§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Denis Howell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Simply stated, this Bill has a double purpose. Part I enables the Housing Ministers to control rent increases made by local authorities if these increases exceed certain limits. Part II is designed to phase increases which may arise when the rents of private regulated tenancies are registered. I shall deal separately and in some detail with each of the two parts of the Bill.
Before I do so I should like to make a general comment. There can be no doubt that, whatever views are held about prices and incomes policy, the powers that the Government took to intervene, where necessary, in the field of rents, have proved in practice to be advantageous for many families in the management of their budgets. Without these powers many households would have faced much greater difficulty. But prices and incomes policy is moving into a new phase and, clearly, the legislation that we need to replace the Prices and Incomes Act 1968, which expires at the end of the year, must reflect that fact.
The Government, in the context of their prices and incomes policy, have been able to reach agreement with the local authority associations about the guidelines that should govern rent increases in the next 18 months. We attach great importance to this agreement. We consider that in the relationship between central and local government it is always preferable to proceed by co-operation and agreement. And the agreement itself will provide that amount of protection against unreasonable rent increases which we judge to be necessary for the proper protection of council tenants.
Private tenants as well as council tenants—
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
Before the Minister leaves that point, does he consider that the agreements that have been entered into between the Government and the representative bodies of the local authorities are binding on all the membership of all local authority associations?
§ Mr. Howell
I shall deal with this point in some detail later. But, obviously, when local authority associations enter into agreements on behalf of their members it is automatically assumed that they are acting for all their members. I believe that to be the case here. However, I will deal with that point in some detail later.
Private tenants as well as council tenants need protection against sharp rent increases. Here again, new measures are needed to continue to protect private tenants against the sharp increases which may arise when a regulated rent is registered.
I now turn to Part I of the Bill. Before I come to the details of the agreement I must first remind the House of some of the history that governs local authority rents. By law, every housing authority has discretion to fix reasonable rents and to grant rent rebates. They have complete responsibility for fixing the rents of each dwell-intl. In other words, rent levels are the responsibility of the local housing authority. The Minister does not concern himself in detail with that responsibility which the authority, with its local knowledge, is much better placed to discharge than he is.
Secondly, every local housing authority is under a duty to review rents and rebates from time to time and to make any necessary changes. This responsibility for increasing rents is one which involves more than local considerations. Rent is a major item in the budget of every council tenant and increases in local authority rents are relevant to any policy on prices and incomes.
The three White Papers on Prices and Incomes Policy, issued in 1966 and 1967, emphasised the need to avoid or moderate rent increases wherever possible. I am glad to say that the great majority of local authorities followed the Government's advice. But during 1967 and early 1968 a few authorities used their statutory duty to review rents in order to make 1125 or to propose rent increases which appeared to be incompatible with the advice which the Government had given.
Accordingly, in December, 1967, the Government referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes the question of the reasons for increases in council rents and the phasing of such increases, with particular reference to 21 named authorities which represented a cross-section of rent increases made or proposed at that time.
When the Board reported in April, 1968, it recommended, among other things, that the weekly increase in average standard rents should not exceed 7s. 6d. per dwelling in a 12-month period, and that there should be a limit to the increase for any individual dwelling which would be consistent with such an average increase.
In the light of the Board's report, my right hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, took power in Sections 10 and 11 of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968, to control local authority rent increases. In practice, Housing Ministers have allowed local authorities to increase rents only where a rent increase had to be made in order to meet unavoidable increases in costs, or to meet the cost of introducing or improving a rent rebate scheme.
Moreover, it was made clear to authorities that, even where an increase was unavoidable, the average increase in any 12-month period ought not normally to be more than 7s. 6d. a week and the increase for any individual dwelling should not exceed 10s. a week. In fact, in only one case has the Minister agreed to a proposal from a local authority to increase rents by an average of more than 7s. 6d. a week. The other 14 proposals involving an average increase of more than 7s. 6d. a week were rejected.
In fact, nearly all the proposals that we have received have involved an average increase of 7s. 6d. a week or less. The House may be interested in the figures. Altogether, 904 such proposals have so far been approved; 259 such proposals have been rejected, mainly because the authority concerned had not taken all the steps reasonably open to them to avoid the proposed rent increase —for example, by first making use of a 1126 substantial housing account balance. But the Minister has not thought it reasonable to force an authority to make a rate fund contribution which was greater than it has normally made in recent years in order to ensure that rent increases average 7s. 6d. a week or less.
The House will recall that. in 1968, the decision to control local authority rent increases was strongly opposed by the local authority associations and the Greater London Council. They regarded the control as an unjustified restriction of the statutory freedom of local authorities, and they opposed Ministerial scrutiny of rent increases.
This is a traditional view, of course, and we well understand it. Indeed, it is fair to record that, for the 18 months in which the control powers have been in force, many authorities have not proposed any rent increases and, where they did, 77 per cent. of the proposed increases were accepted by the Minister as reasonable. Nearly three-quarters of these approved proposals involved increases averaging 5s. or less a week, and over a quarter involved increases averaging 2s. 6d. or less a week. But 273 proposals were rejected.
The main reason for the rejections was that the authority concerned had balances, either in the housing revenue account or in the housing repairs account or in a housing equalisation account, which were sufficiently substantial to make it possible to avoid the proposed rent increase altogether or at least to moderate or postpone it
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
At one point, the hon. Gentleman said that 259 proposals had been rejected and later he said that 273 had been rejected. I am not sure whether he is talking about the same set of rejections and whether in all the cases no increase was allowed.
§ Mr. Howell
There are two different criteria for rejection, I think. I will see that this point is cleared up in the reply to the debate. In the first figure, I was referring to increases above 7s. 6d. a week and in the second to the general criteria, which involved housing balances and so on and which do not necessarily tie up with the figure of 7s. 6d. I will check my memory on that, however.
As a result of the Minister's decision, these authorities have to run down 1127 their balances, and after the end of this year very few authorities will be left with balances sufficient to enable them to avoid a rent increase if their costs rise. During the last few months, a much smaller proportion of proposals have been rejected than previously because fewer and fewer authorities had substantial balances to draw on.
It is important to appreciate how much of the increased cost arising out of new building will be met by the extremely generous subsidies which my right hon. Friends introduced in 1967. They are the most generous housing subsidies ever made in this country. These subsidies should also enable authorities to meet the cost of soundly based rent rebate schemes. If we look at the comparative figures, we can appreciate the full extent of Government aid for local authority housing. In 1964–65, housing subsidies to local authorities in Great Britain totalled £92 million. By 1967–68, this had risen to £118 million, and this year the total is estimated to be £164 million.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I appreciate very much the figures my hon. Friend has just given. Without them, council housing would have come to a complete stop. But is there not truth in the point made earlier today by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), in that, in the first 18 months before the completion of the building of council houses, councils are having to pay the high market rates and not the 4 per cent. generously provided by the Government? If my hon. Friend would consider this point, it would remove very largely, I believe, these demands for increased rents which some councils are making.
§ Mr. Howell
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend and other Housing Ministers are engaged in a comprehensive review of the whole question of housing finance. I undertake that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), which gives concern to some councils, will be one of the points included in the review.
Under our Act, the subsidy this year is £144 for the typical new house outside London, which costs £4,000 altogether. That compares with a basic subsidy of £24 per new dwelling obtaining 1128 when right hon. Members opposite were in Government.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
To make a fair comparison, could the hon. Gentleman tell us what a present £4,000 house would have cost when the Conservatives were in power?
§ Mr. Howell
There would not prove to have been so great an increase in percentage terms as for the increase in subsidy I have just referred to. I do not think that the hon. Member would challenge that the proportionate increase in the cost of a house bears no comparison with the proportionate increase in subsidy.
Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at once. If the Minister of State does not give way, the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as always, for his supporting evidence.
In addition, the housing revenue account will in future have to meet any increased costs for repairs, modernisation, and management, and for the refinancing of maturing debt which has been incurred in the past for the construction of existing houses.
Since I have given the House figures about Government housing subsidies, it is only right to mention the help which we are giving to domestic ratepayers through rate relief. This amounts this year to Is. 3d. in the £ in England, and 2s. 6d. in the £ in Scotland, and totals £82 million in all for Great Britain. Next year the reduction for domestic ratepayers will be ls. 8d. in the £ in England, and 3s. 4d. in the £ in Scotland, totalling £112 million for Great Britain.
To complete the picture I should mention the benefit which owner-occupiers with a mortgage receive through tax 1129 relief, since I think that we often become obsessed with subsidies to local authority tenants and neglect to complete the picture as to how the nation as a whole very properly makes arrangements to assist owner-occupiers, too. In 1969–70, this benefit is estimated to total about £224 million. On average, an owneroccupier with a mortgage will receive about £47 10s. by way of tax relief, about half as much again as the average subsidy per council tenant, which is £30 a year. I hope that that information will enable us to have balanced comment and discussion on this question.
§ Mr. Howell
It is always nice to see the Liberal Party present. I give way to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock).
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am always present. The hon. Gentleman says that he has completed the picture. Will he give the estimated Exchequer subsidy for 1969–70? He carried it only as far as 1968–69. Will he also give the cumulative total of transfers from the general rate fund to housing revenue account, and the global figure for the total amount spent on housing by public authorities?
§ Mr. Howell
I cannot give all those figures off the bat—[Laughter.] I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite not wishing to take this part of the debate very seriously. My answer to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is that the figure of £224 million which I gave was for 1969–70. That is the relevant and up-to-date comparison that one must make.
§ Mr. Howell
No. I must make some speed with my speech.
As I have explained, after the end of this year many authorities will face increases in costs which will not be met by increased Exchequer subsidies, and they will no longer have substantial balances in their housing accounts. They will, therefore, either need to increase rents, or to 1130 make a larger than normal rate fund contribution.
I know that some of my hon. Friends take the view that certain costs which fall on the housing revenue account ought to be met by the community at large—open spaces, rent rebates, the cost of keeping the register, and so on—and ought, therefore, to be the subject of a rate fund contribution. I understand that point of view very well indeed. In practice, where there seems to be the strongest case for a rate fund contribution the authority concerned often makes such a contribution, and a substantial one at that, particularly at the present time in London. But this matter raises quite fundamental issues which, as I have explained, are being examined in the longer term review of housing finance upon which we have now embarked. That review may lead to a change in the law, but until it does the local authority is by law responsible for charging reasonable rents, and for maintaining a reasonable balance between tenants and ratepayers, and it has a statutory duty to meet from the rates any deficit on the housing revenue account which arises at the end of any financial year. The decision whether to meet an increase in costs from rents or rates must remain essentially one for the local authority.
My right hon. Friends consider it right to leave responsibility for this decision with the local authority, subject to three qualifications which are crucial to a continued policy of restraint in rent increases. I should like to state these criteria as clearly as l can. First, no rent increase should be greater than is needed to meet increase in cost. Secondly, the rent increases should not be made to reduce the rate fund contribution below the level which is normal for the authority in question unless, as I am told often happens in Scotland, that level is so high that it no longer represents a reasonable balance of the interests of tenants and ratepayers. Thirdly, there must be a limit to the amount of any rent increase in any one year.
As I said earlier, the Government have discussed this policy of restraint, based on these principles, with the local authority associations. The associations have noted the Government's policy, and in the light of it they have agreed to recommend to their members certain 1131 guide lines for the 18 months that follow from the end of this year. The guide lines applicable in England and Wales have been set out in an agreement, the text of which my right hon. Friend gave on 6th November in a Written Answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley).
It may be convenient if I summarise this agreement upon which we place such importance. It provides that, for a sitting tenant, the standard rent, that is to say, the rent for the dwelling excluding any payment for rates, water rates, furniture and services, should be increased only to the extent necessary to meet unavoidable increases in costs falling to be met in the period covered by the agreement, or to meet the costs of introducing or improving a rent rebate scheme. Further, the agreement provides that rents should not normally be increased to reduce a rate fund contribution, but special consideration might be given where the contribution has become abnormally high in recent years.
Then, in any 52-week period, no general increase in standard rents should involve an average increase of more than 7s. 6d. a week for the dwellings affected, and no increase for any individual dwelling should exceed 10s. a week except in exceptional circumstances. Finally, the agreement states the principle that the terms of an existing rebate scheme would not be varied to increase rental income. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made a broadly similar agreement with the Scottish local authority association. Hon. Members will find the text of that agreement in the Answer which my right hon. Friend gave on 7th November to a Question by the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter).
I turn, now, to the G.L.C.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
My hon. Friend has omitted an important matter, namely, those organisations which call themselves charity organisations. One charity in my constituency has chosen to double rents purely on the basis that it wants to increase the return on its capital for investment for the future. How will its tenants fare? When I asked about this my hon. Friend told me that he could do nothing about it.
§ Mr. Howell
These charities are not covered by the local authority associations and the agreement that we have made with them. If they are doing what my hon. Friend alleges, they are operating on criteria other than those which I have been laying down. In essence, that is a Committee point, so perhaps we might deal with it at that stage.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
If these charities are housing associations, clearly they will not come in under either Part I or Part II of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that.
§ Mr. Howell
We shall be prepared to examine any evidence of unreasonable increases in matters other than those with which the Bill seeks to deal.
The G.L.C. is not represented by the local authority associations, and it was asked to accept the agreement. It has refused to do so. I very much regret that the G.L.C. has declined to be a party to this agreement, which has been accepted as reasonable by the associations representing every other housing authority in England, Scotland and Wales.
The G.L.C. says that it cannot agree to limit rent increases to meet only unavoidable increases in costs. It is, in effect, saying that it reserves the right to increase rents by more than is necessary. One would hardly believe that it wishes to maintain this position, especially at the present time. At least, I did not think so until I read a letter in The Guardian today from the Chairman of the Greater London Council's Housing Committee. It is obviously a disturbing letter, for the attitude of mind it reflects. To start with, he pontificates about what local authorities and their members should be doing about a subject which I am not quite sure—since the Greater London Council is not a member of those bodies —he is any way qualified to speak about.
Secondly, he proposes increases averaging £1 12s. 6d. for three years and then says:In the event there has been only one 7s. 6d. increase since October 1967, which is well below the general level of increases in earnings.If that means anything at all, he seems to suggest that he believes that every time workers get an increase in their pay it should be immediately handed 1133 over to the Greater London Council. Certainly, nowhere in his letter or in his thinking does any other consideration of any kind apply. It is a proposition which has only to be stated to be seen to be transparently absurd.
The point must remain that, whichever Government are dealing with the economy, it must be accepted that very large increases of rent will inevitably lead to very large wage demands. However we deal with the economy, that situation must be faced by budgetary action of one scrt or another. It is impossible to divorce high rents and demands for large rent increases from the general effect they w 11 have on the economy as a whole.
To that extent, I very much regret the letter, and I much more regret the thinking behind it, which I do not think to be in the national interest.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
As an example of what my hon. Friend is saying, may I quote to him a case of an employee of the House? A low-paid member of the catering staff, living in a twobedroomed G.L.C. flat, has to pay £9 a week.
§ Mr. Howell
I am prepared to believe that. No doubt my hon. Friend will seek to make that point if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. The present policy is designed to get rent increases down to what is necessary under the present prices and incomes policy. It is very much in the interests of the country as a whole, whatever view we take about prices and incomes policy.
A political gesture of this kind must not deter the Government from basing their policy on an agreement which has been accepted by the responsible representatives of all other local authorities. These associations have not entered on this agreement lightly. They cannot legally bind their members to observe it. But they have made a commitment which affects their members and they now have every interest in seeing that this commitment is honoured. I am certain that they will use their best endeavours to ensure that their members understand the terms of the agreement, and abide by them. If cases arise where we have reason to believe that the agreement has been departed from, we shall take it up with the authorities concerned and the associations.
1134 The agreement envisages the possibility that an authority may wish, for good reason, to increase rents by more than the limits specified in the agreement. Under Part I of the Bill no authority will be able to increase rents above these limits unless it has made a formal proposal to the Minister, and obtained his permission under a procedure similar to that which applies to all rent increases under Section 10 of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968. This power to control rent increases above these limits was recommended by the National Board for Prices and Incomes.
For the purpose of the Bill a general rent increase is one involving more than 10 per cent. of the total stock of an authority in any 52-week period. An authority will need the Minister's permission to increase the rents of more than 10 per cent. of its houses by an average of more than 7s. 6d. a week in any 52-week period, and to increase the rent of any house by more than 10s. a week. My right hon. Friends do not expect to give such permission save in the most exceptional circumstances. In the Government's view, any increase above these limits is very difficult to reconcile with the continued need for moderation and restraint in rent increases.
I would like to say just a few words about an aspect of rent policy which, I know, concerns many of my hon friends —the practice of applying general rent increases right across the board to both houses of reasonable quality and to substandard houses that are deficient of civilised standards and amenities. The Government's concern in the Bill is solely to ensure that increases in rents should not be steeper than necessary. The responsibility for deciding what differences there should be in the rents charged for dwellings cf different size, age and amenities remains entirely with the local authorities under their statutory duties. It is the authority which is responsible for deciding how a rent increase should be distributed among the houses in its stock.
It will be seen that the Minister has no responsibility for the rents of individual dwellings or for rent structure. None the less, I would strongly urge local authorities to exercise their responsibility, within the limits set by the Bill, so 1135 as to take appropriate account of differences in the type, age and amenity of their dwellings when they determine their rent policy. Failure to do so will obviously be a source of great concern to large numbers of their tenants.
As to the duration of the Bill—
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Would my hon. Friend clarify the position for me? When he suggests that the Government control these rents, is he aware that the G.L.C., as was pointed out by an hon. Member opposite, cheated by encouraging people to move from one property to another and then putting the rent up to the maximum that it was going to put it up to before my right hon. Friend intervened? The tenant has only moved from one property to another, larger or smaller, as the case may be, and is forced to pay a very much higher rent.
§ Mr. Howell
I am aware that the G.L.C. has a policy of reviewing rents when houses are to be relet. We have taken note of this, but the Government have no power to deal with that situation.
If one needs more revenue, a case may be argued that it is a much more painless way of achieving it when the house is empty and before a new tenancy takes place. What I think concerns my hon. Friend—and I well understand this—is the considerable increase in rent assessment being made when lettings are made in the cases he mentioned.
We may return to these matters in Committee. I know that they are all questions on which there is a great deal of concern among my hon. Friends, which I share. They are matters which must be determined by the electorate next April in the Greater London Council elections. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will seek to draw the electors' attention to all these manifestations of undesirable activity that they believe to be going on in the G.L.C., and no doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite will seek to defend these policies. The proper place to do that in our democracy is the hustings.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Why does the Bill contain no provisions to deal with the vast increases being imposed by some local authorities on the tenants of their estates departments which have always been exempted from the prices and in- 1136 comes legislation, and are not in this Bill, either?
§ Mr. Howell
I am not sure that I understand the hon. Gentleman's question. If he is referring to boroughs with tied houses, or tied cottages owned by local authorities—
§ Mr. Howell
In any event, I undertake to look into the matter. I cannot say off the cuff exactly how far the point which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is covered by the Bill. I believe that such matters are covered by the agreement—
§ Mr. Howell
—or the spirit of the agreement that has been entered into with local authority associations. It would be wrong to suggest that these associations have members who are anxious to break the agreement at the first moment. The Government believe that the local authority associations and their members will seek to abide by the terms and spirit of the agreement.
The powers in Part I, at least for the time being, are a necessary part of prices and incomes policy, and are required to ensure that measure of restraint in local authority rent increases which the Government regard as essential at the present time. But as prices and incomes policy develops, it is possible that the Government and Parliament will wish to review the need for such powers. If that occasion should arise before 30th June, 1971, the existence of the order-making power in Clause 1 would give to Housing Ministers the opportunity of bringing the whole issue before the House, and the House would have the opportunity of taking a decision on it.
The provisions of Part II of the Bili deal with the control of increases in rent in the private sector. I claim at once that in the sphere of privately rented property, the Labour Government have done a great deal to give better protection to tenants in the occupation of privately rented dwellings and to control excessive rents.
As soon as we came to power in 1964 we passed the Protection from Eviction Act, which prohibited the eviction of anyone in lawful possession of residential 1137 premise of every kind without an order of the court. This was followed by the Rent Act, 1965, which made it a criminal offence to try to get rid of a tenant by harassment; that is, by the use of force or threats of force or interference with his home or possessions.
Hon. Members will remember the notorious Rent Act, 1957, under which so many families lost their protection and their homes. The Rent Act, 1965, brought this to an end by bringing back into protection all unfurnished tenancies of houses, flats and rooms with a rateable value of up to £400 in London and £200 elsewhere in Great Britain—that is, all those which had been decontrolled in 1957, when the Conservatives governed the country, and more.
They had to be brought back under control and we took immediate steps to stop what had become a national scandal. [HON. MEMBERS:0h.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may tut-tut, but when we brought them back under control they did not oppose the Measure which we introduced to do the job. They had to lace the fact that the free market in housing which the
These tenancies became regulated tenancies, and the 1965 Act froze their rents at their then current level and provided that they could be increased only by the registration of a "fair rent" by the newly established rent officer service.
It may be helpful if I remind the House of the outlines of the rent regulatiol system which we established by the Rent Act, 1965—now consolidated into the Rent Act, 1968—under which fair rents are determined by rent officers appointed under that Act. Either landlord or tenant can apply to the rent officer—there are about 300 in the country—for a registration of a fair rent, and if either party thinks that the rent fixed by the rent officer is unfair, there is an appeal to a rent assessment committee.
Rent officers and committees, in determining a fair rent, must have regard to the age, character, locality and state of repair of the premises and the circumstances generally, other than the personal 1138 circumstances of the parties. They must, however, discount any value arising from scarcity, so that where scarcity exists the fair rent will be below the market rent.
The system of rent regulation has now been operating for nearly four years and my right hon. Friend, together with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, have appointed a committee under the distinguished chairmanship of Mr. Hugh Francis with terms of reference providing, among other things, for a review of the operation rent regulation, especially in large centres of population where accommodation is scarce. I know that the committee is anxious to complete its task as urgently as possible, though obviously we do not want to set the committee a hard and fast deadline, since to do so might prevent it from doing its job thoroughly. We are grateful to the members of the committee for taking on this task.
The House will recall that the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968, among other things, gave Housing Milisters the power to put a limit on the amount by which the rent for a regulated tenancy could be increased each year following the registration of a new rent. The increase in the first year was limited to 10s. per week, the remainder being added in two further annual instalments, or, if the registration was made in 1969, in one further instalment on the anniversary of the first increase. This Act, while framed primarily in an economic context, represented a further step in the protection of tenants from undue hardship or difficulties.
As the House knows, the Prices and Incomes Act expires on 31st December, so that without this Bill rent increases following registrations made from 1st January, 1970 onwards would not have to be phased, but the full amount could be charged straightaway, which we believe would be wrong in the circumstances of today. An analysis of the figures for England and Wales in the first and second quarters of 1969 show that of first registrations resulting in increases, 52 per cent. involved an increase of more than £1 a week, including 17 per cent. of more than £2 per week.
The Government's view is that sharp increases of rent must be avoided, both in the context of the general policy on 1139 prices and incomes and, more especially, because of the hardship they can cause. Accordingly, the purpose of this part of the Bill is to continue the phasing of rent increases for a further period of two years; it will cover rent increases registered in 1970 and 1971.
The system of phasing closely follows that adopted in the Housing Act, 1969. The Bill provides that for a rent increase registered in 1970 one-third of the increase—or 7s. 6d. a week if greater—is added at once, another third, or 7s. 6d., a year later, and the balance a year after that, in 1972. For a rent increase registered in 1971, one-third, or 7s. 6d., is added at once, and the balance would be added one year later, though this could be reviewed in the light of the eventual decision on whether phasing of sharp increases is to be extended again from 1972 onwards.
The Government are satisfied that continuance of phasing of sharp rent increases in the private sector serves a worthwhile economic and social purpose, and consider that it should remain with us for at least another two years. This is a longer period of control than is at present proposed for local authority rent increases, but the two types of control are quite different.
In the case of local authorities, the issue is whether existing rents should be increased beyond a certain amount. In the case of the private landlord, the amount of the increased rent for the dwelling is already fixed. The point at issue is the phasing of this increase.
The Bill, taken as a whole, deals with a problem which affects the welfare of millions of tenant families. I believe that it does so in a way which is practical, fair and humane.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister of State, especially as I believe this is the first occasion when he has had the opportunity in that appointment to present a housing Bill to the House. His speech can be a matter for congratulation, but his appointment is a matter of commiseration, because I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he has now "got the skids on". 1140 The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was appointed Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1967, and a year later he was on the back benches. The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) was appointed Minister of State in 1967. and within a year he was on the back benches. The right hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) had the same job but a new name, Minister of Planning and Land, and within a year he was on the back benches. The present Minister of State, within a year, will perhaps not even be on the back benches, because a General Election might intervene. Nevertheless, we thank him for his explanation of the Bill and the history behind it.
This sad story of Ministers of State at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is a measure of the Government's failure in their housing policy. Those Ministers tried to interpret and to administer a housing policy which was doomed to failure from the outset. Only recently the Minister of Housing and Local Government admitted that fewer houses were being built this year and that fewer will be built next year than in 1964 when the Labour Government took office. The way the Government have dealt with their housing programme has been like a game of snakes and ladders. They are now on a square which say "Go back five years", and they are back to square one. Those unfortunate Ministers who held the office of Minister of State are now not on square one; they are not even on the board.
That was just as much an admission of failure in the Government's housing policy as the Bill before us is an admission of failure. That policy as put before the electorate by almost every Labour candidate at the last General Election was a policy for cheaper houses, but this Bill is in place of Part III of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968. The right hon. Lady who is now First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity said, when introducing Part III of the 1968 Act, which deals with rents:now I turn to rents. These form a crucial part of family budgets—indeed, by far the biggest element in the increase which has taken 1141 place in the retail index since the middle of 1966 has been the cost of housing, which has risen by no less than 10 points during this period."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1968; Vol. 765, c. 310.]Whose fault was that? It was, of course, the fault of the general policy of the Government and its effect on housing that the cost of housing had risen so much during that period. We have now to repeat the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968. Otherwise, by reason of the further increase in the cost of housing, whether capital cost or rental cost, the Government think that any reasonable increase in rents would be crippling to the tenants. We think that the damage from such a restriction is greater than any hardship that is brought on the tenants, or that the hardship can be alleviated—where it—exists in another way.
The Bill provides for subsidies to tenants, both in the public and the private sectors. They are not, of course, straightforward subsidies out of the Exchequer, which would be at least logical when the Government's mistakes have caused the need for such a subsidy. It would be logical that the taxpayer, the public in general, should pay, but, whereas the Minister of State talked of generous subsidies which have been given out of the taxpayers' money, the Bill is a housing subsidies Bill which enforces a section of the public, not the general taxpayers, to pay those subsidies. In one case it is the ratepayer who is to pay the subsidies and in the other it is the landlord of private property.
Let there be no mistake. The Bill says that the tenant shall not pay such-and-such a rent; he shall not pay rent above a certain figure. Rent is in great part a payment for the maintenance of property. Maintenance will have to be paid for—
§ Mr. Page
Rent is a return on capital, whether public or private capital, but in a great part it is a payment for maintenance of the property and maintenance will have to be paid for whether or not the rent is received. Most local authorities keep proper reserves for this purpose. In the past couple of years, when there have been restrictions on the rents, they have had to run down their balances. I am told that during the coming year and the 18 months of the 1142 Bill, as it affects local authorities, there will have to be an extremely serious rundown of those balances unless the Minister is very free in giving his consent to increases in rents.
Let us look at Part I in more detail. It affects local authorities and Part II affects private tenants. Part I is to last for 18 months. I am a little suspicious of this subject being taken out of the prices and incomes provisions in general, and put into a separate Bill. It looks as if we are working towards a permanent law on this subject, rather than dealing with it as merely a temporary matter of prices and incomes. We had some sort of an assurance from the Minister that that was not intended, bat it always looks gravely suspicious when a subject has to be put in a separate Bill of this sort instead of being dealt with generally under prices and incomes.
Under the Bill, local authorities will be deprived of exercising their judgment in the management of their properties. There must be no increase of more than 7s. 6d. on average and no increase of more than 10s. a week as a maximum without obtaining the Minister's consent. There is a sort of rule-of-thumb concerning 7s. 6d. and 10s. and then the House is asked to say to local authorities, "You shall not charge more than these amounts. If the economic rent of your houses comes to a greater amount, you must get it from the ratepayers, or cut the maintenance of the houses, or you draw right down to the bone upon your reserves".
It must be one or another of those things, because the local authority has by law to keep its housing revenue account solvent. Whichever it is, it is a very serious matter, both for the ratepayers and for the tenants, and for the constitution, the relationship between central and local government. There is no doubt that it constitutes a setback in the trend, which one had hoped was proceeding now, of giving local government more and more responsibility.
The Minister of State said that rent levels were the responsibility of local authorities, which were much better fitted to discharge that responsibility than was the Minister. The hon. Gentleman spoke of guidelines. Those in the Bill seem to be more like dog leashes than guidelines, because little discretion is left to 1143 local authorities to manage their own housing affairs. This is a real setback to what we hoped Parliament would recognise as desirable, namely, local authorities having greater power to manage their own affairs.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general thesis about the desirability of not intervening, where it can be avoided, in what is essentially a local government function. However, he will appreciate that there is a national interest element in this policy which must be pursued. Will he tell us where, in the present economic situation, the national interest lies in the matter of rent increases?
§ Mr. Page
To start with, the Government themselves created this position. The position will not be cured by disallowing reasonable rent increases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Reasonable?"] Hon. Members opposite surely are not suggesting that local authorities are on the whole unreasonable bodies. They are elected by electors to manage their own properties. As the Minister admitted, they are much better fitted to discharge those responsibilities than is the Minister.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the letter written by the Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Housing Committee, to which the Minister referred and which is published in this morning's The Guardian, reasonable, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion?
§ Mr. Page
From what I heard of the Minister of State's reference to the letter, it seemed to me that the G.L.C. is charging reasonable rents over a broad front, that there are reductions here and increases there, and that, on average, they are reasonable rents for enabling the council to maintain its properties and reserves.
On the question of taking away the authority of local councils, I want to refer to a speech made by the Prime Minister at the annual conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations, two months and one day ago, in which he said this:One of the objectives of reorganisation"—the Prime Minister had been talking about the Maud Report—is to redress changes which have occurred in recent years in the balance between local and central government.1144 The Prime Minister went on to speak of "a progressive policy of greater decentralisation from Whitehall". Quite apart from Maud, he said this:In advance of the structural reform on which we are all determined, I accept that it is a common—yes, and in many cases a justified—complaint that local authorities are subject to too many central controls … Ministers are called upon to intervene unnecessarily, both as regards the way in which authorities organise their domestic affairs, and the way in which they carry out their statutory functions …It is my hope that the reorganisation of local government will provide an opportunity and the incentive—and that this opportunity will be taken—for a fresh attack on this problem of central financial control, so that we can reduce the number of points on which decisions are taken by Ministers, even by Parliament. I assure you that on this, as on the basic conclusions of Maud which the Government have already accepted, we mean business, as I know you do.We now see that the sort of business which the Prime Minister meant was greater control over local authorities in the management of their properties.
It is significant that the two items of local authority legislation announced by the Government in their programme for this Session are both restrictive of the powers of local authorities. I refer to the items relating to education and to rents.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put forward as policy is exactly what the Bill proposes, that every rent increase should no longer have to come to Housing Ministers for approval, but that there should be a general long-stop approval, which is highly desirable to counteract the danger of local authorities acting against the general national interest.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question put to him by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)? If he thinks that 7s. 6d. is an unreasonably low amount on which to fix the general ceiling, what does he think is a reasonable amount?
§ Mr. Page
A reasonable amount is a reasonable amount for the particular district about which one is talking. One of my main complaints about the Bill is 1145 that it fixes a rule-of-thumb figure of 7s. 6d. when 7d. 6d. need not necessarily apply to the Greater London Council as well as to Little Tidmarsh, or some other small local authority. A rule-of-thumb figure ought not to be applied in this way. Local authorities should be able to say what is proper for their own districts.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The G.L.C. leader has said that the increase should be 30s. a week. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that that is right?
§ Mr. Page
The Minister of State spent a considerable time delivering his speech, and I do not want to detain the House for any longer than I need, otherwise the Front Benches will be accused of monopolising the time of the House.
One thing that the Minister said was very misleading. He said that the contents of the Bill, whatever the agreement may be between the Minister and local authorities, showed that the provisions of the Bill were acceptable to all local authorities as reasonable. I have here a copy of a letter sent by the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations to members of the association. If this letter correctly describes the agreement and the negotiations for agreement between the A.M.C. and the Minister, what the Minister said about all authorities accepting the Bill as reasonable was very misleading.
The letter first speaks about Sections 10 and 11 of the 1968 Act expiring and then says:The Minister indicated to the Association that as an alternative to the existing legislation, which requires Government consent to all rent increases, he would be prepared to reach an agreement with the local authority Associations which would substitute for the present requirements a form of voluntary restraining. This would be a transitional arrangement, since the Government wished to revert as soon as possible to the traditional position whereby the fixing of council house rents is entirely a matter for local discretion.1146 On the promise that this restriction was to go in due course, the association is recommending its members to agree to a form of transitional restraint. The secretary goes on to say:The General Purposes Committee of the Association considered the Minister's proposition against the background that the continuation of the prices and incomes policy must be regarded as a matter for the Government and that limitation of rent increases is a declared part of that policy.Then, this phrase is significant:Without becoming in any way a party to decisions on these matters, or endorsing them, the Committee came to the conclusion that the Association should subscribe to an agreement, on the understanding that limited reserve powers only will be taken by the Government in place of the existing general powers of control.There we see the reason for the agreement. I have some letters from leaders of councils, in one of which it is very well expressed, I think—that they agreed to this because Ford open prison was better than Wormwood Scrubbs, that they were prepared to go along with the Government on releasing tin restrictions to some extent.
After all, one has to remember what the councils were subject to under Section 10 of the 1968 Prices and Incomes Act:Except in such cases ar d subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by any direction of the Minister, it shall not be lawful for a local authority to charge in respect of any houses to which this section applies rents exceeding the former rents, unless the increases accord with proposals submitted to and passed by the Minister under this section.So, under the existing law, they are wholly restricted. Under the Minister's proposals they saw a slight relief, particularly in the question of delay in raising the rents by small amounts. Previously, when they had to apply to the Minister every time, there was considerable delay and loss to the local authority. Therefore, they evidently thought that half a loaf was better than none and agreed to these proposals.
I now summarise our opposition to Part I. We think that it is an arbitrary limitation of council house rents, and is a dangerous interference with the responsibilities of local councils to run their own affairs, with which Parliament and the people who elected them have entrusted those local authorities. We consider it a dangerous temptation to cut the standards of maintenance of council houses 1147 and the standard of repair, when the local authorities are forced to run down their reserves to the extent that they have been forced to do by the Minister's policy over rents.
We think that this will result in further subsidies by the ratepayers to council tenants and a probable increase in rates, which may in the end, of course, defeat the purpose of the prices and incomes legislation. It is merely spreading an increase over a number of people instead of allotting it to a few—[HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] Perhaps I can deal with that interjection now, although I was coming to the point later. If there really are tenants who have not the means to pay the increase, these can be dealt with by rebate schemes by the local authorities. That is surely the right and proper method.
Part II is the restriction on increases in the rents of private tenants. I should remind the House at once that this is not a restriction upon a landlord increasing rent at his own whim. There is already plenty of restriction on that. This is a prohibition upon a landlord charging a rent which has been decided by an independent person, the rent officer, or possibly an independent tribunal, the rent assessment committee, as a fair rent. This is defined in Section 46 of the 1968 Act, which says that it should take into account the age and condition of the property but not the scarcity value. This has been accepted on both sides of the House as a fair rent between landlord and tenant.
The whole purpose of the previous Rent Act, in 1965, which created the regulated tenancies, was to prevent property falling into decay through lack of proper return to the landlord who had to manage that property. The Minister made what I would call some brave statements on Second Reading of the 1969 Housing Bill. He admitted that property was falling into decay because of controlled rents, since the rents from it were insufficient to maintain our stock of housing as we would wish it maintained, and that, for that reason, he would set up a system for discovering what would be a fair rent between landlord and tenant.
This was carefully defined in the Rent Acts, 1965 and 1968. It provides enough for maintenance. It abolishes the previous 1148 subsidy which a landlord had to pay on controlled property and it leaves out the question of any scarcity value, which if taken into account might cause hardship on the tenant. If the landlord is not entitled for a period of years to charge a fair rent, there must logically be an unfairness to the landlord. Perhaps that does not impress hon. Members opposite. But it is also an unfairness to the tenant, because it is a great temptation to a landlord, who is not receiving a fair rent, not to keep up the standard of maintenance of his property. It is a foolish economy to insist upon a landlord not taking a fair rent and, therefore, not keeping his property in order. With one hand, the Government have been giving improvement grants under the Housing Act 1969 and, with the other, they are now encouraging a lack of maintenance of property.
Why impose an even greater restriction on charging a fair rent than is being imposed on a local authority charging a rent which it decides upon? In Part II, there is a longer period of restraint than under Part I.
We oppose Part II, because it deals with cases in which an independent tribunal has decided what is a fair rent between landlord and tenant; if it is not paid, there is the risk of the property not being properly maintained. That is a disadvantage to the tenant as much as to the landlord.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
What would the hon. Gentleman suggest as the rent for these regulated tenancies? Should they be raised ad lib or what?
§ Mr. Page
A fair rent. I am sorry if I have not made myself clear. I have tried to say that what the landlord is now entitled by law to charge is a fair rent and that if the tenant thinks that it is not fair he can go to the rent officer and have it decided—or the landlord can go himself. But under the Bill, the landlord will be told, "After a rent officer has decided and registered a tenancy as a regulated tenancy, with a fair rent, not for two years are you allowed to get that return from your property."
As the cost of living changes every year and always rises under this Government, in two years that fair rent may be out of date. In fact, one can go back 1149 to the rent officer every three years to have a new fair rent fixed. It distorts the whole system set up under the Rent Acts, which I admit is working very well and fairly between landlord and tenant.
I was doubtful about it when it was introduced, but I readily admit that it has worked reasonably between the parties. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman wants to know who wrote the fair rent system. It was not this Government, but the property associations—[Interruption.] Yes, it certainly was.
This is a bad Bill. It will not achieve its purpose within the prices and incomes legislation. The Bill is damaging to local authorities in their responsibilities; it is damaging to local authority tenants; it is damaging to the whole system of landlord and tenant, as much to the tenant as to the landlord.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Ashton)
If I support this Bill with less than enthusiasm, it is for precisely the opposite reasons to those advanced by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). My view, and that of a number of my hon. Friends, is that the protections given in the Bill, both to council and private tenants, are not adequate to meet the situation. A number of the points of inadequacy may well be more suitable for Committee stage, but I will set them out in my speech.
Basically, I think that a policy which allows for an annual increase, not a once for all increase, of 7s. 6d. in rent—10s. in the case of an individual house—year after year, is much to great a latitude to allow a local authority. It cannot be just ified by any increase in costs and it is inconsistent with any policy of prices and wages control, or even income restraint, and will not, therefore, be acceptable to the great majority of council house tenants, who have already shown their resentment of what is taking place in London and many other places. Thus, both Parts I and II of the Bill are not adequate.
There are other aspects which again may be dealt with in Committee but one of them is that new houses are to be excluded entirely from any sort of control —and, indeed, not only new houses. New tenancies are excluded from control 1150 either with or without the Minister's permission.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State rightly said that, when a tenant gets his tenancy for the first time, he is reasonably happy about it, at any rate for the first few months, because he has a new house. But what about the person who had an exchange? This is an extremely sore point with hundreds and thousands of tenants. When a tenant gets an exchange, he is treated in the new house as a new tenant and his rent goes up. He may be paying 10s. or 1 Is. a week more than the person next door. This is penalisation of the person who wants to transfer and it is unjustified and resented. I hope that this matter will be corrected in Committee.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The G.L.C. reckons that it gets 2 per cent. voids a year, equivalent to over 5,000 properties. There are also 8,000 mutual transfers. Between them, these figures will account for over 13,000 properties a year which will not be permitted to be endorsed by the Minister.
§ Mr. Silverman
I would have thought that many authorities' voids and relets are higher than 2 per cent., but I agree that these houses are entirely outside the control of the Bill.
In my area there are two large areas not of redevelopment, but of new road construction. A large number of people on the Aston expressway have had to leave their houses. Some of them did not want to do so but the houses were taken over by the local authority and were regarded as technically unfit, whether they were actually unfit or not. The tenants had to go to council houses and, because they are technically new tenants, they have to pay 1 ls. more in rent per week than their neighbours. Both they and I think that this is unfair. I protested to the Birmingham housing department, but did not get anywhere. This is another matter which should be corrected.
The whole question of rents and how local authority rents are made up should be reviewed by the Government. People talk about council tenants being subsidised. But on an examination of the figures I wonder how many are so subsidised? Very few of them are. I agree 1151 that there are difficulties in London because of the high cost of land and building and in Scotland rents have always been used to subsidise low wages. That is fairly general there. But, when one examines the accounts of most local authorities in Britain, which give very little in rent subsidy—some a few coppers, some nothing—one finds that to talk of a so-called subsidy is unrealistic.
What is in the housing revenue account? The Minister mentioned one or two things like rebates. It is astonishing to see what is in the housing revenue account. It reminds me of the well-known song about the quartermaster's store and all the things one finds in it. For example, let us consider the cost of slum clearance. This has nothing to do with sitting council tenants, but it is in the housing revenue account. The cost of patching up houses under the 1954 Act is again in the housing revenue account. The cost of community services is frequently in the housing revenue account, although local authorities tend to differ in their practices. A large part of the cost of road construction, which is normally borne by ratepayers as a whole and not by the owner-occupier, for instance, is in the housing revenue account. The cost of development of an estate, apart from the main roads, is in the housing revenue account. The cost of various amenities, which in other cases are borne by the ratepayers as a whole, if they are part of a development of an estate, is in the housing revenue account.
The hon. Member for Crosby mentioned rebates. It is morally wrong that the rebates given to people in hardship should be borne exclusively by other council tenants. I do not see how that can be justified. Even my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that the Government subsidy should be used for this purpose. As he said, the Government subsidy to the local authority tenants corresponds to the mortgage relief given to owner-occupiers, and if the owner-occupier is entitled to mortgage relief without any question of a means test—indeed, far from that, the more he pays, the higher the price of the house, the greater the relief he gets on his mortgage—I do not see why a local authority tenant should not get the same benefit without any question of a means test.
1152 I remind the House that the position in relation to mortgage relief was even worse until the Government introduced the mortgage option scheme, because the person at the bottom of the scale did not get anything at all. It was thus a means test in reverse, in a sense. In the Finance Act, 1969, it is clear that this sort of relief of debt repayment applies exclusively to debts incurred for housing purposes. It is, as I have said, therefore logical that rebates should be financed not by council tenants alone but by the whole of the community. If we decide on any further form of relief for any section of the community, it should be provided by the community as a whole.
The cost of houses under construction, the land and the building in the pipeline, is also borne on the housing revenue account. In Birmingham, this amount is about £30 million and that has to be financed and serviced by existing council tenants who are paying not just for their own houses, but for all the houses to be built in future. That is wrong, and it is another matter to be dealt with when the Government review housing finance.
A considerable amount of what is paid every year is not merely the payment of interest, but debt redemption. In Birmingham this amounts to about £2,500,000 out of the housing revenue account. In substance, while the owner-occupier is buying a house for himself, the council tenant is buying for the ratepayers as a whole. This, too, should be considered to see how much of this should accrue to the council tenant and whether the whole should be handed over to the local authority. All these matters should be reviewed. There should be a new method of assessing council accounts to decide what is due from the community and what from council tenants. I am in favour of council tenants paying fair rents, but let us first decide what is due from them and what should be paid for by the local authority. If this were clearly set out, there would be less talk about council tenants being subsidised by the community.
Part II of the Bill does not go far enough. For instance, if a registered rent is to take effect in 1971, the delay may be for only a year, which may mean that a tenant will pay an increase of 7s. 6d. in the first year and the rest of the increase will then overate within one 1153 year, and that amount could be substantial. Over the great majority of the country the Rent Act is working reasonably well. The trouble is that it is precisely in the areas where there is acute shortage that there are great and unjustified increases in regulated rents. The fact that the hon. Member for Crosby pays tribute to the way in which the Act is working is hardly the best commendation from my point of view.
To some extent, many of us are disappointed with the way in which the Act has worked in Birmingham and particularly with the way in which it has worked in London. For instance, the rent of a terraced house with no special amenities in places like Tottenham and other London suburbs may rise from 35s. to as much as £4 10s. The scarcity element cannot possibly have been excluded by the rent assessment committees in fixing such a rent.
This subject has been raised on a number of occasions. As the Minister has said, it is now being considered by the Francis Committee. All the Bill does is to hold the increase in a regulated rent to 7s. 6d. in the first year; in the second year the rest of the increase will be added.
The Bill is better than nothing and I shall vote for it, but I do not believe that it goes anywhere near as far as it should.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)
I am immensely depressed, more than enraged, by the Bill. Time and again, we have the same kind of housing debate. Constantly one side of the House lauds the council tenant and the other is put into the position of not doing so. Over and over again in housing debates, the people of the country are divided into two classes.
This kind of debate is and has always been sterile; it will never solve the problems of housing. The United Nations figures show that this country devotes less capital to housing than any other country in Western Europe, and our record for all the years since the war—and I am not making a party point—is not one about which we can crow. The question we must ask is what policies the parties are pursuing which are most likely to solve the housing problem which remains 1154 with us. That is why the Bill is so immensely depressing.
The speeches from the Government side so far have been in a familiar strain. It sounds warm and comforting to talk about restrictions of rent increases, and to do so naturally produces a response from those who have to pay them. But it does nothing to solve the problem of diverting and maintaining resources into solving the housing problem, and the Bill will make the position even worse.
It is not only council tenants who are faced with rent increases. I am sorry if it offends hon. Members opposite if I say so, but all sorts of people have been feel ing the draught because of the policies which the Government have pursued. Between 1964 and the current year, the average spent by a council tenant or a person in a privately rented house has gone up by a third, but the amount spent by those buying their houses on mortgages has increased by 54 per cent.; I therefore hope that the debate will not degenerate into assertions that only council tenants or tenants of privately rented property are feeling a cold wind against which we must protect them.
The awful fact of the matter is that the whole country is going through a storm. The Bill will produce a tremendously cumbersome Government machine to protect tenants from a wind which everyone is feeling, not only in housing, but in other respects. We have to judge the Bill against this sort of criterion.
The law governing the cost of housing is extremely arbitrary. The amount of rent which anyone may pay depends entirely on the legal status of the house he happens to occupy and how long he happens to have occupied it. It has no rhyme or reason. It depends not on his income and not even particularly on the amenities of the house. It is something which has been foisted on the population by a jumble of Acts added one after another, and this is the latest. We must ask ourselves whether any rent Bill is likely to lead us from that to a better position.
The better approach is to find a housing policy sanely based on a situation in which the amount of money devoted to housing produces a sufficient number to meet the housing need and in which those people and only those people unable to pay a market rent receive a 1155 subsidy or support of some kind. That is probably a policy on which both sides could agree. It is not a policy which will be enhanced by the Bill.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
Would the hon. Gentleman extend his observations to say that the same provision ought to be applied to the owner-occupier who gets mortgage relief—that should not get that relief unless he could prove that his means were inadequate?
§ Mr. Silvester
The hon. Member misunderstands me. There are all sorts of reasons why we can introduce encouragements for one kind of housing or another. I am not suggesting that there should be no encouragement to those who build council houses. This is one reason for the different kinds of subsidy. I did not say that we should withdraw encouragement to owner-occupiers by way of Income Tax relief. 1 think that there is a case for extending the encouragement to those occupying privately-rented houses, by means of a tax depreciation on privately-rented accommodation, although that is not my party's policy. It is just something I believe in. The housing situation is such that I would not necessarily take away inducements in any one area. We should try to spread this around.
This Bill will not encourage people to provide housing. Take my own local authority. At the beginning of this rateable year, there was a rate contribution of £450,000. The going rate as the year develops is now running at £850,000. So, according to the Minister's criteria, we are already doing more than we should, because on the basis of the Bill we are not apparently to be asked to pay more rate contribution than we have traditionally done, yet we are already contributing nearly double the rate we paid earlier in the year. Even if a rent increase is introduced, and no such proposal has been put forward, if it were an increase of 7s. 6d., we would still be paying next year at the rate of £850,000 —double what we were paying at the beginning of this year.
If the Government wish to indulge in that sort of policy, then they cannot ask the ratepayers of Waltham Forest to bear the extra burden. It is Government policy and they must take the responsibility. 1156 How we find anyone to stand in local government these days, I do not know. The problems facing them are enormous. If we were to ask my local authority to save £100,000 for example on education, it would have to scratch its head and there would be a great deal of hooh-hah in the local Press. The net result would be that after a great deal of trouble we might save that amount from the rates. We are now being asked to provide four and a half times that amount for a policy over which we have no control. That does not seem to be reasonable.
It is no good the Government saying that we are doing a great thing for the council tenants by putting a stop on the amount of increase in the rents which they will have to pay, but at the same time ignoring the effect which this is having on the other services of the borough by an addition to the rates. I doubt whether this kind of policy will help anyone. I have spoken already about my borough. In addition, the Greater London Council is now facing a rate contribution of £8 million. We are talking about enormous sums of money which could be diverted to other uses within the borough, but which is being restricted to this kind of housing because of a policy imposed by the Government.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that in the London Borough of Waltham Forest the present level of council house rents is very high and many tenants are unable to meet the outgoings demanded of them on the sort of earnings which many of them are bringing home? In those circumstances something must be done. Will he indicate to the House what he thinks should be done?
§ Mr. Silvester
I am happy to agree with the hon. Member. The result of these policies has been to impose an enormous strain upon the income of many council tenants. That intervention has not solved the problem a bit. I suppose that we are not allowed visual aids in the House, but if the hon. Member will refer to the Prices and Incomes Board Report on rent increases of local authorities he would see that one of the profound reasons for the increases has been the increase in interest charges to which local authorities have been subjected.
1157 This is not something over which our local authority has much control. Although it is all right for the Government to saythat they want to protect council tenants from an extra burden on their income, they cannot at the same time impose extraburdens on the local authorities and expect them to sort it out. It is the Government's reponsibility, but they ate shoving it on to the local authorities and saying, "Get on with the solution of this problem." It is not something which they can solve. The point I am desperately trying to make is that, although we may pass this Bill, it will not make one iota of difference to the local authorities. The burden which we are asking them to bear will grow week by week. We can foresee it within the next year. It will be of enormous proportions. We cannot ask them to shoulder that burden because it is a Government responsibility. If the Government wish to pursue this policy, it is up to them to relieve the burden on the rates.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
When I listen to the remarks of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) and the remarks of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I think back to 1945. I have had the honour of being in this House since that date and of listening to many housing debates. I remember vividly that notorious 1957 Rent Act, which the Conservative Government enacted. I remember the chaos that followed it. I remember the tremendous sense of injustice and the terrible state into which housing was thrown. The hon. Member for Crosby criticises what the Government are doing today. I hope that he will remember the steps that have been taken by the Government to ameliorate the lot of tenants.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about the council tenant and the burden on the council and the easing of this burden and soon, I want him to start from scratch and deal with the ordinary tenant who has suffered so much in the past. We had rent control, bitterly opposed by the party opposite. There was protection for tenants, now regulated tenants, with a rateable value in London of £400 and in the provinces of £200. What has been the result? Tremendous protection for those tenants.
1158 The terrible things that would follow, prophesied by the Opposition, have not materialised. The housing problem has been dealt with properly and sensibly. As to eviction, there has been no eviction of tenants without an order from the court, a wonderful protection for tenants. There is also protection against harassment of tenants by landlords. These are all things that have been achieved by this Labour Government.
As for council tenants, I once believed in the doctrine that a council always looked after its tenants and studied their interests and that it was unnecessary to interfere. I have lost that illusion. It has gone, particularly because of the attitude of the Greater London Council. Something has been said about its attitude and what it has to do, on increases and so on. I had hoped that in this Bill, and I still hope that it might be done in Committee, the protection accorded to ordinary and regulated tenants, that is security of tenure, would be given to council tenants. The Bill dealt with regulated tenancies. I suggested that council tenants should have security of tenure.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Chichester)
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman go further and suggest that council tenants should pay the same fair rents as those subject to regulated tenancy arrangements? The G.L.C. has attempted to phase the increase over three years.
§ Mr. Weitzman
That is a red herring. One thing has nothing to do with the other.
I want to deal with this point because it discloses real injustice. When the Bill giving security of tenure to those with regulated tenancies was before the House. I suggested that security of tenure should be given to council tenants. The answer was,You need not worry: councils always act in the interests of tenants. Therefore, there is no need for security of tenure for them. We now see what a fallacy that is from the G.L.C.'s attitude.
Recently the G.L.C.:issued notices of increase. I understand that they were challenged in the High Court, and that there is now an action in the High Court concerning the matter. The G.L.C. issued notices to quit. As the law stands, all 1159 that the council has to do is to prove the service of a notice to quit and automatically the county court judge must make an order for possession. I know that hon. Members opposite may have been misled by a paragraph in a newspaper to the effect that the county court judge was supposed to have dealt with the question of increase. But that matter does not arise. The county court judge has no discretion when the G.L.C. issues a notice to quit. He must make an order for possession and there is a limit to the number of weeks in which possession can be obtained. If there are proceedings dealing with a notice of increase, and if the increase is invalid, obviously a tenant would not be in default. If he is not in default, there is no reason why possession should be obtained against him.
I regard the G.L.C.'s recent action as completely unjustifiable. The tenants have protested against it, and I protest against it as strongly as I can.
Therefore, the attitude of councils must not automatically be taken as being in the interests of tenants. Of course there are many good councils which act in the interests of tenants. On the other hand, there are councils which do not. A strong case can be made out for giving security of tenure to council tenants in the same way as it is given to tenants of private property with regulated tenancies.
I turn to the question of the permitted increases of rent. I regret that they must be increased. I support the Bill because it is the only way in which we can put a limit on the rents imposed. When the 7s. 6d. increase was imposed last year, the Labour group on the G.L.C. made a powerful case showing that a 16 per cent. increase was unjustifiable and that a 3s. 6d. increase and no more should be allowed. I was astonished that the Minister allowed the 7s. 6d. increase. That amounts to £19 10s. a year. When the additional 7s. 6d. increase is imposed next year, that will make a total increase of £39 10s. over two years—a pretty stiff increase for a council tenant. I am not sure that an increase of this kind is justified.
As the Minister said, when increases of this sort are made there are demands for increases in wages and there are rent strikes and a lot of bitterness. The 1160 Government should make closer inquiries before sanctioning increases of this kind. It is said that councils must balance their books and provide the money and that there is the question of rebate, and so on. I appreciate all that. But, in spite of rebate systems, many tenants will suffer real hardship by the imposition of these increased rents. I know that the Government have attempted to limit them.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
What the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is very important and we should be clear about it. He says that people will suffer real hardship despite the operation of the rent rebate system. Does he believe that the rent rebate system is unfair, ill conceived and ill administered, or that people will not make use of it?
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am not saying that the rent rebate system is unfair in all cases or that people do not make use of it. Even if a rent rebate system is properly applied, many tenants will suffer real hardship as a result of an increase of £19 10s. this year. which will become an increase of £39 10s. next year. That is why these increases should be looked at very carefully.
I was troubled by the way in which the Opposition put their case on rent regulated tenancies. I know that there is provision for increases and that the Act limits them to one-third in the first year and two-thirds in the next year. But I am attracted by the idea that it might have been better if the question of an increase had been put to a rent officer who could have ascertained what was a fair rent. There might have been a limit to what the rent officer could do, but it is important that the system of the rent officer, which was very wisely introduced by the Government, should be established on a fair basis.
I was glad to hear the Opposition's praise of the institution of the rent officer. I cannot remember similar enthusiasm when the proposal was put forward from this side of the House. It was a very sound proposal. Although under the provisions which a rent officer applies he must disregard scarcity value, my view is that in many cases scarcity value is taken into account in the assessment of a fair rent. This perhaps has little to 1161 do with the outline of the Bill, but 1 mention it because some time it will have to be looked into, so that when it is said that a rent officer should disregard scarcity value, the rent officer should be the person to do this.
Subject to the points which I have raised and which I hope will be dealt with in Committee I give my support to the Bill.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
The underlying feeling behind the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is that once more the man in Whitehall knows best. The hon. and learned Gentleman had doubts whether rent increases in London were necessary but, instead of encouraging the G.L.C. to look again at rent increases, he felt that the man in Whitehall should inquire into the G.L.C.'s proposals and, if necessary, ensure that rents in London were not increased. I do not agree that that is the best way of setting about the problem.
The Minister took credit for the fact that the Bill is a relaxation compared with the provisions of Part III of the Prices and Incomes Act 1968, and that the local authorities have agreed to the proposals in the Bill. Neither of these points makes the Bill any less abhorrent in principle. Local authorities will be precluded from doing freely and without interference one of the jobs for which the councillors have been elected.
An underlying assumption of the Bill is that local authorities actually like putting up rents, that councillors take a fiendish delight in doing so and that they will do so continuously and exorbitantly unless they are controlled by Whitehall; so, the argument continues, a kind and humane Labour Government must step in to protect council tenants. The Minister emphasised the need to protect tenants against high rents; but surely councillors are just as anxious as Whitehall to protect tenants and keep rents as low as possible.
I believe that the Minister served on a local authority before coming to the House, as I did. My recollection of housing meetings, albeit in a rural district council, when once or twice we had to 1162 consider rent increases, is that councillors became rather sour, peevish and bad-tempered. At the end of the day we usually regretted that we had had to decide to increase rents, and the only consolation was that there was no alternative if we were to keep the accounts in balance.
The assumption which seems to be made is rubbish. For electoral considerations alone, no councillor will support a rent increase if it is conceivably avoidable.
The P.I.B. Report on Local Authority Rent Increases (Cmnd. 3604) inquired into the main reasons for increases. Local authorities were asked to give their main reasons for requiring an increase. Twenty-nine per cent. of the local authorities gave the main reason as the rising interest rates; 21 per cent. the rising cost of housing programmes; 16 per cent. rising maintenance and repair costs; 15 per cent. rising costs of construction; only 4 per cent. gave the abolition of the rate fund contributions to the housing revenue account as the main reason for the increase; and only 4 per cent. suggested that the increases were due to the introduction of, or changes in, rent rebate schemes.
Rent increases seem mainly to arise from factors which are beyond the control of local government, but not Whitehall. If the Government were to set about these matters successfully, there would be no need for the Bill. Because the Government have made such a muddle of our economy over the last, few years they now have to introduce Bills such as this to cope with the results of their own folly.
Interest rates account for huge housing cost increases and have two effects, which are both bad. First, there is the direct effect on rents. For example, in the City of Birmingham since this Government came to power council rents on average have gone up by 13s. 9d. per week solely as a result of high interest rates. Second, there is the effect on the provision of new housing. The cost of new houses has increased by almost 40 per cent. in the last five years, largely because of the high interest rates. This is bound to inhibit council building plans, not least because councils know that part of the cost of new houses must be carried by existing local authority tenants. This, too, proves 1163 that councils do not wish to put up rents if they can avoid it.
The results of high interest rates are magnified by selective employment tax, which bears heavily on maintenance and construction costs, and devaluation also has raised the cost of the imports of raw materials used in the building industry. The Government have directly raised local authority housing costs; yet when local authorities have tried to take account of those costs the Government have forbidden them to act with common sense and common prudence. The result is the situation which is to be found in London.
My hon. Friend said that the housing revenue account in London had gone into the red to the tune of £8 million, and if there were to be no rent increase, that would increase next year to £14 million. Once again the unfortunate ratepayer has to pay for this, and he is often more heavily burdened and far less able to pay than the council tenant. Surely it is better for the locally elected representatives to make a decision about council rents in the light of local considerations.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The hon. Gentleman appears to be confused. He appears to be making a differentiation between a ratepayer and a council tenant. But a council tenant is a ratepayer and pays his full share of the rates. Therefore, they are equals.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am making no differentiation in regard to a ratepayer who is a council tenant. I am making a differentiation in respect of a ratepayer who is not a council tenant. There are many ratepayers who live in their own or privately rented accommodation who are in a financial situation in which they are much less able to pay increased rates than are people who live in council houses. That is the point I make.
The Minister played on the point about agreement of local authorities to the proposals in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) replied to the points the Minister made on that score. There is no doubt that local authorities will agree to any relaxation on the situation as they have known it in recent times. Furthermore, most councils will not need to raise rents by more than 7s. 6d. Therefore, the agreement 1164 to which the Minister referred is a fairly hollow achievement.
It would be a mistake for the Minister to become too complacent about the official views of the local authority organisations. There is no doubt that there are still a number of councils which, for the most genuine reasons, will wish to raise their rents by more than the stated allowance and will find themselves in considerable difficulty. If local government means anything, local authorities should have freedom to arrange their rent policy as they think fit and should be prepared to answer to the electors for their decisions.
I find it extraordinary that the Government wish to continue to control local authorities after the speech made by the Prime Minister to the conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The whole theme of the Prime Minister's speech at that conference was that local authorities should have more power to control the destiny of their own areas and look after their own affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby quoted at some length from the Prime Minister's speech. Luckily he stopped quoting at the sentence before the one that I wished to quote. The Prime Minister went on:We want to see more freedom for local decisions on how resources available to local government, for capital and revenue, are to be used, and on the relative priorities to be given to various functions and activities consistently with overall national policies.In practice, what has happened? There has been continuing interference on rents, and there will soon be the removal of the right of local authorities to decide as they think fit on the type of secondary education in their areas. It is an odd way of providing more freedom. If the Government are to reorganise local government, it does not give people much confidence that power and authority will be restored to local authorities from Whitehall.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The hon. Gentleman gives the impression that the Prime Minister spoke at the A.M.C. conference before discussions with that association. The discussion took place about these proposals way back in July of this year. Therefore, before my right hon. Friend spoke at the conference, A.M.C. members were well aware of what had gone on in earlier conversations.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Prime Minister went along to the conference and said that authorities were to be given more freedom, when the Government previously had set about ensuring that local authorities were not to have more freedom. It seems to be a complete contradiction.
§ Mr. Morrison
The local authority associations may have recognised the problem. The local authority associations agree that the present situation is better than that which existed previously. But is not by any stretch of the imagination a perfect situation.
However, this Government will not reorganise local government. That will be the job of the next Government. Therefore, I have fewer fears about the amount of freedom which will be given to local authorities in future. Local authorities should have freedom to decide on rent increases as they should continue to have freedom on all aspects of rent policy. The Bill does nothing to help solve the housing problem. It is depressing, bureaucratic and unhelpful. Therefore, it should be rejected.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) has his own private demonology in which the man in Whitehall is top of the list. I agree with very few of the hon. Member's remarks. He must understand that there must be some relationship between the Government's national policy on housing and local government policy on the subject. The Bill does not go as far as I should like, but it establishes some means whereby national housing policy can be related to the rent charged by local authorities.
I liked the hon. Member's phrase about local councils taking fiendish delight in raising rents. As a professional politician, he must realise that a Conservative council could win a good many votes in large residential areas of owner- 1166 occupiers by trying to clobber the council tenant and giving the impression that every council tenant has three cars in his garage, £40 a week corning in, and that kind of propaganda which is to be found not in the demonology of the hon. Gentleman opposite but in the mythology which is engendered.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I always have sympathy with him, but I am rarely in sympathy with his case. He does a lot of the donkey work for his party, undertakes a lot of chores on the Front Bench on a number of issues, and deserves a greater reward than he is likely to get. Although he made play with the fact that the seat of my hon. Friend the Minister of State has about it the game of musical chairs, I am afraid that if the Tories ever come to power the hon. Member for Crosby is unlikely to have an opportunity of even a short tenure in that seat. Too many years will have elapsed.
The debate on this Bill has shown clearly, once again, where we stand on the housing problem. On that side of the House there are the landlords. On this side are the tenants. On the other side one finds property rights; on this side families and homes. On that side one finds talk of interest rates, balancing the budget, the arithmetic and mathematics of the matter. We on this side try to see housing as a human problem, and are concerned with people more than finance. Even if we cannot strengthen the Bill further in Committee in the direction which most of my hon. Friends would like, I hope that, in a year or two, the next Labour Government will regard housing and homes as the Sixth Freedom. We secured the Fifth Freedom, of course, In the National Health Service. I hope that the Bill will be part of the process of thought among my right hon. and hon. Friends and that eventually they will come up with a National Home Service which will ensure that every family in the country has a roof over its head and can build a real home, as a right. The efforts of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, so far have detracted from that rather than added to it.
Another theme which has run through the debate has been the action of the 1167 G.L.C. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) reminded us of the tragedy and chaos which followed the 1957 Rent Act. Many of us who lived through that period and watched the consequences of that legislation are amazed that the chairman of the G.L.C's housing committee, Mr. Horace Cutler, should claim on television that, provided that the landlords are set free and allowed to fix their own rents, a good deal of London's housing problems will be solved. What poppycock it is. We have had that solution before, and it failed miserably.
The Acts of 1957, 1961 and 1964 were all designed to give landlords more money which they could spend on maintenance. Each time that rents have been increased, for the purpose of adequate repairs, the landlords have pocketed the money and there has been none of the maintenance, repair work and rehabilitation that we have needed.
I welcome the Bill, though I would like to see it harsher than it is in that a 7s. 6d. increase is too much to allow especially in areas where recent increases have been made.
I get the impression that, very much in the posture of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway), who used to be be able to run a mile in four minutes, the London Borough of Brent, which includes my constituency, is getting ready to go. Once the restrictions of the Prices and Incomes Act comes off, it is ready to pounce on council house tenants and put up their rents. Already there is evidence of it in my area. In spite of the fact that on the last increase my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government made it clear that there should be no change in rent rebate schemes and that was a precondition of the last 7s. 6d. increase, already the signs are that the council is waiting for April to come, when the rent rebate scheme in my area is likely to change. Clause 1 of the Bill is the least safeguard that we can have, and I welcome it.
I am astounded at the way in which the tenants of council houses are expected to pay for urban renewal and all the other ways in which a local authority seeks to 1168 improve the community. The lighting of an ordinary street, with one lamp to so many houses, is paid for out of the rate account. In the case of 16-storey buildings, where the lighting goes upwards instead of horizontally, the cost is thrown on to council tenants. Charges and costs which would normally accrue to the community are stacked on to whatever rent the tenants may be asked to pay.
In an area like my own which contains a large number of houses built anything up to 100 years ago, inevitably there will be large areas of slum clearance and redevelopment. In my own case, there are redevelopments in progress at Church End and Stonebridge, in addition to which a tremendous amount is going on in the constituency of my hon. Friend for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), in the Kilburn area. In the meantime, the council must acquire houses which it cannot afford to put in proper repair since they are scheduled to be pulled down. As a consequence, there is a great deal of sub-standard property, on which the council will be allowed to levy an increase of up to 10s. a week. Slum properties and prefabs due to be pulled down years ago, for which it is an insult to charge, even the present rents, come under this blanket overall authority. I hope that the Government will look again at the relevant Clause with a view to strengthening it so that there will not be only an overall 7s. 6d. increase plus an upper ceiling of 10s. What is needed is a far more sophisticated differential so that there will not be these inordinate increases levied on people whom it is unfair to charge.
Reference has been made to the attitude of the G.L.C. It is extremely arrogant of that council to be prepared to accept as its entire guiding light the balancing of the books with increases of 32s. 6d. under consideration. Where it has militant tenants, it is prepared to take the utmost sanctions against them largely because the members of the authority have no idea what it is like to be a council tenant. This is an attitude deriving from the poor law concept, that council tenants are regarded as inferior and second class citizens and given the minimum consideration possible. In the case of my own authority, already the housing standards for new building are 1169 being lowered to save £78 a year rather than provide the kind of housing which the people deserve at the current standards.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
My hon. Friend has referred to the G.L.C. trying to balance its books. May I remind him that that is the last thing that it has been able to do. The present council is the only one ever to be at County Hall which has had to put on a precept because it is so incompetent.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the so-called militant tenants of the G.L.C. Does he not agree with the 98 per cent. of G.L.C. tenants who have paid their increases that it is quite unfair that the remaining 2 per cent. should hold out when the majority are paying?
§ Mr. Pavitt
As an hon. Member representing a London constituency, the hon. Gentleman will know that the 98 per cent. have paid under the strongest protest. It is fantastic to suggest that they welcome the increase. In any event, I do not agree that one has to accept the acquiescence of the majority as meaning that, because they are law-abiding, they have to bear the burden.
In piloting the Bill through all its stages, my right hon. and hon. Friends should recognise that in addition to the rent increase permitted under the two parts of this Bill, there is an increasing tendency to transfer to tenants what was hitherto the landlord's responsibility for repairs. This represents a further increase which is not covered by the 7s. 6d. but which automatically means a large outgoing for tenants.
I hope, too, that the Government will look at the way in which some councils take the attitude that if a person is receiving supplementary benefit from the Social Security office it is possible to impose a large increase on his rent because the supplementary benefit commission will pay the difference. Such councils are saving on their rates at the expense of the taxpayer. I have referred such a case to the supplementary benefit commission for a general ruling. If it is possible to strengthen the Bill so that the practice 1170 is no longer accepted by any local authority, I hope that we shall do it.
The pertinent point has been made by a number of my hon. Friends that the rent paid by a council tenant in Willesden over 20 years is probably between £5,000 and £6,000. At the end of that 20 years, unlike with an owner-occupier, the asset has nothing to do with the tenant. He has saved nothing. The house belongs to the ratepayers. In effect, the council tenant has paid for the property and the land which, after 20 years, will be worth mere than the council paid for them and he has donated them to the community.
I should like the Government to consider, in addition to their Save-As-You-Earn scheme, a Save-As-You-Rent scheme. Is there not some entitlement, after 20 years, that a man who has paid about £5,000 shall have some measure of savings as a result of the asset that he has given to the community?
§ Mr. Pavitt
One of the biggest rackets which have gone on is the attempt to sell off a pool of council houses. In my area, which has about 6,700 still on the waiting list, decreasing the pool of houses would aggravate the problem.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) will know of a case in his constituency where a house was sold to a sitting tenant and finally bought back by the council when it rehoused the gentleman concerned in an old people's hostel. As a result, the local ratepayers lost about £1,500. There is no easy solution. What invariably happens, as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) knows, is that the more modern houses, which cost a lot, are not sold. It is the pre-war houses which are sold off at a fraction of their present-day value, and often they are resold within a short time to make a profit for the sitting tenant. That contributes nothing to the community, nor does it assist the housing problem.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is a move in the right direction. It is necessary. Without it there is not the 1171 necessary sanction that we need to prevent inordinate rent increases. I urge the Government to give greater consideration to the figures in the Bill. I am certain that if they could make an inroad on the amount that we all must pay to keep a roof over our head, this would be the greatest contribution to a fair budget, an effective prices and incomes policy and a fair society in which people can earn the right amount to meet their commitments, the largest of which is usually housing.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) in these debates in the House because to housing and all such matters he brings great human feeling. We appreciate that it is right to look at housing not only in the context of bricks and mortar and balancing housing accounts, but also from the human angle—the creation of homes, and the family problems of those who live in the houses that we build.
There is no monopoly on the other side of the House in regarding housing as a human problem which we must approach in human terms. The real point which divides the House concerns the rents of local authority houses. We, on this side, believe that people living in council houses who can afford a reasonable rent should pay it and that the problem cases, to which the hon. Member for Willesden, West, refers, are best taken care of by a proper system of rent rebates. I firmly support this idea. Indeed, I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is in negotiation with local authorities in my constituency concerning the introduction of rent rebate schemes. I support the Minister of State and his right hon. Friend in their negotiations for proper rent rebate schemes in Scotland. The right approach is to try to assist the family in difficult circumstances in a particular council house situation.
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Willesden, West any further. He spoke mainly about London. I should like to speak about housing and rents in Scotland.
The Minister of State in his opening remarks tried to cast this subject against the background of the current economic 1172 situation and the Government's economic policy. It is right to look at it in this way, but, as the same time, we must look at it in the local context. We must look at it not only in relation to the economy of the country as a whole, but in relation to the economy of each local authority concerned. This is what I want to do. In particular, I should like to consider it against the size of the housing debt in Scotland.
In May, 1968, the total housing debt in Scotland was about £950 million. In May, 1969, it rose to over £1,000 million. For example, in Glasgow alone there is a tremendous burden of capital debt on housing amounting to over £200 million. This is the economic problem facing local authorities in Scotland. I use Glasgow as an example, because it demonstrates that we must look at this subject locally as well as nationally.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that one solution to the problem that he is outlining might be if drastic action were taken to write off some of this debt in the way that some of the debt of London Transport, amounting to £250 million, has been written off?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
If the hon. Lady catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, no doubt she will develop that point and say how much it will cost not only in Glasgow, but in other local authorities throughout Scotland. I hope that the hon. Lady will go into the economics of it and suggest how it would be financed. It is an interesting point. The whole question of capital burdens is deep and complicated. There is no simple answer.
The tremendous capital debt on housing is particularly important in certain local authority areas like Glasgow, but we must also consider the size of the deficit on current housing accounts in different local authorities. This point has been made time and again from this side, and I make it again today concerning Scotland. The deficit on our current housing account has to be financed out of rates.
In the counties and large burghs in Scotland, we find that 36 per cent. of housing expenditure has to be financed by the ratepayer, and in the four large 1173 cities 39 per cent. has to be financed by the ratepayer. This demonstrates the tremendous financial burden which the ratepayer in Scotland has to bear in relation to council housing. The Financial Times recently reported one builder as having said that every property owner has four houses; his own and three that he never sees, but for which he has to pay. This is the kind of situation obtaining in Scotland.
Apart from the pressure of housing account upon rates, there are also many o:her costs which local authorities are continually forced to push more and more on to the ratepayers. I will not go into details this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) did that during his speech. Costs have been going up in a thousand and one different ways, and all the time there is this never-ending problem facing local authorities of trying to keep expenditure in line with estimates. This came out in. a recent debate on the rate support grant. For the year 1967–68 expenditure by local authorities exceeded estimates by £3 million, and in 1968–69 the estimated excess will be about £12 million. I use this as another example of the pressure on local authorities to meet the deficit which has to be passed over at the end of the day to the ratepayer.
There is no doubt about this trend over recent years. Taking cities, large burghs and counties in Scotland, in 196667 we find that 31 local authorities increased their rates, 23 reduced them and three held them the same. In 1967–68 the pattern changes. As against 31 increasing their rates, the figure has gone up to 45. As against 23 who managed to lower rates then, only eight managed to lower rates in 1967–68, and five managed to hold steady. There is no doubt that the tremendous burden of housing and other costs is putting increasing pressure on ratepayers.
It is true that the domestic element provides a certain measure of relief for the householder, but I ask the Government to spare a thought for industry, trade and commerce, because they represent a wide section of ratepayers, and it is not just the domestic ratepayer of whom we should be thinking this evening. Shop properties in the centre of Glasgow are standing empty because of the high burden of rates. The provision of low 1174 rental council houses is one of the objectives of the Government, but it is no use having such houses unless business, trade and industry are encouraged to provide employment for the people who live in those houses.
I should like to address the House in the context not only of housing but of trade and industry and providing employment in Scotland as a whole.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I accept your admonition, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to relate this to the level of rates in Scotland. I have argued before that if we hold down the level, of council rents to too great an extent this will put up the rates, and that if that happens an extra burden will be put on industry and trade. That in turn will negative so many of our efforts to develop the Scottish economy, increase employment, and make Scotland more prosperous.
The level of rents in Scotland is far below that in England and Wales, and what concerns me about the Bill is that we are doing nothing to try to bring Scottish council house rents up to a more realistic level. The latest direct comparison is to be found in the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board, to which reference has already been made. The report shows that council house rents in Scotland are about half those in England and Wales. It also shows that over the period for which they were examined the rate of increase of council house rents in Scotland was lower than that in England and Wales.
The situation is serious in relation to the economy of Scotland as a whole, as it is for trade and industry, but it is particularly serious for private house building. Here I should like to refer to the report which was commissioned by the National House Builders Registration Council and prepared by Professor J. B. Cullingworth, a name very much respected in housing circles as a great authority, not only in Scotland, but in England and Wales as well.
In the summary on page 6 at the beginning of the report one sees the following statement:Scottish rents are so much lower than English that this must operate as a severe disincentive to owner-occupation.1175 I ask the Minister of State to take that into account when winding up the debate and dealing with the points relating to Scotland.
The report shows that, compared with 50 per cent. owner-occupation in England and Wales, the figure for Scotland is only 29 per cent. It is said that Scotland is in the position in which England and Wales were 20 years ago. Since 1918 only one in five new houses built in Scotland has been for private owner-occupation. That must be seen against a figure of 50 per cent. in England and Wales. The proportion of home ownership in Scotland is the lowest of any country in Europe west of Russia. I ask the Minister of State and the Government to bear that in mind when they consider this question of holding down council house rents, because, as the report shows, this is a positive disincentive to private home ownership in Scotland, something which we very much want to encourage.
As we on these benches have said in the House, on many occasions in the Scottish Grand Committee, and in Standing Committees, we recognise the tremendous breadth and depth, and also the concentration in particular areas, of the housing problem in Scotland, but we will not be able to solve it unless we mobilise all the resources at our disposal to tackle the problem, and that includes making full use of private house building. We accept that there is a human factor in council housing—we discussed this in relation to rent rebate schemes—but let us not do anything under the Bill—and I believe that it runs the risk of doing it—to perpetuate this imbalance in Scottish housing, this lack of the full utilisation of private house building to solve the housing problem.
I beg the Government to keep their eyes open to the problems facing trade and industry as well as ratepayers, the problems of economic development, and also the problems facing the owner-occupier and the private bodies which build houses for sale or renting.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Gorbals)
On 30th October last, I became the Member for Gorbals. I succeeded the late Mrs. Alice Cullen, a woman who was held in the highest 1176 respect in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In my constituency she became a legend in her lifetime. Two or three years ago the Sunday Express christened her the champion of the slum dweller, and she richly earned that title, because for 50 years, since 1916 when she first went to the Gorbals, she worked unceasingly for an area which I am sorry to say has the unfortunate record of having the worst housing in Western Europe.
As one who was born and brought up in the Gorbals until three years ago, and who is proud to represent the constituency, I come to the House concerned with, and hoping to solve, the problems with which my predecessor came to the House more than 21 years ago. For the benefit of hon. Members from south of the Border, perhaps I should make it clear that I am still a member of the local authority in Glasgow. What has been done in the last 18 months in Glasgow? I know that one should not be political or attempt to take party advantage when making a maiden speech, but I must in all sincerity say that it was most unfortunate for the people of Glasgow that 18 months ago there was a change of administration in the city. For 30 years prior to that Glasgow had enjoyed a Labour administration.
In spite of receiving a subsidy of 2s. 6d., which is to be raised to 3s. 4d. in the coming year, the Tory-controlled local authority in Glasgow in its budget reduced its housing estimates by more than £700,000. The first-class direct labour building department that we had created in the 'thirties was reduced by more than 600 building trade operatives, and that in a city which has the worst housing record in Europe. As I said in the Scottish Grand Committee only two or three days ago, it is criminal to pay off building trade workers in such a situation.
Unfortunately, there have been two penal rent increases in Glasgow during the last 15 months, and in the last three months 416 families have been ejected from their corporation homes. Where did those families go? Time and again I have asked whether anyone cares, but unfortunately I am still waiting for an answer. Part of the answer lies in the statement that more than 2,000 children 1177 are in the care of the Glasgow local authority, and I am sorry to say that many of these children come from homes which have broken up as a result of rent increases, and the ejection of families because of their inability to pay the rent. I am the first to admit that a great deal of the fault lies at their own doors. I hope that the Minister will have some regard for some "first aid" or "ambulance" work to prevent a situation in which 2,000 children are in the care of a local authority. I am looking at this purely financially. We are told that it costs over £10 a week to keep a child in a home. I am always convinced however that housing is not a political but n social problem which concerns us all because of the human misery that it can bring. What type of citizens will those 2,000 children be? This is what worries me.
I accept that rents are lower in Scotland than in England, but the real problem is that we have enjoyed a large measure of unemployment for far too long. This Government have corrected the situation, but in the past 30 years we were considered an industrial annex of the south. We enjoyed a boom when there was one in England, but when there was a recession here we suffered severely. The Scot is a proud person. He is not looking for subsidies or low rents. He is a natural artisan who has inherited a tradition of being a first-class worker, but he wants the chance to work.
In spite of this Government having done more on the industrial scene in the last five years than had been done in the previous 25 years, there are still too many people unemployed. I have said this before, but I hope to be as much a critic of this Government as any hon. Member opposite. If there is anything that the Gorbals respects it is a fighter and I serve notice on my right hon. Friend that I cannot always be expected to go into the Lobby when social issues of this kind still affect people in the Gorbals.
Many thousands are out of work in Glasgow. Unfortunately, in spite of the Board of Trade figures that we are narrowing the gap between the average wages in England and those in Scotland, our local authority manual reveals that thousands of Glasgow workers still take home less than £12 a week. The rebate schemes are inadequate for the lower- 1178 paid worker. I know this from having defended many people before rent tribunals and the poor law court. Many people in Glasgow are paying over 20 per cent. of their income in rent, which is a fair percentage of anyone's income.
Recently the Tories in Glasgow brought in a new scheme, creating eight new grades of housing. We have built 150,000 municipal houses in Glasgow. We are proud of that, but it is still not enough. Two-thirds of the houses in my constituency have been built only in the last five years of Labour Government. But we have some very bad municipal housing. Under this policy of the Tories, the unemployed, the lower-paid worker and the unsociable person will all be graded in category 8 because of their inability to pay.
As I said to the housing convenor at our last meeting of the corporation, we are creating housing ghettoes. Any family is stultified if families are grouped together as one type. One does not encourage any of the quality of life which we should be encouraging in every family. Everyone should have equal opportunity in Glasgow, irrespective of his income. I am perhaps an old-fashioned Socialist. I believe that housing should be a social service. I have come to accept that, unfortunately, Glasgow Corporation is supplying municipal houses not to those in need but to those with the ability to pay.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) referred to the many stores closing in Glasgow. But, as in other spheres, there are inefficient stores in Glasgow. The city has been "over-stored" for many years. One or two firms have a monopoly of the stores in Glasgow, and many of them are closing because of inefficiency and because Glasgow is losing so much of its population to the new towns and overspill areas.
The last election bore out my firm impression that the people of Scotland realise that this is the most reforming Government this century, that they have done more for the people of Glasgow than any other Government that we can remember. If one could describe this Government over Their five years of office, it would be as a Government of social justice. I am convinced that the mandate of this Government will be 1179 renewed from time to time. I am appalled that hon. Members opposite do not think that an increase of 7s. 6d. to 10s. is enough. It is far too much for many of these people.
I completely support the Bill, and I thank the House for listening to me.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
It is a great pleasure for me to follow the new hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone). He must recognise that his speech has been well received from the rapt attention which it has been given from all sides and from those hon. Members who are standing "outside the House".
Those of us who are particularly interested in local government will welcome someone to our ranks who, as the hon. Gentleman said he does, still serves on a city council. He brings to the House that air of confidence which we always get from our Scottish fellows and also an air of competence, although I cannot apply that description quite so far-reachingly. I had to listen more carefully to him than is sometimes the case as the brogue was sometimes difficult to follow, but it was welcome to my ears.
I am sure we all recognise the sincerity with which the hon. Member referred to the interests of his constituents and all the problems which face them and the local authority in the great city of Glasgow. I am sure that the hon. Member is quite right that his first loyalty is to his constituents who elected him to represent their interests here.
I was touched by his moving reference to Mrs. Alice Cullen, who preceded him here. She was very highly regarded in the House. She represented her constituents in the Gorbals most effectively, and I am confident that in her successor we have someone who will continue in that tradition. I congratulate him.
The hon. Member highlighted the problem to which a number of hon. Members have referred—the lack of resources in housing. It came from the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), who I regret is not in his place, who I know is greatly concerned about housing, particularly since he represents a London constituency. The same point was made by 1180 my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). It is the fact that in housing we are suffering from a lack of resources, and it is on one aspect of the problem that I will concentrate.
The effects of the Bill on, for example, housing revenue accounts, rate fund contributions and rental income generally are well known, as are the effects on building programmes and the ability of local authorities to use rent policy as an important aid to bring a sense of reality to their new rehousing schemes.
The Government's eagerness to interfere with rent policy is very much in contrast with their refusal to accept added responsibility for the strengthening of tower blocks of flats beyond the 40 per cent. grant which they have been prepared to make. This is a grave problem for about 100 housing authorities. There is no lack of evidence of the Ministry's responsibility for tower blocks. The Griffiths Tribunal, which went into the question of the collapse of Ronan Point. in paragraph 177 of its Report, said:The Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to quote their own words, 'launched a concentrated drive to increase and improve the use of industrialised methods in housebuilding in the public sector'.That was from Circular 76/65. It was as part of this policy that the system-built tower blocks came to be put up. But the stamp of official recognition went further, for the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967, continued the financial inducements to build high rise flats which were previously to be found in the 1956 and 1961 Acts. In other words, the subsidy structure was adjusted to encourage local authorities to build upwards. There can be no doubt about this, particularly if one discusses the matter with housing managers.
I think I am right in saying that in the past it has been Government policy—not only under the present Administration but under the Conservatives, too—to make the approval of housing schemes conditional on a high proportion of high rise developments. It is in this context that I hope that the Government will be prepared to reconsider the offer that they have made to local authorities of 40 per cent. of the cost of rectifying and repairing tower blocks such as Ronan Point.
1181 Local housing authorities are faced with the expenditure of significant sums, not only by way of repairs, but to make these buildings safe and acceptable to tenants. Who is to meet the balance of the cost beyond the 40 per cent.? The answer is either the tenant or the ratepayer; that is, unless the Government are prepared to go further.
The Government misled local authorities in this respect. I refer to a meeting of officers of local authorities at the Ministry on 12th August 1968, when the Ministry asked them to press on with emergency measures and to leave discussions about the financial implications until later. On 15th August, the Minister of the day issued a Press statement about safety measures for high rise flats, pending a further study of measures for their permanent strengthening. The then Minister said in that statement:No cost should fall on tenants".But he made no commitment from the point of view of the Ministry and the proportion of the cost that it would bear.:f suggest, therefore, that local authorities were misled and were encouraged to get on with the work regardless of the expenditure, having been assured that no charge would fall on tenants. However, we find that 60 per cent. of the cost must fall on either the tenant or the ratepayer.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman has made about the 40 per cent. grant, but he must not overlook the fact that the professional people involved in this matter were employed by the local authorities. It must not go out from this House that those involved—quantity surveyors, architects, designers and so on, all competent professional people—did not have a hand in this development. Indeed, I understand that a case is being prepared against such people. They both designed and built these premises. The hon. Gentleman should not allow these sort of professions to get free of their responsibility.
§ Mr. Jones
— or attempting to justify or excuse them. I do not want to join with him in that. My purpose is to ask the Government to reconsider the 1182 whole question of giving a further grant in aid, which I believe their policy justifies, to local authorities. Indeed, their policy demands that greater assistance be given to local authorities.
The G.L.C. has em barked on its own expenditure, under the present arrangement, on work on 36 tower blocks, and this work is estimated to cost £3½ million. In the uncertainty of the present situation, one need only look at the multistorey development in the Ronan Point area—one sees hundreds of flats empty; the buildings look pathetic, with only the odd set of curtains at windows here and there on the high facades of the blocks —to realise that the loss of revenue must be material.
It is the uncertainty created by the Government's niggardliness and the uncertainty of the situation, for which the Government were esssentially responsible as a result of their attitude—both initially, in the promotion of high rise developments, and in the negotiations of August to which I referred—that have created difficulties for local authorities. They were warned that there would be difficulties, but they were given an undertaking that tenants would not have to meet the expenditure.
In addition to the £3½ million expenditure on which the G.L.C. is engaged, under this Measure there will be a shortfall on rents for the second half of the current financial year of £2.1 million and, in the next financial year, 1970–71, of £4.2 million, a total of £9.8 million as a direct result of Government policy.
§ Mr. George Brown
It is purely coincidental that the last hon. Member who interrupted the hon. Gentleman to raise the question of the professional people involved in this matter bears the same name as myself.
I, too, call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that he is not addressing himself to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) raised; namely, that this has nothing to do with the niggardliness of the Government or with so-called faltering Government policy. The housing authorities hired 1183 what they thought were perfectly competent professional designers and others. They were let down by those professional people. Why is the hon. Gentleman attacking the Government for the consequences of the failure of those professionals?
§ Mr. Jones
The brothers Brown make a strong lobby between them.
My case is a Government one, though I will, if hon. Gentlemen opposite insist, deal with the building regulations later. The inaction of the Government and their absolute refusal to go beyond a 40 per cent. grant in aid for about 100 local authorities which have this problem is niggardly and entirely unjustified in the context of the housing matter which I have outlined.
In Liverpool, I understand the city council is not prepared to do anything about a high-rise flat development without a much more favourable financial settlement from the Government than is proposed. I understand that the city council is not cutting off gas in the high-rise blocks, and this in circumstances in which 13.000 people are on the housing waiting list. We have, therefore, the effects of the financial implications of the problem and the serious effect which it is having on rehousing. It would be interesting if the Government would tell us how many homes are involved in this problem. We have not seen any definitive figure.
I now come to the question of the new Building Regulations, which have been promised by the Government for over 12 months. One questions why there is delay in their publication.
§ Mr. Jones
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for making that error a little earlier. The Building Regulations are referred to in paragraph (47) of Part III of the Griffiths Report. I quote:The Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is responsible for the Building Regulations, must accept responsibility for seeing that the British Standards and codes of practice referred to in the Regulations are kept up to date and that new ones are promulgated as necessary. Machinery should be devised to effect this.That clearly is germane to the question of high-rise flats. The Minister accepted this in the House on 6th November last year, when he said:We are putting in hand an urgent revision of the Building Regulations…The Government accept responsibility for ensuring that the regulations and codes of practice are kept up to date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 904.]One questions why the Government are hanging back on the Building Regulations. This is linked to the whole question of the grant-in-aid, in which local authorities should be able to look for a much greater contribution from the Government.
To what extent are the Government looking into new methods and techniques which might help in the problems associated with high-rise development and the air pressures involved? A piece of equipment which has been under examination for over a year is now to be tested by the Technical Advisory Panel on Explosion Research. I believe that there is evidence of lack of urgency and dragging of feet by the Government. I began by saying that we are having a denial of resources in housing and that the restriction of rent under the Bill is a contribution to that denial. For that reason, I oppose the Bill.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am certain that if the television cameras or radio were reporting the speeches from the other side of the House tonight, the swing from the Tories to us would be far greater than it has been in the last few months. In my 19 years' membership of the House, never have I 1185 heard so many contradictory statements from different parts of the Opposition in one debate on one little Bill.
I have great sympathy with the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison), who said that the Bill and Government interference make no contribution to the solution of the housing problem. His hon. Friend who spoke afterwards told us that the Government were dragging their feet and giving 40 per cent. of the taxpayer's money to pay for the damage caused by faulty consultants and faulty civil engineering on the part of private enterprise.
What do hon. Members opposite want? Do they want the Government to leave it alone and leave it to private enterprise, or do they want them to interfere? The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) and the hon. Member for Devizes want the Government to mind their own business, on the basis that Whitehall does not know best. The hon. Member, whose constituency I do not know—
§ Mr. Bence
It is the first time I have heard of South Northants. Had I heard it before, I am sure that I should have made that crack before.
Let us get the political conflict clear and know where we are. Let us polarise the ideas. Anything that the Government do, however modest and the Bill is a modest effort in that direction—to protect the price of housing to the consumer, in a country and world in which the general price level is rising, I support, however modest it is. Wherever anyone wants to put housing back into the market place so that housing is built purely as an investment, and take it out of protection and put it into the rat race of the market place. am against it.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
In view of what the hon. Member has just said, will he support us in 1186 our endeavours to get S.E.T. removed from house builders?
§ Mr. Bence
S.E.T. is not under discussion in the Bill. I would say to the hon. Lady that if my Government proposed to abolish S.E.T., I would support them. No hon. Member on this side can be fairer than that. I would, however, be out of order to discuss S.E.T. We are discussing the protection of the price level of housing for council house tenants and tenants of private rented properties, with which I agree. 1 support the Bill wholeheartedly.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) spoke about the rent structure in Scotland. He failed to link that with a situation in Scotland apropos England, particularly the South-East, which has existed not for the last five years, but for over 100 years. The income of the average person in Scotland—not just working people, but professional classes as well—and the amenity level in Scotland have been lower for a century than they are down here.
I do not want to make political capital out of this, but the fact is that the average Scot cannot afford on his income level to pay the rents that are paid down here. My experience of 20 years in Scotland is that if the average Scot had the average earnings of the average person down here, his ratio of owner-occupation would be as high as it is down here. I could not explain all the reasons, because I have not made a sufficient study, but I am convinced that it is more difficult to get high wages in Scottish industries than it is in industries down here.
I was a toolmaker with Fisher and Ludlow, in Birmingham. When I went later to a Scottish employer, the firm welcomed me and invited me in. When I told them that I was a toolmaker from Fisher and Ludlow in Birmingham, they said I was just the man they wanted. When I asked what the wages were, I was told it was a sum which was just over half what I had earned in Birmingham.
There is little owner-occupation in Scotland because the wage level has been kept low. Because of the historical background, many Scottish working people were housed in company houses. John Brown and Singer of Clydebank put workers who had come from all over the
1187 world to work for them in company houses at 2s. 6d. a week. That was good business. It did not happen in the Midlands; private speculators built the houses there and employers paid the minimum wages they could pay for willing workers, and others housed them. In Scotland, employers housed their employees and let them have cheap houses. It made no difference to the employers: what they lost on the swings of low rents they gained upon the roundabouts.
Because of this tremendous gap in earnings level, throughout my lifetime some of the finest engineering workers in Great Britain have left Scotland's industrial area to come to work in the south of England. This has been Scotland's tragedy.
I was brought up in the tradition of owner-occupation. I have been buying my house since 1925. If there had been no inflation, the money lenders would have got more money out of the bargain than I have. However, because of inflation, some of which happened under 13 years of Tory Government, I got better value out of the money I borrowed than those who lent the money to the building societies. Under the Tory Government, money lenders were losing on the deal and borrowers benefiting.
If owner-occupiers have been benefiting from inflation, why should not council tenants? Council tenants will never own their property. Why do hon. Members opposite always want council house tenants to pay for the houses? I believe that those who consume a product or a service should pay for it. I, like the rest of the working class, do not want something for nothing from anybody. That is why we are working class. Employers are not like that; that is not their philosophy. If it were, they would still be working class.
The Tory Party speaks with two voices on Bills like this one. Such a dichotomy is terrible. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns said that we cannot service Scotland's housing debt of £1,000 million. That debt is employed on behalf of the people and is serviced through their rates and taxes. Local authorities find this capital debt almost impossible to handle. The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) 1188 says that it should be written off. That is what private enterprise does; but the hon. Lady is in private enterprise and she knows what happens in private enterprise. When there is a debt that cannot be serviced, it is written down and the shareholders suffer. When Baldwins did some writing down, their shares fell from 28s. to Is. 3d.
§ Mr. Bence
I am not saying whether any one particular writing down is justified. I have merely said that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns spoke about our huge capital debt of £1,000 million, which the hon. Lady wants written down. I say that that is what private enterprise does. It has been done with the coal industry. I have no objection to our writing down the National Debt, but if it is to be done on housing what about writing down the debt on everything else? What effect would this have on our economy and on our commercial and economic relations abroad. Once this writing down business is started, we are on a slippery slope.
§ Mr. Bence
I do not think that the operation in respect of London Transport was a good start. I have other remedies.
The hon. Members for Walthamstow, West and for Devizes said that the major cost in housing is the effect of compounded interest. The major cost in nearly everything we do is compounded interest. Sixty per cent. of the tax we pay is to satisfy compounded interest. The complex of the capitalist system is compounded debt. We are servicing debt for hundreds of years.
It is all very well for us to talk about writing it off, but the City of London would go nuts if we did. What Lord Cromer would say is nobody's business. The bankers' journals would call us everything under the sun if we started writing down capital debt. Those in the city have no objection to big manufacturers writing down their debts provided that they themselves do not hold any of their shares on their portfolios.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I realise that I am rapidly getting out of order, so I will not pursue that train of thought any 1189 further. I was led into that by-way by some of the contradictory and illogical statements made by hon. Members opposite and by the hon. Lady's assertion that it is easy to write off capital debt. Although I would like it to be done, I realise that it is impossible for any Government to start writing down large slices of the National Debt.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about his being slightly out of order, but may I remind him that in 1960–61, when we were arguing for the financial resources of local government to be improved, the Tory Government's answer was that councils should play the market. That drove us into the hands of the very people to whom my hon. Friend is referring.
§ Mr. Bence
That is what hon. Members opposite are here for. It is their job. If I were sitting on the Conservative benches, I should consider it my job to guide all the affairs of state, especially economic ones, in such a way that the rentier could get the maximum from it and the user of the rentier's facilities would get the minimum. That is business, and I do not quarrel with it. I merely want the public to know what the point of view of Conservatives is. It would be almost impossible for anyone from reading the speeches which have been made today, however they are reported, to know what Conservatives stand for.
I do not believe that housing should be put into the market place. Nobody would be more pleased than I should be if we could return to a situation in which earning standards were such that workers could pay the market price for housing. It would be grand but it is impractical and cannot be done.
I have certain views on Government and in all shapes and forms with which my party does not agree. It is the same with housing. I know that this Bill will not solve the housing problem. There is the land problem, and the problem of decaying houses. Some of the houses built by private enterprise between 1943 and 1950 are terrible. I have never seen such building standards in my life. They were shocking. There are similar houses being built today, badly constructed. I have a bungalow with fibre-board under the eaves. I can poke my finger through 1190 it. When I am retired soon I shall be able to get my tools out and deal with it.
I know that private enterprise has been in a difficult position. I know that building contractors went bust all over the place because they cannot build for the people and sell. The A.A. in its journal "Drive" asks me to agree to campaign for a reduction in road tax and petrol tax, for a reduction in the taxation of the motor industry amounting to nearly £800 million a year. It says that the motor car is no longer a luxury but a necessity. I suppose that housing is luxury.
In my opinion, more of the taxes which we motorists pay should be devoted to house building. I do not believe that the motor car is a necessity, but a house is. A house is vital. It is very doubtful whether the last 25 years would have produced such good industrial relations if we had not had, under both Labour and Conservative administrations some protection for tenants, for owner-occupiers, some help and concessions enabling people to get stable homes.
My hon. Friend knows that in the city of Birmingham in the last 20 years if we had had a policy of housing for the market-place only, for those who could afford it, then the industrial problem in Birmingham would be terrible. It would be impossible to maintain a decent labour force in the city. The same applies to Glasgow.
The knowledge that houses were being built by local authorities, that there was a chance of getting a house because of social need, has played a great part in creating stability in industrial relations. There is tremendous social stability, far superior to that in the majority of countries in the world. True, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have policies similar to ours. They enjoy this social stability. The rent policies, even of the party opposite when in power, even though they did not go as far as they ought to have done, showed a realisation that we could not put housing in the market-place, that there would have to be Government intervention.
Hon. Members still realise that the time is not right to do this. We can put the motor car, the T.V., lots of things in the market-place but not the house. Land 1191 is scarce, and the problem is too difficult. We are nowhere near equating demand and supply. Therefore, we need Government intervention.
The only argument between the two sides is the degree to which we use that intervention. Hon. Members opposite want 40 per cent. when private enterprise fails, but want nothing if the Government succeeds. I do not know where they stand.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am interested in the arguments of my hon. Friend about the right of Government to interfere. Would he not agree that if one looks at any local authority budget the largest single ratepayer is the Government, the taxpayer? Surely the taxpayers' representatives, and Ministers, are entitled to have some say in local rent control policy being pursued in any local authority?
§ Mr. Bence
Local ratepayers cannot afford to carry the burden which would be called for to allow builders to sell or let at an economic rent. Hon. Gentlemen opposite use the phrasea fair rent.I do not have the foggiest idea what that means, or whata reasonable rentmeans. If someone asked me what was the reasonable price of a motor car I would say that I did not have the foggiest idea. I have spent my life manufacturing cars, but I do not know what a reasonable price ought to be. I met a fellow driving a motor in Palace Yard. He thought the reasonable price of his car was about £50. I have no idea what the reasonable rent of a house is. All I know is that it is impossible for the private builder to build houses to rent at levels that people will be able to pay. The builder knows that he cannot do it, which is why he does not try. He can only build houses to rent through the local authority and the Government. They have to use him. There is no other way.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
This is a very pertinent point, because in my constituency land is zoned for 200 persons to the acre. I challenge any hon. Member to show me how a private builder can build for the ordinary working people of my constituency when they are putting 200 persons to the acre, which means an enormous high block.
§ Mr. Silvester
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Germany it is possible for a combination of Government grants and private money to build social security housing?
§ Mr. Bence
That is perfectly true. I remember going on a deputation with my hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown). We met some steel workers and were taken to the home of one of them. This was in Benelux. We went through his house. It was centrally heated, and the cost of it was £3,000. There was no interest, rates were paid by the company, and the house was revalued every few years. If the man improved it he got a reduction from his capital cost.
If by some mischance, because of many other reasons, we get a Tory Government, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make a speech telling us what has been done in Germany, France the Benelux countries and Spain. Shall we get interest-free loans for everyone prepared to buy their own house? The hon. Gentleman would be in a bit of trouble with the building societies; he would put them out of business. They do not have such institutions in those countries; they have a different tradition. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to talk about them. It is not good enough to throw them out to the people. The hon. Gentleman should tell them the facts. If he wants to ruin the building societies let him say so; let us have this German and Benelux system. We cannot have it both ways. Who will deal with the building societies? We have a multitude of institutions represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the hon. Member has just ruined one of them.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
There is evidence of a certain movement this way, because building societies in this country are prepared to lend on property which they regard as a good risk, but with property which is thought to be a bad risk my right hon. Friend is asked to provide 1193 money to local authorities. So this has already started. Private enterprise will not touch what it regards as a bad risk.
§ Mr. Bence
My hon. Friend is right. This is the point of complete divergence between the two sides. Hon. Members opposite say, "If it pays, we want it; if it does not, let them have it." That is a good business philosophy. Every business man I know wants to know whether a proposition will pay. If it will pay, he takes it.If it will not pay, he tt.rns it in. I hope that hon. Members opposite will make themselves clear about this. If they do, no doubt they will find it harder to be returned to office, but even if they are, in my retirement I shall at least have the pleasure of coming up to London from time to time to meet my old friends in this House.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
The Minister of State said one or two things which I found rather curious. He gave the House some rather curious figures to outline the difference that exists between the subsidy that council tenants are getting and the subsidy which he says owner-occupiers get on their mortgages. I tried to intervene when he was giving these figures, but, unfortunately, he was not kind enough to give way so I have to inflict this speech upon him instead.
The gist of the hon. Gentleman's argument was that the figures were close—in other words, that the amount of subsidy the average council tenant is getting is very close to the amount of subsidy that an owner-occupier buying on a mortgage gets through tax relief. I did not make a note of the figures, but he was talking about a sum of about £45 a year.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The figures I gave were that the average subsidy for a council tenant is £30 a year and the average tax relief to an owner-occupier with a mortgage is £47 10s. a year.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because those figures do not seem to agree with figures I received recently from an organisation called the Housing Research Foundation, which claims to be a non-political and nonprofit making research foundation to sponsor and co-ordinate a continuous 1194 programme of research into housing and housing needs. Perhaps we can be told whether its figures are correct, because they seem to vary a great deal from those he gave the House.
The foundation says that, because of recent interest rate increases, the average financial assistance—the extent to which gross outgoings exceed rent—for a new council house is £200 a year outside London and £400 a year inside London. In other words, it says that the total subsidy from the taxpayer and the ratepayer to a council tenant in a newly built London house or flat is £400 a year—£8 a week from the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Are these figures correct? I ask the Minister to tell us whether or not they are correct and why they should vary so dramatically from those he himself used.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
The hon. Gentleman is overlooking quite a number of things. There must be several thousand, possibly tens of thousands, of council tenants who do not live in new houses in London, and this affects the average figure, which was given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman is giving the upper end of the range, of which the average is about in the middle, he should do the same thing for the tax reliefs and give us the upper end of the range and see whether that is £8 a week.
§ Mr. Rossi
I will give the figures in a moment, because again the foundation seems to disagree with the Minister. I am inviting the Minister to say why these discrepancies arise. Perhaps he has an explanation. No doubt the question of pooling of rents between older and newer houses has some bearing, but here is a plain statement that a tenant living in a new council house in London gets a subsidy from the taxpayer and the ratepayer averaging £400 a year, and I am inviting the Minister to say whether that is right or wrong.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentleman and I are obviously not comparing like with like. I was giving the Exchequer contribution not the ratepayer's contribution. I was speaking on this occasion for the taxpayer, not the ratepayer. But my figures also take account of the option mortgage scheme. I would like to see whether the figures he is quoting take 1195 account of that. What were their criteria?
§ Mr. Rossi
If the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he was only giving the Exchequer grant subsidy and is not challenging my figures, he says that the Exchequer grant subsidy averages £34 a year. The foundation, however, gives a subsidy figure of £400 a year. Is he saying, therefore, that in London the ratepayer is subsidising the council tenant in newly built property to the tune of about £360 a year?
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if one takes pre-war council houses bought, or in the process of being paid for, at very low cost, at one end of the scale, and compares that with the present very high cost of development—for example, high density city developments—there are tremendous discrepancies. I believe that what he is doing is to take from the upper end of the scale, which covers the new, postwar houses, possibly of high density, where, for example, slum clearance is one of the factors. It is not relevant to the comparison I was making.
§ Mr. Rossi
I would not go so far as to say that it is not relevant. Of course I am not giving the figures of subsidy for old council property. Obviously the subsidy on houses built by the local authority 50, 40 or 30 years ago must by now be very little. Indeed, in some cases, the local authority may well be making a profit on the tenants.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
The hon. Gentleman said, quite fairly, that this organisation he is quoting claims to be non-political. I do not know anything about it, but the same claim is made for a number of bodies, such as Aims of Industry, Limited, which occasionally seem not to be totally devoid of bias. Does he have the names of the directors and trustees and so on of the foundation?
§ Mr. Rossi
There is a list of a large number of organisations which appear to sponsor and provide funds for the research. There is a whole range of different organisations. No doubt the Minister will tell us more about it and comment on the figures later on. That is all I am inviting him to do. No doubt he will tell us how wrong these figures are.
The other set of figures is the subsidy which the average owner-occupier receives on mortgage tax relief. The Minister told us that the average was about £47 a year. But this organisation seems to disagree with him, although possibly in a direction which would please his hon. Friends more. What it says is that the average tax relief on a £3,500 mortgage for a standard rate taxpayer is £95 in the first year and £65 a year average over 25 years. So the relief on this kind of basis also seems a little greater than the general average which the Minister gave. I do not know whether he had in mind a mortgage of £3,500, £3,000 or £4,000 when he gave us his figure of £47.
§ Mr. Howell
This is the average to: all houses of owner-occupiers and cannot be compared with the allowances in respect of one house picked at random, costing, say, £3,000 a year. The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like at all.
§ Mr. Rossi
With respect, if one tells the man in the street, "If you have a mortgage of £3,500 on your house, tax relief at the standard rate is an average of £65 a year ", this is something which he understands and can latch on to. He can then compare this specific with his own situation. But if one talks in very general terms—
§ Mr. Howie
I am interrupting the hon. Member: he cannot interrupt me, but he can take this up later. He gave the 1197 upper range for council houses and has now given the average range for a £3,000 mortgage. What kind of tax relief would be received by the kind of owner-occupier whom he, living in Hornsey, and I, living in Hendon, both know very well—perhaps the resident in Bishops Avenue, where the mortgage might be £60,000? What are the figures for that, which is the upper range?
§ Mr. Rossi
Bishops Avenue is not in my constituency. The average rateable value in Hornsey is about £40 to £60 a year. I hardly think that these houses come in that bracket. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has constituents who can contribute so well to his funds since they live in houses of that kind. I certainly do not have them in my constituency.
It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been introducing this term, "higher bracket of council houses". I said no such thing. I merely mentioned the average for new post-war council houses. I mentioned the average, not the higher bracket. There is a distinction, obviously, for subsidy between pre-war houses and post-war houses, but I have not taken a higher bracket—at least, I do not think this association has. I am putting these forward not as my figures but as independent figures for the Minister to comment on. I have tried to show the House that they disagree with the Minister not only on the subsidy to council tenants for new houses from the Exchequer and the ratepayer, which is vastly above his figure to the House, but also on this bracket of mortgage, also compared with the figures which he has given to the House. I put these forward as comparisons for the hon. Gentleman to comment on also.
When one is making this kind of distinction between a tenant living in a council house and an owner-occupier buying his own house and talking of subsidies, I wonder if one is really being intellectually honest. There is a distinction. If a council tenant is receiving a subsidy, he is getting the subsidy from the remainder of the community, because it is the general body of ratepayers and taxpayers who provide this subsidy and pay the difference between the rent which he affords to pay or is charged and the amount which it really costs the local authority to service his home. In other
1198 words, he is using other people's money. This is what a subsidy is; it can be nothing else—
§ Mr. Rossi
Well, perhaps there are council tenants paying taxes to this kind of level for the accommodation which they occupy, but, in the nature of things, when we are talking of figures of this kind, the subsidy which they receive must be much higher than that portion of their rates which is devoted towards housing, which they pay into the kitty. This is right. Therefore, the argument remains that, albeit a council tenant is both a taxpayer and a ratepayer in some instances, nevertheless in receiving a subsidy he is receiving money from other people—
§ Mr. Rossi
In comparison, it k not quite the same thing to compare it with the position of the owner-occupier paying a mortgage, who is then told, "Because you have voluntarily undertaken the burden of buying this house and paying interest charges upon it and have not sought local authority accommodation, we will take less of your money in taxes than we otherwise would". He is not receiving money from other people; he is having less money taken from his pocket by the Government. This is a totally different concept.
But we have had this argument in the House time and time again, and none is so blind as those who will not see. It is inconvenient for hon. Members opposite to accept this point, and they never will, although, in their heart of hearts, they know exactly what the score is.
To depart from that curious situation into which the Minister of State led us when he started talking about the subsidieson council property as opposed to mortgages—he would not let me intervene and so has had to put up with this 15-minute speech instead—I should like to go on to another point. He said that it was the Government's policy to refuse 1199 local authorities who wanted to raise the rents of their tenants in cases where there was sufficient in the housing revenue account to meet the additional money which the council was trying to raise. This is the policy of raising balances—if the money is in the kitty, there is no need to put up the rates: one takes the money from the kitty and uses that for the time being. That, essentially, was his argument. He went on to criticise the Greater London Council and its policy. Today seems to have been a general "Clobber the G.L.C." day for hon. Members opposite. They have had great fun with this. What he did not do, having made these two statements, was then to examine the position of the balances of the G.L.C. The Leader of the Greater London Council recently made a Press statement. It was on 7th November, so in quoting it I am not producing figures that the Minister has not seen. In his statement, Mr. Desmond Plummer said:Since the Minister interfered in this matter the G.L.C.'s Housing Revenue Account has gone further into the red to the tune of about £8m., and if no rent increase is made next year the deficit will rise to the colossal sum of nearly £14m., which would have to be met by the ratepayers.So there is no balance for the G.L.C. to raid to avoid putting rents up. But still the Minister refuses to allow the G.L.C. to raise the rents.
What is his ingenious method of doing this? He tells the G.L.C. that it should borrow money to pay the salaries of those engaged in the Housing Department, to the tune of about £2 million. There is no balance to raise, the G.L.C. cannot put up the rents, and the Government think that it would be wrong to put the charge on the ratepayer because that would be too obvious and show them up so they suggest borrowing £2 million to pay those salaries.
What kind of local government financing is that, where an authority is advised to borrow £2 million at current interest rates of about 10 per cent. to pay salaries? That sum of £2 million at 10 per cent.—the effective rate that the G.L.C. has to pay on the recent loan it launched to raise money on the market—will have doubled itself in 10 years. Then £4 million has to be found, and who will find it?
§ Mr. Rossi
There are only one or two ways. Either the G.L.C. puts up the rents to a colossal figure in 10 years' time or it raises the rates. This is the only way local authorities raise their money for housing: either they charge the tenant for his accommodation or they put the cost on the ratepayer.
The Minister is saying that it is politically inconvenient to put it on the tenant. That is what the Bill is all about. We have a General Election coming up fairly soon, and the Government do not want rents to go too high, so they are holding them back, especially as they are not allowing the trade unions to negotiate freely on wages. They say, "We must compensate for that somehow, so we freeze rents, but we cannot allow the ratepayers to carry this burden, because we might be criticised for that. So we will tell the local authority to borrow more and more money at higher and higher rates of interest to postpone the evil day, so that our children and grandchildren will have to meet this colossal bill in 10, 20 or 30 years' time" That is the economics of the Labour Government and it is there on the record to be seen.
The Minister will be able to tell us in reply whether or not he or his predecessor gave this advice to the G.L.C. to borrow so as to pay the salaries of people in its housing department.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Mr. Plummer has made many peculiar statements in the past 2½ years. The hon. Gentleman is illustrating a problem that appears to have arisen in 1967 when Mr. Desmond Plummer arrived. By April, 1970, it will be gone, as will Mr. Desmond Plummer. So I urge the hon. Gentleman to contain himself.
§ Mr. Rossi
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has an easy way of finding £2 million, or—what we are talking about—a total deficit of £14 million on the Greater London Council housing revenue account in the next year, if the Government continue to pursue their present policies of maintaining dear money and high interest rates, and at the same time do not allow the local authority to recoup the rents from people who can afford them. That is all that the argument is really about, 1201 it is about whether or not tenants who can afford to pay a fair rent for their property should do so.
The Greater London Council has a rent rebate scheme which helps those who cannot afford to pay a full rent for their accommodation. In the third stage of its scheme, which was extended on 6th October, that relief extends to families with young children that have household incomes of up to £30 a week. If a family with an income of about £30 a week can still qualify for a rent rebate, I do not think that it can be said that the G.L.C. is being particularly harsh and demanding in its attitude towards its tenants.
May I quote a specific example again, because there is nothing like specific examples to underline an argument. I have a whole table of examples here, if Members are interested. One example is that of a husband, wife and three children under school age, the husband earning £20 a week. Their rent rebate under the scheme would reduce a rent of £4 10s. a week to £1 15s. No matter to what level the rent for their flat may be raised, in that the G.L.C. says that the flat is now worth not £4 10s. but £5 or £5 10s. a week, the family would still pay only £1 15s. a week in rent. When the children have left school they will pay more, because the burden on the family is less. If the husband's salary goes up, they will possibly pay more, arid if it goes down they will probably pay less. That is the essence of a differential rent scheme, to tailor the rent to what the family can afford.
Before hon. Gentlemen opposite sound off, talking about rents in the G.L.C. area, I invite them to take a close look at the rent rebate scheme. They will see that families with incomes of up to £30 a week are not being asked to pay more than they can afford in rent, no matter at what figure the rent of their accommodation may be fixed in theory. This is patently fair. The net effect of such a system is that those who can afford it pay a fair rent for their accommodation. The subsidy they obtain from the general body of ratepayers and taxpayers, many of whom may be little better off, is minimal. But if they cannot afford the rent because of their family circumstances, then, no matter the level at which their accommodation may be priced, they will 1202 pay a lower rent in accordance with their means. I thought that was a very good Marxist doctrine to be followed— "to each according to his needs".
I do not know what hon. Members opposite are quarrelling about. They are not really quarrelling, because, when they studythe scheme, they understand and appreciate its fairness. But there is more political capital in persuading tenants that they should revolt against a local authority. When one gets near to an election, hon. Members opposite remember the people who do not like having to pay more money for rent or any other expense. There is political kudos to be gained by saying, "I am on the side of the people who do not like to pay", because there are many more of them than people who are willing to pay.
But what one must do in social justice is to examine the scheme in the round, in its entirety, to see whether as a whole it is fair, whether individuals are in fact paying more than they can afford, whether in fact individuals are oppressed by the rents they are asked to pay, whether it is right or wrong for a man who can afford to pay the rent to expect to receive from his neighbours subsidies in order to help him pay it. These are the questions to which the Labour Party should be directing its attention, and if hon. Members opposite do so, they will not fail to see the fairness and justice of a scheme of this kind towards the community as a whole.
§ Mr. Driberg
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not understand what we were quarrelling about, but I think that he does not understand the basic quarrel. The Bill is admirable so far as it goes. However, some of us believe that there ought not to be any private property in rented accommodation, but that all rented accommodation should be in common ownership.
§ Mr. Rossi
I did not intend to deal with Part II of the Bill, and all I have been discussing is publicly owned property. I have been directing my remarks entirely to the situation that persists in local authority housing. In as much as the G.L.C. has been under attack this afternoon, I thought it only right to demonstrate by one or two actual examples what the situation was. I do not intend 1203 to go into the argument whether there should be private ownership of property to rent, because that argument has already been canvassed. The House should realise that the rents of G.L.C. property are about 80 per cent. lower than the fair rents fixed by rent officers for comparable private rented property.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Nonsense. I can take the hon. Gentleman, tomorrow morning if he wishes, to council property in my constituency where the current rent is £7, £8 or £9 a week.
§ Mr. Chataway
I happen to have the figures with me. The average regulated tenancy rent is 80 per cent. higher than the average G.L.C. rent.
§ Mr. Rossi
I was saying that the G.L.C. rent was 80 per cent. lower. Whichever way one puts it, the fact remains that a tenant of a G.L.C. property who is not getting a rebate because he does not need one, who has sufficient income to be able to afford the full rent, is nevertheless paying considerably less than he would have to pay for similar private accommodation, and less than his neighbours have to pay if they live in privately rented property. Also, this is when his neighbours are paying rents not at the levels demanded by a grasping landlord, but at levels fixed by a rent officer employed under legislation introduced by a Labour Government.
This is the true situation. When fixing a fair rent, a rent officer entirely disregards scarcity value. In other words, he entirely disregards the market factors of supply and demand. He is statutorily required to do that. He fixes a rent which is fair having regard to the accommodation, the locality, the amenties and so on. Yet there is still this tremendous variation.
The tenant of private accommodation does not get any subsidy. There is no question of a subsidy for him, although if he could not afford to pay it I should be prepared on another occasion to argue that perhaps there should be machinery to give him some kind of subsidy through the Ministry of Social Security. But that is another matter. I believe that all families who are hard up should in social justice receive help from the remainder of the community, but that those who do 1204 not need it should stand on their own feet and pay their own way and not require to be supported by their neighbours and friends.
That is the essence of the difference between this side of the House and that. We say this knowing that it is unpopular to suggest that people should pay perhaps a little more out of their pockets for their rents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) said, purely electoral considerations are not sufficient when one is dealing with a problem of this kind, and we are all agreed that housing is one of the country's most desperate social problems. We should be united in trying to solve it, and we shall not do so by the kind of class warfare which Labour Members persistently try to create.
§ Mr. Rossi
Oh, yes! We had earlier speeches from hon. Members opposite to say that they were on the side of the angels, on the side of the tenants and the exploited, while the Opposition were on the side of the landlords. We have had a repetition of the political football match which has bedevilled housing in the postwar years and largely created these housing problems. If hon. Members opposite think that that is an exaggeration, I refer them to the Milner Holland Report on London where precisely that is said.
We were talking earlier about encouraging private capital to come into housing so that more rented accommodation could be provided for the community. Private capital does not come in because of the Labour Party's mucking about with housing in the post-war years. People who have capital to invest will put it into unit trusts or some kind of savings, such as building societies.
§ Mr. Rossi
The last thing they will do with it is to put it into bricks and mortar to rent to someone else, because the Labour Party has made it impossible for them to be sure that their investment will remain secure. The Labour Party makes a great boast of what it regards as its contribution to housing. It has contributed more to the decline of the housing stock than even the wind and rain and dilapidation have done.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentleman's colleagues were in office for 13 years, and they put these precepts into practice. They made a free market in rents by withdrawing all controls. They created such chaos through the evictions which followed the Henry Brooke Rent Act that when we returned to power we had to put the matter right, and they did not have the nerve to vote against us because they had to support the logic of our convictions.
§ Mr. Rossi
I feel that I have trespassed sufficiently on the time of the House. The House has listened patiently to me and I hope that I have left it with a few thoughts. I hope that the House will realise that local authorities have a tremendous problem which, in the main, has been created by this Government. The problem will by no means be eased by the Bill, which will mean that if a better contribution cannot be obtained from tenants who can afford to pay it, the general body of ratepayers will ultimately have to foot the bill.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
The Bill is a limited one, and in many ways does not go far enough. I want to limit myself to Part II, which deals with the private tenant in a regulated tenancy and represents one more attempt by the Government to try to protect the tenant from the natural rapacity of the typical private landlord
My right hon. and hon. Friends have only two choices. I can recall that some years ago the Minister of Housing and local Government received one of the warmest ovations ever given in that generous tradition of the Labour Party conference, when the platform, with the assent of the conference, carried a policy that was called the municipalisation of rented houses. The only thing wrong with that policy was that I found the name not very euphonious. If we intend to take housing out of the market place, there is only one way to do it. Unfortunately, this radical socialist idea has 1206 been temporarily put on one side—and I stress temporarily—because I believe that the logic of events will bring our party and our Government back to this policy.
The alternative is to continue with a succession of attempts at protective legislation, so that the worst excesses of private landlordism, it is hoped, will be curbed. The history of rent legislation in this country is of successive Governments being forced to enact protective legislation, because of the rapacity of private landlords, especially the property companies, in trying to make as much money as they can out of their investments. I do not blame them; I just say that it has nothing to do with a Socialist approach to housing or politics—
§ Mrs. Jeger
Nor with social justice, which was a phrase which came strangely from the other side of the Chamber tonight.
I know that there are many arguments about the former policy, which I prefer, and that there are many landlords in a small way of business who are hard put to it and with whom I have every sympathy. The only thing that is wrong with them is that they are landlords. I believe that it is a bad human relationship and that owning someone else's home is not a good way to earn a living.
There has been a fast decline in the numbers of private landlords, and that tendency, particularly in my constituency, is for the big speculative property companies to be the main landlords. It is against some of them that the Government must continue to protect the tenant until the time comes when the blocks of flats which I have in mind are taken into common ownership—that is a much better phrase than the official phrase of municipalisation. We could then get some sense into housing finance and stop this arid argument about whether something is more unfair to a private tenant than to a council tenant, and that poor private tenants are subsidising rich council tenants.
§ Mrs. Jeger
There should not be any private tenants. I should like to see local
1207 housing authorities with an across-the-board responsibility for all rented accommodation in their areas. They could use housing associations in working this out. There would then be a tremendous variety of rent levels, suitable accommodation for families of different sizes and people could have a choice of the district in which they live. This would be all carried out through the town hall or the housing authority.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Lady went on almost to answer my question, but not quite. Does not she agree with me that, if it were necessary to put housing into communal ownership, it would be just as desirable to cut out the public authority and put it into housing association ownership; how then does she answer the problem that the housing association will have to pay itself the economic rent which the landlord would be charging anyway?
§ Mrs. Jeger
There is, I am sure, a great future for housing associations. The hon. Gentleman points out that people in a housing association would have to pay economic rents, but at least they would not have to pay economic rents plus the landlord's profits, plus the dividends of the property companies which, for all the crocodile tears from the Opposition, are flourishing in central London. It is true that they are finding that there is a bit more money in unlet offices than in the homes which are so badly needed. and so there is the obscene scandal of Centre Point in my constituency. If ever there were a reproach to the private developer, it is Centre Point, and I cannot understand why it has been allowed to remain empty and undisturbed for so long.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
My hon. Friend will know that in my constituency there is 50,000 square feet of super-office space which is available at any time of the week and at any time of the year.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is a common experience, not only in central London but in the centre of all our big cities, because the philosophy of the private developer is to develop at the greatest profitability. That is why I say that property developers 1208 should have nothing to do with the housing of people.
Part II of the Bill deals with the increases which may be permitted under regulated tenancies. Does not my hon. Friend think that the Bill needs to be strengthened, so that penalties could be imposed on landlords who offend against the modest increases which are permitted in the regulated rents?
There is increasing evidence in central London, particularly in my constituency, that property companies have no respect for the rent fixed by the rent officer, and that rents heavily in excess of the registered rents are being asked for. I have sent details to my right hon. Friend. rn one case the rent officer registered a rent at £271 in April, 1967—and that was plenty of money, too. The amount of rent now required from a prospective tenant—and I saw the letter from the owners of the block—is £525.
There is a second example in the same block of flats of a dwelling with a registered rent of £303 in relation to which I saw a letter that asked for £550. There is a total disrespect for the law of the land. These people are animals in a jungle and ought not to be allowed to have anything to do with the housing of our people.
When the two matters were looked into by the rent officer the property company murmured that since the rent was fixed it had carried out some decorations and made some improvements. That may well be the case. If that were the case, all it had to do was to go back to the rent officer or appeal to the rent assessment committee. In my experience rent assessment committees put up the registered rent far more often than they ever reduce it. But these people are counting on ignorance and the tremendous pressure on people to get somewhere to live in central London. It is only occasionally and accidentally that one can get this kind of evidence.
While these cases were being investigated, the same firm advertised a flat with a registered rent of £400 at a figure of £700 exclusive. I have with me the report from the rent officer in the London Borough of Camden. Those are three cases in which I happen to have documentary evidence. If those firms are 1209 carrying out such practices, how many more firms are behaving in a similar fashion. How many more firms are being totally contemptuous of the needs of the people and the law of the land?
I hope that the information which I have given to the Minister, together with the name of the well known property company, will be passed to the Francis Committee, and that in Committee an Amendment will be inserted to provide serious penalties for behaviour of this kind. I should like to see the confiscation of blocks of property where this kind of behaviour is found to take place. I would not even requisition them. Such people do not deserve to have such property if they behave in this way.
There is another block of flats in my constituency which was rather old and in bad shape. The company which purchased it, at a not very high price, then went into negotiation with the borough council for improvement grants. A great deal of money, including public as well as private money, was spent in improving these flats. and in making them slightly more fit to live in. As part of this exercise a rent was agreed as a condition of the improvement grant given by the council.
The other day I went to those flats to see some constituents and I found that they had left. Three new people, all adults, were living there. I asked what rent they were paying and they told me that it was seven guineas a week. The agreed rent had been £2 5s. The previous tenants had moved away, the landlord had put in a couple of chairs, a table and a bed—the absolute bare minimum. He considered that this relieved him of his responsibility for honouring the agreement into which he had entered with the council as a condition of all this public money being poured into these private flats. That is what I call a subsidy. It is time that somebody thought about the subsidies we are proposing to pay, and are paying, to private landlords of that calibre and left the council tenant alone.
In view of this kind of desperate and shocking example of the way in which property companies are capable of behaving, I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to see whether we cannot put more teeth into the Bill to strengthen it.
1210 Perhaps it could be made clear in the Bill that any rent charged in excess of registered rent or in excess of permitted increases would carry the most heavy penalties.
It is not just a matter of money. It has had a noticeable effect. The whole social pattern is changing, because with these high rents being charged the tenancies are being taken up by groups of adults. I have found three or four waiters from Soho sharing a flat, or three or four secretaries. There is nothing wrong with that, for they must have somewhere to live. But because rents are so outrageously high the ordinary family man cannot take these flats. It is not a practicable proposition for these high rents to come out of one wage packet. So the family man is being pushed further away from where he wants to live.
The trouble is that many people find even these high rents acceptable because they are able to share accommodation, often in overcrowded conditions. Many of them have come to London from overseas or for some other reason and are desperate for accommodation, so long as they can find enough people to share in the kitty, they then have a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, they do not go to the rent officer as often as they should when overcharging occurs. I want to know what is to happen next, and so do many rent officers.
I have concentrated on this one aspect of the problem. We can spend hours in the House talking about the statistics of housing. But we must get down to the basic fact that we shall not get any sense in our housing policy or housing financing. we shall not get housing out of the market place, so long as we permit large property companies and speculative developers to have such a large share of the market.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Before my hon. Friend concludes, she will know of the Victoria Dwellings adjacent to our constituencies. The Greater London Council has been responsible for rehousing the families, paying the cost of purchase and has left the land for the owners to dispose of. Since this land is zoned industrial, she will know the value of the land, which the owners can now sell at an enormous profit.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) for giving yet another example of this capitalist jungle in the property market, particularly in central London. I hope that the Bill will be strengthened in Committee and that account will be taken of some of these outrageous shortcomings.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
I must first declare an interest in that I am a landlord, and that brings me immediately to the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger). She spoke of the rapacity of the typical landlord. However, I can assure her that the vast majority of landlords are not rapacious. They behave themselves and welcome the provisions for fair rents, because they give them a standard on which to work.
There is a small minority of landlords with whom the 1965 Act was designed to deal. The hon. Lady should look at that legislation, because my recollection is that it provides severe penalties for those who seek rents which are higher than those which have been registered. It is an obvious fraud, and the first one which springs to mind. I am certain that the Act contains provisions to deal with it.
I hope that the hon. Lady will support the idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) for a housing advisory bureau, where people seeking accommodation can obtain advice. Something rather better than the Citizens' Advice Bureau is needed. Such a body would need to contain real experts on housing. They would have a copy of the rent Act handy and would be able to advice people of their rights.
When we consider council rents, it is essential to find what common ground there is between the two sides. Perhaps we can agree that it would be logical to look at existing council rents before deciding whether any increases should be permitted and, if so, what sort of increases. In many parts of the country council rents are low. In others they are high. It depends on the historic costs. In one area of my constituency, for example, gross values are taken as the 1212 basis of council rents, whereas the average fair rent in the area is two and a half times gross value. That means that council rents are substantially below those of corresponding private property.
The hon. Lady would say that the answer is to municipalise the private houses since they would have to be levelled off at some stage.
I am sure that no one desires to see a higher rent being charged than is necessary. Listening to some of today's speeches, one would think that hon. Members on this side of the House were seeking enormously high rents in order to make a profit out of housing. That is not the intention. Rent increases are required because costs are going up. Local authorities have their programmes for building new houses at expensive rates and high rates of interest. I understand that the Government subsidy represents an average of £144 per house, but even taking that into account, there must still be very substantial rents on new houses. Surely it is fairer to spread those substantial rents round the other houses.
Where there is an intention to introduce an improved rent rebate scheme, here again, if there are to be greater subsidies to those with the lowest income, that involves increasing the rents of those with higher incomes. In some areas there may be a case for substantial rent increases and in others for smaller increases. However, it is nonsense for the Government to say that 7s. 6d. is the right figure, whatever the level of rents at the moment.
Where there are substantial balances in the housing revenue accounts, those sums should be drawn upon first. Rents should not be increased until the balances have been absorbed. Instead, the Minister of State says that the balances in various accounts, including the repairs account, should be run down. This is absolutely crazy. The repairs account is there for repairs. There must be few council estates on which a substantial repair liability is not impending. Even with this substantial subsidy of £144 a house—the Minister was priding himself on how generous this is, and it is certainly needed in these days of high interest rates—the result is a very high liability on the Exchequer, about £30 million, I think, for this year, and continuing for 60 years.
1213 That is a liability of £1,800 million for council house building this year alone.
We have never been told the reason for the drop in the building programme, but I believe that the Exchequer got fed up with paying out £144 a house. If we were building an extra 50,000 houses a year, plus a corresponding 50,000 of private housing, which still would not bring us to the 500,000 target which we were promised, that would mean an increase of £7 million a year for the Exchequer, or £400 million over 60 years. That is the real reason for the severe drop in the housing programme. So the Government cannot take too much credit for these generous subsidies, since they are self-defeating.
In the debate on 4th November I asked the Government what they wanted local authorities to do. That was a fortnight ago. I have not had the courtesy of a reply, but as the Ministry of Housing takes about a month to answer, perhaps I shall get an answer in another fortnight. I would remind the Minister that I spoke of housing in my constituency for which, even with the subsidy of £170, the rent was £5 10s. a week. How do the Government wish the council to tackle that? First of all, is it to treat it as a rate subsidy so as to bring the rent down to the general level? Or do the Government want it to stop building houses? I do not believe that. Or do the Government want these new houses to be let at a high rent of about £5 10s. a week? Here there is a dead silence from the Government. This is where they are being thoroughly dishonest.
There is no mention in the Bill of houses let for the first time or houses re-let to different tenants. There has been some complaint that the G.L.C. increases rates substantially when there is a relet. What do the Government say about that? We are entitled to know. I cannot believe that the Government want any of those alternatives but simply want to opt out. Then the net result must be that the ratepayer pays.
Turning to Part II, the Minister of State spoke of the poor tenants facing increases of rent of between £1 and £2 per week. I do not know why they have to be "poor". It is always the "rich, rapacious landlord" and the "poor tenant". But many landlords are extremely poor—old ladies with one house 1214 representing their savings. Many houses are in that form of ownership.
By definition these tenants are now paying £1 to £2 below the fair rent. In other words, they are being subsidised by their landlords by £1 to £2 per week.
The Government decide that the increase must not be more than a third of the increase that is due under the fair rent. I think that this is a Bill to increase rates, to interfere with the discretion of local authorities, in complete contradiction of the Prime Minister's words, and to avoid the payment of fair rents.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I should like to intervene in the debate, although it has been observed that I have intervened a. little too much already. However, I was worried whether I should be called, and, clearly, I had to back up, as it were, to make sure. I intervene on the point that I raised in an intervention about the subject of housing associations, charities, or whatever one likes to call them.
I have a case in my constituency, of which the Minister is aware, but he has consistently replied that he is not in a position to do anything about it. However, I suggest that, according to the Bill, he is in a position to do something about it. I do not wish to go into great detail about this case, but it illustrates why I want it looked at.
The estate to which I refer was built in 1910. Next year it will finish its payments and will be completely profit-making, although last year's balance-sheet for this estate shows that it is in profit to the tune of over £4,000. This is before the charity decided in 1968 to have a complete revision of its rents. It could have done this during the past 58 years, but it has chosen 1968, when the country is beginning to recover from the malaise of pre-1964, to put it to outside valuers, who have apparently determined that the rents for these properties —58 years old—are £X. It does not challenge the valuers' report, as it would if it were the district valuer. It would have had about five valuers checking on the district valuer's valuation. This value they believe is absolutely right and cannot be wrong.
1215 The rents adduced from the valuation would be nearly twice as much as now taken over a two or three year period. It is argued that because some of the premises have been modernised by the tenants, who in some cases have been there for more than 30 years, they have to pay the extra on top of the new rent that has been determined. The argument for doing that is that it is within the Government's prices and incomes policy because it is doing it by 7s. 6d. a year up to 1973.
When I challenged the charity on this matter I was told that it had no subsidy from the Government; it was a charity. In fact, the manager said: "The tenants have their own door, and a bath in the kitchen, which is covered over when it is not in use". This is disgraceful. I hope that my hon. Friend is seized of the point. It is long past the time when housing associations and charities should come under the same rules as anybody else, because they are now no longer what they were at the turn of the century.
It is worth remembering that we have always left them out of Bills of this nature because they were the do-gooders, the people who came in because local authorities, under Tory Governments, from the turn of the century were not interested in the conditions in which people were living. I refer to the Pea-bodies, the Guinnesses, the Rowntrees and Robert Owen before them who took the view that it was somebody's responsibility to see that people lived in decent conditions.
We are now urged to go back to the concept of housing associations and rely on them to do the job. That sounds a good idea, but who are the people running these associations? In a recent debate I selected for discussion a housing association in my constituency. It is a charmer, and I am still waiting to discuss the matter with the Minister, who has given me an appointment for later in the week. I will give him some interesting information on the subject.
I discovered, when I tried to look into this housing association in my constituency, that of eight members of the board seven are members of a construction company—and to keep things all square, the eighth is the accountant of 1216 the construction company. It is disgraceful that land should be given to organisations of this kind so that building can be done in the circumstances I shall describe.
Land was purchased by the local authority and was then offered to the housing association, the money to purchase it having been given by the local authority to the association. The housing association will build on that land to the specification of the local authority and hand 100 per cent. of the result back to the local authority. Who will win in this exercise? I repeat, the council has the land, it sells it to a housing association having given the association the money with which to buy it, the association then builds on the land to the specification of the council and hands the result back to the council. This is a ridiculous situation and I urge the Minister to look into the whole question of housing associations, which appear to be responsible to nobody.
When I tried to discuss the affairs of the charitable organisation I realised that the problem was not really understood. Other than claiming that they are a charity, those concerned appear to have no interest in the situation. The general manager tried to prove to me that the exercise conducted in 1968 was to move from between an 8 per cent. and 12 per cent. return on the organisation's investments, and thereby provide for the future. That was what I was told. Cannot matters of this kind be brought within the Bill?
It is important to get the whole housing problem in perspective. It is my view that this problem enters the political arena only when a Labour Government, Labour council or somebody connected with the Labour Party does or says something about it. As long as the Conservatives are in charge, life is made difficult for council tenants. That is not supposed to be political. It becomes political immediately one makes observations about the problem. It is at that point that hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that we are bringing housing into politics.
The difficulties that we are facing in the housing sphere generally and the reason for the Bill are a direct corollary of the increase in Tory councils. It was they who challenged the concept that
1217 borough councils should act in equity and justice; in other words, to see that a balance was maintained between rents and rate contributions and that both were reasonable.
The Tory Party, in County Hall and in the Conservative-controlled boroughs, say, virtually without equivocation,We wish to make no rate fund subvention for housing. The whole cost must fall on the council tenant.Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said this today, and this is really the nub of the problem. As long as we argue around this point we shall be missing the real problem, and the result can only be anarchy. I see it in my constituency, where a Tory-controlled authority has even taken this one stage further.
The authority has now decided to have bailiffs. If tenants, struggling, as they do, to pay the high rent, get into arrears, then when a certain undefined figure is reached, which the authority refuses to disclose to my colleagues on the council, it instructs the bailiffs to enter the house and distrain on the goods. I say that this is not legal, but I am assured that the authority has no intention of going to court.
That, however, is not what concerns me most. What worries me is its mental approach in being prepared to consider sending in bailiffs to distrain on goods, thinking that it can do so without going to court. It says that the court takes too long and that if it does it this way, it will be much quicker. It has not thought through the problems with which it will be faced of how to distrain on goods, to whom do the goods belong, whether they are on hire purchase and how to sell furniture which will not raise anything like the money that is required.
Hon. Members opposite are leading on these colleagues of theirs who, for the first time, have taken control of local authorities and do not know A from a cow's foot what they are doing. They are led by County Hall and by hon. Members opposite to pursue a line which can result only in anarchy. I beg hon. Members opposite to think clearly. They should realise that the inflammatory nonsense which they speak here is not rubbed out when they leave here but is used by their friends, who do not understand what they are doing.
§ Mr. George Brown
Is my hon. Friend saying that the Conservative-controlled G.L.C. is putting in or threatening to put in bailiffs, who put people's furniture on the street?
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
No. It is Hackney Borough Council. I have warned it about it because I believe that it is wrong. What is even more distressing is that it is leaving it to the housing manager to decide which cases are appropriate. The politicians do not have the "guts" to take the decision. By the time opposition members know that these things have happened, there will have been distraint on the goods and the whole trouble will be over. It is scandalous that this is allowed to go on. I am having discussions with my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to see what one can do about it.
The red herring of subsidies has frequently been drawn. I am pleased that my hon. Friend brought it up in his opening speech, because the position must be clearly understood. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), in an excellent contribution, clearly disproved the idea that all council tenants are spivs and drones who in some way earn vast sums of money. Hon. Members opposite were keen to use average figures when it suited them, but why do they not use the average figures of wages, which are nowhere near the £50 and £60 which are often quoted, but are, in fact, £23 10s. or £24? Averages must be taken all the way down the line.
As I said in an intervention, the Greater London Council in my constituency is charging £7, £8 and £9 a week for property. All I am observing is that my constituents are simply not in a position to pay that sort of money.
In my constituency also we have the sort of flats that the original Tory London County Council built. It built some stuff in my constituency which is really horrible. Now, it has put bathrooms in the kitchens and they are covered over when they are not in use. If somebody is waiting to be moved out for reasons of over-occupation or on medical grounds, I write to the G.L.C. to ask it to look at the case, but it does not want to know.
When the council moves somebody out, it cannot get anybody to take the tenancy
1219 nowadays. Now it has a wonderful system. By increasing rents to their present heights, it makes it obvious to many people that they cannot afford them. The council then says, "You can go to Crossbow House. It is not all that good, but it is better than you have". The council is using this device in housing, which I find absolutely abhorrent.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
The hon. Gentleman is using generalities. I know that the examples he is giving have occurred in the borough he represents, but they are not definitive. We cannot draw any positive conclusions from the case he is making or from the allegation he is making against us. He is indulging in generalities. Will he be a little more specific and say to what speeches he is referring?
§ Mr. Brown
I am being definitive when I am talking about my constituents who are paying £9 a week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone), whom I congratulate on his excellent maiden speech, cogently asked how the situation is to be controlled for the lower-paid, because their choice is limited. I have listened to the cry, "Let people purchase their homes. Give them the opportunity to buy council houses". In my constituency, where people are warehoused at between 136 and 200 persons to the acre, who wants to buy the type of flat to which I have referred with a bath in the kitchen? How can people buy their houses? There is nothing to buy. It is absurd for hon. Members opposite to keep on pressing this point.
My constituency is covered by two authorities each representing a population of about ¼ million. The total population is about ½ million. I was surprised to hear that in Hornsey rateable values are about £40. The rateable value for a two-bedroomed flat in my constituency is about £200, which is paid by ordinary workers employed in the docks, in the Post Office, or on the railways. Such people are my constituents. I do not have any egg heads in my constituency.
1220 I cannot understand why rateable values in Hornsey run at about £40, whereas my constituents, who are working class people, are being rated at anything from £150 to £200. They, too, are ratepayers. Therefore the proportion of rates that my constituents pay, warehoused as they are, is far greater than that paid by somebody in Islington who has a three-bedroomed or a four-bedroomed detached house. This shows the absurdity of the position.
When hon. Members opposite have talked of council tenants, they have identified them clearly. They are my constituents. They are the people hon. Members opposite allege that the rest of society is keeping; they are the people who must be told to do this and that. I do not know where freedom comes into this. My constituents are paying a far greater slice of the rating cake in the London Boroughs of Islington and Hackney than anybody who is buying his house out in the north end of the boroughs.
I regret that I have not had a chance to develop the themes that I wanted to develop this evening. I support the Bill, though I agree that it needs far more work done on it, and I hope that my hon. Friend will see whether it is possible to bring in housing associations and charitable organisations. I say that not because I think that they are wrong, and not because I think that they should be dealt with in any way other than by being brought into the ambit of the Bill. It brings in local authorities, regulated rents and private tenancies, and so it seems only just and reasonable that all those other people should come in.
We had to have the Bill because the Tory authorities have behaved in a way which those of us who have been in local government for a long time would never have thought possible. The Government are absolutely right, in the interests of the people as a whole, to ensure that some protection is afforded.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I was always taught that before one said anything one should ask oneself, "Is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind?" In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury 1221 (Mr. R. W. Brown) will forgive me if I do not deal with what he said and merely make one very brief point.
The Bill will stop my borough and the Greater London Council, in whose area my borough is situated, from putting up council house rents to cover the costs of their housing. The result will be that other people will have to pay the money, and it will either be ratepayers who may well be less well off than those who would otherwise pay the rents, or ratepayers in the generality, who will have to finance the borrowing that will be necessary in place of increased rents. That is absolutely wrong and inequitable.
It would certainly be defensible if one could say that the rents would be too high for people to afford. This raises the hideously thorny question of what is a fair rent, and what people can afford. I do not think that there is such a thing as a fair price. To bring the concept of justice and fairness into a mechanism which is connected not with justice and fairness but with demand and supply gets us into a terrible economic and moral morass from which I have always tried to extricate myself as soon as possible.
If we are to say that we do not want people in council houses to have to pay more than they can "afford", whatever that may be, that argument cannot be used against the proposals to raise rents both in my borough and in the Greater London Council area, because a rent rebate scheme is operated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said, this means that those who are earning around £20 a week and have two children will pay only about 30s. a week rent. If that is the limit of their rent, to raise the rent of others who can afford more under such a scheme cannot be regarded as unjust or inflicting hardship on anybody.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Bill is a revolting piece of political sucking-up and cowardice introduced in anticipation of the forthcoming elections. It tells local authorities what they must and must not do. But it is for their electors to tell them. When the elections come, if the local authorities are not justified in putting up their rents the electors will tell them so.
1222 It is odious and offensive, and out of keeping with the tradition of this side of the House and my idea of the rights and responsibilities of local government, that the Government should unsurp the powers, authority, initiative and responsibility of local government in this way by introducing the Bill.
There is much more I could have said, had I had the good fortune in the 62 hours I have been sitting here to catch the eye of the Chair. But as better choices have prevailed, I hope that I may be forgiven for confining myself to what I have just said and not going into the deeper philosophy involved in the Bill, which I shall hope to condemn on another occasion.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Chichester)
I am glad to have been able to afford my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) five minutes after his long wait. I agree with him that the Bill is not totally unconnected with the local government elections to be held next year. I shall return to that theme later.
I first congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) on his maiden speech. I am sorry that he is not here now, but I hope that my remarks will reach him and that he will accept that we on this side enjoyed his speech and look forward to hearing him on many occasions again. He declared independence in forthright tones and made it clear that he would not always be in agreement with his Front Bench, although he was able to support it today. I am sure that the whole House will be interested to hear him again and enjoy his robust contributions on many future occasions. I am glad to see him back in the Chamber now.
Two arguments for the Bill were deployed by the Minister of State which I do not think were deployed from back benchers opposite in the debate. I want to address myself initially to these. The first argument was that the Bill was agreed with everyone except the G.L.C., that it was all fixed up with the local authority associations, that it was noncontroversial,and that everyone thought it was fine except for the wretched G.L.C., which would argue about 1223 absolutely anything. I was glad that none of the Minister's hon. Friends chose to follow him in that line.
The Minister of State knows perfectly well that it was made clear by the local authority associations that, while they recognise that the Bill represents some improvement over what went before, they are none the less firmly opposed to Government interference. In the letter from Mr. Swaffield, Secretary of the A.M.C., to its members, it was made clear that this acceptance was given… without becoming in any way a party to decisions on those matters or endorsing them.Second, it was made clear also to the associations, when they were summoned to have confidential discussions on the matter, that it might be this degree of freedom or none at all. Mr. Taylor, Chairman of the London Boroughs Association, from whom I have a letter, said,As the Government clearly had no intention of conceding complete freedom to the local authorities at this stage, the only alternative was no relaxation at all.
§ Mr. Chataway
I see the Minister of State nodding at that. I hope, therefore, that his hon. Friend, in replying, will not claim, as he did, that the local authority associations had agreed to the Bill, because that is obviously not the case.
§ Mr. Chataway
The hon. Gentleman has intervened about 20 times in the debate. I will give way later to him but not immediately.
The plain fact is that there is general opposition in principle to Government interference in the fixing of local authority rents from local authority associations and the G.L.C.
The other argument deployed solely from the Front Bench opposite was that the Bill had to do with incomes policy. I do not think that that justification for it was advanced by anyone else opposite —perhaps because no one else actually believes that there is a Government incomes policy. But I was interested to divine from the hon. Gentleman's argument what I thought was a strange 1224 approach to incomes policy, although, of course, it is not confined to him but is common to the Government's dealing with incomes policy and rents over the past two years.
What I find difficulty in following is this line of argument: the Government take the view that any increase in rents will be a stimulus to wage and salary increases, but apparently they do not take the view that any increase in rates or in taxation consequent upon not increasing rents will equally be a stimulus to wage and salary increases.
§ Mr. Chataway
Perhaps the Minister of State will notice in the demands of the teachers which have erupted in the last week or two that their argument is continually based on their terms of remuneration after tax. They are perpetually pointing to their take-home pay. I should have thought that this was one example of a salary demand which had clearly been stimulated, at least in part, by the rates of tax payable on salaries between, say, £800 and £2,000.
But the debate has not revolved around this argument. It was only from the Front Bench that one got any clear impression that this was a Bill intended to have only a limited duration. I do not think that I am falsifying any of the arguments of Labour Members when I say that all of them argued for the Bill in principle and in perpetuity. I see many reassuring nods. It is something which they want to last. They believe that it is right that the Government should have control over the rent-fixing powers of local authorities, at least when they are a Labour Government and they are Conservative local authorities.
I should like to deal with Part II, which controls the rents of regulated tenancies. We had an interesting speech from the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) in which she reminded the House that the present Minister of Housing, whom we are sorry not to see here, in former days had earned many an ovation from a Labour Party conference for acclaiming the municipalisation of rented property as party policy. She argued that that was what party policy ought to be today.
1225 I do not go along with the hon. Lady. I do not believe in the municipalisation of rented property, but I sometimes feel that if the Government were pursuing that policy, at least it would be a coherent consistent policy. They would know what they were doing, and they would be aiming at something. It is difficult in their dealings with the private landlords or the local authorities to discern any consistency of principle in their policy over the last year or two.
The effect of Part II is to postpone still further the time when many owners will receive a fair rent for their property, a fair rent as determined under the Government's own Rent Act, 1965. As a result of the Bill, those owners will be required to continue to subsidise the tenant for a further period. It will not be a subsidy in any way related to the needs of either the owner or the tenant. By definition, accepting the terms which have been employed entirely by Labour Members, this is perpetuating unfair rents.
I recognise that fairness to landlords has never been an ideal to which hon. arid right hon. Gentlemen opposite could have been said to be obsessively devoted. On occasions, they have boasted of their prejudice against the private landlord, sometimes forgetting, as one or two hon. Members today have forgotten, that 60 per cent. of the landlords own only one house and that 40 per cent. of that 60 per cent. are old-age pensioners. [Laughter.] That gets great laughs from the Treasury Bench. The idea of old-age pensioners being forced to subsidise other tenants is obviously a matter for considerable mirth.
Perhaps I might recall to the House a paragraph from the Milner Holland Report on London housing in 1965. That report, which was critical of the housing policies and attitudes of all Governments since the war, contained as much sense on housing as one will find concentrated within any one document. On the diminishing supply of rented private accommodation, the report said:This trend will not be halted, still less reversed, unless investors can be assured that, provided their properties are properly maintained and managed, they will be free from the hazards of political uncertainty and able to obtain an economic return.That was the principle which that report laid down.
1226 I believe that a casual pre-election gesture of the kind contained in Part II, postponing still further the payment of fair rents, can do an enormous amount of damage to confidence—[Interruption.] If one is to have private investment in housing, there must, as the Milner Holland Report suggested, be some prospect for the private landlord of a return immune from political uncertainties.
What has been the result of the policies of the last two or three years? The Ministry of Housing's Statistics Bulletin of May 1969 gives a global picture of the stock of dwellings available in this country. Table 4, on page 71, shows the number of dwellings which are rented from local authorities and the number rented from private owners. It covers the period from April, 1966, to December, 1968, a period when the Government, of course, have sought to stimulate council housing. One remembers the crusading efforts during that period of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Patronage Secretary greatly to increase the stock of council houses. Of course, things have gone steadily wrong since then, but this covers some of the more hopeful days of this Administration.
What these figures show is that the gain there has been in rented accommodation by way of an increase in the stock of council houses has been almost wiped out by the loss of rented accommodation in the private sector. During this period there was an increase of council houses in England of 336,000, but a loss in the stock of dwellings rented from private owners of 319,000—a net gain of only 27,000. ln Scotland as a whole there was a gain in council housing of 26,000 and a loss in houses rented from private owners of 16,000—a gain of only 10,000.
The Minister of State may console himself by thinking that that loss was all of slums; but slums are only a small proportion, and what is being lost in rented accommodation is a great deal, which landlords are reasonably either selling or in some other way taking out of the rented private sector.
I hope it will be accepted by the House that the effect of Part II must be further to discourage the supply of rented accommodation.
I turn now to Part I—
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could he give us the figures of the number of houses that have been demolished in the City of Glasgow during the last four years?
§ Mr. Chataway
The hon. Member may be surprised, and the Minister of State, Scottish Office may be absolutely astounded, in view of the high opinion he has of my abilities, to know that I do not actually carry all the figures relating to every individual town and city in Britain in my head. The point will be well taken by the hon. Member that we have to be concerned with every sector of the housing market, and to see one sector like this declining rapidly out of existence is a major contributory cause to the growing homelessness in the country.
Most of the debate has centred on Part I, and it will be clear that on this side of the House we see an objection of principle to interfering with the local authorities' duties to fix reasonable rents under the 1957 Rent Act. When last year the Government controlled the local authorities' powers in this respect, they were returning to a position which had not prevailed before the 1935 Housing Act. In the 1920s and the early 'thirties Governments were continually interfering with the powers of local authorities to fix fair rents.
It was as a result of the incessant confusion which arose over this division of responsibilities that the 1935 Act put the responsibility firmly on the local authority. In the last couple of years I have had some opportunity to observe at first hand the division of responsibility between local and central government. Anyone who moves from Whitehall into a county hall is bound to be impressed, or rather depressed, by the amount of painstaking work done in that county hall which is then re-done in Whitehall. Again and again one saw perfectly able and competent civil servants in the town hall working out a problem, and with members, arriving at what they believed to the best solution. Then they had to refer it to a Government Department for the whole process to be gone over again.
It is suggested that this Bill will require the employment of only two more personnel. One can envisage the number
1228 of minutes that will be written from executive officers, from principal assistant secretaries, from assistant secretaries to under-secretaries, the amount of time that will be taken up in administration of this Bill—the time of senior civil servants and Ministers. The remarks of the Prime Minister to the A.M.C. have already been quoted but they should be repeated. He said:It is my hope that the reorganisation of local government will provide an opportunity, and that the incentive—and this opportunity will be taken—for a fresh attack on this problem of central financial control, so that we can reduce the number of points on which decisions are taken by Ministers, even by Parliament. I assure you that on this, as on the basic conclusions of Maud, which the Government have already accepted, we mean business, as I know you do".It is an astonishing way to start demonstrating that the Government mean business by bringing in just two Bills in this session which affect local government, both of them removing powers from local government and placing them with the central Government. I am of course talking about the Education Bill and this one. This Bill is thoroughly bad management, if nothing else. The responsibility for fixing rents ought to be with the local authorities, who are bound to know far more about it than central government.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have had a good deal to say about the policy of the Greater London Council, and, with an eye on next year's municipal elections, have already had a canter or two over the ground. I would refer them to the 1965 White Paper of this Government. That was a time when the Government still were attempting a coherent housing policy, and when the 500.000 houses target was firmly embodied in the National Plan; it all seems a very long time ago. The White Paper said:Subsidies should not be used wholly or even mainly to keep general rent levels low. Help for those most in need can be given only if subsidies are in large part used to provide rebates for tenants whose means are small.That we agree with, and it is a sad and sorry thing that the Government should have run away from that declaration of principle which they know to be right.
The objection to across-the-board subsidies of the kind that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have been defending, subsidies
1229 paid alike to those who need them and those who do not, are manifold. These subsidies undoubtedly lengthen the waiting lists. If all council housing is subsidised, irrespective of need, obviously very few will voluntarily purchase their own homes and vacate new council houses. They cause hardship to ratepayers, and I do not think anybody here will deny that that happens. They further discourage the provision of private rented accommodation, because people think that in the long term it will be impossible to compete. They discourage owner-occupation, perhaps particularly in Scotland. In general, indiscriminate subsidy, which is paid alike to those who need it and those who do not, would make impossible the scheme, which is now being argued for by many people of all political persuasions, to pay to those in regulated tenancies rent rebates on the same basis as to those in council accommodation.
The G.L.C. in the past two years has been attempting to bring the level of rents in G.L.C. council houses up to the fair rent level that prevails in the private sector as a result of the Government's 1965 Housing Act. That seems to me to be not only a reasonable objective but the only reasonable objective, and the council intended to do that not immediately but over three years. The council intended that over that three years the rate subsidy, which was running at £4 million when the Conservative Party took over, should be eliminated, and that the only subsidy being paid should be the Exchequer subsidy. What has happened, as a result of Government interference, is that the contribution from rates to rents within the G.L.C. area has risen within two years from £4 million to £8 million. That is a direct consequence of Government intervention, and yet the Government are still prepared—at least the Prime Minister is—to profess some interest in local government.
What possible justification is there for even continuing with local government if during an election a party—as the Conservative Party in London did—has gone to the electors, has spelt out in detail what it intends to do, has been elected with a massive majority, attempts to carry out its policy, and is then frustrated all down the line by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are interested not in 1230 solving London's housing problems but merely in trying to cadge a vote or two for next year's elections.
I do not think that any hon. Member who represents, or has represented, an area where there is an acute housing problem will take any great pleasure in the total collapse of the Government's housing policy; the disappearance of private rented accommodation; the decline in council house building, which is steeper in Socialist councils than in Conservative councils; the soaring cost of land and housing and rising interest rates so that house mortgages are put out of the reach of average wage earners; the total failure of house building with starts and completions falling rapidly and already below the 1964 levels. Almost every undertaking of 1964 and 1966 in the House, whether in the Prime Minister's phrase promises lightly given or a solemn pledge, have been dishonoured. This Bill will contribute nothing towards the solution of any of these problems. In so far as it is more than a bureaucratic irritant, it will hinder still further those who genuinely are trying to tackle Britain's housing problems. We will oppose it.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. Dickson Mabon)
It is only right and proper that a record-breaking sprinter should address a record-breaking Government, particularly on the subject of housing. We have nothing but pride in what we have achieved in housing in this country. This Bill is one modest contribution to the strenuous efforts that we have made in the past.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) wants to reverse the role of the Duke of Plaza-Toro in that he has managed to be so far ahead of his army as to be captured by the enemy. He managed to give figures of the number of houses coming out of the private sector. but said nothing about the number of houses cleared in slum areas. The number is well over 300,000 in the last six years. If one takes into account the amount of clearance taking place in the centre of the cities and the larger boroughs both in England and Wales and in Scotland, he will see that this explains in some degree what has happened in the private sector.
He has not listened to his hon. Friends today—those wonderful converts who 1231 have travelled the road to Damascus through the Rent Bill of 1965. I can see a number of them before me and, as a good Christian, I would not wish to chastise a convert. We believe in the soundness of fair rents and the necessity of having a fair rents policy as a subject beyond party argument.
Before going on to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Chichester, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) on a splendid maiden speech. I am sure that he will be as distinguished a Member as Mrs. Alice Cullen, not only in the House itself but in the Gorbals district which she represented so well. The hon. Member is very keen. He has already made two speeches in the Scottish Grand Committee. One was on housing, and, for the first time in the history of the Gorbals' parliamentary representation, he spoke on the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Bill. We therefore appreciated his contribution all the more.
He made a good point on the rebates scheme. In England and Wales the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and the Secretary of State for Wales as long ago as June, 1967, urged authorities to adopt good rent rebate schemes. In Scotland we have not made the same progress in giving advice from St. Andrew's House. Although nearly 90 per cent. of tenants are covered by some kind of arrangement for rebates many are not based on sound principles and help only a few tenants. However, the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, which the Conservative Party destroyed in 1951 but which we reconstituted in 1965, is drawing up principles for recommendation to the Scottish authorities on guide lines agreed with Scottish local authority associations. They look forward to the Secretary of State issuing recommendations on this topic, and I hope that this will be done quite soon.
I was sorry that we had no speech from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Lawler). He is the official Liberal spokesman on housing. Although the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) works very hard, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ladywood has been absent. Perhaps it is because my right hon. Friend the
1232 Minister of Housing and Local Government managed to get out of him in c. 901 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 4th November, 1969 that he is not the official spokesman of the Liberal Party on housing all the time but just some of the time. Therefore, we would have been very entertained by a contribution from him this evening.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has not contributed to the debate. However, I must not be unfair to him, because he has not been completely silent. He has been speaking not far away. According to the latest intelligence that I have managed to get he has been giving the enlightened souls of this country an outline of his party's policy on housing:'Own a home of your own would be the Conservative theme in the next election', said Mr. Peter Walker. the Shadow Minister of Housing and Local Government. He told the Westminster Forum— which I understand is a party discussion group in London—that the building of council houses would be curbed and people would be encouraged to purchase their own homes.I have no quarrel with the question of purchasing one's own home, but it is really letting the cat out of the bag to talk about curbing council housing. It has been our policy to encourage building in both the private and the public sector—
§ Dr. Mabon
If there is any regression in the public sector, it is due entirely to the activities of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in encouraging Tory-controlled councils to cut back in their programmes. The hon. Member for Chichester had the nerve to talk about promises lightly given. What about those of the Tories in the G.L.C. elections? They promised to maintain the housing programme, but what is happening in London? Is it suggested that they have maintained the housing programme in London? If so, it is not true. It is not a promise lightly given. It is a promise broken.
§ Mr. Chataway
While almost every local authority's programme has gone down, those of Socialist-controlled authorities have gone down by greatly more
1233 than those of Conservative-controlled authorities, as a result of high interest rates and Government Measures.
§ Dr. Mabon
The hon. Gentleman is wriggling very well and very fast, but not every local authority's programme has gone down. Some have maintained their programmes and even improved on them. Those which have gone down are the programmes of Tory-controlled authorities, under instructions not from the Guru of Wolverhampton but from the Fakir of Worcester, who is now telling us—
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Will the hon. Gentleman now explain why, in the last 12 months for which figures are available, the number of starts in Socialist-controlled areas has gone down by 43 per cent.?
§ Dr. Mabon
I am obliged for your defence of my interests and those of the House, Mr. Speaker.
Since the Conservatives have assumed control in many municipal chambers, they have deliberately gone out of their way to cut their housing programmes, and the hon. Member for Worcester confirms that by his words. I repeat them:The building of council houses would be curbed and people would be encouraged to purchase their own homes.Did he say that this evening? If he did not, I will apologise and take it up with those who have given me the information.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
First of all, will the Minister of State now answer the question whether Socialist-controlled boroughs have curbed their programmes by 43 per cent. and, if so, why?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I said that I would much prefer to encourage people to become owner-occupiers than to be council house tenants.
§ Dr. Mabon
I am content to settle for that reply. I will read tomorrow's Press reports of his speech and compare it with what the hon. Gentleman now says. In view of that half answer, I will leave over my answer—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has managed to occupy too much of our time. As he did not have the courage to say that in the House of Commons but would rather go outside and say it, I will reply to hon. Members who have made speeches here.
I readily admit that the hon. Member for Chichester has made a splendid speech on behalf of the G.L.C. As an alderman, why not? But does he defend the reports that we have had from London Members of what is happening in the G.L.C.? My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling)—another silent Member—tells me that in recent months the G.L.C. has been evicting tenants who have been in arrears for quite modest amounts. We know that the moment these poor families are evicted, for whatever reason, they are immediately a problem landed on the door of the borough council not just in terms of welfare, but in terms of the ultimate rehousing of that family in council housing. This is the kind of obnoxious treatment that we are getting from the Tory-controlled G.L.C.
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), during the proceedings on the Rent Bill, was known among us as the mills of God grinding exceeding slow. However, I must not be critical of the hon. Gentleman because he is a convert. He did not like fair rents. He gave us a free confession today of his earlier misdemeanours and sins, because he admitted how wrong he was and how right we are now to maintain the fair rent system. But this willing Dobbin, this willing party horse who plods along his lonely furrow on many a night —and I have been with him on such occasions—has managed to forget, by not looking beyond his blinkers, that we are talking about the economic position. The Bill is not completely a housing Bill; it is relevant to economic policy. It may be wrong, but it is related to economic policy.
1235 In contrast, the hon. Member for Chichester at least did us the honour of paying a touching reference to the object of the Bill. He may not agree with it, but he took the point which the hon. Member for Crosby managed to miss out. For an old campaigner like him, it is sad to see him forget the main point in an argument.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am sorry that the Minister was not listening when I dealt with the economic factors. I said that this would not have the slightest effect on the prices and incomes policy.
I confess that the hon. Gentleman is better at trivia than about principles. I will give him this point on trivia. He was right when he asked the Minister of State about the two figures in his proposals. The 273 which my hon. Friend talked about were for rent increases which were rejected altogether. The 259, which he caught us out on, were those which involved an average increase of 7s. 6d. a week or less. So the difference was those concerned with 7s. 6d. However, I do not think that the hon. Member for Crosby was right about the economic points. I will try to return to this at the end of my remarks.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), the young Member, which is even sadder, for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester), and the hon. Members for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) and Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) have all urged us in different ways to look at a new system or, more particularly, to leave the local authorities alone because Whitehall did not know best. I wonder whether the constituents in Kensington and Chelsea would prefer Whitehall to know right than their own borough council which originally proposed a rent increase, not of 7s. 6d. or 10s., but of 29s. 6d. I wonder whether the electors of Sandy Urban District, which is near South Northants—[Interruption.] It is not far away, really.
Order. If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Member for 1236 Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) must sit down.
It is the county next door. Do not give a Scotsman a geography lesson at this time of night. My point is: who would be right? Would the hon. Gentleman side with the Government in trying to restrain increases or would he agree with the Sandy Urban District Council that it should be 18s. 9d.? That is a rhetorical question.
Order. Even a rhetorical question does not entitle the hon. Gentleman to intervene. Dr. Mabon.
§ Mr. Jones
The hon. Gentleman must get his facts right about the relationship of the Sandy Urban District Council and the constituency which I have the honour to represent, and he must not confuse what I said with the point that he is trying to make about the general level of rents and increases in rents. I did not deal with that at all. Will the hon. Gentleman now deal with the point that I did raise, which related to the contribution offered by the Government for the repair and maintenance of tower blocks of flats?
§ Dr. Mabon
I shall return to that at the end of my speech. I accept the geographical correction, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for bracketing him with his hon. Friends in the argument which I am trying to refute. I realise how uncomfortable that can be.
Are we to accept the views of the English Minister on rent increases, or those of the councillors of Lichfield Rural District Council who wanted to raise rents by 21s. 9d.? That is the point, and we in Scotland are proud that the majority of authorities have not misbehaved in the sense of having sharp and excessive increases in rent all in one year. The vast majority of authorities have behaved very well.
What we are really dealing with is the minority of authorities, of which the G.L.C. is the prime sinner. It is because of this minority, which I mentioned earlier, and which were mentioned by
1237 the Minister of State at the beginning of the debate, that this problem is so important. Although we in Scotland have a large number of authorities to deal with, even though we are a small country, in dealing with 232 proposals we had to reject only 30, and of those 30 four were rejected because the average increase was more than 7s. 6d. That is pretty good. We, unlike our English and Welsh colleagues, have no need for a formal compact, almost a concordat, between State and local authorities, such as my right hon. Friend made known to the House on 6th November. We in Scotland rely simply on the note of a meeting which was circulated and approved by individual local authority associations after that meeting. There is no question of any of the acrimony which the hon. Member for Chichester tried so hard to inject into the relationship with local authority associations.
The Association of Municipal Corporations, whatever interpretation it may have placed on this, is not the sole voice of the councils in England and Wales, never mind in Great Britain. We in Scotland would resent the suggestion that our local authorities can be spoken for by the Association of Municipal Corporations. It is entitled to its interpretation, but the fact is that we have an agreed system. It is one which has worked and will work in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) talked about the difference in private and public sector house building in Scotland, about the contrast with England, and also about our unemployment problem and the wage gap. My hon. Friend was dwelling on the fact that we have had a wage gap for some time compared with the United Kingdom as a whole, but under this Government that gap is closing rapidly. From 94.3 per cent. of the United Kingdom average as the average weekly earnings of a Scottish adult male manual worker in 1964, it is now 97.2 as at the last index. In other spheres, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and in electronics, we are beginning to see our people being paid as much as if not more than, those who are earning high wages in the south-east of England. That is why in 1968 the private sector in Scotland has built more houses in one year than was ever achieved since 1934,
1238 but that is still not good enough. By English standards it is a wrong proportion.
I accept that the criticism is valid, but when we, as Scots Members, are urging Scotsmen to try to own their own homes, I think that we must rub into them the fact—and this will impress many a Scot —that there are immense financial advantages in owning one's own home. My hon. Friend the Minister of State spelled this out in British terms today, when he said that in 1969–70 this benefit is estimated to total about £224 million. He went on to say that on average an owner-occupier with a mortgage will receive about £47 10s. by way of tax relief, about half as much again as the average subsidy per council tenant, which is £30 a year. That is only arguing the capital advantage of owning one's own home. After all, it was Blatchford, an early Socialist, long before the Tory Party was thought of, who invented the phrase, "The property-owning democracy ". We are against the exploitation of people through the ownership of property by others. This is a theory of the Socialist Party, but we think of this phrase with "property-owning" hyphenated and not in terms of the property owning the democracy.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Gentleman accused me of dealing with trivia, but the trivial figure which he gave was £30 as a subsidy for the council tenant. This cannot be right. Would he deal with the figure given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) of £200 and £400 in London?
§ Dr. Mabon
With respect, that was dealt with by my hon. Friend. What I gave were exactly his words:… just about half as much again as the average subsidy per council tenant, that is, £30 a year.The hon. Gentleman cannot wriggle out of that one.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. l3rown), not only on his excellent speech, but on the eight others which he managed to deliver in helpful interventions in the speeches of other hon. Members. I undertake to consider his very good point about charitable organisations which, in their own time and perhaps still today, are 1239 still justified in the housing field. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to consider that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) made a very fair point about the working of the Rent Act which we hope the Francis Committee will be able to report upon. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) as usual made a very constructive speech. He may have been a little disappointed that the Bill did not go as far as he would have liked. My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) made the same point, and another as well, which we will consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) also discussed the operation of the Rent Act.
As my hon. Friends know, work on the longer-term review of housing finance is progressing. We have now spent a year on this work. The review embraces all issues relating to rents and housing subsidies, including the housing revenue account and the function of rate fund contributions, and it is taking into account the recommendations for this year of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, the report of which has been quoted so often tonight, and other bodies.
I am very pleased to say that we now have the recent report of the Labour Party Housing Policy Study Group and of course we await the report of sub-Committee B of the Select Committee on Estimates. It is expected shortly and I hope that it will touch on the general issues of housing finance. To be worthwhile, the review which we are undertaking just now must be extensive and thorough.
§ Mr. Driberg
When my hon. Friend says that all issues are being studied, does he include the extension of security of tenure to council tenants, especially in the G.L.C. areas?
§ Dr. Mabon
I have no doubt that, as a consequence of what is going on now together with what has been done in the review of the working of the Rent Act, and particular points made by my hon. Friends about local authorities and housing 1240 associations, that point will be covered, but I will check this with my right hon. Friends to make sure that it will.
I agree that it is neither right nor practicable that the whole of any increase should be met by ratepayers. That is what hon. Members opposite have argued against. Neither is it fair, I submit, or sensible that all increases, whatever their size, must be met by council tenants. In this Bill, the Government are taking the middle view, that there should be principles governing rent increases. Certain overriding principles are worked into the Bill, but on this occasion a number of principles have been agreed between the Government and the associations. In many cases, the form which they have taken are on the record for hon. Members to examine.
The principles which we have recommended in the Bill concern the size of any increase and are that, normally, rents must not be increased by more than 7s. 6d. on average in any 52-week period and that no increase for any individual dwelling may exceed 10s. The Secretary of State negotiated separately the guidelines with local authorities and I am sure that that will be worth examining to see the differences which are reflected in the administration North and South of the Border.
On regulated rents, our policy is broadly the same as that under the 1968 Act. I am very pleased that the House generally endorsed the position on the fair rents system which we introduced in 1965.
The system of regulated rents provided for independent rent officers to fix fair rents for certain privately let houses. However, a new rent fixed by a rent officer or rent committee, even though fair can still cause hardship. I regret that this point was missed by hon. Gentlemen opposite because this is the reason for phasing rent increases. It is not a question of failing to implement them, which is what the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) tried to argue, but of being reasonable in the matter.
Either under the 1968 Act arrangements or under the Housing Acts passed earlier this year or under this Measure, we wish to restrain the rate of increase so as to avoid creating unreasonable burdens on people. These restrictions are
1241 particularly important for those who are living in private accommodation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) pointed out in an excellent maiden speech.
The size of some increases following the registration of fair rents is such as to justify the continuation of the phasing policy in the private sector, especially when rents in the public sector are being restrained. However, on this occasion we are profiting by experience. Perhaps what we are proposing will be considered to be a more acceptable arrangement than under the 1968 Act; namely, that so long as control under the Bill remains, an increase may not in a year be more than one-third of the difference between the old rent and the new regulated rent, or 7s. 6d. a week, whichever is the greater.
I believe that I have answered most of the questions asked in the debate.
§ Mr. Rossi
I have in mind a statement which the hon. Gentleman made earlier when he castigated—that seems to be his game tonight—the G.L.C., saying that its programme was falling back. He did not inform the House of the contents of a letter which his Department received from Mr. Desmond Plummer on 3rd November which admitted a fall back in the G.L.C. programme but which attributed it entirely to the yardstick procedures which were being adopted by the hon. Gentleman's Department.
§ Dr. Mabon
I am glad that I gave the hon. Gentleman a chance to make that point. Not only is he the champion of the G.L.C., as he has been tonight, but presumably he is also defending the Haringey Conservatives. He is only proving that the house building programme has gone down as a result of the dictat of the hon. Member for Worcester. In Committee we will be able to deal with each hon. Gentleman opposite in turn. We will supply them with the necessary figures of house building programmes which have been deliberately curbed by instructions from Conservative Central Office because hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that the gentlemen in Smith Square know better than town councillors throughout the country.
The Bill is part of the Government's policy for prices and incomes. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have tried to suggest that the Measure has no place in such a context. I do not pretend, being a modest chap, that my hon. Friends have a permanent monopoly of wisdom in these matters—[Interruption.]—but the fact that the Bill differs from the present Act shows that we are prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have little to offer, except the abandonment of attempts to control the economy. They would leave everything to a free market. We all know what that would mean. Rents would rise to a level which only the rich could afford while the poor would go to the wall. The only sensible policy on rents is the policy which we are trying to achieve, as part of our policy for prices and incomes. This is a policy of moderation. This is what the Bill seeks to achieve and I hope that the House will endorse it.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 217.1247
|Division No. 8.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Blenkinsop, Arthur|
|Albu, Austen||Barnes, Michael||Boardman, H. (Leigh)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Barnett, Joel||Booth, Albert|
|Alldritt, Walter||Baxter, William||Boston, Terence|
|Allen, Schofield||Beaney, Alan||Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur|
|Anderson, Donald||Bence, Cyril||Boyden, James|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Bradley, Tom|
|Ashley, Jack||Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Bray, Dr. Jeremy|
|Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Bidwell, Sydney||Brooks, Edwin|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Binns, John||Broughton, Sir Alfred|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Bishop, E. S.||Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Blackburn, F.||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Harper, Joseph||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Buchan, Norman||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Haseldine, Norman||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hazell, Bert||Moyle, Roland|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Heffer, Eric S.||Murray, Albert|
|Cant, R. B.||Henig, Stanley||Neal, Harold|
|Carmichael, Neil||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Newens, Stan|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hilton, W. S.||Noel-Baker,Rt,Hn.Philip|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Hobden, Dennis||Oakes, Gordon|
|Chapman, Donald||Hooley, Frank||Ogden, Eric|
|Coe. Denis||Hooson, Emlyn||O'Halloran, M. J.|
|Coleman, Donald||Horner, John||O'Malley, Brian|
|Concannon, J. D.||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Oram, Albert E.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Howie, W.||Orme, Stanley|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Hoy, Rt. Hn. James||Oswald, Thomas|
|Cronin, John||Huckfield, Leslie||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Crossman,Rt. Hn. Richard||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Hunter, Adam||Paget, R. T.|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Hynd, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Davidson,James(Aberdeenshire,W.)||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Davies Edynfed Hudson (Conway)||Jackson, Peter H. (High Peak)||Park, Trevor|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n & St.P'cras,S.)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Dell, Edmund||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Pentland, Norman|
|Dempsey, James||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Dewar, Donald||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Dickens, James||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Doig, Peter||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Driberg, Tom||Judd, Frank||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Dunn, James A.||Kelley, Richard||Probert, Arthur|
|Dunnett, Jack||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Randall, Harry|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Lawson, George||Rankin, John|
|Eadie, Alex||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lee, John (Reading)||Richard, Ivor|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|English, Michael||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy|
|Ennals, David||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Lipton, Marcus||Robinson,Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Loughlin, Charles||Rodgers, William (Stockport)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Luard, Evan||Roebuck, Roy|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lubbock, Eric||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Finch, Harold||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Rose, Paul|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rowlands, E.|
|Fletcher,Rt.Hn.Sir Eric(Islington,E.)||McCann, John||Ryan, John|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||MacColl, James||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacDermot, Niall||Sheldon, Robert|
|Foley, Maurice||Macdonald, A. H.||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton.N.E.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||McElhone, F.||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Ford, Ben||McGuire, Michael||Silverman, Julius|
|Forrester, John||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Slater, Joseph|
|Fowler, Gerry||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Small, William|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Mackie, John||Snow, Julian|
|Freeson, Reginald||Maclennan, Robert||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Gardner, Tony||McNamara, J. Kevin||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Garrett, W. E.||MacPherson, Malcolm||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Ginsburg, David||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Golding, J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Swain, Thomas|
|Gordan Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)||Taverne, Dick|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Manuel, Archie||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Mapp, Charles||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Gregory, Arnold||Marks, Kenneth||Thornton, Ernest|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Marquand, David||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Maxwell, Robert||Tinn, James|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mayhew, Christopher||Tomney, Frank|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Mendelson, John||Urwin, T. W.|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mikardo, Ian||Varley, Eric G.|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Millan, Bruce||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Hamling, William||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hannan, William||Molloy, William||Wallace, George|
|Watkins, David (Consett)||Wilkins, W. A.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Watkins, Tudor (Brecon Radnor)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Weitzman, David||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)||Woof, Robert|
|Wellbeloved, James||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Whitaker, Ben||Willis, Rt. Hn. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|White, Mrs. Eirene||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)||Mr. Neil McBride and|
|Whitlock, William||W innick, David||Mr. R. F. H. Dobson.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Glover, Sir Douglas||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Goodhart, Philip||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Goodhew, Victor||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Astor, John||Gower, Raymond||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Grant, Anthony||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gresham Cooke, R.||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Grieve, Percy||Murton, Oscar|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Balniel, Lord||Gurden, Harold||Neave, Airey|
|Batsford, Brian||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nott, John|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bell, Ronald||Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Orr-Ewing, S r Ian|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Biffen, John||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Peel, John|
|Blaker, Peter||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Percival, Ian|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Hastings, Stephen||Peyton, John|
|Body, Richard||Hawkins, Paul||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hay, John||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pounder, Rafton|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Heseltine, Michael||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Braine, Bernard||Higgins, Terence L.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brewis, John||Hiley, Joseph||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hill, J. E. B.||Pym, Francis|
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt.Col.SirWalter||Hirst, Geoffrey||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Ho land, Philip||Ramsden, Rt Hn. James|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hordern, Peter||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N & M)||Hornby, Richard||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Burden, F. A.||Hunt, John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Iremonger, T. L.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Chataway, Christopher||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Jopling, Michael||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Clark, Henry||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Royle, Anthony|
|Clegg, Walter||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Cooke, Robert||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Kershaw, Anthony||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cordle, John||Kimball, Marcus||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Corfield, F. V.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Sharples, Richard|
|Costain, A. P.||Kitson, Timothy||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Silvester, Frederick|
|Crouch, David||Lambton, Viscount||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Crowder, F. P.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Lane, David||Speed, Keith|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stainton, Keith|
|Dance, James||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Stoddart-Scott, Col, Sir M.|
|Dean, Paul||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|odds-Parker, Douglas||Longden, Gilbert||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Temple, John M.|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||MacArthur, Ian||Thatcher, Mts. Margaret|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Tilney, John|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Eden, Sir John||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Elliott,R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Maddan, Martin||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Maginnis, John E.||Waddington, David|
|Eyre, Reginald||Marten, Neil||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Farr, John||Mawhy, Ray||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Ward, C. (Swindon)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Foster, Sir John||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wiggin, A. W.|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Mitchel, David (Basingstoke)||Williams, Donald (Dudley)|
|Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)||Worsley, Marcus||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick||Wright, Esmond||Mr. Jasper More and|
|Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard||Wylie, N. R.||Mr. Hector Monro.|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. McBride.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.