HC Deb 27 January 1971 vol 810 cc518-21
3. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the approximate proportion of local authority tenants who will be expected to bear the costs of reduction in public expenditure indicated in New Policies for Public Spending, paragraph 13; and what will be the expected reductions in the years 1971–72 and 1972–73.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Julian Amery)

Housing subsidies will not be reduced in 1971–72. The reductions in paragraph 35 of the White Paper relate to subsidies which would have been paid if the present system continued. I cannot at present estimate the effect of the new system on tenants in any given year, but I am now discussing with the local authority associations the change to fair rents and the rebates for those tenants who cannot afford the fair rent.

Mr. Pavitt

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his proposals will mean that by about the middle of this decade between £100 million and £200 million extra must fall to be borne by council tenants? As they are hard-pressed enough now, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for something to be done to relieve them of this burden?

Mr. Amery

As I said, there will be no cut in subsidies in the year 1971–72. After that the rebate system will be introduced, so that those tenants on whom the move towards fair rents might be thought to bear hardly will find relief.

Mr. McNamara

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I wrote to him concerning rent rebates and family income supplement before the introduction of the Government's new scheme. Will the Minister tell the House what progress he has made in informing the local authorities about the family income supplement and asking them not to raise the rents of families which receive an increase in their income as a result of the family income supplement?

Mr. Amery

I do not want to anticipate the statement which I shall be making to the House when discussions with the local authority associations are completed. These discusions are still in progress and are confidential.

Mr. Crosland

While there may not be an absolute reduction in subsidies, there will be a huge reduction compared with what there would otherwise have been. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this will mean a large increase in council house rents almost all over the country? In view of the widespread anxiety amongst council tenants, will the Minister at least tell us when he expects to finish his consultations and when he will make a statement?

Mr. Amery

I do not wish to state a rigid time limit to my talks with the local authority associations. These talks are making good progress, and I do not want to make a statement until they are finished.

Mr. J. T. Price

Why do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues always employ the term "fair rents" when what they really mean is higher rents?

Mr. Amery

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The term "fair rent" was devised by the previous Administration.

8. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has completed the consultations with the local authority associations regarding housing subsidies; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Amery

Consultations are in progress but I cannot at present make a statement.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that many of us on this side of the House do not consider that consultation only with local authority associations and not with elected members of local authorities is fully democratic? Before he completes his consultations, will he get in touch with a few Labour-controlled local authorities which tackle the housing problem more progressively?

Mr. Amery

All authorities are represented on the local authority associations and have the opportunity of making their views known.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Whatever Conservative councillors advise, does the Minister realise that if he goes ahead with the cutting of subsidies to the extent proposed there will be such serious increases in rent as to lead to the stopping of all future council building and serious disturbances among four million families?

Mr. Amery

I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares our concern in concentrating our funds to relieve those in most need, those local authorities and individuals which are hardest pressed. "To each according to his need" is our guideline.

Mr. Cant

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that certain temporarily Tory-controlled city councils are using this delay to resist advice from their city treasurers to make an adjustment to bring housing accounts which are going into serious deficit into equilibrium? Will he write to the City Council of Stoke-on-Trent and urge his colleagues there to do something about this situation, which is causing the City Treasurer and others great dismay?

Mr. Amery

The speech which we have heard from the hon. Gentleman seems to me to be a travesty of the facts.

Mr. Marsh

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that trying to get answers to questions on housing is rapidly becoming like trying to milk a wooden cow—a fascinating exercise with not much productivity at the end of it? The right hon. Gentleman says he does not know the answer to any issue of housing policy which has been put to him. We on this side of the House are waiting for replies on at least three reports and to hear the Government's policy on housing finance and on council rents. When will the Government have a policy?

Mr. Amery

The modesty of our statements stands in favourable contrast to the deliberately misleading statements put out by the previous Administration.