HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc402-3
18. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to make any further increases in the level of council house rents in the next 12 months.

Mr. Stanley

It is for local authorities to decide on their rent levels following my right hon. Friend's determination of reckonable income under section 100 of the Housing Act 1980. The determination for 1982–83 will be made later this year.

Mr. Allaun

Are not compulsory rent increases of £5.35 a week in the last two years more than enough? Does the Minister intend to increase rents further in the next 12 months? The Labour Party believes in both council housing and owner-occupation. Is it not, therefore, grossly unfair that while the subsidy on council houses is halved, the subsidy on owner-occupation is raised to £2.2 billion a year?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that no decisions have been made about the split between current and capital housing expenditure for future years. He must realise that this year's determination follows from a very low base. In our first year in office, rents represented only 6.4 per cent. of earnings, the lowest on record. Last year, the figure was 6.5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman says that the Labour Party is the party of owner-occupation. That is not reflected in its attitude towards the right to buy.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Labour Party, when last in Government, had not ignored, in its coward-like way, the recommendations of the 1977 Green Paper that council rents should rise in line with money incomes, it would not be necessary for rents to be increased to a realistic level now? Does he further agree that 45 out of every 100 council tenants do not meet their increases in council house rents either in full or in part because of the generous increase in rent rebate allowances initiated by my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is right when he says that about 46 per cent. of local authority tenants receive help with their rent through the supplementary benefit system or through the rent rebate system. It is an interesting commentary on our earlier exchanges about capital investment that while the Labour Party, when in Government, increased significantly the amount of public expenditure, in real terms, devoted to housing subsidies, it halved the capital programme.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not a mockery for the Government, while forcing councils to push up council rents by about 40 per cent., to say that they are fighting inflation? Why does not the Minister come clean and say that the Government intend, during the lifetime of this Parliament, to phase out housing subsidies for council tenants?

Mr. Stanley

I have made it clear that one cannot look simply at the gross figures. Nearly half the total of local authority tenants receive substantial assistance towards their rent through rent rebates and through the supplementary benefit system. That has to be taken into account in the overall calculation.