HC Deb 17 March 1982 vol 20 cc346-7
11. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the latest available information on the average increase in council rents in England.

Mr. Stanley

The average unrebated council house rent in England for 1981–82 is estimated to be £11.50 per dwelling per week, compared with £8.18 per dwelling per week for 1980–81.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister aware that the latest disgraceful increases are regarded by the 6 million council householders in this country as a tax on council tenants? Is he aware of the deep distress in the Northern region and in my constituency, where council tenants are now required to pay a higher proportion of their incomes on council rents than at any time since 1931? Does the Minister also understand that when he removes £¾ million from the local economy in Workington, he is throwing people out of work? That is the result of his rents strategy.

Mr. Stanley

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, at least half of all local authority tenants will not pay the increase in the rents for which his local authority is asking.

Mr. Stallard

What about the other half?

Mr. Stanley

Given the number of local authority tenants in receipt of supplementary benefit and rent rebate, there is a substantial measure of rent protection there. The hon. Gentleman referred to the level of rent increases. One wishes that the Labour Party would show the same concern about rate increases, for example by the GLC, that are also imposed on council tenants.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend not agree that had the Labour Party not been so lily-livered when in Government, and had it increased rents reasonably in line with incomes, the rent increases now proposed by the Secretary of State would not have been so great? Does he further agree that the increase in rents as opposed to incomes is only half as much for the council sector as it is for those in the private sector with mortgage repayments?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the position under the previous Government. During the previous Administration, rents increased by only 65 per cent. while earnings went up by 110 per cent. Therefore, in no way did rents stay in line with incomes. My hon. Friend is, therefore, absolutely right.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does not the blame for this third increase in three years lie squarely on this Government's shoulders? As an owner-occupier myself, is it not grossly unfair that council tenants should have their subsidy reduced by £600 million—nearly half—in one year while at the same time the subsidy for owner-occupiers should go up to £1, 960 million a year?

Mr. Stanley

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he is in favour of a reduction in mortgage tax relief for owner-occupiers—

Mr. Allaun

No, the opposite.

Mr. Stanley

—I hope that that will become widely known, because many owner-occupiers would like to know whether that is Labour Party policy.

Mr. Chapman

As half the number of council house tenants receive rent rebates of one sort or another, would it not be fairer to compare rent levels with average earnings? Has there been a movement in the percentage of the former relative to the latter over the last decade?

Mr. Stanley

Broadly speaking, during the last decade—taking into account the period of this Government and the period of the last Government—rents have remained broadly in line wth earnings.