What justification can there be for the continuing outrageous Government-imposed rent increases, which will have amounted to 117 per cent. in three years against a rate of inflation of 53 per cent.? Is the Minister aware that what is now required to follow the substantial rent increases imposed by the Government is a rent freeze? Why have the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Construction refused to receive a deputation from council tenants to discuss rents?
If the hon. Gentleman believes that a 22 per cent. increase in rents is outrageous, what adjective from his colourful and well-stocked vocabulary would he select to describe what his colleagues in the GLC did last night, which was to increase Londoners' rates by 91 per cent?
Council rent increases are worrying, but what proportion of council tenants receive help in rent subsidies or supplementary benefits towards the payment of rent? Does my hon. Friend agree that a fairer yardstick would be to compare today's average rent levels and average earnings with those of eight to 10 years ago?
Almost 50 per cent. of tenants in England and Wales receive help towards their rents and almost 27 per cent. receive supplementary benefit, which would cover 100 per cent. of any increase. Almost 23 per cent. receive rent rebates. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that approximately half the tenants will not have to pay the proposed increases.
In view of what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) said, will the Minister confirm that council house tenants are now paying a higher proportion of their income in rent than ever before? Many council house tenants are having to apply for rebates or are falling into arrears for the first time ever. Does that not prove that the burden that the Government are imposing on council house tenants is too great?
No, it proves not such thing. The hon. Lady would do well to look at an opinion poll, published today inThe Guardian, which shows that more council house tenants favour the policy of £2. 50 rent increases than the Opposition's policy of a rent freeze. It seems that many tenants have a clear understanding of the need for that. I remind the hon. Lady of what her hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) said about 10 minutes ago when he called for more investment. Every penny that goes towards subsidies is a penny off housing investment.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Conservative-controlled East Northamptonshire council has announced that there will be no increase in council house rents next year? Will he join me in congratulating that council and commend its good housekeeping to other local authorities?
I am sure that the electors in my hon. Friend's constituency will take note of the action outlined by his authority. It is worth reminding the House that a number of local authorities propose to increase their rents by more than the £2. 50 suggested by the Government.