HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc384-407

' In section 1(6) of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978 after the word "considerations", there shall be inserted the words "including the estimates used in subsection (3)(b) above".'.—[Mr. George Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. George Robertson

I beg to move. That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 27—Amendment of Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978.

Mr. Robertson

This is an amendment to section 1(6) of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978.

New clauses 19 and 27 have virtually the same effect. One is a slight refinement of the other. Their intention is to add to the provisions that already exist within the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978 in relation to the determination of the housing support grant. Each year it is now incumbent upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to bring before the House an order relating to the housing support grant for the following year. It is incumbent upon him to do so under the legislation that we are discussing.

It might be said that for the average person, whether inside or outside the House, the degree of explanation that the explanatory memorandum gives is open to debate. However, according to the memorandum, it is the responsibility of the Government to bring forward such information along with the order itself.

The order provides for the financing of local government expenditure on housing programmes for the following year. The intention of our new clause is to substantiate the already existing provisions so that the Government estimates—which they must use as part and parcel of determining the housing support grant—will also be included in the explanatory memorandum.

Of course there is a reason for bringing forward this new clause at this time. Needless to say, it relates to the housing support grant order for 1980. Although in previous years when the housing support grant order came before the House, the Government adhered to the spirit of the 1978 legislation, and ensured that the Government's role in determining the level of financial provision for local authorities was such as to secure that the level of rents did not rise higher than the level of earnings in Scotland, a major and serious exception to that rule occurred this year.

It is the strong feeling of the Opposition that the Government should be obliged to show the estimates that they have made of earnings, prices, interest rates and the rate increases that may be necessary if the so-called figures put forward by the Government are taken in isolation.

This year, the Government's figures, which were before the House without the benefit of the estimates on which they were made, would, if they had been imposed by every local authority in Scotland, have led to a 37 per cent. increase in the level of council house rents. That would have been the effect of the Government's imposed increase. The figure that they gave the House was lower than that. The figure of £1.40 was given by the Minister at the press conference and in the debate. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan), in a letter to the Secretary of State only a few days later, showed that the basic arithmetic adopted by the Government was erroneous and that the real increase that would be necessary, without an increase in rates to cover the cutback in the housing support grant, would have led to an actual increase in council house rents of no less than 37 per cent.

The historical precedent of council house rents in this country is on record. The Government produced in Committee, when the Bill was discussed, figures of increases in rents, prices and earnings over a number of years. The figure for the years between 1974 and 1979, during the period of the previous Labour Government, showed that earnings rose in that period by 15.9 per cent. and that rent increases were 13.2 per cent. Those figures were produced by the Government to illustrate another feature of their own arithmetical shenanigans.

The previous Government made that a point of principle. It was established in Committee on the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill that there should be a link between the increase that working people, council house tenants, should be expected to bear in council house rent increases and the level of increases in earnings. This year, unless the Government were estimating an increase in earnings during the future year of 37 per cent., they broke that spirit and understanding. They quite clearly injected into the system a massive amount of inflationary pressure. A 37 per cent. increase in rents during a year when the figure for an out turn on wages was 18 per cent. and that for inflation was 17 per cent, is, perhaps, allowing the shadow to become the substance.

If the Government are heading for an inflation rate of 37 per cent. and see average earnings rising to that level, there is nothing wrong with the formula as it stands, but people are not likely to be conned by that sort of statistical exercise.

It is necessary for people in Scotland, especially those in council houses, to know how the Government are determining the financial provisions for local authorities. Local authorities should not have to do the Government's dirty work for them. If provision is being made for local authorities in the coming year, the Government should be obliged to publish the detailed estimates that they clearly must have before coming to the House with the housing support grant order.

There is no doubt in our minds that council house tenants and people in the private mortgage sector are bearing the brunt of the Government's obsession with monetarism. The Government should at least publish the inconsistency between the estimates that they have made on inflation, pay, prices, rates increases and interest rates and the figures that they have calculated for in the housing support grant to determine the level of council house rent increases.

We are not making an unreasonable request. The new clause would provide a strengthening of the democratic accountability of the Government. I hope that for the future of the housing programme and its explanation the Government will see fit to accept the new clause.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

It is important for many reasons that the Government should accept the new clause and publish the estimates on which they are proposing to calculate the housing support grant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) mentioned what would happen to interest rates and the influence that that will have over the Government's calculations on local authority rents. Many tenants resent a kind of mechanistic approach to rent levels. Irrespective of the kind of service provided, the rent automatically seems to go up because of conditions outwith their control.

The Government should give an estimate of the money to be channelled into the rehabilitation or upgrading of older houses. We should know about this, factor when the Government are pre-paring their estimates and giving us some ideas.

It is probably a truism that one of the major influences on the quality of life is people's housing. None the less, it is valid to say that. The kind of house one lives in can affect one's health, the educaition of one's children and one's marital stability. No one can be in any doubt that greatly improved housing conditions, as a result of massive new house building, by local authorities has meant a great deal to the quality of people's lives.

The quality of life of many people in our cities and country areas will be severely curtailed and impaired by the slowing up of new house building. Notwithstanding that, even if local authority new house building were to proceed at the kind of pace that I wish to see, there is a strong need to upgrade houses which were built some years ago. Building standards since the war have not taken into account when the first local authority houses were built. Standards of building, of accommodation and even of people's aspirations have consistently increased year by year. Compared with 30 or 40 years ago, there have been tremendous advances. But as the years pass there is an urgent need to provide for the aspirations of tenants in older houses. There are substantial practical reasons why we should go in for a great deal of house improvement in the local authority sector.

People may wish for many reasons to be mobile within the public authority housing sector. They may wish to change from the area in which they live. A family may wish to move because the breadwinner has changed his job. People may want to move to be near elderly parents who require some degree of care ard attention, but not so much that they have to go into hospital.

7.15 pm

These of us who deal with housing problems from day to day in our constituencies know that it is difficult to effect transfers and exchanges. Pressure on housing is growing and there will be a greater need for mobility. I do not make any criticism of local authorities generally regarding their exchange or transfer policies, but I think that more needs to be done to effect changes and transfers.

Many tenants live in sub-standard accommodation. A great amount of the accommodation built many years ago by local authorities can now be classed as sub-standard. It may not be strictly technically sub-standard in relation to grants and so forth, but I think that it can be classed as sub-standard. People in such accommodation suffer in two ways. First, they have to live in houses which have many defects. Secondly, because of those defects, their mobility is very much impaired.

If I was not aware of this problem before—I would claim that I was—the issue was sharply brought to my attention two weeks ago by a deputation of tenants from an area in my constituency known as South Middlefield. That deputation represented an organisation called the South Middlefield action group. Those tenants were incensed that year by year their rents were being put up because of Government pressure on the money being made available to the local authorities. Rents are being forced ever upwards and improvements are not being carried out on their houses. They are incensed because the programmes are being pushed even further back.

The number of houses involved is 424. Some of those houses were built in 1939 and others were built in 1947. I am speaking of houses which are between 33 and 41 years old. The tenants are angry because the programme for rehabilitating their houses has been pushed back. They will not now be improved for a further period of three to four years. The reason for the postponement is the reduction in the housing support grant.

I had the difficult task of trying to explain how the housing support grant was calculated. I had to say that I did not know how it was calculated because I had no idea what estimates the Government had made in arriving at their calculations. In those circumstances it is impossible to explain rationally, even if one agrees or disagrees with the policy, the estimates on which the Government base their calculations.

Some people may think that in terms of renovating or upgrading, one is concerned with simple cosmetic matters. That is not so. The South Middlefield action group surveyed 129 houses to ascertain their state of repair. They found that 94 houses—72 per cent.—suffered from dampness and our age-old friend, condensation. Of the tenants living in those houses, 43—or 45 per cent.—felt that the conditions of those houses were affecting their health. There were also complaints about excessive fuel costs, the poor state of repairs and things had not been done. They were told by the local authority that essential repairs, such as repairs to electrical wiring, had been postponed because their houses would be completely renovated and upgraded, and that it would hold until then and do the whole job at once.

I do not have time to discuss all the relevant factors that affect people in that area, but it is not surprising that 82 per cent. of tenants are not satisfied with the condition of their houses, and that 83 per cent. do not think that their rents are fair, and that they are not getting value for money.

I do not complain about the action of the district housing authority which has ha to postpone its programmes. Given the priorities that it has to face, it is an understandable action. It is in great difficulties in discharging its duty to tenants. The responsibility for the deteriorating standards, and the delays in arresting that deterioration, rests with the Government, who control the rate of progress through the housing support grant. Locai authorities are in some difficulty because they do not know, with any degree of clarity, the make-up of the housing support grant, how much extra money they are receiving for home improvements, and the Government's calculations.

I know that the housing support grant is not subject to the same rigid cash limits as other sectors. Nevertheless, the Government cannot control the finance available, fail to control and take into account interest rates, fail to take more than an accountant's approach to the question of housing, and then expect district housing authorities to respond to tenants needs.

How will local authorities be able to come to the Government at the end of the day, when they are faced with the reality of the outrun of their housing accounts, to argue that they need more money, if they do not know the basis upon which the calculations are made? How can hon. Members protect the interests of local authority tenants, and argue a case with the Government for a greater amount of money to be made available at the end of the year to a local authority that has overspent, if they do not know the basis of the calculations? I do not think that anyone in the Government had any idea, when they took office, that within a short space of time interest rates would rocket to an all-time high, and would remain at that level for such a lengthy period. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of housing policy knows the effect of high interest rates on the budgets of local authorities. The way in which the system operates is that as long as there are high interest rates there will be pressure for increased rents for tenants.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. It is necessary for better democracy and the better handling by district housing authorities of the various priorities that they have to choose to meet the tenants' needs, and it will be of practical help to the authorities. Above all, it will enable those tenants who feel that they are not getting a square deal in return for the rent that they pay to receive some consideration and improvement of housing conditions that are not good enough in the prescent day and age.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I am not sure whether it is wise for me to speak before my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie). It may remind him and some other colleagues that he was always having a go at me, even when the order was put through. I hope that I can persuade him to direct his attack at the proper quarter, namely, the Minister. In the context of the new policies that the Government are pursuing, we are entitled to ask what effect the policy of selling council houses will have on the calculations. That is the purpose that lies behind the two new clauses. They relate to section 1 of the 1978 Act.

As the House and the Minister know, we are talking in terms of two parts of an equation—eligible expenditure and relevant income. I confess that I shall be interested to hear the Minister's remarks when he replies. I could write his reply, because I know that the stock answer will be "We cannot say. We are talking about an aggregate income. The local authority must determine how much will be included in rent increases and how much in rate increases". I am sure that that standby will be included in the brief. It is used when a Minister does not wish to make any commitment. I accept that, because I have used it regularly.

The Minister must hazard a guess, on the basis of the figures within the financial memorandum to the Bill, about the effect of the provisions—both in the short term and in the longer term—on the income and expenditure prospects of the authorities concerned. We are of the opinion that in the short term selling council houses could be a bonus for local authorities—but not in the long term.

The Minister and the Department must have made some calculation about the effect of the policy in, for example, three years. All sorts of permutations were made and a document was issued relating to the Bill for England and Wales, but it did not add up to very much. I am concerned about the effect that the provisions will have, in a few years' time on the increase in rents. There will not be increases in rents or in the local contribution, in line with earnings, as we argued we would expect. I am satisfied that the calculations are no longer valid in the light of the additional costs that fall on the housing authorities as a result of the policies being pursued by the Government.

The new clauses are relevant in the new circumstances. They are an extension of the basic principle, on which we are all agreed, that the maximum amount of information should be made available. I see no reason why they should not be accepted in one form or another.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

I rise to support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), which demands that the Government should provide more information to all groups, including councillors and Members of Parliament, about the calculations upon which the order is based. I am one of the few Members of Parliament who have consistently voted against rate support grant orders and housing support grant orders, irrespective of the Government in office at the time. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) said that he hoped that I would not criticise the previous Labour Administration but would direct my attack at the present Government. I suggest that there is some criticism to be made. I hope that we will learn from the mistakes made by the previous Labour Administration.

When we discussed the housing support grant during the previous Labour Administration, we said that we were providing a Trojan horse for a future Conservative Government. My right hon. and hon. Friends said that we should not worry while there was a Labour Government in power and a Labour Secretary of State at the Scottish Office. I was able to accept that. But we have now reached the stage where we have in power the most reactionary Conservative Government ever, and a Tory Secretary of State for Scotland at the Scottish Office. We assumed that the next Secretary of State for Scotland would be the then hon. Member for Glasgow, Cath-cart, who is now the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I can remember making many speeches about the dire consequences which would result for Scottish tenants once that diehard Tory had control of the Scottish Office as well as control of Scottish tenants and their rents.

Mr. Robert Hughes

My hon. Friend made such effective speeches that the then hon. Member for Glasgow, Cath-cart lost his seat.

Mr. Lambie

That may be so. I do not think that there was a transfer fee, but the hon. Gentleman has transferred to the South of England.

Mr. Hughes

The Secretary of State paid the transfer fee.

7.30 pm
Mr. Lambie

Although we were afraid of the personality and policies of the hon. Member for Southend, East, we still have a Secretary of State for Scotland who is one of the old nobility and, therefore, a decent type of Tory.

Mr. Hughes

There is no such thing.

Mr. Lambie

In spite of that, the right hon. Gentleman has been given a framework that allows him to carry out the Government's policy and to attack council tenants in Scotland, and he is doing so. Irrespective of whether the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) or the hon. Member for Southend, East is in control, the Secretary of State has been given a framework by the previous Labour Government that allows him to attack council tenants.

During the period of the Conservative Government from 1970–1974, there were many debates in Committee and elsewhere on the Rent Act. We argued the case that the Tory Government were completely changing the system of local government finance and were reneging on commitments that successive Governments had made to local councils since 1919. They reneged on agreements which had been signed for 40 years or 60 years, depending on the Housing Act which one takes. At that stage they began to change the whole concept of local authority housing finance.

When the Labour Government came into power they added to that by introducing the concept of the housing support grant. Certainly, the Labour Government did not apply it in the way in which the present Government have applied it and will apply it in the future, but they provided the framework that the Tory Government can now use to attack the standards of council tenants in Scotland. Irrespective of which Government have been in power, we find that housing policies have been similar. They may differ in emphasis and attack, but the theory behind them is the same.

In my opinion, civil servants in the Scottish Office and the Treasury have had more say in housing policy since 1970 than politicians and Members of Parliament like myself. In spite of the fact that between 65 per cent. and 70 per cent. of Scottish people live in public sector housing or tenanted property, very few representatives of the tenants are here tonight—not only from the Conservative and Labour Benches but from civil servants.

Since 1970 an attack on council housing has been carried out by people who are owner-occupiers and who have the philosophy of owner-occupiers. That philosophy is that they are subsidising council tenants and that it is not right to make them subsidise council tenants. There has been a gradual attack on the right to be a tenant, which is the traditional right of the Scot. We have gradually reached the stage at which people in Scotland—it has been the case in England and Wales for a number of years—are ashamed to say that they are tenants because they feel that they are being subsidised by the owner-occupier. We are now seeing the final attack on tenants in Scotland by the actions of the Government.

Irrespective of cuts in Government expenditure, the owner-occupier maintains his privileged place with regard to taxation. No Tory Government would ever dare to reintroduce schedule D tax but schedule D tax should be reintroduced, because the owner-occupier, by having his money in bricks and mortar, is escaping inflation. People who bought houses two or three years ago for £15,000 or £16,000 now find that the value of those houses is £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000. There has been an increase in the value of their property, yet they pay no income tax on that increase. That means that they are in a privileged position simply because the majority of hon. Members and the whole of the Civil Service are owner-occupiers.

I hope that as a result of the new clause we shall receive more information from the Government on how they estimate the final figures for housing support grant. I hope that the new clause will represent a start by Labour Members towards the defence of the council tenant and his rights.

In the past, I have tried to obtain the information that the new clause seeks. I have asked successive Secretaries of State to provide me with the information on which both the rate support grant and housing support grant settlements are made. I have never been able to obtain that information. In fact, a few months ago I asked the Scottish Office for this year's final rate support grant settlement for the two district councils in my area—the rate support grant settlement on which the rates in May were based. I am still waiting for information about how much money Cunninghame district council and Kyle and Carrick district council have received in rate support grant settlements. The rates were fixed on the basis that the councils would receive a certain amount of money. When one asks the Secretary of State to provide that information, he says "I cannot do it until I get the facts". But in order to get the facts he fixes a figure. I suggest that the reason why successive Governments have been unwilling to give information to Members of Parliament or local authorities is that there is no formula for arriving at the rate support grant or housing support grant settlements.

The Minster can deny it if he likes, but in my opinion the Government decide during the year, before the negotiations begin, how much money they will allocate. After doing so, they devise a formula to ensure that they achieve that result. I believe that that is what happens. Over a period of months I have asked the Minister to tell me what the local authorities in my area are receiving in rate support grant and he still has not given an answer. Yet rates were fixed by the two district councils in May, on the basis that they would receive a certain amount of money from the rate support grant and housing support grant.

There is a lot of kidology in local government finance. In fact, I think that we could cut the number of people working in New St. Andrew's House if we came clean in respect of these negotiations, because many of the jobs involve working out a formula in order to arrive at the result that the Government want.

This year, I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to involve Members of Parliament in the rate support grant and the housing support grant settlement. We should be involved in those negotiations. At present, the Government, or the various working parties of civil servants, meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—COSLA—and discuss Scottish issues. When the councillors are asked what they have been discussing, they do not know, and whenever Ministers are asked what they have been discussing, they do not know. But someone knows, because they achieve results. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to involve Members of Parliament when meetings take place with COSLA. I did so on the basis that I was the hon. Member, along with the other 634 hon. Members, who finally decided and voted on both the rate support grant and the housing support grant settlements. Unless we knew how those figures were arrived at we would have been voting in the dark, after a short debate lasting only one and a half hours, which sometimes took place during the early hours of the morning.

That is why I support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton as a step forward. I hope that once we are in power—the Labour Party will be in power again—we shall be able to look after our friends and supporters who are still council house tenants in Scotland, and that we shall not listen to civil servants and put forward their policies in order to solve the problem of housing finance. We shall act as politicians, and as politicians we shall take positions that will be for the betterment of our constituents living in council property.

Mr. O'Neill

I rise with some trepidation, as I am a prospective house owner with a mortgage. I am a passionate defender of the rights of council house tenants. Indeed, I am a council house tenant. Having said that, I must say that I share some of the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) about the rate support grant. It has been suggested that the rate support grant legislation is understood by three people only, one of whom has forgotten about it, another is mad, and the other is dead. If those three people exist, they probably exist in New St. Andrew's House and are not allowed out very often. Certainly they have not been able to explain the workings of either the housing support grant or the rate support grant to the Secretary of State and his henchmen.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has been demonstrated that there is one person who understands those matters? He is the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). I wonder into which classification he is to be fitted.

Mr. O'Neill

If my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire is to be believed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) may be the person who wishes to forget what he did.

We must remember that if we are to have a serious debate on the level of rent increases and local government finance, we must have this information. I was a member of the Select Committee, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take evidence from senior civil servants in the Scottish Office, who were briefed by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Craigton. Having obtained a glimmer of understanding about how the system may work. I found it a singularly unedifying experience to listen to the civil servants who were most reluctant to be specific about interest levels, levels of assumptions or levels of inflation in the year ahead. Perhaps in December of last year they were not to know that the Government's policy would be as disastrous as it has turned out to be, and that inflation would be running at 22 per cent.

If we are to have a serious debate on the major factors relating to the income and expenditure of our people, we need an adequate and clear exposition of the basis upon which the financing of housing is calculated and the basis upon which rents will have to rise in the coming year. We know that under this Government local government is becoming less and less local and that local authorities are having to follow the diktats of Ministers rather than use their own initiatives to raise funds and revenue. When they raise revenue through traditional methods of rates, and when they seek to defend services by increasing rates, they are subject to what is tantamount to abuse from Conservative Members. We have seen that happen with authorities that do not have responsibility for housing, but progressive authorities, such as that in the Lothian region, have been pilloried and excoriated by Conservative Members.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)


7.45 pm
Mr. O'Neill

I had not realised that any Conservatives were alive. I was beginning to wonder whether they were simply part of the decoration. I am glad to know that they are present, and I hope that after they have the opportunity to explain to their people how the rate support and housing support grants operate, and to explain the level of rate rises in East Aberdeenshire, East Fife or North Fife they will win the support of those people in the forthcoming election. I am sure that they will need that support, but I do not think that they will get it, because the intransigence of the Government in explaining local Government finance, and the process of obfuscation that has continued since they took office, have made the job of local authorities even more difficult than it used to be.

We want to know the assumptions upon which the rent levels will be based in the years ahead, and we want local authorities to have the opportunity to plan sensibly. We are concerned about the beggaring of local authorities in respect of housing. The beggaring process is an attempt to make local authorities force up rents so that people will say "If these are the level of rent rises, perhaps it would be better to try to buy a council house". However, when they make the calculations and find that it is even more expensive to buy a house, they decide to continue to rent at the excessive rents that the Government's policies require, and which have been levied without any clear indication of the reasoning behind them or of any worthwhile information upon which longer-term projections can be made.

Mr. Rifkind

From the unexpected, uncomplimentary remarks that hon. Gentlemen made about civil servants, it would seem that we shall have some unexpected support in our efforts to reduce the size of the Civil Service, which they clearly feel is unnecessarily large.

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) put forward many interesting arguments in favour of this new clause. However, he did not give any indication on the point that obviously concerned his hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) as to why his Government constantly refused to provide the sort of information that he is now passionately demanding. I appreciate that he was not a member of that Government, and that he may be anxiously looking to his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) to provide the answer. But, clearly, that is a matter that he overlooked and that is entirely relevant to the situation. The situation is quite simple.

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Minister tell the House precisely how many orders the previous Government brought forward under the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1978?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must realise that when that Act which produced this system was discussed the suggestion was put to the previous Government that information of this kind should be provided and the previous Government resisted it very strongly for reasons that are exactly the same as those which apply under the present Government. It is exactly this : what local authorities are concerned about first is the total size of their housing support grant. That is the information that the order provides. Secondly, the various assumptions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are simply assumptions some of which have turned out to be correct and some of which will not turn out to be correct, irrespective of the Government who are putting them forward.

Indeed, if one ends up with a single average figure, it is likely to be a very un-revealmg piece of information. It will be simply an arbitrary and mechanical figure worked out by averaging a number of other figures, which will be of little help to local authorities.

In the housing support grant order, what we are concerned with is not, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) seemed to be suggesting, giving advice to local authorities, but providing them with the size of their housing support grant so that they can take that into account when determining their expenditure and the income that they are to receive from rents and rate contributions.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North also made some comments which were rather wide of the new clause in dealing with the question of mobility. When he considers the Bill, and in particular clause 25, I am sure that he will recognise that the present Government have done more to ensure and encourage mobility in Scotland and the removal of unnecessary residential qualifications than in any other legislation that the House has ever considered.

The hon. Member for Provan raised the question of sales of council houses and the effect of that on local authorities' income. He will be aware that, certainly in the short term, a local authority that sold council houses would obviously have an income which would enable it to finance its housing expenditure far more cheaply than would otherwise have been available to it.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Before the Minister gets too far away from his reply to my comments, may I ask whether he is really saying that in the calculation of the housing support grant, the Government take no account of the direction in which they seek to influence local authorities in relation to the balance between new house building and the rehabilitation of older property, whether it be for local authority houses or assistance towards private landlords who wish to rehabilitate their older privately tenanted houses?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is becoming a bit confused between the housing support grant, which is what we are concerned with here, and the capital allocations to housing authorities, either on the housing revenue account or on the non-housing revenue account, when we certainly look at the details of the housing plan of the local authority and are able to make an allocation to individual local authorities based on their needs as shown by their housing plans. It is exactly in that area that successive Governments have acknowledged the very relevant factors to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

In conclusion, I simply say that in this matter we are following the previous Government's practice. Nothing has changed to justify any change from that practice. The arguments which convinced Opposition Members that a provision of this kind was undesirable are exactly the arguments which equally convince my right hon. Friend and myself and, I am sure, will convince the House.

Mr. George Robertson

The Minister was quite correct in saying that I was not a member of the previous Government. But the corollary of that is that he, until his sudden demise from the Opposition Front Bench, was actually a party to the accusations that were made to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the previous Government about not providing information. Now we have the revealing gesture by the Minister that, although he confesses that under the previous Government certain information was demanded, the present Government will now retreat behind exactly the same smokescreen which they attacked during the previous Administration and they will use exactly the same arguments. The Minister openly says that they will use the same arguments in justification for not providing the information.

When the present Government took power, they had a number of press conferences. They told the press then that this would be a new Government, a Government of access, that open government would be the order of the day, and that they would make available as much information to the press and to the public as was humanly possible. I was approached by one of the journalists at one of those press conferences who told me about this. He said that he had been convinced by it. I expressed some doubt. I said that time would tell whether the bold protestations of the new Ministers would come true.

Now we hear this evening this pathetic justification for keeping back the basic information. The justifications are that the local authorities do not want to know it anyway, because all that they want to know is the size of the housing support grant, and not the breakdown. We are told that these are simply assumptions, and that some of them will be correct and some will not be correct. The Government can abandon assumptions overnight, but local authorities in Scotland and elsewhere must live with the amounts of money paid out by the Government at the beginning of the year. The present Government, far more than any previous Government, have said that they will not move at all from cash limits or from rate support grant orders other than by reducing them during the following year. COSLA has already protested that local authorities are suffering real cuts in the amount allocated by the Government in the RSG and in the housing support grant, both through the cash limits and in real reductions exhorted upon them by Ministers.

Therefore, of course the local authorities would want to know the basic assumptions on which the figures are garnered. They would obviously want to know which of these were correct and which were proved by history and experience not to be correct. The Minister says that these are simple aggregates and averages of the figures that are identified in section 1(3) of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act and that they would be unrevealing aggregates and unrevealing statistics But we are talking here of the Government's estimates of the level of interest rates, remuneration, costs and prices which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, would affect the amount of eligible expenditure for that year. In addition, we are talking about the latest information available as to changes in the general level of earnings which would affect the amount of relevant income which could reasonably be expected for that year.

These are the statistics and figures that are being churned out by the Government day in and day out and on which the Secretary of State is making decisions which will affect the level of rates paid by every householder in Scotland and the level of expenditure that every local authority will have to live with during the coming year. But we are told that local authorities do not want to know about it, that they are simply assumptions and that they would be unrevealing if they were to be given to the House.

I do not wish to go into the arguments adduced, not for the first time, by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie), but the matter still goes back to the point that there is a need for information, if only to explain the extraordinary housing support grant order this year, an order which, on the

basis of the Government's calculations, would have led to an increase in council house rents in Scotland of 37 per cent.—a clear 17 per cent. higher than the existing rate of inflation, which is in itself 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. higher than the rate of inflation that applied when the housing support grant order was brought before the House.

We need to know the assumptions that were made—the clearly erroneous assumptions—which allowed the Government to come forward with a housing support grant order which would have increased council house rents by as much as 37 per cent.

The House needs more information. It is entitled to more information. The Government should be more forthcoming. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the previous Government, at times, resisted giving some of this information. That is not an argument at all, especially when the Conservatives spent a lot of time under the previous Administration saying that such information was necessary. The new clause states our belief that the information should be published. We believe that there is good reason for saying so and that, if any evidence for saying so is necessary, it is this year's housing support grant order in Scotland.

The Government have given a pathetic explanation of why that information is not to be provided. It is completely unacceptable. On that basis we shall divide the House in order that the Conservatives' emtpy gestures under the previous Administration are shown up for what they were.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :—

The House divided : Ayes 208, Noes 263.

Division No. 351] AYES [8.00 pm
Abse, Leo Bradley, Tom Conlan, Bernard
Adams, Allen Bray, Dr Jeremy Cook, Robin F.
Alton, David Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cowans, Harry
Anderson, Donald Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Buchan, Norman Crowther, J. S.
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cryer, Bob
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Campbell, Ian Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashton, Joe Campbell-Savours, Dale Cunningham, George (Islington S)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cant, R. B. Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Carter-Jones, Lewis Dalyell, Tarn
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Cartwright, John Davidson, Arthur
Beith, A. J. Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Davit, Clinton, (Hackney Central)
Bidwell, Sydney Cohen, Stanley Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Coleman, Donald Deakins, Eric
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Dewar, Donald
Dixon, Donald Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dobson, Frank Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Robertson, George
Dormand, Jack Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, Peter (Belfast East)
Douglas, Dick Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rooker, J. W.
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dubs, Alfred Kilfedder, James A. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Duffy, A. E. P. Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rowlands, Ted
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Lamble, David Ryman, John
Dunnett, Jack Lamborn, Harry Sandelson, Neville
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Leadbitter, Ted Sever, John
Eastham, Ken Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Sheerman, Barry
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Lewis, Ron ( Carlisle) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
English, Michael Lofthouse, Geoffrey Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Lyon, Alexander (York) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Evans, John (Newton) Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwlch)
Ewing, Harry McCartney, Hugh Silverman, Julius
Field, Frank McDonald, Dr Oonagh Skinner, Dennis
Filch, Alan McKay, Allen (Penistone) Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Fiannery, Martin McKelvey, William Soley, Clive
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maclennan, Robert Spearing, Nigel
Foot, Rt Hon Michael McNally, Thomas Spriggs, Leslie
Forrester, John Magee, Bryan Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Foster, Derek Mark", Kenneth Stott, Roger
Foulkes, Georga Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Strang, Gavin
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Straw, Jack
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Maxton, John Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
George, Bruce Maynard, Miss Joan Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Meacher, Michael Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Ginsburg, David Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Graham, Ted Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Torn ay, Tom
Grant, John (Islington C) Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Watkins, David
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Weetch, Ken
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Morton, George Wellfoeioved, James
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Weish, Michael
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Newens, Stanley White, Frank Fl. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Haynes, Frank Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Ogden, Eric Whitehead, Phillip
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) O'Halloran, Michael Whillock, William
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) O'Neill, Martin Wigley, Dafydd
Home Robertson, John Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Homewood, William Palmer, Arthur Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hooley, Frank Park, George Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Horam, John Parker, John Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Parry, Robert Winnick, David
Howelfs, Geraint Pavitt, Laurie Woodall, Alec
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Penhaligon, David Woolmer, Kenneth
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Young, David (Bolton East)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Preacott, John
Janner, Hon Greville Race, Reg TELLERS FOR THE AYES :
John, Brynmor Radice, Giles Mr. Joseph Dean and
Johnson, James (Hull West) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Mr. James Tinn.
Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Adley, Robert Brittan, Leon Corrie, John
Aitken, Jonathan Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Costain, A. P.
Alexander, Richard Brooke, Hon Peter Cranborne, Viscount
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Critchley, Julian
Arnold, Tom Browne, John (Winchester) Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Aspinwall, Jack Bruce-Gardyne, John Dickens, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Buck, Antony Dorrell, Stephen
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Budgen, Nick Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Bulmer, Esmond Dover, Denshore
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Burden, F. A. du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Banks, Robert Butler, Hon Adam Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Bell, Sir Ronald Cadbury, Jocelyn Durant, Tony
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Carlisle, John (Luton West) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Best, Keith Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Eggar, Timothy
Bitten, Rt Hon John Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Elliott, Sir William
Biggs-Davison, John Channon, Paul Emery, Peter
Blackburn, John Chapman, Sydney Falrbairn, Nicholas
Body, Richard Churchill, W. S. Fairgrieve, Russell
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Faith, Mrs Sheila
Boscawen, Hon Robert Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Farr, John
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bowden, Andrew Clegg, Sir Walter Finsberg, Geoffrey
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Cockeram, Eric Fisher, Sir Nigel
Braine, Sir Bernard Colvin, Michael Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)
Bright, Graham Cope, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Brinton, Tim Cormack, Patrick Fookes, Miss Janet
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Macfarlane, Neil Rifkind, Malcolm
Fox, Marcus MacKay, John (Argyll) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilsor", Michael (Newbury) Rossi, Hugh
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Garel-Jones, Tristan McQuarrie, Albert Scott, Nicholas
Glyn, Dr Alan Madel, David Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Goodhew, Victor Major, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Goodlad, Alastalr Mariand, Paul Shelton, William (Streatham)
Gow, Ian Marten, Neil (Banbury) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Gower, Sir Raymond Mates, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mather, Carol Silvester Fred
Gray, Hamish Maude, Rt Hon Angus Sims, Roger
Greenway, Harry Mawby, Ray Skeet, T. H. H.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Mawhinney, Dr Brian Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speller, Tony
Grist, Ian Mayhew, Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Grylis, Michael Mellor, David Squire, Robin
Gummer, John Selwyn Meyer, Sir Anthony Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Stanley, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, lain (Mariden) Steen, Anthony
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, Peter (West Devon) Stevens, Martin
Hannam, John Miscampbell, Norman Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Haselhurst, Alan Moate, Roger Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector Stokes, John
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Montgomery, Fergus Stradling Thomas, J.
Hawkins, Paul Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Tapsell, Peter
Hawksley, Warren Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Heddle, John Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Temple-Morris, Peter
Henderson, Barry Mudd, David Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Murphy, Christopher Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Myles, David Thompson, Donald
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Neale, Gerrard Thornton, Malcolm
Hooson, Tom Nelson, Anthony Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Hordern, Peter Neubert, Michael Trippier, David
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Newton, Tony Trotter, Neville
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Nott, Rt Hon John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hunt, David (Wirral) Onslow, Cranley Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Waddington, David
Hurd, Hon Douglas Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Wakeham, John
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Parkinson, Cecil Waldegrave, Hon William
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Parris, Mathew Walker, Bill (Perth & Perthshire)
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Patten, Christopher (Bath) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Patten, John (Oxford) Waller, Gary
Kershaw, Anthony Pattle, Geoffrey Walters, Dennis
Kimball, Marcus Pawsey, James Ward, John
King, Rt Hon Tom Peyton, Rt Hon John Wells, John (Maidstone)
Knight, Mrs Jill Pink, R. Bonner Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Knox, David Pollock, Alexander Whitney, Raymond
Lamont, Norman Porter, George Wickenden, Keith
Lang, Ian Prentice. Rt Hon Reg Wlggln, Jerry
Langford-Holt, Sir John Price, David (Eastleigh) Wilkinson, John
Latham, Michael Prior, Rt Hon James Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Lawrence, Ivan Proctor, K. Harvey Winterton, Nicholas
Lawson, Nigel Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wolfson, Mark
Lee, John Raison, Timothy Young, Sir George (Acton)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rathbone, Tim Younger, Rt Hon George
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Ronton, Tim
Loveridge, John Rhodes James, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES :
Lyell, Nicholas Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
McCrindle, Robert Ridsdale, Julian Mr. Anthony Berry.

Question accordingly negatived.

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