HC Deb 14 May 1975 vol 892 cc443-6
11. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the average net annual rent paid by a housing authority tenant in Scotland; and how this compares with the corresponding figure for England.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

On the latest information available, the average annual net rent payable by local authority tenants in Scotland is £110 and in England £155.

Mr. Canavan

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that this will be the last occasion for Scottish Questions before the present Scottish housing authorities go out of existence at the weekend? Will he take this opportunity of thanking all the Labour councillors who, over the years, have managed to keep rents in Scotland at such a reasonable level? Will he urge the new district councils which are taking over to follow in the same traditions and to resist any demands by Tory and SNP councillors, some of whom want to impose the maximum increases? Will he also bear in mind and possibly reconsider the proposal to raise the rents of Scottish Special Housing Association houses by 50p per week, because many of the tenants feel a sense of injustice as they already have to pay much higher rents than council house tenants living in the same areas?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend raises some wide questions. I pay tribute to the many people in local government whose authorities, as we know them, are going out of existence from tomorrow.

It is a little misleading to leave the impression that any housing authority in future will be able to avoid reasonable rent increases, bearing in mind the increased costs of building and the number of houses still required to be built. However, to some extent I share my hon. Friend's concern about inequalities in rents between one authority and another. Within the context of reorganisation, perhaps a fresh look can be taken at equalising rents between different authorities.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Minister realise that, as a result of Labour policies, Scotland now has the lowest rate of owner-occupation of any country this side of the Iron Curtain? Will the Government explain what they intend to do about it? In particular, will they now give encouragement to allow council house tenants who wish to do so to become the owners of the homes in which they live?

Mr. Brown

The most practical contribution to increase the percentage of owner-occupation—we are committed to that—is, as we have already done, to assist building societies, to give encouragement to the private sector to build more houses and to ensure that the finance is available particularly for young people who want to buy houses.

Mr. Welsh

When the Secretary of State compares Scottish and English housing, will he also look at the Government's English housing initiatives? Over the past few months the Secretary of State has said "No" to a Scottish environmental board, "No" to a Scottish construction industry liaison group and "No" to Scottish participation in the Building Societies Association Liaison Group. Will he stop saying "No" and start saying "Yes" to decent Scottish housing?

Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

Hon. Members say that the answer is "No". I am not sure what the answer should be, because I do not think that I properly understood the question, which was so involved. I can only repeat that there is nothing to stop the maximum number of houses being built in Scotland by either public authorities or private enterprise. We have taken steps in both directions to encourage both sections of the industry.

Mr. Sillars

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main obstacle to building both private and public sector houses in Scotland is the rate of interest charged to both the public and the private sectors? As well as increases in material and labour costs, the greatest burden now and in future is the tax exacted by the moneylender. Is it not time that the Socialist Administration produced money for local authorities at a far cheaper interest rate than is being done at present?

Mr. Brown

Yes, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to face the hard facts of life. We are still living in a moneylending society. It is possible to provide cheaper money for local authori- ties, but that is merely another form of subsidy in present circumstances. The solution seems to be to get the economy on the right lines and to get interest rates generally down.

Mr. Galbraith

Is not the real reason for the difference between rents in England and Scotland that far too great a proportion of the rents is paid by rates in Scotland? Should not that be readjusted?

Mr. Brown

We have given local authorities freedom. We do not just talk about it; we do something about it. We are confident that, by and large, local authorities will act responsibly. This is a matter for the judgment of local electors. We believe in democracy. If one authority over-subsidises rents from rates, it is a matter about which local electors can express their opinion.

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