HC Deb 14 March 1979 vol 964 cc439-41
12. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will use his reserve powers to limit rent increases under section 15 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

My right hon. Friend will use his powers whenever he considers that any particular increases would impose an unduly heavy burden on tenants. He has decided to use them in order to restrict the increase proposed by Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council.

Mr. Canavan

I thank my hon. Friend for stopping Provost Murray from behaving like a medieval landlord by imposing savage increases of 40 per cent. on the tenants of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district, but will he give some indication of the kind of limitation that he has in mind, bearing in mind that this time last year the Government promised that rent increases, if necessary, should be in line with the average increase in earnings?

Mr. Brown

I never attempt to compete with the eloquence of my hon. Friend in his public criticisms. I hope that he will continue to direct them to Provost Murray and not to me.

We are taking £12 off the average increase for each house, which is £12 off the increase for each tenant.

Mrs. Bain

While being sure that Provost Murray will listen to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) more readily than he will to certain members of his own party, may I ask the Minister to look carefully at the comparison between district council house rents in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district and those for comparable houses owned by the Government-controlled SSHA and Cumbernauld Development Corporation in the area? If he does, he will find that the rent levels there are substantially higher than district council rents.

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Lady, whom I have never noticed as being much of an expert on housing—[HON. MEMBERS:"Oh! "] The hon. Lady specialises in other subjects and interests. She will recollect—or perhaps someone could advise her—that, in the Green Paper, when we talk about local contributions rising in line with earnings, we take local contributions to include rents and rates. Unfortunately, new towns do not have a rate fund contribution, nor does the SSHA.

Mr. Lambie

How can my hon. Friend justify this decision today in regard to the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council when his right hon. Friend has agreed to increases of over £100 per year—a 50 per cent. increase—by the SNP-controlled Cunninghame district council? Surely he must reconsider that decision as well.

Mr. Brown

As my hon. Friend knows, we regret the circumstances which made it necessary to allow increases—

Mr. Lambie

What circumstances?

Mr. Brown

I have already explained them. We regret the circumstances which made it almost inevitable that we had to approve higher increases than we would have wished. I should point out that the average increases allowed in Cunninghame are about the same as we have allowed for Kilsyth and Cumbernauld.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister accept that, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) said, there is a feeling of injustice in areas where tenants of the SSHA and new town houses and district council tenants live in comparable houses but pay different rents?

Bearing in mind the action that has been taken on percentage increases, will the hon. Gentleman address his mind to the hardship that will be caused to every council tenant and owner-occupier in Scotland if there are to be rate increases of over 15 per cent. this year?

Mr. Brown

That is an omnibus question. I shall stick to the part that is relevant. As I have explained, there is no rate fund contribution to the SSHA and new towns, where the deficits are wholly funded by the Government. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on behalf of the Opposition, is saying that he will require a rate fund contribution from local authorities to both these organisations, I am happy to hear it.