HC Deb 19 May 1971 vol 817 cc1241-3
1. Mr. Skinner

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

10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made with the preparation of a national system of rent rebates, in view of the prospective increases in rents.

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

My consultations on the reform of housing finance, including the national scheme for rent rebates and allowances, should be concluded shortly.

Mr. Skinner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that by delaying the statement even longer than we reasonably expected he failed to hoodwink the electors and produced 2,800 Labour gains throughout the country last week and the week before? Will he show a little courage, try a little honest government for a change and announce the proposals before the by-elections next Thursday?

Mr. Amery

No. The proposals must be discussed at every level and with the appropriate persons concerned. I will tell the House in due course the conclusions we have reached.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there must be swingeing increases in council house rents as a result of the policies of the Government—indeed, they have admitted that themselves—and, precisely because the people knew that, they gave the right hon. Gentleman and his Government their answer last Thursday? Will he take account of the local election results and rescind this wicked policy which will penalise many thousands of working-class people, with the result that wage demands will increase still further?

Mr. Amery

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is taking full account of our proposals for rent rebates and rent allowances, which may lead to certain people paying less rent than they are paying today.

Sir G. Nabarro

While dissociating myself absolutely from the preposterous statements of the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), may I remind my right hon. Friend that there are millions of owner-occupiers in Britain suffering from inordinately high mortgage interest rates because whenever the Government cause Bank Rate to be reduced there is no commensurate reduction in mortgage interest rates? Will my right hon. Friend apply himself to that important aspect of housing finance?

Mr. Amery

I take my hon. Friend's point. I have applied myself to the subject. On the other hand, I understand the view of the building societies that it is more important that they should have plenty of money at current rates than not enough money at cheaper rates.

Mr. Cant

Has the right hon. Gentleman ever lived on a council house estate or near one, and has he tried to measure the consequences of driving out of council house estates old people who have an income above a certain level? Will he suggest to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that this might be a social and environmental disaster?

Mr. Amery

I have not lived on a council estate, although I have lived in a terraced house since I was born. However, I had some experience of council housing matters, when I was the Member for part of Preston for 17 years. I do not yield to the hon. Gentleman in my experience of this subject and its problems.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present system whereby there are great disparities in council house rents is totally unfair? Does he not see the possibility of the very high rents charged in some places being brought down while agreeing that some of the very low rents which are charged should be increased?

Mr. Amery

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I think that our proposals will have the effect of reducing rents for those in need as well as enabling authorities in areas of stress to have more money available for clearing slums.

Mr. Denis Howell

There is an important point on the question of consultation and the promulgation of the Government's policy on rents. Since the Minister has been negotiating with the local authority associations and local authorities, the political complexion of those bodies has changed, and will change even more in the forthcoming year. Since the Minister will get different advice now, will he start his consultations again to take account of the new mood and opinion in the country?

Mr. Amery

It would not be constructive or in the public interest to go back to square one and start the talks all over again. We have negotiated in great detail, and have made considerable advances, but the talks are not yet completed. I am always ready to receive further representations, but I am not prepared to go back to square one.