HC Deb 18 November 1970 vol 806 cc1235-45

3.31 p.m.

The Under-Secretary, of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)

I beg to move Amendment No. 65, in page 1, line 26, leave out from 'substitute' to end of subsection and insert: 'higher amounts for those for the time being specified in this section'. The Amendment will ensure that the prescribed amount levels cannot be reduced. It meets a point made by the Opposition, who have tabled an Amendment which is technically imperfect. This meets precisely the same point, and I am very glad that we start the afternoon by accepting in effect a valuable suggestion put forward by the Opposition. There was never any intention by the Government that the prescribed levels should be reduced. The Amendment achieves what both the Opposition and the Government wish to achieve.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for moving the Amendment, which meets a point we raised, and we are very pleased to accept it. We hope that the hon. Gentleman will note that there are a number of good and rather bigger suggestions later. We are sure that he will accept them in the same spirit.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)

I should like to turn to the question of rents, which we discussed last night, when the Under-Secretary of State gave a rather brief reply to the short debate on that issue. We understand why his reply was brief. It was because of the lateness of the hour, when everyone wanted to make progress.

As I understand the hon. Gentleman's reply, he gave two main answers to the points put to him. First, he said that if we wrote into the Bill a provision that account should be taken of the rents payable on the lines suggested in our Amendment the scheme would be delayed, and everyone would like to see the scheme, such as it is, come into operation as soon as possible. Second, he said that the matter was in any event covered by the proposals of the Secretary of State for the Environment on the standard rent allowance.

If it were true that this provision cannot be inserted now because it would delay the scheme, then we should have to accept that. But could not the hon. Gentleman undertake to put it in as soon as possible? Could not he or his right hon. Friend move on Report an Amendment enabling the standard rent to be considered as soon as the administrative problems have been solved?

There is no doubt that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services must recognise the importance of this element. He said on 10th November: I must confirm that there are large numbers of working households which are very hard pressed although their incomes are often substantially above the supplementary benefit level. We might add that that applies not only to those above but also to those below that level. The hon. Gentleman went on: There is one principal reason for this. It is that many of the poorest pay large rents. In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman changed the proportion of families below the supplementary benefit levels that were to be helped. Just before this passage he had said: We shall help over half the households below the poverty line as defined by the supplementary benefit level. But after the passage which I have just read, in which he referred to the depressing effect of high rents on family income, he said: The people who pay large rents are not helped by the Bill, and that is why the Measure brings help to only between one-half and one-third of working households below the supplementary benefit level."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1970; Vol. 806, c. 226–7.] We have been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) of the kind of families that are affected. They are particularly the large families, of whom there are many amongst the lower-paid. They are the families with the greatest difficulties in the first place in finding council house accommodation. Often this is because of the severe competition for council houses with the large number of bedrooms that such families require. So they pay high private rents instead. They include many families where the wage-earner is a casual labourer, and the nature of his work means that they move from the area of one housing authority to another. In those cases there is a desperate search for the kind of accommodation that the family must have. They often end up paying rents which are high by any standards but which are aggravated still more by the fact that they need larger accommodation.

The solution of including rent should commend itself to the Government, because it deals to some extent with the central problem they are seeking to meet. They are trying to deal with the difference between a family in work and a family out of work. There are cases where a family in work may be worse off but the breadwinner still goes to work out of a sense of self-respect. However, that is not likely to happen if the gap is too big, and it is likely to be too large precisely for the large families with many children—that was the reason for the other Amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams)—and where the Supplementary Benefits Commission helps with the rent if the wage-earners are out of work but where no help is given when they are in work. The logic of the philosophy behind the Bill requires it to help in precisely such cases.

The other answer given by the Government was that we should wait for the proposals for a standard rent allowance. Some of my hon. Friends have already pointed out the long time gap which will occur. It may be that there will be some delay before the rent can be taken into consideration for the purpose of F.I.S. I believe that that would be a delay of perhaps a few months. But if families have to wait for the standard rent allowance to come into operation they will have to wait 18 months to two years, and perhaps three years.

We do not know how much help the standard rent allowance will give in these very needy cases. We shall have a wider spread of assistance, but at the same time we shall have a big saving on present projections. We have no guarantees, as we have no figures, that the allowance will deal with the high rent problems for the large families. If the scheme which is eventually put into practice by the Secretary of State for the Environment is adequate to meet the high rent problem, nothing will have been lost by putting it in the Bill, because this matter will have been catered for anyway. The provisions may be otiose, but they will do no harm. If the scheme is not sufficiently generous to help with the high rent problem of large families, safeguards should be provided in the Bill.

The third point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick was that the scheme does not apply to furnished accommodation. There will be many cases where low earners paying high rents will have to find furnished lodgings because nothing else is available.

For these three reasons—the time gap, the doubt about how far the scheme will cover it, and the gap in the provisions about furnished accommodation—I do not see that the Government can rely on the proposals of the Secretary of State for the Environment meeting this severe problem which was recognised by the right hon. Gentleman himself.

I come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin about the test of the good faith of the Government. They have never answered the point that they promised £30 million of aid and are providing only £7 million. All the arguments about how much FAM would provide are irrelevant to the issue: are they going to help to a large extent or to a small extent—to the extent that they promised? If the Government wrote an Amendment into the Bill on Report that rent would be taken into account as soon as it was practicable to do so—as soon as the administrative problems were solved—they would be rather less far away from the promise that they gave than at this moment.

Mr. Dean

The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) has raised a question which was discussed on Second Reading; namely, rent levels and the reason that rent is not included. I cannot add much to what I told the Committee yesterday. We fully accept, and have never disguised from the Committee, that, in taking the average rent level, those on low rents will be helped thereby, whereas those on high rents will not get the full advantage. The reason that we have taken this average figure of £2 10s. is to get the scheme off the ground as speedily as we can—the Committee has been urging us on this matter—and to keep it as simple as possible.

It was clear from the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech that to try to do in the Bill what he suggests would take us into the realm of rent policy and help with rents. This is not a matter with which we can effectively and adequately deal in a Bill of this nature. It is, after all, essentially a Bill to supplement the income of families in full-time work which are below the supplementary benefit levels. It is essentially a family income supplement. Rents are certainly an important part in the budget of any family, but equally they involve rent policy as a whole, which is a substantial matter and cannot be suitably dealt with in a Bill of this character. It is primarily for that reason that we feel that to do as the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes is not really acceptable.

I turn now to one or two particular points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Concerning the timing, we intend to introduce the family income supplement as early as possible. It is our intention that it should be introduced in August next year. There is no doubt that, to introduce the inevitable complications involved in assessing rents and introducing a rent element over and above the average figure which we have taken, would enormously complicate the scheme, the claims, and the assessments which would have to be carried out. There is little doubt, therefore, that it would be impossible to keep to the date to which I am sure the Committee would wish us to keep, namely, August, 1971. We would then be pushing back the whole scheme. We would be pushing further into the future the help which we all want to give to the families who will benefit. My right hon. Friend's scheme will go a long way to deal with this problem, and he is pressing ahead with it as fast as possible. It is hoped that the scheme will reach fruition in 1972.

Regarding the time factor, bearing in mind that were we to accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals the date of the Bill would be pushed back, there is probably little in it in practice. That is an important point.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that certain figures have been quoted, which apparently were contradictory, about the number of families below supplementary benefit level which would be helped by the Bill taking into account the level of rents. The correct figure is over one-half.

3.45 p.m.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that this was a test of good faith on the part of the Government. The test of good faith is the action which the Government intend to take. The test of good faith on family poverty is the Bill. The test of good faith on rents and on rent allowances is the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment which will introduce the new rent allowance, and, above all, will bring help for the first time to families in poverty which are in private accommodation. These are two effective examples of good faith on the part of the Government.

Finally, the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the figure of £30 million which has been dragged up before. I suppose that I must repeat, yet again, that the figure in fact, as far as the net help to poor families is concerned, would be £6 million, whereas—

Mr. Taverne


Mr. Dean

Perhaps I may finish my sentence—whereas the Bill is offering help of £7 million. Therefore, it cannot be said that the previous statement would bring more effective help.

Mr. Taverne

The hon. Gentleman is not meeting my point that the £30 million is a promise which could still be met. If the hon. Gentleman had accepted our Amendment, he would be much nearer the figure of £30 million.

Mr. Dean

I am saying that the £30 million, which we hear from the Opposition, is totally unrealistic. They have picked out one bit of the arithmetic without completing the full picture. The full picture would be £6 million, whereas the Bill is proposing a higher figure. Therefore, it is more than carrying out the pledge and the figure which was given earlier.

In view of what I have said, particularly on the rent allowance point, I hope that the Committee will feel that it is best to proceed with the Clause as it stands, combined with the provision for rent allowance which will shortly be introduced and which is another step in dealing with family poverty for those families which are being helped by the Bill.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I listened with interest to what was said by the Under-Secretary. He did not answer any of the points which I made yesterday, but I will leave that aspect because we shall have an opportunity to return to it on Report.

I am concerned about the hon. Gentleman's complacent attitude to rents. He did not pay attention to the real problem of some of the families which will be receiving F.I.S. The hon. Gentleman also placed a great deal of faith on the Parliamentary programme, by assuming that the proposals for rent allowance announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment will come into operation.

I mention this because I do not think that the Minister should close his mind to the problem. Even if one accepts the bulk of his argument, there is one area in which help could be given, and that is in the provision made for two families who are in receipt of F.I.S. For the purpose of the Bill they constitute one household, and for the purpose of rent they occupy one premise, a council house or a council flat.

In working out rebate schemes most local authorities, working on the basis of their own arrangements, or on the recommendations of the Department, take into consideration the total income coming into the house. They consider not only the income of the wage earner, but the money received by the wife and children and any people who are classed as lodgers.

It is not impossible to envisage a situation in which there are two households in receipt of F.I.S. One family has to pay the main burden of the rent. By virtue of the scales laid down for rent rebate, by virtue of having £30 within the household, it has to pay a hefty rent even though, in terms of the other family it could be very much worse off perhaps even if they have it.

We have an interval of nearly a year before the scheme is implemented. It should not be impossible for the Minister, through his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, to issue a circular drawing the attention of local authorities to the situation in which some of the tenants are in households with two families receiving FI.S., and that some provision should be made for them on the general means test basis. That should be done if one accepts the Minister's argument, which of course I do not. I think that we should be able to make this disregard in the Bill. But, even if the Minister is not prepared to do that, he could take a simple administrative step which could alleviate a great deal of the difficulty that will arise.

Mr. Taverne

The Minister's reply was totally unsatisfactory. The Clause as it stands, after the rejection of our Amendments and after the Minister's refusal to consider my suggestion, provides no solution to the gap between those in work and those out of work, particularly the large families.

The hon. Gentleman's argument about pushing back the date of implementation of the whole scheme totally fails to answer my suggestion that this provision should be incorporated in the Bill to take effect when the administrative problems have been solved. What it comes to is that the Government are determined to stick to the figure of £7 million. They have made that plain by their answer on this Clause. This has been a test of good faith, and they have failed it. We therefore intend to vote against the Clause.

Question put:

The Committee divided: Ayes 169, Noes 154.

Division No. 25.] AYES [3.54 p.m.
Adley, Robert Hannam, John (Exeter) Nott, John
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Onslow, Cranley
Atkins, Humphrey Haselhurst, Alan Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Awdry, Daniel Hastings, Stephen Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Havers, Michael Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Batsford, Brian Hawkins, Paul Page, Graham (Crosby)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Hayhoe, Barney Pike, Miss Mervyn
Benyon, W. Hicks, Robert Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Biffen, John Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Biggs-Davison, John Holland, Philip Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Holt, Miss Mary Raison, Timothy
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hornby, Richard Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Braine, Bernard Howell, David (Guildford) Redmond, Robert
Brewis, John Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Hutchison, Michael Clark Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Iremonger, T. L. Ridsdale, Julian
Bullus, Sir Eric James, David Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Carlisle, Mark Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rost, Peter
Channon, Paul Jopling, Michael Russell, Sir Ronald
Chichester-Clark, R. Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Scott, Nicholas
Churchill, W. S. Kerby, Capt. Henry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Clark, William (Surrey, East) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shelton, William (Clapham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kinsey, J. R. Sinclair, Sir George
Cockeram, Eric Knight, Mrs. Jill Speed, Keith
Cooke, Robert Knox, David Spence, John
Cordle, John Lambton, Antony Sproat, Iain
Cormack, Patrick Lane, David Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)
Costain, A. P. Langford-Holt, Sir John Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Crouch, David Le Marchant, Spencer Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Dalkeith, Earl of Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stokes, John
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack Loveridge, John Sutcliffe, John
Dean, Paul MacArthur, Ian Tapsell, Peter
Dixon, Piers McCrindle, R. A. Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) McLaren, Martin Tebbit, Norman
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McMaster, Stanley Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Eyre, Reginald Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Tilney, John
Fell, Anthony McNair-Wilson, Michael Tugendhat, Christopher
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Madel, David Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Marten, Neil Waddington, David
Fookes, Miss Janet Mawby, Ray Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fowler, Norman Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Warren, Kenneth
Fox, Marcus Meyer, Sir Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Mills, Peter (Torrington) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) White law, Rt. Hn. William
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Moate, Roger Wilkinson, John
Glyn, Dr. Alan Molyneaux, James Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Goodhew, Victor Monks, Mrs. Connie Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Gorst, John Monro, Hector Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Cower, Raymond Montgomery, Fergus Worsley, Marcus
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) More, Jasper Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Gray, Hamish Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Younger, Hon. George
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Gummer, Selwyn Mudd, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gurden, Harold Neave, Airey Mr Walter Clegg and
Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Mr. Tim Fortescue.
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Normanton, Tom
Abse, Leo Blenkinsop, Arthur Crawshaw, Richard
Albu, Austen Boardman, H. (Leigh) Cronin, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Booth, Albert Cunningham, C. (Islington, S. W.)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Bradley, Tom Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)
Armstrong, Ernest Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Ashton, Joe Buchan, Norman Deakins, Eric
Atkinson, Norman Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey
Barnes, Michael Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund
Barnett, Joel Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Dempsey, James
Beaney, Alan Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Devlin, Miss Bernadette
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Doig, Peter
Bidwell, Sydney Cohen, Stanley Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)
Bishop, E. S. Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, Central) Duffy, A. E. P.
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lamond, James Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
English, Michael Lawson, George Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Faulds, Andrew Leadbitter, Ted Robertson, John (Paisley)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Leonard, Dick Roderick, Caerlyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Roper, John
Foot, Michael Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rose, Paul B.
Ford, Ben Lipton, Marcus Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Forrester, John Lomas, Kenneth Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Freeson, Reginald Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Galpern, Sir Myer McBride, Neil Sillars, James
Garrett, W. E. McCann, John Skinner, Dennis
Ginsburg, David McCartney, Hugh Small, William
Grant, George (Morpeth) McElhone, Frank Smith, John (Lanarkshire, North)
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Mackenzie, Gregor Spearing, Nigel
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mackintosh, John P. Spriggs, Leslie
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Stallard, A. W.
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) McNamara, J. Kevin Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Hamling, William MacPherson, Malcolm Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Harman, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Marks, Kenneth Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hardy, Peter Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Taverne, Dick
Harper, Joseph Meacher, Michael Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Heffer, Eric S. Milne, Edward (Blyth) Tomney, Frank
Horam, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Tuck, Raphael
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Moyle, Roland Urwin, T. W.
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Murray, Ronald King Wainwright, Edwin
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) O'Malley, Brian Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Oram, Bert Walter, Harold (Doncaster)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North) Orbach, Maurice Wallace, George
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Orme, Stanley Wellbeloved, James
Janner, Greville Oswald, Thomas White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn, Roy (Stechford) Pardoe, John Whitehead, Phillip
Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
John, Brynmor Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Johnson, Walter (Derby, South) Pendry, Tom Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Jones, Barry (Flint, East) Pentland, Norman Woof, Robert
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, Ernest G.
Kaufman, Gerald Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kelley, Richard Probert, Arthur Mr. Alan Fitch and
Kerr, Russell Rankin, John Mr. J. D. Concannon.
Lambie, David

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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