HC Deb 04 August 1971 vol 822 cc1559-61
7 and 25. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) what is the average rent of county councils in the landward areas and what the standard rent will be after the transitional period as contained in the White Paper, The Reform of Housing Finance in Scotland, Command Paper No. 4727;

(2) what is the estimated deficit on the Housing Revenue Account of county councils; and what average increase per house on rent per annum would be required to square the Housing Revenue Account.

20. Mr. Gourlay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what the standard rent will be in the burghs of Buckhaven and Methil, and Kirkcaldy, after the transitional period, as stated in the White Paper, The Reform of Housing Finance in Scotland, Command Paper No. 4727.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The information about present rents and about deficits on housing revenue accounts is published in "Rents of Houses owned by Public Authorities in Scotland, 1970", Cmnd 4607, and "Rating Review January 1971". The level of rents required to balance housing revenue accounts will depend on the amounts of the new subsidies and increased costs, which will vary from authority to authority and cannot be forecast with any precision.

Mr. Eadie

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has a responsibility to inform council tenants and local authorities in Scotland that if the terms of the White Paper become law it will mean that after the transitional period council tenants and other public bodies will have £156 added to their present average rents per year, and that that will be the standard rent?

Second, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that his answer to the second part of the Question shows that if local authorities were to square their housing revenue accounts the figure would be less of a rent increase than £156? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to back the trade union movement in its demand for increased wages to meet this colossal and scandalous proposition of increased rents?

Mr. Campbell

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's estimates. The rebate scheme will, for the first time, be a national scheme throughout the public sector and the private sector. It will help those who cannot afford the new rents. As I said earlier today, rents can rise only by a certain reasonable step each year. The previous Government doubled the average council house rent in Scotland in 5½ years. Ratepayers in Scotland will benefit—and many tenants are ratepayers, too—because at the moment they are paying 37 per cent. of the cost of council housing, with tenants paying 40 per cent.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my constituency is an area of high unemployment, with a present rate of 6.3 per cent., and that it is also a low-wage-earning area? It is quite easy to project what the standard rent will be in Kirkcaldy at the end of the transitional period, particularly in respect of the four-apartment house. I understand that the weekly payment will be more than £5.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to provide more generous rent rebates under this scheme or, better still, will he tear up this White Paper on Housing Finance and introduce an improved and more generous subsidy structure for providing houses in Scotland?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman has omitted to mention the housing expenditure subsidy and the Exchequer subsidy towards the rent rebate schemes. These schemes will apply to persons who are unemployed or who receive low incomes. This is the first time that there has been a scheme to cover all such people.

Mr. Brewis

Is it not the case that this scheme is designed for areas where there are high unemployment and low incomes, and that this scheme will be of benefit not only in council housing but also in private housing?

Mr. Campbell

It will certainly benefit the whole housing situation in Scotland to remove the incredible distortions which exist at present, when ratepayers are paying nearly as much as tenants for council housing. At the same time, it will enable us to move forward with slum clearance and many other things which we need to carry out.

Mr. Lawson

Is it not the case that these Questions relate to the standard rent which is aimed at balancing the housing revenue account? Will the right hon. Gentleman not be honest and tell us that in the constituency of Motherwell it would require a multiplication of the present rent by a factor of three in order to reach the standard rent?

Mr. Campbell

When the hon. Gentleman raised this matter in Committee he made a calculation and said that if the rent were trebled it would produce a standard rent of £6 in Motherwell. We did a quick check and discovered that he was wrong and that trebling the rent would produce a standard rent of £3 15s. That calculation was made quickly, but it showed that the hon. Gentleman was twice out in his own estimate.