HC Deb 24 May 1966 vol 729 cc245-8
1. Mr. Rossi

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many local authorities since November, 1965, have either adopted thoroughgoing rent rebate schemes or undertaken a review of their rent policies along these lines, in consultation with his Department, as the result of his White Paper entitled "The Housing Programme 1965 to 1970", Command Paper No. 2838, in return for the more generous subsidies herein mentioned.

4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will seek power to establish a review body for council house rent increases.

9. Mr. Iremonger

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what action he is taking to encourage local housing authorities to adopt fair rent rebate schemes.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

Comprehensive information on council house rent policies is not available and I am taking steps to remedy this lack of basic housing data. Statistics compiled by the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, which cover about two-thirds of local authorities, show that in 1964–65 42 per cent. operated rent rebate schemes. I do not think it would be appropriate to establish a review body for council house rent increases, but I propose to hold consultations with local authorities on the lines of paragraph 41 of the Housing White Paper of last November.

Mr. Rossi

Can the Minister state why he maintains the fiction that local authorities are autonomous in a field where they can do nothing without the approval or financial help of the Government, but will not compel them to recognise the social justice that public money should not be spent on those well able to pay their own way?

Mr. Crossman

I will tell the hon. Gentleman. In my view, the recognition of social justice is something done better voluntarily by an act of free will. Local authorities are entitled constitutionally under law to set council house rents and allocate tenancies. It is quite untrue to say that that is a fiction. It is a basic principle of local democracy.

Mr. Winnick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfair to impose increases in council house rents of more than £1 a week? Will he agree that some kind of review machinery is necessary? Will he further agree that, unlike his remark of last week, where council house tenants are in a minority they have not got the ballot box necessarily as the answer?

Mr. Crossman

I hold the view tenaciously that when we have a local democracy we must trust to the working of local democracy. As for council house rents going up, I agree that there are cases where councils act with imprudence. But, on the whole, they are bound by the rules of their housing revenue accounts, and it would not be true to say that they can do this illegitimately.

Mr. Ironmonger

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we on this side would like to see this made positive Government policy, that we believe that the subsidising of the rents of council tenants is quite out of date now, and that he ought to take active steps to see that local authorities charge the full economic rent without any subsidy?

Mr. Crossman

That is interesting news. The hon. Gentleman will have to convince, first of all, his own spokesman on housing on the Opposition Front Bench who shares my point of view on this point.

Mr. Arnold Shaw

Would my right hon. Friend agree that a rent rebate scheme which inflicts the rebate on the rents of other council tenants is an unfair one?

Mr. Crossman

I would not agree with that. I think that a rent rebate scheme which enables one to charge somewhere near the economic rent at the top of the scale in order to collect funds with which one can subsidise the rents of less well-off people is a perfectly reasonable system and one which I would suggest to councils that they should use.

Mr. Rippon

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to express my own views in my own way in due course. Will he accept that while I agree with him that we should give the maximum opportunity to local authorities to order their own affairs, when they are receiving increased subsidies out of the public purse they ought to have some regard to how that public money is paid? Will he consider taking some action to ensure that the deficiencies in in housing revenue accounts are controlled?

Mr. Crossman

I think that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said is true, that councils should consider these matters, and I have told the councils quite clearly that with these generous new subsidies I shall watch the situation and call them together. I believe that I can get it done voluntarily. If it is not done voluntarily, I agree that some other action must be taken.

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