Orders of the Day — Land and Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th March 1973.

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Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West 12:00 am, 14th March 1973

The hon. Gentleman's point of order was not valid. I have dealt with matters raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the right hon. Member for Grimsby. If hon. Members allow me to get on, I will deal with a great many more.

Even if they are council tenants and the rent of their home is increased, for example, by 75p a week, they will still be paying after April only 69p in rent, which is 55p less than they are paying now. We estimate that approximately three-quarters of a million council tenants are getting a rebate, excluding those who are also getting supplementary benefit towards their rent. All of those tenants will be better off as a result of the increase in the needs allowances even after the rent increase which is due in 1973–74.

Even if their income goes up during the coming months by the amount envisaged under the stage 2 policy, scarcely any of them will be paying any more in rent than they are now paying—[Interruption.] All private tenants get-ting a rent allowance now will be better gift off from the end of April. That applies to all rents and ranges up to 88p a week. [Interruption.] My remarks about what the Opposition were doing a few minutes ago are borne out. A significant number of tenants will qualify for rent rebate or allowance for the first time. This will not be for a derisory amount, but could well be for 50p or 60p a week, which will cancel out any increase in the rent of their home.

Altogether about a million tenants—and I exclude those on supplementary benefit—will immediately benefit from the higher needs allowances. Those who need help with their rent—and surely they are the lower paid—are the people about whom the House is most concerned at present. They will get some help and in almost every case they will be better off during the coming year than they are. They are some hon. Members who are concerned about the rate of take up of rent rebates. All the figures show that this rate among council tenants is high. In Manchester 4,000 tenants were getting a rebate under the council's earlier discretionary scheme. Now, 12,000 are receiving a rebate. In Havering the figure is good too and in Warrington, which ran no discretionary scheme 3,000 tenants are now receiving rebates.

A high proportion of the council tenants whom we estimated would qualify for a rebate have claimed one. Hon. Members have rightly spoken about house prices. The right hon. Member for Grimsby I think misheard my right hon. and learned Friend. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that there were 371,000 mortgages for first-time purchasers last year as against 301,000 in 1970. It was an increase in mortgages, not just the amount of money in each mortgage.

There were 144,000 borrowers under 25 who received mortgages last year as against 117,000 in 1970. There were 192,000 mortgages for borrowers whose incomes were up to the average industrial earnings as against 158,000 in 1970. To hear hon. Members opposite one would imagine that there had been some golden halcyon age for owner-occupiers when the Labour Party was in power. The proportion of mortgages granted in London by building societies to first-time purchasers remains fairly constant at 58 per cent. to 60 per cent. Even in London in the last quarter of 1972 no fewer than 1 in 7 of all mortgages went to borrowers under 25.

Since we last debated this, just over five weeks ago, we have had a statement of the Opposition's housing policy, which the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central elaborated today. In consultation with the TUC they have produced a document which calls for "a new approach to housing and rents". The first measure it advocates, as I understand it, is the repeal of the Housing Finance Act. This is no new approach; it is a step backwards to the old jungle of unfairness and absurdities. The repeal of that Act would mean the repeal of the national scheme of rent rebates and allowances, the repeal of new subsidies for slum clearance, and the construction, maintenance and improvement of council houses, and the repeal of the new subsidies for housing associations. The repeal of the Act would be to condemn over 1 million private dwellings to early decay into slumdom and to subject their tenants to the consequences. It would be to abandon the principle that subsidies are for people and not for houses.

This document promises a better deal for council house tenants on rents. They can hardly get a better deal than we have given to those with low incomes or with family commitments. The party opposite wants to go back to indiscriminate subsidies for council tenants, to be provided by taxpayers and ratepayers, many of who are worse off than council house tenants. This document also calls for subsidies to public sector housing at least equal to the tax relief enjoyed by owner-occupiers. The Opposition may not be aware that subsidies from taxpayers and ratepayers, to council tenants are about the same as the amount of tax relief granted on mortgage interest plus option mortgage subsidy. [Interruption.] There is no reason why this proportion should be immutably fixed. There are 9 million owner-occupiers and 5,500,000 council tenants.