HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1181-7

I beg to move, in page 24, line 4, after the word "that," to insert the words: whilst the authority may charge in respect of any house such rent as they may think fit and may grant to the tenant of any house such rebates from rent, subject to such terms and conditions as they may think fit. After the result of my last effort to improve a Scottish Bill, I do not know that I ought to have the temerity again to make the attempt. While we frequently listen to, and nearly always benefit from, the voice of Scotland on English Bills, it is much more rarely that English Members intervene in Scottish in this House. The object of this Amendment, as on the last occasion, is simply to give the House an opportunity of saying whether it considers that the provision which some of us considered to be an improvement when it was introduced in the Committee stage on the English Bill might not likewise be an improvement in the Scottish Bill. The words which I propose should be inserted in this Clause are precisely the words which were inserted, on the Motion of the Minister of Health in the English Bill. The object is to make it perfectly clear to local authorities that they have this double alternative; they may use the subsidy granted under the Bill to reduce rents all round or they may, if they prefer, on such conditions as they may consider desirable, grant rebates from rent to individual tenants. The Amendment would not in any way fetter the freedom of local authorities, on which the Under-Secretary laid so much stress, to deal with local conditions. It merely lays stress on the fact that this double alternative is open to them.

Two objections were raised to this proposal when we were discussing it in relation to the English Bill. One objection was that some did not like rebates on rent or differential rents. The second objection was that whether they like it or not such rebates or differential rents were already possible under the Bill, and that it was not necessary to insert these words. Those who say that they do not like rebates on rents or differential rents, but that rents should all be the same for the same class of house, really mean that they want low rents for all classes of houses. It is clear under the provisions of the Bill, and in view of the financial assistance granted, that the alternative of local authorities will be a very trivial reduction in rents, far too small to bring them within the capacity of the poorer wage-earners, or a concentration of the benefits of the Bill on selected tenants who stand in special need of assistance by reason of dependant children, or poverty, or a combination of both circumstances.

What, after all, is the amount of financial assistance granted under the Bill? I am more familiar with the working of the English Bill, but, as far as I can tell, it would come to much the same thing in both cases. On the English Bill we were told that if the subsidy was used in reducing rents all round for all houses built under it, it would mean 1s. per house less rent than the Wheatley rents; and that if the subsidy was concentrated in reducing rents over one-half of the houses built, it would, ipso facto, be a 2s. per house reduction. In the Scottish Bill I imagine that the difference between the Wheatley Act and this Bill will be about the same. I believe the Wheatley subsidy is a little higher in Scotland, but, on the other hand, the grant under this Bill is worth about 6d. more than under the English provision. It is £2 5s. in England and £2 15s. in Scotland, or 6d. a week on the rent. Therefore, I suggest that if this Bill is not to cause bitter disappointment to those who are expecting to benefit from it, it is most essential that local authorities shall be encouraged to concentrate the very small extra benefit granted on those tenants who need it most. The 1s. reduction on the rents commonly charged for Wheatley houses, which vary from 10s. to 16s. and 17s., is not going to meet the needs of the poorer wage-earners.

What can make this Bill of real value is to concentrate this extra subsidy in the shape of rebates on rents. If the rents charged are fixed at the same level as under the Wheatley Act, and are subject to a rebate of 1s. or 1s. 6d. for each dependent child, there is a double advantage to the family of three or four children and the amount of rent reduction is sufficient to be a real benefit. It is something worth claiming. On the other hand, the same amount of money can be used twice or three times over, because as the children grow up the rent automatically adjust itself to the changed conditions of the family, and that amount of money is released for the benefit of the more needy tenants. The same thing applies in the case of poverty, although I always deprecate any distinction being made on the ground of income rather than on the ground of dependent children, because the facts are much more difficult to establish and it involves invidious distinctions. We have to bear in mind that child dependancy is responsible for the vast majority of cases of serious hardship. Before the War, child dependancy was responsible for about three-quarters of the cases of poverty. Therefore, we want to encourage local authorities to consider the possibility of rebates on rent.

The question is, is it necessary to do this by including these words in the Bill? It may be said—indeed, it has been said—that even if the words are not included, it is still possible for a local authority to grant rebates on rents, or make differential rents, on such terms and conditions as they please, why then is it necessary to put these words in the Bill? I suggest that when it is the clear intention of those responsible for an Act of Parliament that it should be used in such and such a way, it is desirable that that intention should as far as possible, without any redundant explanations, be made clear in the Act itself. Local authorities are much more likely to have regard to words inserted in an Act of Parliament than to interpretations doled out in White Papers and circulars, which have an ephemeral exisence and which may change from time to time. If it is said that the possibility of granting rebates on rent is not necessary, how can those who object account for the fact that it is quite possible to grant rebates under the Wheatley Act to individual tenants, based upon their poverty or the number of their children? This is actually being done under certain schemes, but as far as the majority of local authorities are concerned, they have proceeded simply to reduce the rents of all houses built by an equal amount, with the result, which we all deplore, that the benefits of the Housing Acts have largely gone to those who do not need them, and those who need them most have had to go without. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept this Amendment and so give a lead to local authorities in this respect.


I beg to second the Amendment.

This is a proposal which lends itself to adoption by local authorities in certain circumstances. It is quite optional. It is open to local authorities to adopt the scheme if in certain circumstances they find it possible to carry it out. Circumstances may arise which may require such a provision as this.


I am sure that every Member of the House appreciates the enthusiasm and determination with which the hon. Lady prosecutes the idea of children's allowances, and she will, I am sure, be the first to admit that we have not failed to open the door widely to it in this Bill. In paragraph (c), Clause 24, as the Bill now stands, provision is made whereby the total amount of the rents charged in respect of the houses in any year shall be such and such an amount. In other words, a local authority is empowered to secure a total sum in rent over the whole scheme, and within that total sum in rent a local authority may make whatever differentiation it pleases; and it need not be necessarily a rebate for children; it may take into account any number of circumstances. It may take into account general questions of poverty; and we think that we are doing the best possible thing in the interests of family allowances to leave a local authority with the widest possible option and not give them the specific but limited direction which the hon. Lady seeks to give by her Amendment.


Can local authorities adopt this suggestion if they so desire?


Yes, that is the point I want to make. If any local authority desires to accept the view of the hon. Lady as regards children's allowances, it may do so under the terms of the Bill. There is nothing whatever to stop it. The Bill is intentionally so framed as to leave to local authorities the widest possible option in regard to differential rents. For all practical purposes and for all administrative purposes the hon. Lady's point has been met. The specified and limited direction which she seeks to give in the way of differentiation, we have not thought it advisable to put into the Bill. I will give her one illustration of the sort of difficulty with which we should be faced in putting such a differentiation as she suggests in the Bill. We would very much prefer that, as a matter of administration, whatever rents are charged for houses in a scheme, houses of a similar size, where there is the same number of apartments, should be placed on the valuation roll at the same apparent rent. We should not like to have anything in the nature of a series of depressed classes growing up side by side in a common tenement.

We have not only given power to the local authorities—we hope that they will exercise it, and we will do our utmost, by persuasion, to induce them to exercise it—to charge differential rents, but we are giving such powers to the housing committee of any city council from the Public, Assistance Committee as will enable them, where necessary, to assist families who are unable to pay rents, by allowing them to live rent, free. That is quite apart from the question of rebates for children. There are poverty-stricken households where we trust the local authority will be able to meet the situation. I hope the hon. Lady will accept the assurance that we are not unmindful of her point of view, that we are not unsympathetic, that we have left the door widely open to any local authority, in any given case, where it desires to apply the principle of differential rents. Under these circumstances, I hope that she will not press an Amendment which, as a direction is a limiting one.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)

Does the hon. Lady wish to press her Amendment?


I feel that, in view of the explanation that has been given, I have no option but to withdraw the Amendment. I note that the effect of the Under-Secretary's statement is that he admits that the amount of rent reduction will be so small that it will turn the recipients into paupers by giving them assistance from the Public Assistance Committee, if the relief is not given by means of rebates in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 24, line 16, to leave out from the word "or," to the word "due," in line 19, and to insert instead thereof the words: as respects any particular year such greater or less sum to be deemed to be provided out of rates as the local authority, in the case of a greater sum, may think necessary and as the Department, in the case of a less sum, may, on the application of the authority, approve. This Amendment gives the local authority power, if circumstances should change and if the cost of building should fall, or if other financial circumstances should operate, with the consent of the Department, to amend the limitation of £4 10s. which is in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 24, line 19, after the word "had," to insert the words "in either case."—[Mr. W. Adamson.]