today, and in a few moments I shall deal with that of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower).
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) spoke about rents and food in much the same vein. The inference that one can logically draw from that is that those who have the most money eat the best food, and those who have the most money will get the best accommodation. The hon. Gentleman, for all his unease and sense of fear about the failings of the Bill, did not, like so many of his hon. Friends on the benches opposite, have the courage at any time to vote against his Government, and when I heard the allusions of the hon. Member for Barry to the economy I could not help thinking that he was as much off the beam in relation to the Amendment as he was lacking in resolution in opposing the Bill in Committee. In Brighton Pavilion, Kemptown, Gloucester and Birmingham they are even now giving their answer to this Bill and I have no doubt what that answer will be. No trepidation exists in my mind, but there is some among hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I believe that the Amendment is necessary since the Government by their rigidly mechanical methods of unfair rent determination, and fixing robbery rents —let us be frank about it—are ignoring entirely the wise principles and precepts born of more than half a century of local authority housing experience, and here I make a charge against the hon. Member for Barry. It is that, as a Welsh Member on the Standing Committee, he did not defend Welsh interests as he should have done. I have never lacked the courage to make a charge, and I make that one openly. The laying down in the Bill of rigidly drawn terms will leave local authorities with no room whatsoever to manœuvre.
Mention has been made of the cost of those who will administer the Bill. A rent officer will cost £5,500 a year. That is the cost, taking in office expenditure and all related costs, but the right hon. Gentleman will not know that, because I received that answer from the Minister with executive responsibility for housing in Wales, which the right hon. Gentleman is not. He has no executive responsibility for that subject, and we are faced with the curious situation of a Minister with no responsibility for a subject handling a Bill on that subject. No one could get more ironical instant Government, the art of which is well known in Tory circles.
It is the duty of local authorities to provide housing as a social service, and it is the inalienable right of all local authorities to determine rents, bearing in mind all local considerations, including the primal one of public accountability to the electorate. That right will be filched away from local representatives by the fact that their duties will be usurped by the rent scrutiny boards.
No, I am sorry.
These boards determine rents at closed meetings. They will consist of arbitrarily appointed, non-elected nominees of the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is the Secretary of State for Wales who should be responsible for housing policy in the principality. These nominees will meet in closed session and decide what local councils decide for themselves now —what the rents of local authority houses will be. The power of direction is the basis of the Minister's proposals, a Minister—I say this now as I said in Standing Committee—whose competence and judgment in housing matters earn the respect of no one.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman feels it important, but I am sorry, I shall not give way.
The Tory Government seek to stigma-tise local authority tenants. They had a feeling that they had to do something about local authority tenants and this is their method of doing it. When they compare local authority housing with private property, they are doing so in the relationship of exploitation, so that local authority housing, for the first time in more than half a century, will have to show a profit to the exclusion of social considerations that housing should be provided at reasonable rents. Not a single hon. Member opposite does not say at election time that housing should be provided at reasonable rents. Now local authority housing is being forced to show a profit to the exclusion of any social consideration. That is the sort of Government we are saddled with.
The age, character, depreciation of property caused by years of use—all will be disregarded in the relationship to the exploitation of private property, for exploitation it will and must be if local authority housing is to show a profit. All this will be disregarded in the insane ideological rush to put one over on the local authority tenants.
Today, the 270,000 Welsh local authority tenants, with the 5½ million local authority tenants in the country as a whole, are remembering, and tomorrow they will also remember. The 1·3 million rent-controlled tenants will also remember today and tomorrow the actions of the right hon. Gentleman. They will execute punishment on this Government of mediocrities, of whom he is one and the grey, colourless Prime Minister another. In Wales, there are only seven Tory MPs, including the hon. Member for Barry. Yet they are dictating to the 28 Labour MPs from the Principality. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I challenged him to attend a meeting in Barry in which I would speak against the Bill if he would speak for it. I have no doubt what the verdict would be. We have government of the Principality by minority and by the bludgeon. This Bill would not work if the legal sanctions were removed. Only a totalitarian Government and a Minister like-minded would have any part in or connive at such a Bill.
The effect on the economy, ignored by hon. Members opposite, who are singularly obtuse, will be immensely damaging. If the Government take millions of £s of purchasing power out of the economy by rent increases imposed under the Bill, massive wage claims will be generated. Of course that is damaging to the economy. Hon. Members opposite pay lip service to fighting inflation, yet here they are giving the most savage twist ever to the inflationary spiral. They need only use simple arithmetic, in calculating the effect of the 50p rise from 1st April, to be followed by a £1 rise later, to realise that the total purchasing power to be taken out of the economy is colossal. But, of course, they are the business people. At election time, we are always told that. In this case they have a teak-like consistency from the neck up.
The Government give lip service to fighting inflation whilst savagely victimising local authority tenants. No one, except those versed in matchstick economics, will doubt that the Bill will generate the massive wage claims to which I have referred. These rent increases will affect half the nations population and make a shambles of the Industrial Relations Act. Such wage claims will permeate the whole economy. They will affect the cost of our export goods. The hon. Member for Barry has never seen that, but it is a fact. If the economy of the United Kingdom, as is alleged, runs like an internal combustion engine—as it does in great part—it will receive rent increases as grit in the bearings. Of course there will be serious effects on the economy. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
The Amendment is necessary in face of a Tory Government blatantly stupid in excluding any social principles from local authority housing and acquiescing in economic incompetence. These rent increases (will deliberately worsen the economy, and before we repeal the Bill, as we shall do when, inevitably, we return to power, the country will go through an extremely injurious period.
Of course there will be an effect on the general housing market. Small terraced houses are selling in my constituency for £3,050. Mortgages are being given in the Principality only at three times the salary of the applicant. If house costs are forced up by pressure on the private market—and these rent increases will undoubtedly have that effect—fewer and fewer working-class families will be able to afford mortgages to purchase their own homes. There is a mad scramble for housing, added to by the escalating land costs caused by the speculations of the rapacious friends of the Government. Looking at the Amendment in terms of social service, I believe that the Government, by disregarding the wishes of the people, will have retribution executed upon them by the people.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to me several times. He has made a statement about wage earners wanting to buy property and being unable in some cases to get it. I trust that he is thrilled by the news that my right hon. Friend is to offer encouragement to local authorities to sell their council houses on a much wider scale by the benefit of a 20 per cent. price reduction. This must surely be of great help.
There are two ways of looking at that. First, the selling of council houses does not bring any improvement to the waiting list. Secondly, in South Wales—part of which both the hon. Member for Barry and I represent —when Llanelli Rural District Council was selling houses, a house was on offer at £4,500, and the offer was tenable for only three months. The hon. Member for Barry has not the courage to go there, certainly not the courage to go to Swansea, East and to say what he said a moment ago. I know the kind of reception he would get.
These rents are unfair. They will be a crippling burden on the people I represent, decent hard-working people among whom I live. As I said in Committee, the economy will be considerably worsened by this Bill. I cannot conceive how a Government could be so ideologic- ally insane as to bring forward a Measure such as this. It will be condemned in the thousands of local authority seats which we shall capture at the polls today.
I shall not detain the House for very long because in the limited range of these two Amendments this matter has been more than fully covered.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard), who unfortunately has left the Chamber for a moment, referred to 1965 and said that there was no doubling of rents in that period. I refer him to the statistics of the Department of the Environment registration for the years 1966 to 1970. There he will see that of 101,000 cases which went before the rent officer, 6,329 had increases of from 100 per cent. to 150 per cent., 2,853 increases from 150 per cent. to 200 per cent. and 2,279 increases of over 200 per cent. Of the 101,000 cases, there were 14,337 in which the rent went up from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent.
I hope that the hon. Member will see that, certainly in the private sector, the rent officer in that period put up the rents quite substantially at the top level of those percentages. I point that out because practically every hon. Member in the Opposition says that it is only Conservatives who double or treble rents, while they themselves have been anxious to keep rents down. In fact we are the only party which ever thinks of seeking a fair rent. This Bill and the White Paper form a continuation of the programme of hon. Members opposite. I am positive that if and when they return to power they will do little or nothing to destroy this Measure.
I always enjoy hearing speeches by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). He has a very light touch and does not speak too often, but when he does he is well worth listening to. Practically every speech I have heard him make has been a watertight case for the sale of council houses. It is incredible that each time he makes a case for a tenant who is paying a rent in the council sector where everyone is gunning for him and making up malicious stories about his having two Jaguar cars while at any moment the rent will be doubled or trebled. My advice to all tenants who take the trouble to read HANSARD is," For goodness sake petition your local authorities if they do not already sell council houses. Get on to your Member of Parliament and make sure that you have the same freedom and privilege as any council tenant in an area where council houses are being sold."
My right hon. Friend the Minister is most anxious that all council tenants who feel that they will be victimised and treated badly in the next few years should be free at this time to demand that they can buy their council houses. I know that this is not always possible in areas of stress. Where there are tall blocks of flats perhaps it is difficult, but in many areas there are local authorities—I regret that sometimes they are Conservative-controlled—which are not carrying forward this progressive programme. The argument is made that by selling a house one does not provide another, but in practice this is not so. The council sells a house and takes the deposit, and the tenant takes over the maintenance, which can be heavy, and looks after the property. There is a social mix and an improvement of the environment to a degree which is easily recognisable. With the money which goes to the housing revenue account, in a subtle way the authority can increase its housing.
I have not heard my right hon. Friend suggest any time while he has been in office that he wants to stop a council's programme. I am sure that any local authority which wants to sell houses can double its council house building programme. No obstacle would be put in its way by the Department.
By the discretion on a five-year pre-emption a small margin is taken away from freedom because the council tenant has to offer the house back to the council during the first five years. This is virtually one of the ways in which one can justify a 20 per cent. increase.
I thank my hon. Friend. I had not thought of that, but obviously it is so. The 20 per cent. five-year preemption clause seems to work well. Sometimes a council house in certain areas has not been maintained at a sufficiently high standard and as soon as the tenant becomes the landlord he has to spend money on painting, fencing, making paths and many other things.
The doubling and trebling of rents suggestion has been a most widely used red herring. In my area we do not visualise a general doubling and trebling of rents. To be perfectly straightforward, I can see that some rents in every area will be doubled. Obviously those which have been held down artificially over many years may be doubled. We all know of cases in which the local housing committee has been almost blackmailed from time to time into holding down rents for fear of loss of popularity. This applies to both Conservative-controlled and Labour-controlled councils. They have not had free hands.
All the pre-war houses which have been subject to rent pooling will have a substantial increase but, as everyone who has studied the Bill knows, the rent will go up in the initial period by 50p a year. The average rent of £2 will go up to £4, but it is fairly obvious that it will take at least three years before the rent is doubled. Sometimes Opposition Members fail to quote that.
In a brief from the Research Division of the Library I came across the housing statistics for August, 1971. Page 79 shows the average annual household income and the average annual income for heads of household. We have always assumed—it may be so in some areas—that local authority tenants are poor, oppressed and in need. These statistics do not support that belief. The average income of local authority households is £1,478. The average income of local authority heads of household is £989. The average income of privately rented households is £1,319—that is, at least £3 a week less than the average income of local authority households. The average income of privately rented heads of household is £970. After spending five months in Committee on this Bill I can only believe that Opposition Members have no one in their constituencies living in private rented accommodation.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that £20 a week before stoppages as the average income of the head of the house provides an affluent way of life? It does not appear to us to be so.
I was not suggesting that that is a high income. I was making a simple comparison between the local authority tenant and the tenant of privately rented accommodation. Of course there is agreement between both sides that we want a better standard of living for everyone.
One of the Amendments is a wrecking one. The other would serve no purpose. I shall therefore vote against them.
This afternoon hon. Members opposite who served on the Standing Committee have come out of their cocoon; and a strange metamorphosis it has been. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) said that he does not understand that the object of the Bill is to reduce subsidies by 1976, in spite of the fact that he was told this quite clearly by the Secretary of State for the Environment. If the hon. Gentleman has served on the Standing Committee and had been considering the Bill on the basis that he does not understand exactly what it means, I do not know what hope there is for us.
Cannot the hon. Gentleman recognise the definition of "reducing "? My definition of "reducing" is that something is brought down from one figure to a figure below it. What my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has said, and what the White Paper says, is that the present subsidy figure will not increase substantially. That is not the same as reducing.
I fully understand what the White Paper says. It is obvious that hon. Members opposite do not understand what the Secretary of State intended. The Secretary of State intended that the Exchequer contribution to housing should not rise to the level that it would have reached in 1976 had the Bill not been introduced. That is a real and absolute saving of about £200 million on what the Exchequer would otherwise have paid in 1976. The hon. Member for Barry did not understand that fact; or, if he did understand it, he did not give that impression when replying to my intervention.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked what the Opposition's policy is on the Bill. Our policy is absolutely clear and it always has been. The Opposition are completely united in their opposition to this odious and vicious Bill. That is what our policy is and that is what it will remain.
In Committee I made it clear that 1 have always been in favour of the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) explained exactly how that Act worked in relation to local authorities which did not have a large stock of pre-war houses. The Act also helped to give additional assistance to areas where housing costs were higher —where land costs, interest charges, and building costs, were higher. The Act was a good one in that it discriminated in favour of areas which had higher housing costs.
I favour the system which has operated for a long time of charging rents on the basis that most people can afford them. I oppose the concept of the Bill, which is that rents will be charged which a great proportion of people cannot afford and, therefore, many people will be pushed unnecessarily through a means test.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. Bowden) told us about the operation of the Bill in his constituency. To my regret, the Bill has been implemented also in Swindon. It is remarkable that our experience has been the reverse from that of the hon. Gentleman's. The operation of the Bill has meant that many retired people have had increases, on a 48-week basis, not of 55p a week, but of up to £1·80 a week, because they have lost a benefit which they had previously under the corporation's scheme.
As a result the local authority is trying to ease the burden of these tenants by giving additional benefits and rebates under the Bill. For example, for old people the local authority is disregarding the reduction in rent rebate in respect of the first non-dependant. That helps some tenants. Already my local authority has had to modify the scheme considerably so that people over 65 should not be badly hurt by the operation of the Bill.
In spite of the cries of the Tory leader who has been going round the town saying people are going to benefit and have these big rebates and so on, the take-up has been nowhere near 40 per cent. Indeed, the take-up has not come to 20 per cent. The local authority is now having to employ additional staff at additional cost to the local ratepayers to see that people are not getting unnecessarily hurt and that they draw the benefits to which they are entitled.
The Bill is an administrative nightmare for local authorities, make no mistake about that. The chaos that has been caused in my constituency has to be seen to be believed. There is also chaos between the local authority and the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I hate to think what is going to happen in the country when the Bill becomes fully operative in October this year.
These administrative difficulties will be compounded when local authorities are compelled under the Bill to operate a rent allowance scheme for the private tenant. I have yet to learn from any local authority how it is going to disperse the rent allowances when this part of the Bill becomes operative.
In conclusion—I intended to say more but my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and the Minister want to reply—there are many local authorities which are going to be badly hurt financially by the Bill. There are many tenants in the country who in October will have an increase in rent, whereas they could have had a decrease. I have mentioned before in Committee the Reading local authority which on 31st March this year had a housing surplus of £500,000. That surplus would have enabled it to give its council tenants a rent reduction of £1 a week. Instead, in October it will have to impose a £1 increase. That is what the Bill will mean to many tenants in the country. It is an absolutely disgraceful Measure.
Our Amendment will help to mitigate the effects to some degree, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the best thing we can do is to reduce rents instead of increasing them.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I was impressed that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in opening the debate on the Amendments did not seek to use them as an opportunity to outline an alternative basis for rents. He confined himself to certain general observations of a kind which we have heard before, about which I shall be speaking in a moment. I was even more impressed in that after the right lion. Gentleman had resumed his seat most of the serious arguments advanced from the other side of the House were devoted to answering the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. It is an unusual situation for a Government to find themselves in during a debate on Report. I can pay no better tribute to his intervention. I understand that he is directing some of his activities to Irish matters. I hope he will keep his head down as we need his contribution on the housing front.
The Opposition claim there is a fundamental difference of principle between the two sides of the House in our philosophy about rents. The speeches which we have heard from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that they are by no means unanimous in their philosophy. On this issue, as on so many others, there would appear to be an "official" view and a "provisional" view.
All Opposition speakers are agreed in taking as their point of departure the expenditure which falls on the housing revenue account. They all agree that in any local authority the rents of all the dwellings added together should not exceed the expenditure to which those dwellings give rise in the account. Thereafter their views appear to diverge. Some of what I might call the official or "old" believers take the view that in an authority with a low housing revenue account expenditure the rents of dwellings might be allowed to equal that expenditure without being reduced by a subsidy, or perhaps with only a small reduction. That is what I take it is meant by a reasonable rent. Their view would be that subsidies for dwellings should be used wholly, or mainly, in the case of authorities with high housing revenue account expenditure so that the rents of dwellings in such authorities can be kept below the expenditure in the account. Other Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), said that the present system was not so bad. They would appear to think that existing rents are high enough or, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, too high in some places. They think that in every authority rents of dwellings should be substantially less than the expenditure in the housing revenue account, and that the difference should be made up by subsidy, with the biggest subsidy in areas where the housing revenue account expenditure is high. My impression is that the official school of thought favours rent rebates for poorer tenants, whereas the provisionals look forward to the time when there are such low rents that no one needs a rebate.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the disincentive factor of the rebate, an argument which has sometimes been advanced on this side of the House. By itself this is small, 17p in the pound. Any means-tested benefit involves some disincentive. The alternative is to give no benefit, which is inhumane, or to give benefit to those who do not need it, which involves taking away people's money by taxation for indefensible purposes. It may be that it is possible to escape from this dilemma by some arrangement on the lines of negative income tax or whatever may be advocated by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams). However, this is something that goes beyond my responsibilities.
The officials and the provisionals on the benches opposite have one thing in common, they make housing revenue expenditure the upper limit of rents. By so doing they are applying the principle that rents should be based on the authorities' pooled historic costs. On this principle the accidents of history and geography determine whether rents could be high or low. In an authority which solved its housing problems long ago rents would be kept low, but for the next-door authority, which is still building to meet housing needs, the rent may have to be very much higher for an identical house. On this principle it is irrelevant that the value of the accommodation to the tenant is identical in both cases. This principle ignores the rental value of the dwelling and must lead to unfair results between tenants.
Different principles operate in the Opposition's philosophy about the lower limit of rent levels that is determined by the amount of subsidy that the taxpayers or the ratepayers can be persuaded or compelled to provide in order to reduce rents below the housing revenue account expenditure. Whoever decides the amount—whether it is Parliament or each local authority—has to make a judgment. That judgment must be based either on what the accommodation is worth to the tenant, which would be its rental value, or on a judgment that every tenant should pay less than the accommodation is worth because this is somehow felt to be right.
We on this side of the House agree that the rent of a dwelling should be based on its fair rental value. Indeed, we think that this is the only rational and fair basis for rent fixing. However, we certainly would not agree that the rent of a dwelling should be less than its fair rental value if the tenant can afford the fair rental value. Any loss from charging less than the fair rental value would have to be met by the ratepayers or taxpayers. It is quite indefensible to take money away from a citizen to enable another citizen to have a subsidy which he does not need. It is just as wrong for an elected local authority as for an elected Government to take away a citizen's money for such an indefensible purpose. No parrot cry about the discretion of local authorities can make it right to perpetuate this injustice.
Will the Minister clarify this matter? He suggested that if somebody pays a rent which is below the rental value—presumably the market value—it means that the subsidy will have to be met by others who might be worse off to make up the difference. However, I suggest that this is not necessarily so if to pay below the rental market value does not mean going below the cost of providing the dwelling. No cash is transferred in such circumstances.
On the contrary, with the system of pooled historic rents there is often a substantial transfer of cash. The whole system of subsidies, based as it is today, particularly if it went to £600 million a year, which is the forecast we have had, would involve heavy taxation on ordinary citizens often less well off than the people receiving the subsidy.
I turn now to another of the Opposition's parrot cries: that council housing is a social service. This oft repeated assertion conceals a good deal of sloppy thinking and a patronising attitude towards council tenants—[HON. MEMBER: "No."]—which we on this side of the House find disagreeable.
Of course local authorities must provide houses to rent to help meet the demand for rented houses. It is a service which they have provided for 50 years and will go on providing for the benefit of their areas. The houses which they provide improve social conditions and meet social needs. However, all this does not make it right that the rents which tenants pay should never exceed the cost of meeting the loan charges on their dwellings, plus the cost of maintaining them.
To suggest, as the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) does, that the Bill introduces profit rents is sheer nonsense, and hypocritical nonsense at that. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite know that under the existing system the great majority of local authorities pool rents and subsidies. What does pooling of rents and subsidies mean? It means that the rent on many dwellings is a profit rent in the sense that it exceeds the expenditure which that dwelling generates in the housing revenue account. This is usually allowed to happen where the authority considers that the profit rent is reasonable in relation to the value of the accommodation. The Bill takes this idea to its logical conclusion. We say that if the rent fairly reflects the rental value of the dwelling, it is irrelevant whether it is a profit or a loss rent, and it can be both. It is absurd for the Opposition to argue that profit rents are acceptable as long as they are balanced by loss rents in the same authority, but that they somehow become wicked as soon as there are more profit than loss rents in that authority.
The Opposition's concern that there should not be a surplus in the housing revenue account shows their tendency to think in accounting terms, not in human terms. Rent is a payment for the right to occupy a particular dwelling as one's home. The Bill proposes that each individual should pay an amount which fairly reflects the value of that right, but only if he can afford to pay that amount. If he cannot afford it, he will be able to obtain a rebate.
The principle that a tenant should pay an amount which clearly reflects the value of his accommodation, which discounts any inflation of that value due to local scarcity, was introduced for private tenants by the previous Administration. I should add that at the time they forgot to give any help to those tenants who could not afford the rent based on this principle. The Opposition now say that this equitable principle should not be applied to council tenants. The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that.
The Opposition are always telling us that council houses are not just for the poor or those who need social help. I entirely agree. Council tenants are not a class to be specially labelled, still less to be stigmatised. They do not need more protection than private tenants. To suggest that tenants who can afford the fair rent should pay something less because they are council tenants, not private tenants, is patronising towards council tenants. It suggests that they are a group which needs special treatment and should be treated differently from private tenants. We believe that the only tenants who need such special treatment are those who cannot afford the fair rent, whether they live in council or in private houses.
As the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to use the analogy that we are more concerned about council tenants than private tenants —I do not want to go into some of the other byways because I might get at cross purposes with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends—how is it that private tenants are not treated in the same way as council tenants? How does the right hon. Gentleman reach that conclusion?
All that I have been arguing is that it is wrong to suggest that we cannot apply to council tenants the fair rent principle which was applied by the previous Administration to private tenants.
I will not give way. The Opposition say that fair rents are inflationary because they involve rent increases. I accept that for many dwellings the fair rent will prove to be higher than the existing rent.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that on the figures which I had given in Committee rents would go up by about 50 per cent. I have had the figures checked since he made that remark. On 29th March in Committee I gave the estimates of fair rents made up from certain local authorities. In Newcastle the increase was not 50 per cent. but 23 per cent. In Portsmouth the increase was not 50 per cent. but 12 per cent. In Bristol the increase was not 50 per cent. but 65 per cent., which is rather more. In Rochdale the increase was 43 per cent. In Sutton the increase was 10 per cent. In Dorking and Horley the increase was 44 per cent. We must keep a sense of proportion in all this. The right hon. Gentleman talked about rents becoming dramatically dearer. I gave certain figures earlier which suggested that they would be far from 50 per cent.
I now have the figures for Birmingham. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Birmingham has over 140,000 dwellings. It is the largest housing authority outside the GLC. The council has recently approved estimates of the fair rents for council dwellings after studying the various items of information involved. The council considers that the estimated average fair rent for all dwellings would be £3·60 per week compared with the average rent now being charged for all dwellings of £3·25 per week.
I will give the detailed estimate. For a pre-war three-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £3·51 and the estimated fair rent is £3·89. For an early post-war bungalow the present rent is £2·37 and the estimated fair rent is £2·61. For a late post-war bungalow the present rent is £2·59 and the estimated fair rent is £2·85. For a late post-war two-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £4·78 and the estimated fair rent is £4·78. For a late postwar three-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £5·25 and the estimated fair rent is £5·25. For a late post-war one-bedroom multi-storey flat the present rent is £3·83 and the estimated fair rent is £3·83. For a late post-war two-bedroom multi-storey flat the present rent is £4·63 and the estimated fair rent is £4·63. This applies to tenants without rebate. These are the figures which Birmingham has given.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as I have been seeking an opportunity to ask him some questions which are extremely pertinent to the figures which he has just quoted. In view of the time factor I cannot list the half-dozen questions which I wanted to put to him. May I ask—[Interruption.] I will gladly take five minutes putting them, but that would not be fair. I should like to sum them up in 30 seconds by asking the right hon. Gentleman, if he is quoting those Birmingham figures as evidence, to state categorically whether he accepts or rejects the criteria on which Birmingham has based them. If so, it would radically alter the interpretation of Clause 50 by local authorities throughout the country. This is vital and crucial. I hope that: we shall have a proper answer from the Minister.
I am giving not Government figures but figures supplied by the Birmingham authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Birmingham has been into this in great detail. [Interruption.] I am not surprised that our critics on the benches opposite find this disagreeable and unpalatable, but it confirms what I have said about hon. Gentlemen opposite indulging in a totally irresponsible campaign of scaremongering and trying to win votes by totally unacceptable means.
Many tenants in Birmingham who will qualify for rebate will pay less than they pay today. In various parts of the country I have received examples—notably, in recent days, from Market Harborough and Droitwich—of rents being reduced to nil. These are by no means isolated examples.
I hope that the hon. Member for Salford, East will withdraw the charges he often makes about rents being doubled under our system. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were in Government they accepted that the present system of housing finance was defective, and they undertook a thorough review. They knew that changes were needed. Had they been returned to power the former Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have allowed whoever would have been the Minister responsible for housing to go on with the system as it was. Now they are in opposition hon. Gentlemen opposite feel free to make capital out of any proposals for reform which involve rent increases.
We are told that the Labour Party will produce a policy of its own. I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have been working on it since 1965, and no doubt it will come out after the Royal Assent has been given to this Measure. If they thought that fair rents would involve no rent increases for council tenants, they would not have opposed applying them to the public sector—[Interruption.] I accept that it is good tactics to oppose this principle because rent increases are unpopular.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have repeatedly told us that the rent increases which they claim will arise under the Bill will lose us votes and seats. Their totally irresponsible scaremongering campaign may win them some votes tonight, but when the people have reflected on the value of this legislation they will return a very different verdict, and I have no doubt whatever that hon. Gentlemen opposite will deeply regret the campaign they have applied. They talk about repealing the Bill. If they should ever be returned to Government I doubt whether they would even amend it.
In collusion with his colleagues in Birmingham, the Minister is trying desperately to save control of that authority. If the figures which the right hon. Gentleman quoted for Birmingham and the increases contained in them were general throughout the country, the Bill would not be necessary.
If the Minister is saying that Birmingham has made this judgment of what rents will be and if that judgment were general throughout the country, the Amendment, which talks about the opinion of the local authority, would be acceptable to the Government. We could abolish the rent scrutiny board—this Star Chamber procedure for reviewing rents—and throw the Bill out. The right hon. Gentleman knows that his argument does not apply throughout the country, and that is why he is pressing the Bill under the guillotine.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that it was another Birmingham representative who observed the true purpose of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), speaking near Birmingham about the Bill, said that
the central justification and necessity"—
the usual language—
for the Government's legislation on rents is that it would eventually bring rents up to the genuine level fixed in the market by supply and demand.
Later he said that
the evil of artificially low rents was essentially the same as the evil of any other artificially depressed price.
Thus, we have the Birmingham view, that quoted by the Minister in his desperate attempt to save that authority, and the view of an adherent to the market economy. I believe that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is probably right. It is clear that the Government will achieve the unique double of raising the level of rents and at the same time artificially depressing the level of building in the council sector.
The Amendment seeks to abrogate the central principle of the Bill that rents in the public sector should as far as possible follow those in the private sector. Despite figures that might be quoted by some authorities, we know from observation—not from within the Labour Party but from the general observations of the Minister and others knowledgeable in the local authority scene—that the Bill will probably bring about a doubling of council rents in many areas.
We are anxious to make it possible for local authorities to meet the statutory public duty and social need which is placed on them. We are equally anxious, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), that they should not in future have to follow the profit-making procedures of public companies quoted on the Stock Exchange.
If the Bill is not amended in the way we suggest, local authorities will have to follow the rent-fixing processes of companies which have no duty to provide for the housing need of the people. There is no duty laid on them to solve the housing problem or eradicate the evils of bad housing.
The Minister is adopting the old American saying, "What is good for General Motors is good for America ", except that he is saying, "What is good for the Freshwater Group is good for local authorities ".
Lest any naïve councillor should imagine that local authorities will be able to act differently from private property groups, the Freshwater Group or any other, let him read Clause 50(4). He will find that the Minister is not being kind to him. That provision clearly states:
In any case where, if the rent of a dwelling were being determined under Part IV of the Rent Act 1968, consideration would be given to the return that it would be reasonable to expect on it as an investment, the like consideration shall be given in determining a fair rent for it under this Part of this Act,"—
These are the important words:
and the fact that it is vested in a public body shall be disregarded.
It is clear that the principle being followed here is that the public sector, with all its public duties and conscience, shall follow the private sector. What has motivated councillors of all parties in their rent and housing policies up to now is being abrogated.
We say in the Amendment that the rent scrutiny board should have regard to the effect of rent levels on the economy and the general body of housing. The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr.
When there was an inquiry into the pay of electricians the Government told the tribunal to consider the public interest. Why cannot the rent scrutiny board do the same? Why are these sentiments being applied to every body of public workers which submits a wage claim but not in respect of rent increases for 5 million council tenants? Where is the justice in this when 5 million tenants will not even be allowed to be represented before the rent scrutiny board? If the Government care about controlling inflation, they must take these matters into account.
I have in my constituency some GLC area tenants who have recently moved into new houses and are getting rebates more favourable than those under the Government scheme. Within two months of moving in they have found themselves unable, even with generous rebates and fair rents, to continue to live in that accommodation. People who have waited a lifetime on the list of a council which has a scheme which is much more generous than the Government's rebate scheme and who have a rent that is probably less than the fair rent at the moment, find that after their long-awaited hopes have been fulfilled they have to leave the council dwelling because they cannot afford it. It is that principle of squeezing tenants for the greatest amount the market can bear without creating a revolutionary system that is being perpetuated in this Bill, and that we seek to abrogate.
|Division No. 166.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Armstrong, Ernest||Bagier, Gordon A.|
|Albu, Austen||Ashley, Jack||Barnes, Michael|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Ashton, Joe||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Atkinson, Norman||Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)|
|Baxter, William||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Oswald, Thomas|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Heffer, Eric S.||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Horam, John||Padley, Walter|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Paget, R. T.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Huckfield, Leslie||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Booth, Albert||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Pentland, Norman|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Hunter, Adam||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Irvine,Rt.Hn.SirArthur(Edge Hill)||Prescott, John|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Janner, Greville||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Buchan, Norman||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Probert, Arthur|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rankin, John|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||John, Brynmor||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Cant, R. B.||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingham, Northfield)||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Richard, Ivor|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Jones, Gwynoro Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br c n&R dnor)|
|Cooks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Roper, John|
|Concannon, J. D.||Judd, Frank||Rose, Paul B.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Kaufman, Gerald||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Kelley, Richard||Rowlands, Edward|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Kerr, Russell||Sandelson, Neville|
|Crawshaw. Richard||Kinnock, Neil||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Cronin, John||Lamble. David||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lamond, James||Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Latham, Arthur||Short, Mrs. Rénee (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Lawson George||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Dalyell. Tam||Leadbitter, Ted||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Sillars, James|
|Davidson, Arthur||Leonard, Dick||Silverman, Julius|
|Davies, Denzil (Lianelly)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Skinner, Denis|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Small William|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Smith, John (Lanakshire, N.)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Lewis, Ron (Carlise)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lipton, Marcus||Spearing, Nigel|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Lomas, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||McBride, Neil||Steel, David|
|Dempsey, James||McCartney, Hugh||Stewart, Rt. Hn. John|
|Doig, Peter||McElhone, Frank||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Dorman, J. D.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Mackie, John||Strang, Gavin|
|Driberg, Tom||Mackintosh, John P.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Maclennan, Robert||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Dunn, James A.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Swain, Thomas|
|Eadie, Alex||McNamara, J. Kevin||Taverne, Dick|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff.W.)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Ellis, Tom||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|English, Michael||Marquand, David||Tomney, Frank|
|Evans, Fred||Marsden, F.||Torney, Tom|
|Ewing, Henry||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Tuck, Raphael|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Urwin, T. W.|
|Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham.Ladywood)||Mayhew, Christopher||Varley, Eric G.|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Meacher, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Foot, Michael||Mendelson, John||Walker Harold (Doncaster)|
|Ford, Ben||Mikardo, Ian||Wallace, George|
|Forrester, John||Millan, Bruce||Watkins, David|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Freeson, Reginald||Milne, Edward||Wells, William (Waisall, N.)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, ltchen)||White James (Glasaow Pollok)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Molloy, William|
|Gilbert,Dr. John||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Whitehead Phillip|
|Ginsberg, David (Dewsbury)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Whitlock, William|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Gordon, Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moyle, Roland||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Grant, George, Morpeth)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Murray, Ronald King||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Oakes, Gordon||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Ogden, Eric||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||O'Halloran, Michael||Woof, Robert|
|Hamling, William||O'Malley, Brian|
|Hardy, Peter||Oram, Bert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orbach, Maurice||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Orme, Stanley||Mr. Tom Pendry.|
|Adley, Robert||Fletcher-Cook, Charles||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Fookes, Miss Janet||Maddan, Martin|
|Allason, James (Hemel Kempstead)||Fortescue, Tim||Madel, David|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Foster, Sir John||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Fowler, Norman||Marten, Neil|
|Astor, John||Fox, Marcus||Mather, Carol|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Fry, Peter||Maude, Angus|
|Awdry, Daniel||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Gardner, Edward||Mawby, Ray|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Gibson-Watt, David||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Satsford, Brian||Goodhart, Philip||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Gorst, John||Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire.W)|
|Bell, Ronald||Gower, Raymond||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Moate, Roger|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Green, Alan||Money, Ernie|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Grieve, Percy||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Biffen, John||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Monro, Hector|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grylls, Michael||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Blaker, Peier||Gummer, Selwyn||More, Jasper|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gurden, Harold||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Body, Richard||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Morrison Charles|
|Boscawen, Robert||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Murton Oscar|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Neave, Afrey|
|Bowden, Andrew||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Braine, Bernard||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Normanton, Tom|
|Bray, Ronald||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Nott, John|
|Brewis, John||Haselhurst, Alan||Onslow, Cranley|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hastings, Stephen||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Havers, Michael||Osborn, John|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hay, John||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Bryan, Paul||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M)||Heseltine, Michael||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Buck, Antony||Hicks, Robert||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Peel, John|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hiley, Joseph||Percival Ian|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Holland, Philip||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Channon, Paul||Holt, Miss Mary||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hordern, Peter||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Chris'opher||Hornby, Richard||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Raison, Timothy|
|Clegg, Walter||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Cockeram, Eric||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Cooke, Robert||James, David||Redmond, Robert|
|Coombs, Derek||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Reed, Laurance (Bolton. E.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Jessel, Toby||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Costain, A. P.||Jopling, Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Crouch, David||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Crowdor, F. P.||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kershaw, Anthony||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Kilfedder, James||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kimball, Marcus||Rost, Peter|
|d'Avigdor-Coldsmid,Maj.-Gen.James||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Royle, Anthony|
|Dean, Paul||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Kinsey, J. R.||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Digby, Simon Wlngfield||Kirk, Peter||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Dixon Piers||Kitson, Timothy||Scott, Nicholas|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Knox, David||Sharples, Richard|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Lambton, Lord||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh a Whitby)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lane, David||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Simeons, Charles|
|Dykes, Hugh||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Eden, Sir John||Le Merchant, Spencer||Smith, Dudley (Wwick & L'mington)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Soref, Harold|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Speed, Keith|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.N.)||Loveridge, John||Spence, John|
|Emery, Peter||Luce, R. N.||Sproat, lain|
|Eyre, Reginald||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Farr, John||McArthur, Ian||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Fell, Anthony||McCrindle, R. A.||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||McLaren, Martin||Stoddart-Seott, Col. Sir M.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampslead)||Macmillan.Rt.Hn.Maurice (Farnham)||Stokes, John|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surblton)||McNalr-Wilson, Michael||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Sutclilfe, John||Trew, Peter||Wells, John (Maldstone)|
|Tapsell, Peter||Tugendhat, Christopher||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Vickers, Dame Joan||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Tebbit, Norman||Waddington, David||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Temple, John M.||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Thatcher, Rt. Kn. Mrs. Margaret||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek||Younger, Hn. George|
|Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Wall, Patrick|
|Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||Walters, Dennis||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Tilney, John||Ward, Dame Irene||Mr. Hamish Grfty and|
|Trafford, Or. Anthony||Weatherill, Bernard||Mr. Paul Hawkins.|
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April], to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Seven o'clock.
I understand that there is no wish to divide against any Government Amendments within this section of the Guillotine. If that is so, I will, with the leave of the House, put together Amendments No. 128, 129, 136 to 138, 141 to 143, 228, 144, 229 and 146.
(9) In any case where a new fair rent of a dwelling determined under this section is lower than the rent which was the fair rent of the dwelling immediately before the determination, the authority may treat the date of determination of the new fair rent as having been such date as may in their opinion be appropriate, being either the date of the change in circumstances as a result of which the new fair rent was determined or a date after that change but before the date which would be the date of determination under subsection (7) or (8) above.—[Mr. Amery. ]
I beg to move Amendment No. 148, in page 61, line 21, after shall ', insert:
subject to the provisions of this section '.
This is a drafting Amendment to ensure that the duty to make increases towards fair rents under Clauses 64 and 65 is discharged with regard to certain other provisions, in particular those resulting from Amendments made in Standing Committee. For example, this duty may be affected by subsection (6) of Clause 63, which enables the Secretary of State to direct that increases towards fair rents should be such lower amounts as are specified in the direction if it appears that the increases towards fair rents that would otherwise be required by Part VI of the Bill would cause 2 per cent. or more of the authority's dwellings to be above the fair rents in circumstances described in the subsection.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if together with this Amenedment the House discussed Amendment No. 262, in page 61, line 32, at end insert:
|5||(7) An increase towards fair rents may be up to 1 per cent, more or less than the exact amount required by section 64 or 65 below, or as the case may be by subsection (6) above.|
|(8) Subject to section 6 below, the way in which an increase towards fair rents is distributed or apportioned among the authority's qualifying dwelling shall be such as the authority may determine.|
dwelling for a period not exceeding ten years and—
The purpose of these Amendments is to exclude from the definition of qualifying dwellings certain categories of dwellings. Broadly speaking, these are, first, dwellings subject to a service tenancy or used for mixed business and residential use; secondly, a fixed-term tenancy granted before 19th July, 1971; thirdly, a dwelling acquired by an authority and which is only expected to have a life of not more than 10 years —this would cover most dwellings acquired for development—and finally, in the fourth category, dwellings excluded from the provisions of Clause 70, which relates to fixed-term tenancies, by a direction given by the Secretary of State under that Clause.
It is necessary to exclude those categories from the definition of qualifying dwelling because they are excluded from the progression towards fair rents either entirely or for certain purposes; for example, until the fair rent is determined. In the absence of these Amendments the increases towards fair rents required under Part VI of the Bill would lead to higher individual rent increases for those dwellings still affected by the progression to fair rents.
|10||(9) Where the weekly or other periodical amount of rent for a qualifying dwelling which the authority would have to collect to conform with their determination under subsection (8) above would not be an exact multiple of 5 new pence, it may be increased or reduced by not more than 2½ new pence so as to produce an exact multiple of 5 new pence; and the power conferred by this subsection shall be exercisable notwithstanding that the total increase towards fair rents is then more or less than the exact amount mentioned in subsection (7) above as adjusted under that subsection, but this subsection has effect subject to section 66 below.|
|15||(10) Subsection (9) above shall be applied by reference to the methods of rent collection adopted by the authority and without regard to section 71(5) of this Act.|
The purpose of Amendments Nos. 151 and 153 is to allow a local authority to fix the weekly rent or the amount collectable to the nearest 5p.
The authority would first calculate the total increases towards fair rents required by Clauses 64 or 65 using the 1 per cent. tolerance allowed by subsection (7) if they so wished. They can then, under subsection (8), distribute or apportion that increase in such manner as they determine among their qualifying dwellings. Where the rent so apportioned to a dwelling is not an exact multiple of 5p, the authority will have a discretion under subsection (9) to increase or reduce the amount so apportioned by not more than 2½p so as to round the amount to a multiple of 5p.
When the rent is collected over irregular periods, for example, over 48 weeks instead of 52 weeks, subsection (10) enables the authority to round to a multiple of 5p the amount that is to be collected in those irregular periods.
This discretion may be exercised even though total of the amount so rounded may in fact produce a sum that is more or less than the exact required total increase towards fair rents, as adjusted by the 1 per cent. tolerance if invoked by the local authority. However, no weekly rent as rounded, or amount collectable as rounded, when expressed as a weekly amount, may exceed the maximum annual increase permitted for any individual dwelling by Clause 66.
The next Amendment is Amendment No. 227, in page 62, line 27, at end insert:
Where the Secretary of State has considered an increase under the preceding subsection he
shall give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority and shall stipulate the criteria with have governed his decision.
I am inclined to take the view that much of the debate that is likely to ensue on this and related Amendments, as on the previous Amendment, has been made unnecessary by the statement of the Minister for Housing and Construction in the latter part of his remarks, when he called in aid the figures submitted to the Department by the second largest housing authority in the country, the city of Birmingham.
What we are seeking to do at this stage in effect is to halve the rate of increase in the movement towards fair rents as required by the Bill. But there is some misunderstanding on my part and, I believe, on your part, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to the order of the Amendments to which we should be speaking. I had not intended to speak to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) but to speak to what I would say, without disrespect to my hon. Friend or to the Chair, is the substantial Amendment, which is to slow the rate of increase annually towards the established fair rents.
May we have your guidance on the matter before I proceed, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
When I called Amendment No. 151, I called it together with Amendment No. 152, and other Amendments, and when I put the Question the House may have noticed that 1 paused rather a long time in anticipation of what did not occur, namely for the hon. Gentleman to rise.
I am prepared to correct what I thought to be the position. I now understand that Amendment No. 151 was put and approved, but I submit that the Question on Amendment No.152 was not put at that stage. May I submit that it would be in order for us to continue a discussion on Amendment No. 152?
On a point of order. I do not often agree with the Minister, but I think that on this occasion he is right in saying that Amendment No. 152 has not been dealt with in any way, either by speaking or voting, and I urge you to allow that to be taken, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because that is what we are prepared for.
Further to that point of order. Surely Amendment No. 152 has fallen, as we have removed from the Bill the lines that it would amend. Therefore, we cannot discuss that Amendment, but we have Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 153, which will provide the moment for which the hon. Gentleman is so eagerly awaiting.
I beg to move Amendment No. 227, in page 62, line 27, at end insert:
Where the Secretary of State has considered an increase under the preceding subsection he shall give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority and shall stipulate the criteria which have governed his decision.
The Amendment is an attempt to obtain further clarification of the most interesting and curious addition to the Bill moved by the Government in Committee. I refer to subsection (6). I must confess that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) was saying in the confusion of a moment ago, in some respects the whole matter is thrown into the melting pot by the astonishing statements of the Minister about the rents proposed by the Birmingham authority, in that if the criteria which Birmingham has used have already been officially adopted by him, even if for short-term political gain in the local elections, we have already established criteria by which the fair rents will be determined and subsection (6) could
operate. I presume, therefore, that what the right lion. Gentleman was saying in our previous debate is that he would automatically grant the Birmingham authority an order under the subsection not to impose the rent increase of a pound that is written into the Clause, and that Birmingham could go forward with its own relatively modest increases on its own assessment of the fair rent. If that is so, can we assume that the criteria that Birmingham used to determine and fix the levels of fair rent, which are quoted this week, curiously in time for the local elections, are now the official criteria accepted by the Government as the basis upon which they would decide whether to grant an order to authorities under the subsection?
The subsection is one of the oddest additions to the Bill. If it had been moved by the Opposition it would have been regarded as a wrecking Amendment, because in many ways it wrecks the procedural arrangements written into the Bill. For example, what would happen to the rent scrutiny boards if there were an order from the Secretary of State to a local authority saying, Impose only a 25p increase this October, otherwise rents would go through the fair rent ceiling "? On what basis does the local authority seek an application under the subsection to the Secretary of State? What method does it use?
We have had a lot of discussion about what a fair rent is in the past two or three hours. If, as in the case of most Welsh local authorities, the whole experience of comparability, of the rent officer and rent office machinery, is useless for the local authority, on what grounds can it make a submission to the Secretary of State under the subsection? On what basis will the Secretary of State reply to such an application from a local authority? My own local authority is a good example. We believe that our rents are high enough, and that no further increase is necessary to achieve the so-called fair rent levels. We have no other criteria to apply. We cannot go to the rent officer, who was made redundant two years ago. In the whole of his six or seven years he had determined only 54 rents, two dozen of which were for penthouse flats in the central area redevelopment scheme.
By what criteria, if we cannot use comparability, can the local authority establish an application under subsection (6)? We have looked at the idea of applying the gross value method. The rents in many authorities are as much as twice or more the gross value. If that is the case and we can submit evidence, would it be admissible as the basis for a direction under the subsection?
The most interesting and astonishing feature of this subsection is what happens when the local authority makes the application. What does the Secretary of State do when he receives an application? Suppose he received one from every one of the 168 Welsh housing authorities through the Secretary of State for Wales who, alas and as usual, is absent from these debates. What does the Secretary of State for the Environment or the Secretary of State for Wales do? The local authority says that it thinks existing rents are fair and that any attempt to impose an increase of £1 a week in addition to the existing rent would push every rent through the fair rent ceiling. For example, if we added £1 a week to existing rents in Merthyr Tydfil, the ratio of rents to gross value would be over three times. There is not a rent officer, a scrutiny board or assessment panel that would say that that sort of ratio would be fair. The rents would clearly be way above the fair rent level.
What happens if Merthyr Tydfil applies to the Secretary of State under the subsection? What does he do? Does he check a sample variety of properties through his own officers in the field? He cannot go to the local rent officer for advice because he has been made redundant and has had no experience in dealing with anything but a handful of rents. Does he apply to the rent scrutiny board? He cannot, because the boards will not have been appointed by October. Where does he get his advice? How does he decide whether to accept the order? This subsection throws the whole procedural part of the Bill into total confusion. We do not know what the Secretary of State will do, how he will make an assessment of the application. We are not sure what the local authority must submit to apply for the order, whether it has to do a detailed or a general assessment, or the basis upon which the assessment is made.
Having granted the order, greater confusion will arise. What happens to the rent scrutiny boards? The Secretary of State and the local authority will have reached an agreement that the rents will be increased by, say 25p and not by £1 a week. Does the authority still have to apply to the rent scrutiny board and, if so on what basis does the board act? Will it, a handful of people, have the power to overthrow a direction made under the subsection and say that the agreement made between the Secretary of State and the local authority is to be overthrown, is inaccurate and cannot stand?
The Government have an enormous responsibility to explain how this subsection will work. My Amendment seeks to ensure that when a local authority goes to the Secretary of State he will have to stipulate the criteria upon which assessments are made and directions issued. This subsection was introduced late in the day in Committee and throws the procedure of the Bill into confusion. When added to the confusion created by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the rent levels in Birmingham, we are entitled to demand a statement now clarifying the situation.
How will this Clause affect Birmingham? I have always had a little difficulty in understanding the Minister. Whether that is my fault or because of the way the Minister explains things, I do not know. As I understand it, the application must have been received from Birmingham. His reply as contained in the local Press says:
Although no directions could be given until the Bill becomes law we would be prepared to give an indication on receipt of an informal application setting out the case as to whether a direction is likely to be issued should Clause 63(6) of the Bill be enacted substantially in its present form.
That is a completely negative attitude about something which is rather important. What is the position now?
It seems as though all the things on which we spent months in Committee are completely overthrown by the Minister's statement. We would not argue if he were saying that his vicious Bill has become too vicious and is penalising council house tenants too much. We would not mind if he said that in view of that he feels that he has been too vindictive and has decided that lower rents would be satisfactory. It is important that we should know and should be given a categoric assurance on this issue.
I want to make a special appeal because my constituency in Birmingham is made up entirely of council house properties. It is a redevelopment area with multi-storey blocks of flats and maisonettes, and all my constituents will he interested in the remarks made by the Secretary of State this afternoon. I should like to go to my constituents tomorrow and tell them that their rents will not go up £1 a week in October and that the Minister has accepted that the Bill is a vicious one and has decided to retract part of it. I know the Under-Secretary of State has a great interest in Birmingham and I hope he will be able to give that assurance.
There is nothing in the Bill to provide that wages must be taken into consideration when fair rents are assessed. The Minister went so far as to say that wages must be completely disregarded because the rent rebate scheme will take low wages into account. But wages must be considered in the Birmingham scheme because rents will be at such a level that the majority of the tenants will have to apply for a rebate. My hon. Friends who represent constituencies where earnings are low put forcibly in Committee the case that rents should not be increased in those areas on the grounds of unemployment and low wages.
I sometimes think that the Tories do not understand that the lower the wage of a family the more in proportion is spent on rent and food and, therefore, the standard of living of the family is determined by the cost of food and rent. The rent increases imposed by the Bill will mean a substantial cut in the standard of living of the majority of people who live in council houses. To speak of rebates for the less fortunate is contrary to the Prime Minister's idea of "one nation ". There will be a lowering of standards of living in one section of the community—contrary to the promises on which the Tories fought their election campaign.
Let us have a categorical assurance from the Minister today that the Birmingham scheme will go forward as an acceptable scheme and contrary to the spirit of the Bill.
Will the Minister take into account who is to make the application? A Tory-controlled authority may be aware that the rent increase is likely to bring the rents of 2 per cent. of the council houses above the fair rent but may refuse to move. Does Clause 63 allow a resident, a ratepayer or the Member of Parliament for the area to intervene and ask the Minister to consider whether a direction should be made? If so, how will such persons be able to obtain the necessary information? If the Bill does not become an Act until August there will be two months only in which to determine the fair or economic rent for the area, and that will be insufficient time to enable an application to be made before 1st October, 1972. The Amendment would at least make certain that the Minister has to determine the criteria before he makes the decision but what I am more concerned about is that it does not specifically say who is empowered to ask for a direction to be made.
I think it would be convenient for me to try to reply to the debate so far. I remember the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) when he was here previously being a vigorous member of Standing Committees. In moving the Amendment the hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions and related his remarks on the Clause to the Birmingham figures which had been quoted earlier. The Birmingham figures are not astonishing at all, except to those who have been misled by propaganda statements—
I intervene on a point of clarity because we might be discussing something so hypothetical as not to warrant a great deal of time. Are the Under-Secretary of State and the Minister accepting the validity of the Birmingham figures? If not, why use these figures as a basis for debating the merits and demerits of the Bill?
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will try to reply to the debate. I must refer to the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil expressed astonishment at the Birmingham figures. Had he not been misled by the propaganda about rents being doubled, he would not have expressed astonishment.
I was not astonished or misled by the propaganda. I have been misled by Clause 63 which until subsection (6) was added would have imposed an increase in October of £1 on every local authority dwelling. The astonishment is not at my hon. Friends but at the hon. Gentleman's astonishment at finding that the average rent increases will be at least £1 a week. It is the hon. Gentleman's astonishment that astonishes me.
I will take this by stages and gradually approach the hon. Gentleman's point on Clause 63(6) and set it into perspective against the background of the Bill as a whole.
If I may try to reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil about the Birmingham situation, that city has followed a realistic rents policy over a number of years. Therefore it is likely that the increases which will take place in Birmingham under the Bill will be moderate in character, as apparently has been forecast by the housing committee in Birmingham. The proposal which will be put forward at a later stage for consideration by the Secretary of State relates to an application under the terms of Clause 63(6), and one cannot imagine for a moment that the Secretary of State will be able to prejudge that situation—
That is not so. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that these figures have been brought forward, and it is apparent to any hon. Member who looks at subsection (6) that various items of evidence must be considered before the Secretary of State discharges his duty of exercising his discretion, if he has to do so under the subsection.
The direction to which the hon. Gentleman referred is in respect of any rent increases under Part VI of the Bill, which relates to the public sector. It is not in respect of rents under Part V. though it seemed to have occurred to the hon. Gentleman's mind that it is. I must make clear this vital distinction. The discretion referred to under subsection (6) relates entirely to the public sector.
I pass now to the hon. Gentleman's other point when he spoke about the difficulty of comparability—
In common with a number of other hon. Members who have lived with this Bill for a long time, I am fairly familiar with its provisions. However I understand the Minister just to have described the operation of Clause 63(6), which relates to increases which will go beyond the fair rent. Therefore it must follow that when a local authority submits what it believes to be a fair rent, it must establish that it has applied correctly the criteria of Clause 50 in determining what the fair rent level should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mrs. Doris Fisher) quoted at least one example where the criteria listed by Birmingham in the report of its director of housing to the housing committee is clearly in conflict with the provisions of Clause 50.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that it is clear from the criteria that Birmingham claims to have applied that when the rent scrutiny board examines the rent levels subsequently, if they stay within the provisions of Clause 50 the fair rents fixed will be different from those which Birmingham claims to be the case at the moment. In examining an application, surely the Minister has to satisfy himself that the criteria in Clause 50 are the only criteria being applied and that they have been applied correctly. Therefore it is incumbent upon the Minister, when quoting what he thinks will be the fair rent levels in Birmingham, to indicate clearly whether he accepts that Clause 50 has been applied correctly or whether the criteria applied go beyond Clause 50.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says that the basis of the rent assessments in Clause 50 and that in discharging any discretion under Clause 63(6) the Secretary of State will expect to see that the basis of the assessment is in accordance with Clause 50. He will then go on to see if the special situation applies in respect of which he is able to exercise his discretion under Clause 63(6).
There is no difficulty about it. But from the very point that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has made it will be seen that the Secretary of State will need time to make this examination—
It is perfectly reasonable and proper for the director of housing in Birmingham to have spent a considerable amount of time in bringing forward this provisional assessment which the housing committee has approved. It appears to Birmingham that it establishes a prima facie case for an application to the Secretary of State under Section 63(6). All that will be perfectly proper when the Bill comes into operation. I do not think that hon. Members opposite can criticise what has occurred. It is all reasonable and proper, and it is not at all surprising to me.
I return to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and his point about the difficulty in comparing valuations in the private sector with those in the public sector in establishing a rental basis in Merthyr Tydvil. In my view the principle can be applied easily. There is evidence of rentals in the area which will be helpful—
As I have told the hon. Gentleman many times, there are 54, two dozen of which are flats in the central shopping precinct. The borough treasurer says that they are totally irrelevant to the method of assessing rents in the local authority sector. They are not applicable.
It would be proper to make comparisons with nearby areas on this basis. I am sure that a new rent officer will be appointed soon. But the responsible elected council will want to do its duty and will, with the advice and assistance of the rent officer, prepare its provisional assessment. That will be referred to the rent scrutiny board, which will be made up of people who are experts in these matters and who will ensure that a fair balance has been struck.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the ability to make comparisons with nearby areas. Why are not those words contained in Clause 50? The Clause uses the words "locality ". That is normally taken to mean the specific area run by the local authority. Alternatively, why not refer to the gross value? That could be used. Exactly the same criteria here are there for the gross value to be available. How can the hon. Gentleman say that if this comparison cannot be made within the locality, as defined by Clause 50, it will be possible to make comparisons with some other area further away? I remind hon. Members, too, that the hon. Gentleman has made that known merely by word of mouth. It does not appear in the Bill.
We all appreciate the very loyal way in which the hon. Gentleman is defending his Minister. But will he provide us with some information which has not yet been supplied, either in Committee or to this House? The Minister has been very selective in the amount of information and the number of examples that he has provided. Very few rents have been quoted. Those of Birmingham are perhaps the most recent. To assist those of us who represent areas in respect of which examples have not yet been given, can the hon. Gentleman say whether the relationship of rents in Birmingham and in the other areas quoted by the Minister is between those rents and gross values? If the hon. Gentleman is able to supply that information, it will be of great assistance to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands).
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not surprised at the figures which had been produced by Birmingham's housing manager. These figures are in complete conflict with the figures produced by his Department's working party about 12 months ago which forecast an increase in Birmingham and the West Midlands rising to an average rent of £5 a week within a couple of years, and rising to £6 by 1976–77, which will be an increase of £2 and £3 a week. Does that mean that the Department has jettisoned the figures prepared by its own working party? If the Birmingham figures are typical—admittedly they are higher than average, but they are not exceptional—what was the object of providing in the Bill for an increase of £1 in October?
The hon. Gentleman should not seek to involve me in the dispute about the validity of the earlier figures. There was a lot of argument about them, and it was repeatedly said from the Government Front Bench that misleading interpretations were being made. The astonishment about the Birmingham figures which have been produced today is due to the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite had misled themselves about the situation which would arise when the principles under Clause 50 were applied.
I think that my hon. Friend is in slight danger of getting led away from the Amendment. To get involved in an argument about whether a series of highly suspect figures, well known to be based on a narrow sample at a time when the full provisions of the Bill had not been published, and which have been disputed ever since the Bill was published, is nothing whatever to do with whether the Secretary of State, having considered an increase under the preceding subsection, as the Amendment suggests, should give his reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority, and should stipulate the criteria which have governed his decision.
It is obvious which criteria will govern the Secretary of State's decision. They are the criteria for the fixing of fair rents, whether the fair rent has been correctly fixed, and the provision in Clause 63 about whether more than 2 per cent. of the dwellings—if I remember the figure correctly—would be subject—
Perhaps I may briefly conclude my remarks. The criteria are laid down, and it is a nonsense and a terrible waste of the precious time of the House to start going back over arguments which have been repudiated in past debates at which the hon. Gentleman was not present.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the points that he made.
Perhaps I may return to the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Ladywood when she referred specifically to the application under Clause 63 (6) in respect of Birmingham. The Secretary of State cannot prejudge any direction which he may be asked to give. As my hon. Friend made clear, the Secretary of State would have to look at a number of complicated matters before he was able to carry out his duty under that subsection.
The hon. Lady has been deceived by hostile propaganda against the proposals in the Bill, and she is surprised to find that the operation of the Bill as it affects Birmingham appears to be so reasonable. I must remind her that her constituency includes a large number of modern blocks and other housing which has been built in recent times, where there is a modern rental basis. Therefore it would not be surprising to find that the adjustment to a fair rent basis would be of a moderate order.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) asked about the application to the Secretary of State for the exercise of the discretion under subsection (6). It would normally be made by the local authority because the authority would be in possession of the full details which would enable it to decide that a prima facie case had been established for the making of such an application.
If that be the case, do I understand that the authority will be obliged to publish that knowledge before it makes the application, so that the tenants will know about it?
The hon. Gentleman said that I was drawing the definition of a locality too finely, and that it ought to be wider. Perhaps I may draw his attention to Clause 52(3) which specifically says that the only rent officers who can be consulted are those within the area in which the dwelling is situated. It is not possible to go wider than that. Is the hon. Gentleman thinking of the fact that under other legislation comparisons can be made between dwellings 100 miles apart? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under the provisions of this Bill that kind of comparison can be made?
The rent officer bases the advice that he gives on his knowledge of the locality, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to seek to limit that in any way.
I come to the strict terms of the Amendment because, to some extent, it is an accident of chance that the precise terms of the Amendment have been attached to the subsection which we have had to debate. The effect of the Amendment would be to require the Secretary of State to give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to an authority under subsection (6) and to stipulate the criteria which have governed that decision.
In the case of the majority of local authorities the existing rents are almost certainly below the likely fair rents, and thus increases towards fair rents made before fair rents are determined are not likely to bring existing rents up to a level higher than the fair rents when they are first determined. Even if an authority has some housing revenue account dwellings whose rents it believes to be near the likely fair rents it will, by virtue of subsection (4) as drafted, be able to apply any average increase towards fair rents required to be made in accordance with column 2 of the Table in Clause 64 in such a manner that little or no increase needs to be made in the case of dwellings which the authority estimates at or near the fair rent level.
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that for many authorities £1 is both the minimum and maximum increase to be applied, and therefore there cannot, in those circumstances, be any spread of the kind that he is describing?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the variety of circumstances which apply throughout the country, and there is no doubt that what I have said is justified in practical terms, that little or no increase need be made in the case of dwellings which the authority estimates are at or near the fair rent level.
There could be a difficulty for those authorities which now have a high general level of rents and which might, therefore, find that an increase towards fair rents in 1972–73 or 1973–74 led to a situation in which the rent of a substantial proportion of its housing revenue account dwellings was increased above the fair rent as subsequently determined for those dwellings. Subsection (6) is designed to enable the Secretary of State to deal with such a case by slowing down the progression towards fair rents in 1972–73 and 1973–74. It gives the Secretary of State a broad power, which could be exercised only as an interim measure in a subjective manner since, by definition, the only authoritative report on the level of fair rents—that is, that of the rent scrutiny board—would not yet be available.
Before giving a direction, the Secretary of State would need to consider whether the authority had estimated the fair rents for its housing revenue account dwellings in accordance with the principles set out in Clauses 50 and 58, in particular whether it had reasonably related its estimates to the rents registered for the most nearly comparable dwellings in its area or any other area and in doing so had made reasonable adjustments for differences in such circumstances as age, character and locality. The Secretary of State could not give a direction unless he was satisfied that the authority could not apportion the required increase towards fair rents among its qualifying dwellings in such a way as to prevent the permitted fair rent of more than 2 per cent. of such dwellings very likely being substantially exceeded. There is no need to place an extra duty on the Secretary of State to give reasons for his decision on an application by an authority for a direction under subsection (6), as he would natur- ally do so as a matter of ordinary courtesy.
It is not for me in any way to limit what would be the exercise of reasonable discretion on a valuation basis in this respect, but the hon. Gentleman has heard the references to the specific provisions in the Bill. He has also heard the words which I have just used by reference to an area or any other area. That would help in making a practical comparison.
That limitation is with regard to the rent officer who may be consulted.
Perhaps I can come back to the main purpose of the Amendment. It would require an express duty to be placed on the Secretary of State when an application has been made. As I say, it is not necessary because the Secretary of State would naturally give reasons for his decision where appropriate as a matter of ordinary courtesy and normal practice in exercising such a discretion in relation to a local authority.
It has not been thought necessary to place such an express duty on Ministers in this kind of situation in similar legislation in the past. For example, Section 10 of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968, and Section 3 of the Rent (Control of Increase) Act, 1969, did not place a duty on the Minister to give reasons for his decisions on local authority proposals to increase rents under those Statutes. Yet in every case the Minister gave reasons where he did not approve an authority's proposals. Where he did approve them, the authority was content to assume that the reason for the decision was that the Minister accepted the case it had put forward in support of its proposals. It is the intention to employ this procedure in relation to the power in subsection (6) and there is every reason to suppose that this will be as satisfactory to local authorities as the procedure adopted in the 1968 and 1969 Acts.
I must pursue this point a little further, although I realise that we are confined by time and we want to get on to the next debate, which is restricted in itself by virtue of the guillotine—as, indeed, is the one after that, which relates to housing commissioners and interference with local authority administration in a variety of ways.
The Birmingham case is relevant to the Amendment. I do not wish now to pursue the question of the figures. What I am concerned about now is the question, among other things, of the criteria to be used. The Minister, supported by the Under-Secretary of State, has quoted with his usual panache the Birmingham figures in support of his argument in favour of the Bill. This has virtually given the accolade to the figures, whether it was technically intended to or not. They are, in effect, supported by the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State.
But the point at issue on this Amendment, which deals with criteria to be published, is what are the criteria which are to be acceptable by the Government in giving a direction on an application received by the Minister. Before proceeding to elucidate that, I must say that I thought it curious to hear the hon. Gentleman, as it were, not exactly evading but side-stepping the point put to him by saying that this was a matter for formal application to the Minister, who would thereupon in due course, having considered all relevant matters, issue a direction. He suggested that therefore nothing could be said at this stage in one way or another on whether an application was correct or not. That is not in line with what has transpired in Birmingham.
I have here a clipping from the Birmingham Press which suggests that the Minister has intervened—indeed, has not only intervened because of the local elections but has gone on to say, in the course of a letter to the Birmingham authority, that although no direction could be given until the Bill became law, he would be prepared to give an indication, on receipt of an informal application setting out the case, as to whether a direction would be likely to be issued under Clause 53(6), should the Bill be enacted substantially in its present form, or words to that effect. So the right hon. Gentleman has told Birmingham that an indication will be given, and we are entitled to ask what the criteria are. The figures have been challenged and we may well come back to them later before the guillotine falls at nine o'clock, but now I want to pursue the question of the criteria.
The Bill lays down what criteria should be taken into account and also matters which should be excluded. In debate on Clause 50 in Committee we probed the question of whether gross rateable values should be taken as the main factor. This idea was rejected. We questioned whether the capital value allocated over a period, which is sometimes used to assess rateable values, could be accepted, and that was set aside. We questioned whether the wage levels in the area and the general economic circumstances of the area could be taken into account.
We went through a number of such factors and argued them in detail. I am being non-controversial in setting that forth. Time and again these factors were either totally rejected or, if the Minister or the Under-Secretary accepted them, they were to be treated as additional or marginal factors and possibly as alternatives. The main theme was the test of comparability with registered rents in the private sector. Time and again comparability and the way in which local authorities would have no difficulty was discussed. They could take groups and samples. I think I am putting the position fairly.
We looked at the criteria which Birmingham has used. This is known to the Minister. Presumably the submission has been made to him in the course of correspondence. First, Birmingham has taken into account the wage levels of the area. I have an extract from the report of the director of housing. Birmingham has taken into account the gross values from the 1973 valuation list. It has taken into account the value of the council houses which it has sold. It has taken into account the difference between the gross rateable value in the 1973 valuation list and the fact that this must be discounted because of the scarcity element. It has taken into account that there is a very grave shortage of comparable rents registered in the private sector of the market, which makes it difficult to adopt the comparability test.
It is all specifically laid down in the director's report. The very criterion which the Government argued in Committee as the central criterion is that of registered rents in the private sector. The main way by which local authorities could arrive at fair rents—by comparability—is the method that, according to the director of housing, Birmingham has had to set aside. Birmingham said that it cannot be done because too few are registered. All the other criteria which the Government argue as either non-acceptable or only marginal possibilities in assessing fair rents have been taken as the main criteria.
I am glad that the Minister is present again since in the earlier debate he raised the Birmingham issue. Are the criteria which have been used by the Birmingham housing committee acceptable to the Minister in the light of this Bill? We are entitled to have an answer "yes" or "no" to that question. I am not asking the Minister to say whether he will issue a direction that the figures which have come from Birmingham are the right ones and that he will agree to them. I am not asking him to do something which he is not legally entitled to do. I am not even asking him to state in the House tonight what the informal indication will be to Birmingham which the Minister says he is willing to give. All that I am asking in relation to this Amendment and the central element of the Bill is, are these criteria which Birmingham has used acceptable as a basis for assessing fair rents?
Because there appears to be a total flaw in the basis of his argument, can the hon. Member indicate whether any other criteria are used by a rent officer in assessing the rent of a private dwelling for comparability purposes in some cases different from the criteria which Birmingham has apparently used?
Without going into detail, I recommend the hon. Member to read the relevant section in the 1968 Rent Act, which is repeated almost word for word in Clause 50, which sets out the criteria to be used in assessing fair rents. I repeat my question: are the criteria that Birmingham has used in arriving at whatever figures are finally approved acceptable to the Government in the terms of this Bill?
The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) has raised a number of questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Only one."]—by implication, a number—on Birmingham figures which, I want to stress, have been produced locally on the advice of highly experienced officials whom the hon. Member knows are there and approved by the housing committee. I cannot accept for a moment that the hon. Member is correct in saying that the Minister has intervened. It cannot be right to say that. My right hon. Friend has said that we would give an indication to Birmingham. It would be quite reasonable for him to do so in due course.
Of course the rental basis under Clauses 50 and 58 would have to be examined and the relevance to Clause 63(6) would have to be considered by the Secretary of State in relation to the application for a discretion. It is simply not possible for me to follow the hon. Member in continuation of the debate which we had in the Committee on comparability, but with reference to Birmingham clearly the factors specified in Clauses 50 and 58 have been taken into account. No specific information as to criteria has been forwarded to the Minister. The hon. Member will realise that this matter cannot be dealt with on the basis of Press reports.
I did not quote an extract from the Press. This document from which I quoted is a photostat copy of two pages of the report by the director of housing setting out the criteria which Birmingham used when the submission was made to the full council.
I repeat what I very carefully said. I think it will be agreed that I spoke very carefully. I did not ask the Minister to prejudge the application. I specifically said that I realised he could not do so. I put before the Minister and the Under-Secretary the criteria that had been used by Binning-ham in arriving at its figures. I spelled some of them out and asked whether those criteria are acceptable to the Government as a basis for arriving at fair rents.
The basis of acceptability to the Government would be the precise terms of the Bill as enacted. The Government would consider any application on the basis of strict legality.
The hon. Gentleman has fastened on certain elements of criteria which, he suggests—I accept his word—are contained in this report from Birmingham. I emphasise that the vital factor is whether Birmingham, in producing this list, has had regard to the 'statutory requirements which will be made on the city; whether, therefore, it has taken into account the factors in Clauses 50 and 58; and whether it comes within the rules laid down for the exercise of the discretion. If it does, the Secretary of State will be able to exercise that discretion. It is not possible at the Dispatch Box at this moment to reply to the specific question asked by the hon. Gentleman.
I am amazed at the Minister's reply. He now says that he did not see the criteria laid down by Birmingham, yet the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to quote, in reply to our case, a set of figures which he obviously has not considered but which he tries to persuade the country will be the norm which the rest of the country will follow. This is humbug of the first order. It is not the way to treat the House of Commons.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to suggest that the Minister has given the House questionable infor- mation when what the Minister has done is to read out the bold facts of what has been presented and what has been repeated by hon. Members opposite The facts are not in question. These proposals have been made.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber this afternoon when the Minister gave the information, nor do I know whether the hon. Gentleman was awake in Committee when we heard about Newcastle. This afternoon the Minister quoted some information given in answer to a Question I tabled just before Easter. The Minister added percentages which purported to prove that the claims made by this side of the House that the increases as a result of fair rents would be very high—
We cannot give an indication until we have considered the informal application from Birmingham which has only just arrived. The criteria for a fair rent are set out in Clause 50. Judging the likely fair rent is mainly a question of comparison—that is, a comparison of registered rents in the locality or elsewhere. We shall have to see whether the evidence adduced by Birmingham fully supports this case. This process must take some time, but it will be carried out.
I do not want to be awkward. I am sure that the Minister would not want deliberately to mislead the House. What he has just said is in direct contradiction to the answer by the leader of the council in Birmingham to the Minister's letter. The leader of the council—for another 25 minutes the leader of Birmingham City Council will be a Tory—says:
The overall rent increases then will only be about 10 per cent. on existing levels.
He comes to that conclusion on the result of the letter which the Minister sent to him, the usual evasive kind of letter. One wonders whether some kind of confidential information is being passed of which we are not aware.
I should like to ask just one question. This is important as it affects the London areas, where there are large multi-storey blocks of flats as there are in Birmingham. These blocks of flats are not generally liked by the majority of tenants, but they have to live in them. Is this a criterion that the Secretary of State will consider when fixing fair rents? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech"] May I ask a question?
The hon. Lady cannot hold me responsible for opinions expressed by the leader of the Conservative group in the Birmingham City Council. Sound as those opinions may be, I cannot express any opinion upon or support for them. I should emphasise to the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State does not, contrary to the words she used, fix rental values. The well established process does not include the Secretary of State. The criterion which has to be operated upon is set out in Clause 50. The factor of desirability of tenancies is clearly one which would affect the valuation in due Course.
The contribution that the Housing Minister has made has astounded the House. He has given the debate a sensational turn. What he has said could be either a dramatic retreat or a mean trick aimed at lulling the growing opposition. We must know the significance of his statement this afternoon. With respect to the Under-Secretary, I think the Minister must say something to the House. He has received proposals from Birmingham as to what its new rents should be. He quoted them at length. They showed an increase on average of only 35p. That would be an average increase of 9p over four year. I want to know, and I am sure the whole country wants to know, whether he accepts those figures. The Minister—I took his words down—replied: "These are the proposals of the Birmingham council." But that is no answer. The decision as to what the rents will be will be taken by the rent scrutiny board, and the board has not yet been set up.
However, a few minutes later the Under-Secretary—I took down his words, too—said that the Birmingham figures are not astonishing at all and it is likely that they will be accepted. The hon. Gentleman used the word "likely ". I think that my hon. Friends will bear me out on that. If the Minister accepts these figures it makes nonsense of the Bill which we have already discussed in 57 sittings in Committee. It also make nonsense of the campaign which has been waged from both sides throughout the country. It would be the greatest climb down in housing history, due to the tremendous antagonism which the Bill has aroused among tenants, councillors, trade unions, Labour Party Members, and so on. If the Minister agrees, it shows that pressure counts just as much as pressure counted, despite the Government's 36 majority, concerning the miners' pay and UCS, where they intended to close down two of the four shipyards.
I do not want to say anything before the situation has arisen. It may be the Minister's intention to take the steam out of the campaign which has been fought throughout the country against the Bill by suggesting—
(9) Where the weekly or other periodical amount of rent for a qualifying dwelling which the authority would have to collect to conform with their determination under subsection (8) above would not be an exact multiple of 5 new pence, it may be increased or reduced by not more than 2½ new pence so as to produce an exact multiple of 5 new pence; and the power conferred by this subsection shall be exercisable notwithstanding that the total increase towards fair rents is then more or less than the exact amount mentioned in subsection (7) above as adjusted under that subsection, but this subsection has effect subject to section 66 below.
On a point of order. In view of the uncertainty that exists over this group of Amendments, may I respectfully submit that we adjourn for half an hour to get things sorted out?
Although we are in a state of uncertainty about what has transpired, I understand that Amendment No. 153 has been moved formally by the Under-Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was my understanding. I wish to comment on the Amendment in the spirit of Amendments which we tabled originally but which were not selected.
I wish to concentrate on our desire to introduce an important element of flexibility into Clause 63. We would have wished it to be possible not only to increase fair rents up to 1 per cent. or more or less the exact amount required by Clauses 64 and 65 but to allow increases to a 50 per cent. margin of the reduction on the total amount.
The reason for arguing this—and I will do so briefly—is that in the first instance, whatever may be the confusion on the part of the Government—and confusion there certainly is—as to the criteria to be used by local authorities in arriving at fair rents as laid down in Clause 50 of the Bill, confusion which was shown pretty clearly in the previous debate, we on this side of the House wish to see the kind of criteria that have been used by the housing officials and other chief officers of Birmingham in arriving at their submission to the Minister used by all local authorities which see fit to use them—and we wish to see those criteria accepted by the Government.
This would mean that, as in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for a local authority to take into account the general rate levels of its area. For example, as in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for local authorities to take into account gross rateable values on the new valuation if they so wished. As in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for local authorities to seek to establish rent levels within the fair rent levels as ceilings which would not require a considerable proportion, and possibly a majority, of their tenants to apply for rent rebates in order to be able to afford the rents to be imposed. We would wish to see these kinds of criteria imposed and to see local authorities which so decided doing as Birmingham appears to have done—that is, setting aside to a very large extent any requirements in this Bill and relating the fair rents to be established to comparable fair rents for equivalent profit-making properties in the private market.
That is what Birmingham has done. It has said that these registered fair rents for equivalent property in their area are far too few to provide the basis for establishing reasonable fair rents in their area at such a level as to avoid a very high proportion of their tenants having to apply for rebates.
We are not saying that all these criteria must be used or should he used by local authorities. All we are saying is that these criteria, which have been used by Birmingham, should be permitted in the case of other local authorities throughout the country. If they were, it would enable local authorities to take into account a number of other factors in addition to the question whether their rents would equate as nearly as possible to those of equivalent properties in the private sector.
Why have we argued this continually, not only tonight, but on other occasions throughout the course of our proceedings in Committee? It would take a long time to go over all the ground but I will select one central aspect of our case which has been touched upon in earlier debates today. It is that, if the logic of the Government's Bill is proceeded with and market rents are applied within the next two to three years to local authority housing in this country, there will be millions of pounds surplus coming from local authorities into the coffers of the Treasury, millions of pounds not required to be paid in order to maintain the estates. It will be the case in the Birmingham area, part of which the Under-Secretary of State represents. He must know that in the logic of their Bill Birmingham would be required to make a surplus of about £3 million, most of which would go into the Treasury and would not stay in the local authority area. He must know that the same would apply in two or three years' time in the Prime Minister's constituency of Bexley—that they would have £3£ million surplus in a few years' time which would be taken into the Treasury.
I could go through the constituencies of nearly all of the hon. Members on the other side of the House who served on the Committee and show that this would be so. Except for a few selected areas of the country, massive surpluses will be made within a few years, which will he taken away from housing and from the local authorities and transferred to the Exchequer to help to pay for the rent rebates and rent allowances we have discussed earlier.
I have referred to all hon. Members opposite who served on the Committee. My point is that this kind of money raising by way of the rent provisions of the Bill is unnecessary in terms of maintaining and improving our housing. Except for a few isolated instances in the country—
I gave plenty of figures in Committee. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends read the Committee proceedings. They will see them set down in great detail.
I am making as my main point the fact that the money need not be raised. Therefore, this element of flexibility should be allowed for local authorities in the Amendment we wish to see. We do not find the Government's Amendment acceptable for this reason. We wish to see it go much further along the line I have argued because we wish to see rents related to the reality of costs and we wish to see that rents charged will not be inflationary, in the spirit we have been exhorted to follow by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government.
That is the main objection. The money need not be raised. The Association of Municipal Corporations, the urban district councils and rural district councils, every institution in local government, all ask for this kind of flexibility. The main case that we have quoted in connection with Birmingham, and the kind of criteria that Birmingham has adopted in arriving at the rents it is putting to the Minister, supports our argument. We have been arguing in the House, in Committee and throughout the country that the Bill is an abomination, that it is unnecessary and that it should be withdrawn.
It being Nine o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April], to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Nine o'clock.
Amendment proposed: No. 160, in page 63, line 37, at end insert:
'and, for the purposes of the said subsections (5) and (6), rebates from rent, or waivers of rent, unrelated to the particular personal or domestic circumstances of the tenants, granted for a week or other period, and not granted for prior periods, shall be treated as decreases of rent '.—[Mr. Eyre.]
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The position is quite clear. There is before the House a Government Amendment in the name of the Minister for Housing and Construction. I am sure it was the Government's intention to support it, and it is our intention to oppose it. I urge that that course now be taken.
|Division No. 167.1||AYES||[9.0 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Dykes, Hugh||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Eden, Sir John||Kilfedder, James|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Kimball, Marcus|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Astor, John||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,N.)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Emery, Peter||Kinsey, J. R.|
|Awdry, Daniel||Eyre, Reginald||Kirk, Peter|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Farr, John||Knox, David|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Fell, Anthony||Lambton, Lord|
|Balniel, Lord||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Lane, David|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Batsford, Brian||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Bell, Ronald||Fookes, Miss Janet||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Fortescue, Tim||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Foster, Sir John||Loveridge, John|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Fowler, Norman||Luce, R. N.|
|Biffen, John||Fox, Marcus||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fry, Peter||MacArthur, Ian|
|Blaker, Peter||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gardner, Edward||McLaren, Martin|
|Body, Richard||Gibson-Watt, David||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Boscawen, Robert||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.I||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Goodhart, Philip||Maddan, Martin|
|Bowden, Andrew||Goodhew, Victor||Madel, David|
|Braine, Bernard||Gorst, John||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Bray, Ronald||Gower, Raymond||Marten, Neil|
|Brewis, John||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Mather, Carol|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Gray, Hamish||Maude, Angus|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Green, Alan||Mawby, Ray|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Grieve, Percy||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bryan, Paul||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N&M)||Grylls, Michael||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Buck, Antony||Gummer, Selwyn||Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Gurden, Harold||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Moate, Roger|
|Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Money, Ernie|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Monro, Hector|
|Channon, Paul||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Chapman, Sydney||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||More, Jasper|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Haselhurst, Alan||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hastings, Stephen||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Churchill, W. S.||Havers, Michael||Morrison, Charles|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Hay, John||Mudd, David|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Heseltine, Michael||Murton, Oscar|
|Clegg, Walter||Hicks, Robert||Neave, Airey|
|Cockeram, Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Cooke, Robert||Hiley, Joseph||Normanton, Tom|
|Coombs, Derek||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Cormack, Patrick||Holt, Miss Mary||Osborn, John|
|Costain, A. P.||Hordern, Peter||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Critchley, Julian||Hornby, Richard||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Crouch, David||Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Howell, David (Guildford)||Peel, John|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Percival, Ian|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid.Maj.-Gen. James||Iremonger, T. L.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Dean, Paul||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||James, David||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Dixon, Piers||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Jesse), Toby||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Drayson, G. B.||Joseph. Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Raison, Timothy||Spence, John||van Straubenzee W. R.|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Sproat, Iain||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Stanbrook, Ivor||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Redmond, Robert||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Waddington, David|
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Rees, Peter (Dover)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Rees-Davis, W. R.||Stokes, John||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Wall, Patrick|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Sutcliffe, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Tapsell, Peter||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Rost, Peter||Taylor, Robert (Croydon. N.W.)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Royle, Anthony||Tebbit, Norman||Wilkinson, John|
|Russell, Sir Ronald||Temple, John M.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Scott, Nicholas||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Sharpies, Richard||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whltby)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Shelton, William (Clapham)||Tilney, John||Younger, Hn. George|
|Simeons, Charles||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Trew, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Tugendhat, Christopher||Mr. Paul Hawkins and|
|Soref, Harold||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Abse, Leo||Dempsey, James||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Albu, Austen||Doig, Peter||John, Brynmor|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Dormand, J. D.||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Driberg, Tom||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)|
|Ashley, Jack||Duffy, A. E. P.||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)|
|Ashton, Joe||Dunn, James A.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Dunnett, Jack||Jones.Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Eadie, Alex||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)|
|Barnes, Michael||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Judd, Frank|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Ellis, Tom||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Baxter, William||English, Michael||Kelly, Richard|
|Benn, Rt Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Evans, Fred||Kerr, Russell|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Ewing, Henry||Kinnock, Nell|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Faulds, Andrew||Lambie, David|
|Bishop. E. S.||Fisher,Mrs.Doris (B'ham.Ladywood)||Lamond, James|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Fletcher, Raymond (IIkeston)||Latham, Arthur|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lawson, George|
|Booth, Albert||Foot, Michael||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Ford, Ben||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Forrester, John||Leonard, Dick|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.W.)||Freeson, Reginald||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Garrett, W. E.||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Buchan, Norman||Gilbert, Dr. John||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||McBride, Neil|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Golding, John||McCartney, Hugh|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||McElhone, Frank|
|Cant, R B.||Gourlay, Harry||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mackie, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hamling, William||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hardy, Peter||Mallalieu, J. p. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Marquand, David|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Hattersley, Roy||Marsden, F.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Marshall, Dr. Edmund|
|Cronin, John||Heffer, Eric S.||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Horam, John||Meacher, Michael|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Mendelson, John|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Huckfield, Leslle||Mikardo, Ian|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Millan, Bruce|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Davies. Denzil (Llanelly)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Milne, Edward|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Mitchell, R. S. (S'hampton, lichen)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Hunter, Adam||Molloy, William|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Deakins, Eric||Janner, Greville||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Morris. Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Moyle, Roland||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Taverne, Dick|
|Mulley, RI. Hn. Frederick||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)||Thomas, Rt. Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)|
|Murray, Ronald King||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Roper, John||Tinn, James|
|Ogden, Eric||Rose, Paul B.||Tomney, Frank|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)||Torney, Tom|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rowlands, Edward||Tuck, Raphael|
|Oram, Bert||Sandelson, Neville||Urwin, T. W.|
|Orbach, Maurice||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Orme, Stanley||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Oswald, Thomas||Short,Rt. Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)||Wallace, George|
|Padley, Walter||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Depttord)||Watkins, David|
|Paget, R. T.||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Palmer, Arthur||Sillars, James||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Pannell, Rt. Hon. Charles||Silverman, Julius||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Skinner, Dennis||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Small, William||Whitlock, William|
|Pentland, Norman||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Perry, Ernest G.||Spearing, Nigel||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Spriggs, Leslie||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Prescott, John||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Steel, David||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Probert, Arthur||Stoddart, David (Swindon)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Rankin, John||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John||Woof, Robert|
|Reed, D. (Sedgefleld)||Strauss, Gavin|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rhodes, Geoffrey||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Richard Ivor||Swain, Thomas||Mr. Tom Pendry.|
65.—(1) An increase towards fair rents shall be made in the year 1973–74 and in each subsequent year, and the increase in the rent of any qualifying dwelling shall take effect for the rental period, or the first rental period, beginning on or after the relevant date as defined in the following provisions of this section.
(7) The Secretary of State may on the application of any authority direct that this section shall apply, for any year specified in the direction, with such adjustments as appear to the Secretary of State desirable for the convenience of the authority in the administration of the increase towards fair rents, and any such adjustment may be as respects all or any of the authority's qualifying dwellings.—[Mr.Amery.]
(7) If the authority receives a statutory declaration that—
(8) Where the power conferred by subsection (7) above has been exercised, the payment shall be valid and effectual with respect to any claim against the authority, but without prejudice to any right of recourse by any personal representative or beneficiary against the person who received the payment.
(2) An authority shall not in the case of any of the authority's Housing Revenue Account dwellings grant a long periodical tenancy, or agree to alter the terms of a short periodical tenancy so as to convert it into a long periodical tenancy, unless the authority is satisfied that it will still be possible to make all increases towards fair rents without imposing an unfair burden on other tenants, and that in other respects to do so will not conflict with the duties imposed on them by the provisions of this Part of this Act about increases