Duty to Keep Housing Revenue Account

Part of Clause 71 – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 7th November 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 8:30 pm, 7th November 1989

That is an important point. If the Bill becomes an Act, it is what the legislation says that will count, not what the Minister says. If the Minister meant what he said—that the taxpayer, not council tenants, will meet the bill—that must be spelt out clearly in the legislation. Even at this late stage an amendment ought to be tabled to make that clear.

The Bill has been altered at every stage. I was not a member of the Committee, but I know that the Bill was altered in Committee. It was considerably altered on Report and it was almost completely redrafted in the other place. If the Bill is still not right at this stage, the Government must get it right. We need to know whether the Minister's original statement was correct—that taxpayers will have to bear the cost, not council house tenants.

It is regrettable that local authorities have been made to bear the burden of administering housing benefit. They were never fully recompensed for their work. The burden was shifted from the Department of Social Security to the local authorities. They had to carry out the Government's dirty work.

The Government have deliberately discriminated against those who want to live in rented housing, particularly in council houses. They have encouraged people to buy their homes, a point that has been made on several occasions during the debate. In 1979 the Government's subsidy to the housing revenue account in Burnley was £1·6 million. That was rapidly eroded, over a period of two years, to zero, and it has been at zero ever since. Furthermore, housing factor E7 in the grant-related expenditure assessment is affected if councils do not increase rents in accordance with the Government's wishes. We want council tenants to be given a fair deal. If the Government are not prepared to do what we wish them to do, council tenants will, once again, be unfairly penalised.

A person who is buying his house gets tax relief, whatever his income. If he is paying tax at the higher rate, his tax relief will be at the higher rate, subject to the £25,000 limit. His position has to be compared with that of a council tenant. I hope that the Government are prepared to accept that they have made a mistake. They ought to make a concession to council tenants and treat them fairly and equitably. However, the Government do not believe in fairness and equity, so I shall not be surprised if they are not prepared to go down that road.

We deal with capital receipts in one of our amendments to the Lords amendment. It would enable councils, if they so wished, to use capital receipts for repairs. It is important that we should allow local authorities the right to do that. I have never agreed with the way in which the Government imposed restrictions on the use of capital receipts through the 20 per cent. factor and I certainly do not believe that they should now prevent them from being spent on repairs. If they do that, there will be an immediate shortfall on the housing revenue account. Local authorities either will have to put the rents up even more to ensure that important repairs are carried out, or, worse, the repairs will not be carried out and there will be a further deterioration in our housing stock.

The Government should be concerned that in the past 10 years there has been a deterioration in public and private sector housing. We do not have a housing crisis. We have a number of housing crises which have all been created by the Government.

When I was a local council member I did not agree that capital receipts should be used for repairs to council property. However, I strongly believe in local government and I believe that local government should have the ability to take such a decision. That is the fundamental difference between the two sides of the House. Although we might not always agree with what local authorities choose to do, we certainly believe that they have the right to choose. I believe that that money should not be used in that way, but I might be in a minority. Nevertheless, that is the view I took when I was on a local authority. However, I recognise that, due to further reductions in their HIP allocations, pressure to increase rents by other measures has forced local authorities to consider that option. They have no alternative. I do not blame local authorities, as I recognise why they have been forced into that position. I stopped being leader of Burnley council in 1983 and the situation has continued to worsen year by year. I appreciate why local authorities have had to do that.

I hope that the Minister recognises the importance of our amendment. If the Minister does not want to force up rents to totally unacceptable levels, if he does not want council houses to deteriorate and the housing stock to worsen, and if he is a reasonable man, he should agree with it. I wait to be surprised some day by a positive response from the Government. I hope that tonight the Minister will choose to surprise me.

The Government must recognise that the further turning of the screw on local authorities, and particularly on council tenants, is becoming increasingly unacceptable. If they believe that council tenants will support them in the next general election, they are sadly mistaken. The categories of people to whom they can appeal for support will dwindle as they increase the numbers of people that they attack.

I hope that the Minister has taken note of the points that have been raised by my hon. Friends. We have had a constructive debate, although no Conservative Member has contributed to it. I assume that either Conservative Members are not interested in council tenants, particularly those on housing benefit, or that they accept our argument and hope that the Minister will respond favourably. Perhaps they will join us in the Lobby. I hope that the Minister responds positively and at least meets my two specific points by ensuring that council tenants do not have to pick up the tab for any housing benefit payable to the poorest among them, as that would be wrong and unacceptable. I hope that he also recognises the importance of ensuring that capital receipts can be used to maintain and repair council housing stock.