HC Deb 15 November 1971 vol 826 cc32-169

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today the House is being asked to approve the Second Reading of a Bill which we on this side claim as the most important reform in housing to take place this century. Before dealing in some detail with the various provisisons of the Bill, I will remind the House of the problems which the Bill seeks to solve. I used the word "seeks" advisedly, because both major political parties would naturally wish to solve the housing problem. The reality is that the housing problem in many areas has been aggravated over the years rather than improved, to the disappointment of all major political parties.

When this Government took office, in rented accommodation there were 4.6 million council house tenants, 1.2 million tenants who were under a fair rent system devised by the previous Government, and 1.3 million tenants in controlled tenancies.

The fortunes of council house tenants depended very much upon the location in which they lived and the housing problems of that area. If they had the misfortune to live in the worst areas of housing, their rents frequently tended to be the highest. If they were in areas that had pursued active housing programmes, either the rent of those houses or the ratepayers had to meet a very considerable burden.

As for those under fair rent systems, the Labour Government decided, in the interests of trying to prevent the decay of the privately-rented sector, to put, first, 800,000 and then a further 400,000 houses from controlled rents to fair rents. Their objective in doing that was to bring about an improvement in the quality of that housing. The increase to fair rents affected the tenants depending upon their means, and there was no form of rent rebate scheme to assist the most poverty-stricken in this sector.

As for the 1.3 million controlled tenants, a series of reports, some by bodies set up by the Labour Government and some set up by ourselves, have commented, first, that the controlled rent system was not working in that many tenants, though they had the right to a controlled rent, were paying rents far in excess of the controlled rent, and, second, that those that were paying the controlled rent tended to be in properties that were in swift decline due to the inability of the landlord to repair the properties on the rents concerned.

This was the situation we inherited. It was a situation in which the slum clearance programme, which I should have thought most hon. Members would want to see accelerated, had been in decline and past its peak in the last few years of the Labour Government. The programme was at a rate such that, if no further slums had been created and if we had just cleared the existing slums, it would have taken 25 years to clear the backlog of existing slums.

Therefore, there should be at least an agreement on both sides that the existing system, no matter what virtues have been claimed for it, was not working. More houses were falling into slum condition. The existing slums were not being moved quickly. People in need were not receiving help. People not in need of help were receiving it.

With this analysis of the situation in mind, this Government set out to introduce this Bill. In doing this we have tried basically to deal with four major sections of the housing problem. We want, first, to ensure that local authorities with a very serious housing problem have far greater means of meeting that problem, we want to see that there is much greater equity between one council house tenant and another and one local authority and another than exists under the present system, and we want to ensure that subsidies provided by the central Government go to those most in need.

There is an element of increasing rents involved in this. It is this aspect on which the other side of the House, perhaps in political terms understandably, have concentrated. When they were in power, however, council house rents increased by two-thirds in six years. They also increased without any proper rebate scheme being given to many of those affected by the increases.

In reply to the Labour Party's endeavour to build up a national clamour about the injustice on council house tenants of rents increases, the House should be reminded of the principle on which the Labour Government sought to see that housing subsidies were applied. A year or two after right hon. and hon. Members opposite came to power in 1964 they published the basis of their housing policy in the White Paper entitled "The Housing Programme 1965 to 1970", Cmnd, 2838. I will read to the House the paragraph that applied to rent policies: But if the extra subsidies now to be provided are to be used, as they should be, to relieve those with the greatest social need, these policies should reflect the fact that the financial circumstances of council tenants vary widely. This means that subsidies should not be used wholly or evenly mainly to keep general rent levels low. Help for those who most need it can be given only if the subsidies are in large part used to provide rebates for tenants whose means are small. A number of authorities have had the courage to adopt thorough-going rent rebate schemes and have found that it does not entail raising general rent levels beyond the means of the majority of their tenants. The more generous subsidies now to be provided create an opportunity for all authorities to review their rent policies along these lines …". That was the official attitude of the Labour Government to the whole question of the housing subsidies which they provided. The reality of the last six years is that local authorities did not take their advice. Forty per cent. of local authorities provided no rent rebate schemes of any description. Of the remaining 60 per cent., many provided thoroughly inadequate rent rebate schemes. Whereas in the last Government's White Paper, at the beginning of their term of office, they suggested that a large part of the subsidy should go in rent rebate schemes, the reality of the situation that we inherited was that only £1 in every £10 of those subsidies was being used for rent rebate schemes. Therefore, I certainly argue that the measure that we are taking today is in order to pursue the principle which the previous Government laid down but which, in reality, did not work under their particular system.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The Minister is proposing a different way of allocating subsidy. Some should get more; some should get less. Is not that quite different from reducing the subsidy by up to £200 million?

Mr. Walker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no reduction in the subsidy at all.

Mr. Allaun

Yes, by £ 200 million.

Mr. Walker

The present subsidy levels are being maintained, and, therefore, the intervention was completely and utterly ill-founded.

The second objective of this reallocation besides obtaining justice between local authorities is to see that the voluntary housing movement in this country, which had declined in recent years as a result of the policies pursued by the previous Government, should revive. On this side of the House we consider that the voluntary housing movement has a very important rôle to play in the future of housing.

The third objective is to see that that area of 1. 3 million controlled tenancies has a better chance of being repaired and improved than under the existing system. The fourth objective is to give a massive impetus to the clearance of the slums.

It is under these headings that I wish to approach the detail of what we are endeavouring to do in this Bill. However, before doing so, I would say this. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech on the Address, and various hon. Members opposite have sought to suggest that because some rents will be increased this is a reactionary Bill. I must say that I would prefer as the judges of my legislation some of those who have been very actively concerned with the worst areas of housing. I should like to quote two observations on this Bill, both from men highly respected, I believe, by all political parties, and men who have been more actively concerned with the worst areas of housing in this country than probably any two men in the country—one in the local authority sector and one in the voluntary sector.

In the local authority sector there is Harry Simpson, the Housing Manager of Lambeth, a man whom anybody connected with housing will consider is one of the most progressive persons in trying to tackle housing problems. Commenting on the Bill, he said: For the first time we are going to provide housing allowances for people in the unfurnished privately rented accommodation available in this country, and this is a major social advance. The other is Father Paul Byrne, who heads the housing centre organised by Shelter in the London area. He said: Yes, I think for the first time we are subsidising people rather than bricks and mortar. Now this is a major social step forward, whatever the other anomalies and difficulties are he ended, it is still probably one of the best pieces of legislation in housing we have had for a long time I accept their judgment as being far better founded than the quite natural party political comments of the Labour Party—party political comments by a previous Government which in 1965 said that an urgent review of housing finance was needed, which constantly said that the review was taking place and which at the last General Election came forward with no proposals at all. At least the former Patronage Secretary had the decency, in his two weeks as housing Minister, to say that the one thing he would do if he were allowed more than two weeks would be to stand the previous housing policies on their head. Certainly I know that he will feel that we are endeavouring to do just that.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

At least let us get this on the record. In the two weeks when I was Minister of Housing I did not do as much damage as the right hon. Gentleman has done.

Mr. Walker

That is perfectly right. There was nothing like the increase in housing starts that there has been under me; nor was there the increase in slum clearance that there has been under the present Government.

As to the proposals, I should like to turn to the effects in the local authority sector. Clause 2 duly provides for the residual subsidy which will enable the existing subsidy system to be phased out over a period of years.

Clauses 3 and 4 provide for two subsidies which will be of immense importance to local authorities during the period of phasing out. The first is a transition subsidy, a substantial subsidy from 90 per cent. declining to 75 per cent. for any deficits which appear on the housing revenue account during this period arising from the phasing-out operation. Clause 4 provides a rising costs subsidy which will be of particular importance in encouraging local authorities with an existing housing programme to expand and continue their housing programmes without any fear of those expansions of programme having an adverse effect on their revenue.

Clause 5 provides a very important subsidy to local authorities with the worst housing problems. This is the operational deficit subsidy, which means that some 50 per cent. of subsidies on the housing revenue accounts will be met very speedily in some of the worst areas of stress. To those who believe that this is in any way an anti-social measure, I would point out that in two of the London boroughs worst affected by housing problems this will bring in an immediate benefit—in Camden a benefit of more than £ 2 million and in Newham a benefit of £1 million.

Here is a series of measures which will ensure that during this period the worst areas of housing can continue with an active and lively house building programme, and that there will be an immediate measure of relief to some of those boroughs which have had a very heavy burden in the years immediately past.

Clause 12 and Schedule 1 deal with the future trend in housing revenue accounts so far as deficits and surpluses are concerned. It means that, in effect, there will be a direct Government subsidy to authorities with serious housing problems which, therefore, probably suffer from a deficit, and the Government will meet 75 per cent. of that deficit. It also means that in the case of authorities which get a surplus as a result of our proposals 50 per cent. of the surplus will be taken back by the Government.

I wish to repeat what I tried to make clear the other day, that the figures which are projected as to the costs of our new housing proposals are net after these surpluses have been taken into account. Therefore, what the Labour Party is objecting to is one of the most remarkable pieces of practical socialism that one has seen for a long time. The Government are saying that those housing authorities which have already solved their housing problem have a large stock of existing houses, and are likely, therefore, to go into surplus as a result of the Bill, can provide funds to give sub- stantial help to those authorities which still have a massive problem. Surely, this is a practical and sensible principle which will be of major advantage to many of our towns and cities.

I come now to the fair rent assessment provisions in the local authority sector. Under Clause 52, authorities are given the task of preparing, in consultation with the rent officer if they wish, the fair rents for their stock of local authority houses. Clause 53 provides that they shall publish the details of these fair rents within six months of the Bill becoming law. During this period, they will inform their tenants of the fair rents which have been recommended. During that period, also, they will have to give tenants the right to make any representations they wish to the local authority regarding the basis upon which any fair rent has been assessed.

Thereafter, a committee, the rent scrutiny committee, will examine the fair rents listed by the local authorities and see that they are in keeping with the general principles of the fair rent basis. If that committee considers that some of the rents are not so in keeping, it will be entitled to substitute what it considers to be the fair rents in place of those rents. There will then be a two-month period in which the authority may make representations to the rent scrutiny committee on any points on which it disagrees relative to the substitutions concerned. Thereafter, these will be the fair rents, and they will be reviewed every three years.

Mr. Frank Allaun

And there is no appeal.

Mr. Walker

If a situation arises, as it will in some areas where in recent years local authority building has been done at high historic cost, in which the fair rent is lower than the existing rent, a refund will be provided for the tenant concerned during the period between the passing of the Bill and the fair rent being fixed.

I come now to what might have been the difference between the two parties had the Labour Party had the task of reforming housing finance, as it had undertaken to do. It appears from the winding-up speech of the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) in a recent debate—he was Parliamentary Secretary in the Labour Government—and from the Fabian pamphlet published by the right hon. Member for Girmsby (Mr. Crosland), that the Opposition had in mind as an alternative to fair rents the concept of pooled historic cost rents for local authority housing. I must point out the real injustice which such a system would have created.

First, a pooled historic cost rents system means that those local authorities which have the biggest need to provide new houses would of necessity have to put the biggest rent burden upon the tenants concerned. Also, if the Opposition are thinking in terms of doubling rents, I must point out that historic cost rents would, in some of the major boroughs concerned—for example, in some of the London boroughs—mean a trebling of existing rents. [Interruption.] I have the figures here. For example, one London borough currently charging £ 89 per dwelling would, under the pooled historic cost system, charge £ 289 per dwelling.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

This is not Labour Party policy. It is the Minister's imagination.

Mr. Walker

It is the imagination of the right hon. Member for Grimsby, too. [HON. MEMBERS: "No.".] It will be up to him to say what alternative system he had in mind. I can only say that the pooled historic cost system would be a very unfair way of fixing rents for local authority housing, and so far it is the only alternative suggestion which has come from the Opposition. It would result in substantial increases in rents in some of the worst and most difficult areas.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Gentleman gives the impression that if we had the pooled historic cost system some of the older properties would suffer the greatest burden. To some extent, that might be true, but the point is meaningless unless he is prepared to say that under his system the older post-1919 properties will not have a rent increase.

Mr. Frank Allaun

They will have the worst rents.

Mr. Walker

Under my system the worse the condition of the house the lower will be the rent, and, what is more, the more difficult it is for any tenant to pay that rent the bigger the rebate he will receive. That is the system which we are proposing.

For the local authorities, the rent increase will be limited to an average of 50p per year, leading up to the fair rent according to the principles laid down. That is the system for the local authorities. I shall deal later with the basis of the rent rebate scheme to be available to all local authority tenants.

Parts III and IV of the Bill deal with the position of controlled tenants, those tenants whose rents have been fixed at a level imposed many years ago. These are the houses in which some of the worst housing conditions prevail.

The Milner Holland Committee, the Denington Committee, and the Francis Committee unanimously all suggested that it was important to move from the controlled rents system to a system based on the fair rent principle. Here, I wish to make one point clear, and I hope that the Opposition for their part will make it clear, too. Under our proposals for the private sector, as for the public sector, too, the security of tenure which prevails now will remain in all sectors. It is important to have this understood, for a remark by the Leader of the Opposition, though not directly to this effect, could have been taken as giving the impression that security of tenure for these tenants would in some way disappear or be in danger. I am sure that both sides of the House agree that it is vital that all the tenants concerned should recognise that they will still have complete security of tenure.

The House will recall that in the Rent Act, 1965, passed by the previous Government, provision was made for all controlled tenancies to move to fair rents, and in the speeches of the then Labour Minister of Housing and Local Government it was made clear that the reason they were not being moved at that stage was administrative inability to deal with the problem. However, the objective of moving to fair rents was clearly stated in the 1965 Act.

Under the 1969 Act, the Labour Government decided that, after trying fair rents for a period, and having 800,000 tenancies under that system, they would extend it to a further 400,000 tenancies, and their objective was to see that a larger number of these houses were improved. In reality, their hope of seeing a larger number of houses improved has not been fulfilled, and it has not been fulfilled for two reasons. One was the elaborate administrative process needed to move over to fair rents; the other was that the movement would be over a four-year period, which proved to be a sufficient disincentive against such houses being improved.

The provision of rebates in the private sector will mean that one can now move to a fair rent on the basis that the tenant, if financially unable to meet the increased rent, will have available to him a generous rebate scheme.

Thus, in Parts III and IV we are making provision for a movement from controlled tenancies in six bands over a three-year period so that these premises will come on to the fair rent basis. I can assure the House that it will not mean rent increases for thoroughly bad accommodation. Anyone examining the record of the rent officers in fixing rents will discover that for bad and thoroughly ill-repaired properties they have fixed rents at very low levels, sometimes of the order of 2s. and 2s. 6d. a week.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

One of the major differences between the Housing Act, 1969, and the Bill is that under the Bill it will not be necessary for registration to take place on decontrol. Can the right hon. Gentleman make it clear, because the Bill is by no means clear, whether the provisions of Schedule 6, to phase increases of rent, will apply where the landlord and tenant purportedly agree on a change of rents following decontrol?

Mr. Walker

I will deal with that, but I will do so in detail, because it is a very important provision. With controlled tenants there will be a movement to the fair rent basis, but we have provided that if the landlord and tenant voluntarily agree in writing, on a document which contains details of the rights of the tenant to go to the rent officer, that agreement can take place. But it must be registered with the local authority, which then has the right to judge that the rent which has been agreed is an unreasonable rent, and refer it to the rent officer. The tenant has the right to go to the rent officer after the agreement is made whenever he wishes.

That means that for the first time voluntary agreements between landlord and tenant must be registered. The hon. Gentleman will know, from the locality he represents, that there are many occasions when agreement is reached between landlord and tenant for a rent to be paid far in excess of the controlled rent, and there is no necessity for it to be registered. In future, if an agreement for a rent higher than the fair rent, or any rent, is agreed between landlord and tenant and is not registered with the local authority, the landlord concerned will be committing an illegal act. For the controlled tenant that is an important improvement on the existing situation in controlled tenancies of many agreements being made without the notice of authority. That will be a thing of the past. This is an important aspect of the reform we are trying to introduce in this sphere.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I agree that there are potential advantages in the provisions of Clauses 43 and 44. But, while the right hon. Gentleman says that the agreements must be in writing, Clause 44(5) says: Where this section applies to an agreement, the agreement need not be in writing,… Therefore, clearly, the whole of the Minister's purpose and objective can be completely cancelled out.

Mr. Walker

I will look at the hon. Gentleman's point. Our principle is to see that the agreements are registered and are at last available for sight by the local authority, to see that they are fair and reasonable, in keeping with the general spirit of the fair rent system.

I turn to Parts VII and VIII, dealing with the housing associations. These parts endeavour to see that the transition to the fair rent system applies also to the voluntary housing movement. Clauses 73–75 contain provisions to see that during the transitional period housing associations do not suffer a financial loss as a result of the effects of the transition. Clauses 76 and 77 provide a new building subsidy which will see that the voluntary housing movement can add to its momentum over the transitional period. It provides a 90 per cent. subsidy in respect of any deficit that may be caused as a result of carrying out new building. That is for a period of three years. It can then be reviewed by the Minister concerned, depending on the housing situation at the time.

Clause 78 trebles the funds available for the Housing Corporation, and enables it further to encourage activities in the voluntary housing movement. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the corporation reports that the number of new dwellings approved in October is a record for that month since it was started in 1964. That is an indication that the movement is in a position to go in for a considerable period of expansion. I believe that the provisions of Part VII will enable that to be done.

Part IX deals with a number of miscellaneous aspects. One of some importance concerns the council house tenant wishing to take up owner-occupation. Previously he was able to have his removal expenses paid for him, but it will now be possible also to pay his legal expenses to assist and encourage him in such a move. This will perhaps make available a number of local authority houses which would not otherwise be available, and will encourage greater mobility. Part IX also deals with the default powers to be taken by Government should a local authority not follow the appropriate measures laid down in the Bill.

I should like to turn to the rent rebate scheme. Clause 18 provides that from 1st October, 1972, local authorities will provide a rent rebate scheme to all their tenants, and under Clause 19, from 1st January, 1973, they will provide a rent rebate scheme to all tenants in the private, unfurnished sector. I believe that this reform is very important for local authority tenants. For the first time, all such tenants, no matter what authority may be involved, will have available to them a good rebate scheme. The biggest proportion of the cost of the scheme, where it brings any form of deficit on the housing revenue account, will be met by central Government. Therefore, we shall not have the anomalies that have existed to date of 60 per cent. of local authorities having some rebate scheme and 40 per cent. having none. The availability of a rent rebate scheme in both the private and public sectors substantially increases the security of tenure, because one basis of insecurity of tenure in the past has been inability to meet the rent concerned.

The House will know from the Schedules and our White Paper that this national rent rebate scheme is drawn in generous terms, more generous than the recommended rebate scheme of the previous Government. For example, someone earning £25 a week, whose rent was fixed at £5 a week, would have a £2 rebate. For the most poverty-stricken areas and those people on the lowest wages, the rebates will be considerable. For example, in a case similar to the one I have just quoted, the rebate would be of the order of £4 for someone earning only £16 a week, leaving a rent of only £1 to be paid.

For the very poorest sections of the community, we have for the first time a rebate scheme under which it is possible that no rent at all is paid. It is a generous scheme, and for the first time in our history it applies to the private sector, to those 1,200,000 tenants whose rents were put up by the previous Government but for whom no rebate scheme was provided. The Bill provides nationwide a scheme of considerable proportions, and one that will be constantly reviewed. In Clause 23 I take the power to set up an advisory committee that can constantly advise the Secretary of State on any changes in terms and conditions in the scheme that will be appropriate.

The Bill also provides for local authorities, if they wish to do so, to have a discretion to provide better rebate schemes than those laid down as the minimum, provided that the cost of doing so is not more than 10 per cent. of the cost of the rebate scheme, thereby giving a degree of flexibility to individual local authorities.

It is interesting that members of the Labour Party take two opposing lines. It is said that everybody's rents will be doubled and, in the next breath, that everyone will be obtaining rebates on the means test. Either one or the other, or perhaps a portion of both, may be true. I take two powers of immense importance in seeing that everyone takes advantage of the national rebate. First, I put upon local authorities the duty of constantly informing each tenant of his rights under the rebate scheme. This will be done periodically and is laid down by Statute. Secondly, in the private sector for the first time I am providing that by law each new rent book will contain details of the national rebate scheme available to the tenant. Therefore, every tenant, by law, will have brought to his attention as directly and as immediately as possible information on the availability of the rebate scheme. The decision of the Government to provide a national housing rebate scheme of this description is one of the most important social reforms of this century.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Whilst I entirely accept the objectives of the Bill, I ask my right hon. Friend to give careful attention to the point put to me by many local authorities of the mechanical problems of arriving at fair rents and ensuring that the rebate schemes can be properly operated. Will he be prepared to accept representations from the local authority associations on these matters?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. I have been in close consultation with the local authority associations on this matter. Some local authorities already have excellent rebate schemes in operation and have not found them an administrative burden. The previous Government, by circular, recommended to all local authorities that they should adopt such schemes. We see the administrative problem as one which we shall be able to tackle effectively and efficiently.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is there not a little trickery involved in this? The right hon. Gentleman has published tables showing that a man with a wife and two children earning £30 gross per week who pays a rent of £5 a week will receive £1 a week rebate. This sounds marvellous—£5 a week plus rates less £1. But the trick is that this £5 a week plus rates will be the new rent, whereas today that man might be paying only £2 a week plus rates. So that man's rent will go up from £2 to £5, with £1 off, and he will be paying twice as much as he was before.

Mr. Walker

I disagree strongly with the hon. Gentleman. We have laid down a system of rent rebates which will ensure that in future, unlike the past, no family will be crippled by their rent. Under the existing system, as the hon. Gentleman knows, because he has frequently complained about it, some local authorities with bad housing problems in areas of high cost have had to charge substantial rents and have had only two alter- natives available. Either they had to increase all the rents of the other tenants or they had to increase their rates substantially. The freedom given to local authorities under the previous system in areas of bad housing stress was the freedom either to bankrupt the existing tenants or to bankrupt the existing ratepayers, with no positive rebate scheme available. Our transitional provision will make a considerable change.

An impression has been given by the Labour Party that fair rents and market rents are to be equated. For example, this has been used in the argument about owner-occupation. It has been doubted whether tax relief on mortgage interest should be available because the tenant and the owner-occupier should be on parity. The one thing that the fair rents system does is to eliminate from the calculation the problem of the scarcity value put upon a property. In the worst areas of housing stress this is a substantial subsidy which the previous Government claimed to be of great social merit when they introduced the 1965 Rent Act. This basis will continue for those rents.

I now turn to an important part of the Bill which I believe will be warmly welcomed by both sides of the House. I have received no criticism of it from the Opposition and it has been praised in almost every newspaper and journal. I refer to the new subsidy we are creating under Clause 11 for slum clearance. It has been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction that as a result of this subsidy it will be possible to clear the existing slums in 10 years. From the way in which this remark has been referred to, I detect a suggestion by the Labour Party that this is not likely to happen. Indeed, one or two observers outside the House have made a similar observation.

All I can say is that the provision in Clause 11 means that there are no financial reasons why the slums should not be cleared in the coming 10 years. Of course the decisions and the actions to clear them will be made by local authorities, and we are dependent upon them taking these decisions and actions. To date, local authorities of all political persuasions have been deterred from doing so because the basis of finance for slum clearance has been such that local authorities that have indulged in it have been at a considerable financial disadvantage.

Under the previous system, I think wrongly, assistance was given for slum clearance provided that when the slums were cleared rehousing took place on the same site. The result of this was that when, as frequently happened, small businesses and factories were involved in the slum clearance, local authorities suffered from a considerable financial disincentive. Nobody in the local authority world has criticised our proposals to give a generous 75 per cent. subsidy with the decision as to where the people should be rehoused left to the local authority concerned.

Obviously, local authorities have an obligation to rehouse the families concerned, but for them to have to do so on the same site, regardless of the cost of that site, is a tremendous financial disincentive to slum clearance.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

Under previous legislation a subsidy was given on the house which was built in place of the slum which was demolished, in addition to the subsidy on the demolition. That was many times as much as the subsidy now being given.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman is in a minority of one on this. Local authorities of all political persuasions have applauded the scheme, and the Press. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am interested to hear that apparently hon. Gentlemen opposite will attack Clause 11, and I shall look forward to them doing so.

There is no financial reason why the slums should not be cleared. In the last three years of the previous Government the amount of slum clearance declined, and if we had continued at the peak levels of that period the slums would not have been cleared for 25 years. There was need for a financial injection, and it is for this reason that we have decided that this slum clearance subsidy will be available for 1971–72. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will mention the measures he has taken so that full advantage is taken of these subsidies and so that we may get the maximum of momentum in slum clearance.

The Guardian, in referring to this provision, said: The specifically directed help the Bill proposes for slum clearance is well conceived. The Government's aim is to clear away all existing slums by 1980. This is a formidable but socially desirable target. But it will mean trebling the current rate at which slum dwellers are being rehoused. Mr. Walker will have to keep the closest of Whitehall watching briefs on the actual performance of authorities engaged in slum clearance. It is the intention of my Department to take the fullest advantage of the provisions made in the Bill for slum clearance, and to see that the clearance programme is carried out with the greatest momentum.

Before the House today is a Bill which, at last basically tackles some of the worst difficulties in our housing situation, and I warmly commend it to the House.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

I can state our view of this Bill quite simply: it is the most reactionary and socially divisive Measure that is likely to be introduced in the lifetime of this Parliament—and that is saying a good deal.

As I said in the debate that we had on Monday of last week, this is a harsh Bill, inequitable and inflationary. It represents the social philosophy of the 1930s rather than of the 1970s. Mr Ronald Butt made at least one true remark in his article on the Bill in The Times last Thursday: … the Bill, more lucidly and logically perhaps than any other of the Government's social measures, embodies essential Tory philosophy …. So it does. We shall seek, by our vote tonight, to reject the Bill altogether, and we shall have overwhelming public opinion on our side. If we fail tonight, we shall contest the Bill line by line in Committee. I do not know whether the Secretary of State will take part in the Committee stage. If he does not, there is no precedent for so major a Measure not being taken in Committee by a Minister of Cabinet rank. If he does take part, he will find that the Bill we are analysing in Committee bears extraordinarily little relation to the innocuous and progressive measure he purported to describe this afternoon. He will also find that if he takes part in Committee, and if he goes on making the kind of slick, knockabout and totally unserious speech that he made last Monday, he will contribute little to the speedy passage of the Bill.

I make one preliminary remark before coming to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman referred, not for the first time, to what he thought the Labour Government might or might not have done if they had been returned to power in June, 1970, and, because there has also evidently been some sly briefing of Mr. Ronald Butt for his article, I will put the record straight for the second, and I hope for the last time. I have done it once already and so has the Leader of the Opposition. The review of housing finance to which the Secretary of State referred was completed just before the General Election. It analysed, without of course making recommendations, alternatives ranging from keeping the existing subsidy system intact, to so-called fair rents for the public sector. It was not considered collectively by Ministers owing to the General Election. The only senior Minister who saw it was my noble Friend Lord Greenwood, then Minister of Housing and Local Government. He made one single and decisive comment, "Fair rents would be totally unacceptable"—and this was the only Government decision.

The crux of the Bill lies in Parts V and VI which impose so-called fair rents on 5½ million local authority dwellings, We have had debates on this in the past, and I and others have made clear our basic objections to this principle—to the drastic effect which it will have on the cost of living, to the spread of means testing to millions more tenants, to the reversion which it implies to one-class welfare housing, and also to the sharp consequent increase in inequality. I do not propose to repeat these points, although they have never been answered.

Today, I want to discuss the practical implications of this new method of rent fixing for council tenants, and show that this will be both totally muddled, a point implied by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), and highly authoritarian—surely the worst combination one could think of.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am not seeking to imply that this was muddled. I want to be sure that there is an adequate staff to deal with the problem.

Mr. Crosland

An adequate staff would involve an enormous increase in the number of public servants. It is a muddle because, despite what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, fair rents in the private sector, even if the scarcity factor is excluded, are still intended for a market situation, even though the market in private rented housing is chaotic and rapidly declining. Local authorities are not and cannot be in a market situation. They have certain social responsibilities which the private landlord does not have. They have to rehouse people from clearance areas and from their waiting lists. One cannot transfer a market concept to a non-market situation.

Well, say the Government, "We do not care how stupid or illogical it is, we shall do it. If the future rent fixers in the public sector do not know what a fair rent is they can look to the fair rents in the private sector and copy this". They cannot.

We find that only 200,000 fair rents have been registered in the private sector. According to experts who have examined this list, they are all over the place, and there is no consistency or discernible pattern. And very few of the dwellings for which private rents have been registered are at all comparable to most local authority housing. It is on this tiny and incomparable base that we are to build a new rent structure for 5½ million council house tenants. Moreover, we are to do it in nine months, when it has taken five years for 200,000 private fair rents to be registered under the 1965 Act. The result will be a total muddle. The ensuing rents will be haphazard and capricious and every housing manager and treasurer in the country knows it.

That muddle might be just tolerable if the tenants had any democratic rights in the matter, rights of appeal or of argument, either through their elected representatives or by the proper processes of law. But they have no such rights; the whole process of rent fixing under Part V of the Bill is arbirtary and authoritarian.

It is extremely ironic that tomorrow we shall be discussing the Local Gov- ernment Bill. In the White Paper on which that Bill is based there is in paragraph 5 the following sentence: The Government are equally determined to return power to those people who should exercise decisions locally. One wonders whether the two parts of the Department of the Environment ever meet and speak to each other, and whether the Minister in charge of the Housing Bill is on speaking terms with his counterpart in charge of the Local Government Bill. They are talking different languages.

Introducing the Local Government White Paper on 19th May the Secretary of State said: In the few months that I have had responsibilities for housing, I have come very much to the view that the closer we can get a community to be really anxious about the detail of its housing problem, the more progress we are likely to make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 1287.] We shall not make much progress in that case under this Bill.

A year previously, when discussing the Labour Government's White Paper on Local Government, the right hon. Gentleman went even further and said: Local authorities may wish to pursue a particular type of policy towards the sale of council houses or towards council house rents …. But the Government"— that is the Labour Government— have said that in all these matters they no longer want democratically elected councils to make the decisions—This is a great discouragement to those in local government— What a somersault! In 1970 he wants democratically-elected councillors to take the decisions. In 1971 he deprives them of any power of decision-making whatever.

For what is to happen under Clauses 51 to 57 of the Bill? The elected councillors will lose all their traditional powers over rent policy. It is true that they make the provisional assessment of fair rents in conjunction with the rent officers. But then this goes to the rent scrutiny committee, which has absolute power to alter it in any way it chooses. It is the committee which takes the final decision, and neither councillors nor tenants have any say whatever.

The elected local authorities lose to an appointed body their traditional freedom and autonomy, within the limits of national policy, to set rents for their area and to exercise their local judgment on local needs. Instead we are to have rents by Whitehall direction. And the irony is that this is happening just at the time when we have a great upheaval in local government and when county boroughs all over the country and other housing authorities, including my own in Grimsby, are losing almost all of their traditional borough powers with one exceptionhousing. Just at this moment this Bill takes away the reality even of this one remaining power. The new districts will become simply rent collectors for Whitehall.

If the councillors should object, as well they might, to being policed in this way and try to do the job for which they are elected, the job of protecting their tenants and mitigating hardship, they will find themselves policed in an even more disagreeable way. I very much hope that hon. Members have read Clauses 93 to 95. They give unprecedented default powers to the Government, power to discontinue subsidies, to fine councillors and officials up to—400 and eventually to send in a housing commissar, as I called him last Monday, from Whitehall, to take over the housing functions of the local authority.

All this great panoply of power is not to force the local authority to do something for the public good, such as building more houses, but to force it to double its rents! I can see the Minister for Housing and Construction, an ex-member of the Suez Group, filled always with martial ardour, longing to send down his housing commissars from Whitehall. While he is doing that his hon. Friend the mild-mannered Minister for Local Government and Development will be talking to endless weekend conferences saying that his Government's dearest wish, their most heartfelt ambition, is to offer more freedom to local government.

So the councillor loses his power totally and it is no good the aggrieved tenant going to him—he will be wasting his time. It is the rent scrutiny committee, an appointed body, which has complete power to overrule the elected housing authority.

Can the tenant look anywhere else? The answer is "No". He has fewer rights even than the private tenant.

Unlike the private tenant he cannot agree on a fair rent with his landlord and have it accepted by the rent assessment committee. He has no right of access at all to the arbitrating body to put his own case to it. Once the fair rent is decided he has no right of appeal against it. And, unlike the private tenant, he has no right to have his own house individually assessed. His only right is to be fined £50 if he objects to a representative of the rent scrutiny committee entering his Englishman's castle.

The whole process is arbitrary and authoritarian. It strips the council tenant of any right of representation, whether through his elected representatives or directly to the rent scrutiny committee. We shall seek to amend these Clauses drastically in Committee, to make the rent scrutiny committee more accountable, to give the tenant a right of appeal and to make the whole process more open and democratic.

I turn to Part II of the Bill and certain Clauses of Part I dealing with rebates and allowances. The need for such an elaborate apparatus stems from the simple fact that we are abandoning one principle—of providing houses at rents that most people can afford to pay—and substituting for it another principle—of setting rents at a level which most people will not be able to afford to pay. In other words, rents will be set at a level where we have to give a proportion of them back to most of our tenants and employ an army of bureaucrats to do so. This is the most stupid imaginable principle on which to operate.

The likelihood is that we shall get the worst of both worlds. We shall have the army of bureaucrats and still have a low rate of take-up. I am sorry that, when discussing the measures for publicising the rebates, which I welcome, the Secretary of State did not comment on the experience of some rebate schemes to date, for example that operated by the G.L.C. and that which operates in Birmingham, mentioned last Monday by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). In that scheme the take-up of the private rent allowance in particular has been derisory.

I understand that the Tory chairman of the Birmingham Housing Committee has said that this failure is largely due to people's refusal to ask for what they regard as charity and their refusal to confess their inability to pay their way. Of course it is. That is a fact of life and it is extraordinary how the Conservatives, for all their talk of self-help and independence, cannot understand that people actually prefer to be independent and not to have to apply for what they regard as charity.

That is why the only proper and sensible principle is to set rents at a level which most people can pay without a means test and without a rebate. That principle has been utterly discarded in the Bill and we shall have millions of tenants eligible for rebates. If we have a low take-up, which seems likely on the evidence, we could have serious family hardship with rents at double their present level. The Government must monitor the position very carefully as time goes by, as we must all monitor it in our own constituencies. Families paying unrebated rents of £5 to £6 and in London up to £10 and £12 could find themselves in acute difficulties with their household budgets.

There is one glaring omission in Part II and that is the lack of any reference to the furnished tenant. There are only half a million of them but they have the lowest incomes of any housing group, they often have the worst accommodation and yet they pay by far the highest price per room of any section of the community. The Francis Committee showed that in London the typical furnished tenant was paying a third of his income in rent. These are the people with the greatest need, the worst housing and the lowest incomes. It is significant that half the families who approach "Shelter" for help and half the families who go to their local authorities for temporary accommodation come from the ranks of furnished tenants. Yet they are denied full protection and security under the Rent Acts and now they are to be excluded from the private rent allowances. Incidentally they will continue to pay taxes which will go to help other householders better off than themselves.

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

What did the right hon. Gentleman do?

Mr. Crosland

How the Minister can conceivably reconcile this with his favourite maxim: From each according to his ability to each according to his need is entirely beyond me.

Mr. Amery

What did the right hon. Gentleman do?

Mr. Crosland

It is a patent injustice and virtually all commentators have seen this.

I turn to the Parts of the Bill relating to subsidies. Part I sets out the new subsidies, Schedule 11 abolishes existing subsidies and Schedule 1 regulates the housing revenue account. These are the Parts of the Bill which explain why we need to have fair rents and mass means-testing and which create the redistribution of income and the greater inequality about which I spoke last Monday.

The motive behind this part of the Bill has of course practically nothing to do with housing policy. It is concerned with Government financial and budgetary policy. The instructions were to lop £200 million to £300 million off the bill for housing subsidies which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could then distribute in tax concessions to better-off people. The Housing Ministers have faithfully carried out this task, and the Chancellor, significantly, made the first announcement of the new policy in his mini-Budget this time last year.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)

Would the right hon. Gentleman elaborate and justify his immediate remark that the housing subsidies will be reduced by £200 million to £300 million, in the light of my right hon. Friend's statement that they would not be?

Mr. Crosland

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, because he is very well informed in these matters, the White Paper says that if the present system were to continue, in 1980 the subsidies would be £300 million more than they are now. The whole object of the change is to stop this natural increase from occurring and to hold the bill at its present level.

Mr. Peter Walker

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that estimates as to the future levels of subsidy were based on the conclusion of the Labour Government that interest rates would remain at 9 per cent.?

Mr. Crosland

I am not taking the estimate of the Labour Government; I am taking the right hon. Gentleman's own estimate in the White Paper on housing finance. That estimate is that, compared with what would have been the cost in 1980, subsidies will be less by £300 million.

Mr. Arthur Jones

"What would have been" is not "what will be" a reduction.

Mr. Crosland

The point could not have been put more succinctly.

It would have been more appropriate if the Chancellor and not the Secretary of State had introduced the Bill, for if he had, it might also have had the advantage that he would have given us some figures. He at least must understand, even if the Housing Ministers do not, the implications of the Bill for different sections of Government expenditure. As it is, we have not had any detailed figures of any kind except for the total.

We do not know the estimated cost of the new subsidies for the housing revenue account, the estimated cost of the new subsidies to the general rate fund, the likely cost of rebates and allowances, the amount of transfer from the Supplementary Benefits Commission to local authorities, the total estimated rent income in fair rents, the likely amount of gross surplus, and so on. We have had none of these detailed figures on which to judge.

It was interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman quoting leading housing experts. Over the weekend I asked one of the greatest housing experts in local government and one of our leading housing academics whether they could understand the basic arithmetic of these proposals, and they both said that they could not, that the information was simply not available. I regard it as quite scandalous that we should have what the right hon. Gentleman has called a major social and economic change affecting millions of people and shifting the balance of income in the community by large amounts and yet not be able to look at the essential figures.

However, although we cannot see the details of what is to occur, we can certainly see the general direction of the change, and we do not like what we see. The starting-off point—and this is the kind of topic with which the right hon. Gentleman has never dealt—is, of course, the huge increase in rents which tenants will pay. I estimate, and I am open to correction on this point, that in the current year 1971–72 the total of unrebated rents from local authority dwellings is running at some £500 million a year. Under fair rents, the figure will be more than doubled in three to four years' time, and so tenants will be paying an additional £500 million a year. So we know who the losers are to be—the tenants, and by very large amounts.

Who will be the gainers? This is the kind of arithmetic which we have never been given. Where will this additional £500 million of rent payments go? First, over most of the country outside London and one or two other conurbations, it will go to eliminate housing subsidies virtually altogether. That is the first present which council tenants will make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Secondly, over most of the country again, this additional £500 million of rent payments annually will then pay for the greatly increased cost of rent rebates, including most of the rent allowances now paid by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. That will amount to—[HON. MEMBERS: "£150 million."]—my hon. Friends suggest £150 million, but I would say that it may by now be much nearer £180 million, but perhaps the Minister will give the figure. Much of this will be transferred to the housing revenue account. At the same time, rates will contribute heavily to the private rent allowance. They will bear the whole cost of administering the private rent allowance and it will be a heavy cost, because it will be a nightmarish complication to administer, and after 1975 they will pay 20 per cent. of the cost of actually paying the private rent allowance.

This is what I meant when I said last Monday, as others have said, that the Government are off-loading their national reponsibility for the relief of poverty on to local rentpayers and ratepayers. It is a reversal of the long-standing tradition in every civilised country that the relief of poverty is essentially a national problem and a national responsibility. It is also a tradition enshrined in this country in all our post-war social security legislation and in our entire concept of the Welfare State.

In passing, I say that this part of the Bill stands on its head the claim of the Secretary of State that he is concentrating resources on areas of greatest need. As I have just said, a significant part of the cost of the private rent allowances will fall on the rates. What will be the relative positions of an inner London borough or an old industrial town with masses of rented housing and a town with largely owner-occupied housing? The poorest housing authorities will carry the heaviest burden and the richest housing authorities the lightest. As I have said before, a private rent allowance is wholly right in principle, but it must be a national responsibility.

I return to the extra £500 million which council tenants will pay in rents, for we have not finished yet. This additional rent income, having far more than covered the actual cost of housing in most local authority areas, having then covered virtually the complete withdrawal of subsidies in those areas, having then covered the cost of rent rebates in those areas, including much of the cost which now falls on the Supplementary Benefits Commission, it will still produce a surplus in most areas, a surplus to which the Government will have contributed nothing but of which they will take half to finance subsidies to other areas not in surplus.

What will this surplus amount to by, say, 1974–75, when the scheme—in the unlikely event that we do not get back into power—will be working more or less fully? The Secretary of State was evasive on this subject last Monday. When pressed, he gave no figure, but he must have a figure. He said last Monday and again today that the cost of subsidies of £350 million a year was a net figure. That net figure is arrived at by taking the total of subsidy payments minus the gross surplus.

But if the right hon. Gentleman knows the net figure, he must know the other two figures from which the net figure is derived. I am not a profound mathematician, but I have always thought that if A equalled B minus C, and one knew what A was, then one must know B and C. The right hon. Gentleman must know the figures and we must be given the calculation before the debate is over tonight.

Whatever the figure is, it means in effect a new tax on council tenants over much of the country, especially those living in older houses. They are already paying their ordinary taxes and rates, just as owner-occupiers or anybody else, but they will now pay an additional tax on top of that and they will relieve by that amount the burden falling on the general body of taxpayers.

This will cause the most appalling resentment. What is the chairman of a housing committee to say to his tenants when he imposes another 50p a year increase in rents at a time when the housing revenue account is already in surplus, when no subsidies and no rate fund contributions are to be paid; in other words, when tenants are already more than covering the cost of their own housing? Surely the tenants will say, "As taxpayers, certainly we should help people in the poorer areas, but not as council tenants." They will say, "What about the owner-occupier? He is not making this extra contribution. In fact, he is receiving tax relief."

This is the inequity which the Government are creating. I insist that it is one of their own creation. It is apparent, if only from the general welcome given in the last Parliament to the Labour Government's option mortgage scheme, that both sides of the House want to help the owner-occupier, and especially those with lower incomes. It is clear that both sides of the House accept, and have long accepted, wholeheartedly the principle of interest tax relief. But at a time when the poorer would-be home owners are being rapidly priced out of the market by the fantastic rise in house prices—and if anything they need more rather than less help—and when we are removing all help from the general body of council tenants and making them pay part of their rents to the Exchequer, one wonders how long the nation will continue to be willing to give such large sums in tax relief to wealthy people able to buy houses in London at £30,000 or a second home in the country.

I have another point to make on Part I of the Bill. The Government's central claim is that, whatever happens over most of the country, the areas of greatest need will benefit from the Bill. I profoundly hope that they are right. I have already shown that it is not true of the private rent allowance; the poorer areas will carry the heaviest burden. But I had thought that it was true of local authority housing and that not only the inner London boroughs—and the figures showing how much Camden will gain have been frequently quoted——t all the great conurbations, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Tyneside, with acute housing problems would benefit. However, I have seen figures from Manchester which suggest that in three years' time Manchester will be receiving less subsidy than it receives under the present system and there will be a much heavier burden on the rates.

Mr. Julius Silverman

And Birmingham.

Mr. Crosland

The same is true of Birmingham.

This is an extremely important point because we have been led to believe that all the areas of greatest stress would benefit. If what my hon. Friends and I are saying about Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Manchester is true, then that is not the case. We must therefore have some information from the Minister on this matter. Will any substantial authorities outside inner London benefit from the Bill? If not, the claim made for the Bill—hat it will redistribute subsidies to areas of greatest need—will turn out to be total hypocrisy.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

I think that it is important to put in a word at this stage about the effect of the fantastic rise in the price of land in large conurbations like Birmingham and Manchester and the centres of our old cities. Anything from £100,000 per acre is the market value of land in the inner parts of many cities. All the talk about slum clearance is knocked for six because people must be housed elsewhere and land is still the private monopoly of people who are exploiting it. Will my right hon. Friend say a few words on this matter? I should like him to emphasise this point. It is more important than anything he has said up to now.

Mr. Crosland

I underline and emphasise the wise and shrewd remarks of my hon. Friend and invite him to compare the rise in land prices with all the claims made exactly a year ago for the new Tory policy.

I wish to say a few words about Part IV of the Bill which deals with the private rented sector. It contains three main proposals. First, the remaining 1.3 million controlled tenancies are to be brought within the fair rent sector—in other words, they are to become regulated tenancies—more speedily and with fewer safeguards than would have been the case under the 1965 Act. Secondly, landlords and tenants will in future be able to agree rent increases between themselves. This matter was the subject of an exchange between the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann). We must return to this point. The right hon. Gentleman gave assurances which I should very much like to be able to accept. He will know that this provision has excited a good deal of concern. It appears to go counter to the very detailed arguments of Alderman Miss Lyndal Evans in the minority report of the Francis Committee. We must return to this matter to make sure that a free agreement about a fair rent will not lead to the exploitation of those least able to bargain with their landlords.

I know that the third point also concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North because he and I live near an area where it could lead to considerable uprooting. I refer to the provision that the landlord, provided he gets a court order, will be able to carry out improvements against the tenant's wishes, however low the tenant's income. This is a marked change from the present law. My hon. Friend and I live within reach of an area where what has come to be called middle class colonisation is taking place at a fantastic rate. I envisage that, given a court order enabling the landlord to carry out improvements however poor the tenant, there could be cruel exploitation and uprooting of tenants. We must return to this point in detail.

Part IV of the Bill reduces the total protection available to private tenants. It will remove from public oversight much of what goes on in the private sector. Parts of this section of the Bill definitely have a whiff of a pre-rent Act philosophy. It confirms my view, which I expressed strongly last Monday, that substantially more of the private rented sector will have to be taken into municipal and housing association ownership.

I turn to Parts VII and VIII of the Bill which deal with housing associations. Such associations have a definite rôle to play, in view of the continued decline in the private rented sector, and particularly in improving and rehabilitating older property which otherwise would disappear out of the reach of low income families. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State's tribute to the work of housing associations, and I greatly welcome Clause 78. But other Clauses in Parts VII and VIII have caused acute anxiety in the voluntary housing movement, especially among some of the younger housing associations which do not have a stock of older properties to give them a fair rent surplus. Speaker after speaker at the recent Coventry conference of the National Federation of Housing Societies talked of the disastrous effect which the Government's proposals will have on their building and conversion programmes.

The Secretary of State mentioned Shelter. I have a letter from the housing association co-ordinator of Shelter which reads: The effect of these provisions will be to make improvement work in inner city areas impossible to undertake. I have had similar warnings of the likely effects from the Merseyside Voluntary Housing Group and others.

The Secretary of State seemed to brush aside these anxieties, but they are very real and have been expressed by the actual practitioners in the field. Therefore, we shall want to examine very carefully Parts VII and VIII.

There are one or two very striking omissions from the Bill. Paragraph 28(ii) of the White Paper states: the Government will take the earliest legislative opportunity to propose increases in the maximum penalties for harassment and illegal eviction. When will we have this urgent legislation? There is no sign of it in the Bill. In what Bill will it appear? We cannot wait indefinitely for this. It is much too urgent a matter.

Then, what has happened to paragraph 35 of the White Paper about the repeal of the Small Tenements Recovery Act, 1838? We do not seem to have heard anything about that today.

Mr. Peter Walker

That will be done. I am advised that it can be done by order.

Mr. Crosland

I am glad to hear that it will be done by order, and I hope that when he winds up the Minister will tell us also about harassment.

Although this Act of 1838 is repealed that will make very little difference in practice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Even a small change by this Government is better than none, however.

What we really need for the council tenants is a new, major move forward towards more rights, towards giving them more say in their own lives; we need to give them greater security of tenure and more protection against eviction than that proposed in the White Paper. We need to give them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) has suggested in his Private Members' Bill, more representation on housing committees. I am certain we want to give them far more say in the management of their own housing estates—about the sort of play facilities to be provided, the rules for regulating redecoration, or about building garages, or even keeping pets. The fact is that council estates are often run on far too paternalistic lines, and the time has now come to introduce a greater element of democracy. What is interesting is that we have representatives of housing associations lobbying Members of Parliament today, and they are not only concerned with the level of their rents, though, of course, that is their immediate preoccupation, but they are profoundly concerned also with the wider question of tenants' rights and tenants' status, and so they should be.

Mr. Frank Allaun

My right hon. Friend has mentioned this lobby today. Is he aware that the Minister has today sent me a letter refusing to meet a deputation, either today or in the future, of three Members of Parliament plus representatives of 132 housing associations and London council housing estates, plus the national body? Does he not think that this is contrary to the traditions of this House, and that they are being utterly flouted, when the Minister refuses to see Members of Parliament on so important an issue as this is?

Mr. Crosland

I should have thought it a totally deplorable decision on the Minister's part, particularly when these tenants are accompanied by three leading Members of Parliament, and particularly when the whole effect of these new rent proposals as set out is authoritarian, and under them tenants will play no part whatever. To deprive them of any representative power, and without even listening to their representations, when a Bill is introduced is a monstrous denial of open government.

May I conclude—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, I shall conclude rather more rapidly than did the right hon. Gentleman, and having made many more points of substance. There are, of course, as I said last Monday, some things in the Bill which we welcome. We welcome the new private rent allowance, we welcome the greater powers given to the Housing Corporation. We welcome the additional help which, we hope, will go to inner city areas. But the central proposal in the Bill, for the extension of fair rents, we totally reject. I set out last Monday our basic objections to the principle, and I will not repeat them now. I will only say that this proposal will cause endless wrangling, ill-feeling and resentment. It will deeply embitter millions of tenants whom the Government will force to apply for rebates and to submit themselves to means tests. It will deprive elected councillors of their power to protect and represent their tenants as they should, and it will tragically distract the energies of all those concerned with housing from their central task, which is to build more houses.

So we shall vote tonight to defeat the fair rent proposals, and if we fail tonight, I give this pledge, that the next Labour Government will unhesitatingly repeal them.

5.4 p.m.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)

I want to be very brief about the Bill which contains so much of which I approve. The particular point I want to make, and I think I can make it in a few sentences, concerns the social security implications of the Bill.

It seems to me that very many of the millions of people who are affected by it will be taxpayers, and they will also be contributors to national insurance; at the same time they will have families who are in receipt of family allowances, and some of them may be in receipt of family income supplement. I hope that we may be able to amend the Bill, as we consider it in Committee, or, perhaps, work out—for early implementation by the Government—a much more precise system for the determination of entitlement to benefit, not only under this particular system of assistance for poor families, but all the others by which we may seek to give assistance in future.

It seems to me that the Government have here an opportunity, which they have not seized, for the total reorganisation of the cash relationship between the individual and the community, and that much more thought needs to be given to the question of the assessment of means, of income, and of ability to pay. I hope that I may have the opportunity to expand on this point if I have the good fortune to be selected to serve on the Committee on the Bill, and I will not say more at this moment; but I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to say these few words.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, introducing the Bill, told us what a great pleasure it was for him to present this Bill as a great reform of housing law. We were told in glowing terms by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and Mr. Henry Brooke, as he then was, the same thing about the 1957 Rent Act: this introduced an important new proposition; this was going to cure the position. It cured nothing. Within a short time it produced one of the major scandals in the history of this country. I would, therefore, advise right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench to look a little more closely at what they are proposing before they make this extravagant claim.

There is one claim I am going to make about the Bill—that it represents another stage in the gradual realisation by all sections of the community even the Conservative Party, that housing ought always to be considered as something which, like health and education, should be substantially helped by subsidy from public funds, because, whether for good or ill, a house affects not only a man's individual happiness but also the quality of society as a whole. Bit by bit the nation has realised that subsidies for council tenants, and help, in the old days through the National Assistance Board, to the poorest tenants were necessary. Con- trolled tenants were subsidised, sometimes by their landlords, sometimes by the richer tenants of the same landlord in the case of a large property-owning company; and now there is a general admission that, one way or another, there ought to be help from the nation as a whole to see that everyone is properly housed.

Having got that far we must now look at the way in which it is done. When all the juggling with rents, allowances, rebates, and so forth, is completed, broadly speaking this Bill is going to bear hardly on the tenant in many cases, and in nearly all cases it may affect the tenant personally in his way of life. The people who are going to benefit most are those who are already benefiting most.

I want to show how this affects such a suburb of a great city as is my own constituency. In the first place, I think that the figure which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) gave is not disputed that, broadly speaking, the amount paid in council rents is going to be doubled, so setting aside the rebate for the moment. Secondly, what I have been able to find out in my own constituency bears out this conclusion. We are told, "That is all right, because they will get rebates."

But I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the shrewd question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), which could be summarised thus. If a man is now paying £3 a week and he is first told that his rent is going up to £5 and is then cheered up by being told that he will get a £1 rebate, it is no cause for surprise if, at the end of the day, he hardly feels that he has been made better off or given a benefit. To tell him, in these circumstances, that the rebate is a benefit is like saying to a man wounded in the war, "How lucky you are, because now you get a disability benefit which you did not get before".

What will be the working out of the rebate schemes for private tenants? In the first place, the mere fact of the number of tenants who will have to claim rebates—or at least who one hopes will claim rebates—will create the problem to which the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), rather unkindly, considering on what side of the House he sits, drew unmistakable attention.

We are given some information about the size of the rebates scheme in the last paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum: Some increase in the staff of local authorities … is expected to arise as a result of the provisions of the Bill, including the administration of the rent rebate and allowance schemes … That increase is expected to be offset to some extent by reductions of staff employed in connection with the present subsidy system". We are told in fact, on this important matter, that the nearest that the Government can get to an estimate is to say that the increase in local authority manpower will be something minus something else. Can they not do a little better than that?

We are asking the local authorities to take on a job the size, complexity and tiresomeness of which they have hardly ever had before. The Government have totally underestimated the difficulty and some of the particular problems which may arise on rebates and allowances.

It appears that, in estimating both a rebate and, I think, an allowance as well, if the tenant has a grown up son in the household earning more than his father is earning, it will be open to the local authority, if it sees fit, to say, "We are going to treat your son as the tenant for this purpose." Do they have to follow that up by insisting that the son pays into the family exchequer what they consider a fair amount'? If there are any arrears on the rent, who is liable—father or son?

This is the practice of trying always to see whether a council tenant is getting within reach of prosperity so as to be able to take the chance away from him. A young man in those circumstances may be earning a good wage: he may be saving up to get married. Then, because of the Bill, he is told, "you have the impudence to earn more than father. We will show you. We will put on you, for this purpose and this purpose only, the legal responsibility of being the tenant."

Also, under Schedule 3, I think paragraph 16, in reckoning the amount of a rent allowance to a private tenant the consideration will have to be whether the tenant is living in a neighbourhood where, because it is what the estate agents would call a "desirable" neighbourhood, the rent is more than a comparable dwelling could command in another neighbourhood. In effect, one would then be saying to him, "You should not be living in an area like that. You cannot expect the allowance which we pay you to support your stuck-up notions of living in what is rapidly becoming a fashionable neighbourhood."

This is a recipe for creating ghettoes, if that is not too harsh a word. Indeed, that is what it is intended to do. It is based on the assumption of trying to create a society in which more and more people of different income levels will live apart from each other. Mercifully, in some parts of the country, we are beginning to get away from that—and a good thing too—

Mr. J. T. Price

Naked class war.

Mr. Stewart

Yes, but we are beginning in some parts of the country to get away from that. Now, the Bill will push us back again.

The real philosophy which should underlie any proposals for rebates and inquiries into needs is this. There are purposes for which it is legitimate, but anyone who wants to bring in the idea of more rebates, more allowances, more inquiries into means should remember how heavily the burden of proof is on him to show that it is desirable. There is one very powerful objection which has been mentioned in question and answer across the Floor of the House. If we have rebates, allowances, inquiries into means on too great a scale, more and more people will ask themselves, "Why should I bother to earn any more in overtime? Why should I qualify myself to get the better paid job? Every time I do that a bit more is skimmed off" We have too much of this already.

The objection is not, of course, to having such things as rent rebates or allowances at all: it is an objection to setting rents at such a level that having to claim a rebate becomes the rule rather than the exception. That is what this Bill is doing.

It has never seemed to me to be right to say that the function of government is either to encourage or to discourage owner-occupation. What government should try to work for is a steady increase in the number of people who can make a genuinely free choice, according to their own needs, whether they will be owner-occupiers or tenants. One evil result of the 1957 Rent Act was that a number of people, in order not to be evicted and have nowhere to go, were pretty well forced to buy the house in which they lived, and became owner-occupiers against their will and better judgment. [HON. MEMBERS: "And they have never regretted it."] Other people genuinely want to be owner-occupiers, and because of rising costs and other difficulties, cannot do so. So the aim of policy should be to increase the number of people who can make a genuinely free choice.

This Bill raises the question of the effect on the owner-occupier. Attempts have been made to represent my party as opposing the very right and proper concession which the owner-occupier now gets when he fills in his income tax form. But when we consider this, we should remember these facts. We do not ask the owner-occupier in those circumstances to prove that he needs the concession. Why, therefore, are we so anxious to impose a burden of proof of need on the tenant? And of course, in the nature of the case, the richer the owner-occupier the more benefit he gets.

The Government use great ingenuity to put money where it is needed. Could they not have thought out a way of helping the small owner-occupier a little more, even if it involved helping the wealthy owner-occupier a little less? They might have tried.

I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction will not ask, "What did you do about it?" We all know that dealing with housing, like dealing with other social problems, is a continuing process. We did a great deal. We got rid of the evil scandal of the 1957 Act. We laid the foundation at least of a sensible rents policy, and we started five new houses for every four that the previous Government had started in a comparable period. There is no need for us to apologise for that record.

But now we have this Bill, introduced by the Minister in such glowing terms that one might have thought that it was the greatest contribution to political science since Aristotle's "Politics" appeared. Cannot the Government deal a little more equitably with the compara- tively small problem with which I have been dealing?

In the same way, the Government might have had at least a shot at doing something for the furnished tenant. Such security as he has he owes in large measures to legislation passed by an earlier Labour Government. If the Government cannot go—their philosophy would not, I suppose, allow them to go—as far as giving the furnished tenant security of tenure comparable with that possessed by the unfurished tenant, there are certain points they might have considered.

For example, they could have tried to make the procedure whereby the furnished tenant can get the help of the rent tribunal simpler and better known to the furnished tenant. They could have had a look at the serious abuse in London—I expect this applies in other large cities—of the desperate overcrowding of some furnished premises. One sees advertisements saying, "Second girl wanted to share flat."—or it might be third or fourth girl—but in some of these places they are sleeping in bunks, and the landlords are doing extremely well by charging rents which the tenants can pay only because they are packed into the accommodation. It should have been possible to have done something about this in the Bill.

I have a minimal suggestion. Could we have a more precise and enforceable definition of how much must be put into rooms to make them regarded by the law as furnished premises? It has always mystified me as a layman why this apparently simple problem has apparently baffled the lawyers for so long. [Interruption.] If the Minister asks why we did not do it when we were in power, he is entitled to ask.

At the end of his speech my right hon. Friend raised a grave criticism—that, from the evidence coming from Manchester and elsewhere, it may be that this Measure will not do what the Minister says he is most anxious to do, and that is to help local authorities with the greatest housing need.

I have tried to discover how these new financial provisions will affect some projected housing schemes in the borough of which my constituency forms part. The officials there just cannot tell at present what the result of all this will be It is so unspeakably complicated. The furthest they will go is to say that they do not think it will be less advantageous than the previous arrangement. The long-term results will have to be considered at a later date, they say, despite the fact that officials of the Department of the Environment have undertaken to go into the matter with them in depth.

We are faced with a solemn prospect. Here is a Bill for which the greatest claims are made, yet the people who are trying to tackle this problem cannot say how it will affect the finances of a hard-hit local authority such as the one I have described. In other words, the number of people who care to prophesy with certainty how this will work out for their areas is extremely small.

The plain fact, meanwhile, is that if one compares the first nine months of 1971 with the first nine months of 1970, one sees that the number of council house starts is down by 9,500 or a little more than 10 per cent. It is still true that with all the council building that has taken place to meet the most acute need, there is still need for more and not less council building.

I am glad that owner-occupation has grown, There is no doubt, however, that the most bitter needs are still those that must be met by the provision of more council housing. We have startlingly little evidence that this elaborate Bill, with its invasion of the rights of local authorities, will do anything to cure that major aspect of the whole housing problem.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

It is a privilege for me to be called to speak following such a distinguished right hon. Gentleman as the one who represents the constituency of Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart).

I agreed with his opening comments, in which he referred to the importance of housing in relation to human happiness, for we may invest as a nation a very great deal of money in the National Health Service, education and the other social services, but a large percentage of it will be undone in its good if there are bad housing conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke in terms of subsidy. We must examine what sort of subsidies we believe to be the best. I hope he does not really believe in the old form of subsidisation practised by the former London County Council, which gave the worst sort of blanket subsidy to properties and allowed families living door by door in some cases to receive equal subsidies when there were substantial differences in their individual incomes. It was the worst way in which to use public money.

I cannot help feeling that the protests that comes so often from the benches opposite on the subject of owner-occupation have a hollow ring about them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us that they support and want more owner-occupiers, but something tells me that they protest a little too loudly and often. I suggest that Socialist doctrines are hardly compatible with those who wish to become capitalist owner-occupiers.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I served for a long time on a strong Labour housing authority. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any Conservative local authority which has subsidised owner-occupation by providing land at cost and non-profit prices, by paying contributions to private street works and giving loans on a reasonable basis compared with those that were felt to be possible at the time?

Mr. Bowden

Why were those things done? The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that such local authorities gave money for owner-occupiers because the outcry had they refused to do so would have been such that it would have cost them a lot of votes. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will examine the record of my council of Brighton he will see that in essence the points he has raised have been met by that authority. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman wishes to avoid the point I made, which is that Socialism and its doctrines are not compatible with private ownership and individual property ownership.

Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)

Grow up.

Mr. Bowden

What I have said is clear from many speeches that have been made at Labour Party conferences. Indeed, at the recent one a motion was passed demanding outright the abolition of this sort of tax concession for owner-occupiers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] We are told that this is not Labour Party policy, but it is clear that the occupants of the Front Bench opposite adopt their conference policies when it suits them and oppose them when it does not suit them.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

I can only assume that that is another piece of misinformation the hon. Gentleman gleaned from Ronald Butt in his amusing article in The Times recently. I assure him that it is not true. There is no record of such a motion having been passed at the Labour Party Conference.

Mr. Bowden

Really? [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I assure hon. Gentleman opposite that I can prove my point. I have with me a document which says that a resolution on housing passed at this year's Labour Party Conference called for the ending of tax relief for home buyers. That is a categorical and firm statement and I defy hon. Gentlemen opposite to prove otherwise.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bowden

I have been generous about giving way. The record is now clear.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the custom of the House normally to help other right hon. and hon. Members by revealing the source of one's information?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Yes, on the whole it is. The hon. Gentleman has revealed the source of his information, as far as I can make out.

Mr. Bowden

I abide by your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me turn now to general points on the Bill. There is no doubt that the Bill will work to the advantage of some areas of the country rather than others. Indeed, in areas such as Brighton, which are comparatively low wage areas, it will be a very great advantage to tenants, especially council tenants.

This was true of the national rate rebate scheme introduced by the Labour Government, which was one of the few good Measures they put on the Statute Book. In the application of that, there were a substantial number of tenants who applied for this rebate and, therefore, had to go through a form of means test. Surely it is quite illogical to attempt to stir up feelings about applying for a rent rebate because one has to undergo a means test. The rate rebate scheme helped a large number of people and there was certainly no evidence in my area of any resentment at having to reveal earnings to obtain such a rebate.

When the Bill comes into operation, as it surely will, there is no doubt that a large number of tenants will pay less rent. It will be those on low incomes with large families who get the most help, even to the extent in some cases of paying no rent at all. Help for private tenants, many of whom have much smaller incomes than those living in council property and in many cases pay higher rents, will be of very great benefit.

I give two examples. A man at present earning £20 a week, with a wife and two children, with a basic rent of £3 a week, would pay a rent under the scheme of up to £1.46 a week. If his rent was increased by £1, as it may well be in the next 12 to 18 months, he would still pay only an extra 40p per week. This is a logical and sensible approach to the situation—it is no use hon. Members dismissing it by saying, "Lucky people"—in which maintenance, modernisation and administration costs are rising each year, to ensure that the increases are fairly spread among those who can afford to pay.

I give an even more striking example. Many people in my constituency are on a weekly wage of £16, and in some cases even less. A person on £16 a week, with a wife and two children, with a rent of £3 per week, under the Bill would pay precisely 67p per week rent, and if his rent rose by £1 he would pay only an extra 30p per week.

What has disturbed me has been the number of what I can only regard as scaremongering speeches made by leading Socialist councillors in many parts of the country, in which they have deliberately attempted to frighten those living on low incomes, pensioners and others into believing that they will have to face massive increases of rent under the Bill and that their security of tenure will be threatened. It has been a mean and despicable campaign.

I put three points to my right hon. Friend for consideration in the future when he considers the details of the Bill. I am very worried that those living in rented furnished accommodation will not be helped or covered in any way. Many families living in furnished accommodation face a vicious circle. Broadly, they live in poor units. They tend to be low wage earners and, therefore, they find it impossible not only to save sufficient money to buy a property but to save sufficient money to get together a home to move into unfurnished rented property, and they have little chance of re-housing by the local authority.

I accept the point as a powerful one that a high percentage of people living in furnished accommodation are on short-term lettings and there is a rapid turnover. But the fact remains that we have a hard core who spend many years in furnished accommodation. The Government must try to find a way to help this group. Would it not be possible, where a man has been living with his family in furnished accommodation for, say, six or possibly 12 months, that at the end of that time he would have the right to register that occupation with the local rent tribunal, and then those individual examples could be brought into the general scope of the Bill? This would be a way of helping many people in rented furnished accommodation.

I have two other minor points. Because of the very substantial cost and the organisation needed on the administrative side, it may be wise slightly to increase the sime scale before the Bill comes into full operation throughout the country. Those authorities who find the cost of administration very high should be able to offset this against the surplus they may have to pay to the Exchequer.

This is a good Bill, whatever may be said from the benches opposite. It has wide national support, and it is just and fair.

5.38 p.m.

Mrs. Doris Fisher (Birmingham, Ladywood)

There is no stigma attached to being a council house tenant. I do not accept that council house tenants offer anything less to society than anyone else, nor do I accept that they have any financial advantages over other members of society. If the Government desire to equalise housing aid to all sections, we on this side of the House ask ourselves why those 50 per cent. living in council houses should be singled out in the way that they are at present. It is a grave bone of contention that one class of society is being singled out by a cutback in financial help.

We have become used to listening to what the Tory Party said they were going to put into operation and what they are putting into operation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) mentioned the assurances that local government was promised under the Tories. Local government was promised complete freedom, as against the previous operations of the Labour Government. But the Bill passes to Whitehall not only rigid control on fixing rents, but also clearly spells out to local authorities how they will allocate to the housing revenue account certain parts of loan charges, repairs funds and management. So not only does the Bill give to Westminster and Whitehall the decision on what rents shall be charged but it also takes away from housing committees complete control of their housing revenue accounts.

In the past housing authorities took pride in their housing programmes. The majority of Labour-controlled authorities felt, not only that they were building houses, but that they were providing facilities of which people had been hitherto deprived. The Bill will take control from freely elected local people who know the conditions in which people live and who know the local circumstances—the cost of land, difficulties of slum clearance, and so on. The power is being given to Government appointees.

Clause 57 is particularly pernicious in its provision that Any member of a rent scrutiny committee duly authorised … by the chairman can reasonably enter and inspect any housing revenue account dwelling with a view to assessing a provisional rent. There is no suggestion that these people will enter residences in the private sector. This Government of all Governments should establish clearly that the Englishman's home is his castle. The Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries went into the whole question of entry into people's homes, a question which causes great concern because of the interference with liberty.

Age, character, locality and state of repair are some of the criteria to be considered in fixing rent. Will people living in the outer suburbs of large conurbations such as Birmingham pay higher rents than people living in inner areas where there has been redevelopment but where the environment is not so good? If locality is to become a criterion, there will be a downtown area in all large conurbations.

My constituency is comprised entirely of council-owned property. How will fair rents be assessed in such an area? My constituency borders on one side the lush quarters of Edgbaston, in which there are many houses each of whose gardens would accommodate three or four of the multi-storey blocks of flats which exist in my constituency. As for the rest, my constituency borders factories, the gas works and the railways. There is no private housing and housing association housing with which to make comparisons. Though the Tory Party has made a great fanfare because Birmingham has sold many houses, not one house has been sold in Ladywood. There are two 32-storey blocks of flats in Ladywood. There are no others in the City of Birmingham. I forget how many 20-storey blocks of flats there are in my constituency. In the City of Birmingham there are no 20-storey blocks of flats other than corporation-owned blocks. How are fair rents to be assessed for flats in those blocks of flats?

People living in blocks of flats pay high rents because of the rating attached to high blocks. I have told my constituents that I am convinced that they are already paying the fair rent, because their rents have been increased 300 per cent. from the time they occupied the dwellings eight years ago.

An Hon. Member

In the time of the Labour Government.

Mrs. Fisher

I said "ten years ago". Those of us who have been actively interested in local authority housing know that in the vast majority of cases the tenants that have borne the full weight of rate increases have been those living in pre-war council housing. Will the biggest increases be applied to these same properties under these proposals? This does not affect my constituency, because all my properties were built post-war.

In the absence of a free market, a fair rent must be a matter of opinion. There are strong rumours in Birmingham that the average weekly rent will be £5, in which case some people will be paying much more than £5.

The Secretary of State expects the fair rents to bring in more than a sufficient sum to balance housing revenue accounts. It is contrary to justice for the Exchequer to be able to claw back surpluses on housing revenue accounts. It is contradictory of the so-called fair rents policy.

Hon. Members opposite labour tinder the impression that the majority of council house tenants earn £40, £50 or £60 a week. It is relevant to consider who are the tenants of corporation properties. The latest figures I have been able to obtain from the Library show that over 21½ per cent. of those in council properties are living on the Supplementary Benefits Commission. This figure does not include such people as widows who are on pension but who go out to work to supplement their pension.

Mr. Bowden

It is true that a high percentage of those living in council accommodation are on low incomes or on supplementary pension, but will not such people as those pay no rent under the new scheme?

Mrs. Fisher

A subsidy to a place like Birmingham will cost the ratepayers £1½ million in 1972–73, as against that cost falling on the Supplementary Benefits Commission. So there is this complete turn-round: the right of people to get subsidies from the Government through various sources is being loaded on to the local authority. This has been laid on to local authorities such as Birmingham which have tried to rehouse people from slum properties, and Birmingham—which incidentally expects to clear its slum properties in another five years and not 10 years—will not benefit by the Government's subsidies. [Interruption.] My source is the housing manager of the City of Birmingham, who said: Unfortunately, from Birmingham's point of view, the new arrangements will only apply to land acquired after 31st March, 1968. As the bulk of our expenditure on the acquisition of unfit properties was incurred before this date, the city may not receive any benefit from this subsidy It is not true to say that areas with a great housing need will benefit, because this subsidy will not apply to Birmingham, and that authority has one of the greatest housing needs in the country because of the influx of people who work in that conurbation.

There are people who have to look to the local authority for rehousing, and those people are not in the category which can be helped—namely owner-occupiers. I wish hon. Members opposite would understand this. I represent an area which has been completely demolished for slum clearance. There are very few houses left. None of the people who lived in that slum property could have been rehoused if it had not been for the local authority. For hon. Members to suggest otherwise is completely misleading. People do not from choice live in appalling housing conditions, with no toilets and no hot water. They live in such conditions because they cannot escape from them. House purcase does not apply to such people, and I wish hon. Members opposite would understand that. These people have got to be helped if we are going to clear the slums.

It is necessary also to help the elderly. The Prime Minister, in a party political broadcast in January, 1970, said that he wanted to change the system of housing subsidies to encourage the building of more houses for old people. The majority of large local authorities have been doing this but if they continue to do so the municipal tenant and the ratepayer will be penalised under this Bill because the social security benefits will be passed on to the local authority.

In this Bill no reference is made to the real crux of the housing problem. The crux is high interest rates under which local authorities have to borrow. I know something about the City of Birmingham, being a past chairman of that authority. Last year about £19 million was collected in rents and about £19 million was spent in repaying the loan and the capital debt charges. High interest rates is one of the most crippling factors in trying to solve the housing problem, quite apart from the high cost of building land. If we have got to build in the large conurbations—which is where the great shortage is—and if we have to pay the high cost of land, we shall have this ever-increasing burden, which is not solved by the Bill.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill seeks to solve the housing problem. I would have said that it seeks to solve the problem in a typically Tory way, by cutting subsidies and forcing up rents, which is automatically followed by a running down of house building in the public sector. Housing demand can then be met, as people are not able to afford the rents. This is the solution which the Tory Party usually adopt when seeking to deal with any problem. If one prices the goods out of the market, demand is satisfied. The thing becomes too expensive.

These latest Tory moves on housing policy are what we would expect. They tie up with previous legislation on milk for seven-year-olds and the increased cost of school meals. They tie up with all the deliberate attacks on the working class. Once again, it will be the worker on an average wage, unable to claim any rebate, who will suffer the most under this Bill. This is the class who are constantly penalised by the Tory Government—the working class, who are trying to maintain their standards. So much for the Prime Minister and his one nation.

5.56 p.m.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)

I am most grateful, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.] It is well known that when hon. Members opposite have no constructive debating point to make, they can only descend to personal criticism.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for extending to me this opportunity to give a wholehearted welcome to the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this is a most fundamental and important piece of reforming legislation which is long overdue. For far too long we have had an unfair system of housing subsidies, full of anomaly and injustice—a system, moreover, which has left us with some very grave unresolved housing problems and the existence of conditions of squalor which are a national disgrace and for which we should all feel a deep sense of shame.

It is our duty on both sides of the House to do our utmost, in the way that we see fit, to overcome these problems, to end the tragedy of homelessness, to end squalor, to make sure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to own their own homes and to see that tenants, be they council or private tenants, pay a fair rent according to their means—no more and no less.

The definition of "fair" in the English dictionary of Synonyms is: Reasonable and proper, equitable and just. It is exactly this definition that the Bill interprets. [Interruption.] Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. If hon. Members opposite are suggesting that we are not proposing fair rents, why did the previous Labour Government in their 1965 Rent Act describe as "fair" rents which were measured by exactly the same yardstick as is proposed in the Bill?

Perhaps the most significant question on subsidies is the simple one of to whom they should go. It is the answer to this question which is so clearly enunciated in the Bill at last, after years of muddled priorities and failure to solve our housing problems. The answers involve a clear choice of priorities upon which the House is so deeply divided—so much so that apparently some hon. Members opposite have said that this is such a controversial piece of legislation that it has been given as one of the reasons why some hon. Members opposite are not to be allowed to vote for another piece of legislation. One cannot have a more tenuous link with logic than that.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland)—he is not here at the moment—readily accepted in the debate on the White Paper last July that that White Paper reformed the existing system. Apparently he has changed his mind. In fact, he was right the first time. I see hon. Members opposite looking doubtful. Let them refer to their right hon. Friend's speech on 19th July, in which he used these words— … the present system, now being reformed …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1971; Vol. 821, c. 1092.] The right hon. Gentleman accepted that this Bill, then forthcoming, would reform the present system, and that is what it does, not only because it is fairer and more effective to direct subsidies where they will do the most good, but because it will help to resuscitate a dying private rented sector and, further, it will encourage potential home owners to take advantage of the opportunities open to them.

Even hon. Members opposite, who spend so much time telling people what they should want instead of listening to what they do want, have come to accept, and consider provision for, the indisputable fact that there are very few council tenants who would not rather be home owners if they could—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and that home ownership is far more desirable to the vast majority of people than any tenancy.

Yet the Labour Party still wants to deprive some council tenants of home ownership. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed, that is so.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

How can they save if their rents are put up like this?

Mrs. Oppenheim

There are many people who could be well on the way towards becoming home owners but who are still council tenants because of the attitude displayed by the Labour Party and Labour-controlled local authorities throughout the country.

We often hear the argument from the Opposition that many needy people will not receive a rebate because they will be too proud to apply. I have considerable sympathy with that argument when it is related to applications for supplementary benefits and pensions, but I do not accept it in the context of the rent rebate, because both the method and the psychology of applying for a rent rebate are entirely different and the means test involved is simpler and less revealing than that universal means test, the income tax return.

I confess to some doubt about the proposed rebate period of six months. I regard this as far too short, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will in time reconsider it.

I welcome the Bill, above all, because, as well as bringing help to people in the private sector who need help but who are not receiving it now, it will result in more council accommodation becoming available to rehouse those who are presently living in totally intolerable conditions. This accommodation will become available, moreover, not entirely at the expense of the taxpayer and the ratepayer but to a greater extent at the expense of those who can afford to pay a fair rent or move out of the public sector, people who for years have been receiving an unfair and unnecessary subsidy.

Only when every council tenant is receiving a rent rebate will one of the medium-term objectives of the Bill have been achieved. If the right hon. Member for Grimsby were here, he would, no doubt, at once make the criticism—it is one we often hear—that this would result in the creation of one-class housing. I accept that that is right to the extent that in the medium term it could happen, although a fairly large range of incomes is involved in the rent rebate system which we propose. But this objective is defensible only if it helps us solve our immediate housing problem and if it lays the foundations at the same time for a long-term strategy leading towards a far more diversified system in the public sector—that is, one which provides for a variety of housing needs, one which takes full account of the need to create a proper social balance in all new planning and redevelopment, which can be achieved only by means of the smaller mixed developments of the future rather than by the creation of the huge council estates such as we have had in the past, which are and have always been socially divisive. It is for this challenging and progressive long-term aim that the Bill so adequately paves the way.

I should have liked to develop that theme further but, because I have promised brevity, I shall turn now to the problems of two minority groups. First, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to the position of the one-parent family, especially when that parent is the mother. I agree at once that people in this group will be most grateful for the opportunity which the Bill will give them for a rent allowance in the private sector. Many of them, however, still face great discrimination from private landlords and grave difficulties in obtaining mortgages at a time of considerable personal unhappiness and anxiety. I hope my right hon. Friend will feel that he can urge local authorities to give priority in their housing lists to these unfortunate families.

Second, although I warmly welcome the provision for extra aid for slum clearance under Clause 11, which will greatly accelerate local authority slum clearance programmes, I hope that my right hon. Friend will impress upon local authorities that no such progress should be embarked upon unless and until adequate and appropriate alternative accommodation is available for housing the elderly and aged. Such rehousing should be coherently planned both as to the type of dwelling provided and as to its location. The problem of rehousing the elderly in these circumstances must be tackled with compassion, with sympathy and with humanity.

Urban renewal is a fashionable euphemism which encompasses slum clearance, among other things, but there is no euphemism for the trauma felt by older people when they learn that their long-cherished home and carefully tended garden has suddenly been designated as a slum. The prospect of being -ehoused away from family, friends and neighbours fills them with alarm and anxiety, and the more so as such elderly people so often rely on the help of friends and neighbours living nearby.

I believe that this consideration is the very least that we owe to a generation who have had their lives disrupted by two world wars, who want nothing more, and who deserve nothing less, than to spend their remaining years in congenial surroundings, in dignity and in tranquillity, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, in carrying his splendid Bill through, will ensure, that, wherever possible, this due consideration is given.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is obvious that a great many hon. Members wish to catch my eye. I hope that those who do will have regard to that fact in considering the length of their speeches.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I take your hint, Mr. Speaker, and I shall do my best to act upon it.

The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) and I have, apparently, come to entirely different conclusions about the Bill. I have had some experience of the process of its preparation. I heard about it more than 12 months ago, I suppose. It has been on the go for as long as that, and I can say from my knowledge that a good many Conservatives in local government do not share the hon. Lady's view of the Bill as it now stands. I know of the fight which the Minister had to get it accepted. He had to use all his skill to bring it even to this stage and its progress during preparation has been extraordinary, to say the least.

On 12th May, I challenged the Tory Party in London to deny many of the main provisions of the Bill as they were then foreshadowed so that on 13th May the people of London could know exactly what was going on and vote accordingly. But the London Tories refused to confirm or deny what was in the Bill. Yet, now we have it before us, we find that the Bill contains all the provisions which I then forecast.

I test the Bill today, as I have always done, in the light of the serious housing situation in London. In my borough of Hackney—the same is true of the borough of Islington—there are nearly 10,000 families, representing 30,000 people, on the housing lists waiting for proper homes. There are about 1,000 homeless people in each of those boroughs. These are distressing conditions. Therefore, one criterion of the success of the Bill should be whether it produces homes for such people. The hon. Lady seemed to consider that it would produce them almost overnight. Not one of its 103 Clauses persuades me that the people of Hackney or Islington will get a single home sooner than they would have done without it. On the contrary, they are likely to get fewer homes than in the past.

We have a terribly serious housing situation. After our debate in July, I thought there was no disagreement between the two sides of the House that the important thing was to build more homes. I thought that the Minister for Housing and Construction agreed that that was the real issue, in London in particular but also throughout the country. The Secretary of State, however, has failed to show where the new homes are to come from as a result of the Bill. I trust the Minister who replies to the debate will explain.

Any new housing provisions must stress very strongly how new homes will be provided. The Secretary of State skated very carefully over the issue of building new homes. He and the Under-Secretary of State know very well that the problem in London is land. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to make the extraordinary suggestion this afternoon that slum clearance was achieved only if a person was put back on the site from which he had been moved. I did not understand that argument. It has not been my experience in 20 years of dealing with the problem in London.

The Minister knows that the Bill cannot help to prise land from the London Borough of Bromley, for example. We have not prised it away from that borough in the past. I should have liked to see in the Bill a means to take available land out of the hands of those boroughs which hoard it so that we can build homes for other Inner London boroughs. It is no good for the Minister to say that that would interfere with the freedom of local government, because Clauses 93, 94 and 95 of the Bill do precisely that. If those Clauses were not in the Bill, I should hesitate to urge the use of such powers. If a Clause is not added in Committee to take away land from those London boroughs which are hoarding it, we shall have to come to the conclusion that the Bill is a farce and that it only pretends to provide more homes.

I should have expected to see in a Bill of such magnitude a means to improve housing exchanges. It is a difficult problem, not only in London but in other parts of the country, to see that accommodation is adequately used by encouraging exchanges.

The Bill also fails to include any provisions for intensive management. It is no good giving rent allowances to private tenants unless we can find a way to ensure that the houses in which they live are properly managed. Intensive management is the core of the problem. I do not understand how it is suggested that the Bill will provide any greater intensity of management.

The Bill makes a fetish of "fair rents". A tenuous connection is made with the 1965 Act and Conservative hon. Members keep saying, "The Labour Government introduced it." But the Minister knows quite well that to try to pretend that the fair rents system in the Bill bears any relation to the 1965 Act is a nonsense. I have told him that before, and I will go on saying it. The prime object of that Act was to ensure that tenants were able to participate in the setting of the fair rent from the word "Go". They were involved, with the landlord, the rent officer and the rent assessment committee. They could argue their case before the committee, which is exactly what they cannot do under the Bill.

What we are considering in the Bill is not a fair rent but an economic rent. That is what the Government have been aiming for, and I shall go on calling it an economic rent because it cannot be seen to be fair. The Under-Secretary of State shakes his head, but let us consider one of the criteria in his own White Paper. He says that there will be taken into account in assessing the rent of a council dwelling its character, location, amenities and state of repair". How do we determine the state of repair of a private dwelling at present? The first step is to go to the public health inspector, who is a direct employee of the borough council. How does one employ him to check a borough council property, the owner of which is his employer? It is not possible to obtain any sort of response.

I have had difficulties on a number of occasions in dealing with the disgraceful state of some Greater London Council properties, with the bath in the kitchen—elegant stuff! To get the public health inspector to go into such a place is like asking him to go into a mausoleum. He will not touch the place if he can avoid it, because it is a matter between two local authorities and they do not want any trouble. Council employees try to solve the problem on the old-boy network, telephoning one another and saying, "Brown's on the prowl. For God's sake do something". We should not make provision for things to be done like that, but I can only assume that that is what is in mind under the Bill.

Why do the Government keep on speaking of fair rents? They should have the courage of their convictions and tell the people, "We are introducing a system of economic rents for council tenants."

The same argument may well be made about housing associations. I recently spoke to an officer of such an association which decided in advance of the Bill to put up its rents to fair rents. But perhaps it is a bit more cunning than the Minister, because it decided that its fair rent was to be called "fair market rental". That excludes any maintenance work, the changing of a bath or sink or putting in a fireplace, for example. They are all extras. The housing associations need to be examined closely, because they can no longer always be assumed to be in a charitable frame of mind. They are more likely to be pushed by the Government more and more into having economic rents.

The principal feature of the Bill is an obvious antagonism towards those who pay rent. The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester made the point very clearly when she said that people must be driven to own houses somehow, even if it means getting rid of council houses by selling them to the tenants, or driving the tenants out into some other form of ownership.

The hon. Lady has no doubt studied the Bill, which talks about equity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said, if we are to have equity in council housing, there must be equity over the whole rent field. Whether the tenant pays his rent to a borough council, a bank or any other institution, he is paying rent. The Bill states that proof is wanted of the financial viability of the person who pays his rent to the borough council but that we do not need any proof with regard to the man who makes his payment to a building society or bank. If we are to have equity as the Bill pretends, that equity must apply to everyone.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)

I wish that people would not use words wrongly. The dictionary gives a definition of "rent". To rent a house in which one does not have an equity is not the same as repaying to a third party a loan which has been used for the purchase of a house. We must not use words in the wrong context. Unless what is said is what is meant, and unless what is understood is what is said, there is no possibility of communication.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to comment on what he says. I would draw his attention to Clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill, which refer to what will be regarded as reckonable expenditure in the housing revenue account. This will be determined by the Minister, whose words will mean what he wants them to mean, and the meaning will be changed if he desires to change it. Clauses 11 and 12, which are the crux of these subsidies, must be looked at carefully.

We have been arguing for years that the housing revenue account is badly made up, and we hoped that the Bill would define the elements in it. The Bill does not do so but merely says that it will be up to the Minister to determine at any time generally what is in the housing revenue account. Where the Bill refers to specific authorities, I take this to mean Labour-controlled authorities who, in the Minister's view, do not measure up to his requirements.

Clauses 93 and 94 I find offensive. Great anger was shown by local authority associations about the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968. The Association of Municipal Corporations and the London Boroughs Association were almost beside themselves with anger simply because the Labour Government were trying to create stability and a relationship between productivity, prices and incomes and considered that to increase rents, therefore, by 30s. was absurd. Their argument was that if we were trying to get stability, rents could not be put up by more than 7s. 6d. or 10s. This increase limit was to be in force for only for 12 months.

Today, there has been no protest from those associations. After January, when the Labour representatives on the A.M.C. outnumber the Conservative representatives, there may be protests. It is outrageous that these associations, which were so biassed in 1968, are perfectly prepared to accept the provisions of Clauses 93, 94 and 95 with equanimity.

I find the Bill a pretty poor fish. It has taken a long time to produce, and it should have ensured that people get the homes to which they are entitled. When councillors are elected on a programme of what they believe is right for their area, they should be entitled to carry out that programme. A Bill which takes away control from local government in the way that this one does must be a bad Bill.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not only because my constituency will be much affected by the Housing Finance Bill, but because, as an architect, I have seen and studied the problems of housing from a different angle from that of most hon. Members.

I will take up one point mentioned by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown). The difference between fair rent and economic rent is that a fair rent is the market rent less scarcity value, whereas an economic rent includes scarcity value. That is why I prefer to speak in terms of fair rents.

We have built more than 7¼ million houses, flats and bungalows in the last 26 years. Why then in our larger cities do we still have slum conditions which are a blot on the conscience of any nation that calls itself civilised? The problem goes deeper than trying to excuse ourselves by saying that this is caused by the population explosion, which is outside our control, or the influx of immigrants into some of our big cities. My considered and sincere view is that the main reason for slum conditions, obsolescence and overcrowding is that our system of housing finance is wrong, and has been wrong under Governments of both complexions for the last two or three decades.

The system is wrong because it is indiscriminate and unfair. In Birmingham, part of which I have the honour to represent, it is almost true to say that the only hope a family has of getting a council house is if it lives in an area which is about to be redeveloped or if a member of the family has an overriding medical priority. This is a scandalous situation which we must solve, if possible by agreement on both sides of the House.

The system of housing finance is wrong because the principle is wrong. Whatever the defects of the Bill—and some have been exaggerated—the principle behind it is right, and that is why I shall support my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby. For the first time the Government are using the correct principle in tackling slum conditions.

The slums, overcrowding and obsolescence that still remain are caused not only by the housing finance system being wrong but also by the present system encouraging the creation of slums. While we are getting rid of the slums of yesteryear, new slums are necessarily being created, principally in the private rented sector. If one looks at copies of HANSARD for years gone by one sees that slums were to be got rid of by 1960, then by 1965, then by 1970, and we now hope to get rid of them by 1980. We must tackle not only the existing slums but the twilight areas that will become slums.

The Bill will do three things which I welcome. It will give a boost to the housing associations who are doing valuable work, particularly in our great cities. I in no way wish to minimise their work, rather do I wish to encourage the Government to give them the opportunity to do even more work, but, because of the system of financing, housing associations are encouraged to make as many dwelling units within a house as possible. Sometimes they put five dwelling units into a house which would better contain three. Secondly, I believe, and I do not want to be emotive or exaggerate the situation, that this Bill will encourage many council tenants to start the process of owning their own home. I recognise that if we are to bridge this gap between the better-off council tenant and the poorer family just starting the process of owning their own home, there must be a two-way traffic.

I must admit that I am concerned about the increase in the price of land, which has gone up, on average, by 11 per cent. in the last year. The Government are taking certain measures which I believe will be helpful, the removal of S.E.T. and other things.

The hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mrs. Doris Fisher), who is almost my next-door neighbour in Birmingham, rightly made the point that many council house families are of limited and poor means. I accept that. But the House must accept that the council house tenant in Britain embraces a great range of social conditions and prosperity. I have a figure admittedly not of recent date—it relates to 1968—which shows that over 21 per cent. of the 51½ million council house tenants had incomes of well over £42 a week coming into their homes in that year. So, as well as there being poorly off council tenants, there are quite a number who are relatively well off. I am not saying that all council house tenants are well off, but, on average, the income coming into council tenancies is greater than that coming into the private unfurnished sector.

Mr. Hardy

I would not dispute the figure given, but would not the hon. Gentleman agree that only 2 per cent. of council house tenants had incomes exceeding £2,100, and that the building industry accepts that only 2 per cent. could, on their own income, afford to buy their own homes at the prices prevailing at present?

Mr. Chapman

What I said was that the income coming into the house exceeded £2,100; I did not say that this came from the head of the house. I think the figure is 4 per cent. It is however a reasonable point to make that one thinks of an average council house family, and this is perhaps misleading.

I recognise that we must encourage the better-off council tenant who wants to own his own home, and I therefore welcome Clause 91 in the Bill which gives local authorities power to help with certain legal and removal expenses.

Thirdly, I welcome the Bill because of the boost which it will give to saving many properties. If there is one slogan I would suggest to the House in regard to housing policy in the next decade it is: "Renovation, not demolition, where possible". Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have definite and mixed views about high density, high-level development, which not only destroys the character of many parts of our cities and towns, but also destroys the souls of those who live in them.

I am worried about private rented furnished accommodation. As brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) and by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), this is a sector which, although it is only half a million strong, must be dealt with. I take the point of the right hon. Member for Fulham about the minimum amount of furniture to qualify for an arrangement whereby we might go over and bring them into the fair rents system. I recognise the problem. I hope that the Government will not exclude these people in the future.

I am also worried about the amount of subsidy in this Bill. I appreciate that the subsidy is not being cut, but I hope my right hon. Friend will take the point that the projected subsidy is being cut. I am not suggesting that this is either bad or good, but I ask that the system should be flexible, because we are, after all, trying to give to those in need. It would be wrong of us arbitrarily to calculate that need at this precise moment. If the need arises, I hope that the Government will be prepared to increase the subsidy and in any case keep flexible the rate of rebates paid to those of modest incomes. Under Clause 23, the Secretary of State is required to appoint an advisory committee. I hope that the Government will take note of what the Committee is bound to say from time to time about the need to be more flexible in the rebates given.

It is not only the condition of houses that creates a slum, but also their environment. The Government must do much more—and they could do it at little expense—to make healthier and happier places for people to live in. A few trees planted here and there, and a bit of tidying up is needed. People cannot be blamed for not keeping their homes in a good state of repair when the conditions of the environment around them are a disgrace to the community.

I do not want to raise the temperature, but I believe it is wrong for the opponents of the Bill to say that it is divisive. I think that the present system is divisive. It has wrongly turned a lot of people against council house tenants. Quite wrongly, these people say that the existing system has cosseted and privileged council house tenants. Some are cosseted and privileged, many or most are not. It is the divisive system of the present structure that causes people to adopt this opinion. It is the principle that matters when trying to solve the housing problem, and I believe that the principle embodied in this Bill is the right principle for United Kingdom housing in the last third of the 20th century.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I approach the Bill from the point of view of one who has long accepted some of the principles on which it is alleged to have been based. Initially, I was prepared to judge it by those principles and give the Government the benefit of the doubt, although I have learned from bitter experience that it is a mistake to give the present Government the benefit of any doubt. I welcome, however, their conversion to the principle that subsidies should be paid to people rather than to houses. That is the essential principle on which we are in agreement. I also approach the matter from the point of view of one who is satisfied with the housing record of neither of the two major parties which have been in power since the last war. I take issue with the terms of the White Paper, which tends to pat successive Governments on the back about the proud record of six and a half million houses built since the war. This is a rate of 260,000 per year. Yet we were building more than 300,000 houses a year before the war, and in the last year of peace we built 340,000. We did not reach that level again until 20 years after the war.

In 1969, according to international statistics, it can be seen that our marvellous record, as given in the White Paper, was 384,000 dwellings. France built 427,000 and Germany 500,000. We know that in 1969 housing as a percentage of the gross national product in the United Kingdom was only 3.3 per cent. It was 5.2 per cent. in Germany and 7 per cent. in France. So much for the great benefits that past housing policies have bestowed on us and over which the White Paper tends to skate.

The Labour Government tried and failed. In the National Plan of 1965 they said that the Government's aim for housing was to build 500,000 houses in the United Kingdom in 1970. On 27th August this year Labour's reaction, as being pitifully inadequate, was summed up by David Piachaud writing in the New Statesman, when he said: The Labour Government could take little pride in its housing achievement. One must marvel … at the lack of political ideas and bureaucratic delays which allowed a review of housing finance initiated in 1965 to remain forever incomplete. When one surveys the stupefying shambles of past housing policies by both Governments, one is tempted to sum up in the immortal words of Mr. Sam Weller: You bought houses, which is delicate English for going mad; or took to building which is a medical term for being incurable. The White Paper was quite right when it said that the time had come for a radical change in housing policy. With due respect to the Government, even after the publication and the passing of this Bill, if it is passed, the time will still have come for a radical change in housing policy. The Government have succumbed to Whitehall inertia. This is not a radical policy, it is not even a radical Conservative policy. It is a policy designed by housing policy "has-beens" to try to compensate for their past mistakes, without their ever admitting that they have made them.

Before we go any further, perhaps we ought to ask the fundamental question about any Housing Finance Bill, which is simply: why subsidise? The White Paper set that out; the Bill does not attempt to. It said of previous Governments that … they subsidised the next building to overcome the shortage itself. In other words, it is to persuade local councils to build. The new proposals as stated in the Bill will certainly stop that. The reaction in Cornwall has perhaps been slightly untypical because we have a very low-income area. It was summed up by two clerks of local councils to whom I spoke recently. In answer to the question, "Will you build more houses?" one of them said. "Not if we can help it." The other reaotion was rather more terse and was as follows: "To the devil with the Government. If they want to house people, let them build the houses themselves."

I do not think that the Bill will add to the stock of council housing, certainly not in areas such as Cornwall.

The White Paper went on to say that the purpose of subsidies was a decent home for every family at a price within their means. Is that the reason why a large number of people cannot afford the housing standards which society considers right? What sort of economy is it that enables firms to pay £13 a square foot a year in the City of London for office space but fails to pay employees a wage that is enough to meet the economic cost of putting a roof over their heads without a Government subsidy?

Perhaps subsidies are intended to encourage people to set a higher priority on housing within their family budget. Certainly the tax rebate to owner-occupiers helped to do this, but none of the other subsidies does it. There are a vast array of subsidies, and there will still be a vast array of subsidies even after the passage of this Bill. There are subsidies from the Government to the council, from the council to the tenant, from one council tenant to another, from the landlord to the private tenant and from the taxpayer without a mortgage to the taxpayer with a mortgage. Everyone is subsidising everyone else. How many of these subsidies are really necessary no one seems to have asked or to have found out.

One of the subsidies that has already come into question in our debate in housing on the Gracious Speech and today is the so-called taxpayer's subsidy. I do not want to use words incorrectly, but in the view of most council house tenants the subsidy which is given to taxpayers as a result of a tax rebate is at least as effective a subsidy as anything they get and they look upon it as a subsidy, irrespective of whether the dictionary does.

The White Paper was singularly unhelpful and the Bill is even less helpful in the Financial Memorandum. We are told that tax subsidies for houses for owner-occupation go back to 1798 and that Labour did it, too. Nowhere has that been argued. Some of us would consider that the fact that Labour did it, too, is not a very substantial argument.

The best reason I can find is that some judge in the past decreed that interest cannot be counted as income because it is already committed. That is clearly not appropriate in this argument because many other things are already committed—rent, hire purchase payments, and so on. I have been trying to get some information about the actual extent of the tax rebate to owner occupiers. There is quite an alarming degree of ignorance on the part of the Treasury on these matters. Apparently the Treasury cannot tell us how many mortgagors have mortgages of more than £5,000 and how many have mortgages of more than £10,000. So we cannot even start to limit it in that way or even find out whether there ought to be a limit.

On 10th November, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would estimate the revenue lost to the Exchequer by tax-free interest on mortgages in 1980. I received the following answer from the Financial Secretary: Any estimate would depend on too many assumptitons to be reliable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 189.] Yet there is a perfectly clear assumption about what is to happen to council house subsidies by 1980. If it is possible to make an assumption of that sort for 1980, I would have thought it was equally possible to make one for the so-called tax subsidy.

Liberals accept the need for subsidising housing. We accept that this is and must remain for a long time a social service. The Government are right to want to unify the housing market, but they have not done it and they certainly have not done it in this Bill. I only wish that they had. The owner-occupier will still get an automatic tax rebate, but there will be no subsidy for furnished tenants and there will be only a selective subsidy for other tenants. The rent rebate scheme, of which the Government seem inordinately proud, is acceptable in principle and in isolation, but it cannot be seen in isolation. The Government's social provision is in a hideous mess and this Bill is putting it into even more of a mess because of their inability to see the whole of the social provision and tax policies together.

I wonder whether anyone in government actually realises what is happening. It seems that various departmental heads are so busy putting their own bricks to their own corners of the building that they never have time to stand back and see what a hideous monstrosity they are designing. We are told in the White Paper that the national rent rebate scheme and the family income supplement scheme will, in combination, give effective help to people on low incomes. Why do we need both schemes? Why have F.I.S. if we have rent rebates? Why go on multiplying means tests in this way? Why not have one? Why not have a reverse or negative income tax? Why not allow rents for tax and pay a negative income tax to those who fall below the assessment? The Government should not try to introduce a national rebate scheme until they have the means of doing so.

The Government will claim, and this is where hon. Gentlemen opposite are right, that they cannot introduce a reverse income tax because the Treasury does not know how to do it until it has a battery of computers, which will not be available until 1984 or whatever. If they consult the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) they will discover that it is perfectly possible, and I give them that advice. They should consult the hon. Member because I believe that he, single-handed, could sweep away the inertia of the Treasury.

The Government have been singularly difficult about coming forward with an estimate of how many tenants and what proportion of tenants will be eligible for rebate. My estimate is that something between 50 per cent. and 75 per cent. of all tenants in the country will be eligible for such rebate. The Government want the money to go to those who are really in need, but, as we know, a large number of those who are really in need will not get this at all. Various reasons are put forward; one is pride. Perhaps there will come a point when real need will overtake the pride. I am in some ways more concerned about those who do not claim their rebates because of ignorance. They are of the poorest section of the community. It is the section which is so ignorant, and so innocent, of the forms which we all so readily supply, that they cannot claim.

Last year, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services, introducing the Family Income Supplements Bill, said that 190,000 households would be eligible. Last week, he told us that 85,000 households had taken up the supplement. The best estimate I can make is that his figure of 190,000 should in reality be well over 200,000, and we are not even halfway there despite the fact that we have spent £300,000 in advertising what should have been an effective national campaign. So we are not getting at the people who really need the help, and the rent rebate scheme will not do so.

At a meeting in Cornwall, the chief financial officers estimated that nearly 90 per cent. of all council tenants in the county will be eligible for rebate. What is the point of charging a rent which the Government know 90 per cent. of Cornish council tenants cannot afford, and then go through the hideous rigmarole of allowing them to claim back in the form of rebate?

The Government should stipulate a rise in rents to whatever level they predict as an average percentage rather than have a 50p rise. A 50p rise on a rent of £2 .50 is a rise of 20 per cent., but on a rent of £5 it is only 10 per cent. That means that in low-rent areas 50p will be an enormous percentage rise, and it will go on year after year. I doubt whether rents will ever catch up with the fair rent. If a rent of £3 a week is doubled to £6 it will take at least six years to catch up at 50p rise a week, and halfway through the period we shall have another fair rent assessment. So at 50p a week we shall go on upwards and upwards for ever, and no one will ever pay fair rent at all.

We can see how difficult it is to apply the principle of fair rents, which may be perfectly satisfactory for the private sector but not for the public sector. In Cornwall, only 500 fair rents have been registered. Birmingham has registered 3,000 out of 60,000 dwellings, which is only 5 per cent. This is far too untried a system to apply to the great mass of public sector housing.

The Government have been extremely cagey about the effect and the cost of their scheme for national rebate. I recommend a study of this scheme to hon. Members opposite who think that they will save a lot of money as a result of the Bill.

Paragraph 66 in page 15 of the White Paper states: Under the new system total Exchequer subsidies for housing in England and Wales, instead of growing rapidly, will remain at about their present level …. In page vii of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum we read … the financial effects of the Bill can at present be assessed only provisionally … and also … charges on the Consolidated Fund … are estimated to remain at about the estimated level of such charges for 1971–72 … at current prices, until 1975 –76 and may be reduced thereafter. This is a very significant change of wording indeed, and it shows very clearly that the Government have no real idea of exactly what the cost of the scheme will be or how much they will save in the end.

What is the Government's attitude to the private rented sector? Do they believe that private rented accommodation has a future? Do they want to give it a future? Fair rents will not do it, because in the private sector they are still not economic rents. They do not give the landlord the full return on his money which would make him bring his money into the market. I agree on the difficult relationship there is between landlord and tenant, but if private money could be pulled in we might be able to increase private investment substantially.

The Government should not and cannot afford to be neutral. If we want private rented accommodation we must allow landlords to depreciate their properties for tax purposes. Frankly, I doubt whether there will ever be a future for the private rented sector, so perhaps we should recognise the inevitable and make arrangements to wind it up altogether. There are great dangers in leaving it to wither away, as we can see when we look at the state of so much private rented housing.

The Government have patted themselves on the back from time to time in these debates about the effect of improvement grants. The Minister earlier announced the uptake in development areas. I hope that he will reconsider the time element scheduled for these schemes, because there is some evidence, certainly in Cornwall, that the fact that people are being forced into a limited available time is pushing up building costs considerably. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider announcing an extension of the improvement grant scheme.

I hope, also, that he will reconsider his decision not to bring back the regulation about resale of property within three years. There is considerable difficulty in a holiday area such as Cornwall where a vast amount of public finance is being poured into what are virtually holiday homes and which do not add at all to the normal housing available to local residents.

The Government have introduced what they fondly imagine is a radical reform. It is nothing of the sort. The Bill will not build more houses. It will not house homeless families. It will certainly not provide decent homes for all families at a price within their means. It will virtually nationalise all public housing, taking away the effective control of housing from local councils while paying lip service to the idea of local housing. It is, in effect, a means of swopping the sources of subsidy finance, but local rates are totally inadequate to bear the burden.

The Bill will seriously reduce the real standard of living of a great number of people. It will force many on lower incomes to take cheaper houses which are too small and in the wrong place. It will create in housing two nations. In one will be those who are forced to buy on mortgage houses they cannot really afford, and in the other will be those who cannot afford the rent and will have to go cap in hand for a rebate; two nations—a nation of debtors and a nation of beggars.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) complained about the multiplicity of means tests, but then went on to talk of a negative income tax. I agree with him about negative income tax, but whether it is likely to come about in the next decade I do not know. Studies show that the introduction of negative income tax allied with a minimum income guarantee would go far to solving these problems in various fields.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) has gone from the Chamber, since he shares with me the honour of being a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations. He cannot have read his brief, because the A.M.C. has quite a lot of criticism to make of the Bill.

I want to confine myself to a problem which affects my constituency and one or two other constituencies in inner London. I welcome the Bill's provision for rebated rents for private as well as for council tenants. This idea was pioneered by the local authority in Birmingham, which deserves very great credit for it.

I fear, however, that one section of the community is being overlooked by the Bill. We are protecting those persons who are local authority tenants, who have for many years been getting a rent rebate, and who will continue to get protection under the Bill. At the other end of the scale, there are those who can afford to pay, not merely a fair rent but the market rent. What we are perhaps in danger of overlooking is that segment in between—the middle class. It is right to discuss the problems of the middle class and to relate them to some of the things that some hon. Members know about.

Hampstead has many blocks of mansion flats formerly owned by one of the very large property companies, London County Freehold and Leasehold Properties, better known as Key Flats. It had a reputation among its tenants of being extremely fair, and its reputation was as high as could be wished in any business. Until my marriage, I was one of its tenants, and I have no complaints to make about it.

Two years ago, it wrote to its tenants throughout the country to say that it proposed to sell the flats to sitting tenants. After that letter, it was bought out by another company, Metropolitan Estate and Property Company Ltd., and in that transaction the promise to the tenants was flagrantly disregarded. There was an utter lack of morality and consideration for tenants, who had been promised in not one but two letters that they could buy their own flats. This is the sort of action which does no good to the cause of private landlords. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite snigger, which is all that they have done during the debate, but by the time I have finished they will be laughing on the other side of their face.

The latest chapter in the saga of Key Flats is that, having been sold to M.E.P.C., some blocks, not mine, were sold to a company called Freshwaters, described as the legal Rachmans of the 1970s, as many tenants' associations have written to me with letters to prove and as many excellent reports in the Press have indicated. People in these blocks are extremely worried about their future and their worries are being worked on by Labour Party sympathisers in these areas who should be ashamed of themselves for what they are saying.

Freshwaters and their many subsidiary companies have a fine legal dodge. When a flat in a block becomes empty, not being already regulated, Freshwaters find a tenant who, in company parlance, may be a man of straw, someone willing to pay whatever rent the company asks. That rent is then registered with the rent officer as a fair rent. In the adjoining flat there may be a long-standing tenant whose lease is due for renewal. What is the rent officer to do? How can he disregard having registered a rent of, say, £1,200 a year, although the rent of the tenant in the adjoining flat has been £300 or £400? The rent officer has an enormous problem.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

Why does the rent officer have to register the rent in the first place? He does not legally have to do so.

Mr. Finsberg

He does not have to do so, but there are provisions allowing for a joint approach, and he will almost certainly register it in those circumstances.

Mr. Mitchell

He does not have to do so.

Mr. Finsberg

I know. The hon. Gentleman is not stating anything other than the obvious. I am saying that this is what is likely to happen, and there are cases on record.

What does the rent officer do? Does he accept that that is the comparable rent, so that the long-standing tenant is caught in what can only be called a piece of trickery?

I appeal to the Minister to do two things in Committee. The first is to try to close loopholes through which Freshwaters have operated since the 1965 Rent Act was passed by the Labour Party. Labour Members should read again the article in the Sunday Times when they will see that it was the 1965 Rent Act which gave Freshwaters their opportunities. I do not see them smiling and laughing now. Secondly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will delete the provisions for a joint approach procedure to the rent officer.

Elderly people, for example, when their fears have been worked on by Labour Members, feel that perhaps they had better go to the rent officer with the landlord, taking the view that the figure suggested is reasonable and that they might do worse and had better go along with joint registration. I know that the registration may subsequently be cancelled, but I should be happier if there were no joint approach procedure at all. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at that and see whether he can do anything about it.

The Rachman scandals in the 1960s were the direct result of years of scarcity and rent control and the Milner Holland Report made that perfectly plain. The Freshwater syndrome in the 1970s has the same basic cause. For the overall shortage of private housing for lotting only one party in the House has any blame, and it is the Labour Party, because of is constant campaign of denigration and blackmail of private landlords. Good or bad, all landlords have been lumped together by Labour supporters. I believe that private landlords have a part to play in housing if they operate as Key Flats did, within recognised ethical scales. We do not have room for the sort of tactics which I have mentioned tonight.

But if we are to have an element of private housing for rent, the Labour Party has to be certain that its supporters do not scupper it before it starts by passing resolutions at conferences which they accept when that is in their interests and which they ignore when it does not happen to suit them. They arouse the fear that if someone ploughs tens of millions of pounds into building flats to rent, one day there will be a Labour Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—although probably not in the lifespan of many hon. Members opposite, and that then there will be expropriation, according to the left wing, or compensation, according to the moderates, who do not appear to be in the majority in the Labour Party now, but certainly no encouragement for private landlordism.

I wanted to raise a matter of particular interest to my constituency, but affecting other inner London Members who have large block of flats which were owned by Key Flats and are now owned by Freshwaters and others. I leave to others the problems of housing associations, which are worried about whether they will be able to provide the same amount of accommodation under the new subsidy proposals, and those of local authorities, whose feelings have been expressed by the A.M.C., which asks why they should bear any of the cost of administering private rent allowances. I have criticisms about those two matters, but I leave them to other hon. Members.

No one on this side of the House can do other than give a warm welcome to putting local government housing finance on a sound footing and giving equity and social justice to private tenants who, for the first time, will be able to get the help they need and deserve.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

One of the interesting features of the Government is their desire to help everybody. No matter where people are living and no matter who they are, the Government want to assist them. In education they have stopped youngsters' free milk to give us better schools; in industrial relations they have introduced a notorious Bill to strengthen the trade unions; on Rhodesia the Foreign Secretary is off to help the coloured people. So it goes on, and it makes one wonder why they are so unpopular.

Now in fair rents the Tories are introducing a new concept in housing to help council tenants and other not fortunate enough to own their own property. On this side of the House we might feel ashamed of ourselves—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—whether the Tories will still be saying, "Hear, hear "in five minutes is another matter; fortunately, apparentlly, we are not as stupid as we look. That is one of the differences between us and them: they are as stupid as they look. The Government are engaged in a narrow and ideological exercise not unconnected with the fact that between 80 and 90 per cent. of council house tenants vote Labour.

Mr. Amery


Mr. Price

The right hon. Gentleman has never canvassed a council house estate.

Mr. Amery

I was returned for 17 years as Member for one of the Preston seats with the support of at least one-third of the trade unionists there.

Mr. Price

Then they caught up with the right hon. Gentleman and out he went.

The Government are taking the opportunity to wipe off a few old scores. They have little to lose on the council estates. They do not understand the people who live in them and they are not interested in their welfare. Having said that, I may be forgiven for falling out with some of my colleagues, because there are some people in the Labour Party who will oppose the Bill for equally ideological reasons.

Perhaps I can make my position clear. I support rent rebates and the logical outcome of that situation. In operating a scheme, we must ask people basic questions, and that involves some form of means testing. I see nothing wrong with that. I have never been able to understand how any Government Department or local authority can help people without asking for the necessary information on which to base an assessment. There ore people in the Labour Party who argue that means-tested housing is immoral, yet they accept it in other respects. We in the Labour Party rightly boast about the mortgage option scheme. What is that if it is not a means test? The latest National Insurance contributions are based on a means test. One can say this about the whole system, from income tax to the benefits and allowances of the Department of Health and Social Security, which we set up and which operates largely on the basis of humane, gentle means testing.

Yet many hon. Members on this side of the House are unhappy about means-tested housing. I regard their attitude as slightly illogical, inconsistent and wrong. The argument that a family with an income of £50 a week should pay more than a family with an income of £20 a week in no way conflicts with the principle of from each according to his ability. It therefore follows that if we have a rent rebate scheme we must have some form of questionnaire.

I hope that the House, before it says that I am being too reactionary, will allow me to declare my own credentials. Like some of my hon. Friends, I come from a coalfield area. My family knew all about the means test of the 1920s and 1930s. They regarded the Tory politicians who inflicted those indignities upon them as worse than evil, and I think that they were right. But times have changed. The problem is that many people are not prepared to forgive and forget the Tory record, and no one will blame them for that. That is why it is difficult for the present Administration to talk about its humane means-tested proposals in education or in anything else.

I had a classic example of this in my constituency recently. Neighbours asked me to go to see an old lady of nearly 80 because she was not getting the assistance to which she was entitled. I knocked on her door and when she came to it I told her who I was. She said, "Just a minute" and went inside. Being rather naïve, I thought she had gone in to put on the kettle for a cup of tea, but she came back with a hatchet in her hand and said, "I remember you, young man, from the 1920s. If you do not clear off, I will put this hatchet where it belongs"—and from the way in which she was waving it she meant my head.

I can understand that old lady's feelings. She remembers the days when men in bowler hats turned up to ask questions to see what they could take away from her. We now have a different breed of officials, a different set of circumstances and a different attitude. When officials in my constituency call upon people—and I know most of them personally and they are first-class officers—they do so to see what help can be provided for people in need.

I do not fall out with the Government on rent debates and means testing, but I shall be in the Lobby against them tonight with more determination and enthusiasm than was often my custom when my party was in office. The Bill can be assessed by one repeated comment from Members opposite—their boast that all will be well because more people than ever will receive rent debates. Of course they will; we agree. That is what we have been telling them all along. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a long while for the message to get through the boneheads on the benches opposite.

It is obvious that the higher we set the so-called fair rent the more people will qualify for rebate. I wish to be helpful, as always, and I have a suggestion to put to the Minister: why not set the fair rent at £25 a week so that every family can qualify? What an achievement that would be. It would be a tremendous achievement. The trouble is that the Government will not tell us the figure. Imagine what the reaction would be at the Tory Party Conference if the right hon. Gentleman did that. "Hallelujah, brothers", he would say, "we may not have brought about a property-owning democracy, but we have done the next best thing: we have given everybody a rent rebate". Imagine the reaction the right hon. Gentleman would get from the sterile rows of Tory women, straight up from their country mansions—people who know a fair bit about slum dwellings. The right hon. Gentleman would get a standing ovation worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records.

It is clear what the Government are doing. We on this side of the House know what they are up to. They are determined to shift from the State the burden of housing in the public sector. They want to finance a tax-cutting election boom at the expense of council tenants. What is worse, and this is the most vile part of the Bill, is their determination that the responsibility for those families who need help most should fall on their neighbours on the council estates—them and them alone. We believe that the burden should be evenly spread.

I do not wish to go into the details of the Bill, because time is short and it has all been said before. There are plenty of Members on this side of the House who can do that more effectively than I can. But why are the Government setting out, over a period of several years, to hammer people living in local authority housing while retaining subsidies for those buying their own homes?

One of the curious features of the Bill and of the Government's attitude is this. I and many others like me receive more help from the Government in housing than any council house tenant. I do not object to that. If anything, I should like even more assistance given to people trying to buy their own homes, but not at the expense of people who can afford it less than I can. That is what this argument is about.

The Government are engaged upon a vicious exercise to drive families out of council houses by doubling their rents. A recent issue of "Building Society Affairs" had it all worked out. It said: At a cautious estimate there are currently some 500,000 families in council houses who could well afford to buy in the private market … Oddly enough, in the same post, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers sent me a document suggesting that the figure was 110,000. There is therefore a difference of opinion among the specialists. Whatever the figure, the Government want to boost home ownership, and I approve of that. But what is happening? If the Government are trying to get people to buy their homes, I hope that I shall be allowed to point briefly to the problem of any family trying to do that.

When hon. Members opposite were in opposition it was all the fault of the Land Commission, and I agreed with them. I think my record in relation to the Land Commission was consistent. I opposed it from the very beginning, and did not go into the Lobby when the Government got rid of it. But what happened to the stabilisation of land prices which we were promised? The market has gone mad. Let me give one example. In Birmingham recently a small estate was sold. The plots will be £6,300 each. When asked to comment about that a leading estate agent in the city said, "Just wait till the next one comes on to the market if you think that expensive." The monthly repayments for the land alone will be £50, before a young couple have even put a brick down. What a shocking situation for anybody trying to buy his own house. What chance have people got of competing in a market of which the London Evening News on 9th November said in a headline "Your house is gaining £90 every month." There was a long article there justifying the figure.

Hon. Members opposite just do not understand the dilemma of those caught up in this rat race, of people whose savings are being eaten away at the rate of 10 per cent. a year because of inflation and who see house prices rising faster than they can add to their capital. For millions of our people, ordinary, decent folk, there will be a continuing and desperate need for council houses—but not if this Government have their way with the selling off of houses, the reduction in the public sector building, and the massive increases in rent on the way. They just do not know how the other half live. They have no conception of existence in a Birmingham slum, of years with the in-laws, of the losing fight to scrape together sufficient money for a reasonable start in married life.

Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The hon. Member speaks for himself. Before he speaks like that he should take note of the facts. I have lived in exactly those conditions. When the hon. Member says people do not understand, he speaks for himself.

Mr. Price

I thank the hon. Member very much. He is an exception to the rule.

True, in many parts of the country there is no mass opposition to this Bill. I have not had a single letter about it and not a single constituent of mine has approached me about it.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

They have not heard about it yet.

Mr. Price

Precisely. That is the point, but if the Government feel that that gives them any consolation they are making a major mistake, because it is a sad fact of politics that people do not get roused till something hits them, but when those on the council estates and in rented property finally rumble this Government there will be all hell let loose throughout the country.

Finally, let me say a word about the Secretary of State. When I first came to this House I was not very impressed with him. I thought he was the classic angry young man intent on making an impact, a fortune, and as many political enemies as possible.

Mr. Ron Lewis

He has not done badly.

Mr. Price

No, he has not done badly, but there has been a change, and it has been remarkable, and I prefer the new version. The right hon. Gentleman appears now as a genial, relaxed, confident, helpful Minister, everybody's favourite sugar daddy. I would be the first to accept that much of what he has done in office has been useful, but I believe he is tonight pushing through a Bill which is thoroughly wicked, and I suspect that when the going gets tough in Committee the sugar will have a very nasty taste. Indeed, it is often suggested in this House and outside that the arch-Tory in this Administration rests at the Department of Education and Science. Certainly it is true that the right hon. Lady takes some beating, but I believe that today the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has seen her off with something to spare. Compared to him—and I should be grateful if the message could be passed along the corridors—she is dangerously close to qualifying for membership of the Tribune Group.

I am convinced that this is a black day for millions of our people throughout the country, but if there is one consolation for us on this side of the House it is this. I am sure that this day the Government did more than all else to ensure their defeat when the time comes.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Earlier in the debate we heard someone on the other side of the House describing this Bill as naked class war. This is not just some new Chelsea permissive policy we are talking about.

From the other side of the House we hear a lot of the same old claptrap which there is whenever council housing is mentioned. It is not possible for this to be called a class war. What we are trying to do is to divert these subsidies from bricks and mortar to the persons actually living in the houses.

Another thing the Bill does is to free ratepayers, possibly for the first time in living memory, from paying subsidy to the housing revenue account. Do not let hon. Members opposite bring up the old argument that a council tenant is also a ratepayer. We all know that. There has been great injustice in the past, as we well know, and ratepayers in the private sector have been paying to balance the housing revenue account; there has been a statutory provision that that account must be balanced. None of us in the House, wherever we sit, can have been deaf to all the criticisms about very high salaries and wages pouring into some council houses whose rents have been subsidised, but we have had to close our ears to the criticisms because there was nothing that we could do about it; we had to go on with what, after all, was an injustice. These houses were provided in the first place for those in need. Now for the first time it looks as though those in need will get in the queue ahead of those who can afford to purchase in the private sector.

We are trying to create a certain amount of freedom for council tenants, and an additional freedom, mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), freedom from eviction. It will be the very first time that they will have enjoyed this freedom. That is in the Bill.

When I was chairman of the housing committee in Southampton it was a duty we had about every four or five weeks to approve a list 40 or 50 long. Just by using the instrument of the magistrates' court those people could be evicted—basically, for rent arrears. Admittedly, many such people had been there time and time again, but the majority were just first offenders, and they had no redress against the local authority. Freedom and protection for the council tenant is being given by the Bill.

Mr. John Fraser

The hon. Member ought really to have done the House the courtesy of reading the Bill. First, that is not in the Bill. Secondly, even if the court is the county court there is still no security at all.

Mr. Hill

I was in the House when my right hon. Friend mentioned that he was bringing forward an Order to cover that very point. There is now to be this freedom from eviction. The sort of action which I have mentioned at Southampton must have happened in the hon. Member's area. He cannot just sit back and pretend that these things have not happened—and I see that one of his hon. Friends is turning round to point out the facts to him. I have not been able to get it through to the hon. Member, so it is up to his hon. Friends to knock some sense into him.

There was opposition by the Labour Party in Southampton to the sale of council houses, but today, apparently, the sale of council houses is quite all right. It has now become quite honourable. In fact no hon. Member on the opposite side of the House seems to be opposed to home ownership, but at the time when council house sales were first proposed there was tremendous opposition by the Labour Party in Southampton.

Even today in this House someone on the opposite side asked, "How can a council tenant save for the deposit to buy his house?" Hon. Members opposite are completely out of touch with the facts. In Southampton the figure was £5. If a family could not afford £5 they could not afford anything.

Now we are giving people a new freedom to purchase homes. Any hon. Member could drive around a council estate in my area and point out immediately those homes which were purchased—whether six, 12 or 18 months ago. One can tell instantly that people have grasped this freedom of being able to do what they like with their homes, and this is improving the standard of whole estates.

Fair rents for council tenancies are no new thing. We in Southampton have already tried to practise this. In the past—this will obviously benefit these tenants now—we have not left them with the idea that they are subsidised. We have tried on each estate to make the costs and the rents balance out. Admittedly, this did not take into account the subsidies, but, when fair rents are assessed, many of these new estates will find little or no difference.

Where they will be hit, of course, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) will be only too anxious to tell me later, is in the older council properties, where there must and will be a rise in rent. But the majority of these tenants will obtain rebates according to their needs. This at least helps me to accept the Bill. One must take the swings with the roundabouts. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen nodding—

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

I was nodding off.

Mr. Hill

A national rent rebate fulfils a long-felt need, as every hon. Member knows, for those living in the private sector. To give one example which has not been mentioned today, a married tenant with two children paying £5 a week and earning £25 will have his rent reduced to £3 a week. I cannot see what is unfair about that.

The Bill is about families who are homeless or who live in bad conditions. It will mean subsidies being redirected to these areas. May I remind my right hon. Friend to look to these special subsidies and to enable local authorities—this is a hobbyhorse of mine—to provide more subsidies for purpose-built housing for the disabled.

I would also point out the necessity of allowing local authorities with universities in their area to provide a subsidy to the universities to help them to build student accommodation. There is a flat 25 per cent. subsidy from the Department of Education and Science, but the universities must look elsewhere for their build- ing finance and must put up a viable scheme to the Department.

In Southampton, we are faced with a sit-in by local students who are at their wits' end in obtaining living accommodation. The Minister has already approved a subsidy for Southampton towards providing accommodation for married overseas students and their families. If this can be done, we can surely provide for our own students as well.

I understand that there is no question of cutting the subsidies in the private sector. It is said today in a Conservative paper, which I have here, that these are expected to remain at their present level. The money will be spent to better advantage, since we will subsidise people, not bricks and mortar. What better way of subsidising could there be than helping the disabled, the elderly, those in need with large families, one-parent families, housing associations—they can fulfil a very useful purpose in our overall building programme—and certainly the universities who are willing to provide additional student accommodation?

Most of all, my right hon. Friend has very wisely granted several local authorities the privilege of having housing advisory centres. Southampton has not at the moment received his consent but it is essential, with the state of flux in housing, that each city should have such a centre to advise all tenants—whether they are changing to fair rents, are in the private sector or are moving from council to private accommodation. They will want advice, and what better place to get it than a housing advisory centre?

I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that Part IX of this Bill, under which local authorities can pay removal expenses, is used to assist as much as possible. Under this provision, authorities can also pay legal fees and other expenses. If my right hon. Friend does not press this with local authorities, they will carefully sweep it under the carpet.

With these remarks I feel that I have presented my case. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an answer when he replies to the debate.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I want to take up only one thing in the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill). I agree wholeheartedly about the provision of housing for students. I hope that the fervour with which the Secretary of State pursued this matter when we were in Government will be repeated in Committee on this Bill and that we shall have some support. The rehousing of students is relevant to the needs of other people, since in some areas it means crowding out ordinary families.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State said nothing at all about the increased number of local authority dwellings that we are likely to get. He steered clear of any forecasts. But we must have more housing. The only argument is about how serious our problem is—whether we need 500,000 or 600,000 dwellings a year, and whether London has a shortage of 200,000 or 400,000. All we know is that we do not have enough and we need a lot more local authority dwellings.

My second general proposition is that the problem of housing is very unevenly spread. When I went to Clovelly for my holidays, I was surprised to see notices saying "Council house to let. Applications to Clerk of Rural District Council". Apparently people in Clovelly are able to make an application for a council house, yet in my borough there are 13,000 people on the waiting list. The problem is very uneven. In future, perhaps, the people of North Devon will be paying something towards the housing deficits of Lambeth and Birmingham. It is a very surprising doctrine that people in development areas with high unemployment should have to subsidise the cost of housing in the stress areas.

Third, all housing Ministers are far too conceited. They all pretend—at any rate, the system allows them to pretend—that they actually build houses. They do nothing of the sort, and in many fields the Minister has practically no influence at all. For example, let us consider private house-building finance. The Minister said the other day that he was very pleased that many more building society mortgages were being granted. But he was not responsible for that. It had happened because the Americans had devalued, we did not want to attract hot money, we accordingly re- duced our interest rates and the building societies therefore reduced theirs. For the Minister to claim responsibility is utter and complete rubbish. He has very little influence on the private house-building sector.

The Minister has a little influence, of course. The mortgage option scheme and the save-as-you-earn scheme helped, but the main thing which any Minister can do for private building is to release land. The efforts of the Minister so far have been counter-productive. If he really wanted to help in an area like London, he would have kept the Land Commission and its powers to acquire land and make it available for private builders.

The only area in which the Minister has any real influence and control is public sector housing, and it is in this sphere that certain steps should be taken by him. For example, he should impose his will on local authorities which, however much subsidy they are given and whatever help they are offered, will not build houses. Next, he should inject more resources into public authority housing. The Bill will not achieve either of these aims.

I can easily illustrate what I mean by mentioning a few London boroughs. Southwark has 3,825 houses under construction. Next door, Croydon, which has more land and faces exactly the same financial problems, has only 193 under construction. The Bill will do nothing to remedy that situation. Lambeth has 2,275 houses under construction. This borough has been controlled by both Labour and Tory, but it continues to build council dwellings. Bromley, on the other hand, has only 431 dwellings under construction. The Minister has done nothing—and the Bill will do nothing—to impose his will on authorities to get more dwellings built.

If we are to have a Bill which will authorise commissioners to put up rents, why cannot we have a Bill which authorises commissioners to put up houses? That is surely what we need—to add to our stock and resources of dwellings. It is not surprising that that is not being done, because the Bill is a classic Tory Measure. After all, the Tory Party is not infatuated with council housing.

An example of that is what occurred during the 13 years of Tory rule, up to the time when the last Labour Government were elected. At one time we had over 200,000 public authority dwellings being built. That figure steadily declined to 100,000. In other words, the number of council dwellings built while the Tories were in power was halved during their 13 years. This is not a Bill about the politics of compassion and providing more houses. It reeks of the politics of the finance house.

The question which the Government have been asking themselves is not "How can we build more homes?" but "How can we best balance the books?" That this would happen one could forecast some time ago. In our debate on public expenditure in 1968 I asked the present Secretary of State for Social Services: Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that it is an instrument of Conservative economic policy that some of the country's economic difficulties will be cured by increasing rents? The right hon. Gentleman answered: We have said time and again that we think that many people in this country need more help than they are getting and that many people need less help than they are getting. If the Government do not recognise this basic psychological fact, they will continue to stifle enterprise and growth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 766.] It is clear, therefore, that this is part of the strategy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They say "Less money for council tenants and public authority housing, so that more can go into the pockets of our real friends".[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] This is the truth. What happened in the Budget? We are seeing a diminuation of resources for housing.

A new company named Heath-Walker Securities Ltd. has taken over and they are applying all the tests that they would apply in commercial life. They are going further and saying "We have an asset here. What can we squeeze it for?" They are saying, "We will break it, bankrupt it and screw it. We will push prices up and get a better return on these assets." In other words, the Government are applying the philosophy of the takeover bid to housing.

The Bill will not add anything to our resources in public sector housing. One need only glance at the Financial Memorandum and its reference to what will happen after 1975–76 to see what this is all about. How can the Government take this view of the activities of local authorities and their rates after 1976 when the crying need under any Government is for increased resources for house construction, particularly when the only area over which the right hon. Gentleman has any influence is the public sector? How can the Government talk about providing additional sums to relieve poverty when it is in housing that their first attack on poverty should be made?

On all scores, the Government are letting us down on housing. In 1968 we were spending 3.68 per cent. of the gross national product on housing. By 1970 it had dropped to 2.91 per cent. Our record is far below that of any country in Europe. We are at the bottom of the league table in the part of our gross national product which we devote to housing construction, and this in an area where we should be increasing rather than decreasing our resources.

I do not want to delay the House and I will raise only three constituency problems. The first concerns the furnished sector. I have in my constituency places in which 50 per cent. of the tenants are occupying furnished accommodation. They have no security and no pride of ownership in their furniture and similar belongings, which are not owned by them. They are fearful of applying to the rent officer because they know that in most cases to do so will mean six months' notice to quit. These people are paying higher rent than anyone else, but they are completely left out of the system with which the Bill is concerned. On the present basis they are the worst off of all.

Consider, next, the question of rent rebates to council tenants. There has been a lot of window-dressing about the generosity of the Government in this matter. In my constituency one is not surprised to hear of rents of between £10 and £12 a week. Take the case of a family man whose rent is £10 a week. Assume that he has a wife and three children and is earning £28.10 a week and that his wife is getting family allowance totalling £1.90.

The rebate figures are based on gross earnings. His allowance for his children and the husband and wife allowance according to the table published in the White Paper result in his having an excess income of £13 a week. His rent will be 40 per cent. of £10, which is £4, plus 13 times 17p of his assessable income, which will give him a rent of £6 .21 a week. But this man does not get £28 .10 a week. His actual income after paying income tax and stamps is only £24. .30. This means that from a weekly income of £24-odd he must, with rebate, pay £6 .21 in rent. In addition, he must pay all the other charges which have been placed on families in the last year or so. This sort of rebate will drive even potential council tenants out of the public sphere of accommodation, but into what? There is nowhere else for them to go, and the sort of man I have been describing cannot afford to buy a house.

Third, the whole question of rent assessment is fraught with difficulty. In my constituency there are blocks of flats which contain top and side units which are damp. If we are to have global fair rents, so called, they will operate unfairly even for people living next door to each other.

It is clear that we are faced with a Bill that represents true Tory philosophy. It is designed to reduce public expenditure in one of the most essential spheres of all—housing. In so far as it is intended to provide more housing, it must fail. But as it has originated from a Government who have failed in all their policies, I suppose we should not be surprised.

7.49 p.m

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be sad not to have been here to see how quickly this Measure has replaced the Industrial Relations Bill as the most divisive Measure in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

One can only assume that this Bill will swiftly be succeeded by another as hon. Gentlemen opposite vie with one another in mending the fences that they have broken in their party in recent weeks.

The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), who always speaks with great authority on housing, said that the object of housing policy was simply to increase the area of choice—in other words, to increase the number of people who could choose between being owner-occupiers and tenants. If he were present now, I would put to him that the Government have a duty to go beyond that and to ascertain what that choice is likely to be when made and to help to cater for it. Every survey that I have seen about people's ambitions about their housing indicates that the overwhelming majority want to be able to own their homes. I see nothing wrong politically in the Government setting out to encourage that.

There has been much talk today about equating the subsidy given to tenants with the tax rebate given to owner-occupiers. One has to take a very perverse view of the English language in order to equate those two and to regard them as the same thing. There is every difference in the world between using an allowance against tax to encourage a socially desirable end, that is to say, the ownership of property, and a specific subsidy to help tenants in need. They are different things, and we do not serve anyone's purpose by mixing them. The only circumstance in which I should regard it as legitimate to equate the two would be if one adhered to the philosophy to which I suspect some hon. Gentlemen opposite adhere, that is that every penny we earn or own is, at root, the property of the State.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is suggesting that rents should be a tax deduction. If so, it would be perfectly legitimate, perhaps, to say that there is no discrimination between those who can deduct the cost of their housing from their taxable income and those who cannot. I hope that the hon. Member will make it clear that there is a clear discrimination here unless tenants are also to be allowed to deduct the cost of their housing for tax purposes.

Mr. Scott

I do not accept that. They are distinctive purposes, decisions and policies which should be regarded separately. It adds nothing to mix them.

I am not happy about the growth of means tests, not especially from any philosophical point of view but from the viewpoint that when we have means tests, a number of people do not take up the benefits to which they are entitled. The sooner we can move towards a universal system—as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams)—whereby we have a single system of social security benefit, family benefit, negative income tax, reverse income tax, whatever we call it, which covers the whole range of means tested benefits and rent allowances, the better. If it is done automatically through a continuation and extension of the tax system and does not require the tenant or individual to come forward to take up the benefit, so much the better.

I hope I am not being immodest when I say that in my maiden speech in May, 1966, I said: I believe that it is possible and practicable to work out a scheme for subsidising private tenants when their needs are as great as those of their fellows in council accommodation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1634.] So it is with no small measure of welcome that I come to the Bill to which we are to give a Second Reading. The Bill has been subjected, both in the House today and in our constituencies, to a very great deal of misrepresentation. My local tenants' association, inspired by the local Labour Party, has done its best to misrepresent the aims and effects of this legislation. It has also steadfastly declined my offer to put to its members the opposite side of the case, but that does not surprise me.

I remember, back in the 1950s, as a member of the Housing Committee of Holborn Borough Council when it introduced a rent rebate scheme, how this was denounced as horrendous by the Labour opposition and all the same sort of claptrape we are hearing today about the Bill was trotted out. Today we know that it is the normal practice of local authorities of both political persuasions to operate rent rebate schemes. The scaremongering about figures that we have had exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) is but a part of it. But at root it is as the right hon. Member for Fulham said. There is a long tradition of subsidising council tenants in Britain, irrespective of their needs, and we should continue to do it.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Would the hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting? Is he aware that almost every Minister sitting on that Bench is getting thousands of £s a year tax free, and that they are not only having their house tax free but they are having the light, the heat, furnishings and cleaning, the whole lot, tax free, and all of them have tons of money? The hon. Member is not suggesting that they should be means tested, is he?

Mr. Scott

I would be a foolish man if I thought that I could prevent the hon. Gentleman riding his hobby horse, but I wish that he would not always do it at the expense of my time.

We have a long tradition of subsidising council tenants, and one of the reasons why I support the Government is that they are prepared to look at these traditions, habits and thoughts and to take them down and see how relevant they are to today's needs.

I have four further points. First, I agree with the point made time and again that there ought to be found a way, within the terms of the Bill, to help tenants of furnished accommodation. The ordinary reply that furnished tenants are transients and that furnished accommodation supplies a very narrow sector of the housing market is just not true in terms of Central London at least; I am not qualified to speak for areas outside London. If the problem were confined, as the right hon. Member for Fulham mentioned, to the advertisement for the third girl to share a flat, I should not mind. But it is the families in furnished accommodation because it is impossible to find unfurnished accommodation for whom a way ought to be found which could be included in this legislation.

Is there not a way in which we could do this and, at the same time, simplify the whole question of establishing fair rents? At regular intervals we establish the value of every property in the country under the rating system. Why should we not be able to have a fair or a normal rent established for every property simply by reference to its rateable value? The multiplier could be varied from time to time to establish what that rent ought to be. Is it a wise and sensible use of resources that we should take for rating purposes every piece of property in Britain, and then do the same thing again to establish what the fair rent should be? The two could possibly be linked.

I should also like to see in the Bill a maximum percentage of a tenant's income as a maximum that any tenant could pay as his rent.

My third point is not a matter on the Bill but I hope that my right hon. Friend can say something about the rôle envisaged for the private landlord in our big cities. It is a fast shrinking area of the housing market. The private landlord fulfils a need. Even with fair rents, it is impossible to run housing for rent economically in our city centres. Could there not be a possibility of establishing registers of landlords who pursue good practices and charge fair rents and giving them depreciation allowance through the tax system on their investment in housing? This would be an incentive for people to invest in the provision of accommodation in our cities and would encourage landlords who pursue good tenant relations and who charge fair rents.

Finally, housing associations have a very valuable part to play in housing in our city centres. The Government are committed to these. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, in a debate on 8th December, 1970, said: The Government are determined to do everything in their power to encourage the growth of the voluntary housing movement." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1970; Vol. 808, c. 372.] I think that he stands by that.

The provisions in the Bill for limiting to 90 per cent. in the first year the new building subsidy payable to housing associations is worrying. Perhaps the Government are introducing this provision mainly to discourage the growth of small housing associations, but even large housing associations are worried that this provision may call a halt to any new development by associations. I hope that the Government will carefully consider whether an Amendment is necessary, for housing associations do not have the same resources as local authorities with which to undertake new building.

Housing associations working in twilight areas and undertaking conversion and improvement work will not, if they charge fair rents, be able to cover outgoings on the dwellings converted. This is the advice I have received from the Paddington Churches Housing Association Ltd. of which I am Chairman. I gather that this is the prevailing view in the voluntary housing movement.

The Government should examine this point carefully to see if there is a way of varying the rate of Exchequer contribution to housing associations in such circumstances, otherwise, far from encouraging the voluntary housing movement and ensuring its growth, the Government may unwittingly be putting a considerable hindrance in the way of its development.

Subject to those points, which I am sure can be cleared up in Committee, I give the Bill a very warm welcome.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

When I heard the Secretary of State talking about the slogan "From each according to his ability to each according to his need", I thought that he would shortly be announcing a personal pilgrimage to Highgate Cemetery. However, it was not quite like that and the right hon. Gentleman did not mean what he said. He meant that he would discriminate between one sector of housing and another, that he would set aside the council house and private rented sector and do one thing for that sector and something else for the owner-occupier sector. This gives the lie to the right hon. Gentleman's conversion to Socialism.

The Government will deny, as hon. Members opposite have denied today, that the intention of the Bill is to clobber council tenants and make them pay a greater proportion of their income in rent. I do not believe this denial, nor do the tenants. For a long time council tenants have had to endure incessant sniping. They have been told that they are the pampered pets of the Socialist Party and that they are feather-bedded and subsidised by the rest of the community. This is completely untrue, because most council tenants pay their way and get nothing in return except a roof over their heads.

Over a long period the payment of their rents by council tenants helped to buy for the community a valuable asset in the form of houses and land. The council tenant contributes a great deal to building up our housing stock. At the end of the day he has no asset.

The hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) appeared to think it wrong that council tenants should be allowed to set part of their rent against their income tax. A large proportion of the rent paid by council tenants is in respect of interest on the land and on the cost of building the house. Over 60 years a £5,000 house costs the tenant, the ratepayer and the taxpayer £25,000. The tenant pays for the buying of an asset which at the end of that period is valued at a much greater sum than any subsidy paid by either the taxpayer or the ratepayer. Therefore, the public at large does very nicely out of council tenants.

We on this side have been accused of being against the owner-occupier. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are happy that the owner-occupier should be assisted to purchase his house. However, owner-occupiers get a subvention from the State in the form of a tax allowance on mortgage interest which enables them to purchase an asset for themselves, for their children and perhaps their children's children. That is the difference between the council tenant and the owner-occupier.

We say that there should not be discrimination of the type that the Government seek to introduce. The principle of "From each according to his ability to each according to his need" should be applied over the whole range of housing or not at all. Those owner-occupiers who earn the most and who pay most for their houses receive the highest subsidy. This is the negation of Socialist doctrine.

The Government's proposals have a number of objectives. The first is to apply the subsidy to the person rather than to the building. The second is to persuade or force more people to buy their own houses. The third is to encourage more builders to build for rent. The fourth is to extend assistance to tenants of private rented property.

The granting of subsidies to the person rather than to the building will not necessarily achieve fairness. It will ensure that local authorities build fewer houses. As the cost of housing rises, local authorities are building fewer houses.

The second objective sounds very good, but all that the Government are saying is, "Let us make it more difficult for the council tenant. We will increase his rent so that it pays him to buy his own house on mortgage." A number of points have escaped the attention of the Secretary of State. Many people do not have jobs of the type which will enable them to get a mortgage. Secondly—and this is very important—there are many council house tenants between the ages of 50 and 65 who do not stand a cat's chance in hell of getting a mortgage. These are the very people who have brought up their children and are probably at the peak of their income, and they will be the hardest hit by the new fair rents system. Many of them will have been in their houses for perhaps 30 years and will have paid for them time and time again. When we talk about encouraging people to own their own houses, let us not forget that many of them will not have that opportunity.

Then there is the question of encouraging private builders to build for rent. This may be a very good objective, but the Government have said that they have no intention of allowing their fair rents system to become an economic rents system. The Government know perfectly well that unless the builders can charge an economic rent they will never build for rent. So either the private builders will not be encouraged to build for rent under these proposals, or the Government do not intend that fair rents should eventually be economic rents—that is, market rents. We are entitled to know which of the two will apply.

The final objective is to extend assistance to tenants of privately-rented dwellings. No doubt this will happen. First of all, however, 1,300,000 tenants will have their rents increased to a very high level. Furthermore, the subsidy which they will enjoy will undoubtedly be taken from the council tenants. In other words, Peter is to be robbed to pay Paul. Indeed, the council tenant will be clobbered both ways.

I wish to make one or two other points, the first of which is the position of local authorities in administering the Bill. My hon. Friends have dealt with this point at length and I do not want to go into the details of it, but it is important to note that the Government are taking away one of the most fundamental powers that local authorities at present enjoy. They intend to take away the right of local authorities to fix rents. On the other hand, ostensibly they are going to leave housing within local authority control. In other words, they are making the local authorities do the dirty work, and it is the local authorities which will incur the odium for increasing the rents while the Government, who are the real culprits in the matter, will get away with it. It is little wonder that local authorities are extremely worried about the consequences of the Bill.

The Bill will do nothing to help the housing situation. It will do nothing to provide additional houses. If we want to provide more houses, there are two things that we must do. First, we must take the profiteering out of land, and I believe that this can best be done by nationalising it. Second, we should take the profit out of housing itself. Everybody is making a very nice thing out of it—not only the landowners, but the makers of bricks and other building materials. They are all making their profit.

I do not believe that we shall ever solve the housing problem in a reasonable manner and at a price which people can afford until we decide that housing is a social service, that everybody is entitled to decent living conditions and, that being so, that we will take the profit out of housing and make sure that we really build for housing need.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

In following the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart), may I say that it is apparent that over the years the Socialists have been bad advisers on housing and they are continuing to be so today. They are doing an immense disservice to the people whom they are supposed to be protecting, the council house tenants. Their attitude of not allowing to purchase, whilst mentioning all the factors in favour of purchasing, and then saying, "but at local authority level even when permission is granted, you cannot sell to the council house tenant who wishes to buy", is the greatest disservice they can do to the council house tenant whom they purport to represent. Hon. Members opposite are more concerned with the public sector—municipalisation—than with any overall housing policy such as is before the House today.

I welcome the main principle of the Bill of extending subsidies to the private sector of the community, for private sector rental. The Opposition ignore at their peril the advantages which exist in this scheme. Public ownership will no longer be the important factor in housing need which it is at present, because if we can extend subsidies to all sectors of housing, people will no longer have to wait in a queue for a council house at a rental which they can afford. The system will ensure that the accommodation is available. I can tell people who attend my advice bureau in Birmingham that no longer will they need to look to the council and join a long waiting list, at the end having to accept a house which is not to their liking and in an area which is not of their choice.

In Birmingham we are already implementing a system of helping the private sector with subsidies, so that people can have a house of their choice in the area of their need and according to their ability to pay. I am tired of hearing the dreary arguments about the take-up that is not likely to happen under this system. If hon. Members do their job properly, they will ensure that people are made aware of these subsidies. I shall be doing so in my area.

Mr. William Price

What is happening in Birmingham?

Mr. Kinsey

The people who come for advice get it. One of the factors which inhibit Birmingham is that they have not got the vast amount of money for publicity which the nation would have at its disposal. One authority cannot operate for the nation. This must be taken into account. It is a strange argument, in any case, from the benches opposite that in order to help those in need we have to give to everyone. In doing that, one debases the help that is given to those who are in most need, and I am surprised that the Opposition cannot appreciate that fact.

I now turn to the subject of the rents which are likely to be charged. Figures are being quoted of doubled rentals, alarming the council house tenants. The Socialist Opposition has always had a bogy man attitude to this. I have three sectors of housing in my constituency—privately rented houses, including modern houses, owner-occupation, and one of the largest pre-war council house estates in the country. The Opposition's own fair rent scheme is being applied in the private sector, and to houses similar to the council houses built by the City of Birmingham. The rent assessment officer has put the rent of three-bedroom houses at £4 a week plus rates, that is, about £5 in all. For two-bedroom houses, the rent has been put at £3.75, plus rates. Both these rents are phased over five years.

I am pleased that Birmingham is carrying forward a subsidy scheme to help families who have been penalised by what has been done by the Socialists. If it were not for Birmingham's scheme, these people would have to pay the whole of that rent out of a restricted income. How can the Opposition criticise the Government when they are introducing measures to help people who are in need?

The figures which I have given can be compared with the rents of existing council houses at Kingstanding. The rent of a three-bedroomed non-parlour house is about £4 for a 48-week year, and for a three-bedroomed parlour house it is £4.20, again for a 48-week year. Obviously, the alarming increases which people have been forecasting are just not to be seen.

Rent increases will not be popular—no one can pretend that they will be—but the position is far from frightening, and, of course, what is being done will be welcomed so long as it is tied to social justice for people in need and so long as people with higher incomes are allowed to purchase their own houses. I urge the Minister to make sure that this is in the Bill, so that Socialist local authorities cannot frustrate that element of justice which should be given to people on incomes higher than the earnings of people who need to be helped by subsidy.

Let us see that the benefits go to the people who need them. This is the way to answer the misleading objections which the Opposition raise. It will answer them completely, because the benefits will go where they should go, and people who can do so will be enabled to buy their own homes. The price will not be excessive. Hon. Members opposite say that people cannot afford the deposit. But £5 in Birmingham will suffice, and the house prices are from £2,600 to £3,200. This is an immense advantage, and more should be encouraged to take it up. It is a wonderful bargain being offered to council tenants, yet hon. Members opposite are decrying it.

The proposals in the Bill will take account of people's changing needs at every stage of life—the young married couple, the family and the elderly, not forgetting at the same time those who suffer disability. There is need in the owner-occupied sector as well as the rented sector. When owner-occupiers reach retirement, they need help to move into smaller houses. I have already written to the Minister about this, and I hope that he will take action.

In Birmingham, we badly need assistance with overspill finance. It is not much good if, as we clear our slums, we find that there is no land available in the city so that we have to move outside, and then we lose on doing just what the Minister asks us to do in defeating the slum problem.

The Bill will bring about a change of attitudes. [HON. MEMBERS: "It certainly will"] I am glad to have the support of the Opposition. It will help to remove the divisive attitudes which they have revealed only too clearly in the House today—the divisive barriers which they have put between council house tenants and people buying their own properties. The Bill will give justice to poorer people in the private sector as well as the public sector, and I welcome it.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) has been talking about a Bill wholly different from the one that the rest of us have seen. I readily agree with one remark of his—that the Bill has been misrepresented. It has been misrepresented as a Measure which might do something for housing, but, as one reads it and works out what its effects are likely to be, one realises only too well, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said earlier, that it should have been introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a taxing Bill, not a Bill which will achieve anything to solve the desperate housing problems which hon. Members on both sides acknowledge to be among the most serious problems of our day.

The only step which Ministers or hon. Members opposite have been able to present as likely to have any effect in improving the housing situation is that the mythical rich council tenant will be driven out, so that the house which he vacates will be left for others to move into or to buy. But we all know that the rich council tenant is represented by only 2 per cent. of council tenants, that is, those with incomes over £42 a week, the minimum a man needs to buy a house, and even that tiny 2 per cent. will buy their own council houses, if the party opposite has its way, so that there will be no housing gain in the end.

The same sort of myth was put about when the Rent Act, 1957 was going through. It was said that our housing problems would be solved because rich old ladies sitting in large houses would let them off, once the rent restriction Acts were abolished, and accommodation would become readily available. A similar myth is now being propagated in 1971.

A consideration of the effects of the Rent Act, 1957 is crucial to an understanding of the deficiencies of the present Bill. On many occasions, when I have pressed him for an assurance that furnished tenants would be protected by the extension of security of tenure, the Minister has referred to the Francis Committee, the evidence which it heard, and the conclusions on this question to which it came in its report. I urge the Minister to look at the figures on page 80 of the Francis Committee's report. He knows the argument, but unfortunately he has not managed to digest it. He will see there that in 1951 6.2 million houses were provided by private owners. By June, 1956, that number had dropped to 5.4 million; by 1961 it was 4.1 million; by 1965 it was 3.5 million; and by 1969 it was 2.9 million. Plotting those figures on a graph shows a steady decline, except in the period of the 1957 Rent Act, the period of decontrol when it was faster than ever before or since.

Hon. Members on both sides have acknowledged that the greatest hardship lies in the privately rented sector, where there are all the worst houses. Those who suffer the greatest hardship in that sector are the furnished tenants. So far from their being transient, single people, according to the evidence of the Francis Committee 56 per cent. had children, a majority had lived in the same area for several years and in general they had the lowest incomes. The average income of a furnished tenant is £870 a year, and rent accounts for one-third of that—£290. We know that there are conditions of more overcrowding, more hardship, worse amenities, less repair and lower incomes in that sector than in any other. The greatest deficiency of the Bill in social terms is that it does nothing to provide such families with security of tenure or even to extend to them the rent rebate for which every other sector of society will be eligible in one form or another in certain circumstances.

The Bill will do nothing to prevent the loss of privately rented housing in our city centres. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby talked about middle-class colonisation in my constituency. The problem is indeed acute in North Kensington, but similar problems are suffered in all the major cities of the country. Because of the deficiencies in public transport, with its constantly rising costs, and the other problems of travelling and traffic, there is a great incentive to people to live close to their work if they can afford to buy a house at the centre of a city. That makes it very attractive for the person who owns working-class housing-to-let to transform it into middle-class housing for sale. The principal effect of depriving furnished tenants of security of tenure is that it becomes infinitely easier for landlords to evict their tenants and enable the property to be transformed in that way.

The evidence of the 1957 Rent Act is that when there is decontrol there is the most rapid decline in the privately rented sector. Therefore, so far from the withholding of benefits of security to furnish tenants protecting the privately rented sector, it is, on the contrary, likely to aggravate it.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the anomalies between the owner-occupier and the council tenant. But when Conservatives talk about extending fair rents or market rents to the council tenant, they overlook the fact that we know something of the way in which fair rents are determined in the private sector. The Francis Committee went into the matter in some detail, as set out on page 62 of its report. The rent officer works initially on the basis of evidence as to what the rent would be in the free market sector—in other words, the 2 per cent. of the market which is furnished. He then knocks off between 15 per cent., in Birmingham, and 40 per cent., in Notting Hill, for the scarcity factor.

It is now proposed, on the basis of that tiny 2 per cent., that we shall extend the system to 5 ½ million council tenants. I hope that the Minister has seen the article by Professor Donnison in last week's New Society, in which he points out that that is economic nonsense. If there were completely free markets for council tenancies, and these could be applied across the board, with multiple suppliers, the average rent at the end would be the rent the average tenant could pay. It is only because the Government, in a monopolistic situation, can in effect dictate that all council housing shall henceforth be charged at a particular level, and because they are in a position of controlling the terms under which those 5 ½ million homes are let, that they can exact from council tenants not only an average market rent but a rent substantially in excess of that which would result in a free market situation. It is because of the monopoly situation which council tenants face.

Council tenants are not always people who have been rehoused from situations of desperate need. They have frequently been rehoused because of the compulsory acquisition of the house in which they were living, perhaps for the building of new roads, in the expectation that the pattern of rents in the future would continue to be on the same basis and that there would be some form of equity between the different sections of society. The arguments of hon. Members on this side have completely exploded the suggestion that there is any equity in the Bill. It is clearly designed to redistribute away from council tenants in favour of owner-occupiers. I will not repeat that argument, because I should like to point out a few of the other defects in the Bill.

If the Government were interested in dealing with housing problems, they would introduce a Bill concerned with the acquisition of land to prevent the loss of housing land in the city centres, where it is most needed; a Bill imposing on local authorities obligations to rehouse tenants of furnished accommodation whose properties are acquired, amending Section 42 of the 1957 Act: measures against harassment and illegal eviction; measures which would directly tackle the problem of too many people seeking to live in city centres when there is insufficient land for them to be re-housed adequately and when authorities outside city areas are unwilling to receive them. Not one of those measures is in this Bill. This is a Bill to redistribute wealth, depriving the relatively poor in favour of the relatively rich.

Hon. Members on the Government side suggest that it is misrepresenting the Bill to say that it is socially divisive, but this can be seen from the effects which have been outlined this afternoon. Parts III and IV of the Bill enable houses which are at present providing accommodation for working-class families to be improved, regardless of the tenants' needs or means so that a flat in my area which is at present let at £3 a week can be improved up to a value of £16 a week. Even with a rebate, the tenant still has to pay £7.20. This will lead to a drastic loss of badly needed accommodation in areas where the need is greatest.

The Bill is a disaster, and I hope we shall defeat it. Such small ingredients as are good within it, such as the rent rebate for private tenants, should be introduced in a proper Housing Bill.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, South)

Although I agree in general with the aims and objects of the Bill, I have reservations about the way in which it is to be implemented. I want first to consider why housing in this country is in such an appalling state. All hon. Members will agree that the present situation is a disgrace to this Government, the previous Government and all Governments of recent years. We have failed miserably to deal with the housing problem.

The reason why housing is in such a state is that there has been far too much Government involvement both in the building of houses and in rents. Now a Conservative Government are proposing to involve the Government in the private sector. This is a vast mistake which the Government will regret. Subsidisation has caused this housing problem. Why subsidise a sector which is not at present subsidised in the hope of relieving the problem? Why not simply and straightforwardly gradually reduce the subsidy on houses?

My second point is on the way in which the national rent rebate system will work. There are already sufficient bodies to help those in need, and assistance with rents could be given by the same bodies. The family income supplement scheme, the social security system or the tax thresholds could be adjusted to take care of rents. By putting another subsidy structure on to existing social services we make complete nonsense of everything.

Let us take an example of a family of husband, wife and two children whose income is £25 a week and who are living in a house with a rent of £5 a week. This family will be taxed at £2.25 per week. The new scheme proposes giving them a rebate of £2.32. To give this family 7p an army of officials will be created. I think we must look at this rebate scheme again.

What of the elderly owner-occupier who has already paid off his mortgage and is left with little income, who has little more than the home in which he lives? Under the new scheme he will get nothing. If his income is just above the tax threshold—which in itself is very low—he will be taxed to help to pay the rent of someone else who earns as much as £30 a week. That simply does not make sense.

There will also be a serious disincentive to work under the rebate scheme. For example, a person earning £20 a week and living in a house at a rent of £5 per week will finish up, after all rebates and after rent and tax have been paid, with £16.472 per week. If he works only four days instead of five and earns £15 he will end up with £15.79½ per week. In other words, he is only 68p better off for earning another £5. Surely this cannot make sense. I urge the Minister to look at this scheme again since it will have a serious effect on the attitude to work among the lower-paid section of the community.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

What has been most alarming in this debate about the speeches from the Government side, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), is the apparent failure to realise that we have a housing problem at all. If a man from Mars had come along and listened to the Secretary of State's two speeches—the one we had last week and the one today—excellent debating speeches as they were, he would not have realised that the country had a real problem of homelessness.

Frankly, I had begun to wonder whether I had dreamed up the Greve Report on London homelessness. Professor Greve is one of my constituents and if the Minister wants to ask an expert on housing what he thinks about the Bill, let him ask Professor Greve. He will get his answer in no uncertain terms. I also feel that I must have dreamed all those reports which I have read from Shelter and that all those accounts of living in appalling housing conditions were imaginary. Perhaps I did not get those letters in my postbag. At least, this would appear to be the case from the complete complacency of the speech of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Could the hon. Member say whether he received many letters from impoverished landlords who get no help from the system and who will benefit from these proposals?

Mr. Mitchell

As far as I remember, during the five years that I have been a Member of the House I have had one letter from an impoverished landlord. I may have had more, but I think it was only one. We do not have many impoverished landlords in Southampton. Most of the privately-owned rented dwellings are owned by the big property companies such as the hon. Member for Handsworth was talking about.

My criticism of the present Government, and to some extent of my own party when in Government, is that they have spent far too much time arguing about rent structures and not enough time about how to build new houses. The Bill will not produce one more house, and the only way to solve the problem of homelessness and of people living in appalling conditions is to build houses. The Bill is irrelevant to the basic problem.

Secondly, the Bill shows a deep-rooted prejudice against public sector housing. This is a prejudice which has reflected itself over the last few years in Tory councils throughout the country. Unfortunately, in 1967 a number of our local councils came under Tory control and from that day we have seen a decline in public sector house-building. The very first thing most councils did was to slash the house-building programme for the forthcoming year.

I suspect that the reasons for that were twofold. First, the councils had a complete ideological dislike of council housing. Secondly, Tory housing committees are stuffed full of land speculators, small builders and estate agents, all of whom have a direct interest in limiting public sector land and forcing people to go into the private purchase market. Let me give one example in my own town. I wish that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill), who spoke earlier, was present because he was the chairman of the housing committee in 1967. The first decision that it made when it took over control of my town was to cut the housing programme, then running at about 1,000 dwellings a year, to about 300 a year.

Starts in 1965 totalled 1,421 and by 1968, the first year after the Tories took control, the figure was 346. In the same period the waiting list increased. It started to go down during the time of the previous Labour council but there are now more people on the list than there were in 1965. In the last seven years in my town we have gone backwards.

Worse than that, not only has public sector housing been slashed, but it has been made impossible for any future council to revive it because of the selling off of the land reserved for council housing in my town to the private builders for speculative building. The council sold a lot by auction and, much to its horror and disgust, found that one of the buyers was the G.L.C. acting through an agent. The council thought that it was done through a private builder but now the G.L.C. is rehousing some of its people in places originally designed for Southampton people. The whole attitude of hon. Members opposite and of their local authority counterparts was summed up by the present chairman of my housing committee at a recent council meeting, when he said that the main reason for people having housing problems was that they spend too much on booze, bingo and betting.

Soon after 1967 it became very obvious what would happen. Some time in the winter of 1967–68, I went with some hon. Friends in a deputation to the then Minister of Housing. We told him that unless he did something the housing figures for 1969–70 would look silly. All we got at that time was the usual answer, "We cannot do anything about it. It is a local authority matter. We cannot interfere with local government." Now, as I read the Bill, we have a precedent whereby, if faced with Tory councils cutting down housing programmes, a future Labour Government can take action. The Measure establishes the principle that housing is very much the responsibility of central Government.

What we predicted at that time came to pass, partly because of Tory council reductions in housing programmes and partly because private housing was sacrificed on the altar of the balance of payments. The 1969–70 figures looked rather silly, and we are still suffering as a result.

I welcome the decision to give rebates to private tenants—it should have been done a long time ago—but I deplore the fact that these rebates will be paid for indirectly by all council tenants. Poverty is the responsibility of the whole community, not simply of council tenants.

One danger of extending rent rebates to private tenants is that it may prolong under-occupation. In both privately rented houses and council houses there is at present a considerable amount of under-occupation. As a result of the family growing up, a couple, perhaps in their sixties, occupy a council house, or even their own house, which is far too big for them. Many couples would like a smaller place. One of the obstacles is that councils, whether Labour or Conservative, look at accommodation having in mind the acute post-war housing shortage. They think in terms of man and wife—one bedroom.

I am not surprised that people in larger accommodation will not move to a one-bedroom flat. They want room for friends or relatives to stay with them. If these people were offered a two-bedroom instead of a one-bedroom flat, a number of quite big houses, both private and council, would be released for use by larger families. I hope in time we will see to it that if people want a spare bedroom and are willing to pay extra rent for it, they will be able to have such accommodation.

There is in principle nothing wrong with the rent rebates scheme, but it is carrying things a little too far when the majority of tenants will be able or forced to apply for the rebate. There will be a problem of take-up however much the scheme is advertised. We know what has happened with the family income supplement. Until recently, it might almost be said, more has been spent on advertising than the scheme itself. It has been widely advertised but not taken up so widely.

I emphasise something that was said last week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). There is a group of people earning in the range £16 to £20 a week—or even more if they have families—who have no incentive to improve their lot by earning an extra couple of pounds a week because of the extensive supplements of various kinds which they are now able to obtain. The article in the Sunday Times touched only the fringe of the problem because it dealt only with the family income supplement. There are rent rebates and rate rebates, free school meals, and so on. All these are an important disincentive to people able to earn perhaps only a couple of pounds a week more to improve their lot.

What is to be the definition of a fair rent? In a town like Southampton we shall have to have a fair rent structure for about 20,000 dwellings. The only houses for rent in a town like Southampton are very old houses. I do not suppose that there are any post-war houses to let. How will rent officers be able to make comparisons so as to provide a fair rent for a post-war council house?

One of the vicious things about the Bill is that there is no appeal for the individual council tenant against his fair rent assessment. The council may appeal on his behalf, or on behalf of a group, but the individual tenant who feels aggrieved will have no appeal. It is a thoroughly bad Bill, thoroughly socially devisive, and I hope that the House will throw it out.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

In the short time available to me, I shall make only a couple of comments. I entirely welcome the Bill. I believe that its immediate effects will be advantageous and that it marks a long-term step in the right direction.

A number of Opposition Members have said again and again that housing should be regarded as a social service. I flatly believe that in the long-term normal housing should not be a social service. We ought to see housing as an economic service, just as we see food as an economic service and clothing as an economic service. But I accept that in the short term that is not possible, and one also accepts that there will always have to be public housing for people in serious difficulties. But we are taking a step in the right direction.

I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) when he drew attention to the risk of our getting to the stage when additional benefits and subsidies and rebates and remissions were resulting in a serious disincentive to some people to work harder. Over the next few years, we must put an emphasis on people being able to provide for the exigencies of life, such as housing, out of their own incomes. Obviously, people not in full-time work must be excepted, but it is a pity that so high a proportion of council tenants should need to receive rebates and I should be sorry to see that situation perpetuated in the long term.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

I have sat through the debate for all but about half an hour of it and I have wondered, for the most part, listening to their speeches, what kind of world right hon. and hon. Members opposite live in and what Bill they have been describing. Apart from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), what they said bore little relevance to what underlies the Bill and what will result from it. For the most part, the speeches of hon. Members opposite, and the speeches made in the country by Ministers, do not relate to reality. That is not surprising in view of the obscurity of much of the Bill, which is more obscure in some important respects than the White Paper.

One of the worst aspects of the debate—and I mean the debate here and in the country—is the lack of information from Ministers, not just in recent weeks but over many months, which they and I know exists in their Department. They have given us no figures on a variety of central matters connected with the Bill and the policy to which it relates. We have had no estimates of the subsidy levels in global terms. We have had no estimate of what the expenditure is likely to be on what they claim to be the most important subsidy, the rising costs subsidy. When one reads the relevant Clause one is lost in obscurity about what is meant, except that everything connected with the level of subsidy will be left entirely in the hands of Treasury Ministers.

I regret that apart from the beginning of the debate, there have been no Treasury Ministers on the Government Front Bench. It is a disgrace that a Bill of this kind should have been debated without the Treasury being represented. [Laughter.] This is not a joke. I am speaking about Ministers responsible for the Bill. The Secretary of State knows from where the pressure has come in respect of certain major obscurities in the Bill.

We have had no figures giving the estimated rate of building which the Department thinks will be necessary—and I do not mean national targeteering, but figures which could be related to the regions. The estimated scale of "slumdom" in the conurbations is known in the Department. The rate of vacancies on council estates is known. The rate of building and the projected rate of building in these areas is known. Therefore, it is possible for Ministers, if they wish to do so, to give an estimate of what will arise, or what they would wish to see arise, from the Bill by way of local authority building in the stress areas about which they talk so much.

No rate of slum clearance has been given. The White Paper says that we have 2 million slums. There has been reference to the slum clearance rate in recent years, but we have had no indication of what the expected, not hoped for, rate is to be and what rate the Government, with their powers, will attempt. We have been given no figures as to what the profit on council rents will be as a result of the passage of the Bill. I can state categorically that there are figures in the Department on this matter and they have been seen by the Ministers. The figure is nothing like the £50 million which the Secretary of State for the Environment quoted in the debate last Monday. It is very much higher than that. He is misleading the House and the country if he continues to throw that kind of misinformation about. The figures are there, and they should be brought to this House. Even if they are not brought before us tonight I trust they will be elicited in Committee, when we go into the matter in detail.

Again, we have had no information of what the staff implications will be for the local authority field, and that is causing great concern to chief officers throughout the country, particularly in areas of stress which have been so much talked about by Ministers, and, indeed, all of us, during this debate today and on other occasions.

Finally, there has been no information whatsoever given as to the investigations which the Department should and could have sponsored into the nature and dynamics of the housing market in housing stress areas which should have provided the basis for policy. How do we provide a basic policy of this kind, obstensibly to deal with the major problems of slum clearance and urban renewal—this is what the Government claim—without investigation and probing to establish the facts of the case down in the conurbations, down in the areas, in the regions, and in the metropolitan areas with which we are concerned? There was no sign of this whatsoever in the White Paper which is the background document to this Bill. This is the kind of work which should have been done. Let it not be said that it could not have been done, because there are officials in the Department, I know, who have been urging this for some time, and had been preparing to do this work before the present Government took office. They were preparing to do this work, and if it has not been undertaken by the sponsorship of the present Minister, it could have been.

I shall return to some of these points as I proceed, but I would say, in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), that the most serious failure of this Bill is the failure to give the massive financial boost to investment in housing which is essential to overcome Britain's shortage of good housing. Again, nowhere in the White Paper was there any assessment of this whatsoever. Nowhere in this Bill do we really get to the key issue of public authority housing, or, indeed, private sector housing in this country, and that key issue is the level of investment at which we should be aiming whether in the public sector or the private sector.

For the public sector these figures are laid down by the Government. They are published annually. They are worked out interdepartmentally and decided by the Government. Apart from the incentive aspects of certain of the subsidies we have before us in this Bill, there has been no indication whatsoever by the Government of a conscious and deliberate intention to expand public investment in housing in this country. I am not speaking now just of subsidy. I am speaking of capital investment. We are entitled to have some undertaking from the Government of what their policy is on this, not just in terms of saying, "We should like to see more slums cleared", but of what in the Government's mind should be the position of investment, whether we are to continue at the present rate of about £800 million investment in the public sector in housing, as we are currently investing, I believe, or whether we intend to increase it, as, indeed, we should.

These are the kinds of things which are missing and which are vital to any Government policy to tackle the fundamentals of the housing situation in our conurbations in the years to come.

To suggest, as the Secretary of State did in his opening remarks, that this is the major reform of this century is slightly, to put it very, very mildly, painting the lily. There has been a series of major, genuine reforming Acts of Parliament over the last several years. Of course, the Minister may have forgotten them. He may have forgotten the Housing Act, 1969, or he may have imagined that he passed it when he was in Government. It may be that he has forgotten the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, the Leasehold Reform Act—a whole series of major Acts of Parliament in recent years in the housing field which are of much greater importance to the ordinary people of this country than the kind of stuff we have in this Bill for market rents. And I will call them market rents. I consider them to be very unfair rents indeed which are proposed. They are market rents in a sector of our housing which should not be so governed.

Let us deal with some of the myths which have come out in this debate and have been put forward by Conservative speakers here and elsewhere. It is through some of these basic myths about council housing that we derive the kind of policies put forward in the White Paper and the Bill. One such myth is that all council tenants are subsidised indiscriminately. Another is that only council tenants are subsidised. I believe that the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) made a particular point of this in trying to distinguish, in what I found a somewhat obscure way, between subsidy and tax remission—owneroccupiers and council tenants. Another is that most council tenants have good incomes. There is a number of other major myths, but I should like to deal with these three, because they have been brought out several times by hon. Members opposite.

It just is not true that all council tenants are subsidised. Those in the Department must know this, because they presumably have done the right statistical analysis before reaching their policy conclusions. They must know that the vast majority of council tenants are not subsidised; that, on the contrary, they are already paying profit rentals. That may surprise some hon. Members opposite and even some of my hon. Friends, but it happens to be true. With the exception of those receiving rebates because of their family circumstances, very few, if any, council tenants living in pre-1960 dwellings, are being subsidised. Most of them are paying profit rentals already.

I know from my experience as leader of my own council, where I had a lot to do with housing policy, through rent increases and the rest, that this is so. Others who have done this analysis will confirm it.

Out of the 5½ million council-owned dwellings, it is doubtful whether more than about 2½ million are subsidised in a general way at all. These are those which were built in recent years and are therefore receiving the benefit of rent pooling—the basic policy of most local authorities, of pooling their rents so as to spread the cost fairly evenly across all properties, no matter when they were built, provided that they are of good standard.

As a result, by far the biggest element of subsidy to people living in properties built in the last decade is the subsidy which they receive from their fellow council tenants now. It is about time that this myth, which is constantly expounded by the Tory Press, Tory Members of Parliament and Tory councillors, was killed, because it does not stand up after a factual analysis of the situation.

Mr. Tebbit

This is an interesting point, but if the figures which we are given are correct, this means that the £220 million or thereabouts which is generally regarded as the annual housing subsidy is going to only 1½ million tenants. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

Mr. Freeson

The figure which the hon. Gentleman quotes is an exaggeration. It is not £220 million—it will rise up to that in the years to come if the present situation continues—but £160 million to £170 million. But, apart from the statistics which he quoted, the answer is, yes—because this is where the main burden of expenditure lies. In London alone, which is one of the stress areas, the figure is that, of the 250,000 G.L.C. tenancies, only about 100,000 receive any subsidy at all. The rest are paying profit rentals.

Whatever definitions may be given to the distinction between tax remission and rent rebate, more money is going towards assisting mortgagees than into council subsidies. I am not necessarily quarrelling with that—[Interruption.] I am merely stating a fact, and it is time that these myths were dropped. We cannot discuss these matters sensibly unless they are dropped.

I said that I am not necessarily quarrelling with this because I wish to query the Government's policy of maintaining only one half, as it were, of the subsidy system. Broadly speaking, they are maintaining it for individuals—that is, the general subsidy for owner-occupiers—and abolishing it for council tenants. My hon. Friends have asked time and again why, if it is right to have a general subsidy in the owner-occupation sphere, it is not equally right to adopt that principle in the public sector.

As for the standard of income of council tenants, let us get rid of another myth once and for all. I am talking about the stories we hear of Jaguars and Rolls-Royces being parked outside council houses. Nowadays we also hear of each household having half a dozen television sets, most of them in colour. [Interruption.] It is no use the ex-editor of New Society, the hon. Member for Aylesbury, gesticulating at that remark. I am repeating the sort of silly tales that are put about by the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that this is the sort of nonsense that they spread, and the former correspondents of the publication which he once edited will confirm this.

Although the facts in this connection were established some years ago, they bear repeating. A sample of about 20 typical local authorities was taken in 1968 by the Prices and Incomes Board. It revealed, first, that while only 1.3 per cent. of husbands and wives had joint incomes of over £40 a week, 50 per cent. had joint incomes of less than £20. This excluded tenants receiving unemployment, sickness or supplementary benefit. It was also shown that non-earning pensioners and pensioners drawing supplementary benefit comprised 35.3 per cent. of all council tenants tested by the sample. A great deal more information was provided on that occasion but it seems to have slipped the minds, if it was ever in them, of most hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken in this debate.

The remarks from the benches opposite, from Ministers downwards, can be summed up by the slogan "Our proposals will transfer subsidy from bricks and mortar to people." Indeed, that phrase has virtually been used by hon. Gentlemen opposite time and again in this debate.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Bill, it is clear from a reading of it that nothing of the kind will happen. The vast majority of subsidy will continue to go, I believe rightly—one may query the details of the subsidy but, as a principle, this will be the position, and rightly so—to bricks and mortar. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite query that assertion, I am willing to extract from the large wad of papers which I have with me some simple statistics from borough treasurers in London which prove the point.

Consider the position of one typical London borough, the details of which I was considering shortly before coming into the Chamber. It will have about £350,000 a year in rent rebate subsidy. The total of all other subsidies which relate to the cost of bricks and mortar, both past and present, will rise at the end of four or five years to several million pounds.

It is not correct to say that the Bill will reduce the rate burden. It will reduce it for about two to three years, it will vary from one authority to another, but, according to figures I have seen from borough treasurers, it is likely to rise sharply again after the first three years. In the same borough to which I have just referred—I shall not name it because it represents a type rather than an individual borough—the current figure of about £900,000 rate deficit per year on a major house-building exercise will drop to about £360,000 next year under the Bill, double itself the following year and be back to a £950,000 rate burden in the third or fourth year. The rate burden will then continue to rise, according to the borough treasurer, to a level of about £1½ million. That is a good deal higher than the present rate burden, which was described by the Secretary of State for the Environment the other day as a major financial crisis about which we on this side did nothing when we were in office. No doubt the £900,000 was a major financial crisis, but presumably the £1½ million five years from today, on the basis of the Government's system, would not be a financial crisis. Someone else may be able to sort out that logic, because I cannot.

Many other things can be said about the contradictions and the sheer ignorance of certain assumptions brought out in the debate by hon. Members opposite about housing reform. I turn to the basic question of why we had a housing finance review which eventually led to the White Paper and to the Bill. Broadly, we can break this down into two possible answers or, additionally, a mixture of the two.

First, a Government could be so concerned—this is why I regret the absence of Treasury Ministers from the Front Bench—with the rising costs of subsidies to the Exchequer that they want to do something about it and to cut them down, if not in current terms, certainly in terms of projected figures over a period of years. Second, a Government could decide that the main reason for their housing finance review, if not the sole reason, was that the present system of housing finance—in all its aspects, not simply in terms of subsidies—did not adequately support the scale of urban renewal needed by our cities and some of our townships; that the present system was in certain respects inadequate where individuals were concerned—that is where the issue of rents and rent rebates comes in—and that the cost was overburdensome to the ratepayers and tenants. Those are the three factors.

There might also be a mixture of reasons. Obviously a Government must be concerned with total expenditure at any time, but that should not be the prime purpose of reviewing the housing finance system. The prime purpose—certainly for the Department of the Environment; not the Treasury, or so we are told—should be to produce an effective urban renewal policy on a scale we have not yet seen. It may well be asked, as it previously has been asked, "Why did you not do anything about it yourselves?" I have said that we began to take action with a series of measures in previous years. But I accept straight away that there were certain major lessons on housing to be learned, particularly from the last 18 months or so of the previous Government's period of office. If we were having a more general housing debate I should elaborate more on this, and I may do so in the future.

The first lesson I draw from that experience is about investment, which was touched upon so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood, because unless one can work out more clearly an idea of firm public sector investment programming over a period of years, at least something on the lines of what we do in matters of defence, education or hospital services, and one tries to stick to it, one will be buffeted about and be unable to take the necessary policy steps to implement the objectives.

We have never had a firm investment programme in the public sector. We have had general objectives, worked from year to year, and we have created incentives to encourage expansion. The most effective period for the public sector was between 1964 and 1968. I make that point as a matter of fact and not as a matter of polemics. That can be done, but in the whole history of housing no programmed investment over a period of years ahead has been worked out.

Now, in what is described as the major reform of housing finance this century, there is not a murmur of it in either the White Paper or the Bill. Unless we have forward programming, both nationally and locally, particularly with the new larger local government units coming into existence, we shall not be able to achieve the objectives we all desire.

I turn in connection with investment to the question of the lack of information about the Government's intentions. The White Paper states that there are 2 million slums. The Secretary of State referred to the scale of the slum problem. In response to Questions about the Government's intentions we have had nothing except a general hope. The assertion that the slum clearance subsidy under the Bill, if used by local authorities, could solve the slum problem within a decade is absolute nonsense. Anyone who makes such an assertion must be speaking in ignorance.

Anyone with experience of the worst slum problems in the centre of cities—I am not speaking of the widespread "slumdom" that exists in the sprawling areas outside the hearts of major conurbations—knows that it is not the problem of the value of slum land which has been cleared which has held up the clearance programmes. It has been a whole series of other factors—the high cost of interest rates, the cost of clearing nonconforming industrial use from land which might be used for housing, but not the cost of slum land.

During the unhappily short period when I was more or less in the position now occupied by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) I did a good deal of touring round the country visiting authorities which had the crisis with which we are concerned. Three points emerged. First, the main reason there was a slow down in house building by local authorities was the lack of political will, but I will not go into that now. The two real issues were the problems of refinancing maturing debt and the eighteen months interregnum between the start of building and completion when a building qualified to received subsidy. Had it not been for these two factors, most of the financial problems facing local authorities would not have arisen.

Most of the problems that arose in Lambeth, in my borough, in many other London boroughs, and in other cities, would not have arisen if a system could have been devised of extending the 1967 Act subsidy provisions to cover that period, at least in selected test areas having serious financial problems, and if the benefits could have been extended to the refinancing of maturing debt.

None of this is touched upon in the Bill. I have said that after a short period of benefit there will be a rise in the burden on ratepayers. I have not attempted to go over again the central issue of the unfairness of so-called fair rents. If the Government proceed with this scheme and produce a system which will result in a surplus of about £300 million to £400 million by the time it is fully operative they will be responsible for introducing into our housing pattern one of the most iniquitous and inequitable systems we have seen in housing policy.

9.30 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) prefaced his remarks with what I might call a blanket stricture on all that has been said—to use his own words—on this side of the House and in the country in favour of the Bill. I am glad that he feels so certain and clear in his own mind about these very difficult matters.

I would not presume to speak in the same terms about the speeches which we have heard from the opposite side of the House or about such articles as there have been which have been critical of this Measure. We are handling a very difficult matter. We have had three very big debates on the principle underlying "Fair Deal for Housing" and we ought at least to approach the matter, even at the end of this debate, realising that we all may be wrong in what we assert. But on certain things I think we can agree.

There is no doubt about the importance of this Measure. It is more important to the daily lives of our people than even the great issue of the Common Market. I think there is agreement on one thing at least. I think everyone is agreed that the system under which we have operated up to the present time is no longer suited to our needs. I do not say that it was the wrong system in its time. Those of us who were in politics in the 1940s and 1950s and who remember the terrible overall housing shortage that scarred our nation will know the great contribution that it made to help to overcome the problem.

But in the present circumstances, apart from presenting us with a mounting tax bill, the present system is not helping to meet the housing need. It is not concentrating the resources on beating the evils of the slums. It is unjust as between one tenant and another, one authority and another, one taxpayer and another and between tenant and landlord. The time has come in our society when we can afford a little effort to try to achieve social justice in the sphere of housing.

Some reform was needed. The hon. Gentleman asked why a review was required. It was laid down by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) in the White Paper of 1965. I accept, of course, what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said, that he never thought of accepting proposals similar to the ones that we have brought before the House. In an election year, that was quite understandable. But I think that whatever right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite may think of our proposals, they should give us credit for grasping a necessary nettle in the first year that we were in office.

May I say a brief word or two about the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). It has the merit of being on both sides, of commending the principle while opposing the application—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Amendment has not been selected.

Mr. Amery

I apologise for referring to the Amendment, Mr. Speaker. May I refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). It had the merit of praising the principle while disputing the application. But, of course, it is a very long time since the Liberal Party had an opportunity to exercise responsibility for housing. The only Liberal statesmen who did so, Joseph Chamberlain and Lloyd George, did so with Conservative support.

Many of the points which have been raised in the debate will, no doubt, more appropriately be raised in Committee but I will seek to comment on the main ones. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) voiced the understandable concern which is felt in all parts of the House that we have not been able as yet to apply the provisions of the Bill to the furnished sector of accommodation. I ask the House to accept that there are very great practical difficulties here. The main difficulty is that of identification. In the unfurnished sector tenants do not move frequently from one dwelling to another. They take their furniture with them when they do move, and it is quite an operation. In the furnished sector there is a large transient and mobile population, and it is difficult to establish the identification procedures which would be necessary for the payment of allowances. There is the problem of valuation. Our rent officer service is well equipped to value houses. To value furniture is a complicated problem. [Interruption.] I assure the House that we are studying what can be done in this respect, and studying it with Birmingham and other local authorities which have experience of the subject.

I accept the point made by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) when he says, "Do not throw at us the old jibe, 'What did you do?'", though I must say that I could accept it more readily if his right hon. Friend, after six years in office and two Rent Acts, had not waxed quite so eloquent about the plight of people his Government never lifted a finger to help. Nevertheless, in the context of the furnished sector, I take some comfort from the fact that hon. Members opposite, who appear wholeheartedly opposed to fair rents and allowances as a general proposition, are so anxious to extend the blessings of our proposals to the furnished sector.

Mr. Michael Stewart

Could not something be put in the Bill to lay down a clear definition of how much furniture there has to be before a tenancy is reckoned to be furnished? Surely, the Minister can do that.

Mr. Amery

The right hon. Gentleman made two or three extremely interesting proposals in his speech, which will be studied closely in the Department. I should not like to commit myself at this stage on whether this Bill is the right vehicle for them.

There has been a good deal of discussion of the alleged unfairness of there being no appeal procedure for council house tenants against fair rents. The procedure is necessarily different as between council house tenants and private tenants because on council estates the landlord is a responsible public authority with statutory housing duties. But, at present, council tenants have no right to have their representations about rents considered by their landlord, and Clause 53 confers this right on them for the first time.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that we were adopting an arbitrary and authoritarian attitude—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—towards local authorities in depriving them of the traditional freedom to fix rents. What are the freedoms of which we are depriving them?—the freedom not to grant rebates, the freedom to fix rents regardless of value of accommodation? There are a great many local authorities at present, many of them the most hard-pressed, which have no choice save either to increase rents or rates or not to build at all. Under the Bill, they will have not only the freedom but the incentive to build on a much greater scale.

Hon. Members


Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

The House knows that a lot of people are finding it very difficult today even to pay the rents levied under the old scheme. Could the right hon. Gentleman give an illustration showing how an old couple who do not receive supplementary benefits will pay less rent under his fair rents, with the 100 per cent. rebate scheme applied, than they are paying at the moment?

Mr. Amery

That point does not arise from what I was just saying. I shall be coming to it, and I am sorry I wasted the time of the House by giving way.

Under our proposals, local authorities will have a much more important rôle in housing than they have had hitherto. Professor Donnison's article in New Society makes that clear. Not until we have put housing finance on a sound basis will it be possible for local authorities to discharge fully their responsibilities in slum clearance, urban renewal and development.

A number of hon. Members on both sides have raised problems about rebates. Some have said that a majority of tenants will receive rebates and that that will involve an army of bureaucrats, whilst others have said that not enough people will take up the rebates and allowances. The Leader of the Opposition in the past and the right hon. Member for Grimsby today have taken both views in the space of a very few sentences. There have been other subjects discussed in the House on which they have seemed to be unsure which side they were on.

But the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), as usual, put his finger on an important point. He asked about a man whose present rent of £2 was increased to £5 and who, given a £1 rebate, had a new rent of £4. What he failed to allow for is that raising the rent from £2 to £4 would take four years, and I should be surprised if, with the growth of our economy, his wages remained stationary over a period of four years. If I may invert a famous phrase, the hon. Gentleman is trying to catch the trains four years from now on this year's "Bradshaw".

Mr. Frank Allaun

Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that even if a big rent increase is staggered, it remains a big rent increase. I received a letter by hand this evening from his right hon. Friend saying that he will meet the three Labour Members but not the tenants' representatives. There have been present in the House today representatives of 500,000 tenants. We all took the view that we would gladly meet the Minister, but only if we were accompanied by the tenants' representatives.

Mr. Amery

My right hon. Friend has written to the hon. Gentleman today recapitulating his offer to receive written representations and his readiness always to see Members of Parliament. To my knowledge, we have had no representations.

I am confident that there will be sufficient take-up of the rebates and allowances, for very good reasons. First, it will be the duty of local authorities and private landlords to inform their tenants of their rights. What is more, if a tenant has any difficulty over the payment of rent it will be in the interests of the local authority or private landlord to remind him of his opportunity. Therefore, I do not think we need have any fear that the rebates will not be taken up.

Of course, it is arguable, and it has been argued by the Association of Municipal Corporations among others, that we are moving too fast in going up 50p a year. The Opposition when in power authorised increases of an average of 37p per year without reference to the Minister. I have not done my sums in great detail, but I should have thought that over the two and a half years since then, under successive Governments, the value of 37p has become not so very different from 50p today. In any case, what really matters is that we are talking about the rent of dwellings, not the rent that people will pay. We must always remember that the rebate and allowances are there as a safety net. We could have moved more gradually but we were anxious to mobilise the funds to help people in need and to clear the slums.

There have been allegations that our proposals in the private sector will amount to a bonanza for landlords. Despite the good work which the Labour Party did in the 1965 Act, they seem emotionally still to be wedded to the principle of injustice to landlords. The right hon. Member for Grimsby in the debate on the Gracious Speech told us that he would not think an extension of privately rented accommodation desirable even if it were possible. The hon. Member for Salford, East on the same occasion declared that what is fair to the landlord is unfair to the tenant, and vice versa. This is the fundamental teaching of the class war. Once in a public house in Manchester I heard the hon. Gentleman described as a benevolent rodent gnawing at the foundations of our society. We reject the view that the interests of the landlord and the tenant are incompatible. We think that fair rents can reconcile these interests and keep our houses in good heart.

I have been told that our proposals are socially divisive. I find this argument extremely difficult to follow. As I understand the criticisms that have been made by the Opposition, council tenants in the higher income brackets are likely to move under the pressure of fair rents to middle class estates, buying their own homes. If this is so, it will produce a health infusion socially, though possibly a loss to the Labour movement. But not all will move out, and, as my hon. Friends the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) and Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) stressed, I hope that councils will be ready to sell their council houses. The right hon. Member for Grimsby wants more freedom for tenants—yes, freedom to buy. I salute the efforts of Birmingham and Coventry to make the buying of council houses even more attractive than it has been so far.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)


Mr. Amery

I will give way in a moment. Moreover, one thing we shall be doing by the adoption of the principle of rair rents is to end the barrier between the public and the private sectors. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) spoke of the dangers of middle class colonisation in what they regarded apparently as working class districts. I should have thought that this was exactly what they would have welcomed—a greater social mix. I am sometimes left with the feeling that it is the Opposition who have a vested interest in divisive trends, and know it.

Mr. George Cunningham

A moment ago the Minister was boasting about the speed with which the Government have moved. Will he recall that there was a clear and specific undertaking in the White Paper that the Government would take the first legislative opportunity to raise the penalties for harassment, and that this opportunity has not been taken? Will he explain this clear breach of a promise.

Mr. Amery

I am glad I gave way to the hon. Member, because this is an important point. I have given an assurance that we would deal with this matter, and I hope we shall do so very shortly—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—quicker than the hon. Gentleman's party did, and in the context of the recommendations of the Francis Committee.

I have been much encouraged to hear right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the good work they did in encouraging home ownership. I have been surprised, therefore, that they could hardly conceal their resentment that we should have removed one of the last barriers to it. By reducing, not removing, the subsidy to council house tenants, we no longer give a built-in incentive to people to live on council estates rather than to become home owners.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown took the party opposite to task and referred to a resolution passed at the Labour Party conference in Brighton which was thoroughly hostile to home ownership. What he alleged was denied by the hon. Member for Willesden, East. I have taken the trouble to inform myself of the matter. A Mr. Crawford, of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, one of the paymasters of the party opposite, called for the removal of the built-in subsidy received by private owners through tax relief which exceeds that received by council tenants in rent subsidies. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members opposite will not cheer too loudly, because Mr. Crawford was cautioned against this by the hon. Member for Salford, East, but nevertheless the conference appears to have carried the motion unanimously. It would be interesting to see how far the Parliamentary Labour Party respects the decisions of conference when there are 10 million votes at stake.

In all these matters we need to define our terms a little more clearly. Fair rents involve subsidies, as do housing rebates. There is obviously a subsidy in rebates, and in fair rents the scarcity element is discounted so that the tenant who pays a fair rent receives a subsidy. This does not apply to owners who buy their houses in a free market where there is no discounting of the scarcity element. Indeed, if I were to believe the right hon. Member for Grimsby, there is exploitation of it. The option mortgage subsidy is, of course, a subsidy but tax relief is not. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor comes to this Box, as I hope he will, to present his Budget and proclaims new tax cuts, will these be subsidies? This is a brand of pure Socialism.

If one takes the view that everything belongs to the State except what the State allows one to have back, this is so, but it is not the view which commends itself to this side of the House or to the electorate. Hon. Members opposite will have to make up their minds whether they wish to go to Heaven or win the next Election.

The duty of the Opposition is to oppose but after their six years' experience in Government we expected them to offer some constructive criticism. We would like to know what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would have done. The hon. Member for Salford, East, who speaks for the National Executive of the Labour Party on these matters, advocates what I would call the policy of "All this and Heaven too". He would have us keep the subsidies but he endorses our policy of compulsory rebates in the public and private sectors as well as additional expenditure on slum clearance.

If we adopted that policy we would be faced with a housing bill of £600 million, or it might be £1,000 million, well before the middle of the decade. As the Minister responsible for housing I should love to spend more money in this way, but a balance must be struck between the different calls on the national purse, and it seems a pity that Members of the party opposite, which deliberately cut back on housing, should now, as an Opposition, call for an increase in the expenditure which they withheld when in power.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby followed his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East in calling for more expenditure. If I understood him aright, he wanted to abandon the policy of universal subsidies in favour of one related to historic cost. Such an arrangement would be profoundly unjust to all concerned.

It is difficult to determine who speaks for the party opposite when in opposition—

Mr. Freeson

If it is so unjust, why do the Government propose precisely such a system for Scotland?

Mr. Amery

Because they are moving to fair rent as a first step. There is no secret about that.

It is very difficult to determine who speaks for the party opposite, whether it is the Shadow Cabinet or the National Executive, but we are now told, six years after the 1965 White Paper, that the Labour Party will produce a new statement on housing policy next year. I can quite see that it may be difficult to get the statement worked out quickly, but it is very difficult for us to take the Opposition's views seriously if, after six years in office and one year in opposition, they are not yet in a position to make a constructive contribution to this debate.

The terms of the Opposition Amendment to the Address were rather curious. The Motion called for a coherent housing policy. I suppose that means that the previous Government's housing policy was incoherent. It was a rather odd affair altogether.

We are not clear who on the other side speaks for whom, but we ourselves are clear what we meant and what we intend to do. We mean, first of all, to achieve social justice; that is to say fairness between one tenant and another. Secondly, we want to see more help for those in need. We want to see the rebate system established right through the public sector and through the private sector. Third, we want to see the slums cleared. I have been questioned whether the target for slum clearance which my right hon.

Friend and I propose to local authorities can be met. I see no reason why it should not be met, and if the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight I shall be writing to all local authorities which have serious slum problems asking them to take the necessary action at once.

Finally, our proposals will encourage home ownership and improvement. They will, in the long run, make Britain a nation of home owners. Nor will those proposals be reversed by right hon. and hon. Members opposite if they ever come back to power. In spite of what the hon. Gentleman said, he and his colleagues will be very happy to sit down amicably with those concerned and try to tinker a little with our reforms. We are thus on the way to realising our ambition of a property owning democracy. Will we save taxation in the process? I believe that we will but, even if not, I still commend the Measure to the House as a great social reform and a great step forward for social justice.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Francis Pym)

rose in his place and claimed to move. That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 265.

Division No.7.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Adley Robert Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cooper, A. E.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Braine, Bernard Cordle, John
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Brinton, Sir Tatton Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Cormack, Patrick
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Costain, A. P.
Astor, John Bruce-Gardyne, J. Critchley, Julian
Atkins, Humphrey Bryan, Paul Crouch, David
Awdry, Daniel Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Crowder, F. P.
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Buck, Antony Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Bullus, Sir Eric d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Balniel, Lord Burden, F. A. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James
Batsford, Brian Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dean, Paul
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.
Bell, Ronald Carlisle, Mark Dixon, Piers
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Channon, Paul Drayson, G. B.
Benyon, W. Chapman, Sydney du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Berry, Hn. Anthony Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Dykes, Hugh
Biffen, John Chichester-Clark, R. Eden, Sir John
Biggs-Davison, John Churchill, W. S. Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Blaker, Peter Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Body, Richard Clegg, Walter Emery, Peter
Boscawen, Robert Cockeram, Eric Farr, John
Bossom, Sir Clive Cooke, Robert Fell, Anthony
Bowden, Andrew Coombs, Derek Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Fidler, Michael Lambton, Antony Renton Rt. Hn. Sir David
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Lane, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Le Merchant, Spencer Ridsdale, Julian
Fookes, Miss Janet Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Fortescue, Tim Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Foster, Sir John Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fowler, Norman Longden, Gilbert Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Fox, Marcus Loveridge, John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McAdden, Sir Stephen Rost, Peter
Fry, Peter MacArthur, Ian Royle, Anthony
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. McCrindle, R. A. Russell, Sir Ronald
Gardner, Edward Maclean, Sir Fitzroy St. John-Steves, Norman
Gibson-Watt, David McMaster, Stanley Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Scott, Nicholas
Glyn, Dr. Alan McNair-Wilson, Michael Scott-Hopkins, James
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Sharples, Richard
Goodhart, Phillip Maddan, Martin Shelton, William (Clapham)
Goodhew, Victor Madel, David Simeons, Charles
Gorst, John Maginnis, John E. Skeet, T. H. H.
Gower, Raymond Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Marten, Neil Soref, Harold
Gray, Hamish Mather, Carol Spence, John
Green, Alan Maude, Angus Sproat, Iain
Grieve, Percy Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Stainton, Keith
Grylls, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Stanbrook, Ivor
Gummer, Selwyn Meyer, Sir Anthony Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Gurden, Harold Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Miscampbell, Norman Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Stokes, John
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Moate, Roger Sutcliffe, John
Hannam, John (Exeter) Molyneaux, James Tapsell, Peter
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Money, Ernie Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Monks, Mrs. Connie Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Haselhurst, Alan Monro, Hector Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Havers, Michael Montgomery, Fergus Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Hawkins, Paul More, Jasper Tebbit, Norman
Hay, John Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hayhoe, Barney Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Heseltine, Michael Morrison, Charles Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Higgins, Terence L. Mudd, David
Hiley, Joseph Murton, Oscar Tilney, John
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Neave, Airey Trew, Peter
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Nicholls, Sir Harmer Tugendhat, Christopher
Holland, Philip Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Holt, Miss Mary Normanton, Tom van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hornby, Richard Nott, John Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Onslow, Cranley Vickers, Dame Joan
Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Waddington, David
Howell, David (Guildford) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Osborn, John Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Hunt, John Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hutchison, Michael Clark Page, Graham (Crosby) Wall, Patrick
Iremonger, T. L. Page, John (Harrow, W.) Walters, Dennis
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Parkinson, Cecil Ward, Dame Irene
James, David Percival, Ian Warren, Kenneth
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Wells, John (Maidstone)
Jessel, Toby Pink, R. Bonner White, Roger (Gravesend)
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Pounder, Rafton Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wiggin, Jerry
Jopling, Michael Price, David (Eastleigh) Wilkinson, John
Kaberry, Sir Donald Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Winterton, Nicholas
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Proudfoot, Wilfred Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Kershaw, Anthony Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Kilfedder, James Quennell, Miss J. M. Woodnutt, Mark
Kimball, Marcus Raison, Timothy Worsley, Marcus
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Wylle, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Kinsey, J. R. Redmond, Robert
Kitson, Timothy Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Knight, Mrs. Jill Rees, Peter (Dover) Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Knox, David Rees-Davies, W. R. Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
Abse, Leo Barnes, Michael Boardman, H. (Leigh)
Albu, Austen Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Booth, Albert
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
Allen, Scholefield Baxter, William Broughton, Sir Alfred
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)
Armstrong, Ernest Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Ashley, Jack Bidwell, Sydney Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)
Atkinson, Norman Bishop, E. S. Buchan, Norman
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Blenkinsop, Arthur Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hooson, Emlyn Ogden, Eric
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Horam, John O'Halloran, Michael
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas O'Malley, Brian
Cant, R. B. Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Orbach, Maurice
Carmichael, Neil Huckfield, Leslie Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Paget, R. T.
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Palmer, Arthur
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Pardoe, John
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Cohen, Stanley Hunter, Adam Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Coleman, Donald Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Pavitt, Laurie
Concannon, J. D. Janner, Greviile Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pentland, Norman
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Perry, Ernest G.
Crawshaw, Richard Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Cronin, John Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Prescott, John
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony John, Brynmor Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Price, William (Rugby)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Rankin, John
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, A. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Judd, Frank Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Kaufman, Gerald Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Deakins, Eric Kelley, Richard Roper, John
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Kerr, Russell Rose, Paul B.
Delargy, H. J. Kinnock, Neil Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lambie, David Sandelson, Neville
Doig, Peter Lamond, James Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Dormand, J. D. Latham, Arthur Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lawson, George Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Leadbitter, Ted Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Driberg, Tom Leonard, Dick Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lester, Miss Joan Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Dunn, James A. Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Sillars, James
Dunnett, Jack Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Silverman, Julius
Eadie, Alex Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Skinner, Dennis
Edelman, Maurice Lipton, Marcus Small, William
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lomas, Kenneth Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Loughlin, Charles Spearing, Nigel
Ellis, Tom Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Spriggs, Leslie
English, Michael Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Stallard, A. W.
Evans Fred Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Steel, David
Ewing, Harry McBride, Neil Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Faulds, Andrew McCann, John Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. McCartney, Hugh Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) McElhone, Frank Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McGuire, Michael Strang, Gavin
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackenzie, Gregor Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mackie, John Swain, Thomas
Foley, Maurice Mackintosh, John P. Taverne, Dick
Foot, Michael Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Ford Ben McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Forrester, John McNamara, J. Kevin Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mahon, Simon (Bootie) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Freeson, Reginald Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Tinn, James
Galpern, Sir Myer Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Tomney, Frank
Garrett, W. E. Marks, Kenneth Torney, Tom
Gilbert, Dr. John Marquand, David Tuck, Raphael
Marsden, F. Urwin, T. W.
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Varley, Eric G.
Golding, John Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mayhew, Christopher Wallace, George
Gourlay, Harry Meacher, Michael Watkins, David
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Weitzman, David
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Mendelson, John Wellbeloved, James
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mikardo, Ian Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Millan, Bruce White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Miller, Dr. M. S. Whitehead, Phillip
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Milne, Edward Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hamling, William Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Molloy, William Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hardy, Peter Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Woof, Robert
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Hattersley, Roy Moyle, Roland TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Murray, Ronald King Mr. Joseph Harper and
Heffer, Eric S. Oakes, Gordon Mr. Tom Pendry.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 292.

Division No.8. AYES 10.15
Abse, Leo Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Albu, Austen Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McBride, Neil
Allen, Scholefield Fletcher, Ted (Darlingion) McCann, John
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Foley, Maurice McCartney, Hugh
Armstrong, Ernest Foot, Michael McElhone, Frank
Ashley, Jack Ford Ben McGuire, Michael
Atkinson, Norman Forrester, John Mackenzie, Gregor
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fraser, John (Norwood) Mackie, John
Barnes, Michael Freeson, Reginald Mackintosh, John P.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Galpern, Sir Myer Maclennan, Robert
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Garrett, W. E. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Baxter, William Gilbert, Dr. John McNamara, J. Kevin
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Golding, John Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bishop, E. S. Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gourlay, Harry Marks, Kenneth
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Grant, George (Morpeth) Marquand, David
Booth, Albert Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Marsden, F.
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Marshall, Dr. Edmund
Broughton, Sir Alfred Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mayhew, Christopher
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Meacher, Michael
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hamling, William Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Buchan, Norman Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Mendelson, John
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hardy, Peter Mikardo, Ian
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Millan, Bruce
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Miller, Dr. M. S.
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hattersley, Roy Milne, Edward
Cant, R. B. Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Carmichael, Neil Heffer, Eric S. Molloy, William
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hooson, Emyln Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Horam, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Moyle, Roland
Cohen, Stanley Huckfield, Leslie Murray, Ronald King
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oakes, Gordon
Concannon, J. D. Hughes, Mark (Durham) Ogden Eric
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) O'Halloran, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) O'Malley, Brian
Crawshaw, Richard Hunter, Adam Orbach, Maurice
Cronin, John Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jenner, Greville Paget, R. T.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Palmer, Arthur
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Pardoe, John
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (stechford) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Davidson, Arthur John, Brynmor Pavitt, Laurie
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Johnson, James (k'ston-on-Hull, W.) Pentland, Norman
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Johnson Walter (Derby, S.) Perry, Ernest G.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Prescott, John
Deakins, Eric Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir. Elywn (W. Ham, S.) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthan) Price, William (Rugby)
Delargy, H. J. Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Probert, Arthur
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Judd Frank Rankin, John
Doig, Peter Kaufman, Gerald Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Dormand, J. D. Kelley, Richard Rhodes, Geoffrey
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Kerr, Russell Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Kinnock, Neil Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Driberg, Tom Lambie, David Robertson, John (Paisley)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamond, James Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Dunn, James A. Latham, Arthur Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Dunnett, Jack Lawson, George Roper, John
Eadie, Alex Leadbitter, Ted Rose, Paul B.
Edelman, Maurice Leonard, Dick Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lestor, Miss Joan Sandelson, Neville
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Ellis, Tom Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
English, Michael Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Evans Fred Lipton, Marcus Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Ewing, Harry Lomas, Kenneth Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Faulds, Andrew Loughlin, Charles Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Sillars, James
Silverman, Julius Swain, Thomas Watkins, David
Skinner, Dennis Taverne, Dick Weitzman, David
Small, William Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.) Wellbeloved, James
Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Spearing, Nigel Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.) Whitehead, Phillip
Spriggs, Leslie Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Stallard, A. W. Tinn, James Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Steel, David Tomney, Frank Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Torney, Tom Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham) Tuck, Raphael Woof, Robert
Stoddart, David (Swindon) Urwin, T. W.
Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Varley, Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Strang, Gavin Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Wallace, George Mr. Tom Pendry.
Adley, Robert Dodds-Parker, Douglas Hutchison, Michael Clark
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Drayson, G. B. Iremonger, T. L.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Dykes, Hugh James, David
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Eden, Sir John Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Astor, John Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jessel, Toby
Atkins, Humphrey Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Awdry, Daniel Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Emery, Peter Jopling, Michael
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Farr, John Kaberry, Sir Donald
Balniel, Lord Fell, Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
Batsford, Brian Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Kershaw, Anthony
Beamish, Capt. Sir Tufton Fidler, Michael Kilfedder, James
Bell, Ronald Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Kimball, Marcus
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kinsey, J. R.
Benyon, W. Fookes, Miss Janet Kitson, Timothy
Berry, Hn. Anthony Fortescue, Tim Knight, Mrs. Jill
Biffen, John Foster, Sir John Knox, David
Biggs-Davison, John Fowler, Norman Lambton, Antony
Blaker, Peter Fox, Marcus Lane, David
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Body, Richard Le Marchant, Spencer
Boscawen, Robert Fry, Peter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bossom, Sir Clive Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield)
Bowden, Andrew Gardner, Edward Longden, Gilbert
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Gibson-Watt, David Loveridge, John
Braine, Bernard Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Brinton, Sir Talton Glyn, Dr. Alan MacArthur, Ian
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McCrindle, R. A.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Goodhart, Philip Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Goodhew, Victor McMaster, Stanley
Bryan, Paul Gorst, John Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Gower, Raymond McNair-Wilson, Michael
Buck, Antony Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Bullus, Sir Eric Gray, Hamish Madden, Martin
Burden, F. A. Green, Alan Madel, David
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Grieve, Percy Maginnis, John E.
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn) Grylls, Michael Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Carlisle, Mark Gummer, Selwyn Marten, Neil
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Gurden, Harold Mather, Carol
Channon, Paul Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Maude, Angus
Chapman, Sydney Hall, John (Wycombe) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Chichester-Clark, R. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Churchill, W. S. Hannam, John (Exeter) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Miscampbell, Norman
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Clegg, Walter Haselhurst, Alan Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Cockeram, Eric Hastings, Stephen Moate, Roger
Cooke, Robert Havers, Michael Molyneaux, James
Coombs, Derek Hawkins, Paul Money, Ernie
Cooper, A. E. Hay, John Monks, Mrs. Connie
Cordle, John Hayhoe, Barney Monro, Hector
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Heseltine, Michael Montgomery, Fergus
Cormack, Patrick Higgins, Terence L. More, Jasper
Costain, A. P. Hiley, Joseph Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Critchley, Julian Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Crouch, David Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Morrison, Charles
Crowder, F. P. Holland, Philip Mudd, David
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Holt, Miss Mary Murton, Oscar
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hornby, Richard Nabarro, Sir Gerald
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen, James Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Neave, Airey
Dean, Paul Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Howell, David (Guildford) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Digby, Simon Wingfield Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Normanton, Tom
Dixon, Piers Hunt, John Nott, John
Onslow, Cranley Rost, Peter Tilney, John
Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Royle, Anthony Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Russell, Sir Ronald Trew, Raphael
Osborn, John St. John-Stevas, Norman Tugendhat, Christopher
Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Sandys, Rt. Hn. D. Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Page, Graham (Crosby) Scott, Nicholas van Straubenzee, W. R.
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Scott-Hopkins, James Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Parkinson, Cecil Sharples, Richard Vickers, Dame Joan
Percival, Ian Shelton, William (Clapham) Waddington, David
Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Simeons, Charles Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Pink, R. Bonner Skeet, T. H. H. Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Pounder, Rafton
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Price, David (Eastleigh) Soref, Harold Wall, Patrick
Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Spence, John Walters, Dennis
Proudfoot, Wilfred Sproat, Iain Ward, Dame Irene
Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Stainton, Keith Warren, Kenneth
Quennell, Miss J. M. Stanbrook, Ivor Wells, John (Maidstone)
Raison, Timothy Stewart-Smith, Geoffery (Belper) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Redmond, Robert Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Wiggin, Jerry
Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Stokes, John Wilkinson, John
Rees, Peter (Dover) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom Winterton, Nicholas
Rees-Davies, W. R. Sutcliffe, John Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Tapsell, Peter Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Woodnutt, Mark
Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) Worsley, Marcus
Ridsdale, Julian Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Tebbit, Norman TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).