§ [SECOND ALLOTTED DAY]
§ As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.
§ Clause 50
§ PRINCIPLES FOR THE DETERMINATION OF FAIR RENT
§ Mr. Speaker
The first Amendment which has been selected is No. 124, and with it the House can discuss Amendment No. 125: in page 50, line 34, at end insert:'; to the duty of an authority as a public body to provide housing to meet social needs; to the opinion of an authority as to what is a reasonable rent and to the effect on the economy and on the general market in housing of increases in rents'
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
I beg to move Amendment No. 124, in page 50, line 32, leave out from ' circumstances ' in line 32 to to ' in line 33 and insert;'.
The object of this Amendment and the one which is taken with it is to modify the principle of fair rents in such a way as to take acocunt of a number of factors which are mentioned in Amendment No. 125. One thing which is clear, whatever else is not, is that if these Amendments are not accepted the Government will have taken the conscious and deliberate decision to make housing in Britain dramatically dearer, and it will take a significantly higher proportion of the family income as opposed to other needs. I am not arguing this afternoon, nor have I ever argued, that rents should be permanently frozen when other prices are rising, but I am arguing that the dramatic rise in the relative cost of housing under this Bill will have the most serious consequences.
Even in the last decade the cost of housing has gone up relatively to other things. Taking 1960 as representing a base of 100, the cost of living index from 1960 to 1971 went up from 100 to 164, but the cost of housing increased 612 from 100 to 222. The Government are now proposing under Clause 50 and subsequent Clauses in the Bill to impose a much more savage rise over a much shorter time, a rise which is to be imposed even if present rents fully cover the cost of housing and the local authority has a surplus in the housing revenue account.
A random example is that the constituency of the Secretary of State for the Environment who has not attended a large part of the Report stage of the debate, has a surplus of £145,000 in its housing revenue account. Despite that, the Chairman of the Worcester Housing Committee will have to go to the tenants in Worcester and say "Although you are paying the full cost of your housing and there is a surplus in the housing revenue account, we intend to impose upon you this large additional increase in rents."
There is some conflict about the amount of the increase. I am talking about Council rents but I shall come on to other parts of the matter later. On the one hand, we have the Department of the Environment's consultative document of December, 1970. which was circulated to the local authority associations and skilfully and sensibly borrowed for a period by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). The document gave a lot of regional averages and showed that on average there would be a doubling or more of council rents by 1976–77. This estimate was accepted by most outside commentators. It was found plausible by Mr. Frank Othick, who is one of the most expert commentators in this sphere. It was confirmed by information that we had from our own individual authorities. This information in some cases showed rent increases and a level of rents much higher than anything that had been supposed.
I quoted in Committee, and I quote again, one example from the Borough of Camden where an officers' report to the housing committee showed that on new estates now being built fair rents would be about £25 a week, £1,000 to £1,500 a year, with rates of about £8 a week on top. It was not, as the Minister occasionally tries to suggest, a matter of scaremongering by the Labour Party. We are only quoting official departmental estimates and authoritative local authority opinion. However, the Minister came to the 613 Standing Committee on 8th February and 29th February and tried to challenge these estimates by producing much lower figures of the likely increases. To show the likely fair rents in 1976–77 he said that eight county boroughs and three London boroughs will show an increase of about 50 per cent. rather than the 100 per cent. which we, like others, had been assuming. The Minister's figures were greeted in Committee with a good deal of scepticism. The position was not clear. It was not explained by the Minister why the departmental figures of September, 1970, drawn up with all the resources and skill of the Department, should have been so wrong.
Mr. George Forster, the Financial Editor of the Local Government Chronicle, examined the figures which the Minister gave us in Committee and indicated that the Minister's sample of authorities was not only tiny but untypical, because all authorities quoted started with rents a good deal higher than the average so that the likely increase would almost certainly be lower than the average. Moreover, it seemed incredible to all of us on this side of the Committee that the estimates of the likely level of fair rents should now be lower than the estimates made in December, 1970, when the most obvious thing that has happened between December, 1970, and now is a further huge increase in prices. This latest estimate by the Minister also seemed implausible to us because these rent increases appeared to bear no relation that we could discover to the level of so-called fair rents in the private sector with which fair rents in the public sector are to be made broadly comparable. I am not prepared to withdraw the estimate that we on this side of the House have made that unrebated rents will on average double by 1976–77. The overwhelming weight of evidence supports this view, unless under the pressure of opposition from this side of the House, Labour groups in local authorities and tenants the Minister is backtracking on the basic principle of the Bill. If he is not doing that I stick to the estimates that we have made.
What is not in dispute is that rents this year will have risen by 50p in April or will rise by £1 in October, except for the tiny number of authorities covered by the so-called 2 per cent. amendment. That 614 will be a rise of between 15 and 25 per cent. Rents will rise next year by the same amount, between 15 and 25 per cent., and rents in about four years' time will be up by 50 per cent. if the Minister is right and 100 per cent. if, as I am certain, we on this side of the House are right. The rough average increase of the 12 or so authorities is 50 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will correct me on that when he replies or whenever it is convenient. I take the rough average of the figures of increase which he gave.
Surely this is a most extraordinary policy, particularly at this moment. Ministers are constantly telling us that the control of inflation is the Govern-men's top priority. So it should be. Prices are still rising at the rate of 8 per cent. a year. Wages are still struggling to catch up and keep pace with the rise in prices. It is right, therefore, that the Government's top priority should be the control of inflation. For once I agreed with the Prime Minister when he spoke in his last broadcast on television after the miners' strike about the challenge of rising prices. He called itthat bugbear that faces any Government in modern times ".He saidThe fight against rising prices must he one with no holds barred.What are the Government actually doing in this "fight with no holds barred" against the "bugbear of rising prices "? The fact is that they are doing little except wringing their hands and blaming the whole thing on the trade unions, the railwaymen, Mr. Jones, Mr. Scanlon and any scapegoat they can find. In the meantime they are fighting as ruthlessly as they can every public sector wage claim.
What could the Government do? I will not be tactless and talk about cutting prices "at a stroke ". That seems a long time ago now. Surely the Government could be restraining the public sector prices which are under their control. Instead of doing that the Government are deliberately engineering a savage increase in the most central and sensitive of all public sector prices; namely, rents. It is not only a matter of council rents, because there will be an increase of private rents which will be greater, if anything, than council rents. This rent increase is a 615 factor which spills over to the owner-occupied sector. Higher rents in the private sector mean higher house prices, and the exodus from council houses, to which Conservative M.P.s and private builders are looking forward with such loving relish, will push up house prices in the private sector.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Gentleman is right that people on certain economies, old-age pensioners and people of that sort, are suffering from rising prices. However, he ought not to be allowed to claim that wages have not kept up. Over the last 10 years wage increases on average have been more than 100 per cent. and costs have risen by 69 per cent. Let him put on record that people are suffering hardship but that wage increases are an element which have been ahead of price increases. This House of all places should recognise that.
§ Mr. Crosland
The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that inflation for the bulk of the population is not a serious matter. That is not the view of his Prime Minister or Cabinet. The Prime Minister has saidthat bugbear that faces any Government in modern times. The fight against rising prices must be one with no holds barred.It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, whatever the hon. Gentleman thinks, regard the fight against rising prices as being their top priority.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small-heath)
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to give the House the benefit of my experience of the trade union of which I am President—APEX—which supports all that he has been saying? In the strike in which we are involved concerning several thousand people in Liverpool, when we got them to the point of going back, the Liverpool Corporation gave notice that it was putting up rents by £1 a week under the proposals in the Bill. That immediately affected the atmosphere in the meeting. The proposals were rejected out of hand and the strike continued. That is a dramatic illustration of the effect which the Bill can have on the economy as a whole.
§ Mr. Crosland
I am obliged to my hon. Friend who, as president of his 616 union, has great experience in these matters. His view totally confirms what I thought was accepted on both sides—that inflation under modern conditions was a disaster and should be the top priority for any Government to try to bring to an end.
Given that that is the situation, for a Government deliberately to force up house prices seems to make nonsense of any claim that they might have to an effective anti-inflationary policy. That is why Amendment No. 125 suggests that fair rents, amongst other criteria, should be determined with an eye to the effect on the economy. The first objection to Clause 50—
§ Mr. Timothy Raison(Aylesbury) rose—
§ Mr. Crosland
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have given way twice in five minutes and many hon. Members wish to speak.
The first objection to the Clause, un-amended by our Amendment, is that it is wildly inflationary, that it runs wholly counter to the Government's alleged top priority of countering the bugbear of rising prices, and that, as my hon. Friend has shown, this rise which will occur will not only set off higher wage claims than would otherwise be made, but cause serious family hardship.
As soon as we talk about hardship, we are met by the smug refrain, "Look at all the rent rebates. Look at all the rent allowances. Look at the 40 to 45 per cent. of council tenants who will receive a rebate and the 30 per cent. of private tenants who will receive private rent allowances." We are told of the Government's unprecedented generosity and unparalleled help for the poor and the marvellous new extension of the Welfare State. It is the moment when the Minister brings out that famous quotation from Karl Marx,to each according to his needs ".I am in favour of the principle of rent rebates. As I have many times made clear, I welcome the decision to bring in the new private rent allowance. But we must look this gift horse rather carefully in the mouth. It is as well to be suspicious of a Conservative Government when they are bearing welfare gifts.
617 When we look carefully at what is being proposed, we find some facts which I hope are familiar to hon. Members who served on the Committee but which may still not be familiar to hon. Members who did not have the privilege, to use an ironic term, of sitting through our 57 sittings.
The total cost of paying rent rebates and allowances in 1975–76, excluding Supplementary Benefit Commission payments —we had all this discussion in Committee on 18th January—will be £300 million. That cost is covered in the following ways. The rent rebate subsidy and the rent allowance subsidy will cover £160 million of that cost. Another £40 million will come out of the rates—a much bigger burden on the rates than exists now and one which will fall with appalling inequity on different types of housing authorities. On the one hand, the burden will fall heavily on authorities with a mass of very poor rented housing whereas, on the other hand, on authorities with a large amount of owner-occupied housing the burden will fall lightly. The remaining £100 million will come out of the tenants' fair rent incomes. In other words, this unparalleled generosity, this great extension of the Welfare State, is paid for to the extent of one-third by council tenants themselves, and incidentally, with no help from either the private tenant or the owner-occupier. In this way council tenants take over from central Government one-third of the responsibility for dealing with poverty and maintaining incomes.
However, leaving aside the question of who pays, it is surely an extraordinary and deeply ironic justification of so-called fair rents that far more people than now will receive a rebate. After all, it is obvious that the higher the rents the more people will need rebates. If this is to be a matter of pride, why not treble or even quadruple rents? The Prime Minister could then quote even larger figures of the numbers eligible for rebates. Making more people eligible for rebates is not a matter for pride; it is a matter for deep regret. No doubt rebates are a necessary feature of our present arrangements in housing as in other spheres, but rebates on this scale, necessitated by the level of fair rents, surely carry with them the most serious disadvantages.
618 The scale of rebates is unprecedented in housing or, indeed, in any other sphere. At the moment, about 10 per cent. of council tenants receive rebates. Under the Bill, according to the Government's figures, 40 to 45 per cent. of council tenants will receive rebates and 30 per cent. of private tenants. Altogether that means that between 2/ million and 3 million tenants will be eligible for rebates. To establish eligibility, a considerably greater number of people will have to be means-tested. So we are talking probably of about 4 million heads of households who, as tenants, will in future come within the scope of means-testing.
Two obvious problems arise. First, that of take-up, with which I will not deal in detail. The precedents are by no means wholly encouraging. The take-up figures for the family income supplement, school meals, rate rebates, and the GLC rent rebate scheme, which is largely based on what are nearly fair rents in London, are disappointing. The Minister is fond of quoting Birmingham. Indeed, there have been some curious goings on between the right hon. Gentleman and Sir Francis Griffin in the last two or three days. The right hon. Gentleman ceased to be the Minister for Housing and Construction; he became the election agent for Sir Francis Griffin in the Birmingham municipal elections recently. At any rate, let us look at Birmingham, which he is so fond of quoting. The Minister frequently tells us that, as we know, Birmingham alone of all authorities has a private rent allowance scheme. The take-up for that scheme has been derisory. It has been far less than the Conservative authority hoped.
Mrs. Freda Cocks, who today, though not tomorrow, is Chairman of the Birmingham Housing Committee, in a paper published in "Housing Review" of January-February, 1972, said:It may be that people are reluctant to fill in forms and apply for benefits so long as they can pay their rent, however hard the struggle. At the same time, there is always a reluctance to reveal earnings and many old people are frightened by complicated forms despite the fact that we have tried to make ours as simple as possible.These are self-evident truths to most people, apart from Mrs. Freda Cocks and perhaps the Minister. These are the facts. This is why I fear—I certainly do 619 not hope—that there will be an extremely low take-up. Mrs. Freda Cocks talks of complicated forms. We have all seen forms from different authorities which have to be filled in when a claim for rent rebate is made.
I have here a form which, curiously enough, comes from the Minister's previous constituency, Preston. Looking through the pages of explanation, it is quite clear that many people will not bother to fill it up, will be too proud to fill it up, or will simply be puzzled by the intricacies and complications of all that they are expected to do.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Does the form contain the new rule that if there is a mistake in one question the applicant will be subjected to five years' imprisonment under the terms of the Theft Act, 1968?
§ Mr. Crosland
I thought that I had read the form with reasonable care. However, even with my tolerable advantages, I am unable to answer that question. This simply shows what appalling difficulties people will have in filling up the form.
I am afraid that we shall have a low take-up because of the complications of the scheme. Even if we get a reasonable take-up, which is unlikely, it will create the most serious problem of incentives.
Figures have often been quoted in this House and in Committee—I will not therefore quote them again—which show that at certain income levels if a man's income rises because he works harder, works more overtime, goes to a better job or obtains a wage increase, first, he loses the family income supplement, then he starts to pay income tax, then he pays what are now sharply graduated National Insurance contributions, and then, one by one, he loses his rebates on school meals, prescription charges, rate rebate and now the rent rebate.
At certain income levels at the end of the day he gets practically nothing of the increase in wages. He finds that the increase is reflected in virtually no increase in his standard of living. In other words, he is effectively paying income tax at a rate of nearly 100 per cent.
This is an extraordinary achievement for a Government who are always talking about incentives and muttering about the scroungers, scrimshankers and lay- 620 abouts while proclaiming the doctrine of hard work, yet they tamper in this totally irresponsible way with the incentives to work.
I say seriously to the Government that they are playing with fire. I have said this before in the House. Many hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite have not yet awakened to what the Government are doing. The means-tested State which we are now entering may have a profound and long-term effect on incentives and attitudes to work. I cannot believe that these consequences have been thought through.
There is a basic and fundamental question. Do we want to extend means-testing in this way to perhaps 3 million or 4 million people, including people on average earnings and some on more than average earnings? In other words, is it right that we should be supplementing the income of the worker of average earnings, perhaps a comparatively well-paid family man? We do not need to do this because the Government are disperate about public expenditure. Already in the Budget they have given away enormous sums in tax reliefs and concessions. They are in a position to avoid the danger of means testing on such a massive scale.
The Government's justification for all these consequences of fair rents is invariably that because the Labour Government introduced fair rents for the private sector in the 1965 Act, the principle is somehow sanctified and that what the Government are now doing is merely a matter of logic by extending it to the public sector.
But it is a not a matter of logic in the slightest degree. The 1965 Act was passed to deal with a crisis situation arising out of decontrol under the 1957 Act in conditions, notably in London, of appalling housing shortage. This situation does not exist in the council house sector and therefore there is no analogy between the two positions.
The Act of 1965 was directed towards a declining sector of housing—the private rented sector has declined a good deal further since then—and there is no reason why the same principle should apply to the council house sector. This point was made by the Prices and Incomes Board in its 1968 Report, when it said:it would be anomalous to relate the rents of the growing to those of the declining share621 —the public sector to the private sector"—and this anomaly would increase with the years, so that as a long-term principle the concept is likely to lose its validity ".
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydvil)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to being anomalous, this concept of fair rents is absolutely ridiculous? For example, in Merthyr Tydvil we are asked to use the private sector criterion, which fixed 54 different rents in seven years, to cover 6,000 council tenancies. In most parts of Wales the rents fixed in the private sector bear no comparison with those to be fixed in the public sector. In other words, it is impossible to use the private sector as a base for fixing the 260,000 public sector rents in Wales.
§ Mr. Crosland
My hon. Friend draws attention to a point that was discussed in Committee. It is an important practical difficulty and I agree that the tiny base of private rented housing which we are supposed to use for the enormous structure of the public sector does not stand examination. However, I am concerned at this stage with the principles underlying the 1965 Act and this Measure.
The 1965 Act, which is always argued in aid by the Government as a justification for this Bill, was intended to give the private landlord a reasonable profit to maintain his property adequately. But the local authority is not in the market as an entrepreneur or private landlord. It is in no way analogous to the private landlord.
Local authorities have certain statutory housing functions. They do not operate commercially. In any case, apart from that obvious and general argument, the basic fact remains that local authorities do not need a fair rent from every dwelling to cover the cost of maintenance and improvement.
I need not argue this point in detail because it has become clear since the White Paper was published that over much of the country fair rents in the public sector will produce an income far exceeding the costs of maintenance and improvement. Indeed, they will produce a rent income which, after having contributed in the way I have described 622 to rebates and allowances, will give a considerable surplus in local authority housing revenue accounts, half of which will be filched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
This concept of a surplus far beyond what is needed for maintenance and improvement shows that the intention behind the Bill has nothing whatever in common with the intention behind the 1965 Act. If the intentions were the same in the two cases, the whole concept of the surplus would have to be withdrawn from the Bill.
In fact, the Government make no serious pretence at treating the two sectors in the same fashion. The private tenant has the right to appeal before the rent scrutiny committee. The council tenant has no similar right. The private tenant has the right to have his house individually assessed. The council tenant has no similar right. The council tenant has a right of appeal against his rent assessment. The council tenant has no similar right.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower(Barry)rose—
§ Mr. Crosland
No. I will not give way.
The difference in treatment between the two cases, the private and public sectors, is so great that the Council on Tribunals compelled the Government to change the name of the scrutiny body in the Bill from the rent scrutiny committee to the rent scrutiny board because it insisted that there was no comparability in the treatment between the sectors.
On every count the council tenant is treated by the Government as a second-class citizen. He has only one privilege denied the council tenant or owner occupier he is paying an extra housing tax through the medium of the surplus.
Clause 50 unamended will involve more inflation, more family hardship, a desperate problem of incentives and gross inequity between council tenants and the rest. The Clause needs drastic change and that is what we seek to achieve by these Amendments.
§ Mr. Raison
I agreed with the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) when he spoke of the risk that as our housing policy evolved a disincentive effect might appear. However, I do not 623 accept that as a fundamental or necessary ingredient of the scheme.
Until we manage to achieve a merger between social security and the income tax system this problem is liable to crop up from time to time. The answer is to secure a merger of the two systems, and I urge the Government to consider carefully the levels of rebate compared with the levels of income and benefit.
As I listened to the right hon. Member for Grimsby I thought that I had never heard a speech proposing an Amendment which paid so little regard to the Amendment. It seemed that the right hon. Gentleman was embarrassed by the nature of the Opposition proposal and realised its absurdity. This puts me in some difficulty because I have a touching belief that in a debate about certain Amendments it is perhaps proper to refer from time to time to such Amendments, and indeed I propose to do so, because I think it would be wrong not to do so.
What comes out of that is something we have observed many times before in the course of our somewhat lengthy debates in the Committee. It is that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are very good at putting forward arguments as to what is wrong with the Government's policy but are singularly bad at setting out what is their own policy. The truth of the matter is, as the country knows, that in the last few years the Labour Party has completely failed to find a housing policy. I will not go back to quote the perhaps too-often quoted words of the Opposition Chief Whip on this subject, but it was quite evident in the 1970s that the Labour Party had run out of ideas about housing policy, and it became increasingly evident in the Committee proceedings that they have not since found any.
It is rather strange that the right hon. Gentleman, who stood for the Deputy Leadership of his party as the great policy-maker—not in itself a bad course —should so conspicuously fail to come forward with a young policy. The fact that he did rather badly in that election is perhaps because in his own party his execution was believed to be not quite as good as his intentions. At any rate, it seems evident that the Opposition has no housing policy, and this has been revealed again and again.
624 The truth of the matter, when we look at this question, is that it is not an easy question. I will come back in a few moments to the broad principle of the fair-rents approach, as to the other alternatives, but before I come to that I should like to refer briefly to the proposals put forward in the Amendments before us.
Frankly, I do not completely understand what is meant, for example, by Amendment No. 124. As I understand it, is is proposed that the phrase "other than personal circumstances" and the words "and in particular" should be omitted. I should very much like to know the intention of that. I do not think we have had any explanation from the other side. Does this mean that when fixing rent levels regard should be had to the personal circumstances of the tenants? Is that what the Opposition is saying?
Of course, the personal circumstances of the tenants are a very important factor in our scheme, because this is what the rebates system is all about; this is a means of adjusting the personal circumstances of the tenant to the rent. But what does the Opposition mean when it moves that we leave out those words? Does it think that the rent should be fixed on the basis of one person's income being such and such and another person's being something else? I think we are entitled to have some idea from hon. Members supporting this Amendment as to its meaning.
Coming to the next Amendment, No. 125, which we are debating with Amendment No. 124, again I should like some clarification. The Amendment brings in the idea that there should be a duty to provide housing to meet social needs, that this should be one of the considerations which a local authority should take into account. At first glance that is a fairly unexceptionable sentiment, but it suffers from the fact that it is very hard to know what it means.
I have said in the Committee, and I repeat here, that I do not believe that housing, as far as the total population is concerned, should be a social service. I do not think that anyone can dispute that there is a very strong social-service element in housing, and this must continue to be so. I would not dream of arguing that we could switch the whole of housing over to the market sector just like 625 that. On the other hand, I believe that for the majority of the population, and certainly the majority of the wage-earning population, housing should be seen not as a social service but as a commodity, like food or one of the other equally necessary things which we do not have to look on as a social service.
What I am trying to find out is what the Opposition means when talking aboutthe duty of an authority as a public body to provide housing to meet social needs ".What is the point of that expression?
Then it is argued that an authority should provide a view as to what is a reasonable rent. This is another ingredient in the Amendment which surely begs the entire question. We have local authorities across the length and breadth of this land with very different views and political backgrounds, operating in all sorts of different areas. Simply to say that they should assess their notion of a reasonable rent without giving any guidance again seems to me to be begging the question. How would it be interpreted by the local authorities? I think they would be very hard put to it.
This, again, reflects the fact that the Opposition has been unable to make up its mind on this crucial point of what should be the system of rent assessment in the public sector.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I want to try to get to know from the hon. Gentleman whether, in view of his lack of local government experience, he understands the present situation. All our Amendment is seeking to do—and it may get across to him eventually—is to maintain the status quo. All it is saying is that local authorities should have the power to decide the level of rents in their areas according to the various criteria laid down. We can understand the hon. Member's ignorance on these matters. That is all we are trying to do.
§ Mr. Raison
It is difficult to answer the hon. Gentleman. With regard to my lack of local authority experience, I merely say that I have been a member of a local authority for over three years and in fact was on its housing committee, so I think I can claim some local authority experience. I will give him this: he was 626 the one Member on his side of the Committee who regularly answered that there was no need to change anything at all, that it was all very splendid and that the only reform necessary was to reduce rents all round. That was his point of view and no doubt he is entitled to it, but I do not believe that any of his hon. or right hon. Friends are prepared to say that there is no need to do anything about local authority rents. I do not believe that any authoritative commentator in the country would say that everything is all right and that there is no problem.
The Opposition Front Bench know this. They know there is, and has been, a complete muddle in this area and that they, like us—although they would have taken much longer—would have had to bring forward some method of reforming the housing finance system. They cannot make up their minds on that side of the House what is the right system. We know that some of them believe that the pooled historic costs system is right and others that pooled historic costs should merely provide an upper limit. Indeed they put forward an earlier Amendment to that effect, but in that the only requirement was not to exceed the pooled historic costs; there was a divergence between them on that.
The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who is not here today, advocated that regard should be had to the means of the tenants of the particular area in fixing rents. This is a point of view, I suppose, and it may be that the words I quoted earlier—the omission proposed in the Opposition's Amendment—were a polite nod in his direction that is the only plausible explanation I can give. And the hon. Member for Bosover (Mr. Skinner) has his own particular view that the solution is to reduce all rents.
The proposition in this Amendment will not hold water. The next requirement, if I understand the Amendment correctly, is that the local authority should have an opinion as to the effect on the economy and on the general market in housing of increases in rents. I think I am right in assuming that the duty of the authority would cover both the nature of the reasonable rent and the effect on the economy.
§ Mr. Raison
My hon. Friend, with his Welsh intuition, has anticipated what I was about to say. That is a very fair point. Are local authorities qualified to pronounce on the general effect on the economy of rent levels? Is that what local authorities are for? Do we set up local government in order to have views about general economic tendencies?
In my view, local authorities exist to provide certain services to their communities, including the provision of housing. But I do not think that they are in a position, equipped or qualified in any way to advance economic theories. I know of no local councillor who has stood on the platform saying that he was an expert on economics and should, therefore, be elected to a council. Although local authorities certainly employ people to handle their finances, and expert people, they are not appointed for their general economic skill but for their skill in dealing with local authority finance specifically. So it seems to me quite an implausible and unreasonable suggestion that local authorities should be expected to comment on the general effect on the economy of different rent levels. It is equally doubtful whether they are qualified to talk about the effect on the general market in housing of increases in rents. Obviously there is a relationship between the two.—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen wish to interrupt, perhaps they would care to do so in the proper manner.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Ashton)
Why does the hon. Gentleman say that a local authority has no knowledge of the effect on the general housing market of the increases in rent? Surely it ought to be, and in most cases it is, the function of the local authority to have a knowledge of the housing situation?
§ Mr. Raison
They must clearly pay some attention to what is going on around them, but I do not believe that in the past they have been equipped to put forward knowledgeable points of view about 628 the private sector housing associations and the totality of housing policy throughout the country. They are designed and intended to deal with the problems in their own areas, which, by and large, they do very well. They are not intended to produce general economic observations on trends throughout the country.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Raison
Following the example of the right hon. Gentleman, who did not give way on every possible occasion, at least not to this side of the House. I shall not give way.
It seems that the Amendments are not serious Amendments. I suppose the fact that the right hon. Gentleman spent absolutely no time talking about them is an indication of his contempt for his own or his colleagues' draftsmanship and suggestions.
I turn briefly to the more general question of the decision to go ahead with fair rents as opposed to any other basis for local authority rents. I am the first to acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult question. I would not claim flatly that fair rents are the only answer. I can see that there are arguments for a variety of different systems. If one looks into what has been written in documents such as the report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, one sees that the arguments are very complicated and that there are pros and cons to most of the systems put forward. I do not say that the Prices and Incomes Board came down in favour of fair rents. We know that it did not. Nevertheless, I should like to go over the different options that seem to have been before my right hon. Friend and the Government, and to make one or two comments on them, and on the reasons for this particular decision, insofar as the Opposition favour pooled historic costs.
There is a case for pooled historic costs. I suppose that they are a reasonably manageable way of approaching this in some respects. They have a certain basis in what exists at present and could be said to grow out of it. A point that has been made repeatedly by my right hon. Friend is that they have great anomalies about them. The Opposition have not faced the fact that the consequence of opting for pooled historic costs would be an enormous diversity in 629 the levels of rents throughout the country. We know that in some areas, with a large housing stock built a long time ago, with very little need in recent times or the near future to build a great deal more, the level of rents would be very low. We know that in other areas, which may have a much greater social need and which have had in recent times a very substantial housing programme and the expectation that it will continue in the future, under the pooled historic costs system the level of rents would be very high. There is not much doubt that in some cases it would be higher under pooled historic costs than under the fair rents system. It is very anomalous.
§ Mr. Crosland rose—
§ Mr. Raison
I do not see why I should give way to the right hon. Gentleman, as he refused to give way to me, but I will.
§ Mr. Crosland
Presumably the hon. Gentleman must be aware that all those commentators who have suggested pooled historic costs have assumed, as people sometimes assume, that they would be accompanied by a subsidy system designed to iron out the anomalies the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. While I am on my feet, what does the hon. Gentleman think of the efforts of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with precisely the difficulties he is describing?
§ Mr. Raison
Both the Prices and Incomes Board and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have said, as I understand it, that pooled historic costs may be appropriate as a short-term approach, but neither of them thought it ideal as a long-term approach. The Prices and Incomes Board sought some system of replacement costs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has the notion, I believe, that he will in due course move on to fair rents after an interim period on pooled historic costs. It does not seem to me that the arguments for it have been accepted by either the NBPI or my right hon. Friend.
There are, therefore, considerable snags about pooled historic costs. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that it is possible to introduce subsidies to offset discrepancies between one area and another. But that by no means 630 invalidates my argument. Even if one removed the grosser anomalies by special subsidies, one will still be left with general anomalies throughout the land.
The Prices and Incomes Board favoured the system of replacement cost as an ideal. Instinctively one has a great deal of sympathy with that approach. It has about it a dynamic aspect as opposed to the static approach of pooled historic costs. It offers the prospect that renewal will be a prime consideration. On the other hand, one cannot but acknowledge that there would be bound to be very considerable complications about replacement costs. I have not seen a full argument and description of how a replacement cost system could be made to work, and I should have thought that, at the very least, it would tend to be a faily unpredictable system and that there would be a considerable variation in its incidence throughout the country.
Thirdly, I turn to the system which my right hon. Friend has adopted, namely, the fair rents system. The Prices and Incomes Board argument that it was a mistake to peg rent levels to a declining sector had nothing like as much force as the Board believed. This was the strongest of its objections to applying the fair rents system to the public sector. I suppose that one can see half an argument in what the Board said. But if one looks at the reality in the country, one finds by and large enough private sector housing in nearly all parts of the country to provide the degree of comparability which is needed. It may well be that there would be difficulties in some parts of the country where there is a very small element of private housing and a very large element of public housing. I do not dispute that it may be more difficult in some areas than in others. But over the country as a whole the problem of availability will not be an overwhelming difficulty. I do not believe that we have solid evidence to say that this would be so.
The great merit of the fair rents system, a point made by my right hon. and hon. Friends time and again, is that it is, as the word implies, a "fair" rent in that it is a rent which has an equitability between different parts of the country. There will not be the roulette ingredient which exists perhaps in local authority rents between one area 631 and another, and, equally important, there will not be the same element of luck between the public and the private rented sectors. At present the degree of luck is of decisive importance in the lives of many people renting housing.
We must try to find a somewhat more rational, more objective system of settling council rents than has existed. The supreme merit of the fair rents system is that it is a pretty objective system, and it is for that reason that I support it.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Has not the hon. Gentleman ignored the true reason why it is unfair to apply this system to council rents? The difference between private rents and council rents is that the fair rent fixed for private rents is supposed to include a reasonable profit for the landlord, whereas local authorities have no wish or intention to make a profit out of their tenants.
§ Mr. Raison
There are two ways of looking at the matter, as has been apparent throughout all our debates. Looking at it from the point of view of the landlord we see that the point the hon. Gentleman made may be true, that in one system there is the clear need to provide a landlord with a certain profit and in another system there is not, but the Opposition have never been able to explain why those people who are lucky enough to get a place on the housing list should be charged a rent which gives them an appreciable advantage as against other tenants. What the fair rent system does essentially is to relate the charge to the value of what is provided. A house or flat is provided at a certain level. It is said "This is a reasonable charge ", and it seems fair that the tenant should pay it unless his income is low enough to qualify him for a rebate or rent allowance.
A great deal of the Opposition's argument has been that the fair rent system is vindictive. The answers are fairly clear. First, there is the rebate scheme. I said earlier that I have one element of unease about the way in which that scheme may work. The position must be watched, and it can be remedied. It is not an insuperable difficulty. Experience suggests that the rents will be below the market level, as the Francis Committee found. A figure of about 20 per cent. below is often quoted.
632 I also believe that the word "locality ", which is among the criteria by which rents should be charged, will tend to act as a means of keeping down council rents. This is a difficult point. We may see the word interpreted in different ways in different parts of the country, because there is some scope for variance. But when it comes to the point a ritzy block of private flats very near to a block of council flats will be assessed in such a way as to recognise that the level of rent appropriate for an expensive private block is not appropriate to a council block. In other words, I think "locality" will tend to have a real meaning when those factors are assessed and will act as a check on the increases, though we shall not know until that point has been reached.
To sum up, I believe that, out of the many possible approaches that exist, my right hon. Friends have plumped for one with a certain logic about it and one which provides the possibility of an objective approach, which has been lacking in all the muddle so far.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
I support the Amendment. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) referred to the question of definition of social need and whether a local authority is fit to decide that. The great majority of local authorities, certainly those with any competence, can take a general view of the housing needs in their own areas, as Seebohm recommended. It is a very bad housing authority which does not know the situation as regards both privately-rented houses and the number of owner-occupied houses, or the general situation. It can only decide how many houses to build in the light of its knowledge, and the great majority of local authorities, certainly the competent ones, have that knowledge. Therefore, it is correct to take into consideration the question of social need as decided by the local authority.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
If my hon. Friend tries to put a question to the Minister about this issue of the local rent and the local housing situation, he will immediately be referred back to all the authorities. The right hon. Gentleman has not the courage or knowledge to answer him.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the Minister approached the local authorities they 633 would tell him that they know the local housing situation. The great majority of them are against the Bill precisely because they know the housing situation in their own areas and the Minister does not.
§ Mr. Raison
I do not want to be nitpicking, but if the hon. Gentleman is talking about housing needs the Amendment could have used the expression "housing needs ". It is the introduction of the very vague word "social" which is the weakness in the Amendment.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's intervention. One of the greatest of social needs is housing need. This is the point which the local authority can comprehend better than any other body.
Let us take the question of the general economic circumstances. Most local authorities know something about economic circumstances in their areas. They know, for example, the wage rates and the amount of unemployment. They are able to decide the economic results of any rent increases much better than a rent scrutiny board composed of, or dominated by, certain professional gentlemen who probably do not know, and do not have to know, the economic circumstances and what the effect of a rent increase will be.
The hon. Gentleman devoted half his speech to saying that Labour has no policy on the matter. I think the existing method of giving subsidies is not so bad, by and large. It may be that in this sector or that certain improvements could be made. I do not say that the system is perfect, but by and large it is not so bad, and that is the view of local authorities.
I said in Committee that the idea of giving subsidies largely on the basis of historic cost, the cost when the house was built, was on the whole sensible. On that basis, the subsidy given today under the Housing Subsidies Act is vastly different from that given before the war. The national subsidy used to be £7 10s. before the war, but now it can amount to £200 or £250 a year. That deals with the problem which the hon. Gentleman raised about different situations in 634 different areas, such as one area having a large stock of pre-war council houses and not having to build any today compared with a local authority which must build today because of a great need in its area. Birmingham is such a local authority.
The Labour Party policy, as embodied in the Housing Subsidies Act of the Labour Government, dealt precisely with that matter. It left the pre-war houses as they were, with a very small subsidy, and gave an extremly large subsidy to local authorities with a big housing programme to fulfil today. That is right. It dealt with the problem the hon. Gentleman raised, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said, on the question of subsidy.
Now all these subsidies are wiped out. The Housing Subsidies Act, apart from the transitional arrangements allowed for in the Bill, goes out of existence and within two or three years will have no effect whatever. This is a complete refutation of what the hon. Member for Aylesbury was saying. This Bill does not deal with the inequities facing the local authority which has a large house building programme. It does the opposite and takes away the massive relief given by the Housing Subsidies Act. If it was not for that Act Birmingham would have stopped building houses a long time ago, and that applies to many other local authorities.
The question of pooled historic costs was raised. Very few local authorities base their rents today upon the historic costs of this or that house. The vast majority apply the system of pooled historic costs. This is why by and large we propose a continuation of that system.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman is quite right; it does not restore the former system. We can do that only if we stop the Bill and defeat it on Third Reading. This Amendment would simply bring about a mitigation of the iniquitous system proposed here. By imposing a 635 duty on the rent scrutiny board to consider such matters the Amendment would mitigate the effect of the Bill.
We are not discussing simply an abstract system. We are not discussing in a vacuum whether this or that system is better, as an exercise of pure logic. The whole object of this part of the Bill is to bring about a substantial increase in council rents—what we consider to be an unfair increase—meaning that council tenants will have to bear costs at present borne by the Government. We consider this to be an attack upon council tenants, which is why we object to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman referred to certain ambiguities in the Amendment, but there does not seem to be anything ambiguous about it. These are matters which the rent scrutiny board will have to consider. The weight it gives to them will be a matter for the board. But there are certain ambiguities in the Clause as it stands. The hon. Gentleman also referred to comparability. It is assumed that council rents will be decided upon comparability with the private sector, although the Clause does not say so. The Minister does not provide a statutory basis for this.
How that will be done in areas such as Birmingham I do not know. A proposition was recently put to the Minister by the local Tory group in Birmingham arguing that the rents could not be decided on a comparable basis because there were few privately rented houses of that character. If they are not decided on a comparable basis, how will they be decided? How shall we find the market rent for a council house? How shall we find the scarcity element to be allowed for in the council sector? We do not know the answer, and the Minister has never given us one. Even the former Under-Secretary, who knew something about the Bill, never gave us an answer.
I notice that Birmingham in its representation to the Minister suggested that the general wage level in the area should be considered, saying that it is undesirable that there should be a rebate system embracing a large proportion of rent-payers. I do not know what the Minister says about this. So far he refuses to comment upon Birmingham's representations. Is this a valid method for decid- 636 ing the rents, bearing in mind that a large number of people will have to qualify for rent rebates? Maybe the Minister will throw some light upon this problem. In the meantime I support the Amendment, which will mitigate in some way the hardship caused by this Clause.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
In the earlier exchanges between the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) the hon. Gentleman had the courage to say what he really wanted, which is the maintenance of the status quo.
§ Mr. Bowden
Many observers political and economic believe that the system should be radically changed. I recall the words of a Housing Minister some years ago when he referred to the present system of council rents by saying:The present system has led to the existence of a cosseted and privileged class in our society—The Council House Tenant. These people are jealous of their privileged position because a council house is a prize hard to come by. Charge the rich man £1,000 a year rent—that'll sort the problem out.I reject that completely as a wrong philosophy although we know that it was the view held by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he was Minister of Housing in 1966. It is wrong because if we started charging council tenants a rent of £15 or £20 a week when it was unjustified in the context of the value of the house then it would indeed be an unfair rent.
What hon. Members opposite will not accept, what they deliberately attempt to conceal from local authority tenants, is that no tenant will have to pay more than he or his family can reasonably afford. On that basis it is a system of fair rents. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in a speech which I can only regard as sneering and supercilious—
§ Mr. Stoddart
Yes. Bearing in mind the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has described my right hon. Friend's speech, it is obvious that my right hon. 637 Friend caught him on the raw and it was therefore a good speech and very much to the point.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowden
Far from catching me on the raw, I have heard so many of them over so many tedious hours in Committee that they have become boring. It is a pity that a man who has put himself forward for such senior office in the Labour Party should descend to such a low level in the House.
When the right hon. Gentleman, again in his sneering way, refers to what he calls Tory welfare gifts which should be looked at very closely, the inference is that only the Labour Party is concerned about people's welfare. The Tories help the people who need to be helped in a practical way and not by uttering the pious hopes so often reflected in the speeches of hon. Members opposite. What we are doing by the rebate scheme is to give assistance to those sections of the community living in local authority houses who really need it.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that he was gravely worried about the take-up of the rebates. I can only speak for an area which I know well and of which I have the details. Already in the County Borough of Brighton more than 40 per cent. of council tenants have taken up the rent rebate under the new scheme. The scheme laid down in the Bill has already been brought into operation by the housing authorities in Brighton. They have done much more than bring in the scheme, they have sent a letter to every local authority tenant which includes this phrase:If you have any doubts about the scheme or the completion of the form my staff are ready to help you on application at your rent office.My county borough is prepared to go further. In Brighton every elderly person and every family who have not applied for rent rebate and who might be entitled to it will be approached discreetly by officers of the council to make sure that they are fully aware of their rights. I suspect that hon. Members opposite do not want local authority tenants to take up their rights so that they can exploit the situation politically, as they have done so shamefully in the local elections.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, lichen)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many extra staff Brighton Corporation has had to employ to operate the scheme and who is paying for the extra staff?
§ Mr. Bowden
The extra staff will be paid for by the ratepayers of Brighton. I am delighted that extra staff have been taken on to explain the rebate scheme and to visit people in their homes. I do not believe that a single ratepayer in Brighton will begrudge the cost—which might be £50,000 a year in extra staff—to ensure that local authority tenants get their rights and that everyone who is entitled to a rebate receives one.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am sad about it. It is just another example of their pious words. When it comes to action it is a different story.
A scurrilous leaflet produced by Transport House was widely circulated during the local elections. The leaflet is deliberately designed to frighten old people, the weak and the uninformed. I will read the first paragraph, which is in thick black type:Your rent is going to double. The Tory Government's new rent Bill means that you will be paying £2, £3 or £4 a week more in rent.Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that a large number of people will read no further than that. They will immediately take in that point. In practice, the vast majority of people do not read in great detail leaflets which are put through the door. I object to the first paragraph being in heavy black type whereas the rest is in much smaller type. I object to the reference to rents being doubled immediately the Act comes into operation when we all know that it is totally untrue. It may give the members of the Labour Party some temporary advantage in local elections but when the people see the Act in full operation it will rebound in their faces.
§ Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) in Committee achieved the distinction of being even ruder and more 639 offensive to council tenants than was the Secretary of State for the Environment in his persistent refusal to consult them. The speech to which the hon. Gentleman has treated the House today is fully in line with his speeches in Committee.
I would rather comment on the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) who has rendered the House a considerable service. He has attempted today what the Secretary of State and the Minister have consistently failed to do, and that is to try to explain why the Government have chosen the system of so-called fair rents as the method by which rents are to be assessed. The hon. Member for Aylesbury compared this method with other systems and tried to show why the method of so-called fair rents was preferable. I applaud him in his heroic effort, but I fear that he failed to satisfy hon. Members on this side of the House.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury did not give the real reason why this system recommends itself to the Government. The real reason was let out of the bag by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he revealed that the object of the Bill was to save the Exchequer £200–300 million a year in subsidies. This is the only system which will bring this size of yield to the Government. It is the only system which will double the rent of the average council tenant.
When hon. Members claim that the effect of the Bill will be to double council house rents, a pained expression appears on the face of the Minister, and sometimes indignation distorts his features and he uses words like "scaremonger-ing ". But we are not the only people who have said that the Bill will lead to the doubling of rents. Virtually every independent authority on housing outside the House thinks so, too, because the existing level of fair rents in the private sector is almost exactly double the average council house rent for a comparable property.
The average fair rent which has been assessed is 2.2 times the gross rateable value. The average council rent is 1.1 times the gross rateable value. Ministers have said that they want to treat council tenants as far as possible in the same way as private tenants and that is why they are adopting this system of fair 640 rents. If that is the object of the exercise, it is clear that council rents will double.
§ Mr. Gower
Will the hon. Gentleman say, if this is so objectionable, why it is that his Government when in office exposed private tenants to this sort of increase without benefit of rebate? Private tenants were placed in the position of paying much higher rents without any help from the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Leonard
My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has explained the circumstances in which the 1965 Rent Act was introduced. Certainly it did not lead to a doubling of rents at the time that it was introduced. To the extent that rents in the private sector are now at their present level, surely the case is overwhelming for a re-examination of the basis on which private rents are assessed, rather than for the Government to try to jack up council rents to the same level.
I admit the culpability of the last Labour Government in not introducing a scheme of private rent allowances. I very much regret that they did not do that. Every hon. Member on this side of the House welcomes the proposal for private rent allowances, though we are critical of the way in which the Government are implementing it. But certainly it will be the intention of a future Labour Government to continue private rent allowances so long as a private sector exists.
Unfortunately the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) is no longer in the Chamber. During the course of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, the hon. Gentleman intervened to make the point that wages had been going up at a faster rate than prices and that, as a consequence, it was acceptable that rents should be pushed up to a level exceeding the rise in the cost of providing the accommodation. That was an extraordinary remark. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would suggest that mortgage repayments should go up year after year along with rises in salaries and wages irrespective of the fact that the cost of the houses concerned had been set when the mortgages were taken up. I wonder what the electors of Peterborough would say if the hon. Gentleman told house 641 owners there that they ought to be making increased mortgage repayments year after year because their wages were rising at a faster rate than the cost of the mortgage repayments that they were asked to meet.
It is clear that the purpose of this proposal to move to fair rents for council houses is to wage a naked act of class war against council tenants. The Association of Municipal Corporations, which at present is a Tory-dominated body, though today is the last day on which it will be controlled by Tories, in a letter sent to all Members of Parliament last week described this Bill as…a raw deal for local authorities rather than a fair deal.That is the case. But for tenants it is much worse than a raw deal. It is a deliberate attack upon their standard of living. It is because we want to mitigate the effect of the Bill that we have moved the Amendments to which my right hon. Friend has referred. We want to try to mitigate the effect of this legislation upon council tenants throughout the country. No hon. Member who has council tenants among his constituents can fail to support these Amendments in the Division Lobby if he has their interests at heart.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Gower
This has been an extraordinary debate in many respects. First we had the speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in which he seemed to be using these Amendments chiefly to support his criticisms of the general housing philosophy and policy of the Government. Then we had the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) using the Amendments to support and explain his affection and preference for the old system. Later, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) had the candour to admit that he recognised that the policy of his own Government had been at fault since they had failed to assist those whom the present Bill will assist.
My own reading of the Amendments is that certainly they do not restore the old system, for which the hon. Member for Aston has a great deal of affection and preference. Nor do they go hack, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested, to the system which has prevailed until now, though he said 642 that he wanted to go even further. I confess that I did not quite understand what he meant by that—
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman has it all wrong. I understand his problem. I was attempting to describe, in answer to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the extent to which our Amendments dealt with the criteria that would be needed to take us back to the status quo which would apply if subsidies were not removed. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, that cannot be dealt with, because it has been taken care of by the Money Resolution. But it was merely a question of criteria as distinct from levels of rents.
§ Mr. Gower
I appreciate that. But these are three distinct views of what we ought to have, and those right hon. and hon. Members to whom I have referred have attempted to use these Amendments in three different ways.
The Amendments merely have the effect of upsetting completely the balance and basis of this proposed legislation. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite might wish to do that. However an important part of this system is that there shall be rebates and allowances extending over the whole range of rented accommodation. I remind hon. Members that in response to appeals, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has announced that he will arrange as soon as possible for allowances for those who live in furnished premises as well.
As I have understood the arguments in Committee and in subsequent speeches made in the country, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are strongly in favour of this extension of allowances to furnished lettings. It means that we have the basis of a very wide scheme of rebates and allowances extending over the whole of rented accommodation, whether it be provided by local authorities, by private individuals, by companies or by housing associations, and whether it be furnished or unfurnished. It is obvious from that that such a wide system of rebates and allowances, which apparently is supported by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, cannot conceivably be supported by the old system—
§ Mr. David Stoddart
May I make it clear that, although we on this side support these rebates to those in furnished and unfurnished private tenancies, we do so on the basis that these rebates are not taken from council tenants? In other words, we are for rebates for poor people, but we do not believe in robbing poor Peter to pay poor Paul. That is the difference between us.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the council house tenant who is poor will receive help and that only the well-to-do council house tenant will be penalised? Is he saying, for instance, that the council house tenant will be helped more than the property speculator? Will not the owner occupier or the person buying two or more houses and paying only an eighth of the interest charges because of surtax relief receive more help than the council house tenant?
§ Mr. Gower
I am saying nothing of the kind, because it has nothing to do with the Amendments. However I shall comment on that obliquely if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to.
The point that I am making is that both sides support the idea of giving allowances and rebates over a wide area. This is different from anything that has obtained in the past, and the hon. Member for Romford regrets that this kind of provision was not made by his Government when they were in office.
§ Mr. David Stoddart
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will grasp the point that I am trying to make. The Bill is being introduced at the same time as there is to be a reduction in the Exchequer contribution to housing. We are opposed to that reduction. That is the difference between the two sides of the House. We believe in providing additional allowances in the private sector, and in the furnished sector, by means of a greater, not a smaller, Exchequer contribution. That is the difference between the two sides of the House. Does the hon. Gentleman now understand the point that I am making?
§ Mr. Gower
The hon. Gentleman has introduced his own personal, novel and new objection to the Bill. It is an objection that has not been made so far. We have been told in the past that the Opposition object to the principle of the Bill, and not merely to some of its details. The fact is that there will not be the kind of reduction to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
In the past, local authorities have done their best but, with the best will in the world, the kind of help which they have been able to give to individuals can only be described as indiscriminate. The allowances and rebates provided under the Bill will be calculated on a scientific basis. I sincerely hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will help every effort that is made to publicise and bring to the notice of those who deserve these benefits all the information which they should have about them.
The Amendments will not achieve what we have been told hon. Gentlemen opposite want to achieve. They will change in detail the basis upon which the rent will be assessed but I cannot understand why, by, their first Amendment, hon. Gentlemen opposite should want to include personal circumstances because, if that were done, they would be included twice. Personal circumstances would be included when fixing a fair rent and also in considering the rebate for allowance, which would be an absurdity.
§ Mr. Leonard
The hon. Gentleman—and others—has misunderstood the purpose of including that phrase in the Amendment. I did not draft it but, as I understand it, there are personal circumstances apart from family income which could legitimately be taken into account when considering what would be a fair rent. For instance, consideration might be given to how long someone had been a tenant in the same premises, and how much rent he had paid in the past. If someone had been a tenant for 25 years, he might be treated rather differently from a new tenant in a similar place. That is one aspect which could be covered by a phrase of this kind, but which would not be covered by the existing rebate scheme.
§ Mr. Gower
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempt to explain 645 what nobody else has tried to explain. The speeches that we have heard from the benches opposite so far have not attempted to define the reason for the inclusion of these words.
I agree with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) about Amendment No. 125. In many instances this provision will impose on local housing authorities duties which they are not equipped to carry out. I do not see how they can be asked to assess the effect of rents on the economy. Different authorities might have different ideas about what effect they would have. There may be a change of political control from one year to the next, and a different view might be taken. It would be absurd to impose on local authorities the duty to assess rents in accordance with their highly subjective views of what the effect might be on the economy, and I cannot see that my right hon. Friend should have any difficulty at all in explaining to the House why we should not accept these Amendments.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
We have heard some remarkable speeches today, and in a few moments I shall deal with that of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower).
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) spoke about rents and food in much the same vein. The inference that one can logically draw from that is that those who have the most money eat the best food, and those who have the most money will get the best accommodation. The hon. Gentleman, for all his unease and sense of fear about the failings of the Bill, did not, like so many of his hon. Friends on the benches opposite, have the courage at any time to vote against his Government, and when I heard the allusions of the hon. Member for Barry to the economy I could not help thinking that he was as much off the beam in relation to the Amendment as he was lacking in resolution in opposing the Bill in Committee. In Brighton Pavilion, Kemptown, Gloucester and Birmingham they are even now giving their answer to this Bill and I have no doubt what that answer will be. No trepidation exists in my mind, but there is some among hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I believe that the Amendment is necessary since the Government by their rigidly mechanical methods of unfair rent 646 determination, and fixing robbery rents —let us be frank about it—are ignoring entirely the wise principles and precepts born of more than half a century of local authority housing experience, and here I make a charge against the hon. Member for Barry. It is that, as a Welsh Member on the Standing Committee, he did not defend Welsh interests as he should have done. I have never lacked the courage to make a charge, and I make that one openly. The laying down in the Bill of rigidly drawn terms will leave local authorities with no room whatsoever to manœuvre.
Mention has been made of the cost of those who will administer the Bill. A rent officer will cost £5,500 a year. That is the cost, taking in office expenditure and all related costs, but the right hon. Gentleman will not know that, because I received that answer from the Minister with executive responsibility for housing in Wales, which the right hon. Gentleman is not. He has no executive responsibility for that subject, and we are faced with the curious situation of a Minister with no responsibility for a subject handling a Bill on that subject. No one could get more ironical instant Government, the art of which is well known in Tory circles.
It is the duty of local authorities to provide housing as a social service, and it is the inalienable right of all local authorities to determine rents, bearing in mind all local considerations, including the primal one of public accountability to the electorate. That right will be filched away from local representatives by the fact that their duties will be usurped by the rent scrutiny boards.
§ Mr. McBride
No, I am sorry.
These boards determine rents at closed meetings. They will consist of arbitrarily appointed, non-elected nominees of the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is the Secretary of State for Wales who should be responsible for housing policy in the principality. These nominees will meet in closed session and decide what local councils decide for themselves now —what the rents of local authority houses will be. The power of direction is the basis of the Minister's proposals, a Minister—I say this now as I said in Standing 647 Committee—whose competence and judgment in housing matters earn the respect of no one.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Dykes rose—
§ Mr. McBride
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman feels it important, but I am sorry, I shall not give way.
The Tory Government seek to stigma-tise local authority tenants. They had a feeling that they had to do something about local authority tenants and this is their method of doing it. When they compare local authority housing with private property, they are doing so in the relationship of exploitation, so that local authority housing, for the first time in more than half a century, will have to show a profit to the exclusion of social considerations that housing should be provided at reasonable rents. Not a single hon. Member opposite does not say at election time that housing should be provided at reasonable rents. Now local authority housing is being forced to show a profit to the exclusion of any social consideration. That is the sort of Government we are saddled with.
The age, character, depreciation of property caused by years of use—all will be disregarded in the relationship to the exploitation of private property, for exploitation it will and must be if local authority housing is to show a profit. All this will be disregarded in the insane ideological rush to put one over on the local authority tenants.
Today, the 270,000 Welsh local authority tenants, with the 5½ million local authority tenants in the country as a whole, are remembering, and tomorrow they will also remember. The 1.3 million rent-controlled tenants will also remember today and tomorrow the actions of the right hon. Gentleman. They will execute punishment on this Government of mediocrities, of whom he is one and the grey, colourless Prime Minister another. In Wales, there are only seven Tory MPs, including the hon. Member for Barry. Yet they are dictating to the 28 Labour MPs from the Principality. The hon. Gentleman knows full 648 well that I challenged him to attend a meeting in Barry in which I would speak against the Bill if he would speak for it. I have no doubt what the verdict would be. We have government of the Principality by minority and by the bludgeon. This Bill would not work if the legal sanctions were removed. Only a totalitarian Government and a Minister like-minded would have any part in or connive at such a Bill.
The effect on the economy, ignored by hon. Members opposite, who are singularly obtuse, will be immensely damaging. If the Government take millions of £s of purchasing power out of the economy by rent increases imposed under the Bill, massive wage claims will be generated. Of course that is damaging to the economy. Hon. Members opposite pay lip service to fighting inflation, yet here they are giving the most savage twist ever to the inflationary spiral. They need only use simple arithmetic, in calculating the effect of the 50p rise from 1st April, to be followed by a £1 rise later, to realise that the total purchasing power to be taken out of the economy is colossal. But, of course, they are the business people. At election time, we are always told that. In this case they have a teak-like consistency from the neck up.
The Government give lip service to fighting inflation whilst savagely victimising local authority tenants. No one, except those versed in matchstick economics, will doubt that the Bill will generate the massive wage claims to which I have referred. These rent increases will affect half the nations population and make a shambles of the Industrial Relations Act. Such wage claims will permeate the whole economy. They will affect the cost of our export goods. The hon. Member for Barry has never seen that, but it is a fact. If the economy of the United Kingdom, as is alleged, runs like an internal combustion engine—as it does in great part—it will receive rent increases as grit in the bearings. Of course there will be serious effects on the economy. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
The Amendment is necessary in face of a Tory Government blatantly stupid in excluding any social principles from local authority housing and acquiescing in economic incompetence. These rent 649 increases (will deliberately worsen the economy, and before we repeal the Bill, as we shall do when, inevitably, we return to power, the country will go through an extremely injurious period.
Of course there will be an effect on the general housing market. Small terraced houses are selling in my constituency for £3,050. Mortgages are being given in the Principality only at three times the salary of the applicant. If house costs are forced up by pressure on the private market—and these rent increases will undoubtedly have that effect—fewer and fewer working-class families will be able to afford mortgages to purchase their own homes. There is a mad scramble for housing, added to by the escalating land costs caused by the speculations of the rapacious friends of the Government. Looking at the Amendment in terms of social service, I believe that the Government, by disregarding the wishes of the people, will have retribution executed upon them by the people.
§ Mr. Gower
The hon. Gentleman has referred to me several times. He has made a statement about wage earners wanting to buy property and being unable in some cases to get it. I trust that he is thrilled by the news that my right hon. Friend is to offer encouragement to local authorities to sell their council houses on a much wider scale by the benefit of a 20 per cent. price reduction. This must surely be of great help.
§ Mr. McBride
There are two ways of looking at that. First, the selling of council houses does not bring any improvement to the waiting list. Secondly, in South Wales—part of which both the hon. Member for Barry and I represent —when Llanelli Rural District Council was selling houses, a house was on offer at £4,500, and the offer was tenable for only three months. The hon. Member for Barry has not the courage to go there, certainly not the courage to go to Swansea, East and to say what he said a moment ago. I know the kind of reception he would get.
These rents are unfair. They will be a crippling burden on the people I represent, decent hard-working people among whom I live. As I said in Committee, the economy will be considerably worsened by this Bill. I cannot conceive how a Government could be so ideologic- 650 ally insane as to bring forward a Measure such as this. It will be condemned in the thousands of local authority seats which we shall capture at the polls today.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I shall not detain the House for very long because in the limited range of these two Amendments this matter has been more than fully covered.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard), who unfortunately has left the Chamber for a moment, referred to 1965 and said that there was no doubling of rents in that period. I refer him to the statistics of the Department of the Environment registration for the years 1966 to 1970. There he will see that of 101,000 cases which went before the rent officer, 6,329 had increases of from 100 per cent. to 150 per cent., 2,853 increases from 150 per cent. to 200 per cent. and 2,279 increases of over 200 per cent. Of the 101,000 cases, there were 14,337 in which the rent went up from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent.
I hope that the hon. Member will see that, certainly in the private sector, the rent officer in that period put up the rents quite substantially at the top level of those percentages. I point that out because practically every hon. Member in the Opposition says that it is only Conservatives who double or treble rents, while they themselves have been anxious to keep rents down. In fact we are the only party which ever thinks of seeking a fair rent. This Bill and the White Paper form a continuation of the programme of hon. Members opposite. I am positive that if and when they return to power they will do little or nothing to destroy this Measure.
I always enjoy hearing speeches by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). He has a very light touch and does not speak too often, but when he does he is well worth listening to. Practically every speech I have heard him make has been a watertight case for the sale of council houses. It is incredible that each time he makes a case for a tenant who is paying a rent in the council sector where everyone is gunning for him and making up malicious stories about his having two Jaguar cars while at any moment the rent will be doubled or trebled. My advice to all tenants who take the trouble to read 651 HANSARD is," For goodness sake petition your local authorities if they do not already sell council houses. Get on to your Member of Parliament and make sure that you have the same freedom and privilege as any council tenant in an area where council houses are being sold."
My right hon. Friend the Minister is most anxious that all council tenants who feel that they will be victimised and treated badly in the next few years should be free at this time to demand that they can buy their council houses. I know that this is not always possible in areas of stress. Where there are tall blocks of flats perhaps it is difficult, but in many areas there are local authorities—I regret that sometimes they are Conservative-controlled—which are not carrying forward this progressive programme. The argument is made that by selling a house one does not provide another, but in practice this is not so. The council sells a house and takes the deposit, and the tenant takes over the maintenance, which can be heavy, and looks after the property. There is a social mix and an improvement of the environment to a degree which is easily recognisable. With the money which goes to the housing revenue account, in a subtle way the authority can increase its housing.
I have not heard my right hon. Friend suggest any time while he has been in office that he wants to stop a council's programme. I am sure that any local authority which wants to sell houses can double its council house building programme. No obstacle would be put in its way by the Department.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Before the hon. Member leaves the point about selling council houses, could he explain, if local authorities have a discretion to reduce the price by 20 per cent., why they should not be accorded an equal discretion to reduce the rent by 20 per cent.?
§ Mr. Peter Trew (Dartford)
Does my hon. Friend agree that fair rents are estimated in effect to be a 20 per cent. discount on market value?
§ Mr. Hill
I thank my hon. Friend. I had not thought of that, but obviously it is so. The 20 per cent. five-year preemption clause seems to work well. Sometimes a council house in certain areas has not been maintained at a sufficiently high standard and as soon as the tenant becomes the landlord he has to spend money on painting, fencing, making paths and many other things.
The doubling and trebling of rents suggestion has been a most widely used red herring. In my area we do not visualise a general doubling and trebling of rents. To be perfectly straightforward, I can see that some rents in every area will be doubled. Obviously those which have been held down artificially over many years may be doubled. We all know of cases in which the local housing committee has been almost blackmailed from time to time into holding down rents for fear of loss of popularity. This applies to both Conservative-controlled and Labour-controlled councils. They have not had free hands.
All the pre-war houses which have been subject to rent pooling will have a substantial increase but, as everyone who has studied the Bill knows, the rent will go up in the initial period by 50p a year. The average rent of £2 will go up to £4, but it is fairly obvious that it will take at least three years before the rent is doubled. Sometimes Opposition Members fail to quote that.
In a brief from the Research Division of the Library I came across the housing statistics for August, 1971. Page 79 shows the average annual household income and the average annual income for heads of household. We have always assumed—it may be so in some areas—that local authority tenants are poor, oppressed and in need. These statistics do not support that belief. The average income of local authority households is £1,478. The average income of local authority heads of household is £989. The average income of privately rented households is £1,319—that is, at least £3 a week less than the average income of local authority households. The average income of privately rented heads of household is £970. After spending five months 653 in Committee on this Bill I can only believe that Opposition Members have no one in their constituencies living in private rented accommodation.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that £20 a week before stoppages as the average income of the head of the house provides an affluent way of life? It does not appear to us to be so.
§ Mr. Hill
I was not suggesting that that is a high income. I was making a simple comparison between the local authority tenant and the tenant of privately rented accommodation. Of course there is agreement between both sides that we want a better standard of living for everyone.
One of the Amendments is a wrecking one. The other would serve no purpose. I shall therefore vote against them.
§ Mr. David Stoddart
This afternoon hon. Members opposite who served on the Standing Committee have come out of their cocoon; and a strange metamorphosis it has been. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) said that he does not understand that the object of the Bill is to reduce subsidies by 1976, in spite of the fact that he was told this quite clearly by the Secretary of State for the Environment. If the hon. Gentleman has served on the Standing Committee and had been considering the Bill on the basis that he does not understand exactly what it means, I do not know what hope there is for us.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
Cannot the hon. Gentleman recognise the definition of "reducing "? My definition of "reducing" is that something is brought down from one figure to a figure below it. What my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has said, and what the White Paper says, is that the present subsidy figure will not increase substantially. That is not the same as reducing.
§ Mr. Stoddart
I fully understand what the White Paper says. It is obvious that hon. Members opposite do not understand what the Secretary of State intended. The Secretary of State intended that the Exchequer contribution to housing should not rise to the level that it would have reached in 1976 had the Bill not been introduced. That is a 654 real and absolute saving of about £200 million on what the Exchequer would otherwise have paid in 1976. The hon. Member for Barry did not understand that fact; or, if he did understand it, he did not give that impression when replying to my intervention.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked what the Opposition's policy is on the Bill. Our policy is absolutely clear and it always has been. The Opposition are completely united in their opposition to this odious and vicious Bill. That is what our policy is and that is what it will remain.
§ Mr. Raison rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) will not give way. Both the Minister and the Opposition Front Bench spokesman wanted to speak, but I called the hon. Member. I hope that he will be reasonably brief.
§ Mr. Stoddart
I will be brief, Mr. Speaker, although I should have liked to give way to the hon. Member for Aylesbury. Perhaps there will be another opportunity.
In Committee I made it clear that 1 have always been in favour of the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) explained exactly how that Act worked in relation to local authorities which did not have a large stock of pre-war houses. The Act also helped to give additional assistance to areas where housing costs were higher —where land costs, interest charges, and building costs, were higher. The Act was a good one in that it discriminated in favour of areas which had higher housing costs.
I favour the system which has operated for a long time of charging rents on the basis that most people can afford them. I oppose the concept of the Bill, which is that rents will be charged which a great proportion of people cannot afford and, therefore, many people will be pushed unnecessarily through a means test.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. Bowden) told us about the operation of the Bill in his constituency. To my regret, the Bill has been implemented also in Swindon. It is remarkable that our experience has been the reverse 655 from that of the hon. Gentleman's. The operation of the Bill has meant that many retired people have had increases, on a 48-week basis, not of 55p a week, but of up to £1.80 a week, because they have lost a benefit which they had previously under the corporation's scheme.
As a result the local authority is trying to ease the burden of these tenants by giving additional benefits and rebates under the Bill. For example, for old people the local authority is disregarding the reduction in rent rebate in respect of the first non-dependant. That helps some tenants. Already my local authority has had to modify the scheme considerably so that people over 65 should not be badly hurt by the operation of the Bill.
In spite of the cries of the Tory leader who has been going round the town saying people are going to benefit and have these big rebates and so on, the take-up has been nowhere near 40 per cent. Indeed, the take-up has not come to 20 per cent. The local authority is now having to employ additional staff at additional cost to the local ratepayers to see that people are not getting unnecessarily hurt and that they draw the benefits to which they are entitled.
The Bill is an administrative nightmare for local authorities, make no mistake about that. The chaos that has been caused in my constituency has to be seen to be believed. There is also chaos between the local authority and the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I hate to think what is going to happen in the country when the Bill becomes fully operative in October this year.
These administrative difficulties will be compounded when local authorities are compelled under the Bill to operate a rent allowance scheme for the private tenant. I have yet to learn from any local authority how it is going to disperse the rent allowances when this part of the Bill becomes operative.
In conclusion—I intended to say more but my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and the Minister want to reply—there are many local authorities which are going to be badly hurt financially by the Bill. There 656 are many tenants in the country who in October will have an increase in rent, whereas they could have had a decrease. I have mentioned before in Committee the Reading local authority which on 31st March this year had a housing surplus of £500,000. That surplus would have enabled it to give its council tenants a rent reduction of £1 a week. Instead, in October it will have to impose a £1 increase. That is what the Bill will mean to many tenants in the country. It is an absolutely disgraceful Measure.
Our Amendment will help to mitigate the effects to some degree, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the best thing we can do is to reduce rents instead of increasing them.
§ The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Julian Amery)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I was impressed that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in opening the debate on the Amendments did not seek to use them as an opportunity to outline an alternative basis for rents. He confined himself to certain general observations of a kind which we have heard before, about which I shall be speaking in a moment. I was even more impressed in that after the right lion. Gentleman had resumed his seat most of the serious arguments advanced from the other side of the House were devoted to answering the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. It is an unusual situation for a Government to find themselves in during a debate on Report. I can pay no better tribute to his intervention. I understand that he is directing some of his activities to Irish matters. I hope he will keep his head down as we need his contribution on the housing front.
The Opposition claim there is a fundamental difference of principle between the two sides of the House in our philosophy about rents. The speeches which we have heard from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that they are by no means unanimous in their philosophy. On this issue, as on so many others, there would appear to be an "official" view and a "provisional" view.
All Opposition speakers are agreed in taking as their point of departure the 657 expenditure which falls on the housing revenue account. They all agree that in any local authority the rents of all the dwellings added together should not exceed the expenditure to which those dwellings give rise in the account. Thereafter their views appear to diverge. Some of what I might call the official or "old" believers take the view that in an authority with a low housing revenue account expenditure the rents of dwellings might be allowed to equal that expenditure without being reduced by a subsidy, or perhaps with only a small reduction. That is what I take it is meant by a reasonable rent. Their view would be that subsidies for dwellings should be used wholly, or mainly, in the case of authorities with high housing revenue account expenditure so that the rents of dwellings in such authorities can be kept below the expenditure in the account. Other Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), said that the present system was not so bad. They would appear to think that existing rents are high enough or, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, too high in some places. They think that in every authority rents of dwellings should be substantially less than the expenditure in the housing revenue account, and that the difference should be made up by subsidy, with the biggest subsidy in areas where the housing revenue account expenditure is high. My impression is that the official school of thought favours rent rebates for poorer tenants, whereas the provisionals look forward to the time when there are such low rents that no one needs a rebate.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the disincentive factor of the rebate, an argument which has sometimes been advanced on this side of the House. By itself this is small, 17p in the pound. Any means-tested benefit involves some disincentive. The alternative is to give no benefit, which is inhumane, or to give benefit to those who do not need it, which involves taking away people's money by taxation for indefensible purposes. It may be that it is possible to escape from this dilemma by some arrangement on the lines of negative income tax or whatever may be advocated by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and 658 my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams). However, this is something that goes beyond my responsibilities.
The officials and the provisionals on the benches opposite have one thing in common, they make housing revenue expenditure the upper limit of rents. By so doing they are applying the principle that rents should be based on the authorities' pooled historic costs. On this principle the accidents of history and geography determine whether rents could be high or low. In an authority which solved its housing problems long ago rents would be kept low, but for the next-door authority, which is still building to meet housing needs, the rent may have to be very much higher for an identical house. On this principle it is irrelevant that the value of the accommodation to the tenant is identical in both cases. This principle ignores the rental value of the dwelling and must lead to unfair results between tenants.
Different principles operate in the Opposition's philosophy about the lower limit of rent levels that is determined by the amount of subsidy that the taxpayers or the ratepayers can be persuaded or compelled to provide in order to reduce rents below the housing revenue account expenditure. Whoever decides the amount—whether it is Parliament or each local authority—has to make a judgment. That judgment must be based either on what the accommodation is worth to the tenant, which would be its rental value, or on a judgment that every tenant should pay less than the accommodation is worth because this is somehow felt to be right.
We on this side of the House agree that the rent of a dwelling should be based on its fair rental value. Indeed, we think that this is the only rational and fair basis for rent fixing. However, we certainly would not agree that the rent of a dwelling should be less than its fair rental value if the tenant can afford the fair rental value. Any loss from charging less than the fair rental value would have to be met by the ratepayers or taxpayers. It is quite indefensible to take money away from a citizen to enable another citizen to have a subsidy which he does not need. It is just as wrong for an elected local authority as for an elected Government to take away a 659 citizen's money for such an indefensible purpose. No parrot cry about the discretion of local authorities can make it right to perpetuate this injustice.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
Will the Minister clarify this matter? He suggested that if somebody pays a rent which is below the rental value—presumably the market value—it means that the subsidy will have to be met by others who might be worse off to make up the difference. However, I suggest that this is not necessarily so if to pay below the rental market value does not mean going below the cost of providing the dwelling. No cash is transferred in such circumstances.
§ Mr. Amery
On the contrary, with the system of pooled historic rents there is often a substantial transfer of cash. The whole system of subsidies, based as it is today, particularly if it went to £600 million a year, which is the forecast we have had, would involve heavy taxation on ordinary citizens often less well off than the people receiving the subsidy.
I turn now to another of the Opposition's parrot cries: that council housing is a social service. This oft repeated assertion conceals a good deal of sloppy thinking and a patronising attitude towards council tenants—[HON. MEMBER: "No."]—which we on this side of the House find disagreeable.
Of course local authorities must provide houses to rent to help meet the demand for rented houses. It is a service which they have provided for 50 years and will go on providing for the benefit of their areas. The houses which they provide improve social conditions and meet social needs. However, all this does not make it right that the rents which tenants pay should never exceed the cost of meeting the loan charges on their dwellings, plus the cost of maintaining them.
To suggest, as the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) does, that the Bill introduces profit rents is sheer nonsense, and hypocritical nonsense at that. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite know that under the existing system the great majority of local authorities pool rents and subsidies. What does pooling of rents and subsidies mean? It means that the rent on many 660 dwellings is a profit rent in the sense that it exceeds the expenditure which that dwelling generates in the housing revenue account. This is usually allowed to happen where the authority considers that the profit rent is reasonable in relation to the value of the accommodation. The Bill takes this idea to its logical conclusion. We say that if the rent fairly reflects the rental value of the dwelling, it is irrelevant whether it is a profit or a loss rent, and it can be both. It is absurd for the Opposition to argue that profit rents are acceptable as long as they are balanced by loss rents in the same authority, but that they somehow become wicked as soon as there are more profit than loss rents in that authority.
The Opposition's concern that there should not be a surplus in the housing revenue account shows their tendency to think in accounting terms, not in human terms. Rent is a payment for the right to occupy a particular dwelling as one's home. The Bill proposes that each individual should pay an amount which fairly reflects the value of that right, but only if he can afford to pay that amount. If he cannot afford it, he will be able to obtain a rebate.
The principle that a tenant should pay an amount which clearly reflects the value of his accommodation, which discounts any inflation of that value due to local scarcity, was introduced for private tenants by the previous Administration. I should add that at the time they forgot to give any help to those tenants who could not afford the rent based on this principle. The Opposition now say that this equitable principle should not be applied to council tenants. The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that.
The Opposition are always telling us that council houses are not just for the poor or those who need social help. I entirely agree. Council tenants are not a class to be specially labelled, still less to be stigmatised. They do not need more protection than private tenants. To suggest that tenants who can afford the fair rent should pay something less because they are council tenants, not private tenants, is patronising towards council tenants. It suggests that they are a group which needs special treatment and should be treated differently from private tenants. We believe that the only tenants who 661 need such special treatment are those who cannot afford the fair rent, whether they live in council or in private houses.
§ Mr. Skinner
As the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to use the analogy that we are more concerned about council tenants than private tenants —I do not want to go into some of the other byways because I might get at cross purposes with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends—how is it that private tenants are not treated in the same way as council tenants? How does the right hon. Gentleman reach that conclusion?
§ Mr. Rowlands rose—
§ Mr. Amery
I will not give way. The Opposition say that fair rents are inflationary because they involve rent increases. I accept that for many dwellings the fair rent will prove to be higher than the existing rent.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that on the figures which I had given in Committee rents would go up by about 50 per cent. I have had the figures checked since he made that remark. On 29th March in Committee I gave the estimates of fair rents made up from certain local authorities. In Newcastle the increase was not 50 per cent. but 23 per cent. In Portsmouth the increase was not 50 per cent. but 12 per cent. In Bristol the increase was not 50 per cent. but 65 per cent., which is rather more. In Rochdale the increase was 43 per cent. In Sutton the increase was 10 per cent. In Dorking and Horley the increase was 44 per cent. We must keep a sense of proportion in all this. The right hon. Gentleman talked about rents becoming dramatically dearer. I gave certain figures earlier which suggested that they would be far from 50 per cent.
I now have the figures for Birmingham. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Birmingham has over 140,000 dwellings. It is the largest housing authority outside the GLC. The council has recently approved estimates of the fair rents for council dwellings after studying the various items of information involved. 662 The council considers that the estimated average fair rent for all dwellings would be £3.60 per week compared with the average rent now being charged for all dwellings of £3.25 per week.
I will give the detailed estimate. For a pre-war three-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £3.51 and the estimated fair rent is £3.89. For an early post-war bungalow the present rent is £2.37 and the estimated fair rent is £2.61. For a late post-war bungalow the present rent is £2.59 and the estimated fair rent is £2.85. For a late post-war two-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £4.78 and the estimated fair rent is £4.78. For a late postwar three-bedroom non-parlour house the present rent is £5.25 and the estimated fair rent is £5.25. For a late post-war one-bedroom multi-storey flat the present rent is £3.83 and the estimated fair rent is £3.83. For a late post-war two-bedroom multi-storey flat the present rent is £4.63 and the estimated fair rent is £4.63. This applies to tenants without rebate. These are the figures which Birmingham has given.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington, North)
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as I have been seeking an opportunity to ask him some questions which are extremely pertinent to the figures which he has just quoted. In view of the time factor I cannot list the half-dozen questions which I wanted to put to him. May I ask—[Interruption.] I will gladly take five minutes putting them, but that would not be fair. I should like to sum them up in 30 seconds by asking the right hon. Gentleman, if he is quoting those Birmingham figures as evidence, to state categorically whether he accepts or rejects the criteria on which Birmingham has based them. If so, it would radically alter the interpretation of Clause 50 by local authorities throughout the country. This is vital and crucial. I hope that: we shall have a proper answer from the Minister.
§ Mr. Amery
I am giving not Government figures but figures supplied by the Birmingham authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Birmingham has been into this in great detail. [Interruption.] I am not surprised that our critics on the benches opposite find this disagreeable 663 and unpalatable, but it confirms what I have said about hon. Gentlemen opposite indulging in a totally irresponsible campaign of scaremongering and trying to win votes by totally unacceptable means.
Many tenants in Birmingham who will qualify for rebate will pay less than they pay today. In various parts of the country I have received examples—notably, in recent days, from Market Harborough and Droitwich—of rents being reduced to nil. These are by no means isolated examples.
I hope that the hon. Member for Salford, East will withdraw the charges he often makes about rents being doubled under our system. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were in Government they accepted that the present system of housing finance was defective, and they undertook a thorough review. They knew that changes were needed. Had they been returned to power the former Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have allowed whoever would have been the Minister responsible for housing to go on with the system as it was. Now they are in opposition hon. Gentlemen opposite feel free to make capital out of any proposals for reform which involve rent increases.
We are told that the Labour Party will produce a policy of its own. I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have been working on it since 1965, and no doubt it will come out after the Royal Assent has been given to this Measure. If they thought that fair rents would involve no rent increases for council tenants, they would not have opposed applying them to the public sector—[Interruption.] I accept that it is good tactics to oppose this principle because rent increases are unpopular.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have repeatedly told us that the rent increases which they claim will arise under the Bill will lose us votes and seats. Their totally irresponsible scaremongering campaign may win them some votes tonight, but when the people have reflected on the value of this legislation they will return a very different verdict, and I have no doubt whatever that hon. Gentlemen opposite will deeply regret the campaign they have applied. They talk about repealing the Bill. If they should ever be returned to Government I doubt whether they would even amend it.
§ Mr. John Fraser
In collusion with his colleagues in Birmingham, the Minister is trying desperately to save control of that authority. If the figures which the right hon. Gentleman quoted for Birmingham and the increases contained in them were general throughout the country, the Bill would not be necessary.
If the Minister is saying that Birmingham has made this judgment of what rents will be and if that judgment were general throughout the country, the Amendment, which talks about the opinion of the local authority, would be acceptable to the Government. We could abolish the rent scrutiny board—this Star Chamber procedure for reviewing rents—and throw the Bill out. The right hon. Gentleman knows that his argument does not apply throughout the country, and that is why he is pressing the Bill under the guillotine.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that it was another Birmingham representative who observed the true purpose of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), speaking near Birmingham about the Bill, said thatthe central justification and necessity"—the usual language—for the Government's legislation on rents is that it would eventually bring rents up to the genuine level fixed in the market by supply and demand.Later he said thatthe evil of artificially low rents was essentially the same as the evil of any other artificially depressed price.Thus, we have the Birmingham view, that quoted by the Minister in his desperate attempt to save that authority, and the view of an adherent to the market economy. I believe that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is probably right. It is clear that the Government will achieve the unique double of raising the level of rents and at the same time artificially depressing the level of building in the council sector.
The Amendment seeks to abrogate the central principle of the Bill that rents in the public sector should as far as possible follow those in the private sector. Despite figures that might be quoted by some authorities, we know from observation—not from within the Labour Party but from the general observations of the Minister and others knowledgeable in the local authority scene—that the Bill will 665 probably bring about a doubling of council rents in many areas.
We are anxious to make it possible for local authorities to meet the statutory public duty and social need which is placed on them. We are equally anxious, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), that they should not in future have to follow the profit-making procedures of public companies quoted on the Stock Exchange.
If the Bill is not amended in the way we suggest, local authorities will have to follow the rent-fixing processes of companies which have no duty to provide for the housing need of the people. There is no duty laid on them to solve the housing problem or eradicate the evils of bad housing.
The Minister is adopting the old American saying, "What is good for General Motors is good for America ", except that he is saying, "What is good for the Freshwater Group is good for local authorities ".
Lest any naïve councillor should imagine that local authorities will be able to act differently from private property groups, the Freshwater Group or any other, let him read Clause 50(4). He will find that the Minister is not being kind to him. That provision clearly states:In any case where, if the rent of a dwelling were being determined under Part IV of the Rent Act 1968, consideration would be given to the return that it would be reasonable to expect on it as an investment, the like consideration shall be given in determining a fair rent for it under this Part of this Act,"—These are the important words:and the fact that it is vested in a public body shall be disregarded.It is clear that the principle being followed here is that the public sector, with all its public duties and conscience, shall follow the private sector. What has motivated councillors of all parties in their rent and housing policies up to now is being abrogated.
We say in the Amendment that the rent scrutiny board should have regard to the effect of rent levels on the economy and the general body of housing. The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr.
§ Denis Howell) was telling when he pointed out that a notice of rent increase served in Liverpool, which meant tenants pay £1 a week more, resulted in a strike being prolonged for two weeks and workers getting an extra 60p per week in their wage settlement.
§ When there was an inquiry into the pay of electricians the Government told the tribunal to consider the public interest. Why cannot the rent scrutiny board do the same? Why are these sentiments being applied to every body of public workers which submits a wage claim but not in respect of rent increases for 5 million council tenants? Where is the justice in this when 5 million tenants will not even be allowed to be represented before the rent scrutiny board? If the Government care about controlling inflation, they must take these matters into account.
§ I have in my constituency some GLC area tenants who have recently moved into new houses and are getting rebates more favourable than those under the Government scheme. Within two months of moving in they have found themselves unable, even with generous rebates and fair rents, to continue to live in that accommodation. People who have waited a lifetime on the list of a council which has a scheme which is much more generous than the Government's rebate scheme and who have a rent that is probably less than the fair rent at the moment, find that after their long-awaited hopes have been fulfilled they have to leave the council dwelling because they cannot afford it. It is that principle of squeezing tenants for the greatest amount the market can bear without creating a revolutionary system that is being perpetuated in this Bill, and that we seek to abrogate.
§ It being Seven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April] to put forthwith the Question already proposed front the Chair.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 285.671
|Division No. 166.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Armstrong, Ernest||Bagier, Gordon A.|
|Albu, Austen||Ashley, Jack||Barnes, Michael|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Ashton, Joe||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Atkinson, Norman||Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)|
|Baxter, William||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Oswald, Thomas|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Heffer, Eric S.||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Horam, John||Padley, Walter|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Paget, R. T.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Huckfield, Leslie||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Booth, Albert||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Pentland, Norman|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Hunter, Adam||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Irvine,Rt.Hn.SirArthur(Edge Hill)||Prescott, John|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Janner, Greville||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Buchan, Norman||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Probert, Arthur|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rankin, John|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||John, Brynmor||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Cant, R. B.||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingham, Northfield)||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Richard, Ivor|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Jones, Gwynoro Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br c n&R dnor)|
|Cooks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Roper, John|
|Concannon, J. D.||Judd, Frank||Rose, Paul B.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Kaufman, Gerald||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Kelley, Richard||Rowlands, Edward|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Kerr, Russell||Sandelson, Neville|
|Crawshaw. Richard||Kinnock, Neil||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Cronin, John||Lamble. David||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lamond, James||Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Latham, Arthur||Short, Mrs. Rénee (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Lawson George||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Dalyell. Tam||Leadbitter, Ted||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Sillars, James|
|Davidson, Arthur||Leonard, Dick||Silverman, Julius|
|Davies, Denzil (Lianelly)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Skinner, Denis|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Small William|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Smith, John (Lanakshire, N.)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Lewis, Ron (Carlise)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lipton, Marcus||Spearing, Nigel|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Lomas, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||McBride, Neil||Steel, David|
|Dempsey, James||McCartney, Hugh||Stewart, Rt. Hn. John|
|Doig, Peter||McElhone, Frank||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Dorman, J. D.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Mackie, John||Strang, Gavin|
|Driberg, Tom||Mackintosh, John P.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Maclennan, Robert||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Dunn, James A.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Swain, Thomas|
|Eadie, Alex||McNamara, J. Kevin||Taverne, Dick|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff.W.)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Ellis, Tom||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|English, Michael||Marquand, David||Tomney, Frank|
|Evans, Fred||Marsden, F.||Torney, Tom|
|Ewing, Henry||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Tuck, Raphael|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Urwin, T. W.|
|Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham.Ladywood)||Mayhew, Christopher||Varley, Eric G.|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Meacher, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Foot, Michael||Mendelson, John||Walker Harold (Doncaster)|
|Ford, Ben||Mikardo, Ian||Wallace, George|
|Forrester, John||Millan, Bruce||Watkins, David|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Freeson, Reginald||Milne, Edward||Wells, William (Waisall, N.)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, ltchen)||White James (Glasaow Pollok)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Molloy, William|
|Gilbert,Dr. John||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Whitehead Phillip|
|Ginsberg, David (Dewsbury)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Whitlock, William|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Gordon, Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moyle, Roland||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Grant, George, Morpeth)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Murray, Ronald King||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Oakes, Gordon||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Ogden, Eric||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||O'Halloran, Michael||Woof, Robert|
|Hamling, William||O'Malley, Brian|
|Hardy, Peter||Oram, Bert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orbach, Maurice||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Orme, Stanley||Mr. Tom Pendry.|
|Adley, Robert||Fletcher-Cook, Charles||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Fookes, Miss Janet||Maddan, Martin|
|Allason, James (Hemel Kempstead)||Fortescue, Tim||Madel, David|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Foster, Sir John||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Fowler, Norman||Marten, Neil|
|Astor, John||Fox, Marcus||Mather, Carol|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Fry, Peter||Maude, Angus|
|Awdry, Daniel||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Gardner, Edward||Mawby, Ray|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Gibson-Watt, David||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Satsford, Brian||Goodhart, Philip||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Gorst, John||Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire.W)|
|Bell, Ronald||Gower, Raymond||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Moate, Roger|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Green, Alan||Money, Ernie|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Grieve, Percy||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Biffen, John||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Monro, Hector|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grylls, Michael||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Blaker, Peier||Gummer, Selwyn||More, Jasper|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gurden, Harold||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Body, Richard||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Morrison Charles|
|Boscawen, Robert||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Murton Oscar|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Neave, Afrey|
|Bowden, Andrew||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Braine, Bernard||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Normanton, Tom|
|Bray, Ronald||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Nott, John|
|Brewis, John||Haselhurst, Alan||Onslow, Cranley|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hastings, Stephen||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Havers, Michael||Osborn, John|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hay, John||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Bryan, Paul||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M)||Heseltine, Michael||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Buck, Antony||Hicks, Robert||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Peel, John|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hiley, Joseph||Percival Ian|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Holland, Philip||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Channon, Paul||Holt, Miss Mary||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hordern, Peter||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Chris'opher||Hornby, Richard||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Raison, Timothy|
|Clegg, Walter||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Cockeram, Eric||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Cooke, Robert||James, David||Redmond, Robert|
|Coombs, Derek||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Reed, Laurance (Bolton. E.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Jessel, Toby||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Costain, A. P.||Jopling, Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Crouch, David||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Crowdor, F. P.||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kershaw, Anthony||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Kilfedder, James||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kimball, Marcus||Rost, Peter|
|d'Avigdor-Coldsmid,Maj.-Gen.James||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Royle, Anthony|
|Dean, Paul||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Kinsey, J. R.||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Digby, Simon Wlngfield||Kirk, Peter||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Dixon Piers||Kitson, Timothy||Scott, Nicholas|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Knox, David||Sharples, Richard|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Lambton, Lord||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh a Whitby)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lane, David||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Simeons, Charles|
|Dykes, Hugh||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Eden, Sir John||Le Merchant, Spencer||Smith, Dudley (Wwick & L'mington)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Soref, Harold|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Speed, Keith|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.N.)||Loveridge, John||Spence, John|
|Emery, Peter||Luce, R. N.||Sproat, lain|
|Eyre, Reginald||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Farr, John||McArthur, Ian||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Fell, Anthony||McCrindle, R. A.||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||McLaren, Martin||Stoddart-Seott, Col. Sir M.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampslead)||Macmillan.Rt.Hn.Maurice (Farnham)||Stokes, John|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surblton)||McNalr-Wilson, Michael||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Sutclilfe, John||Trew, Peter||Wells, John (Maldstone)|
|Tapsell, Peter||Tugendhat, Christopher||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Vickers, Dame Joan||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Tebbit, Norman||Waddington, David||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Temple, John M.||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Thatcher, Rt. Kn. Mrs. Margaret||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek||Younger, Hn. George|
|Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Wall, Patrick|
|Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||Walters, Dennis||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Tilney, John||Ward, Dame Irene||Mr. Hamish Grfty and|
|Trafford, Or. Anthony||Weatherill, Bernard||Mr. Paul Hawkins.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April], to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Seven o'clock.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
I understand that there is no wish to divide against any Government Amendments within this section of the Guillotine. If that is so, I will, with the leave of the House, put together Amendments No. 128, 129, 136 to 138, 141 to 143, 228, 144, 229 and 146.
§ Amendment made: No. 128, in page 51, line 17, at end insert:
§ (5) In this section ' improvement' includes the replacement of any fixture or fitting.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 53
§ PUBLICATION AND ALTERATION OF PROVISIONAL ASSESSMENTS
§ Amendment made: No. 129, in line 11, leave out 'the tenants of dwellings' and insert:
§ each individual tenant of a dwelling '.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 57
§ POWER TO ENTER AND INSPECT DWELLINGS
Amendments made: No. 136, in page 57, line 1, leave out Any ' and insert:
' Subject to subsection (1A) below, any'.
§ No. 137, in line 5, leave out from ' relates ' to end of line 7 and insert:
§ (1A) A person who proposes to exercise the power conferred by subsection (1) above shall 672 give fourteen days notice in writing of his intention to do so to any occupier of the dwelling and to the authority and shall have regard to the convenience of any such occupier in exercising the power.
§ No. 138, in line 19, leave out £50 ' and insert £20 '.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 58
§ TREATMENT FOR PURPOSES OF PART V OF SUMS PAYABLE IN RESPECT OF RATES OR FOR USE OF FURNITURE OR FOR SERVICES
§ Amendment made: No. 141, in line 34, leave out subsection (3).—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 59
§ DETERMINATION OF NEW FAIR RENT IN CASE OF CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
Amendments made: No. 142, in page 58, line 1, leave Out:
'(including the making of any improvement in it)'.
§ No. 143, in line 15, leave out one month ' and insert two months '.
No. 228, in line 41, after section '. insert:
' subject to subsections (8) and (9) below,'.
§ No. 144, in line 45, leave out ' a month ' and insert two months '.
§ No. 229, in page 59, line 6, at end insert:
§ (9) In any case where a new fair rent of a dwelling determined under this section is lower than the rent which was the fair rent of the dwelling immediately before the determination, the authority may treat the date of determination of the new fair rent as having been such date as may in their opinion be appropriate, being either the date of the change in circumstances as a result of which the new fair rent was determined or a date after that change but before the date which would be the date of determination under subsection (7) or (8) above.—[Mr. Amery. ]673
§ Clause 62
§ INTERPRETATION OF PART V
§ Amendment made: No. 146, in page 61, leave out lines 11 and 12. — [Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 63
§ INCREASES TOWARDS FAIR RENTS
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Reginald Eyre)
I beg to move Amendment No. 148, in page 61, line 21, after shall ', insert:subject to the provisions of this section '.This is a drafting Amendment to ensure that the duty to make increases towards fair rents under Clauses 64 and 65 is discharged with regard to certain other provisions, in particular those resulting from Amendments made in Standing Committee. For example, this duty may be affected by subsection (6) of Clause 63, which enables the Secretary of State to direct that increases towards fair rents should be such lower amounts as are specified in the direction if it appears that the increases towards fair rents that would otherwise be required by Part VI of the Bill would cause 2 per cent. or more of the authority's dwellings to be above the fair rents in circumstances described in the subsection.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if together with this Amenedment the House discussed Amendment No. 262, in page 61, line 32, at end insert:'and
- (ii) a dwelling for the time being subject to a tenancy which was granted, by the authority or any predecessor in title of the authority, before 19th July 1971 and which is not a periodical tenancy, and
- (iii) a dwelling which, whether before the coming into force of this Act or later, was acquired by the authority from a person other than another housing authority, which when acquired was regarded by the authority as only likely to be available for use as a
|5||(7) An increase towards fair rents may be up to 1 per cent, more or less than the exact amount required by section 64 or 65 below, or as the case may be by subsection (6) above.|
|(8) Subject to section 6 below, the way in which an increase towards fair rents is distributed or apportioned among the authority's qualifying dwelling shall be such as the authority may determine.|
§ dwelling for a period not exceeding ten years and—
- (aa) which is for the time being subject to a tenancy which was granted before it was so acquired and which is not a periodical tenancy, or
- (bb) which for the time being is subject to a periodical tenancy and is a dwelling for which a fair rent has not been determined, and
- (iv) a dwelling which is for the time being excluded from section 70 of this Act by a direction given by the Secretary of State '.
§ Mr. Eyre
The purpose of these Amendments is to exclude from the definition of qualifying dwellings certain categories of dwellings. Broadly speaking, these are, first, dwellings subject to a service tenancy or used for mixed business and residential use; secondly, a fixed-term tenancy granted before 19th July, 1971; thirdly, a dwelling acquired by an authority and which is only expected to have a life of not more than 10 years —this would cover most dwellings acquired for development—and finally, in the fourth category, dwellings excluded from the provisions of Clause 70, which relates to fixed-term tenancies, by a direction given by the Secretary of State under that Clause.
It is necessary to exclude those categories from the definition of qualifying dwelling because they are excluded from the progression towards fair rents either entirely or for certain purposes; for example, until the fair rent is determined. In the absence of these Amendments the increases towards fair rents required under Part VI of the Bill would lead to higher individual rent increases for those dwellings still affected by the progression to fair rents.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that it would be for the convenience of the House to take at the same time Amendment No. 152, in page 62, line 12, after ' or ', insert ' 50 per cent.'.
Government Amendment No. 153, in line 27, at end insert:
|10||(9) Where the weekly or other periodical amount of rent for a qualifying dwelling which the authority would have to collect to conform with their determination under subsection (8) above would not be an exact multiple of 5 new pence, it may be increased or reduced by not more than 2½ new pence so as to produce an exact multiple of 5 new pence; and the power conferred by this subsection shall be exercisable notwithstanding that the total increase towards fair rents is then more or less than the exact amount mentioned in subsection (7) above as adjusted under that subsection, but this subsection has effect subject to section 66 below.|
|15||(10) Subsection (9) above shall be applied by reference to the methods of rent collection adopted by the authority and without regard to section 71(5) of this Act.|
§ Sub-Amendment (a) in line 1, after ' or ', insert ' 50℅ '
§ Sub-Amendment (b) in line 9, leave out increased or'
§ Sub-Amendment (c) in line 12, leave out 'more or'.
§ Mr. Eyre
The purpose of Amendments Nos. 151 and 153 is to allow a local authority to fix the weekly rent or the amount collectable to the nearest 5p.
The authority would first calculate the total increases towards fair rents required by Clauses 64 or 65 using the 1 per cent. tolerance allowed by subsection (7) if they so wished. They can then, under subsection (8), distribute or apportion that increase in such manner as they determine among their qualifying dwellings. Where the rent so apportioned to a dwelling is not an exact multiple of 5p, the authority will have a discretion under subsection (9) to increase or reduce the amount so apportioned by not more than 2½p so as to round the amount to a multiple of 5p.
When the rent is collected over irregular periods, for example, over 48 weeks instead of 52 weeks, subsection (10) enables the authority to round to a multiple of 5p the amount that is to be collected in those irregular periods.
This discretion may be exercised even though total of the amount so rounded may in fact produce a sum that is more or less than the exact required total increase towards fair rents, as adjusted by the 1 per cent. tolerance if invoked by the local authority. However, no weekly rent as rounded, or amount collectable as rounded, when expressed as a weekly amount, may exceed the maximum annual increase permitted for any individual dwelling by Clause 66.
§ Amendment aereed to.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The next Amendment is Amendment No. 227, in page 62, line 27, at end insert:Where the Secretary of State has considered an increase under the preceding subsection he 676 shall give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority and shall stipulate the criteria with have governed his decision.
§ Mr. Freeson rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Amendment No. 152 has been discussed with Amendment No. 151. We are now on Amendment No. 227, and I called the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), who rose to speak.
§ Mr. Freeson
I am inclined to take the view that much of the debate that is likely to ensue on this and related Amendments, as on the previous Amendment, has been made unnecessary by the statement of the Minister for Housing and Construction in the latter part of his remarks, when he called in aid the figures submitted to the Department by the second largest housing authority in the country, the city of Birmingham.
What we are seeking to do at this stage in effect is to halve the rate of increase in the movement towards fair rents as required by the Bill. But there is some misunderstanding on my part and, I believe, on your part, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to the order of the Amendments to which we should be speaking. I had not intended to speak to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) but to speak to what I would say, without disrespect to my hon. Friend or to the Chair, is the substantial Amendment, which is to slow the rate of increase annually towards the established fair rents.
677 May we have your guidance on the matter before I proceed, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
When I called Amendment No. 151, I called it together with Amendment No. 152, and other Amendments, and when I put the Question the House may have noticed that 1 paused rather a long time in anticipation of what did not occur, namely for the hon. Gentleman to rise.
§ Mr. Rowlands
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does that mean that Amendment No. 152 has been passed into the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No, the reverse. We have passed Amendment No. 151. Amendment No. 152 was taken with it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before we become further confused, may I put the hon. Gentleman right. Amendment No. 153 has not yet been reached.
§ Mr. Eyre
I am prepared to correct what I thought to be the position. I now understand that Amendment No. 151 was put and approved, but I submit that the Question on Amendment No.152 was not put at that stage. May I submit that it would be in order for us to continue a discussion on Amendment No. 152?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not think there is any difficulty here. I think that the points which hon. Gentlemen wish to make, if I guess correctly, will be quite in order on Amendment No. 153, and that will resolve both hon. Gentlemen's problems.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understood that it had been moved by the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson).
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
On a point of order. I do not often agree with the Minister, but I think that on this occasion he is right in saying that Amendment No. 152 has not been dealt with in any way, either by speaking or voting, and I urge you to allow that to be taken, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because that is what we are prepared for.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman perhaps did not hear my saying that that is precisely what I intend to do.
§ Mr. Allason
Further to that point of order. Surely Amendment No. 152 has fallen, as we have removed from the Bill the lines that it would amend. Therefore, we cannot discuss that Amendment, but we have Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 153, which will provide the moment for which the hon. Gentleman is so eagerly awaiting.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The contents of Amendments sometimes have some relevance to the debate, and I think it will be in order to do what I have suggested. Mr. Rowlands.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I beg to move Amendment No. 227, in page 62, line 27, at end insert:Where the Secretary of State has considered an increase under the preceding subsection he shall give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority and shall stipulate the criteria which have governed his decision.The Amendment is an attempt to obtain further clarification of the most interesting and curious addition to the Bill moved by the Government in Committee. I refer to subsection (6). I must confess that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) was saying in the confusion of a moment ago, in some respects the whole matter is thrown into the melting pot by the astonishing statements of the Minister about the rents proposed by the Birmingham authority, in that if the criteria which Birmingham has used have already been officially adopted by him, even if for short-term political gain in the local elections, we have already established criteria by which the fair rents will be determined and subsection (6) could 679 operate. I presume, therefore, that what the right lion. Gentleman was saying in our previous debate is that he would automatically grant the Birmingham authority an order under the subsection not to impose the rent increase of a pound that is written into the Clause, and that Birmingham could go forward with its own relatively modest increases on its own assessment of the fair rent. If that is so, can we assume that the criteria that Birmingham used to determine and fix the levels of fair rent, which are quoted this week, curiously in time for the local elections, are now the official criteria accepted by the Government as the basis upon which they would decide whether to grant an order to authorities under the subsection?
The subsection is one of the oddest additions to the Bill. If it had been moved by the Opposition it would have been regarded as a wrecking Amendment, because in many ways it wrecks the procedural arrangements written into the Bill. For example, what would happen to the rent scrutiny boards if there were an order from the Secretary of State to a local authority saying, Impose only a 25p increase this October, otherwise rents would go through the fair rent ceiling "? On what basis does the local authority seek an application under the subsection to the Secretary of State? What method does it use?
We have had a lot of discussion about what a fair rent is in the past two or three hours. If, as in the case of most Welsh local authorities, the whole experience of comparability, of the rent officer and rent office machinery, is useless for the local authority, on what grounds can it make a submission to the Secretary of State under the subsection? On what basis will the Secretary of State reply to such an application from a local authority? My own local authority is a good example. We believe that our rents are high enough, and that no further increase is necessary to achieve the so-called fair rent levels. We have no other criteria to apply. We cannot go to the rent officer, who was made redundant two years ago. In the whole of his six or seven years he had determined only 54 rents, two dozen of which were for penthouse flats in the central area redevelopment scheme.
680 By what criteria, if we cannot use comparability, can the local authority establish an application under subsection (6)? We have looked at the idea of applying the gross value method. The rents in many authorities are as much as twice or more the gross value. If that is the case and we can submit evidence, would it be admissible as the basis for a direction under the subsection?
The most interesting and astonishing feature of this subsection is what happens when the local authority makes the application. What does the Secretary of State do when he receives an application? Suppose he received one from every one of the 168 Welsh housing authorities through the Secretary of State for Wales who, alas and as usual, is absent from these debates. What does the Secretary of State for the Environment or the Secretary of State for Wales do? The local authority says that it thinks existing rents are fair and that any attempt to impose an increase of £1 a week in addition to the existing rent would push every rent through the fair rent ceiling. For example, if we added £1 a week to existing rents in Merthyr Tydfil, the ratio of rents to gross value would be over three times. There is not a rent officer, a scrutiny board or assessment panel that would say that that sort of ratio would be fair. The rents would clearly be way above the fair rent level.
What happens if Merthyr Tydfil applies to the Secretary of State under the subsection? What does he do? Does he check a sample variety of properties through his own officers in the field? He cannot go to the local rent officer for advice because he has been made redundant and has had no experience in dealing with anything but a handful of rents. Does he apply to the rent scrutiny board? He cannot, because the boards will not have been appointed by October. Where does he get his advice? How does he decide whether to accept the order? This subsection throws the whole procedural part of the Bill into total confusion. We do not know what the Secretary of State will do, how he will make an assessment of the application. We are not sure what the local authority must submit to apply for the order, whether it has to do a detailed or a 681 general assessment, or the basis upon which the assessment is made.
Having granted the order, greater confusion will arise. What happens to the rent scrutiny boards? The Secretary of State and the local authority will have reached an agreement that the rents will be increased by, say 25p and not by £1 a week. Does the authority still have to apply to the rent scrutiny board and, if so on what basis does the board act? Will it, a handful of people, have the power to overthrow a direction made under the subsection and say that the agreement made between the Secretary of State and the local authority is to be overthrown, is inaccurate and cannot stand?
The Government have an enormous responsibility to explain how this subsection will work. My Amendment seeks to ensure that when a local authority goes to the Secretary of State he will have to stipulate the criteria upon which assessments are made and directions issued. This subsection was introduced late in the day in Committee and throws the procedure of the Bill into confusion. When added to the confusion created by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the rent levels in Birmingham, we are entitled to demand a statement now clarifying the situation.
§ Mrs. Doris Fisher (Birmingham, Ladywood)
How will this Clause affect Birmingham? I have always had a little difficulty in understanding the Minister. Whether that is my fault or because of the way the Minister explains things, I do not know. As I understand it, the application must have been received from Birmingham. His reply as contained in the local Press says:Although no directions could be given until the Bill becomes law we would be prepared to give an indication on receipt of an informal application setting out the case as to whether a direction is likely to be issued should Clause 63(6) of the Bill be enacted substantially in its present form.That is a completely negative attitude about something which is rather important. What is the position now?
It seems as though all the things on which we spent months in Committee are completely overthrown by the Minister's statement. We would not argue if he were saying that his vicious 682 Bill has become too vicious and is penalising council house tenants too much. We would not mind if he said that in view of that he feels that he has been too vindictive and has decided that lower rents would be satisfactory. It is important that we should know and should be given a categoric assurance on this issue.
I want to make a special appeal because my constituency in Birmingham is made up entirely of council house properties. It is a redevelopment area with multi-storey blocks of flats and maisonettes, and all my constituents will he interested in the remarks made by the Secretary of State this afternoon. I should like to go to my constituents tomorrow and tell them that their rents will not go up £1 a week in October and that the Minister has accepted that the Bill is a vicious one and has decided to retract part of it. I know the Under-Secretary of State has a great interest in Birmingham and I hope he will be able to give that assurance.
There is nothing in the Bill to provide that wages must be taken into consideration when fair rents are assessed. The Minister went so far as to say that wages must be completely disregarded because the rent rebate scheme will take low wages into account. But wages must be considered in the Birmingham scheme because rents will be at such a level that the majority of the tenants will have to apply for a rebate. My hon. Friends who represent constituencies where earnings are low put forcibly in Committee the case that rents should not be increased in those areas on the grounds of unemployment and low wages.
I sometimes think that the Tories do not understand that the lower the wage of a family the more in proportion is spent on rent and food and, therefore, the standard of living of the family is determined by the cost of food and rent. The rent increases imposed by the Bill will mean a substantial cut in the standard of living of the majority of people who live in council houses. To speak of rebates for the less fortunate is contrary to the Prime Minister's idea of "one nation ". There will be a lowering of standards of living in one section of the community—contrary to the promises on which the Tories fought their election campaign.
683 Let us have a categorical assurance from the Minister today that the Birmingham scheme will go forward as an acceptable scheme and contrary to the spirit of the Bill.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
Will the Minister take into account who is to make the application? A Tory-controlled authority may be aware that the rent increase is likely to bring the rents of 2 per cent. of the council houses above the fair rent but may refuse to move. Does Clause 63 allow a resident, a ratepayer or the Member of Parliament for the area to intervene and ask the Minister to consider whether a direction should be made? If so, how will such persons be able to obtain the necessary information? If the Bill does not become an Act until August there will be two months only in which to determine the fair or economic rent for the area, and that will be insufficient time to enable an application to be made before 1st October, 1972. The Amendment would at least make certain that the Minister has to determine the criteria before he makes the decision but what I am more concerned about is that it does not specifically say who is empowered to ask for a direction to be made.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Subsection (6) does not stipulate that it must be the authority. A group of tenants or a tenants' organisation could make such an application.
§ Mr. Eyre
I think it would be convenient for me to try to reply to the debate so far. I remember the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) when he was here previously being a vigorous member of Standing Committees. In moving the Amendment the hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions and related his remarks on the Clause to the Birmingham figures which had been quoted earlier. The Birmingham figures are not astonishing at all, except to those who have been misled by propaganda statements—
§ Mr. Freeson
I intervene on a point of clarity because we might be discussing something so hypothetical as not to warrant a great deal of time. Are the Under-Secretary of State and the Minister accepting the validity of the Birmingham figures? If not, why use these figures as a basis for debating the merits and demerits of the Bill?
§ Mr. Eyre
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will try to reply to the debate. I must refer to the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil expressed astonishment at the Birmingham figures. Had he not been misled by the propaganda about rents being doubled, he would not have expressed astonishment.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I was not astonished or misled by the propaganda. I have been misled by Clause 63 which until subsection (6) was added would have imposed an increase in October of £1 on every local authority dwelling. The astonishment is not at my hon. Friends but at the hon. Gentleman's astonishment at finding that the average rent increases will be at least £1 a week. It is the hon. Gentleman's astonishment that astonishes me.
§ Mr. Eyre
I will take this by stages and gradually approach the hon. Gentleman's point on Clause 63(6) and set it into perspective against the background of the Bill as a whole.
If I may try to reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil about the Birmingham situation, that city has followed a realistic rents policy over a number of years. Therefore it is likely that the increases which will take place in Birmingham under the Bill will be moderate in character, as apparently has been forecast by the housing committee in Birmingham. The proposal which will be put forward at a later stage for consideration by the Secretary of State relates to an application under the terms of Clause 63(6), and one cannot imagine for a moment that the Secretary of State will be able to prejudge that situation—
§ Mr. Eyre
That is not so. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that these figures have been brought forward, and it is apparent to any hon. Member who 685 looks at subsection (6) that various items of evidence must be considered before the Secretary of State discharges his duty of exercising his discretion, if he has to do so under the subsection.
The direction to which the hon. Gentleman referred is in respect of any rent increases under Part VI of the Bill, which relates to the public sector. It is not in respect of rents under Part V. though it seemed to have occurred to the hon. Gentleman's mind that it is. I must make clear this vital distinction. The discretion referred to under subsection (6) relates entirely to the public sector.
I pass now to the hon. Gentleman's other point when he spoke about the difficulty of comparability—
§ Mr. Latham
In common with a number of other hon. Members who have lived with this Bill for a long time, I am fairly familiar with its provisions. However I understand the Minister just to have described the operation of Clause 63(6), which relates to increases which will go beyond the fair rent. Therefore it must follow that when a local authority submits what it believes to be a fair rent, it must establish that it has applied correctly the criteria of Clause 50 in determining what the fair rent level should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mrs. Doris Fisher) quoted at least one example where the criteria listed by Birmingham in the report of its director of housing to the housing committee is clearly in conflict with the provisions of Clause 50.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that it is clear from the criteria that Birmingham claims to have applied that when the rent scrutiny board examines the rent levels subsequently, if they stay within the provisions of Clause 50 the fair rents fixed will be different from those which Birmingham claims to be the case at the moment. In examining an application, surely the Minister has to satisfy himself that the criteria in Clause 50 are the only criteria being applied and that they have been applied correctly. Therefore it is incumbent upon the Minister, when quoting what he thinks will be the fair rent levels in Birmingham, to indicate clearly whether he accepts that Clause 50 has been applied correctly 686 or whether the criteria applied go beyond Clause 50.
§ Mr. Eyre
The hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says that the basis of the rent assessments in Clause 50 and that in discharging any discretion under Clause 63(6) the Secretary of State will expect to see that the basis of the assessment is in accordance with Clause 50. He will then go on to see if the special situation applies in respect of which he is able to exercise his discretion under Clause 63(6).
There is no difficulty about it. But from the very point that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has made it will be seen that the Secretary of State will need time to make this examination—
§ Mr. Eyre
It is perfectly reasonable and proper for the director of housing in Birmingham to have spent a considerable amount of time in bringing forward this provisional assessment which the housing committee has approved. It appears to Birmingham that it establishes a prima facie case for an application to the Secretary of State under Section 63(6). All that will be perfectly proper when the Bill comes into operation. I do not think that hon. Members opposite can criticise what has occurred. It is all reasonable and proper, and it is not at all surprising to me.
I return to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and his point about the difficulty in comparing valuations in the private sector with those in the public sector in establishing a rental basis in Merthyr Tydvil. In my view the principle can be applied easily. There is evidence of rentals in the area which will be helpful—
§ Mr. Rowlands
As I have told the hon. Gentleman many times, there are 54, two dozen of which are flats in the central shopping precinct. The borough treasurer says that they are totally irrelevant to the method of assessing rents in the local authority sector. They are not applicable.
§ Mr. Eyre
It would be proper to make comparisons with nearby areas on this basis. I am sure that a new rent officer will be appointed soon. But the responsible elected council will want to do its 687 duty and will, with the advice and assistance of the rent officer, prepare its provisional assessment. That will be referred to the rent scrutiny board, which will be made up of people who are experts in these matters and who will ensure that a fair balance has been struck.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
The hon. Gentleman referred to the ability to make comparisons with nearby areas. Why are not those words contained in Clause 50? The Clause uses the words "locality ". That is normally taken to mean the specific area run by the local authority. Alternatively, why not refer to the gross value? That could be used. Exactly the same criteria here are there for the gross value to be available. How can the hon. Gentleman say that if this comparison cannot be made within the locality, as defined by Clause 50, it will be possible to make comparisons with some other area further away? I remind hon. Members, too, that the hon. Gentleman has made that known merely by word of mouth. It does not appear in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hardy
We all appreciate the very loyal way in which the hon. Gentleman is defending his Minister. But will he provide us with some information which has not yet been supplied, either in Committee or to this House? The Minister has been very selective in the amount of information and the number of examples that he has provided. Very few rents have been quoted. Those of Birmingham are perhaps the most recent. To assist those of us who represent areas in respect of which examples have not yet been given, can the hon. Gentleman say whether the relationship of rents in Birmingham and in the other areas quoted by the Minister is between those rents and gross values? If the hon. Gentleman is able to supply that information, it will be of great assistance to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands).
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not surprised at the figures which had been produced by Birmingham's housing manager. These figures are in complete conflict with the figures produced by his Department's working party about 12 months ago which forecast an increase in Birmingham and the West Midlands rising to an average rent of £5 a week within a couple of years, and rising to £6 by 1976–77, which will be an increase of £2 and £3 a week. Does that mean that the Department has jettisoned the figures prepared by its own working party? If the Birmingham figures are typical—admittedly they are higher than average, but they are not exceptional—what was the object of providing in the Bill for an increase of £1 in October?
§ Mr. Eyre
The hon. Gentleman should not seek to involve me in the dispute about the validity of the earlier figures. There was a lot of argument about them, and it was repeatedly said from the Government Front Bench that misleading interpretations were being made. The astonishment about the Birmingham figures which have been produced today is due to the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite had misled themselves about the situation which would arise when the principles under Clause 50 were applied.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)
I think that my hon. Friend is in slight danger of getting led away from the Amendment. To get involved in an argument about whether a series of highly suspect figures, well known to be based on a narrow sample at a time when the full provisions of the Bill had not been published, and which have been disputed ever since the Bill was published, is nothing whatever to do with whether the Secretary of State, having considered an increase under the preceding subsection, as the Amendment suggests, should give his reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to the authority, and should stipulate the criteria which have governed his decision.
It is obvious which criteria will govern the Secretary of State's decision. They are the criteria for the fixing of fair rents, whether the fair rent has been correctly fixed, and the provision in Clause 63 about whether more than 2 per cent. of 689 the dwellings—if I remember the figure correctly—would be subject—
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us were waiting to be called on the previous Amendment, but we were not called because we ran out of time. Is this a speech, or has the Minister decided to give way completely?
§ Mr. Tebbit
Perhaps I may briefly conclude my remarks. The criteria are laid down, and it is a nonsense and a terrible waste of the precious time of the House to start going back over arguments which have been repudiated in past debates at which the hon. Gentleman was not present.
§ Mr. Eyre
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the points that he made.
Perhaps I may return to the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Ladywood when she referred specifically to the application under Clause 63 (6) in respect of Birmingham. The Secretary of State cannot prejudge any direction which he may be asked to give. As my hon. Friend made clear, the Secretary of State would have to look at a number of complicated matters before he was able to carry out his duty under that subsection.
The hon. Lady has been deceived by hostile propaganda against the proposals in the Bill, and she is surprised to find that the operation of the Bill as it affects Birmingham appears to be so reasonable. I must remind her that her constituency includes a large number of modern blocks and other housing which has been built in recent times, where there is a modern rental basis. Therefore it would not be surprising to find that the adjustment to a fair rent basis would be of a moderate order.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) asked about the application to the Secretary of State for the exercise of the discretion under subsection (6). It would normally be made by the local authority because the authority would be in possession of the full details which would enable it to decide that a prima facie case had been established for the making of such an application.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
If that be the case, do I understand that the authority will be obliged to publish that knowledge before it makes the application, so that the tenants will know about it?
The hon. Gentleman said that I was drawing the definition of a locality too finely, and that it ought to be wider. Perhaps I may draw his attention to Clause 52(3) which specifically says that the only rent officers who can be consulted are those within the area in which the dwelling is situated. It is not possible to go wider than that. Is the hon. Gentleman thinking of the fact that under other legislation comparisons can be made between dwellings 100 miles apart? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under the provisions of this Bill that kind of comparison can be made?
§ Mr. Eyre
The rent officer bases the advice that he gives on his knowledge of the locality, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to seek to limit that in any way.
I come to the strict terms of the Amendment because, to some extent, it is an accident of chance that the precise terms of the Amendment have been attached to the subsection which we have had to debate. The effect of the Amendment would be to require the Secretary of State to give reasons for either issuing or not issuing a direction to an authority under subsection (6) and to stipulate the criteria which have governed that decision.
In the case of the majority of local authorities the existing rents are almost certainly below the likely fair rents, and thus increases towards fair rents made before fair rents are determined are not likely to bring existing rents up to a level higher than the fair rents when they are first determined. Even if an authority has some housing revenue account dwellings whose rents it believes to be near the likely fair rents it will, by virtue of subsection (4) as drafted, be able to apply any average increase towards fair rents required to be made in accordance with column 2 of the Table in Clause 64 in such a manner that little or no increase needs to be made in the case of dwellings which the authority estimates at or near the fair rent level.
§ Mr. Latham
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that for many authorities £1 691 is both the minimum and maximum increase to be applied, and therefore there cannot, in those circumstances, be any spread of the kind that he is describing?
§ Mr. Eyre
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the variety of circumstances which apply throughout the country, and there is no doubt that what I have said is justified in practical terms, that little or no increase need be made in the case of dwellings which the authority estimates are at or near the fair rent level.
There could be a difficulty for those authorities which now have a high general level of rents and which might, therefore, find that an increase towards fair rents in 1972–73 or 1973–74 led to a situation in which the rent of a substantial proportion of its housing revenue account dwellings was increased above the fair rent as subsequently determined for those dwellings. Subsection (6) is designed to enable the Secretary of State to deal with such a case by slowing down the progression towards fair rents in 1972–73 and 1973–74. It gives the Secretary of State a broad power, which could be exercised only as an interim measure in a subjective manner since, by definition, the only authoritative report on the level of fair rents—that is, that of the rent scrutiny board—would not yet be available.
Before giving a direction, the Secretary of State would need to consider whether the authority had estimated the fair rents for its housing revenue account dwellings in accordance with the principles set out in Clauses 50 and 58, in particular whether it had reasonably related its estimates to the rents registered for the most nearly comparable dwellings in its area or any other area and in doing so had made reasonable adjustments for differences in such circumstances as age, character and locality. The Secretary of State could not give a direction unless he was satisfied that the authority could not apportion the required increase towards fair rents among its qualifying dwellings in such a way as to prevent the permitted fair rent of more than 2 per cent. of such dwellings very likely being substantially exceeded. There is no need to place an extra duty on the Secretary of State to give reasons for his decision on an application by an authority for a direction under subsection (6), as he would natur- 692 ally do so as a matter of ordinary courtesy.
§ Mr. Frank Marsden (Liverpool, Scotland)
Perhaps we can clarify a point. The hon. Gentleman say that the comparison should be 100, or 200 or 250 miles in locality.
§ Mr. Eyre
It is not for me in any way to limit what would be the exercise of reasonable discretion on a valuation basis in this respect, but the hon. Gentleman has heard the references to the specific provisions in the Bill. He has also heard the words which I have just used by reference to an area or any other area. That would help in making a practical comparison.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Clause 52(3) rules that out. It says:For the purpose of provisionally assessing for a dwelling an authority may rent officer appointed by virtue of section 40 of the Rent Act 1968 for the area in which the dwelling is situated.That means in the authority covered by the rent officer and no other.
§ Mr. Eyre
That limitation is with regard to the rent officer who may be consulted.
Perhaps I can come back to the main purpose of the Amendment. It would require an express duty to be placed on the Secretary of State when an application has been made. As I say, it is not necessary because the Secretary of State would naturally give reasons for his decision where appropriate as a matter of ordinary courtesy and normal practice in exercising such a discretion in relation to a local authority.
It has not been thought necessary to place such an express duty on Ministers in this kind of situation in similar legislation in the past. For example, Section 10 of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968, and Section 3 of the Rent (Control of Increase) Act, 1969, did not place a duty on the Minister to give reasons for his decisions on local authority proposals to increase rents under those Statutes. Yet in every case the Minister gave reasons where he did not approve an authority's proposals. Where he did approve them, the authority was content to assume that the reason for the decision was that the Minister accepted the case it had put forward in support of its proposals. It is 693 the intention to employ this procedure in relation to the power in subsection (6) and there is every reason to suppose that this will be as satisfactory to local authorities as the procedure adopted in the 1968 and 1969 Acts.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Freeson
I must pursue this point a little further, although I realise that we are confined by time and we want to get on to the next debate, which is restricted in itself by virtue of the guillotine—as, indeed, is the one after that, which relates to housing commissioners and interference with local authority administration in a variety of ways.
The Birmingham case is relevant to the Amendment. I do not wish now to pursue the question of the figures. What I am concerned about now is the question, among other things, of the criteria to be used. The Minister, supported by the Under-Secretary of State, has quoted with his usual panache the Birmingham figures in support of his argument in favour of the Bill. This has virtually given the accolade to the figures, whether it was technically intended to or not. They are, in effect, supported by the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State.
But the point at issue on this Amendment, which deals with criteria to be published, is what are the criteria which are to be acceptable by the Government in giving a direction on an application received by the Minister. Before proceeding to elucidate that, I must say that I thought it curious to hear the hon. Gentleman, as it were, not exactly evading but side-stepping the point put to him by saying that this was a matter for formal application to the Minister, who would thereupon in due course, having considered all relevant matters, issue a direction. He suggested that therefore nothing could be said at this stage in one way or another on whether an application was correct or not. That is not in line with what has transpired in Birmingham.
I have here a clipping from the Birmingham Press which suggests that the Minister has intervened—indeed, has not only intervened because of the local elections but has gone on to say, in the course of a letter to the Birmingham authority, that although no direction could be given until the Bill became law, he would be 694 prepared to give an indication, on receipt of an informal application setting out the case, as to whether a direction would be likely to be issued under Clause 53(6), should the Bill be enacted substantially in its present form, or words to that effect. So the right hon. Gentleman has told Birmingham that an indication will be given, and we are entitled to ask what the criteria are. The figures have been challenged and we may well come back to them later before the guillotine falls at nine o'clock, but now I want to pursue the question of the criteria.
The Bill lays down what criteria should be taken into account and also matters which should be excluded. In debate on Clause 50 in Committee we probed the question of whether gross rateable values should be taken as the main factor. This idea was rejected. We questioned whether the capital value allocated over a period, which is sometimes used to assess rateable values, could be accepted, and that was set aside. We questioned whether the wage levels in the area and the general economic circumstances of the area could be taken into account.
We went through a number of such factors and argued them in detail. I am being non-controversial in setting that forth. Time and again these factors were either totally rejected or, if the Minister or the Under-Secretary accepted them, they were to be treated as additional or marginal factors and possibly as alternatives. The main theme was the test of comparability with registered rents in the private sector. Time and again comparability and the way in which local authorities would have no difficulty was discussed. They could take groups and samples. I think I am putting the position fairly.
We looked at the criteria which Birmingham has used. This is known to the Minister. Presumably the submission has been made to him in the course of correspondence. First, Birmingham has taken into account the wage levels of the area. I have an extract from the report of the director of housing. Birmingham has taken into account the gross values from the 1973 valuation list. It has taken into account the value of the council houses which it has sold. It has taken into account the difference between the gross rateable value in the 1973 695 valuation list and the fact that this must be discounted because of the scarcity element. It has taken into account that there is a very grave shortage of comparable rents registered in the private sector of the market, which makes it difficult to adopt the comparability test.
It is all specifically laid down in the director's report. The very criterion which the Government argued in Committee as the central criterion is that of registered rents in the private sector. The main way by which local authorities could arrive at fair rents—by comparability—is the method that, according to the director of housing, Birmingham has had to set aside. Birmingham said that it cannot be done because too few are registered. All the other criteria which the Government argue as either non-acceptable or only marginal possibilities in assessing fair rents have been taken as the main criteria.
I am glad that the Minister is present again since in the earlier debate he raised the Birmingham issue. Are the criteria which have been used by the Birmingham housing committee acceptable to the Minister in the light of this Bill? We are entitled to have an answer "yes" or "no" to that question. I am not asking the Minister to say whether he will issue a direction that the figures which have come from Birmingham are the right ones and that he will agree to them. I am not asking him to do something which he is not legally entitled to do. I am not even asking him to state in the House tonight what the informal indication will be to Birmingham which the Minister says he is willing to give. All that I am asking in relation to this Amendment and the central element of the Bill is, are these criteria which Birmingham has used acceptable as a basis for assessing fair rents?
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
Because there appears to be a total flaw in the basis of his argument, can the hon. Member indicate whether any other criteria are used by a rent officer in assessing the rent of a private dwelling for comparability purposes in some cases different from the criteria which Birmingham has apparently used?
§ Mr. Freeson
Without going into detail, I recommend the hon. Member to 696 read the relevant section in the 1968 Rent Act, which is repeated almost word for word in Clause 50, which sets out the criteria to be used in assessing fair rents. I repeat my question: are the criteria that Birmingham has used in arriving at whatever figures are finally approved acceptable to the Government in the terms of this Bill?
§ Mr. Eyre
The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) has raised a number of questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Only one."]—by implication, a number—on Birmingham figures which, I want to stress, have been produced locally on the advice of highly experienced officials whom the hon. Member knows are there and approved by the housing committee. I cannot accept for a moment that the hon. Member is correct in saying that the Minister has intervened. It cannot be right to say that. My right hon. Friend has said that we would give an indication to Birmingham. It would be quite reasonable for him to do so in due course.
Of course the rental basis under Clauses 50 and 58 would have to be examined and the relevance to Clause 63(6) would have to be considered by the Secretary of State in relation to the application for a discretion. It is simply not possible for me to follow the hon. Member in continuation of the debate which we had in the Committee on comparability, but with reference to Birmingham clearly the factors specified in Clauses 50 and 58 have been taken into account. No specific information as to criteria has been forwarded to the Minister. The hon. Member will realise that this matter cannot be dealt with on the basis of Press reports.
§ Mr. Freeson
I did not quote an extract from the Press. This document from which I quoted is a photostat copy of two pages of the report by the director of housing setting out the criteria which Birmingham used when the submission was made to the full council.
§ Mr. Eyre
I apologise for suggesting that the hon. Member was referring to a Press report. I want to stress that no information as to criteria has been sent to the Minister. It is quite impossible for the Secretary of State or the Minister to prejudge these matters. It would be unreasonable to do so.
§ Mr. Freeson
I repeat what I very carefully said. I think it will be agreed that I spoke very carefully. I did not ask the Minister to prejudge the application. I specifically said that I realised he could not do so. I put before the Minister and the Under-Secretary the criteria that had been used by Binning-ham in arriving at its figures. I spelled some of them out and asked whether those criteria are acceptable to the Government as a basis for arriving at fair rents.
§ Mr. Eyre
The basis of acceptability to the Government would be the precise terms of the Bill as enacted. The Government would consider any application on the basis of strict legality.
The hon. Gentleman has fastened on certain elements of criteria which, he suggests—I accept his word—are contained in this report from Birmingham. I emphasise that the vital factor is whether Birmingham, in producing this list, has had regard to the 'statutory requirements which will be made on the city; whether, therefore, it has taken into account the factors in Clauses 50 and 58; and whether it comes within the rules laid down for the exercise of the discretion. If it does, the Secretary of State will be able to exercise that discretion. It is not possible at the Dispatch Box at this moment to reply to the specific question asked by the hon. Gentleman.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart
I am amazed at the Minister's reply. He now says that he did not see the criteria laid down by Birmingham, yet the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to quote, in reply to our case, a set of figures which he obviously has not considered but which he tries to persuade the country will be the norm which the rest of the country will follow. This is humbug of the first order. It is not the way to treat the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Tebbit
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to suggest that the Minister has given the House questionable infor- 698 mation when what the Minister has done is to read out the bold facts of what has been presented and what has been repeated by hon. Members opposite The facts are not in question. These proposals have been made.
§ Mr. Hardy
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber this afternoon when the Minister gave the information, nor do I know whether the hon. Gentleman was awake in Committee when we heard about Newcastle. This afternoon the Minister quoted some information given in answer to a Question I tabled just before Easter. The Minister added percentages which purported to prove that the claims made by this side of the House that the increases as a result of fair rents would be very high—
§ Mr. Eyre
We cannot give an indication until we have considered the informal application from Birmingham which has only just arrived. The criteria for a fair rent are set out in Clause 50. Judging the likely fair rent is mainly a question of comparison—that is, a comparison of registered rents in the locality or elsewhere. We shall have to see whether the evidence adduced by Birmingham fully supports this case. This process must take some time, but it will be carried out.
§ Mrs. Fisher
I do not want to be awkward. I am sure that the Minister would not want deliberately to mislead the House. What he has just said is in direct contradiction to the answer by the leader of the council in Birmingham to the Minister's letter. The leader of the council—for another 25 minutes the leader of Birmingham City Council will be a Tory—says:The overall rent increases then will only be about 10 per cent. on existing levels.699 He comes to that conclusion on the result of the letter which the Minister sent to him, the usual evasive kind of letter. One wonders whether some kind of confidential information is being passed of which we are not aware.
§ Mrs. Fisher
That is right, collusion. Or is this another election gimmick? The Minister cannot have it both ways.
§ Mrs. Fisher
I should like to ask just one question. This is important as it affects the London areas, where there are large multi-storey blocks of flats as there are in Birmingham. These blocks of flats are not generally liked by the majority of tenants, but they have to live in them. Is this a criterion that the Secretary of State will consider when fixing fair rents? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech"] May I ask a question?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Lady said a few moments ago that she was going to ask one question. She has gone on a long time since then.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
On a point of order. Is not a little preamble to a question proper?
§ Mrs. Fisher
Is less desirability to live in blocks of flats than houses a criterion for a lesser rent?
§ Mr. Eyre
The hon. Lady cannot hold me responsible for opinions expressed by the leader of the Conservative group in the Birmingham City Council. Sound as those opinions may be, I cannot express any opinion upon or support for them. I should emphasise to the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State does not, contrary to the words she used, fix rental values. The well established process does not include the Secretary of State. The criterion which has to be operated upon is set out in Clause 50. The factor of desirability of tenancies is clearly one which would affect the valuation in due Course.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The contribution that the Housing Minister has made has 700 astounded the House. He has given the debate a sensational turn. What he has said could be either a dramatic retreat or a mean trick aimed at lulling the growing opposition. We must know the significance of his statement this afternoon. With respect to the Under-Secretary, I think the Minister must say something to the House. He has received proposals from Birmingham as to what its new rents should be. He quoted them at length. They showed an increase on average of only 35p. That would be an average increase of 9p over four year. I want to know, and I am sure the whole country wants to know, whether he accepts those figures. The Minister—I took his words down—replied: "These are the proposals of the Birmingham council." But that is no answer. The decision as to what the rents will be will be taken by the rent scrutiny board, and the board has not yet been set up.
However, a few minutes later the Under-Secretary—I took down his words, too—said that the Birmingham figures are not astonishing at all and it is likely that they will be accepted. The hon. Gentleman used the word "likely ". I think that my hon. Friends will bear me out on that. If the Minister accepts these figures it makes nonsense of the Bill which we have already discussed in 57 sittings in Committee. It also make nonsense of the campaign which has been waged from both sides throughout the country. It would be the greatest climb down in housing history, due to the tremendous antagonism which the Bill has aroused among tenants, councillors, trade unions, Labour Party Members, and so on. If the Minister agrees, it shows that pressure counts just as much as pressure counted, despite the Government's 36 majority, concerning the miners' pay and UCS, where they intended to close down two of the four shipyards.
I do not want to say anything before the situation has arisen. It may be the Minister's intention to take the steam out of the campaign which has been fought throughout the country against the Bill by suggesting—
§ Mr. Latham
On one hypothesis, what my hon. Friend has just been describing might be so. However, would it not also be totaly illegal in terms of Clause 50?
§ Mr. Allaun
It is not for me to say what is legal or illegal. I know what I say about the Bill. However, it is for the Minister to reply. The Minister's announcement this afternoon and his repetition of these Birmingham figures—
§ Mr. Allaun
Amid cheers from the other side, giving them some freedoms—is so important either as a climbdown or as a trick that he must come clean with the House this afternoon. Before nine o'clock the Minister should rise and say what he means by it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Amendment proposed: No. 153, in page 62, line 27, at end insert:
§ (7) An increase towards fair rents may be up to I per cent. more or less than the exact amount required by section 64 or 65 below, or as the case may be by subsection (6) above.
§ (8) Subject to section 66 below, the way in which an increase towards fair rents is distributed or apportioned among the authority's qualifying dwellings shall be such as the authority may determine.
§ (9) Where the weekly or other periodical amount of rent for a qualifying dwelling which the authority would have to collect to conform with their determination under subsection (8) above would not be an exact multiple of 5 new pence, it may be increased or reduced by not more than 2½ new pence so as to produce an exact multiple of 5 new pence; and the power conferred by this subsection shall be exercisable notwithstanding that the total increase towards fair rents is then more or less than the exact amount mentioned in subsection (7) above as adjusted under that subsection, but this subsection has effect subject to section 66 below.
§ (10) Subsection (9) above shall be applied by reference to the methods of rent collection adopted by the authority and without regard to section 71(5) of this Act.—[Mr. Hawkins.]
§ Mr. John Fraser
On a point of order. There being no Front Bench spokesman opposite, may I respectfully suggest that we adjourn for a while, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
As Amendment No. 153 has been moved formally, hon. Members may discuss the other Amendments which were in the group selected with Amendment No. 151.
§ Mr. George Thomas
On a point of order. Is it for the Chair to suggest that the Minister need not make a speech in introducing a group of Amendments?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is in order for there to be a formal proposition such as that which I think is being made, which is Amendment No. 153.
§ Mr. Freeson
On a point of order. Can we get some clarity on this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Are you saying that the Amendment which stands in the name of the Minister does not have to be moved even formally by a Government representative?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Yes, it has to be moved formally in order that hon. Members may have an opportunity to discuss the Amendment which had been grouped in the selection with Amendment No. 151.
§ Mr. Freeson
On a point of order. Do I take it that the Minister does not intend to speak to Amendment No. 153 which stands in his name? In which case, am I entitled to speak to it; in other words, to speak to a Government Amendment which has not been spoken to by a Government spokesman?
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
On a point of order. In view of the uncertainty that exists over this group of Amendments, may I respectfully submit that we adjourn for half an hour to get things sorted out?
§ Mr. Freeson
Although we are in a state of uncertainty about what has transpired, I understand that Amendment No. 153 has been moved formally by the Under-Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was my understanding. I wish to comment on the Amendment in the spirit of Amendments which we tabled originally but which were not selected.
703 I wish to concentrate on our desire to introduce an important element of flexibility into Clause 63. We would have wished it to be possible not only to increase fair rents up to 1 per cent. or more or less the exact amount required by Clauses 64 and 65 but to allow increases to a 50 per cent. margin of the reduction on the total amount.
The reason for arguing this—and I will do so briefly—is that in the first instance, whatever may be the confusion on the part of the Government—and confusion there certainly is—as to the criteria to be used by local authorities in arriving at fair rents as laid down in Clause 50 of the Bill, confusion which was shown pretty clearly in the previous debate, we on this side of the House wish to see the kind of criteria that have been used by the housing officials and other chief officers of Birmingham in arriving at their submission to the Minister used by all local authorities which see fit to use them—and we wish to see those criteria accepted by the Government.
This would mean that, as in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for a local authority to take into account the general rate levels of its area. For example, as in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for local authorities to take into account gross rateable values on the new valuation if they so wished. As in the case of Birmingham, it would be possible for local authorities to seek to establish rent levels within the fair rent levels as ceilings which would not require a considerable proportion, and possibly a majority, of their tenants to apply for rent rebates in order to be able to afford the rents to be imposed. We would wish to see these kinds of criteria imposed and to see local authorities which so decided doing as Birmingham appears to have done—that is, setting aside to a very large extent any requirements in this Bill and relating the fair rents to be established to comparable fair rents for equivalent profit-making properties in the private market.
That is what Birmingham has done. It has said that these registered fair rents for equivalent property in their area are far too few to provide the basis for establishing reasonable fair rents in their area at such a level as to avoid a very 704 high proportion of their tenants having to apply for rebates.
We are not saying that all these criteria must be used or should he used by local authorities. All we are saying is that these criteria, which have been used by Birmingham, should be permitted in the case of other local authorities throughout the country. If they were, it would enable local authorities to take into account a number of other factors in addition to the question whether their rents would equate as nearly as possible to those of equivalent properties in the private sector.
Why have we argued this continually, not only tonight, but on other occasions throughout the course of our proceedings in Committee? It would take a long time to go over all the ground but I will select one central aspect of our case which has been touched upon in earlier debates today. It is that, if the logic of the Government's Bill is proceeded with and market rents are applied within the next two to three years to local authority housing in this country, there will be millions of pounds surplus coming from local authorities into the coffers of the Treasury, millions of pounds not required to be paid in order to maintain the estates. It will be the case in the Birmingham area, part of which the Under-Secretary of State represents. He must know that in the logic of their Bill Birmingham would be required to make a surplus of about £3 million, most of which would go into the Treasury and would not stay in the local authority area. He must know that the same would apply in two or three years' time in the Prime Minister's constituency of Bexley—that they would have £3£ million surplus in a few years' time which would be taken into the Treasury.
I could go through the constituencies of nearly all of the hon. Members on the other side of the House who served on the Committee and show that this would be so. Except for a few selected areas of the country, massive surpluses will be made within a few years, which will he taken away from housing and from the local authorities and transferred to the Exchequer to help to pay for the rent rebates and rent allowances we have discussed earlier.
§ Mr. Tebbit rose—
§ Mr. Freeson
I have referred to all hon. Members opposite who served on the Committee. My point is that this kind of money raising by way of the rent provisions of the Bill is unnecessary in terms of maintaining and improving our housing. Except for a few isolated instances in the country—
§ Mr. Freeson
I gave plenty of figures in Committee. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends read the Committee proceedings. They will see them set down in great detail.
§ Mr. Mitchell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to hon. Members who served on the Committee, to state that he has the figures for their constituencies and to refuse to give them in the debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not for the Chair to tell the hon. Gentleman what he must produce in the debate.
§ Mr. Freeson
I am making as my main point the fact that the money need not be raised. Therefore, this element of flexibility should be allowed for local authorities in the Amendment we wish to see. We do not find the Government's Amendment acceptable for this reason. We wish to see it go much further along the line I have argued because we wish to see rents related to the reality of costs and we wish to see that rents charged will not be inflationary, in the spirit we have been exhorted to follow by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government.
That is the main objection. The money need not be raised. The Association of Municipal Corporations, the urban district councils and rural district councils, every institution in local government, all ask for this kind of flexibility. The main case that we have quoted in connection with Birmingham, and the kind of criteria that Birmingham has adopted in arriving at the rents it is putting to the Minister, 706 supports our argument. We have been arguing in the House, in Committee and throughout the country that the Bill is an abomination, that it is unnecessary and that it should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Question is, That the Amendment be made. As many as are of that opinion say "Aye ".
§ Hon. Members: Aye.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
On a point of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] As both sides of the House said "Aye" to a Government Amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how can we have a Division?
§ Hon. Members: No.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ It being Nine o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April], to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Nine o'clock.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We now come to a group of Amendments on which there can be no discussion, the guillotine having fallen.
I understand, however, that it is the wish of the Opposition to vote upon Amendment No. 160. Therefore, by agreement, I shall put the other Amendments in an abbreviated form.
§ Clause 64
§ INCREASE TOWARDS FAIR RENTS BEFORE 1973–74
Amendment proposed: No. 160, in page 63, line 37, at end insert:
'and, for the purposes of the said subsections (5) and (6), rebates from rent, or waivers of rent, unrelated to the particular personal or domestic circumstances of the tenants, granted for a week or other period, and not granted for prior periods, shall be treated as decreases of rent '.—[Mr. Eyre.]
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made: —707
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The position is quite clear. There is before the House a Government Amendment in the name of the Minister for Housing and Construction. I am sure it was the Government's intention to support it, and it is our intention to oppose it. I urge that that course now be taken.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 255.711
|Division No. 167.1||AYES||[9.0 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Dykes, Hugh||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Eden, Sir John||Kilfedder, James|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Kimball, Marcus|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Astor, John||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,N.)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Emery, Peter||Kinsey, J. R.|
|Awdry, Daniel||Eyre, Reginald||Kirk, Peter|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Farr, John||Knox, David|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Fell, Anthony||Lambton, Lord|
|Balniel, Lord||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Lane, David|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Batsford, Brian||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Bell, Ronald||Fookes, Miss Janet||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Fortescue, Tim||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Foster, Sir John||Loveridge, John|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Fowler, Norman||Luce, R. N.|
|Biffen, John||Fox, Marcus||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fry, Peter||MacArthur, Ian|
|Blaker, Peter||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gardner, Edward||McLaren, Martin|
|Body, Richard||Gibson-Watt, David||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Boscawen, Robert||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.I||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Goodhart, Philip||Maddan, Martin|
|Bowden, Andrew||Goodhew, Victor||Madel, David|
|Braine, Bernard||Gorst, John||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Bray, Ronald||Gower, Raymond||Marten, Neil|
|Brewis, John||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Mather, Carol|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Gray, Hamish||Maude, Angus|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Green, Alan||Mawby, Ray|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Grieve, Percy||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bryan, Paul||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N&M)||Grylls, Michael||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Buck, Antony||Gummer, Selwyn||Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Gurden, Harold||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Moate, Roger|
|Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Money, Ernie|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Monro, Hector|
|Channon, Paul||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Chapman, Sydney||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||More, Jasper|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Haselhurst, Alan||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hastings, Stephen||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Churchill, W. S.||Havers, Michael||Morrison, Charles|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Hay, John||Mudd, David|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Heseltine, Michael||Murton, Oscar|
|Clegg, Walter||Hicks, Robert||Neave, Airey|
|Cockeram, Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Cooke, Robert||Hiley, Joseph||Normanton, Tom|
|Coombs, Derek||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Cormack, Patrick||Holt, Miss Mary||Osborn, John|
|Costain, A. P.||Hordern, Peter||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Critchley, Julian||Hornby, Richard||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Crouch, David||Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Howell, David (Guildford)||Peel, John|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Percival, Ian|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid.Maj.-Gen. James||Iremonger, T. L.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Dean, Paul||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||James, David||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Dixon, Piers||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Jesse), Toby||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Drayson, G. B.||Joseph. Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Raison, Timothy||Spence, John||van Straubenzee W. R.|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Sproat, Iain||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Stanbrook, Ivor||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Redmond, Robert||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Waddington, David|
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Rees, Peter (Dover)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Rees-Davis, W. R.||Stokes, John||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Wall, Patrick|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Sutcliffe, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Tapsell, Peter||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Rost, Peter||Taylor, Robert (Croydon. N.W.)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Royle, Anthony||Tebbit, Norman||Wilkinson, John|
|Russell, Sir Ronald||Temple, John M.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Scott, Nicholas||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Sharpies, Richard||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whltby)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Shelton, William (Clapham)||Tilney, John||Younger, Hn. George|
|Simeons, Charles||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Trew, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Tugendhat, Christopher||Mr. Paul Hawkins and|
|Soref, Harold||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Abse, Leo||Dempsey, James||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Albu, Austen||Doig, Peter||John, Brynmor|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Dormand, J. D.||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Driberg, Tom||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)|
|Ashley, Jack||Duffy, A. E. P.||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)|
|Ashton, Joe||Dunn, James A.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Dunnett, Jack||Jones.Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Eadie, Alex||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)|
|Barnes, Michael||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Judd, Frank|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Ellis, Tom||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Baxter, William||English, Michael||Kelly, Richard|
|Benn, Rt Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Evans, Fred||Kerr, Russell|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Ewing, Henry||Kinnock, Nell|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Faulds, Andrew||Lambie, David|
|Bishop. E. S.||Fisher,Mrs.Doris (B'ham.Ladywood)||Lamond, James|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Fletcher, Raymond (IIkeston)||Latham, Arthur|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lawson, George|
|Booth, Albert||Foot, Michael||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Ford, Ben||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Forrester, John||Leonard, Dick|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.W.)||Freeson, Reginald||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Garrett, W. E.||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Buchan, Norman||Gilbert, Dr. John||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||McBride, Neil|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Golding, John||McCartney, Hugh|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||McElhone, Frank|
|Cant, R B.||Gourlay, Harry||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mackie, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hamling, William||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hardy, Peter||Mallalieu, J. p. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Marquand, David|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Hattersley, Roy||Marsden, F.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Marshall, Dr. Edmund|
|Cronin, John||Heffer, Eric S.||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Horam, John||Meacher, Michael|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Mendelson, John|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Huckfield, Leslle||Mikardo, Ian|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Millan, Bruce|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Davies. Denzil (Llanelly)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Milne, Edward|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Mitchell, R. S. (S'hampton, lichen)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Hunter, Adam||Molloy, William|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Deakins, Eric||Janner, Greville||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Morris. Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Moyle, Roland||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Taverne, Dick|
|Mulley, RI. Hn. Frederick||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)||Thomas, Rt. Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)|
|Murray, Ronald King||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Roper, John||Tinn, James|
|Ogden, Eric||Rose, Paul B.||Tomney, Frank|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)||Torney, Tom|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rowlands, Edward||Tuck, Raphael|
|Oram, Bert||Sandelson, Neville||Urwin, T. W.|
|Orbach, Maurice||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Orme, Stanley||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Oswald, Thomas||Short,Rt. Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)||Wallace, George|
|Padley, Walter||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Depttord)||Watkins, David|
|Paget, R. T.||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Palmer, Arthur||Sillars, James||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Pannell, Rt. Hon. Charles||Silverman, Julius||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Skinner, Dennis||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Small, William||Whitlock, William|
|Pentland, Norman||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Perry, Ernest G.||Spearing, Nigel||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Spriggs, Leslie||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Prescott, John||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Steel, David||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Probert, Arthur||Stoddart, David (Swindon)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Rankin, John||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John||Woof, Robert|
|Reed, D. (Sedgefleld)||Strauss, Gavin|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rhodes, Geoffrey||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Richard Ivor||Swain, Thomas||Mr. Tom Pendry.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 263, in page 64, line 11, at end insert:
' but excluding any dwelling within paragraph (1), (ii) or (iii) of section 63(2) above '.—[Mr.Amery.]
§ Clause 65
§ INCREASE TOWARDS FAIR RENTS IN 1973–
74 AND SUBSEQUENT YEARS
§ Amendments made: No. 247, in page 66, line 1, leave out from beginning to ' which' in line 2 and insert:
§ 65.—(1) An increase towards fair rents shall be made in the year 1973–74 and in each subsequent year, and the increase in the rent of any qualifying dwelling shall take effect for the rental period, or the first rental period, beginning on or after the relevant date as defined in the following provisions of this section.
§ (2) The amount of any such increase shall be that.
§ No. 248, in line 5, leave out from first ' the ' to end of line 6 and insert ' said relevant date '.
§ No. 249, in line 17. leave out from beginning to ' in ' and insert:
§ (5) If the general rent increase was made at the beginning of a rental period beginning before 1st April 1972, and was taken into account by virtue of section 64(9)(b) of this Act, it shall be regarded for the purposes of subsection (3) above as taking effect at the beginning of that rental period.
§ (6) The relevant date.712
§ No. 250, in line 20, at end insert:
§ (6) An authority may substitute for the relevant date as determined under the preceding provisions of this section any of the next seven days, and shall exercise the power conferred by this subsection where otherwise there would be two relevant dates in the same year.
§ (7) The Secretary of State may on the application of any authority direct that this section shall apply, for any year specified in the direction, with such adjustments as appear to the Secretary of State desirable for the convenience of the authority in the administration of the increase towards fair rents, and any such adjustment may be as respects all or any of the authority's qualifying dwellings.—[Mr.Amery.]
§ Clause 67
§ VARIATIONS OF RENT APART FROM ANNUAL INCREASES TOWARDS FAIR RENTS
Amendments made: No. 164, in page 67, line 8, leave out from ' tenant ' to is ' in line 11 and insert:
' a member of that tenant's family who was then residing with him '.
No. 165, in line 20, leave out from ' dwelling ' to ' or ' in line 21 and insert:
' but disregarding any improvement carried out, otherwise than in pursuance of the terms of the tenancy, by the tenant or any predecessor in title of his '.
§ No. 166, in line 37, at end insert:
§ (7) In this section ' improvement' includes the replacement of any fixture or fitting. —[Mr. Amory.]713
§ Clause 68
§ RENT EXCEEDING A FAIR RENT
Amendments made: No. 167, in page 68, line 8, leave out from determined ' to end of line 10 and insert:
' and applies to any rental period ending not earlier than 1st October 1971 '.
§ No. 168, in line 27, leave out six ' and insert twelve '.
§ No. 235, in line 28, at end insert:
§ (7) If the authority receives a statutory declaration that—
- (a) the person entitled to recover any amount under the preceding provisions of this section has died, and
- (b) the claimant specified in the declaration is entitled to receive that amount, and the authority has obtained satisfactory evidence of the death, the authority may pay that amount to the said claimant.
§ (8) Where the power conferred by subsection (7) above has been exercised, the payment shall be valid and effectual with respect to any claim against the authority, but without prejudice to any right of recourse by any personal representative or beneficiary against the person who received the payment.
§ No. 169, in line 31, leave out two years and six months' and insert three years '. —[Mr.Amery.]
§ Clause 69
§ INCREASES TOWARDS FAIR RENTS: SUPPLEMENTAL PROVISIONS
§ Amendments made: No. 170, in page 68, line 42, leave out subsection (2) and insert:
§ (2) An authority shall not in the case of any of the authority's Housing Revenue Account dwellings grant a long periodical tenancy, or agree to alter the terms of a short periodical tenancy so as to convert it into a long periodical tenancy, unless the authority is satisfied that it will still be possible to make all increases towards fair rents without imposing an unfair burden on other tenants, and that in other respects to do so will not conflict with the duties imposed on them by the provisions of this Part of this Act about increases towards fair rents.
§ No. 171, in page 69, line 8, leave out weekly ' and insert short periodical '.
No. 172, in line 9, leave out from second a ' to end of line 14 and insert:
'long periodical tenancy, then as from the coming into force of this Act each periodical tenancy so converted, or any other long
periodical tenancy to which the dwelling is then subject, shall become a tenancy which, except as respects the rent, is the same as the tenancy which was converted, and is at a rent equivalent to the current rent. This subsection shall not apply if the Secretary of State so directs as respects all or any of the dwellings.
(4) In this section "short periodical tenancy" means a periodical tenancy of a month or of a shorter period, and "long periodical tenancy" means any other periodical tenancy '. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 70
§ TENANCIES AT A RENT UNALTERABLE OVER A LONG PERIOD
§ Amendments made: No. 173, in page 69, line 15, leave out from tenancy ' to first of ' in line 16.
No. 239, in line 18, after Act) ', insert:
' other than—
§ No. 175, in page 70, line 12, leave out subsection (6). — [Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 71
§ Amendment made: No. 176, in page 71, line 32, after first for ', insert or collected in '. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 75
§ RESIDUAL SUBSIDIES—SUPPLEMENTAL
§ Amendments made: No. 177, in page 75, line 30, leave out `statutory' and insert housing '.715
No. 178, in line 42, after second or ', insert:
' trustees for another housing association, or are leased to or become vested in '.
§ No. 179, in page 76, line 3, at end insert:
§ (3A) For the purposes of this section dwellings are leased if and only if they are leased for a term exceeding seven years, or for a term not exceeding seven years granted by a lease which confers on the lessee an option for renewal for a term which, together with the original term, exceeds seven years.
§ No. 264, in line 4, leave out subsection (4) and insert:
§ (4) In this section and section 76 below ' housing functions' means constructing, improving or managing or facilitating or encouraging the construction or improvement of dwellings, the provision of dwellings by conversion and the acquisition of dwellings, and includes functions which are supplemental or incidental to any of those functions. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 76
§ THE NEW BUILDING SUBSIDY
Amendments made: No. 181, in page 76, line 13, leave out if they complete ' and insert:
'as provided by the following provisions of this section and section 77 below, in respect of '.
No. 182, in page 77, line 3, after ' assuming ', insert:
' subject to subsection (7A) below '.
§ No. 183, in line 37, at end insert:
§ (7A) The Secretary of State may direct under subsection (7) above that paragraph (b) of subsection (5) above shall have effect with the substitution for the assumption specified in that paragraph of such other assumption as may be specified in the direction.
No. 184, in page 78, line 2, leave out ' subsection (7) ' and insert:
'subsections (7) and (7A)'.
§ No. 185, in line 25, leave out statutory ' and insert housing '.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 77
§ NEW BUILDING SUBSIDY—SUPPLEMENTAL
§ Amendments made: No. 186, in page 79, line 20, leave out from `or' to `or' in line 21 and insert leased '.
§ No. 187, in line 23, at end insert or trustees for the association '.716
§ No. 188, in line 25, after association ', insert or trustees for a housing association '.
§ No. 189, in line 26, after or ', insert are leased to or become vested '.
§ No. 190, in line 31, at end insert:
§ (4) For the purposes of this section dwellings are leased if and only if they are leased for a term exceeding seven years, or for a term not exceeding seven years granted by a lease which confers on the lessee an option for renewal for a term which, together with the original term, exceeds seven years. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 81
§ POWER TO APPLY TO CERTAIN HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS PROVISIONS OF ACT RELATING TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES
§ Amendment made: No. 191, in page 83, line 9, leave out similar to or. '.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 84
§ THE RENT LIMIT
Amendment made: No. 218, in page 85, line 26, leave out from `and' to end of line 29 and insert:
'in this Part of this Act references to the amount of the registered rent include any amount to be added under this proviso '. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 85
§ PHASING OF PROGRESSION TO REGISTERED RENT
§ Amendment made: No. 219, in page 87, line 15, leave out subsection (6) and insert:
§ (6) The registration of a lower or higher rent during the progression from the rent limit in force before the prior registration shall not alter the stages by which the rent limit is to progress, and if a higher rent is registered in the 52 weeks beginning with the first rental period for which the rent is increased up to the rent registered on the prior registration, the first stage in the progression from that rent up to the later registered rent shall not begin until the end of that period of 52 weeks.
§ (7) If for any rental period beginning after the date of registration there is a difference between the amount (if any) of the rates borne by the landlord or a superior landlord in respect of the dwelling-house and the amount (if any) so borne immediately before the date of registration, any limit imposed by this section for that rental period shall be increased or decreased by the amount of the difference, 717 but not so as to enable any rent to be increased above the rent limit under the last preceding section, and an increase of rent made solely to reflect an increase in the amount of rates borne by the landlord or a superior landlord shall be disregarded for the purposes of subsections (3) and (4) of this section.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 86
§ PREVIOUS RENT LIMIT EXCEEDING REGISTERED RENT: SPECIAL RENT LIMIT
Amendments made: No. 220, in page 87, line 26, after registration ', insert:
' or, where a rent determined by a rent assessment committee is registered in substitution for a rent determined by the rent officer, and it is lower than the rent for which it is substituted, a period of 28 days beginning with the date of registration of the substituted rent '.
No. 221, in line 32, leave out said period of 28 days' and insert:
' relevant period of 28 days mentioned in subsection (2)(a) above '.
§ No. 222, in page 88, line 22, at end insert:
§ (9) This section applies whether the registration mentioned in subsection (1) above is the first or any subsequent registration and, in the case of a subsequent registration, whether or not the rent limit immediately before the date of registration was that fixed by a direction under this section.
§ (10) A confirmation of a rent by the rent officer shall be treated for the purposes of this section as a registration of a rent which, whether or not it is a provisional registration, supersedes the registration in force prior to the confirmation.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 87
§ SPECIAL RENT LIMIT: PROCEDURE ON APPLICATION
§ Amendment made: No. 265, in page 88, line 39, leave out statutory ' and insert housing '. —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 88
§ INCREASE OF RENT WITHOUT NOTICE TO QUIT
§ Amendment made: No. 223, in page 90, line 2, at end insert:
§ (5) Nothing in this section shall authorise any rent to be increased above the rent limit, and any reference in section 84 of this Act to the variation by agreement of the rent recoverable under a tenancy shall include a reference to variation under this section. —[Mr. Amery.]718
§ Clause 90
§ HOSTEL SUBSIDY
§ Amendments made: No. 266, in page 91, line 26, leave out from ' or' to ' or' in line 27 and insert ' leased '.
§ No. 267, in line 29, at end insert or trustees for the association '.
§ No. 268, in line 31 at end insert or trustees for a housing association '.
§ No. 269, in line 33, after or ', insert are leased to or become vested '.
§ No. 270, in page 92, line 7, at end insert:
§ (12) For the purposes of this section dwellings are leased if and only if they are leased for a term exceeding seven years, or for a term not exceeding seven years granted by a lease which confers on the lessee an option for renewal for a term which, together with the original term, exceeds seven years. — [Mr.Amery.]
§ Clause 93
§ DEFAULT BY LOCAL AUTHORITY
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ (6A) Where an authority have notified the Secretary of State in writing before 1st October, 1972, that it does not intend to discharge the functions under Part VI of this Act then subsections (3), (4), (5) and (6) of this section shall not apply in so far as they refer to Part VI of this Act.
No. 195, in line 9 after requirement ', insert:
' or if an authority have notified the Secretary of State in writing before 1st October, 1972 that it does not intend to discharge the functions under Part VI of this Act '.
No. 197, in line 17, after specified ', insert:
' and in respect of which the authority is in default or, in relation to Part VI of this Act, in respect of which an authority have notified the Secretary of State in writing before 1st October, 1972, that it does not intend to discharge that function'.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is ironic that we should be debating, on what is a reactionary, divisive, vicious and probably totally unnecessary Bill, the powers to take away the independence of local authorities and 719 the powers of the housing commissioner, on the very night when thousands of councillors will be elected throughout the country. The Bill will be the central issue in most of those council elections, and many of those elected to councils tonight where the control of councils changes will have been fighting an election based on a rise in rents of £1 a week on 1st October. The Government are trying to say to councillors elected on Thursday, 4th May, that they will be compelled on Sunday, 1st October, to reverse their election policies. It would take the incompetence of this Government to choose a Sunday for the rent increases to take effect.
The Amendment says that those councillors should not within the space of five months be required, under the severe penalty of surcharge and of other draconian measures in the Bill, to assault their consciences, their election pledges and their self-respect The Amendment invites the Government to use for themselves the weapons that they are fashioning. They should respect the decision of the electorate tonight. I say that on the very good authority of the Leader of the House.
Perhaps I might quote briefly from a much praised speech that the right hon. Gentleman made about the Prices and Incomes Bill in 1968. He said:Certainly, in the Bill there is grave power to interfere. The first reason why we should oppose the Bill is that it is one more example of giving all the power in the country to Whitehall. Local authorities are elected bodies and elected bodies have, in their wisdom or their lack of it, to take their own decisions and to be judged at the end of their period of office.Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the elections in London in 1968, and he went on:It so happens that all those local authorities have received one of the biggest votes of confidence from an electorate that local authorities have ever had. The first point, therefore, is that they should not be interfered with. If they are doing wrong, and doing what their electors as a whole consider wrong, let them stand and be judged, which is the proper democratic way in our system, when the next election time comes.The right hon. Gentleman went on:We object to the Clause on grounds of constitutional principle. It is one more example of the madness of centralisation of power in Whitehall."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 17th June, 1968; c. 986.]720 The Leader of the House was talking about a Clause in a Bill which stopped local authorities putting their rents up by more than 7s. 6d. a week. We are now discussing a Bill where the Government take the power to introduce a housing commissioner, and to put rents up not by 7s. 6d. or even by £1 but by even more if the commissioner comes in after October, 1972.
§ John Fraser
ake my hon. Friend's point.
Those were the words used by the present Leader of the House about the Prices and Incomes Bill in 1968, when we were discussing keeping down rents. The principle has changed now that his own Government propose to double them.
We do not object to the principle of enforcement in legislation. I look back on the first Housing Act, introduced by Dr. Addison in 1919. Much of the Second Reading debate then was about enforcement provisions to ensure that slum houses were demolished, that houses were put up in their place and that the Government should step in where local authorities were recalcitrant. We are not against enforcement powers in principle, but what we want to see is a commissioner to put up houses, not a commissioner to put up rents.
One has only to look at some of the figures in London to see how necessary that power is. Looking at the 1971 figures, I see that Harrow, until recently a Conservative Council, had 56 houses under construction at the end of the year, compared with 3,109 in Southwark. At Kingston-upon-Thames, where an election has been fought today and where the Conservative candidate in his election address said that he would protect Kingston against houses being built on golf courses and open spaces, 383 houses were under construction at the end of the year. Lambeth, on the other hand, under both Conservative and Labour control, had 2,450 houses under construction. The point of the matter is
§ Mr. Fraser
We are pressed for time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have 721 an opportunity to take part in the debate later.
Whilst there should be enforcement, it should not be an assault on the conscience and election pledges of local councillors. Enforcement needs to take place in getting houses put up, not in getting rents increased.
What we say is that the Government should not bring about this provocation of local authorities, councillors and the community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has said, this Government were elected upon the basis of a lie. That lie was that they would "cut prices at a stroke ", and that remark was made in the context of cost of living figures issued in 1970, just before the General Election, which showed a remarkable rise. That rise was dictated slightly by the rise in the price of potatoes and mainly by the rise in council rents. It was upon that issue that the 1970 General Election was fought.
Rent increases will have been one of the issues at by-elections and council elections today. We say that the Government should withdraw the compulsion on local authorities to increase rents in October, 1972. The Amendment says that if local authorities are unwilling to implement this proposal, that if to do so is an assault upon them, they can invite the Government to do their own dirty work. That is the purpose of the Amendment.
If the Bill has to go through, the Government should do their own dirty work and appoint a land commissioner, if need be—though I hope that it will be unnecessary—to put up rents. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted, but I have an even better suggestion to make, and that is that the Government should withdraw the Bill altogether.
§ Mr. Hardy
I had expected one or two of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been jumping up and down during the last hours, to take part in the debate on this part of the Bill but, unfortunately, none of them has risen to do so. It may be that they would have liked to refute some of the arguments which have been advanced today, such as those advanced by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who took a paternalistic attitude to local government. Some of my hon. 722 Friends and I think that his speech could better be described as displaying an arrogantly sneering attitude to the contribution made to local government by local people, whether elected or paid members of staff. These people are entitled to be angry about the Bill, because the Bill in general, and this part of it in particular, insists on an excessive amount of centralisation.
If the national housing problem were the same in every area, it might be argued that centralisation was perhaps a reasonable excuse for this Measure, but the differences in housing problems in the various regions and sub-regions are such that a national solution is not desirable. For that reason I believe that the Amendment is essential if we are to have flexibility and if there is to be recognition that there arc considerable variations in the scale and type of housing problems.
The Minister may advance the view that fair rent differences will cover the variations in the housing problem. This, I think, will not be the case.
The Bill does not, therefore, sufficiently recognise regional variations, just as it evades the economic consequences and disregards very serious feelings on the council estates. The councillors who are anxious about the enforcement powers which the Clause provides are particularly concerned in many areas that the rebates will not be particularly fair—not merely that they will be unfair but that the burden to be borne will bear excessively narrowly. They are aware that thousands of council tenants are middle-aged people on average incomes who could not possibly take out a 20 or 25-year mortgage, while hundreds of thousands who are perhaps on below-average incomes have sons and daughters at work and will not qualify for any rebates going. They realise, too, that the cost of a house in 1970–71 rose by £675 and that the increase in the first four months of 1972 alone may well be very near that figure. Thus, they recognise that the vast majority of council tenants could not possibly afford to purchase a house and that many could not afford the very high fair rents which will be levied.
Local government staffs and the elected representatives are aware that Whitehall is going to insist on their taking action which is not in the interests of 723 their area or their tenants. They and, I am sure, the vast majority of people voting in the local elections today, are aware that it is entirely inappropriate in a civilised society that we should turn the Department of the Environment into an organised puppet-master. Councillors are also worried—and this is one of the principal reasons why councils in my area do not wish to discharge their functions under this Bill—that if tenants are to be given adequate safeguards then, since they do not have right of representation to the rent scrutiny board, it will cost the local authority a tremendous amount of money in providing the necessary administrative arrangements.
People in much of Britain, and certainly in the North, are not enamoured of red tape and object to the excessive expenditure that this would involve. They would not like their local authorities eagerly to fall in line with the Government's aim of increasing bureaucracy at local level. They object to it because they realise that it will cause considerable bitterness. While the Government and the Conservative Party may not be particularly worried about the feelings on council estates, they should realise that the Government have some sort of obligation to avoid creating and breeding unnecessary bitterness. If the Government were concerned about the way people feel and about the serious element of disincentive as a result of the Bill—to which an hon. Member opposite has already referred—one would imagine that they would agree that there should be some flexibility, some opportunity for a local authority which firmly believed that the Bill was harmful to its area to opt out.
I give only one example, because I know that other of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate. It concerns the economic effect in my area. No doubt it will be common to other areas. I believe that hundreds of local housing authorities will have the same experience. If the Bill becomes law, the workers in my area will need to put in wage claims for £2.50 before autumn of 1973 merely in order to stand still. Hon. Members opposite may say that the Bill will provide only for a £1.50 rent increase, but in addition there will be tax, graduated pension contributions and the 724 extra rent liability which will accrue as a result of increase in earnings. Thus, merely in order to stand still, and without taking into account any other form of inflation, the workers in my area will have to submit a claim for £2.50. I would agree with hon. Members opposite who are worried about unnecessary wage claims. This would be a most unnecessary wage claim, since the workers would not increase their purchasing power but would need the increase merely in order to stand still.
This would be bad enough nationally but in my area we have great unemployment and great need for economic development. If labour costs in such areas are increased as a result of the Bill, as they will be, it will have a serious effect in discouraging the economic activity which we must have if we are to regain the prosperity which my area once enjoyed and which it wants once again to enjoy.
This Bill, far from satisfying some eagerness on the part of the Conservative Party to build a reasonable social model, socially and economically will be most harmful and disadvantageous to the greater part of England and Wales. Since they have given greater flexibility to Scotland and imposed a less rigid policy on Scotland, the Government should do the same for England and Wales. If the Government wish at the last moment to show sensitivity and common sense, they can accept this Amendment. I hope that it will be accepted here. If not, I hope that it will be accepted in another place.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Allason
I shall not seek to follow the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) because I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on Third Reading and I have a nasty feeling that if I sought to argue with the hon. Member on the merits of the Bill tonight, you might feel that I was not entitled to do the same on Monday. The whole argument of the hon. Member appeared to be that this Bill is improper and that by some strange feature of logic local councillors who knew best about rents should be entitled to opt out of their duty and the cost should be put on to the commissioner. That, to the extent to which it related to the Amendment, is what I understood to be the hon. Member's argument. This 725 Amendment is solely suggesting that local councillors should be able to opt out of their duty under the Bill.
§ Mr. Hardy
All I was saying was that I am sure local councillors in my area and others are convinced that because of its social and economic implications, the Bill—particularly in areas where there is a need for economic development—will be especially dangerous. I do not think that that was a Second Reading or a Third Reading speech.
§ Mr. Allason
If that is not so, this is not the moment to put it forward. As I understand the Amendment, it means that the commissioner would be brought in to replace councillors.
The whole feature of the Bill is the redistribution of subsidies and to provide that subsidies should go to those in need. People we so often hear about making wage claims, people with two children and receiving £20 a week, will benefit like mad out of this Bill. Those in the higher echelons who will be paying the full increase in rent are not normally the type of persons for whom trade unions make these demands.
I thought it quite unworthy of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), for whom I have great respect and who usually argues well, to produce a smear about what the Prime Minister said and to suggest that he promised to cut prices "at a stroke ". The hon. Member well knows that that was a total distortion of what my right hon. Friend said. We are discussing what is to happen to tenants and to councillors. I should have thought it much more important to think of what may happen to tenants. In the areas of local authorities which have already increased rents by 50p, the tenants will be better off than those where rents go up by £1 in October because over the whole period the total amount of rent paid will be greater. Councillors considering the interests of their tenants and not their own political interests should have already made increases.
We should also consider the position of councillors. If the Amendment is not passed their position in October, if they decide to disobey the law, will be that they will fail to collect money which the law orders them to collect. The district auditor will note this and will be entitled 726 to surcharge the councillors. If surcharged, the councillors will not be eligible to serve on the council for the next three years. The Amendment, if accepted, would remove this unpleasant result for councillors from the Bill.
Even so, whether there is this effect for councillors or not, the commissioner will still impose a £1 increase. All that the Amendment does is to encourage councillors to disobey the law, to the extent that the law would be changed and they would be able to avoid dealing with it if they did not like it. At the back of it all is the encouragement which hon. Members opposite are offering to councillors not to obey the Bill when enacted. This is dangerous, because it will be anarchy if ever we reach a stage of choosing which laws we want to obey.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that under the terms of the Amendment nobody is being encouraged to break the law? We seek to change the form of the law so that the Government send the notices of intended rent increases to tenants, rather than that local councillors, who have been elected on an entirely different platform, should do so. This is not encouraging anybody to break the law. It is trying to make law which is a little less oppressive than that which is proposed by the Government
§ Mr. Allason
I thought that I made it clear that if the Amendment were accepted councillors would not be breaking the law. I said that hon. Members opposite are encouraging councillors to break the law and to give pledges that they will do so. At the local elections pledges have been given.
§ Mr. Skinner
If the Amendment is not accepted and the powers of the housing commissioner remain unchanged, what situation does the hon. Gentleman envisage developing if, after today's elections, local councillors, instead of doing what Parliament tells them to do, obey their mandates? Let us assume that councillors have been backed by the full-hearted support of their local electorate. If they inform the Secretary of State they will not carry out the provisions of the Bill when enacted and they invoke the provisions of Clause 93 to 95, and if the Secretary of State does not himself collect the money, it will be the 727 Secretary of State who will be in default for not following the advice of the councillors who have got their mandate at the ballot box.
§ Mr. Allason
I said, "when the time comes ". Much damage has been done to democracy in these local elections by candidates deliberately saying that they intend to break the law as it will be in September.
§ Mr. Marsden
It is now twenty to ten and I should think that we have taken control of the Liverpool City Council.
My councillors in Liverpool have done nothing dishonest as far as the Bill is concerned. I will tell the Minister now that they have stated from the public platform, placed it in their election addresses and said clearly and concisely that they will not implement the Bill. The reason is that most people on Merseyside think that the Bill is not like the curate's egg, good in parts, it is just a dog's body of a Bill. In many cases it is a wicked Bill.
The Minister got rather hot under the collar—I am sorry the Minister is not here—and talked about the terrible Labour Party people going round the country frightening old ladies and looking for cheap votes in municipal elections. I take that personally. I have spoken at meetings all over Merseyside and I have never been dishonest. I have spoken the true facts. I have said that in the private sector a tenant living in a high-value property area will not get the full rebate. I have spoken in simple terms. I have said that a tenant living in a house which is far too big for him or her will not get the full rebate. I have referred to page 116 paragraph (5) of the Bill which says that someone other than the tenant can be treated as the tenant for the purpose of the rebate. I generally do not like rebates because they have the serious effect of grouping people together.
I have also said that the social results of the Bill will be a disaster to the municipal housing authorities. That is why on Merseyside the new Labour- 728 controlled city council will not be implementing the Bill. The only thing that genuinely concerns the council is the time from when it informs the Minister that it will not implement the Bill to the time that the housing commissioner comes in. This is the thing that is genuinely giving it concern. There is no doubt that it is not going to implement the Bill.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It seems from the tone of some of the speeches that we have heard this evening and the terms of the Amendment that its purpose is to get the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite off the hook on which they have been put with the encouragement of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
There has been a campaign throughout the country by some hon. Members who have besought, persuaded and cajoled all members and would-be members of local authorities to break the law when the Bill becomes an Act. They have given them a lot of extraordinarily bad advice. Many councillors in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, part of which lies within my constituency, were clearly under the impression that by giving notice to the Minister that they intended to disobey the law they would thereby free themselves from any penalty. It is as if the theory were advanced that if you tell somebody you are going to hit him in the teeth you can then go and do it and he is expected to stand back and say, "You did tell me, so that is all right ". This was the argument put forward to the Labour group of the Waltham Forest Borough Council and now those unfortunate councillors are out on a limb. They have committed themselves in public to a policy of breaking the law. They thought they could get away with it because they were encouraged by hon. Gentlemen opposite to do so.
The Amendment is an attempt by the Opposition to make the law what they told their friends it would be when they said: "It is all right. You can get away with it ". That is the reason for the Amendment, and it should be said loud and clear. It is a thoroughly scurrilous and disreputable way to conduct oneself in public life.
§ Mr. Leonard rose729
§ Mr. Tebbit
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. Reference was made to my constituency. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said that he had figures about it, but refused to quote them or to give way. I see no reason tonight for not emulating that example.
We have had an extraordinary constitutional doctrine put forward this evening which would fascinate the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) were he here. It is the new doctrine of sovereignty—not that Parliament may not give away any sovereignty under the Treaty of Rome, but that it should accept that the sovereignty of the Liverpool Council ranks above that of Parliament and that when the electors of Liverpool have spoken it ill-betides Parliament to speak as well. This is a novel constitutional doctrine.
What is this Treaty of Liverpool based upon? Where is this document? It must run to a good many piles of paper around the place.
§ Mr. Marsden rose—
§ Mr. Marsden rose—
§ Mr. Marsden
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The people of Liverpool look at laws and study them. If they are good laws they obey them willingly. If they are bad laws, like the Bill, there is a lot of militant opposition. That is what the Government have got and are going to get.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman makes the position pretty plain. This goes even further than the Treaty of Liverpool. It is the UDI of Liverpool. It is what I might call the Hooligans' Charter: that people look at the laws, pick and obey the laws that they like, and ignore those that they do not like. Is Liverpool a no-go area now? What sort of world is it where we all pick and choose, where we decide at what speed we drive down a road and whether we drive on the right or the left? Of course, 730 some hon. Gentlemen, who would not be able to make up their minds for very long on which side of the road they should drive, would weave back and forth.
We heard an extraordinary speech from the hon. Member for Norwood. I understood him to be complaining that some of his councillor friends might be asked to back down from some of their election pledges. What an extraordinary argument. I hope that he takes that argument with him into the office of the Opposition Chief Whip when he is making his colleagues eat their very words night after night in this House. What an argument! It is the Opposition Chief Whip who makes hon. Gentlemen eat their words and back down from their election pledges. Therefore, it comes ill from the hon. Gentleman to make such a suggestion. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman managed to swallow a pledge given by the Leader of the Opposition about housing—a pledge, not even a promise—but we heard not a squeak out of him when that pledge was broken.
The hon. Gentleman seems to criticise on a very odd basis. He managed to criticise the Conservative candidate in the Kingston-upon-Thames by-election who is not yet—not for another ten minutes, at any rate—the new Member of this House for suggesting that there should be a ban on building on golf courses and green spaces. Suggest touching a bit of the green belt and the hon. Gentleman is up in arms. Yet now, because a Conservative candidate in a by-election makes these suggestions, he is away. I see your movement, Mr. Speaker. I do not blame you. You might be calling me to order for referring to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Norwood which had little to do with the Amendment.
The argument in support of the Amendment was simply that enforcement is good and should be encouraged on Bills which the Opposition like but not on Bills which they do not like. This is what it is all about. The suggestion is that it is quite respectable to force a council to hold down rents though it would have to raise rents to make up the difference, but that it is disreputable to suggest that it should be done the other way round.
731 I hope we shall hear a lot less encouragement to break the law, and I am sure that in their hearts hon. Gentlemen opposite hope for the same thing. Perhaps that is why they are now trying to adjust the law to what they think it should be to get their chums off the hook, but in doing so they have put forward some very bad arguments.
It is clear that hon. Gentlemen opposite have been disappointed by the lack of more massive rent rises. I make no comment on the argument they adduce that a rent rise may give rise to a pay claim. There is another argument and I hope that they will develop it more deeply. Do they accept that a tax cut will cause a strike for more money to fail because it puts more cash in the workers' pockets?
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) spoke of increased wage demands arising from the application of the Bill.
§ Mr. Tebbit rose—
§ Mr. Heffer
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will let me get started.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to dismiss this possibility or likelihood as of no consequence. I remind him and the House that he is a member of BALPA and that his colleagues in that organisation, who are receiving reasonable salaries, are at present arguing with BEA for considerably higher salaries. They regard the arguments which they are adducing for more money as valid and legitimate, and I will not comment on them. I simply urge the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues not to have a double standard.
§ Mr. Tebbit rose—
§ Mr. Heffer
I said that I would give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.
The hon. Member and his colleagues must stop thinking that the average industrial worker does not have an equal right to better wages when he is affected by, for example, a rent increase, as he will be when this Measure comes into operation. The hon. Member for Epping must accept that what is all right for members of BALPA must be all right for industrial workers.
I also remind the hon. Gentleman that talk about the fundamental question 732 of the attitude of the public towards the law was not raised in the first place by my hon. Friends. It arose because of the very nature of this Bill, which is a further contribution by the Tories towards oppressive legislation.
Like so much legislation emanating from this Government, this Bill is not part of the normal pattern that we in this country have known. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) gave a series of lectures some time ago in which he said that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), had been conservative in his approach because he had continued to deal with legislation and bring in laws in a way traditional to this country, whereas the right hon. Gentleman who now leads the nation as Prime Minister was an oppressive radical.
My right hon. Friend was correct. The present- Prime Minister is a radical of the Right because he is bringing in legislation of a kind we have never witnessed before. It is leading people, be they industrial workers or others—consider the Industrial Relations Act, and the way in which council tenants will be affected when this Measure becomes law —to argue about the whole question whether it is any longer possible to accept the type of laws that the Government are introducing.
I should like to point this out: this argument of law has to be qualified. It must be remembered that fascist governments have sometimes got in through the ballot box and, having done so, have begun to dismantle, very quickly in certain cases, the democratic machinery that exists in the country. I would put this point to the hon. Gentleman: in these circumstances do they accept the law or do they fight against an oppressive law introduced by a fascist government? Of course, ours is not a fascist Government but they are a Government which are moving in the direction of introducing a corporate State in this country. Are we then going to accept the type of laws that we are having foisted upon us by this Government?—[Interruption] That is a very serious question and I do not want silly interruptions from the seated position. It is a very serious question, and hon. Members who are genuine democrats must put that question to themselves and 733 must come up with some very serious, sensible answers.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am still a member of the British Airline Pilots' Association. I make no comment on their present pay claim but I draw the attention of the hon. Member and other hon. Members of this House to the fact that while I was actively engaged in trade unionism with BALPA I went out on strike twice in support of what I thought were justified claims and I refused to go on strike once on what I thought was an unjustified claim. Hon. Members had best make up their own minds as to how I would react to the present claim.
I make no comment on the hon. Member's argument that if a man's rent is increased he may require a pay rise, but the hon. Gentleman raised several points and I ask him to comment on my inquiry whether, if a man suffers—indeed, "benefits from" is the right expression—a tax cut the hon. Gentleman would expect him to take that into account in assessing his pay claim.
§ Mr. Heffer
Obviously I cannot answer that mini-speech which the hon. Gentleman developed because if I did I should not be able to make any of my further points.
I want to come on to this question of freedom of choice because this surely is a fundamental concept of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Dykes rose—
§ 10 p.m.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am not giving way for the moment but if the hon. Gentleman will resume his seat I will do so in a few moments. First, I am going to develop the next point my argument.
Ever since I can remember, hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House have argued that they are against bureaucracy, they are great believers in freedom of choice, freedom to send children to whichever school the parents want —as long as they have the money to send them to the right school, of course. Freedom of choice is the great argument, and always has been, of the Conservative 734 Party, and all that we are arguing in these three Amendments is that the Tory Party philosophy should be applied. What we are saying is that the local councils ought to have freedom of choice as to whether they wish to operate Part VI of the Bill. That is what this Amendment is saying. We assert that there are undoubtedly certain local authorities which will be controlled by Labour councils—but, incidentally, it could well be Conservative councils—which would not wish to operate this part of the Bill. We are saying in our Amendments that they should be given that opportunity.
That is not encouraging them to break the law. It is not saying that they must take the stand that they have taken. But is is saying "If you do not wish to operate it, of course the Government will operate it and the Government, through the housing commissioners, will accept full responsibility for raising the rents, and local authorities and councillors will be able to say that it is not their responsibility, that they did not want to do it and that it was the Government that decided to do it." That would give councillors freedom of choice.
What are the Government afraid of in accepting the Amendment? In reality they want to put the burden on the shoulders of local authorities so that the local Labour-controlled councils will be forced into a position of carrying out the Government's dirty work. That is the Bill's objective, and the Government know that. If they were taking a different view, they would accept very easily the three Amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Marsden) raised the question of Liverpool and was taken to task by the hon. Member for Epping. My hon. Friend spoke with the authentic voice of the Liverpool people. They are not anarchistic. They are a damned hard-working group of people. Unfortunately, at present 54,000 are unemployed in my city, Liverpool, as a result of the Government's policies. They will be facing extra burdens if the Bill becomes an Act. My people in Liverpool are saying "We have had enough of it. We shall not put further burdens on the shoulders of our working people. They have more than enough burdens to suffer now as a result of the present Govern. ment's policies." They are saying that if 735 the Government want to impose increased rents on the people of Liverpool who live in council houses, the Government had better do it themselves because they, as councillors, will not do it. They are saying nothing more nor less than that. They will not accept responsibility for the Government's action.
One can say that that would be breaking the law. But I can well remember one of the great people in our movement, one of the finest men who ever lived, who was once the leader of my party in the House, George Lansbury. Rather than put extra burdens on the people in his borough, Poplar, he said "No, I will go to prison first. I am not prepared to put extra burdens on a people already over-burdened."
That is what councillors are saying in Liverpool. I do not condemn them for that. I condemn the Government for placing decent, hard-working councillors, who receive no financial reward for their efforts, in this position. It is the right hon. Gentleman in particular that I blame for this, because he and his hon. Friends know exactly what they are doing. They are putting the decent, honest working-class people who run our cities and councils in an impossible position. The responsibility lies with the right lion. Gentleman and the Prime Minister, who, incidentally, seems never to come to any debates of great importance which affect ordinary working people.
The Government's arguments for the Bill are totally phoney. They say that some people will receive rent rebates. A high percentage of people will, but they will have had to pay a lot more first in their rents, and they will still end up paying more. The Government know it is a phoney argument. If they really want there to be freedom of choice, if they really want to carry out their philosophy and not enact a dictatorial, oppressive Measure, the answer is to accept the Amendments.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) talked about a movement towards Fascism. I remind him that the origin of Fascism has always been on the left; the Fascist movement has always grown out of Left-wing parties. There were moments as I listened to him when I could hear 736 echoes of that. His attitude was very dangerous. He is supporting the breakdown or defiance of the law. He gave backing in his later words to those Liverpool councillors who intend to break the law. We heard a very ugly Liverpool sound tonight from both Opposition Members from Liverpool, rather different from the one we became used to a few years ago.
One regret that I have about tonight's debate is that two Opposition Members in particular are absent. One is the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who has taken great care to be absent when this issue has cropped up. I expect there are good reasons for his absence. The other Labour hon. Member whose absence I regret is the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who has not been here all day. I am sure there are good reasons. I regret his absence because I should like to quote from his speech in Committee when we discussed the issue. He said:I accept that if any of us advised a local authority not to exercise its functions, that would involve advising it to break the law.He described how he found himself in his constituency in a minority of one in a discussion of whether the local party should call upon the National Executive of the Labour Party to advise all Labour-controlled councils not to implement the Bill. He said:I resisted the Motion unsuccessfully, despite the fact that I got over to many members of the party that it was the first dangerous step in the complete breakdown of constitutional government, if the national executive of a major political party called upon local authorities to disregard a law because they disliked it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E. 23rd March, 1972; c. 4266–7.]He concluded by saying that he could not acquiesce in this sort of approach.
He argued strongly against the Bill, as was his right, but we respected in Committee the forthrightness with which he said that it was totally wrong to break the law of the land, however much anyone might dislike it.
§ Mr. Freeson
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, with some sympathy generally for the spirit in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) spoke, why did 737 he open his references to my right hon. Friend with a rather nasty smear about his always being absent when this issue is debated? The hon. Gentleman has just quoted from the major speech—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman referred to the absence of my right hon. Friend, yet he has just quoted from the opening speech of the major debate in Committee on that very issue, and has expressed his support for the views expressed.
§ Mr. Raison
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I have been quoting, as I said, from the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North.
§ Mr. Leonard
If the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) will turn back the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT of those Committee proceedings, he will find that that debate was opened by a powerful speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). This is the first occasion on which my right hon. Friend has been absent when this issue has been debated, and he is absent tonight because he has been asked to appear on BBC television to comment on the large number of Tory losses, no doubt in the borough of Aylesbury, as in every other borough in the country.
§ Mr. Freeson
To make the position clear I said that lying should not take place on the issue. I hope that remark of the hon. Gentleman will be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Raison
I must repeat that I was quoting from the speech of the hon. Member for Kensington, North, and that is what he said.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby was not there.
§ Mr. Raison
I was quoting from the hon. Member for Kensington, North, as I said earlier. I said at the beginning of my speech tonight that the right hon. Member for Grimsby was not present.
§ Mr. Raison
I am prepared to withdraw that remark about previous occasions if I have maligned the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot believe that it is proper on an occasion like this when we are discussing this important business that he should disappear to a television studio. The hon. Member for Kensington, North and some others have spoken as true democrats in contradistinction to some of the speeches that we have heard from other hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Skinner
I should first of all like to remind the House that yesterday in Matlock the Derbyshire County Council, which is not a housing authority but which has got involved in this matter in a small way, passed a resolution dealing with the cost of implementing this Measure, saying that it would hive-off part of certain property belonging to it to rehouse those people who will become adjuncts to the present rent officers. The net cost merely of decorating the offices will be £12,000. At the same time the county council, completely oblivious of what is happening here, will let the offices at an economic rent. I should have though that, that being a Tory council, the least it could have done was to follow the example of the Government and to introduce a fair rent.
The major question is why should local authorities act in the way they are over the non-implementation of this Measure now and in October when a more serious issue arises? The first consideration arises because of this week's local elections. Many local authority candidates, Labour in the main, have gone forward on the basis that they believe this Bill to be wrong in principle. In numerous election addresses they have staked their claim on this. Thousands of them will undoubtedly receive a mandate from the people; they will get full-hearted consent. They will then be faced with knowing how to carry out that mandate. First they must reconcile what has taken place in the democratic exercise of elections this week with this situation. There is no doubt that many of them would take the view that having received this mandate, they have a duty to carry it out.
We challenged this for five years when there was a Labour Government, on a much more insignificant matter. I know what it is all about and I do not need lessons from Aylesbury or anywhere else. It is worse than that because council tenants, unlike private tenants, will be treated in a completely different fashion. They do not have the opportunity of appeal to the rent assessment tribunal or anyone else—not that that will make much difference when one remembers that on the rent assessment tribunals in the private sector there are about six trade unionists out of 55 members of the panel. 740 There is no appeal for council tenants and this must weigh heavily on Labour councillors who have been elected on a matter of principle this week.
In Derbyshire in the urban district council and rural district council areas as a whole the level of post-war and prewar rents taken together is less than £2. I have given these statistics in Committee and they are to be seen in the Derbyshire Council's financial booklet. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford. East (Mr. Frank Allaun) also produced figures and figures have been given in the Local Government Review. One of the most important factors is the increase in land prices since 1970 and it is clear that there will be a massive rent increase.
The Birmingham figures have been trotted out again—what a charade. The Minister says that the Birmingham figures have increased only by 10 per cent. He tells the House that these are the Birmingham figures yet refuses to acknowledge that they are the figures of a political group of people, the Birmingham local authority, Tory-controlled as it is—or was until 1½hours ago. In their last dying days of local government power the Tory-controlled Birmingham authority has devised figures in an attempt to save a few seats and to retain power.
The Minister knows that the Birmingham figures are not consistent with the main principle of the Bill, which is to remove between £100 million and £200 million in subsidies before 1975–76. If the Birmingham figures were cast over the whole country he would not get his £200 million reduction in housing subsidies. The figures are a complete fallacy, something the Minister and the Birmingham people have trotted out in an attempt to save a sufficient number of seats to retain control of the city.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) was here during the first few minutes of the debate between approximately ten minutes past four and half past four. During that time, as usual, he made a point by asking my right hon. Friend the 741 Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) to give way and then disappeared. Since then many things have happened. We have been discussing at great length the Birmingham figures. We knew about them before and we knew that the Minister would announce them. That was pretty obvious—it was the only thing he could hold on to. In Committee, day after day and week after week we were fed Newcastle. It was obvious that the right hon. Gentleman had to get another Tory-controlled city to help him arid that is why we have been talking about Birmingham.
My point is that the bulk of urban and rural district councils consider that the average increase in rent will be about 25 per cent. this year and that it will continue at that rate for the next three or four years. Those are not my figures. They are not culled from a Marxist periodical. They are figures supplied by the Urban District Councils Association. The same applies to the rural district councils as well.
When we hear the Birmingham idea about only a 10 per cent. increase, we must dismiss it out of hand. If that is all it is to be, the Government will not get the £200 million that they badly want to dish out in a Budget just before a General Election in order to catch votes. However the workers will have acknowledged by that time that it is the wrong money: they will not be conned with that again.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is discussing Birmingham, and I support all that he has said. In the last week we have seen in Birmingham a piece of blatant political electioneering which has nothing to do with the facts. If any hon. Member is interested in the figures, he will be delighted to know that there is a great deal known about fair rents. They were established by the present rent assessment committees. The rents that they are assessing for houses in Birmingham would, if they were applied to the same standard of municipal houses, double the rents of municipal houses in Birmingham.
§ Mr. Skinner
If one reads the White Paper, it is all too obvious. If there is to be a cut in subsidies of up to £200 million by 1975, taking account of the 742 gross value in the private sector of 2.2, it is clear that the rents for Birmingham trotted out by the Minister are not those which Birmingham's council tenants will have to pay. In any events, I can take another example very near to my own constituency where the National Coal Board, in an attempt to get back some of the Government's money that it has had to pay out in the recent wage award, has imposed rent increases of 250 per cent. That has happened in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), and that is in the private sector. These figures are consistent with the private sector revaluations which we have had before and which are in the White Paper. One can only come to the conclusion that the Birmingham figures are a fraud.
The reason why many local councillors —I accept not all—will refuse to implement the Bill and will invite the housing commissioner to take part is that they cannot see why in a situation where they are able to balance their housing revenue accounts, it should be necessary for them to do so. On one side of their housing revenue accounts they have the income in rents and in subsidies from the Government—those which will be taken away, the residual subsidies. It is called a subsidy. It is the taking away of money, yet it is defined as a subsidy in the Bill. I have never heard such nonsense in my life. On the expenditure side, there are management and land costs and various other matters of expenditure. Notwithstanding massive inflation, the local authorities have managed to control their housing revenue accounts and have balanced them. They cannot see why it is necessary for them to raise rents to the amount that the Government want when apparently they arc managing their own affairs in a reasonable fashion. That is why some councillors—not people waving red flags but even some Tory councillors, though not very many—are completely nonplussed when they are told that it is necessary for them to increase rents by £1 a week in October. That is why there will be an extent of non-implementation of the Bill.
They do not agree either—and this is certainly true of the local authority which I still represent to some extent I shall be leaving it in another fortnight—with 743 rebate schemes. My authority has never agreed with the idea of giving a rebate. These authorities want to get rid of the means test. Why should they implement a rent rebate scheme when rent levels are between £1.50 and £1.75? There is no need for rebates when rents are kept to that level.
The Government argue that it is the railwaymen who are holding the country to ransom. These are the men who take home £15 a week, and yet they are accused of pursuing sectional interests. Trade unionists, railwaymen and miners—and eventually it will be the teachers, too —cannot understand the Government accusing them of blackmail when they themselves are sponsoring inflation to the tune of 25 per cent.
What councillors will be doing when they invite the housing commissioner to do the Government's dirty work in October is saying, in effect, that they are assisting the Government to keep down inflation. I hope that a number of authorities, apart from those in Liverpool, will take part in this exercise of what has been described as defying the law. The workers in this country have been defying the law for centuries. They will continue to do so when they find themselves governed by a bad law. They will fight it, and defeat it—[Interruption.]—Fascism has always been introduced by capitalists in order to bolster themselves in times of difficulty. One has only to read a little history to know that.
§ Mr. Skinner
For the reasons that I have given, a growing number of authorities will refuse to implement the Bill, and I shall be 100 per cent. with them. I hope that as a result they bring down this Government and replace it with a Socialist Government who will introduce a Socialist housing policy which the people can understand and will support.
§ Mr. Amery
I do not know how far I shall be in order in following the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in an analysis of the Birmingham figures, but in view of what he has said, because of the way in which he dismissed these figures as of no significance, and also because of 744 earlier statements that have been made about them, I ought to say that I consider Birmingham to be one of the most responsible housing authorities in the country. Its record of housing starts in the public sector showed a 26 per cent. increase last year. Its slum clearance record is magnificent, and any opinion which it expresses is based not simply on the views of its elected members, but on the views of the high-powered officials who serve the city.
I have not had time to process the figures, but I can say at once from this Dispatch Box that I should rather take the estimates provided by Birmingham than those provided by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) or anyone else on that side of the House.
§ Mr. Amery
I shall not give way, because I should like to leave a little time for anyone on the Front Bench opposite who wishes to do so to reply to the debate.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) took the line that the Bill was particularly vicious. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are entitled to form their own view about the merits or demerits of the Bill, just as they are entitled to form their own view about the accuracy or inaccuracy of any figures that are presented, but they cannot reasonably argue that the default powers contained in Clauses 93 to 95 are in themselves in any way unprecedented.
Section 322 of the Public Health Act, 1936, Section 99 of the Education Act, 1944, Section 6 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, and Section 173 of the Housing Act, 1957, all empower the Minister concerned to make an order declaring the local authority or any other body involved to be in default and requiring it to take steps to remedy that default. There is an analogous power in Clause 93(1) and (4).
If the Secretary of State uses this power, and the defaulting authority takes the required steps to remedy the default, no further action is necessary. This again follows the precedent of the enactments I have mentioned. But where the defaulting authority does not take the required steps to remedy the default, the remedies open to the Secretary of State 745 are also precedented in earlier legislation. Clause 93(7) leave it open to him to enforce the default order by manda-mus This, too, is precedented in all the four Acts I have mentioned.
Alternatively, the Secretary of State may by order appoint a housing commissioner with the duty, in effect, of putting right the default by discharging, in the name and at the expense of the authority, the functions conferred on him in the order. This is very similar to the Minister's power under the Public Health Act, 1936, the National Assistance Act, 1948, and the Housing Act, 1957, to transfer to himself functions of a defaulting authority. The Civil Defence Act, 1948, provides an even closer parallel. Under Section 2, the Minister may make regulations to confer a function on an authority and to give himself power, if he considers the authority to be in default of any such function, to make an order authorising some other authority or person to exercise that function in the name and at the expense of the defaulting authority. This power was used in 1954 to appoint three commissioners to take over civil defence functions of Coventry borough council.
There is another interesting recent precedent. In their last year of office, the Labour Government introduced the Education Bill, 1970, which, I am glad to say, lapsed as a result of the General Election. That Bill would have required local education authorities to submit schemes of comprehensive re-organisation to the Secretary of State, a matter which was as controversial in its way as what we are discussing. The Bill's final Clause would have had the effect of applying to the Bill the default provisions in Section 99 of the Education Act, 1944, empowering the Secretary of State to make an order directing a defaulting authority to remedy its default and to make such a direction enforceable by mandamus. Therefore, the argument that the default powers of this Bill are unprecedented is not tenable.
§ Mr. Latham
Would not the right hon. Gentleman accept, however, that all the examples he has given, except the last, concerned the failure of a local authority to carry out an essential public service? Is he now arguing that it is an essential public service to extort more rents from 746 tenants, particularly in the case of those authorities which are already in surplus or balancing their accounts? Would not he agree that all but one of the precedents he has quoted are not at all analogous to the default powers in the Bill and the purpose of exercising them?
The Education Bill of 1970 was concerned with a general national policy but where the local authority was charged with the responsibility of producing its own scheme and given very wide discretion and some functions of local government autonomy. The distinction between that example and this Bill is that the local authorities are to be in a straitjacket and are required to be tax collectors for the Government under a policy laid down with no room for manoeuvre. Is it not reasonable that they should ask to be excused from acting simply as agents of a Tory Government in making a mockery of any kind of facade of local democracy?
§ Mr. Raison
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the requirements in the education field is that local authorities should collect certain sums of money as laid down by the central Government as charges for school meals and that this seems to be covered by the enforcement provisions of the 1944 Act which is exactly analogous to the Bill?
§ Mr. Amery
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is monstrous to suggest that the powers which we are taking are unprecedented. Hon. Members opposite are reduced to the argument that it is wrong to introduce these powers in a Measure like this. They say that it is right to enforce certain duties on local authorities such as in education but wrong to enforce other duties. It is because they dislike the duty the Opposition do not want it to be enforced. Whether a duty should be enforced on a local authority is a proper matter for argument in this House and we have had much debate about that. But at the end of the day Parliament must decide, and what it decides becomes the law of the 747 land. No responsible person or body should try to pick or choose which laws should be observed.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has put forward a more sophisticated idea of what one might call the "pick and choose "theory. He claimed that it is part of the democratic system that there are unwritten rules or conventions under which the Government have an obligation not to introduce laws which infringe the tacit agreement of the electorate as to what is permissible and what is not. The implication is, I think, that if a Government introduce such laws they must not expect to be able to enforce them. I believe this to be a very dangerous doctrine and one calculated to undermine the authority of Parliament.
Who is to formulate these unwritten rules or to judge when they have been broken? The fashionable device of the referendum of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) hardly seems appropriate here. The forum for debate and decision on what makes good laws is Parliament. I am sure that the great majority of local councillors would not wish to do anything which would cause their authority to act unlawfully. I respect the strength of their feelings about some of the duties imposed by the Bill on local authorities. For many councillors the Bill raises matters of conscience. I therefore deplore some of the facile and misleading advice to which local councillors have been subjected, usually by people who will not have to bear the consequences of that advice.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has received a statement from the A.M.C., the Rural District Councils Association and the Urban District Councils Association, all of which have big Conservative majorities, saying that in their view the Bill is not a fair one and puts not only Labour, but Liberal and Conservative controlled councils which decided earlier that they did not need the £26 million this year in a tremendously difficult position?
§ Mr. Amery
As I have said, the forum for debate and decision on what makes good law is Parliament, and Parliament so far has supported the introduction of 748 this Bill. I acknowledge that the Bill may raise questions of conscience for some councillors and issues of principle, but I say seriously to the House that I deplore some of the facile and misleading advice to which some councillors have been subjected, often by people will will not have to bear the consequences of that advice.
It has been suggested that local authorities and local councillors can in some way avoid a default under the Bill, or escape its consequences, by passing resolutions which invite the Secretary of State to put in a housing commissioner to implement the provisions of the Bill. I believe it has even been suggested that it might help authorities to offer the commissioner every facility.
This type of suggestion has been dressed up as an effective way of putting on the Government the odium of enforcing any part of the Bill which may be unpopular. Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 seek to give legislative backing to such a suggestion. The suggestion had already been circulated before these Amendments were tabled. My attention has been drawn to the following advice which has been put forward in a document issued by the Greater London Council of the Labour Party;If a Labour group decides on a policy of non-implementation and runs the risk of surcharge to its members, a way of minimising such a risk could be to pass a resolution at a full council meeting, preferably in April, the wording of which could be: ' In view of the serious threat which the Housing Finance Bill poses to the independence of local authorities in the field of housing, this London Borough is of opinion that it would be improper to act as a mere agent for the Secretary of State when the Bill gives him full powers to ensure its implementation. Accordingly this council calls on the Secretary of State to take steps to implement the provisions of the Bill in the London borough concerned immediately it becomes law, in the full knowledge that this borough council will neither assist nor obstruct him in implementing this socially regressive piece of legislation.'It should be emphasised that such a resolution would not necessarily indemnify Labour councillors from surcharges, but it might lessen the risk if the housing commissioner could then be put in, in time to operate rent increases from October. 1972. If this were not done, the responsibility for non-collection of revenues might either be placed on the Secretary of State for not acting after receiving ample notice of intended default or on the recalcitrant local authority members. The district auditor would adjudicate as to where the blame lay.749 I was surprised, as perhaps the House will be to see that the document concerned was signed "Peter Walker ". I have made inquiries which satisfy me that the Mr. Peter Walker concerned was not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but apparently an official of the London Labour Party.
These suggestions, like the Amendments, are based on a dangerous fallacy. Local authorities cannot opt out of their statutory duties. They exist to perform the duties and to exercise the powers conferred on them by Parliament. Local authorities are creations of Parliament. In many fields Parliament confers a discretion upon local authorities. In other fields it confers a duty. A local authority cannot lawfully refuse to discharge a duty conferred on it by Statute. It cannot turn such a duty into a discretion. If it did, it would be exceeding its powers. It cannot divest itself of the statutory functions with which it is charged for public purposes.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Is there any date on the document from which my right hon. Friend has just quoted? I clearly recollect, as will all hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend's words when he made the situation crystal clear. It would be extraordinarily irresponsible if that document was issued after my right hon. Friend made that statement.
§ Mr. Amery
I am about to tell the House. A local authority which decides not to discharge a duty is not choosing between two policies which it is free to adopt. It is choosing to act unlawfully instead of lawfully. The fact that remedies exist for a default on a statutory duty does not excuse or mitigate that default in any way.
I cannot believe that it would be in the interests of any local authority deliberately to create a situation, as a result of a default under the Bill, in which the Secretary of State is obliged to appoint a housing commissioner to take over important functions of the authority. In 750 practice, a default on all or many of the relevant duties imposed by the Bill would make it necessary to transfer to the commissioner the housing management functions of the authority, and perhaps other functions as well, so that he could effectively remedy the default. This would certainly involve transferring responsibility for allocating tenancies and perhaps other functions which the commissioner would not necessarily exercise as the authority would wish.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
What the Minister has read from Peter Walker is obviously a legal opinion and what he has read from his own note is obviously another legal opinion. Is it not a long established custom in the House that legal Gentlemen on both sides give different opinions? Surely it is for the courts to decide on Acts of Parliament, not for the Minister or this House. If a council wants to do anything, surely the courts will decide, not the Minister.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
This is an important point, because local authorities take their power from Parliament. Do I understand that a local councillor can only divest himself of these responsibilities by resigning from the council, and that if he remains he accepts them?
§ Mr. Amery
Default under the Bill carries with it two other consequences. The first is the possibility that housing subsidy may be reduced, suspended or discontinued under Clause 95. The power to do this is within the discretion of the Secretary of State after having regard to any written representations by the autho- 751 rity in accordance with Clause 95(3). This power is precedented, for example, in Section 14 of the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967.
The second possible consequence of default under the Bill is surcharge by the district auditor. Whether there is a surcharge is a matter for the district auditor, not for the Secretary of State. I believe that in practice surcharge on those councillors who are responsible for deliberate and systematic default is almost inevitable. The district auditor has a duty, under Section 228 of the Local Government Act, 1933, to surcharge the amount of any loss to the authority resulting from misconduct or negligence upon the persons responsible.
§ Mr. Amery
I hear the hon. Gentleman, from a seated position, saying that I am reading. If I am sticking rigidly to my note, it is because it is very important that there should be no misunderstanding on this important constitutional issue.
I repeat, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which to vote for a resolution to default on the duties imposed by the Bill would not constitute misconduct. Thus, if such a default leads to a loss—
§ Mr. Amery
—councillors would be surcharged jointly and severally; and it is almost inevitable that the default will in practice lead to some degree of loss. There could be a loss of subsidy. There is very likely to be a loss of income due under the Bill which the Housing Commissioner cannot make good; and the expenses of the Commissioner himself are likely to be an additional expense arising from the default and would constitute a loss.
I do not believe that this House can condone breaches of the law by local authorities; nor could any. Government condone them. I am sure that it would be the wish of the House that there was no default. However strong a view right 752 hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House may have for or against the Bill, it is certainly my wish that there should be no default.
§ Mr. Freeson rose —
§ Mr. Freeson
I wish to make it clear at the outset that both the Labour Party nationally and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) are clearly on the record as being in favour of supporting the rule of law on this as on other matters. I therefore regret that the right hon. Gentleman, with whom I disagree frequently and for whom I have had considerable regard, should have indulged at the outset of his speech in a smear reference against my right hon. Friend in this connection.
It was on this issue that my right hon. Friend opened a major debate in Committee, prior to our debating the matter tonight. On that occasion my right hon. Friend said:I have thought very long and deeply about this over the last few weeks. I start from a wholly committed position—that of a democratic socialist. To me, socialism has no meaning if it is divorced from democracy, and I am therefore a firm and utterly committed believer in the rule of law. I wholly accept the principle that it is no part of my duty as a democrat, a socialist and still less as an elected Member of my party's parliamentary committee, to condone, let alone encourage, defiance of the law ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 22nd March, 1972; c. 4178.]The Government undertook consultations with all the local authority associations in connection with this Measure. Why did they neglect to consult them on the 753 housing commissioner provisions of the Bill? What is more, why was there not a word about this in the July White Paper which preceded the Bill? Why has there been this failure to consult when it has been common in such matters for the Government of the day to consult the relevant chief local authority associations?
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that the Liverpool Labour group reports that we have already made 17 gains in the City of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Freeson
I gather that similar results are pouring in from the North-West and elsewhere. This is the verdict of the people on the housing, education and other policies of the Government.
§ Mr. Freeson
Let us consider the advice the Minister has been giving to local authorities on the subject of defaulting. particularly in view of his earlier references to figures coming from Birmingham in recent days. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that if a local authority uses the criteria which are not provided for in the Bill to establish fair rents it will be in default for failing to comply with the terms of the Measure? We have argued that the very criteria being used by officers and elected members of the Birmingham authority to arrive at the figures which have been submitted to the right hon. Gentleman, and which he proudly put to us as evidence of the reasonableness of the Government's policy, should be allowed for in the Bill and be used to interpret its provisions.
The Minister will recall the debates on gross rateable values, on the various other factors which should be taken into account. The view of the Labour Party, not only on rents but on one thing after another, were rejected by the Government in Committee. The Government rejected the arguments and the Amendments. Those are the criteria which Birmingham, in an election gimmick, in cohoots with the Minister, have used to establish figures which they have put to the Minister. Are they going to be in default if they insist on pursuing this policy, or are other local authorities to 754 be in default if that is how they come to assess their fair rents?
We are entitled to an answer on the central issue of definition and application of definition of fair rents, because if this policy is to be pursued throughout the country by other local authorities, by many Labour authorities which will come into existence after the current local elections, are we to have a turnaround by the Minister? Will he reject their arguments, whereas he hid the facts in the Birmingham situation before the counting of the votes, and gave his accolade and virtual blessing to what they proposed, with the support of his Under-Secretary of State, a Birmingham Member?
If local authorities are to do this, why have the Bill, and the housing commissioner provisions when there was no consultation whatever with the local authorities concerned and every local authority association, as one of my hon. Friends indicated in an intervention earlier, has gone on record against the Government on this aspect of the Bill? They have said that there is a straitjacket—and that is not my word but that of the Conservative-controlled AMC and the Conservative-controlled Urban District Councils Association. They have destroyed the Government's policy contained in this Bill, the policy on default powers, and the move towards new rent levels. They have described those as strait-jackets which are unprecedented in local government history in this country.
What a far cry from the brave words in the Manifesto of 1970, which talked of greater freedom of action for local government, of the devolution of power, of decisions to be made by people locally instead of in Whitehall. What a lot of misleading nonsense at the time! It is just as misleading nonsense about this Bill by the Tory Government who are beginning to be swamped by the logic of their own actions. That is the kind of logic indulged in by the Minister in the Midlands in the last few days.
If there were votes in London this year of local elections—I only wish there were—I can imagine the Minister going into cahoots with the Tory-controlled councils and County Hall to do what he has been doing in Birmingham. The voters will sweep the Tories out of the 755 town halls to where they belong—and I leave that to the imagination of the Minister.
|Division No. 168.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Foot, Michael||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield. E.)|
|Albu, Austen||Ford, Ben||Marks, Kenneth|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Forrester, John||Marquand, David|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Marsden, F.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Freeson, Reginald||Marshall, Dr. Edmund|
|Ashley, Jack||Galpern, Sir Myer||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Ashton, Joe||Garrett, W. E.||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Atkinson, Norman||Gilbert, Dr. John||Meacher, Michael|
|Bagier, Gordon A. r.||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Barnes, Michael||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C||Mendelson, John|
|Barnett Guy (Greene)||Gourlay, Harry||Milkardo, lan|
|Barnett, Joel (Hey wood and Royto)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Millan, Bruce|
|Baxter, William||Grant, John D. (lslington, E.)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Milne, Edward|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridge in)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, ltchen)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Molloy, William|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hamling, William||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hardy, Peter||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Harper, Joseph||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Booth, Albert||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Moyle, Roland|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Hattersley, Roy||Mulley Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Murray, Ronald King|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,w.)||Heffer, Eric S.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Horam, John||Ogden, Eric|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Buchan, Norman||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||O'Malley, Brian|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Huckfield, Leslie||Oram, Bert|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Cambell, l. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Orme Stanley|
|Cant, R. B.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh' m, Northfield)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Owen Dr. David (Plymouth Sutton)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Hunter, Adam||Padley, Walter|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Irivine, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Paget, R. T.|
|Calark, David (Colne Valley)||Janner, Greville||Palmer, Arthur|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Conlan Bernard||John, Brynmor||Pendry, Tom|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pentiand, Norman|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Prescott, John|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Probert, Arthur|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Judd, Frank||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kaufman, Gerald||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Kelley, Richard||Richard, Ivor|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kerr, Russell||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Kinnock, Neil||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Lambie, David||Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br' c' n & R' dnor)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lamond, James||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Latham, Arthur||Roper, John|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Lawson, George||Rose, Paul B.|
|Dempsey, James||Leadbitter, Ted||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmaranock)|
|Doig, peter||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Rowlands, Edward|
|Dormand, J. D.||Leonard, Dick||Sandelson Neville|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N 'c 'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Dunn, James A.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lipton, Marcus||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lomas, Kenneth||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Sillars, James|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McBride, Neil||Silverman, Julius|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||McCartney, Hugh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ellis, Tom||McElhone, Frank||Small, William|
|English, Michael||Mackenzie, Gregor||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Evans, Fred||Mackie, John||Spearing, Nigel|
|Ewlng, Henry||Mackintosh, John P.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Faulds, Andrew||Maclennan, Robert||Stallard, A. W.|
|Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
§ Question Put, That the Amendement be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes, 258; Nose, 276.759
|Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John||Tuck, Raphael||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Strang, Gavin||Urwin, T. W.||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||Varley, Eric G.||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Wainwright, Edwin||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Swain, Thomas||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Taverns, Dick||Wallace, George||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff.W.)||Watkins, David||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)||Wellbeloved, James||Woof, Robert|
|Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Tinn, James||White, James (Glasgow. Pollok)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Tomney, Frank||Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. John Golding and|
|Torney, Tom||Whitlock, William||Mr. Ernest Perry|
|Adley, Robert||Dykes, Hugh||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Eden, Sir John||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Kilfedder, James|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Elliott, R. W. (N'c 'tle-upon-Tyne.N.)||Kimball, Marcus|
|Astor, John||Eyre, Reginald||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Farr, John||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Fell, Anthony||Kinsey, J. R.|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Kirk, Peter|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Knox, David|
|Batniel, Lord||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Lambton, Lord|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Lane, David|
|Batslord, Brian||Fookes, Miss Janet||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Fortescue, Tim||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Bell, Ronald||Foster, Sir John||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Fowler, Norman||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Fox, Marcus||Longden, Sir Gilbert|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Fry, Peter||Loveridge, John|
|Bitten, John||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||Luce, R. N.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gardner, Edward||MacArthur, lan|
|Blaker, Peter||Gibson-Watt, David||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||McLaren, Martin|
|Body, Richard||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Boscawen, Robert||Goodhart, Philip||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Goodhew, Victor||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Gorst, John||Maddan, Martin|
|Braine, Bernard||Gower, Raymond||Madel, David|
|Bray, Ronald||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Brewis, John||Gray, Hamish||Marten, Neil|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Green, Alan||Mather, Carol|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Grieve, Percy||Maude, Angus|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald|
|Bryan, Paul||Grylls, Michael||Mawby, Ray|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N & M)||Gummer, Selwyn||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Buck, Antony||Gurden, Harold||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire,W)|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Moate, Roger|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Money, Ernie|
|Channon, Paul||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Chapman, Sydney||Haselhurst, Alan||Monro, Hector|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Hastings, Stephen||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Havers, Michael||More, Jasper|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hawkins, Paul||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Hay, John||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Clegg, Walter||Heseltine, Michael||Morrison, Charles|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hicks, Robert||Mudd, David|
|Cooke, Robert||Higgins, Terence L.||Neave, Airey|
|Coombs, Derek||Hiley, Joseph||Nicholls, Sir Harms'|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Normanton, Tom|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John|
|Cormack, Patrick||Holland, Philip||Onslow, Cranley|
|Costain, A. P.||Holt, Miss Mary||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Critchley, Julian||Hordern, Peter||Osborn, John|
|Crouch, David||Hornby, Richard||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|d' Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Howell, David (Guildford)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|d' Avigdor-GoIdsmid,Maj. -Gen. James||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Peel, John|
|Dean, Paul||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Percival, lan|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||lremonger, T. L.||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||lrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Dixon, Piers||James, David||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Aiec||Jessel, Toby||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Jopling, Michael||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Raison, Timothy||Soref, Harold||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Speed, Keith||van, Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Pater||Spence, John||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Redmond, Robert||Sproat, lain||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Waddington, David|
|Rees, Peter (Dover)||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.||Wall, Patrick|
|Ronton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Stokes, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Sutcliffe, John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Risdale, Julian||Tapseil, Peter||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Wilkinson, John|
|Rost, Peter||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Royle, Anthony||Tebbit, Norman||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Russell, Sir Ronald||Temple, John M.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Worsley, Marcus|
|Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Scott, Nicholas||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Sharples, Richard||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b' gh & Whitby)||Tilney, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Shelton, William (Clapham)||Trafford, Dr. Anthony||Mr. Oscar Mnrton and|
|Simeons, Charles||Trew, Peter||Mr. Kenneth Clarke|
|Skeet, T. H. H.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) and the Orders [13th March and 24th April] to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments moved by a member of the Government of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Eleven o'clock.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that there is no wish to divide against any of the remaining Government Amendments. By agreement, I will put them in an abbreviated form.
§ Clause 100
§ Amendments made: No. 208, in page 100, leave out lines 30 to 36.
§ No. 209, in line 48, at end insert—
§ (2) In this Act 'Housing Revenue Account dwelling' means a dwelling which is within the local authority's Housing Revenue Account, or as the case may be the new town corporation's housing account, but excluding—
- (a) a dwelling for the time being let on a long tenancy at a low rent within the meaning of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, and a dwelling no longer owned by the authority, and
- (b) a dwelling approved for the purposes of section 13 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1958 (unfit houses for temporary accommodation) and belonging to a local authority.
§ A direction under this subsection may be a general direction or a direction for a particular 760 case, and may be given for such period and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the direction.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Clause 101
§ NEW TOWN CORPORATIONS: SUPPLEMENTAL
§ Amendment made: No. 210, in page 102, leave out lines 7 to 10.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Schedule 7
§ ENACTMENTS RELATING TO CERTAIN SUBSIDIES AND OTHER PAYMENTS
§ Amendment made: No. 213, in page 138, column 2, leave out lines 22 to 24 and insert:
§ Sections 1 to 4.
§ Sections 6 and 7.
§ Sections 9 to 15.
§ —[Mr. Amery.]
§ Schedule 9
§ MINOR AND CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS
§ Amendments made: No. 251, in page 150, line 25, at beginning insert:
§ (1) In section 111(1) of the Housing Act 1957 (general responsibility for houses provided under Part V of the Act) after the word ' may' there shall be inserted the words 'subject to the provisions of the Housing Finance Act 1972 '.
§ No. 261, in page 153, line 13, leave out ' sections 38(2) and 84(2) ' and insert ' section 38(2) '.
§ No. 215, in line 13, at end insert:
§ (2) At the end of paragraph 3(1) of the said Part I there shall be inserted the following:—
- (c) Schedule 6 to the Housing Finance Act 1972 (restriction on rent increases) shall have effect, in relation to any period of that tenancy (whether contractual or statutory) beginning while the
761 registration of that rent continues to have effect, as if the amount to which the rent could be increased in accordance with that Schedule for a statutory period had been simultaneously increased by the same amount (that is to say by the amount specified in the court order).
§ (1A) Where the rent payable under a tenancy to which Part VIII of the Housing Finance Act 1972 applies is increased by an order of a court made by virtue of section 28(3)(b) of this Act, then the rent limit for the dwelling-house under the said Part VIII (including the rent limit specified in a direction of the Secretary of State) shall be increased by an amount equal to the increase effected by the order in the rent payable for the rental period in question:
§ Provided that if, at any time after the court order takes effect, a rent is registered for the dwelling-house (whether it is the first or any subsequent registration) this sub-paragraph shall not apply to any rental period beginning after that time '.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Schedule 10
§ TRANSITORY PROVISIONS
§ Amendment made: No. 216, in page 154, line 38, leave out from beginning to ' references ' in line 39.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Schedule 11
§ Amendments made: No. 217, in page 157, line 31, column 3, at end insert ' paragraph 3(3) '.
§ No. 252, in page 160, column 3, leave out lines 4 to 6.—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Bill to be read the Third time tomorrow.
§ PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
§ That Mr. Tom Boardman and Mr. Cranley Onslow be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and that Sir Edward Brown and Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Fortescue.]