§ ENACTMENTS REPEALED
Amendments made: No. 154, in page 113, line 39, column 3, after '70(2)', insert:
'the word "or" occurring after the word "certificate" and'.
No. 155, in line 43, column 3, at end insert:
'In section 80(2) the words "or confirm" '.—[Mr. Gordon Campbell.]
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.
As the White Paper "The Reform of Housing Finance in Scotland" stated in July last year, this Bill is designed to replace obsolete financial policies which are no longer appropriate and are no longer either fair or effective, and to enable enough homes to be built in the places needed and of the kinds which people require and can afford.
One aspect of the total housing problem of Scotland is the just distribution of costs between ratepayer, taxpayer and tenant. We have always made it clear that tenants who can reasonably afford to pay more rent should not be protected by outdated rent control legislation, or outdated local authority rent structures, at the expense of other ratepayers who can even less afford the burden of subsidising such arrangements.
An essential part of the Bill is to provide a framework for the fixing of rents throughout the public and private sectors—pooled historic costs and the balancing of the housing revenue account in the former, and the fair rent principle, originating in the 1965 Act, in the latter.
We have made it clear that we are committed to increased Exchequer aid for public sector housing in Scotland. I point out again that the estimate published with this Bill is that this aid is expected to amount to about £70 million to £75 million in 1975–76, compared with about £55 million in 1971–72.
This means substantially more being contributed by the United Kingdom taxpayer and the present heavy burden on the Scottish ratepayer being reduced. The ratepayer will continue, properly, to bear a certain proportion of the housing costs of a local authority. But, for the first time, these contributions will be specific proportions of total expenditure. Overall, there will be a welcome reduction in the burden on housing on Scottish ratepayers, from about £40 million in 1971–72 to £15 million to £20 million in 1975–76. That is more than half.
It has been the ratepayers of Scotland who have had this burden, as I mentioned earlier today, of 35 per cent. of council housing costs. In England and Wales the proportion has been about 549 7 per cent. only. We are bringing relief for Scotland; and Scottish ratepayers will no longer have this inequitable treatment.
High on the list of major new departures which I single out for special mention is the new housing expenditure subsidy which, for the first time, will enable local authorities with substantially rising costs in any year, compared with the previous year, to obtain Exchequer help to meet them from whatever source they arise. This help, which will run from between 10 and five years, each time an entitlement arises, will be calculated on the basis, not only of the costs of new house building and the acquisition of the necessary land, but also on the costs of repairs, maintenance and management of council houses.
As I have said, Exchequer help will increase, but it will be available for the whole range of local housing functions. This new subsidy is introduced at a time when local authorities will be needing to review their housing needs more comprehensively. It will encourage them with financial help to do so—in addition to direct help by way of improvement grant and environmental improvement grant.
In the past, quantity has been the most important factor in most areas. This will still be true in some areas for some years to come, and I expect the Bill to give additional help to those areas for new building; but for others, quality, type and location will now be the overriding factors—the improvement of the standards of maintenance and amenity in council schemes and when here again, substantial programmes of work are involved, this new subsidy will be available to help.
Increasingly important will be the assessment and the accuracy of assessments of housing needs. A Working Group chaired by Professor Culling worth has recently produced a report on the methods by which local authorities should review and estimate the total housing needs of their areas. I hope to publish this report shortly. It does not attempt to forecast or advise local authorities what to do, but rather gives them advice on the means by which to formulate their own housing policies. It is clear that this report will herald a new approach, involving public and private sectors, to the 550 exercise of their statutory housing finances by local authorities.
The housing expenditure subsidy in the Bill anticipates and encourages in the local authority sphere the adoption of this approach. I am sure that both sides of the House would again thank Professor Culling worth for another contribution which he has made like those in the past in considering our housing problems in Scotland.
The Bill also provides for the first time for a new slum clearance subsidy to help those local authorities which still have major problems in this area. This, again, is a major innovation. This new subsidy will be a tremendous help to stimulate vigorous action by local authorities on the demolition of our remaining slums. For too long we have had an enormous new building programme, but a demolition programme which has failed to keep pace. I look forward to the day, not very far distant, when with the help of this new subsidy we shall see the last of the slums cleared away from our cities and towns in Scotland.
The concentration of help is also a major feature of the rent rebate and allowance subsidies. Here again there are major innovations.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The Secretary of State mentioned that the demolition programme has not kept pace with the new building programme. Is it not right that slum clearance rose from 12,000 to 19,000 in 1970 to 26,000 last year? Is it his object to secure a target of clearance of 30,000 slums a year, and if so, will that be achieved?
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman misheard me. I said that in the past there had been large building programmes but demolition programmes which were not large enough to keep pace. We are hoping to do more demolition of slums. Already there are signs of an increase in slum clearance.
§ Mr. Campbell
It is difficult to make estimates. For the first time we have a new subsidy related to slum clearance. The signs which I have seen in Scotland indicate that local authorities with slums to clear recognise this is a higher priority 551 than before. I hope to see some very good results.
I had moved on to rent rebates and allowances. First, a national model scheme of rent rebates available to everyone in Scotland is included in the Bill. Secondly, one of the biggest steps forward for many years is the creation of a new rent allowance system for tenants of privately owned property. The Labour Government introduced the fair rents system in 1965, but they did nothing about a national system of help for those tenants who could not reasonably afford to pay these higher fair rents out of their own pockets. The rent allowances under the Bill make good this glaring omission.
No rent increases in the private sector have been caused by the Bill, which is not yet enacted. Rent increases in the private sector already taking place are the result of the Acts passed in the time of the Labour Government. Until the rent allowance scheme comes into force at the end of the year, there can be no help from the Exchequer for families needing it to meet those new rents. The Bill puts right a failure by the previous Government, and it has been widely welcomed as fair and imaginative.
The model rebate and allowance scheme is better than the majority of existing rent rebates schemes operated by local authorities.
§ Mr. Brewis
Is it not the case that many local authorities in Scotland, like Ayr County and Airdrie Burghs, do not at present operate a rebate scheme?
§ Mr. Campbell
Some local authorities do not. About 90 per cent. of local authority tenants are covered by some form of rent rebate scheme. The trouble has been that they are—
§ Mr. Campbell
I must finish what I am saying. One difficulty, to which I am coming, is that they are different. Some of the schemes are not as good as others. People may move from one area where a scheme operates on a certain basis to another area where a scheme, from their point of view, is not so good. By having a national uniform scheme for the first time in Scotland, not only shall 552 we have a scheme which will be better than the majority of existing rent rebate schemes, but if people have to move they will be familiar with the system.
§ Mr. Lambie
The Secretary of State seemed to criticise local authorities like Airdrie, Ayr County and the small Burgh of Salt coats because in the past they did not need a rent rebate scheme. Will he be honest and state that the reason they did not need a rent rebate scheme was that rents were low? We need to introduce a rent rebate scheme only when we have high rents. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is saying to local authorities, "Put up your rents by £5 a week and we will give you £1 back in rent rebate". But people will be paying £4 more than before the rent rebate scheme was introduced.
§ Mr. Campbell
It was my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) who mentioned particular local authorities, not I. I indicated that a large proportion of local authority tenants are covered by schemes of one kind or another, though some of those schemes are not very good. It has not been necessary to have such a scheme in Salt coats for the reason given by the hon. Gentleman. But where there have been indefensibly low rents, the ratepayers have borne a burden quite out of proportion to what they should bear. The Bill will restore the balance.
Earlier both sides were in agreement that tenants are also ratepayers. Therefore, they will benefit. When they pay what they call "the rent", they also pay rates. Many do not realise that a large proportion of the rent comprises the rates which will benefit them under the provisions of the Bill.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned 90 per cent. of tenants as the proportion at present covered by a form of rent rebate. That is true. That was the figure at the time we left office. When the right hon. Gentleman was Under-Secretary of State in 1964 was not the figure 50 per cent.? Does not that rather damage the image of a man anxious to extend rent rebates? Having agreed on a uniform rent rebate system by establishing the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee and having the 553 Brownlie Committee report, which has generally been accepted on both sides, why do we make so much of it?
§ Mr. Campbell
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman should refer to the time when I was Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office. At that time we were trying to get rent rebate schemes started and we met with opposition from the Labour Party. I should say straight away that I exculpate the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock because they saw the light. It was other colleagues of theirs on the back benches who opposed rent rebate schemes when I was advocating them in 1963 and 1964. The opposition which came from the Scottish Labour Party alarmed people and frightened local authorities from introducing them. After the right hon. Gentleman became Secretary of State, he and his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock saw the light and gave their encouragement to rent rebate schemes which we were getting started in the early 1960s. I am glad that we converted the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend. We are now finishing the job. We began it by encouraging rent rebate schemes. The rent rebate schemes in the new towns have been a very good model.
I must emphasise that the model scheme is constructed on a basis recommended by the Brownlie Committee, which the hon. Member for Greenock mentioned. Yet some of his hon. Friends have been criticising the scheme while the Bill has been going through the House. The scheme is different from some existing schemes. It deliberately seeks, as those schemes do not, to concentrate aid upon families with low incomes. For many people, the rebates will be larger in future, and some people will qualify for the kind of rebate which means that they pay no rent at all.
The assistance which the Bill, through its new subsidies, will give to housing associations is another major landmark. These associations provide an alternative, albeit at present a small one in Scotland, between the purely public sector and the purely private sector. In particular, they are increasingly making provision for meeting the specialised housing needs of certain groups in our population, particularly the elderly and the disabled. This is very welcome.
§ Mr. Campbell
Not enough at present, as I have said, but this is a movement we are seeking to encourage.
Here again, the Bill explicitly meets the needs of the Scottish situation. Not only have we improved it during its passage through the House by increasing the Exchequer support for new building in the early years in which any deficit may be incurred, but we have introduced a special, and purely Scottish, improvement subsidy to help and encourage the provision of additional housing association accommodation through conversion or improvement. This is another major step forward. I greatly hope that it will be used by housing associations to the full.
Local authorities will be helped in the management of their own houses through the provision in the Bill enabling them, if they wish, to pay the removal expenses of tenants. This last provision reflects what we know to be the desire of many people to have greater freedom of choice, and the desire of many local authorities to use their housing stock to the best advantage so long as this does not impose any individual financial hardship upon their tenants.
Not only will such expenses be payable at the discretion of a local authority if the tenant moves to another local authority house more fitted to his current and immediate future needs; it will also be payable if he buys a house in the private sector.
I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, for the way in which he handled the Bill during a very long and strenuous Committee stage. My hon. Friend admirably explained the Bill to the Committee. The Committee broke all Scottish Committee endurance records, because, so far as can be checked, the 35 sittings and the 114 hours which the Committee spent considering the Bill have not been found to have been exceeded, certainly since the War and, so far as can be ascertained, ever by a Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
It may well be that all my colleagues who served on the Committee appreciated the Under-Secretary's efforts in explaining the 555 Bill in Committee, but there were so few of us on the Committee that we have not heard anything about it yet.
§ Mr. Campbell
I do not know for how many hours the Committee would have sat if there had been more hon. Members on it. With the membership it had there was no lack of those who were willing to contribute at any moment of the day or night.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) who during this long time had the duty of keeping a quorum and my hon. Friends who besides keeping the quorum also made their contributions.
The Bill not only recasts the subsidy system to meet present and future requirements; it also marks the beginning of a new period of opportunity for local authorities, for tenants, and for owner-occupiers, in Scotland. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
In the Opposition's view, the Bill should not be read the Third time. It started as an iniquitous Bill. After having been handled in the Committee over a record period of sittings, it remains by and large an iniquitous Bill.
I do not maintain that there are not certain good features in the Bill. There are a number of minor technical advantages embodied in the Bill. I select three good features of the Bill. I have not exhausted the good features, but I have almost exhausted them, because those I will not mention are those which are of a minor technical nature. It is the major principle of the Bill which we have opposed and which we continue to oppose.
The three features I select as being good ones are the rent allowances and rent rebates, the slum clearance subsidy, and the technical changes in the housing revenue account. These changes are generally welcomed. I add to them certain minor technical changes which the Secretary of State mentioned and which I will not take up time by repeating.
The mass of the Bill is controversial, and it is confrontation politics. It is part of confrontation politics at its most dangerous as practised by this Government.
§ Mr. Galbraith
What does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean by "confrontation politics"? This is a new term which I would like explained.
§ Mr. Murray
Confrontation politics means at the very least that the Government are inviting a head-on collision between their own dogma and the consensus of the mass of people. Despite repeated warnings from this side of the House, the Government seem to be entirely unaware that they are treading this dangerous path of brinkmanship. There is a sharp cleavage between the two sides in their approach to housing need.
It is right that they should dwell for a few moments on this vital cleavage, because it is the thinking of the two sides which shows the characteristic differences between the politics of the two sides. It is a serious matter, and I hope that in what I say I shall endeavour not to put unfairly what I take to be the philosophy behind the Bill. I am sure that I shall be corrected if I am unfair, but it is my endeavour not to be unfair because it is important to see what is the difference in attitude between two sides, and what its consequence may be.
The Opposition's approach is that the housing need in Scotland today—and it has been for all too many years—is overwhelming, and that it must get overriding priority until it is met. And it must be met in this generation. It is no use putting it off to future generations. In short, our approach is that housing is essentially a social service and that its financing should be approached on that basis, and on no other. This approach springs from a deep and sincere conviction, born of decades of despair and desperate housing conditions in Scotland, that only the public conscience, backed by public money, will give decent housing to the people of Scotland.
At the juncture of this confrontation we should recall that relative consensus, in contrast with confrontation—this is for 557 the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith)—has ruled between the two World Wars, and that it has been a consensus not only between the two sides in Parliament, but between local and central Government.
It is right to point out to the Government today, as has already been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and by some of my hon. Friends, that the confrontation which they are inviting—indeed, which they are challenging the people of this country to take up—is not only a confrontation between the two sides in Parliament, but a confrontation between the central Government and local government.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say that the 1962 Act avoided this confrontation?
§ Mr. Murray
I would. Confrontation has existed only in the sense that from time to time there have been disagreements about what should be done. For example, Tory Governments have emphasised the need to give more help to private enterprise, while Labour Governments have always emphasised the need to give more help to the public financing of housing. There have been bitter disagreements—I do not want to maintain that there have not—about the 1957 Act and 1962 Acts. I have no doubt that there was bitter opposition from hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were the Opposition against Measures introduced by my right hon. Friend during his term of office.
§ Mr. Murray
That is probably so. No doubt from time to time they raised their voices in protest against what they saw was happening, because what they saw happening during my right hon. Friend's term of office was so obviously beneficial to the people of Scotland.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
I realise that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not a Member of the House at the time. May I tell him that we helped and encouraged the right hon. Gentleman with his fair rent scheme? We improved it.
§ Mr. Murray
I make no comment on 558 that. I have been diverted from the point that I wanted to make, and I now want to return to it.
Disagreements in the past, as it were on the surface of the broad consensus about what should be done for housing, are far different from confrontation, and that is why I answered the hon. Member for Hillhead in the way that I did. The Bill represents the death of that consensus, and with it dies some of the good faith which used to exist between central Government and local government in housing. The established system of long-term subsidies is to be swept away, and on any view this is a breach of faith, if not a breach of contract, with local government which regarded the security of 60 years' subsidy as something on which it could count.
Housing as a social service must be universal in principle, and not selective. That is a basic difference of view between the two sides, and it is because of that that so much that has been said from the Government benches during this debate and in Committee has been beside the point. The Labour Government's legislation was carried out and operated against a background of the view that rents as a whole should be limited and should not rise above a certain level, because the view that was taken then, and the view that is taken now, is that universal benefits are generally the fairest way of meeting the housing need.
We appreciate, of course, the Government's point of view. They say that selective benefits are fairer. We disagree, but they should understand that this is a perfectly legitimate difference of view. We think that it is fair to have universal benefits and they think that selective benefits are fairer. Housing as a social service must be under public control, answerable to the democratically elected representatives, whether in local or central Government.
Third, we believe that house building in Scotland, if it is to come anywhere near meeting the need in this or even the next generation, must draw its power and initiative from public finance and public enterprise. It is only when those basic needs are met, in our view, that the luxuries which are mentioned in the White Paper—such as greater freedom of 559 choice in houses or wider owner-occupation—can be afforded. We say that those luxuries are not a pressing priority. The Government see it differently and put priority on these matters. But we have limited resources and a vast inchoate need, and we do not see the Bill coming anywhere near meeting it. The philosophy behind the Bill, the Conservative view as expressed in it, is superficial and over-optimistic.
Within its terms of reference, it can be understood. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted portions of pages 1 to 3of the White Paper. It is clear from the White Paper and the Bill that behind the Government's thinking lies the idea that more money must be devoted to housing in Scotland but that, at the same time, the public commitment to housing finance must be progressively reduced after an initial burst. The conception of an initial burst is based no doubt on the optimistic idea that the housing problem can be coped with in this period and will then taper off.
These apparently irreconcilable objectives can be met only if there is an entirely new financial structure for housing, if it is changed in such a way that more private investment in housing takes place. That is the philosophy behind the Bill. In this situation, who benefits? The ratepayer and the taxpayer. Who pays? The tenant. Again, the Government think that is fair, but we reject it because we think that the mass of the people of Scotland are inadequately housed today and that they will not be adequately housed except under a system which regards housing as a social service.
While over 100,000 of the people of Scotland are unemployed, while the job opportunities in Scotland are restricted, compared to what they are south of the border, while the people of Scotland enjoy a lower standard of living than their neighbours in the South and while the housing need of Scotland is a scandal in Britain and Western Europe, we believe that the tenant should be protected. Generally, when the tenant is protected, the people of Scotland are protected.
I should like to deal with one or two outstanding provisions of the White Paper, so as to set the White Paper and the Bill, as amended, alongside each other 560 and to consider them in perspective. The philosophy of the White Paper and the Bill can be found in paragraph 3 of the former:Housing need persists, but its form has changed: acute need is no longer general and widespread, but is increasingly concentrated in fewer areas.We do not accept that there is no longer acute need. That is one basic difference. If we do not accept that premise, we must reject the conclusion.
Paragraph 5 says:But at the heart of the problem lie obsolete financial policies, which are no longer either fair or effective. These must be swept away and replaced if enough decent homes are to be built, at prices which Scottish families can afford".Talk about the prices that families can afford implies purchase—owner-occupation. Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously believe that the idea of owner-occupation for the majority of the people of Scotland is a reality in this generation of housing problems?
The White Paper goes on:The cost of housing must be more justly distributed between ratepayer, taxpayer and tenant. Unnecessary restrictions and distortions must be removed, and conditions created for as fair a choice as possible in housing".I trust that the Government realise that when they use the words
as fair a choice as possible in housingthey are talking, in Scottish terms, about the choice between getting a house and not getting one. There is no possibility of choosing between one house and another, and the idea that this problem can be solved by this Bill without there being a wholesale attack on the housing problem of Scotland is unrealistic.
Although the White Paper says thatat the heart of the problem…are…obsolete financial policies, which are no longer either fair or effective.it must be accepted that the quality of fairness is not mathematical but human; that it is no good talking about fairness in the housing sphere as if it were a question of a mathematical balance or a balance of proportion between ratepayer, taxpayer and tenant.
The tenant is, of course, a ratepayer. He is often also a taxpayer. The idea that one is simply getting a more just 561 distribution between three abstract entities makes no sense at all. The only justice here is that which lies in the question: are the people of Scotland being given decent housing? Unfortunately, that is not the standard of the White Paper or the Bill.
The thinking of the Government—this is the premise of the White Paper—is that their proposals will lead to the results we all desire. I accept that that is what they believe. But if they start out with the wrong priorities, they will never begin to tackle the problem. In this connection, the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), who I regret is not in his place, should accept that there is nothing in the White Paper about the widow to whom he referred. The "fairness" of the White Paper operates in terms of not the widow who is the landlord of a controlled tenancy but in terms of a just distribution between ratepayer, taxpayer and tenant, and it seems extraordianry that the whole of the Bill should have been founded on that premise with no attempt to show on what basis this distribution claims to be just.
At least the Opposition can say that we endeavoured to control rents when we were in office on the basis of what was fair. What we did has, by and large, proved to be fair, but the Government are seeking to replace that proved and satisfactory method by something which is entirely experimental, untried and untested.
The White Paper goes on to deal with some criticisms which can be levelled—I accept that there are some—at the existing system. It mentions the figures which the Secretary of State cited about the percentage of housing expenditure met by rents and other payments—paid in rents and by ratepayers and taxpayers respectively. The White Paper goes on in paragraph 9 to deal with the question of relieving the housing problems of the worst areas and states:the rents paid by tenants are not related to their capacity to pay".The fact that these two passages appear in the same paragraph suggests that there is some connection between them, and the idea clearly is that in the areas of worst housing need rents are too low and must be raised to a higher level to meet "their capacity to pay".
562 This is an extraordinary doctrine for Conservatives, because if hon. Gentlemen opposite are committed to the doctrine of free enterprise it seems odd that they should be imposing on tenants levels according to their capacity to pay, rather than according to the quality of the accommodation they are getting. That would surely be the logic of a proper free enterprise economy, that one pays for the quality of what one gets, and not according to one's capacity to pay. This extraordinary doctrine has also been embodied in the Bill—the idea that tenants should pay not what is fair but according to their capacity to pay.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
The hon. and learned Gentleman has completely ignored the system of rent rebate and rent allowances. But that is what also is includedߞthat the building should receive enough in rent to enable it to be kept in repair and not to fall into disrepair, and that some of that money, where the tenant cannot afford it, should come from elsewhere as a rent allowance or rebate.
§ Mr. Murray
I was coming to that. The Secretary of State was thinking ahead. I was about to mention the question of rebates. But before leaving that point, I stress that there is substance in what I am saying. It is not as though the Government were to say—and I could understand this—that an economic rent should be fixed for all rented property and that this should be according to the quality of the property. That is not what was said in the White Paper and there is nothing in the Bill saying that. What the Government have said is what I have read.
It is true that along with this rather strange doctrine the Government have put forward provisions to moderate the worst impact of the Bill's provisions, and that is right. They have moderated its worst effect by selective help to meet the needs of those most in need. But the answer to that is what I have already stated. If one is to give selective help to those most in need one is giving that type of fairness—maximum fairness—to minimum numbers of people. That must be set against what we believe, by and large, is socially more just, that is, general universal benefits which ensure, by and large, that no one falls through the net.
If the Under-Secretary is shaking his head because he thinks that I am against 563 rebates and rent allowances, I can assure him that I am not. This is an excellent step forward, and I am all in favour of it. But this should be seen against a background of universal benefits. That is the way in which need can best be met. It is quite false to suggest that the situation in Scotland is that we have a small number of people in great need and a great many people who do not need help. On the contrary, we have a great many who have great need and whose need would be best met by universal benefits.
I point out another failure which lies behind the thinking of the Bill. There is no doubt that the background to the Bill is to save central Government expenditure on housing. The Secretary of State was not terribly candid when he dealt with the question of expenditure. I shall show why shortly. In his opening remarks he more or less quoted the financial effects clause of the Explanatory Memorandum. He pointed out that the estimate for charges on housing for 1971–72, the appropriate charges with the qualifications there stated, would amount to £55 million. That is to say, if the Bill becomes law, the charges for 1971–72 will be £55 million.
The Secretary of State will remember that I asked a Question on 17th February to discover what the corresponding charges would be for housing if the Bill was not passed. The answer was £55 million. It cannot be maintained that in the first year of operation there is any increase in the amount of expenditure on housing introduced by the Bill. It is true that the various subsidies introduced, if brought into operation, will give an increase in 1975–76 according to the estimate, of up to £70 million to £75 million. I accept that as a probable figure. But this has to be set against a background of inflation, which has already been mentioned.
§ Mr. Murray
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and that I can disregard. But assuming that these are constant prices and that this represents a real increase in expenditure, the vital point is to see what the expenditure will be thereafter. It is the tapering off after the period 564 1975–76 which worries the Opposition. It will not do to say that there will be more public expenditure on housing in 1975–76 of that order without going on to say what the result will be 10 years after that. What will it be then? From all the arithmetic that we have done, it is obvious that the amount of public expenditure on housing will diminish. Therefore, the Secretary of State was very nearly guilty of a confidence trick in his opening remarks.
In conclusion, what we fear—we have some reason to fear it—is that the net result of the Bill will be to replace the privately built slums of today by the privately built slums of tomorrow. We are concerned not with the theory of encouraging private enterprise house building to meet housing needs but with real bricks and mortar and with the serious housing needs of the Scottish people now—not with the grammar of housing but with the bricks and mortar.
For those reasons we feel that the Bill should not be given a Third Reading.
§ 8.55 p.m.
Mr. Edward Taylor
If I ever have occasion to break the law, I shall certainly make a point of asking the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) to defend me, because he has shown tonight that he can present a very bad case with skill, charm, great ability and, perhaps, almost with conviction. But, on the other hand, if he looks at his two main arguments, he will find that, perhaps, they are not so strong as he might wish.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's first main point was that the Bill was concerned with producing confrontation with local authorities, of trying to go against the consensus feeling of local authorities and trying to get them to do something which they do not want to do. If that were true—and I doubt that there are any grounds for saying that it is true—he should, perhaps, discuss rather more carefully with his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) some of the events which took place just before he came to the House. We had the most fantastic example of a confrontation and brinkmanship on the part of any Government when the previous Labour Government prevented by law local authorities from paying to their employees wage 565 increases which had been freely negotiated with the trade unions and the professional associations. If ever there were a case of confrontation with local authorities against the massive wish of the people of Britain, it was when the Labour Government imposed a wage freeze to prevent employers paying to their employees wages which had been freely negotiated in free bargaining.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then made a remarkable and astounding statement of Labour policy, if in fact it is. He criticised the Government for bringing in aid of a selective nature to help people in particular circumstances—those in need. He said that Labour stood for general universal benefit. What does that mean? Does he suggest that we should follow the example—the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) urges us to do so—of Salt coats and fix all corporation rents at a level which everyone irrespective of income can pay without difficulty? If that is so, then it is not general universal benefit but only benefit for that section of the population fortunate enough to live in municipal housing. He says in effect that all tenants of corporation houses should have a massive subsidy, as in Salt-coats, from all those other people who do not happen to live in local authority housing.
How can the hon. and learned Gentleman as a Socialist possibly justify a situation in which a private tenant, who is paying under the 1965 Act £2 or £3 or £4 a week rent out of an income of £15 a week, would pay not only his own rent but also a large slice of the rent of every council tenant irrespective of income? If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants general universal benefits, he should propose not low council rents but a housing subsidy for everyone of, say, £2 a week, irrespective of whether they be owner-occupiers, private tenants or local authority tenants. But what he proposes is simply that everyone living in municipal houses should, irrespective of income, receive a subsidy from everyone else. That is utter nonsense. It is certainly not Socialism. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire knows the phrase better, but it is not taking from each according to his ability or from each according to his means. I am sure I have got the saying wrong, but I was 566 never a member of the Young Socialists; nor do I intend to be. However, hon. Members opposite know the correct phrase and they must realise that it is not the policy advocated by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
What does the Bill propose, and why should the Opposition be so much against it? First, it proposes that municipal rents should be increased on average by 50p per week each year until the economic rent is reached. The hon. and learned Gentleman talked of the special problems of Scotland. He might at least have paid tribute to my right hon. Friend who, in what must have been a major battle, although I know nothing of it, managed to persuade his colleagues to have a separate Bill for Scotland, which would not aim our municipal rents at the fair rent proposal, which would inevitably have meant much higher rents, but would instead have to go on the historic costs basis. To achieve a separate principle for Scotland must have involved a great deal of discussion and argument with his colleagues, and tribute should be paid to him for his achievement, which means that municipal rents in Scotland will be at a lower level than rents in England and Wales under the fair rents system.
Is the proposal for a 50p average increase per annum so outrageous when we remember that the last Government, under the prices and incomes legislation, permitted local authorities and virtually forced the Scottish Special Housing Association and the new towns to have rent increases of 37½p per week at a time when wages were restricted or frozen? It is hypocritical of the Opposition to complain about a 50p per week rise per year when they in their own new towns and through the SSHA brought in substantial rent increases during a wage freeze.
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that on 18th November, 1969, the Labour Government put through legislation preventing substantial increases which were being imposed at that time in Tory local authorities, particularly in London. Some of the increases under Tory local authorities were as much as 30s. a week.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Labour Government brought 567 in a Measure to lay down that rent increases should be no more than an average of 7s. 6d. a week, in real money, or 37½p in this new decimal business. They proposed 7s. 6d. a week average at the time of a wage freeze. We are proposing a 50p per week average at a time when wages over the last year have gone up by 10 per cent. The big difference is that whereas the Labour Government said that this was the maximum local authorities could charge if they wished, we are saying, "This is what you will pay irrespective of your own views as a local authority". To suggest that this is a violent new scandalous principle is nonsense.
What was the case in the local authorities which Labour controlled? Did the Labour Government say that the new towns could charge what they liked and run up any deficit they liked? Of course not. The hon. Member knows full well that under the Labour Government's restrictive provisions the new town corporations were forced to increase rents by these substantial amounts. The same situation applied to the SSHA houses. There was no question of the elected representatives deciding what the rents would be.
I am not condemning the Labour Government for doing this but it is utter hypocrisy to say that it is a scandalous new principle to do it in the case of local authorities when the Labour Government did precisely the same thing to the new towns and the SSHA.
The section of the Bill dealing with private tenants makes a major change. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) and other hon. Members have complained bitterly about the Bill as it affects private tenants. The hon. Member is an honest man and will admit that there is not one private rented unfurnished house in Scotland which could get a qualification certificate which could not have its rent increased to a fair rent under the 1969 Act. The Act provided that every private unfurnished house could have the rent increased to a fair rent if it had a qualification certificate.
There are three major effects. The qualification certificate goes. Second, and more important, instead of rents pro- 568 ceeding to fair rents in five annual instalments over four years it will happen in three annual instalments over two years. If that was the only change tenants would be worse off, but we cannot disregard the fact that this is being introduced at the same time as the rent allowance. The hon. Member quoted the example of a tenant whose rent was being increased from £50 a year to £250 a year. I do not know whether he was referring to one of the Western Heritable Investment Company houses or a comparable house. But let us compare the position of the tenant under the 1969 Act with his position under the Bill. There will be a substantial difference. Under the 1969 Act the rent would have increased by five instalments over four years from £1 a week to £5 a week. Under the new provisions, however, only a man earning more than £35 a week, with a wife and two children, will have to pay the full £5 a week.
While the process has been speeded up, the final rent which the average family in Scotland will pay in such circumstances will be less than they would have paid under the 1969 Act. Under that Act it would take four years to reach £5. Under the Bill a man earning £25 a week with a wife earning £2.50 in a part-time job will pay the higher rent in two years. But the Government and the local authority together will pay £2 a week towards the rent. Instead of reaching £5 a week over four years, the rent will increase to £3 over two years and go no further unless there is a general review of rents, in which case more rent allowances will be payable.
Let us take a ridiculous case. A man earning £12 a week, which is a very low wage, and his wife earning £2.50, bringing in together £14.50 a week, will have £3.50 of the £5 rent paid by the local authority. The hon. Member asked for the retention of the status quo. But the vast majority of tenants, certainly the married couple earning £25 a week, or the married couple with two children earning less than £30 a week, will be much better off under the new proposals. The hon. Gentleman will have to accept that the majority of private tenants, particularly those under £25 a week, will be better off under this Bill than under the previous Labour Act under which rents were increased.
569 Another factor is the grant payable by the Government. It has not been denied that the grants to local authorities will be increased, at least in the first few years. We are well aware that in Glasgow, at least for the first two or three years, the amount of cash coming in from Government will increase substantially. If we look long term it is a fact that the rate burden for all people in the community including council tenants will be much less than it was. We have had the calculation from the City Chamberlain of Glasgow that as a result of the new Bill by 1975–76 the amount which Glasgow ratepayers will pay in rates will be 22p in the £less than it would otherwise be, bearing in mind rent deficits, increased rents, and Government grants.
This does not mean that rates will reduce by about 22p in the pound but it does mean that rates in Glasgow will be about 22p in the pound less than they would otherwise be. This is a substantial sum for someone living in a house, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, with high rateable value.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown
Could the hon. Gentleman clear up this point? I resent accusations that we have been guilty of misrepresentation. I think he is guilty of misrepresentation on this point. We understand the arithmetic; there could be a saving of 22p in the pound. He does not think that there will be a reduction in rates. Why? Is it not because every big local authority such as Glasgow can find many reasons for spending that additional money? It is most misleading to leave the impression that some spendthrift authority will fritter away the savings to the ratepayers given by a benevolent Government.
I tried to make it clear that I am not saying, under any circumstances, that Glasgow's rates will come down by 22p in the pound. I cannot say that, because obviously the needs of local authorities increase every year. We can say that our own City Chamberlain has estimated that by 1975–76, were it not for the provisions of the Bill, were it not for the admittedly increased rents and the increased Government grants, the rates would be 22p in the pound higher than they otherwise would be. We can say that either the rates will be lower 570 than they would be or that Glasgow will have that extra amount of cash to spend on other things if it wishes.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) has the massive scheme of Easter houses in his constituency and he will be aware that this is the kind of cash which local authorities could well spend in improving the amenities and facilities in such areas.
§ Mr. McElhone
I do not want this to be a dialogue between Glasgow Members to the exclusion of other hon. Members but I should like to correct the erroneous statements made by the hon. Gentleman. He is not giving us the whole story. If he wants to quote the City Chamberlain about 1975–76 he should also quote statements from Glasgow officials, saying that after 1977–78 any money for house building in Glasgow—and there is a lot to do—will have to come largely from rents because the housing expenditure subsidy will not meet all its requirements. He should also say that because of the rent rebate allowances Glasgow ratepayers will be paying £600,000 in 1975–76. The hon. Gentleman is not being completely honest.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the City Chamberlain's figures he will find that the amount we have to pay as ratepayers for rent allowances has been included in this calculation. It was the entire effect of the Bill.
§ Dr. Miller
Would the hon. Gentleman address himself to this point? He is making some play about the possibility of 22p in the pound being the amount by which ratepayers will benefit. Will he equate that with the amount which they will pay in rent? What is the point in the average ratepayer saving, say, £8 or £10 per year in rates if the council rent goes up by £150 a year?
The hon. Member represents Kelvingrove in which there is a large number of private rented houses. How can he justify the situation when elderly people on fixed incomes living in private rented houses in his constituency see rents being forced up as a result of the action of the previous Government and realise that they will have to pay not only their own rents but also a substantial amount of the rents of council tenants?
§ Dr. Miller
Will the hon. Gentleman let me look after the people of Kelvingrove and will he now answer my question?
I am not denying that high income tenants will pay increased rents, as they did under the hon. Gentleman's Government. Under his Government it was 37½p per week. I wonder how he justifies this crazy situation when all private tenants, irrespective of income and rent, have to carry a substantial slice of the rent of all council tenants, regardless of need. No one on this side has said that all council tenants should pay more. A very small proportion will pay no extra rent at all, and this is how it should be.
The hon. Gentleman and others have rightly said that they disagree with the Bill. Good luck to them. They are entitled to their point of view just as we are to ours.
What is much more sinister is that some local authorities are saying that irrespective of the views of Parliament and the conclusions that we arrive at by a majority, they intend to defy the law. This is a matter that the previous Government faced. They faced it over their prices and incomes legislation when they prevented local authorities paying wage increases to their employees which they had agreed with union representatives. At that time although my party attacked the Government for their prices and incomes policy and objected to the wage freeze in the form in which it was implemented, no hon. Member suggested that local authorities should be encouraged to defy the law. We sympathised with the local authorities, and we opposed the legislation strongly. But what is now suggested is going much further. That is why I was delighted in Committee when the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said in a statesmanlike speech that, while he opposed the Bill bitterly, he would not encourage local authorities to defy the law.
If this happens, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the position of ratepayers of all sorts who may be deprived of grants and who will find themselves paying more in rates than they would have otherwise simply because of the actions of these local authorities. We have to think of everyone. It is important that ratepayers who may suffer 572 financial loss as a consequence of irresponsible action by local authorities should be protected.
This Bill, like any other, has good and bad parts. But I believe that at the end of the day it represents the Conservative philosophy of giving help and more help to people in need and not giving general and universal benefits to a limited category of persons.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) is happy. I wonder what he thinks about the situation of a local authority in which 80 or 85 per cent. of the electors reside in local authority houses. If the elected council in such an area decides over the years that rents should not increase but should be kept at a level where they cover only 20 per cent. of the total cost of housing so that the burden on all the other ratepayers—perhaps the 15 per cent. of residents—is increased substantially, is it right that the Government should sit back and do nothing? This cannot be right, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept. If he looks at the document in the possession of his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) dealing with the rating review in Scotland, he will see that in many burghs 80 per cent. of houses are municipally owned. This creates a crazy anomaly.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The hon. Gentleman knows that if 80 per cent. of houses are owned by local authorities, 80 per cent, of the burden is also met by the tenants as ratepayers. It is not met by the other 20 per cent.
But the 20 per cent. do not get the advantage of subsidised rents. The hon. Gentleman apparently feels that local authorities should be free to fix rents. However, Labour Governments have been consistently prepared to force up rents in new towns and those of SSHA houses. But they will not do the same for council tenants.
There has been injustice and inequality. If we can get justice and equality and provide help for those who need it, we shall be taking a great step forward.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Gourlay
At the beginning of his speech the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) seemed to 573 have difficulty with a Socialist quotation. It runs:From each according to his ability. To each according to his need.Perhaps he is more familiar with the quotation,To him that hath shall be given. From him that hath nothing it shall be taken awayThat appears to be the philosophy behind this Bill, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman supports it and puts his seat in peril.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State has left us. His speech indicated that he still lives in airy-fairy land, with little appreciation of the essential differences between the provision of local authority housing in England and that of council housing in Scotland and of the proportion of the Scottish stock of housing owned by local authorities. In Scotland 80 per cent. of tenants live in council houses. Consequently the 35 per cent. contribution to which the right hon. Gentleman referred as being made by Scottish ratepayers to housing expenditure in Scotland cannot properly be compared with the 7 per cent. contribution made by English ratepayers.
The Secretary of State's claim to increase housing expenditure contradicts his statement in the Scottish Grand Committee in July, 1971, when he said:…had the present system of subsidies continued, it would have escalated into enormous figures which I believe no Government, of any colour, could have continued to bear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 22nd July 1971; c. 17.]That is the basic philosophy behind this Bill, no matter what the right hon. Gentleman may have said tonight in attempting to justify it.
My collagues and I oppose the Third Reading of the Bill, which represents an unwarranted, unnecessary and vicious attack upon the living standards of council house tenants in Scotland. The Bill has returned to this House after a lengthy Committee stage almost as big a monster as that which left us some months ago.
The Government's decision to transfer subsidies from bricks and mortar to people is based on their policy of cutting back on the cost of housing subsidies. To this extent they will transfer the subsidies from bricks and mortar to the 574 pockets of surtax payers who will receive a substantial bounty as a result of this year's Budget. That is the effect of the Bill. At the same time, municipal tenants will be faced with extortionate increases in rent to the tune of nearly £50 million by the passing of the Bill.
In my opinion, no Bill has ever been introduced at such an inopportune moment. At this very period, when the Government supposedly are trying, however ineptly, to arrest inflation, they are, by putting this Bill on the Statute Book, adding at a stroke even more fuel to the fires of inflation. Higher rents undoubtedly and justifiably will spark off another round of wage applications, while the Government continually remind everyone that wage applications are a contributory factor to inflation.
The old Tory dogma of setting the people free is now one of the lame duck policies of this Government. Yesterday, we debated Clause 29 which instructs local authorities by which dates and by how much rents will have to be increased because the men at St. Andrew's house apparently know best.
It was the Under-Secretary who said that the dates should not be altered, as we on this side suggested, because the interests of the ratepayers had to be safeguarded. However, we have heard tonight that 80 per cent. of the ratepayers in Scotland are also council tenants, so more money will be extracted from them as tenants than ratepayers, whereas the owner-occupiers, whom the hon. Gentleman is trying to safeguard, will receive substantial Government subsidies and will benefit at the expense of council tenants.
In answer to a Question on 23rd May of this year, it was indicated that the subsidies to owner-occupiers have grown substantially over the last ten years. In 1962–63 the cost to the Exchequer of tax relief on the mortgages of owner-occupiers was £75 million, covering about 3.9 million people. The provisional estimate for this year, 1971–72, of the subsidy to owner-occupiers is now the colossal sum of £340 million, covering 5 million people. This form of subsidy will continue to rise. We approve of the general principle of tax relief on mortgages, especially for those of modest incomes who wish to own their own 575 house, but certainly not those who buy mansions costing £35,000 to £40,000, from which substantial tax relief is enjoyed as a result.
Therefore, it is wholly inequitable to approve the Bill which will reduce subsidies to local authorities and bring about appalling rent increases, when, at the same time, Government subsidies to other ratepayers, and owner-occupiers in particular, will continue to increase. This illustrates again the class bias of the Government.
The Government's addiction to means-testing is further exemplified in the Schedules to the Bill. There are no fewer than 15 pages of small print which the Government claim as being a panacea for dealing with high rents.
The rent rebate and allowance scheme which is set out in these Schedules is so complicated that few tenants will ever know their proper entitlement. It will require a new army of local government officers to implement them. This is the Government who are always trying to cut down the number of civil servants and local government servants. It is estimated in some quarters that rents will eventually rise so high under the Bill that nearly 95 per cent. of council tenants will require a rebate, thus causing a considerable amount of clerical work in various local authority offices.
There can be no merit in any rent rebate scheme which of necessity is introduced to cover such a large proportion of council tenants. The provision in the Bill to have regard to the income of another person in the household when his income is higher than that of the tenant, for the purpose of calculating a rent rebate, is nauseating. It has caused a tremendous amount of resentment amongst many of the ordinary people of this country. It is reminiscent of the old means test system of the 1930s which was responsible for the break-up of so many families.
Yesterday the Minister failed to tell the House how the local authorities were to ascertain that the income of another person living in the house was higher than that of the tenant. As he indicated to the House, the question was not to be put on the application form for a rent rebate. How, therefore, is the local authority to 576 know that there is someone in the house who has a larger income than the tenant? Are the Government to employ an army of snoopers, or are the other tenants in local authority houses to be encouraged to become common informers? The Minister has so far refused to indicate how a local authority will get this information. In the light of no information forthcoming from the Minister, we can only assume that there will be some form of snooping or common informing taking place.
So much do the Government trust the local authorities that they are reinforcing the default powers contained in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, and the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1966, by further Big Brother powers in Clause 71 which give the Secretary of State virtually dictator powers over local authorities. As I understand Clause 71, there is virtually nothing the Secretary of State cannot do in compelling local authorities to enforce the provisions of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, or taking over all the powers of the local authorities, particularly relating to housing.
The Government have not yet indicated—after the Secretary of State's speech this evening we know even less than possibly we did after the Under-Secretary of State spoke in Committee—what will happen or how the Secretary of State proposes to deal with local authorities which have already stated they are not prepared to operate the Act. Since the Government require local authorities to raise rents before the Bill becomes law, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been encouraging local authorities to raise rents now. Surely it is incumbent upon a Secretary of State to state what plans he has to deal with local authorities which have declared their intentions prior to this time. After all, it is the Government who are creating the confrontation with the local authorities, not the local authorities themselves. It is the Government's policies and the Bill which are forcing members of local authorities to take a stand, encouraged by the electors of Scotland who returned them in full measure at the municipal elections.
The doctrinaire Tory higher-rent housing policy, which is enshrined in the Bill, 577 will do little to reduce the agony and misery of those awaiting council houses. Future housing prospects for the Scottish people will be very bleak indeed so long as this Measure remains an Act of Parliament. Opposition to the Bill by right hon. and hon Members on this side of the House has been welcomed all over the country and its ultimate repeal, which I hope will not be long delayed with a change of Government, will bring relief to many people in Scotland.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
When the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) was opening for the Opposition he spoke of what he called a confidence trick played by my right hon. Friend in promoting the Bill. For my part, the gigantic confidence trick in relation to the Bill was played by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and their colleagues throughout the country during the last municipal elections. A gigantic confidence trick indeed was played on the people of Scotland when they were told that the Bill was an evil, wicked thing. They were told that it was merely to raise rents; that it was some kind of landlord's charter. This was and is a total travesty of the truth about the Bill.
I believe the Bill will do more than any other single series of Measures ever to improve the housing situation in Scotland. It was noticeable that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and their colleagues on councils throughout the country during the municipal elections made little mention of the extra help the Bill will bring to tenants generally. We heard little or nothing, for example, about slum clearance policies, which we discussed so much in Committee, and we heard little or nothing about a national standard rent rebate scheme or about the rent allowances to be given for the first time ever under the Bill.
It is no use the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) shaking his head. This is the first time a standard rent rebate scheme and rent allowances for private tenants have been introduced. The hon. Gentleman would have more justification for shaking his head if he had done something when he was in Government. He did not; he ignored it.
§ Mr. Buchan
I was shaking my head at another comment the hon. Gentleman made; namely, that no discussion took place by those of us on this side during the municipal elections on the question of the rebates of one kind or another. On the contrary, a great deal of discussion took place, and we exposed this game completely. It was because the truth was made known that the Government lost the local elections.
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a rather over-simple view. If the hon. Gentleman had seen the election manifestoes produced for example, in Aberdeen, he would not say that. The issue flung time and time again at the electorate was that the result of the Bill was simply that rents would rise. There was no mention of the rebates, of the rent allowances, and of the subsidies for slum clearance. That is why it was unfair. That is why I said that it was a gigantic hoax and a deceit of the people of Scotland which they will find out. When they find out they will turn and tear the hon. Gentleman opposite apart.
§ Mr. Lambie
The hon. Gentleman is being very unfair to my hon. Friends and myself. All during the municipal elections I explained to my people that the Government were giving a high cost subsidy to benefit the small town of Lauder, which has 642 council houses, whereas Glasgow, with a population of 1 million and I do not know how many hundreds of thousands of council houses, would get nothing. The hon. Gentleman is being very unfair. The Government are doing a good job for Lauder but not for those whom I represent.
§ Mr. Sproat
If I remember rightly, the hon. Gentleman did not even know in Committee where Lauder was, whereas I was brought up in the vicinity of Lauder and know it very well.
If I may admit one failing about the Bill it is that the Government did not put it over sufficiently well to the people of Scotland, perhaps because we were so convinced of its virtues that we thought that others would be so obviously convinced. Our task from now on must be to ensure that the Bill's justice and virtues are put over. I hope that today's debate will do something to contribute to that.
§ Dr. Miller
If the Bill has all the magnificence and beneficence that the hon. Gentleman says that his Government want it to have, why do they have to bring in a Bill like this? Why not make available to local authorities more money for building houses and let local authorities get on with the job? They know how to get on with the job. The Government do not have to tell them.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman says that local authorities know how to get on with the job. If they did, Scotland would not have the scandalous and disgraceful housing situation that now exists.
I sometimes find that the sense of tedium which is induced by listening to hon. Members opposite—a feeling with which we become all too familiar in Committee—is overcome by a sense of incredulity. For example, earlier today the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), normally a very fair man, said, if I understood him correctly, that this was the most vindictive Bill put through the House this century.
That was an incredible description of the Bill. How can it be a vindictive Bill when, for example, we are giving for the first time a standard rent rebate scheme to those in need? How is it vindictive to give rent allowances—for the first time ever—to tenants in unfurnished private rented accommodation? How can it be vindictive to give for the first time, as I hope, rent allowances to tenants living in furnished accommodation?
How can it be vindictive to give such generous slum clearance subsidies? This seems to me to show the atmosphere of prejudice and ignorance in which hon. Gentlemen opposite are determined to look at the Bill. Even the hon. and learned Member for Leith can find only three tiny items to admire in the Bill. Half the trouble is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are determined to look only at what is worst in the Bill and see that as something evil. It is because there has been this old-fashioned, reactionary attitude for so long, not only among hon. Gentlemen opposite but in too many town councils, that we have such a disgraceful housing situation in Scotland.
§ Mr. Strang
The Government are creating the situation that if a man gets an increase in wages he may be worse off because of all these means-tested 580 benefits. How can the Conservative Party, which spoke about the need to provide incentives and to cut taxes, including surtax, say that it is fair to put workpeople into that poverty trap, and at the same time cut taxes for the rich?
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not believe that we are cutting taxes for the rich. We are cutting taxes for everybody. I shall come to the question of council tenants. Far from the Bill being vindictive, the essential aspect of it is its fairness, as was mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and picked up by the hon. and learned Member for Leith. The Bill sets out to remedy certain basic injustices which I should have thought everyone would agree were injustices. It is a fair Bill because it recognises that it is unjust to subsidise council tenants without at the same time subsidising private tenants who need it.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". This has been a scandal for a long time. The latest figures showed that the average income for the head of the family in council houses was £1,400 a year, while the figure for those in private rented accommodation was only £1,100. People in private accommodation are far worse off than those in council houses. That is not disputed.
§ Mr. Sproat
Certainly. They are worse off in private accommodation, and it is unjust to subsidise those who are better off rather than those who are worse off. For the first time we are levelling out the difference. We are not being over-generous to one side. We are being equally fair to both sides.
§ Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)
If the objective is to be equally fair to both sides, why is a means test proposed for subsidies to council house tenants and yet no such qualification is to be applied to the subsidy given to owner-occupiers who may claim an indirect but none the less just as real subsidy for a mortgage of up to £20,000 involving the loss of hundreds, indeed thousands, of pounds worth of taxpayers' money? If equity is important, why does 581 it not apply to the council tenant and to the private owner-occupier?
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman is making a typical and common Labour Party fallacy by calling it a means test. Income tax is a means test. It is stupid to use this pejorative term with its old-fashioned connotation.
The Bill is fair because it remedies certain injustices. One injustice which it removes is that which arises from the treatment of council tenants who are better off than people in private accommodation. Secondly, it recognises for the first time in a statutory way that there are gross divergences between the incomes of different council house tenants and, therefore, there ought to be a national rent rebate scheme. In certain places one could have an old-age pensioner living alone on an income of £500 a year getting the same subsidy as a family with a combined income of £2,000 or £3,000 living in a council house. That is obviously a gross injustice. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept that they are remedying that.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
The hon. Member mentions pensioners and inequality. Does he accept that an old-age pensioner whose son or daughter leaves home is required to pay the rebated rent as if the son or daughter were still living there? Is that a major act of social justice? That is what the Bill does.
§ Mr. Sproat
First, the key word that the hon. Gentleman uses is "rebated". If they do not have an income which can pay the rent, they will get a rebate or a rent allowance. We recognise—I know that the Minister now recognises—that it would be unfair to distinguish between private tenants in furnished and in unfurnished accommodation. This is another unfairness which we have discussed and which my hon. Friend has agreed in principle to iron out. I am delighted, and I congratulate him on his flexible approach to this difficult subject.
When I raised this matter on Second Reading, I thought I detected a sceptical, although sympathetic, attitude by my hon. Friend towards the idea that he would be able to do anything about it. He has admitted the force of the arguments and is now going to do something: This typifies the Government's generous and open- 582 minded attitude, which they have shown throughout these discussions.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Would the hon. Gentleman not rather have concrete action than a promise that something might be done if the scheme can be worked out? Why did he vote against Clauses in Committee and the House which prevented positive action being written into the Bill?
§ Mr. Sproat
I can give a very simple answer. It is because I believe that my hon. Friend's giving consideration is far more likely to turn out a good and workable scheme than hon. Members opposite rushing something into the Bill in order to embarrass him. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend will work out a scheme which will satisfy us all.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that on Third Reading we are not allowed to talk about matters which are not in the Bill but only about those that are? Is it not true that there is no mention of furnished dwellings in this respect in the Bill? I make this point more than just as a matter of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is true that some latitude has been allowed for a considerable time in this debate. The hon. Gentleman is right. Only that which is in the Bill should be discussed, but passing references are allowed to other matters, and it is sometimes difficult to draw the line.
§ Mr. Sproat
Thank you for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will pass from that subject.
But there is one further aspect in which the Bill irons out an unfairness. While we have been rightly preoccupied with giving a fair deal to the tenants, we should be equally certain of giving a fair deal to landlords. [An Hon. Member: "The old Tory philosophy."] It may be, and it is certainly the right philosophy to give justice to all, whoever they are.
The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr.Ross) turned with scorn, if I did not misconstrue his rather synthetic emotion, on my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) when he instanced the case of an old-age pensioner who had been done out of a perfectly 583 legitimate hope of income. I can assure my hon. Friend that there are many such in Aberdeen as well as in Angus. Only last week I discussed the case of a lady who had come to my constituency office in Holborn Street in Aberdeen. The only accommodation that she could get was a tenement in which there were four flats. She lived in one and rented out the others for 26p per week each. How could she possibly live off that? She told me that a lavatory in one of the flats went wrong and it cost her a year's rent to put it right. It is to put right this situation that we have introduced these provisions.
If people are not given a fair rent they will not have the money to plough back into the accommodation, and we shall continue to see a decline in Scotland's housing stock. Thus, from the individual's point of view and that of society this is a just Measure.
§ Mr. Galbraith
My hon. Friend is making a fair point. It was illustrated with great clarity at the time of the storm damage in Glasgow when, because of neglect due to shortage of money, people lost their lives. It is, therefore, a question not just of maintaining standards but of safety, and if people do not have a fair return from property neither standards nor safety can be maintained.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making that point.
Were I an English hon. Member I would support the Bill without hesitation. Being a Scottish hon. Member I support it doubly because it cannot be too frequently emphasised that we in Scotland have the worst slums in the United Kingdom, the worst overcrowding, the worst and most ludicrous rents and the worst level of owner-occupancy.
Whatever the hon. and learned Member for Leith says about it being a pipe dream to expect there to be more owner-occupancy in Scotland, considering that England and Wales have twice as many owner-occupied houses as we have, if they can do it we can do it, and that must be one of the aims of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) said it was a disgrace and a scandal that so 584 much of Scotland's housing was in such a terrible condition. He is right, and it is precisely because it is a disgrace and because the present system has led to this situation that it is no longer enough to tinker with the problem here and there, as the right hon. Member for kilmarnock and the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) did when in office, sometimes being successful and sometimes not. We need a deep and radical change. That is what this Measure supplies and why I support it absolutely.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Doig
We have just listened to two astonishing speeches from the benches opposite. First, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) argued that the only people who should benefit from these provisions were those who paid for them. In other words, in his view rebates to council tenants should be paid for by those tenants. He thinks that it is unfair for other ratepayers to pay any share of them.
That is a remarkable argument because extended nationally it would mean that only those with children at school would pay education rates and only those who had contributed to the pension would receive an old-age pension of any description. What a nonsensical argument.
Then the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) made the remarkable proposition that my hon. Friends had misled the electorate at the last local elections by suggesting that this Measure was intended to increase the rents of council houses. In fact, that is its exact purpose. How anyone could have sat through the Committee stage of this Bill without realising that is beyond me.
§ Mr. Sproat
I said that it had been put across to the general public that that was the sole aim of the Bill and that hon. Gentlemen opposite had not mentioned the slum clearance subsidies, rent rebates and so on.
§ Mr. Doig
Surely it is quite obvious that any misleading was done by the paid officials of the Conservative Party who wrote untrue letters about this Bill to the Press on the eve of an election.
No one can dispute that the main purpose of the Bill is to raise the rents of council tenants and, secondly, to raise 585 the rents of the tenants of private pro perty. If anyone thinks that that is not the Bill's main purpose, I should like them to tell me what it is. It is certainly the main purpose that we have gathered in Committee.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) said that there were three good points to the Bill, one of which was the rebate scheme. But I consider that the rebate scheme is one of the Bill's worst points because it will mean that by the time that we have reached the end of the transitional period, tenants, whether tenants of council houses or of existing privately owned houses, will be paying more even if they are paying the minimum rebated rent—apart from the few odd exceptions. Even with maximum rebate they will be paying more than they are now paying. Therefore, it is completely beyond me how this scheme can be considered a good one.
On Second Reading and in Committee—and now on Third Reading—I have pointed out that this is the only rebate scheme of which I know which has a principle whereby a person qualifies for a rebate and can then have his rebated rent increased without any increase in the rental. The unfortunate thing about this is that it is against all the advice of the housing experts who have written books and pamphlets and who have held inquiries and reported on this matter. This principle is a new one and is against all rebate schemes that I know, certainly my local authority's scheme. Yet local authorities such as mine and Glasgow's will have to adopt this rebate scheme and scrap theirs. It will be necessary for them to operate this one. I consider it to be one of the worst features of the Bill.
It has been said that the powers given in the Bill for the largest increase in rents and the largest resulting rents at the end of the transitional period that have ever been charged in Scotland would be unfair to ratepayers other than council tenants. Let us consider that point. I am returning to the point made by the hon. Member for Cathcart. It has been accepted by every Government and by every local authority in Scotland over the years that 586 it was a good thing to provide families with decent accommodation, and such a good thing that every Government, prior to the present Government, agreed to give subsidies to provide decent housing. It was also agreed by local authorities that they equally should contribute something towards this end. All previous Governments and local authorities accepted this on the basis that the community would benefit because of savings in other directions and the impact on people's health if good housing were provided.
With previous housing Bills the number of houses that had been built in the past and the number of houses that were likely to be built as a result of a new Bill has always been a feature. But we have heard nothing about this on this Bill. That is because it is patently obvious, even to the Government, that it will result in fewer houses being built to rent than have been built to rent in the past. That is why we hear nothing about targets and how many houses will be provided. The Government know that the Bill will eventually produce not more but fewer houses to rent. We are also told about the tenants of privately owned properties which cannot be repaired because the rents are too low. The Government quote a rent of £16 and are trying to tell us that the Bill will make these tenants better off. If their rent is £16 now to what level will that rent rise? For instance, in my constituency one tenant has had a fair rent proposed by the rent officer which involves a 1,200 per cent. increase.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.