HC Deb 04 July 1979 vol 969 cc1364-5
13. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about his decision to oppose the limitation of rents in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district.

Mr. Rifkind

The rent limitation order made by the previous Administration had the effect of limiting the increase in rents in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district to £59 in the current financial year compared with the £71 which the district council proposed. My right hon. Friend took the view that there were no good grounds for interfering in this way with the district council's discretion and therefore exercised the powers given to him by section 2 of the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Act 1975 to revoke the order. The revocation order was laid before this House on 20 June.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Minister, who is one of the less reactionary members of this Government, come with me to my constituency and explain to the people of Kilsyth, Queenzieburn, Kelvinhead and Banton why the Tory Government are collaborating with the local SNP dictator, Provost Murray, who wants to impose a savage 40 per cent. rent increase? Is not the Minister ashamed to be a member of a Government who refuse to intervene to reduce prices yet intervene to increase rents?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the compliment with which he preceded his supplementary question. I am not sure whether it was meant to do me good or harm. Presumably he is aware of that. The hon. Gentleman is always noted for his moderate language. He should be aware that even if the district council—it will be its decision—chooses to impose this full rent increase, the average rent in Kilsyth and Cumbernauld district will become the average rent in Scotland.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that by reversing the previous Government's decision to limit swingeing increases in rents proposed by the SNP-dominated Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council he is permitting the council to attack the living standards of council house tenants? Is he aware that the actions of this council, aided by the hon. Gentleman, have resulted in the erroneous comparison being made between houses built in Cumbernauld 21 years ago, or less, and houses built up to 50 years ago in Kilsyth and Croy, and that such a comparison has no validity?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must accept that it is only right and proper that elected local authorities should decide their rent increases for themselves and be answerable to their own tenants and electorates for the decisions that they make.

Mr. Lang

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way of limiting the rise in council house rents is by encouraging the sale of council houses, thus reducing the overall burden on housing authorities?

Mr. Rifkind

Scotland has a deplorably low level of home ownership. One important major way in which that level may be increased is by means of the policy to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Millan

If the Minister is so anxious to allow these decisions to be made by local authorities, why do the Government propose to compel local authorities to sell council houses, even against their will?

Mr. Rifkind

This is a question of priorities. The right of a tenant to own the home that he lives in is a far more important right to protect and enhance than the right of the local authority to prevent him from doing so.