HC Deb 20 December 1972 vol 848 cc1318-20
21. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will obtain information from local authorities indicating what percentage of council tenants are paying more rent, after allowing for rebates, as a result of the Housing Finance Act.

Mr. Channon

No, Sir. To do so would only add to the work of local authorities when they are busy with the implementation of this Act. Moreover, overall figures would not be meaningful.

Mr. Mitchell

Is not the real reason the Minister will not ask for this information the fact that he knows that if it were obtained it would show that all the Government's propaganda about the Housing Finance Act is sheer baloney.

Mr. Channon

No, Sir. The real reason is that which I have already given the House, namely, that administratively it would be extremely difficult, that it would demand a special return from local authorities which they would not welcome, and that the information would not be meaningful because it would depend upon whether authorities had operated rebate schemes and also on the amounts by which the rents of dwellings had increased in October.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Will my hon. Friend insist that local authorities which send round scare-tactic letters to tenants at ratepayers' expense should be forced, like the borough of Lewisham, to send round a letter explaining that there is a large number of people who have benefited from the Act and emphasising that many old people are now able to live decently for the first time for a very long time?

Mr. Channon

I have not seen the Lewisham leaflet, but I agree that the extraordinarily misleading propaganda of the Labour Party is already backfiring.

Mr. Leonard

Did the Minister see the article in this morning's Guardian which indicated a severe backlog in the GLC area in dealing with applications for rent rebate? Will he take action to suspend the operation of rent increases under the Housing Finance Act in Greater London until this backlog is sorted out?

Mr. Channon

I have not seen the article, but I shall look at it with great care. The rent increases have already taken place and I cannot change those—they have already happened.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the Minister make a simple admission to the House that apart from those who are on social security, who are not affected in any case, the overwhelming majority of tenants have had an increase in rent. Will he answer yes or no?

Mr. Channon

Even the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell), if I understood a supplementary question put by him last week, pointed out that some 30 per cent. of the tenants of Southampton presumably were paying less.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

No: that is not true.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is it not a fact that the overwhelming majority of tenants are paying vastly more money in rent? The Minister knows this, he knows that it is happening in London, so why does he not admit the truth?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Member knows full well that the overwhelming majority of tenants are not paying vastly more money [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is no good saying "Rubbish". The facts are quite clear.

Mr. Heffer

Come to Liverpool.

Mr. Channon

I do not need to go to Liverpool to tell the House the facts. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the maximum amount of increases were laid down in the Housing Finance Act. No one can be compelled to pay more. The misleading and utterly ridiculous propaganda put out by the Opposition is designed to cause upsets to tenants, most of whom are now beginning to learn the truth.

Mr. Freeson

The Minister began by saying that he was in no position to provide this information at a reasonable cost or in reasonable time, but he then went on to say quite confidently that the facts we have been putting forward about rent increases are inaccurate. If the Minister has not obtained this informa- tion, how does he know that that is the case? Will the hon. Gentleman use his powers under Section 105 of the Act to put a stop to further rent increases in the coming year? The powers are there. Will he use them?

Mr. Channon

I complain about what hon. Gentlemen opposite say because they talk about vast increases when they know that the absolute maximum limits of rent increases are laid down in the Act. This is wholly misleading and utterly mischievous. What is more it is designed to be misleading. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are determined to achieve a situation in which those who cannot afford to pay a rent will be protected by rent rebate. I think that everyone in the House will support that. We also believe that those who can afford to pay a fair rent—a system invented by the party opposite—should be required to do so.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the hon. Gentleman's replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.