HC Deb 17 October 1973 vol 861 cc185-7
10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the working of the machinery for the assessment of fair rents; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Channon

The machinery for assessing fair rents is working well in both the public and the private sector. In the public sector, rent scrutiny boards are considering the assessments made by some 1,200 local authorities and over 130 reports have already been issued.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman deny that the average increase accepted in the private sector is running at about 25 per cent, and that this figure is being agreed to before the machinery has access to the costs of the private landlords? Will the hon. Gentleman take steps to see that before these increases are granted the cost figures are available to the rent tribunals? Will the hon. Gentleman understand that trade unionists and ordinary working people will not accept phase 3 of the prices and incomes policy with this kind of practice going on?

Mr. Channon

If the hon. Gentleman is asking about the private sector in Scotland I must be careful because, as he knows, I do not deal with that. Rents in the private sector are a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland and not for me.

The method of assessment to be used by rent assessment committees and rent officers for dealing with the private sector in England is laid down in the system set out by the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman will recall that his Government did not give allowances to tenants in the private sector. I think that the present scheme is working fairly well.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the county borough of Bradford, which is fairly typical of most big industrial cities in the North, about 49.5 per cent. of municipal tenants will be eligible for generous rebates under the Housing Finance Act? We should therefore welcome this measure, which helps those most in need.

Mr. Channon

I have always believed that those who cannot afford to pay their rent, whether in the private or the public sector, should be helped, and the Government are providing extremely generous subsidies towards rents and rebates. I hear some hon Gentlemen opposite saying "Nonsense", but that is a fact. Those who cannot afford to pay a fair rent are helped by the Government proposals. Those who can afford to pay a fair rent should do so. That was the principle adopted with regard to the private sector by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power, and I do not see why they should object to similar help being given to the public sector.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

What action does the hon. Gentleman propose to take about the delay encountered by local authorities in their submissions to rent scrutiny boards? Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the situation in Manchester where 94,000 council house tenants have had increases of 50p a week imposed on their rents, when proposals from Manchester Corporation to the rent scrutiny board envisaged increases of an average of only 5p per week? When will the hon. Gentleman take action to assist the board to consider and make a decision on the corporation's proposals?

Mr. Channon

Rent scrutiny boards are independent, and it is not for me to try to speed up or slow down their work. They are independent, and I have no authority to do either one thing or the other. I am not making a comment on the Manchester situation. I should like to have notice and details of it, but one reason why there has been some delay is the late arrival of the submission of many local authorities.

Mr. Leonard

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a similar situation arises in London? Will he accept that these repeated increases in council rents under the Housing Finance Act work flatly against the stated aims of the Government's counter-inflation policy? Why should council tenants be singled out for extra inflationary pressure which is within the control of the Government?

Mr. Channon

I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that a man with three children—[Interruption.] I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like this, but the fact is that a man with three children and an income of £25 a week, living in a council dwelling and liable to an average rent of £3.65 is entitled to a rebate of £3.38, so that he pays a net rent of 27p. Is that what hon. Gentlemen opposite are complaining about?

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