HC Deb 25 October 1972 vol 843 cc1159-65
1. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what communications he has now received in relation to the implementation of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act.

3. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many local authorities have now refused to operate the provisions of the new Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act.

9. Mr. MacArthur

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many local authorities have now refused to implement the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act; and what action he will take.

13. Mr. Hugh D. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many local authorities have taken decisions not to implement the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1972; what is the total number of council houses involved by such decisions; what percentage it represents of all local authority houses in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

Five local authorities formally notified me that they did not intend to implement the Act; they own 156,392 houses, 19.7 per cent. of all local authority houses in Scotland. I directed these and 18 other authorities to furnish me with information about the discharge of certain housing functions; and in the light of replies I have in the first instance appointed reporters to hold public local inquiries as to whether Glasgow Corporation, Lanark County Council and Falkirk and Kirkcaldy Town Councils have failed effectively to discharge certain of their functions under Parts II and IV of the Act.

In addition, a number of local authorities have written about details of the administration of the Act, and I have received a large number of letters from ratepayers complaining that local authorities which are not yet operating the Act are adding unnecessarily to the rates.

Mr. Eadie

Is there not a danger of the right hon. Gentleman being made to look very foolish if the TUC persuades the Prime Minister at the meeting at Chequers that the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act should be withdrawn because it is inflationary? Will he not curb this sort of impetuosity, if it is the belief of the Government that dealing with inflation should have priority in their policies?

Mr. Campbell

I accept that the importance of beating inflation cannot be over-emphasised. I am not being impetuous. I am following out the basic procedures which are laid down in the Local Government Act, 1947.

Mr. Hamilton

Is it not the case that the Secretary of State has ratted on his contractual obligations with local authorities concerning subsidies and that this Act is compelling local housing authorities to act as his stooges? Would it not be more honest of him now to take over completely the financing, the building and the renting of all publicly-owned houses in Scotland?

Mr. Campbell

The answer to all parts of that question is "No".

Mr. MacArthur

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the action he has so far taken will be welcomed by the local authorities in Scotland which are observing the terms of the Act? Can he assure us and them that he will use all the powers open to him to stop this defiance of the law?

Mr. Campbell

I agree that those authorities which are carrying out the Act have every reason to expect me to follow the basic procedures which I am following as regards others, and this is something which will help Scottish ratepayers as a whole.

Mr. Brown

How is it possible for the Prime Minister to seek to get agreement with the TUC when the rate increases that the right hon. Gentleman is imposing are at least 50 per cent. for those who will not be eligible for rent rebates? Surely he should seek some kind of spirit of co-operation rather than go for confrontation.

Mr. Campbell

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. The increases are controlled under the Act. Secondly, the Act introduces rent rebates and allowances in the private sector for the first time and these will help the lowest paid, which is very much part of what the tripartite talks are now about.

Mr. Galbraith

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a scandalous state of affairs when certain local authorities take the law into their own hands and decide which laws to obey and which laws not to obey?

Mr. Campbell

I think it would be better if I did not comment at this stage because the procedures which are laid down in the Act are being followed. I understand that right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench themselves have advocated that the law should be carried out.

Mr. Ross

This is, however, a very serious situation, although it is not one that is unexpected in view of the underestimation of the attitude of Scottish local authorities. They do not want to become puppets. It is as simple as that.

May I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman? Could he use his powers under the Act to forgo the retrospective elements of the rent increases—that is, those which take effect virtually prior to 1st October—and, as a gesture on his side to the talks which will be going on at Chequers, would he be prepared to consider the moderation of rent increases for the next two years to 5 per cent?

Mr. Campbell

I could not give an answer to that point. I am naturally prepared to consider anything within the law that has been passed by this House. What I would point out again is that the vast majority of local authorities in Scotland are carrying out the Act and do not regard themselves as puppets.

2. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the total sum to be paid to Scottish local authorities in housing subsidies in the current financial year; and what were the comparable figures in each of the previous three years.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)

About £48 million. The comparable figure for 1971–72 was £39 million, for 1970–71 £34 million, and for 1969–70 £26 million.

Mr. Taylor

Will my hon. Friend make sure that all the local authorities which are refusing to implement the Act are informed officially of those figures, which entirely dispose of the propaganda that the new Act is cutting subsidies?

Mr. Younger

I entirely agree. I am certain that they will all read carefully in HANSARD the answer which I have given and draw from it the lesson that those authorities which are, apparently, refusing to implement the Act at this time are in most cases denying themselves and their tenants considerable extra financial benefits.

Mr. Lawson

Will not the Minister be honest and say that local authorities are no longer housing authorities, but, at best, are housing agents, and are being stripped of millions of pounds per annum in Exchequer subsidies which it was long since established should be paid? Will he take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and say honestly and openly, "Since the Act gives us power to take over housing—building, finance and the rest—we shall take it over and carry out our part of the Act"?

Mr. Younger

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Local housing authorities in Scotland do not, in the vast majority of cases, regard themselves as puppets, either before or after the passing of the Act. As for their being stripped of money, if anyone will offer to strip me of £1,000 and give me £1,500 in return, I shall be very pleased to accept.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is it not remarkable hypocrisy for the TUC and hon. Members on the Opposition side to say that they are in favour of giving maximum assistance to the lower paid while at the same time encouraging local authorities to resist an Act which is designed to help precisely those people?

Mr. Younger

I agree, and I find it quite amazing. Not only does the Act concentrate help mose carefully upon the lower paid and those who most need it, but it concentrates it on those authorities which have the greatest problems and, therefore, the greatest need of help.

Mr. Ross

Reverting to the original Question and the hon. Gentleman's answer, will he give us the number of houses in respect of which the subsidies accrued in each of the four years concerned?

Mr. Younger

If the right hon. Gentleman will put down a Question, I shall give him all the information I possibly can.

15. Mr. Buchan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will now convene a meeting with the local authority associations to discuss the operation of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1972.

Mr. Younger

Discussions with local authorities are held as necessary, but my right hon. Friend has no plans for convening a meeting with the local authority associations.

Mr. Buchan

Is not the Secretary of State getting himself into a ridiculous situation in which he is issuing threats to certain councils which are the only councils in line with Government policies in that they are refusing to implement the Housing Act in view of the price norm? Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman convene a meeting of those which have implemented the Act and are imposing increases of between five and 10 times the 5 per cent. norm? Is there not a danger that if the Secretary of State proceeds to take to court the non-implementers of the Act, his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be called as a witness for the defence?

Mr. Younger

That is the sort of question which I shall require to study for some weeks before being able to pick out the tortuous logic running through it. The simple fact is that the whole tenor of the Housing Act is to concentrate more help on those with lower incomes. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, with his constituency, would be especially concerned to see that those who have lower incomes receive more help under this Act. Some are having very small increases in rent, some are having none and some are actually having reductions in their rents. I am sure he will support that.

Mr. Sproat

If my hon. Friend has such a meeting as the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) suggests, will he bear in mind that there are literally thousands of people in Scotland who are paying more rent each week than they need simply because some local authorities are not implementing the Act?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is quite right. I have in mind especially large families in Glasgow with small incomes who at the moment in many cases are paying higher rents than they should be simply because the corporation has refused to implement the Act.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Act statute bars any attempt to keep down rents to a 5 per cent. figure, disallowing even those who receive rent rebates? Is he aware that if the Government adopted a policy of restraint in rents to fit in with the prices and incomes policy they would require new legislation? Will he say whether this is possible, and does he realise that we on this side would support that?

Mr. Younger

The Act lays down in detail what the statutory position is. What is more, the Act very much restricts increases for those on lower incomes, and it reduces the rents of those with the lowest incomes and the greatest needs.

23. Mr. Hugh D. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total estimated cost of publicity on the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1972, under the headings of Press, television and other publicity material.

Mr. Younger

For the year 1972–73 it is £89,550, including £20,400 for Press advertising, £50,000 for television advertising and £19,150 for booklets and posters.

Mr. Brown

Would the hon. Gentleman have a look at the tenants' guide—not now, but later—and particularly at page 2, paragraph 2, which seems to be ambiguous if not actually misleading? Would he encourage local authorities to interpret in their own way how they see the Act affecting their tenants, and granting the authorities the same kind of literary licence?

Mr. Younger

I have studied that booklet and found it excellent and informative, but of course I will again particularly study that passage so that I can express my own opinion on it in detail. The general objective of that and other booklets, which have been widely welcomed by those who have received them, was to inform the public of their rights under the new Housing Finance Act. That is an undertaking that I should have thought would have the wholehearted support of both sides of the House.

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