HC Deb 21 March 1989 vol 149 cc1038-63 12.12 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier)

I beg to move, That the draft Rent Officers (Additional Functions) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 23rd February, be approved. It will be for the convenience of the House also to consider the following motion: That the draft Rent Officers (Additional Functions) (Scotland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 1st March, be approved. The orders are an essential adjunct to the measures in the Housing Act 1988 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, deregulating private lettings. The measures came into force on 2 January in Scotland and on 15 January in England and Wales. For lettings beginning since the Acts came into force, landlords can charge a market rent. It is clear that in many areas market rents will be considerably higher than fair rents. [Interruption.] It is equally clear that many tenants will be unable to pay the higher rents from their own resources. The Government have, therefore——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. There is noise from sedentary Members and from hon. Members at the Bar of the House. Will hon. Members not taking part in the proceedings please withdraw?

Mr. Trippier

The Government have, therefore, given a clear undertaking that housing benefit will be available to qualifying tenants paying rents up to open market level. Let there be no doubt about our total commitment in that respect. However, a tenant who has all or most of his rent met by housing benefit does not, obviously, have the same incentive to bargain with his landlord to keep the rent to a reasonable level as would be the case if he were paying it from his own pocket. We do not believe that the Exchequer, which provides up to 97 per cent. direct subsidy on housing benefit, should be expected simply to underwrite any rent that the landlord demands. Therefore, it is essential to have an independent check on the rents being paid from the public purse to ensure that those are not significantly above market level—in other words, above the rents being paid by tenants who are not in receipt of benefit.

The task of operating such a check is to be given to rent officers and the purpose of the orders is to lay down how it will be carried out. Besides considering claimants' rents, rent officers will also look at the size of their accommodation. We do not believe that full Exchequer subsidy should generally be available where a claimant is living in unduly large accommodation. Local authorities have long had powers to limit benefit in such circumstances.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

On that most offensive part of the order, will the Minister tell us the size of his property, how many people live in it and how much subsidy he has from the public purse?

Mr. Trippier

Before the hon. Gentleman draws the attention of the House to that, he may care to consider the precise lettings policy of his local authority. It fits very neatly into what is proposed in the order. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I am not in receipt of housing benefit. Therefore, it would be fairer to debate —I shall try to develop this theme—the precise housing allocation policy of his local authority. It is so akin to what we are proposing in the orders that the hon. Gentleman might regret his intervention.

Given the prospect of higher rents in the regulated sector, it is desirable to apply a control directly on subsidy. Under the terms of the orders, local authorities will, as from 1 April, refer to the rent officer most cases where a claim for housing benefit is made by a private tenant or licensee with an agreement beginning on or after the date on which deregulation took effect. The only significant exceptions to that requirement will be tenancies with a rent set by a rent assessment committee and, other than in very rare cases, lettings by registered housing associations.

The first requirement on the rent officer will be to consider whether the claimaint's rent is at or below the level of rent prevailing in the open market. If it is, the rent officer will inform the local authority accordingly. However, if the rent is above market level the rent officer will determine what a reasonable market rent will be for the property and notify the local authority of that rent. The rent officer will then assess the claimant's accommodation against the size criteria set out in the orders. If the accommodation exceeds the criteria, the rent officer will determine a market rent for a notional property which does not exceed the size criteria but which otherwise corresponds as closely as practicable to the claimant's actual accommodation.

The rent officer's determinations will in all cases relate not directly to the benefit itself but rather to Exchequer subsidy. Where the rent officer is satisfied that the claimant's rent is no higher than market level and that his accommodation is within the size criteria, the local authority will be able to pay benefit knowing that subsidy will be available on the basis of that rent. Where the rent officer decides that the claimant's rent is above market level or that the property exceeds the size criteria and thus determines a lower rent than the claimant is paying, it will be up to the local authority to decide on which basis benefit is paid.

Authorities will continue to be precluded from restricting benefit in cases where the claimant comes within one of a number of vulnerable groups, basically the old, the disabled and those with children, and it would be unreasonable to expect him or her to move. In such cases direct subsidy will be payable on the benefit awarded on rent above the level determined by the rent officer at a rate of 50 per cent. In other cases no subsidy will be payable above the market rent determined by the rent officer for the premises in which the claimant is living.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am sure that hon. Members know exactly what the order is about, but I am not one of them. Do the size criteria permit a spare bedroom for relatives or friends coming to stay?

Mr. Trippier

We accept that there are carers who may wish to live in accommodation with people within the vulnerable groups I have just catalogued.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked, perfectly reasonably, whether the size allocation would allow for a spare room for guests, such as in the case of a single parent with partial custody of a child, who may visit at weekends or on odd occasions. In many instances a spare room is absolutely essential and is not a luxury. We would be reassured if the Minister would make it clear that a spare room is permissible within this order.

Mr. Trippier

Although, as a general rule, we do not believe that the taxpayer should subsidise spare accommodation, we fully accept that some housing benefit claimants may need a spare room. The housing benefit regulations are designed to protect these people. No benefit restrictions can be placed on the elderly, the sick, the disabled or people with children if the local authority is satisfied that cheaper, suitable alternative accommoda-tion is available and the local authority considers it reasonable to expect that person to move.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Trippier

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this is a very short debate. I will give way for the last time.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to the Minister. He used to deal with small businesses; he seems to be dealing with small houses now. Will the Minister tell me—because I am interested in motivation in my professional capacity— where this plan originated? Did he think it up? Which of his civil servants thought it up? Who suggested it to him? Where did it come from? Who is the architect of this mischievous plan?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is such a thing as the collective responsibility of Ministers, which stretches from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Social Security. We were, of course, unanimous in the decision we arrived at, which is why it is enshrined in this order.

The orders provide for a right of appeal against a rent officer's determination in the form of a facility for a local authority to apply for a case to be determined by an experienced rent officer from outside the registration area in which the case was originally dealt with. The redetermining officer will be required to take advice from one or more—usually two—other experienced rent officers, one of whom will be from the original area, though not the office which previously handled the case.

This is the system we propose. Its aim is to safeguard the Exchequer against paying for benefit on rents which are unreasonable. It does not represent a back-door form of rent control. It in no way dilutes our commitment that housing benefit will be available up to market rent level; on the contrary, it offers a guarantee that the housing benefit system will genuinely keep pace with the market and that claimants will have their reasonable needs met.

12.22 am
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

This is one of the nastiest bits of legislation from a Government who have specialised in nasty legislation. That is why we are debating it late at night, because the Government are embarrassed about it and would be even more embarrassed if it were reported in the media as it should be.

Under the new rules, rent officers will decide what a reasonable market rent is for housing benefit subsidy purposes. The trap is evident straight away, in the concept of a "reasonable market rent". The Government have had difficulty with their concept of a market rent in recent years. Now they have suddenly decided there is such a thing as a "reasonable market rent". I wonder if there is a reasonable price for a packet of tea, a house, or anything else in the market.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

In the sale of goods legislation, where there is a dispute as to price, there are provisions for the determination of a reasonable price for a packet of tea or any other commodity. The concept of reasonableness is well known throughout English law.

Mr. Soley

If the hon. Member is stupid enough to believe that people decide the price of packets of tea in the way that he describes, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Housing benefit paid above the level determined will not attract full subsidy and local authorities will be under pressure to restrict it. From 1 April, local authorities will refer new private sector claims to the rent officer who, in addition to deciding the reasonable market rent, will have to decide whether the accommodation is too large for the claimant's reasonable needs. That is a step back to the 19th century and will frustrate progress towards reducing overcrowding.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman uses a lot of amazing expletives and makes—as he often does—a dramatic presentation, but he tends to forget that the local authority allocation for Hammersmith, to which he has presumably never objected, is one bedroom for a couple, one bedroom for two children of the same sex, one bedroom for two children under six and one bedroom each for children of six and over of opposite sexes. How different is that provision from that of the orders?

Mr. Soley

It is very different, because those figures are the minimum that is aimed for. Under successive Governments—not just Labour Governments—local authorities have risen above them and I am pleased that they have done so.

I am delighted that the Minister intervened when he did. He described my words as colourful, but they are not my words. They are the words of the London Boroughs Association—a Tory-controlled organisation which is supported in its view by another, the Association of District Councils. Both organisations regard this legislation as wicked. They see it as a return to Victorian times—the word "Dickensian" was rightly used. This is an offensive piece of legislation and the Minister knows it.

The orders are unbelievably cruel. They must be considered in relation to the Department of Social Security regulations on housing benefit, which provide that housing benefit subsidy is payable to local authorities only up to the rent level that the rent officer says is reasonable. There are some exceptions to that rule, and the Minister touched on them. There is, for example, the 50 per cent. of housing benefit paid above the rent officer's assessment for claimants over 60, for those incapable of work or for those with dependent children. When a person dies, exemption is granted for a period of 12 months.

Let us imagine two elderly people who have separate bedrooms, perhaps because the man suffers from emphysema—a not uncommon condition. Many people of that age need separate bedrooms for a variety of reasons. If one of the two dies, after a period of just 12 months the surviving partner has the choice of looking around for somewhere smaller or paying extra rent. The only way out of the trap is if the local authority pays the difference, but under the regime that the Government have imposed on local authorities no one believes that they will be able to do that. The Minister cannot pass the buck by talking about collective responsibility. No one with any respect would have introduced an order like this. He is telling elderly people with more than one bedroom that if one of them dies the other will have to get out or pay extra rent.

I will explain the extent of the evil. A son or daughter may be looking after an elderly parent. If the parent dies, the carer has 12 months' grace before having to move to a smaller place or pay additional rent. But if the elderly parent, instead of dying, is admitted to full-time residential care, there is no period of grace—the carer must leave immediately or pay the additional rent. It is significant that a Minister can introduce such an idea and not feel utterly ashamed of himself.

Elderly couples will have to share rooms. Grandparents cannot have a visiting room. My hon. Friends were right to point out earlier that people will not be allowed a spare room unless they pay extra rent. Two children of the same sex under 18 years of age will have to share a room, so a 17-year-old studying for examinations will have to share with a three-year-old. The Government apparently see nothing wrong with that, although they are pushing it through late at night to avoid embarrassment in the media. The size of the room is not even specified—it may be a box room, or one that will take just two bunk beds, with a 17-year-old in the top bed and a three-year-old in the bottom bed. What sort of society or Government does that?

Mr. Corbyn

A Tory Government.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

A capitalist society.

Mr. Soley

A rent officer may say that instead of the rent of £80 per week set by the landlord the reasonable market rent is £60. In those circumstances, unless councils make up the difference—nobody pretends that they will be able to do so, for the reasons that I have given—the only option for the tenant will be to pay up or move out. That is why the Conservative-controlled Association of District Councils and every local authority and housing body says that this measure will lead to misery and increasing homelessness.

People will become homeless in these situations because, of course, the private rented sector is primarily involved. If an elderly couple have to get out of this sort of situation, they will go down to the local authority, which has to house them at the ratepayers' expense. That is why I say that it is a wicked measure which does anything of this nature.

The measure will also add to harassment. When a landlord wants someone out, he can put up the rent each year by more than the tenants will receive in benefit so that they have to pay the extra or get out. That is why the order is so nasty.

The test of unnecessarily large accommodation will be set as the maximum number of rooms for a particular family size. It is worth looking at the way in which it is set out in the order. It is no use the Minister trying to dodge the issue by referring to local authorities, because he knows that they set minimum standards which they then exceed. Schedule 3 says: One bedroom shall be allowed for each of the following categories of occupiers …

  1. (a) a married couple or an unmarried couple …
  2. (b) an adult,
  3. (c) two children of the same sex,
  4. (d) two children who are less than 20 years old,
  5. (e) a child …
The number of rooms … suitable for living in are allowed in the following way: if there are less than four occupiers, one". There will be one additional room to that bedroom. And if there are more than three and less than seven occupiers, two". In any other cases, three rooms are allowed. That really is sick.

The order is all about preventing excessive demands on the benefit system by claimants whose choice of accommodation is unreasonable, in the Government's view, or where the house or flat is in an unnecessarily expensive area. In other words, if tenants pick a house or flat in an upmarket area, they can expect to pay the rent or get out. That will create ghettoes.

I asked the Minister in an intervention how many rooms he had, and how many family members shared those rooms. I am sure that he has a spare room for visitors. What is more, if he bought his house and got mortgage income tax relief, he has had a big fat subsidy from the public purse. The Minister says that he does not believe that taxpayers should subsidise spare bedrooms, but they are subsidising his. They are subsidising the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Prime Minister, and every Conservative Member—and probably Labour Members too. We do that for those who own and buy property, but when it comes down to those who rent in the private market we suddenly say, "No visitors for you —and you are not allowed to sleep in separate rooms or have separate rooms for your children unless you pay the price and fork out the extra money yourself." Where is all the talk about choice from the Tory party now?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend did not mention the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who is to reply to the debate. Will my hon. Friend be fair to the Minister and admit that the taxpayer is subsidising only one of his houses?

Mr. Soley

Let us be thankful for small mercies.

In another place, Lord Caithness said on the Housing Bill: I put it to the Committee in this way. Where one has a international market such as that which exists in central London, is it right that the state should, for instance, fully subsidise the housing benefit of someone living in a penthouse flat in Mayfair? That is the kind of criteria that we are looking for."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 1988; Vol. 500, c. 742.] That may or may not be right, but if it is right for those whose rent is being subsidised, it is also right for those who are buying and being subsidised for buying. We either subsidise housing costs, or we do not. We should not decide that those who rent are second-class citizens who do not deserve the support of the state.

I have not touched much on housing associations, but they are relevant in certain circumstances. The Minister should give some thought to the clarification that the housing associations require on some of these issues. They are worried about suitable alternative accommodation being available.

Mr. Trippier

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman carefully. Is he saying that it is Labour party policy to scrap mortgage interest relief—[Interruption.] It is not a stupid point. Anyone listening to the debate would draw that inference from what the hon. Gentleman has said so far.

Mr. Soley

The only person who would draw that inference would be one who was educationally subnormal——

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

That is an insult to the educationally subnormal.

Mr. Soley

No, it is not an insult. Plenty of people who are educationally subnormal are quite nice people. I will introduce the hon. Gentleman to some one day—indeed, he may not have to go all that far to meet them.

The Minister is trying to wriggle out of the problem. He knows that what we are talking about, and what I have been talking about for a long time, is a subsidy system which is fair within and between the rented and purchase sectors. We must move towards that in such a way as not to throw either rent payers—[Interruption.] The Minister should listen for a moment and stop throwing his head back. He must understand that whether people rent or buy they should not be thrown into economic distress by the absurd actions of a Government who have shoved up interest rates to such an extent that the average person paying the average mortgage in England or Wales was paying £81 per month more in January 1989 than in January 1988——

Mr. Trippier


Mr. Soley

Is the Minister about to tell me that he regards that as a good policy for people who are buying?

Mr. Trippier

I am about to tell the hon. Gentleman that he should calm down and stop losing his temper because he is devaluing the currency of what he is trying to communicate to the House. We are anxious to hear from the hon. Gentleman precisely what his and his party's policy would be—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should put forward a constructive alternative. What is it?

Mr. Soley

I have told the Minister on a number of occasions, and I will tell him again now. It is reform of housing finance so as to make it fairer within and between the rented and purchase sector introduced in such a way as not to throw either rent payers or mortgage payers into economic distress. That is not a problem. There are several ways in which we could do that.

The Minister knows that he is bringing forward this order because his own Secretary of State admitted that the Government were in trouble with housing finance. That is because the market in the south is in such a state that if one allowed housing benefit to rise to meet market rents the cost would approximate to that of mortgate interest tax relief. That is why the Government's housing policy is in such a mess.

We know that selling and buying houses is far more profitable than renting them. That is why the private rented sector is declining and will continue to decline. If the Minister still does not understand that, I ask him to understand it now, because it is the whole point of the order.

No one can possibly justify what is being done in this order. It is literally cruel. When Conservative-controlled associations say that it is Dickensian—they all say that what is being done is cruel and is causing homelessness, anxiety and stress—how can the Minister go ahead and do it without any sense of compassion whatever?

12.40 am
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

I wish the Minister would defend what is proposed, but he would be defending the indefensible. It is ridiculous that at half past midnight we are discussing a matter that affects so many people, many of them among the most vulnerable in the low-income groups. It is ridiculous that we should be dealing with this order at this late—or early—hour, two days before the beginning of the Easter recess.

The draft Rent Officers (Additional Functions) (Scotland) Order stems from the Housing Act 1988, and it certainly confirms that I was right in voting against that legislation. This instrument gives rent officers power in terms of size of dwelling, rent level and services provided, but it also raises some important and worrying considerations to which I hope the Minister will address himself. Better still, the Scottish housing Minister should deal with those matters before this debate ends.

The draft order confirms the new role of the rent officer in determining, for housing benefit purposes, "reasonable" rents in respect of premises let under assured tenancies. I note, and wish to draw to the Minister's attention, the view of the Scottish Council for the Single Homeless that the proposals concerning size criteria and occupation levels are simply contrary to declared Government policy. As recently as 3 March the Scottish housing Minister was promoting a more flexible use of housing stock and commending housing providers who were managing stock imaginatively. But the Department of Social Security regulations appear to undermine that policy completely, at least for people on benefit—often those in the greatest housing need.

I remind the Minister that approximately 80 per cent. of Scotland's housing stock is three-apartment or larger, and that about 50 per cent. of the people on waiting lists are single persons. Many housing agencies where there is a surplus of large dwellings offer three-apartment, or even four-apartment, houses to single people. The problem is that DSS regulations would make this impossible in the case of people dependent on housing benefit. In this connection the Minister should address himself to several specific problems.

It is clear that the purpose of this order is to introduce constraints into the existing rent calculation criteria. Will the Minister make their meaning clear? Will he explain how, for example, the rent officer will decide what is a "reasonable" rent? Can he deny the rumours that, where a single person occupies a three-apartment house, the rent officers will have power to identify a reasonable rent for that house and then simply allow only two thirds of that amount to be paid in housing benefit as one room is unoccupied?

If a couple and their teenage son occupy a three-apartment house, and if the son leaves home, will the rent officer refuse the remaining couple full housing benefit? These matters are very important to people on very low incomes whose lives depend on such decisions. What will happen in the case of someone who, it is decided, is intentionally homeless? If a person were to accept a tenancy, and if the rent officer were subsequently to decide that the property was too big, or that the rent was unreasonably high, could the tenant be deemed to be intentionally homeless were he to be evicted owing to contractual arrears arising because housing benefit simply did not meet the full rent—a situation that the tenant might have been totally unable to anticipate? People are quite entitled to know the specific details of the Minister's response.

Where people sharing a flat have joint and several liability for the rent, what will happen if one of them leaves the flat? Will the remaining people be entitled to housing benefit for the increased share of the rent, or will they have to meet the cost from their own pockets?

These points have been raised by the Scottish Council for the Single Homeless, and they should be on record and should be answered by the Minister. The answers may be crucial to the survival of many projects aimed at housing young single people. If tenants have to meet the cost themselves, the further development of such projects may be hampered. My local authority is anxious to do something to meet the major problem of housing the homeless, specifically the young single homeless. The order will not help; indeed, it will hinder progress. It is not clear what criteria will be used by rent officers to assess housing benefit levels for residents in old-fashioned hostels. Surely it must be recognised that residents require more than a cubicle in which to live. Allowances must be made for the cost of proper staffing and service charges. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, the criteria as stated would mean that a 17-year-old student living at home might have to share with a younger sibling. Is that what the Government expect? In Glasgow it is the norm for students to live at home while at university or college.

The Government are setting housing norms which will take housing provision and standards back in time instead of making progress by raising standards and conditions. If the Government implement the order, they will have a great deal to answer for. [Interruption.] An independent Scotland would probably have done better than the Government are doing.

Why is there not a system of outside independent appeal? Under the order appeals will be in-house. Why is there not provision for an independent system of arbitration?

I have raised some specific questions, which are justified. I hope that they will be answered by the Minister because the order will affect many people on low incomes. Families will be affected. I would like to see the Government raising standards, but the order confirms my suspicions and my opposition to the Housing Act 1988. If this is the best the Government can do, it is not good enough. I hope that the House will oppose the orders for many of the reasons so adequately stated by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. I will be happy to join him in outright opposition to these inadequate orders.

12.47 am
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

I support the measures put forward by my hon. Friend. I did not intend to speak. [Interruption.] I listened carefully, and in silence as usual, to the arguments from Opposition Members. It is a sign of their bankruptcy that they start their normal barracking when somebody gets up to defend a reasonable measure.

As I was saying, I did not intend to speak. I wanted to listen carefully to the points being made. As I listened to all the points that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was making and the fire with which he spoke, it became clear that there was much less in what he was saying than the passion he was using to put it forward.

Anybody looking at the housing scene must recognise that there has to be a limit to the amount of subsidy on housing benefit, both in terms of cost because of the area —[Interruption.] It is a Library briefing note; even Opposition Members are allowed to read those. There has to be a limit to the amount of money that can be used from the public purse for housing benefit to subsidise the cost of accommodation.

The speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith on behalf of the Labour party was precisely the style of speech, with the same approach to rented housing, that has dogged the party for many years.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's points. I am impressed by his gall in defending the measure. Will the hon. Gentleman pick up a copy of Hansard tomorrow and take it to his surgeries and show it to his constituents who are in rented accommodation and who are complaining about the effects of the measure? If he did, they would say to him, "How did you have the gall to stand up in the House and support such a measure?"

Mr. Hughes

What I shall tell my constituents is that last year's Housing Bill and the one going through at present will provide increased private rented accommo-dation and housing association rented accommodation, and I was part of what the Government did to improve housing conditions in the capital in the long term.

I want to refer to the gall of the Labour Front Bench. Their approach has been the same as the one that has done disservice to the people of London for so long. The hon. Member for Hammersmith was saying, "It does not matter what size your accommodation is, we will provide the housing benefit." What he was laying out as a scenario of Labour policy was, "We will provide any amount of benefit to anyone living in rented accommodation." Anyone who has canvassed in the east end of London knows that that is the same falsehood that the Labour party has been using for generations to con people in the east end of London into voting for it.

The reality is that that sort of housing policy has never been the truth. It is that sort of policy that has led to some of the worst conditions in the east end of London. It is shameful that we are hearing that that will be the Labour policy for at least the next generation. There will not in fact be a housing policy that deals realistically with the accommodation that could be made available.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Can I take it from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that the policy being presented by the Tories is based on a London situation that will affect Scotland and the rest of the country? That appears to be the theme that the hon. Gentleman is developing.

Mr. Hughes

That is very rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to most of his speeches in the debates on the current Local Government and Housing Bill, and he has based every argument on Wakefield.

Mr. O'Brien


Mr. Hughes

I am entitled as a London Member of Parliament, having spent years in local government in London, to base some of my arguments on London. Hon. Members will make their speeches about other parts of the country. I shall talk about London, because I have seen the disgraceful housing conditions caused by Labour's policies in London.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman has been talking about east London. Does he realise that the Government's policies are reversing nearly 50 years of public housing policies for the metropolis and that the social effect on people in east London is to drive young people from the towns in which they were born because they cannot afford to live there? The Government are destroying communities that make this country and of which the hon. Gentleman should be proud. However, he is ignorant because he comes from Harrow. He does not understand.

Mr. Hughes

I do not know where the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) came from originally, but my wife's family are real east-enders and know a great deal about what is going on in the east end. We get from the hon. Members representing the Newham constituencies the sort of middle-class pretensions of latter-day "Johnny come lately" east-enders, which realy makes east-enders sick. Real east-enders recognise that such people are a bit of a joke when they consider their real living conditions.

I recognise that, certainly in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark, generations of Labour control did nothing to help the situations that have been pointed out to me by the hon. Member for Newham, South. Young people have voted with their feet and have left those boroughs—indeed, his own borough—for generations before this Government came to power. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Tower Hamlets borough council, under the control of his party, did not allow any private building in that area. When the GLC put 34 maisonettes on the market for sale, 1,600 people queued overnight to try to buy them.

Mr. Trippier

My hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) give his reasons why the private rented sector had declined so much. It has declined from 50 per cent. immediately after the war to 8 per cent. today. That has happened because of the Rent Acts, which the hon. Member for Hammersmith supports and which we are deregulating, and a massive expansion of municipalisation, which Opposition Members have always supported and to which they have no constructive alternative.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is of course absolutely right.

I regard the order as a realistic approach to what can be provided. But I understand that missing from the instrument, although it was in the 1987 consultation paper, is a definition of room sizes, and I am concerned about the sizes of rooms that can be counted as habitable rooms. It has been suggested, for example, that a box room might qualify. A more detailed test, perhaps taking account of floor space, might be helpful.

People recognise that what the Government are introducing is fair and reasonable. The suggestions of Labour Members may sound attractive, but people know that a Labour Government never could or would implement their promises. But that does not matter much because they appreciate that the Labour party will never achieve office and hence will never have the opportunity to impose their policies.

12.57 am
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

This is one of the most mean and vicious pieces of legislation that I have witnessed since coming to this place. The Minister represents a neighbouring constituency to mine. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about what they are proposing and will withdraw the order and allow further time for debate.

The Association of District Councils says in the document that it has submitted that it had only five days in which to consider this proposal. Considering that the Chancellor had a £14 billion surplus, the Government cannot claim that there is any urgency, financial or otherwise, to introduce a measure such as this. If the Minister considers that a problem exists, he should have further discussions with the local authorities in the coming year and then introduce a more sensible measure.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister spoke of fair rents, market rents, reasonable market rents—meaning presumably that market rents, even if they were considered to be reasonable, would be higher than fair rents—and unreasonable market rents. For a Government who believe that the solution to the housing problem lies with a free market and an increase in the private rented sector, this is an appalling piece of legislation.

Considering the changes that the Government are forcing on local government in housing, with another housing measure going through this year, I have no doubt that tonight's order represents a foot in the door prior to assessing council house rebates in a few years from now. I urge the Minister to appreciate that many people have no choice of size of property or even location of that property.

Time after time the Government talk about choice, but people's choice is determined by ability to pay and, depending on where they live, they may find it impossible to get the appropriate sized property. It is appalling that, when the Government are considering people's homes, they should talk about rooms of a certain size or rooms that are not needed.

The Minister did not like what my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, although he did not overstate the case, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that there must be fairness of treatment for people, whether they are renting or buying houses. I do not know how the Minister can justify a person buying a house bigger or more expensive than is necessary and getting the maximum subsidy, and even tax rebates in some cases, and at the same time support this order. That shows the point that the extreme Right wing of the Tory party has reached in 1989.

I ask the Minister to think again. He said it was a matter of collective responsibility. He did not want to say who was responsible. But even if it is collective responsibility, it will always be his name that is remembered as that of the member of this Government who moved this appalling motion tonight. He should think again and, before it is too late, say that he is prepared to withdraw it and talk with the local authority associations.

1.2 am

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

I just want to ask the Labour spokesman who will wind up this debate four questions. We heard from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) no intimation of what Labour party policy is in this area.

First, does the Labour party have any policy or any limit on the housing benefit which can be given to an individual or spent as a proportion of total Government expenditure?

Secondly, is there any property size limit which the Labour party would impose on housing benefit claimants?

Thirdly, would it place any limit on the areas which housing benefit claimants might move to, given the size and cost of properties?

Fourthly, if there are no limits on any of those three matters, can the Labour spokesman who sums up tell us what he says to Labour councils which allocate properties to families based on the size of the family, and ask families to move if they are occupying properties of a size they do not require?

1.3 am

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

At least the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) have the gall to stand up and attempt to involve themselves in this debate. For that reason alone they will both be honourable candidates for the order of the brown nose.

To answer the hon. Member for Pembroke, the Labour Government would not be operating in a housing market as chaotic as the present market. It is as simple as that.

The hon. Member asked to what level housing benefit should go. The answer is the level it is required to go to in order to provide people with decent homes in which to live and accommodation that we would find acceptable for us to live in. That is the sort of standard that we should impose upon other people. That seems to me to be sensible and rational.

What worries me about all this is the stench of hypocrisy that pervades it.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The hon. Gentleman and I are serving on the Local Government and Housing Bill Committee, and indeed he is the Whip for the Labour party. The Labour party criticises the £8,000 limit for claiming housing benefit. What limit would the Labour party have?

Mr. Banks

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) since the question was essentially directed at him.

Mr. Soley

As usual, the question is irrelevant. As I have said on a number of occasions, what we must do—and have frequently said that we will do prior to a proper reform of housing finance—is to ensure that rents are assessed independently of the landlords so that we do not fall into the trap in which the Government presently find themselves, with housing benefit rising through the roof.

Mr. Banks

I do not honestly believe that, other than those on the Front Bench, any Conservative Member has read and understood the order. The reluctance of Conservative Members to support the Minister is all the evidence we need to know that Conservative Members do not know what it contains. They just want to get through it, get away and disappear home. It is appalling when the House passes such measures at this time of night. There is something very contemptible about the way in which the Minister has brought this to the House. The Government are trying to slip it through the House at this time, rather like thieves in the night—knowing very well that it will be given very little, if any, press coverage.

The first time that most people will realise how this order is to affect them will be when it smacks them straight between the eyes. They will not read about it in the newspapers, or hear about it on the radio or television. The Government have also ensured that the timetable is so short that there has not been enough time to consult, advise and inform. That is deliberate and contemptible. I am surprised that the Minister has allowed himself to be used in this way.

The deregulation of the private rented sector and the introduction of the assured tenancies for new, private and housing association tenants, under the 1988 Act, has meant that rents are increasing rapidly. The Government have argued that this will not stop people on moderate incomes from finding accommodation because they will receive housing benefit. What the Prime Minister said at this afternoon's Question Time shows that she does not know about the reality—she does not have the personal experience and the factual information is not provided for her. In this afternoon's Prime Minister's Question Time she unintentionally misled the House.

We now know that benefits will escalate, and to solve that problem—which is largely of their own making—the Government have allowed local authorities to decide how much benefit to pay to the tenant. They have also changed the rent officer's role, from one of setting fair rents under the old system, to one of setting the level of subsidy that a council can receive on the benefit which it pays.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith gave an example where, if the rent of a flat, as set by the landlord, was £80 but the rent officer says that a reasonable market rent is £60, that is all that the council may receive from the DSS. The council is then in the unenviable position of having to decide between paying the full amount and asking the rate or poll tax payers for the extra £20, or paying benefit of £60 and leaving the tenant to find the extra £20, or risk eviction and homelessness. Many councils—especially those in London where rents are generally much higher than elsewhere in the country and where many local authorities are rate-capped—will pay benefits only when they can be sure of receiving subsidy.

The Government must face the implication of deregulation and make full subsidies available—which is what the Prime Minister was suggesting this afternoon. They should not expect hard-pressed councils to pick up the tab and tenants to suffer. If landlords are to be prevented from exploiting the benefit system, there must be either rent control or the Government must dispense with hypocrisy and set a ceiling over which no benefit should be paid.

Mr. Corbyn

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Social Security Standing Committee discussed this matter at great length? One concern that emerged, which Ministers were unable to answer, was whether, if a local authority paid the difference between a housing benefit allocation for the rent level and the real rent level, this would be permissible expenditure. Could local councillors be threatened with surcharges for spending money in order to keep people in private rented accommodation to avoid them being thrown on the streets and becoming homeless and thus ineligible for rehousing under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 because they would be deemed intentionally homeless?

Mr. Banks

That illustrates the nature of the order.

I am reading deliberately, because I still cherish the thought that one or two Conservative Members may realise how appalling the order is and start asking questions. Perhaps I am being charitable. Even the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes)—because he was reading his brief and learning from it as he made his speech —suddenly fixed on the question of room size, and suggested to the Minister in a more reasonable tone that perhaps he should consider it. That is a fair question, and I hope that the Minister will answer it when he sums up. In most cases, except where the council cannot legally restrict benefit which applies to vulnerable and elderly people, benefits will be paid only up to the level set by the rent officer. Tenants, many already with little money, will undoubtedly undergo hardship. However landlords have listened to the Government's rhetoric and because of the Housing Act have greater ability to levy higher rents and obtain the eviction of tenants. In London about 10 per cent. of all households accepted as homeless by London boroughs—3,000 families—are home-less because they have lost a private tenancy. This has been constant since 1980, during which time the sector has declined rapidly. Therefore homelessness as a result of eviction, rent arrears etc. constitutes a growing proportion of those living in private rented accommodation. This measure will create an even larger problem for private tenants and many housing association tenants too. The result will be that people with lower or moderate incomes, as well as the young and unemployed, will increasingly face eviction and possible homelessness. Let us consider the concerns about unreasonably large accommodation. No Member on either side of the House would be prepared to live in the conditions that the order will impose on private tenants. If we are not prepared to endure the restrictions that we are placing on others, why should they be prepared to accept those restrictions? Why should we have the gall and hypocrisy to inflict them on them?

I hope that, even if the order is passed, when hon. Members read it again they will put pressure on their own Front Bench—perhaps even privately—to redress some of its blatant injustices. The timetabling is bad: there has been no time to consult. Local authorities have not even had time to set up the necessary software on the computers to make their calculations. We shall simply have more muddle and confusion to add to the suffering that the Government have already inflicted on those in both the private and the public rented sectors.

I ask the Minister to reconsider—even at this late hour —and to announce that he will withdraw the order from further consideration.

1.12 am
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

In my view, this is an inevitable consequence of the Government's policy of moving from subsidising public sector housing to supposedly trying to subsidise individials. There is much sense in such a move, but it is a humane and tenable policy only if the subsidies offered to those individuals are properly and generously given.

This order will rebound against the Government in the weeks, months and years to come because it is iniquitous and unfair. Certainly it contradicts any attempt to make flexible use of the available housing stock. The point was made earlier that the configuration of available empty housing stock in Scotland suggests that, by and large, it is larger rather than smaller. That means, for example, that it is difficult if not impossible to accommodate the almost 50 per cent. of waiting lists in Scotland which consist of single people, matching need with supply.

There is a very great question mark in my mind about whether the order will save money in the longer term. Certainly it will greatly increase bureaucracy, which is worrying. Ultimately, the money saved will not be worth the implementation of that bureaucratic edifice. The order will certainly affect the standards of accommodation available to vulnerable groups of people on housing waiting lists. The order should have set minimum standards. Almost inevitably, it will lead to increased homelessness. If more people become homeless, more people will have to go into bed-and-breakfast accom-modation and that will increase the cost to the Exchequer.

We had some interesting debates on the Housing (Scotland) Bill 1988 in Committee and on the Floor of the House about the appeals system which would deal with the part of the legislation covered by the order. I have seen many appeal systems in social security and other legislation, but this is the worst by a long way. I can think of no justification for using the term "appeal system" in its accepted sense in this context. The system is totally and completely unjustifiable and should be re-examined.

I am most worried about the effect of the order on vulnerable groups. In previous legislation there were safeguards for vulnerable groups—that no deduction should be made if the household contained someone over 60, someone incapable of work, a child or a young person unless suitable cheaper accommodation was available and it was reasonable for the local authority to expect the claimant to move. No such safeguards exist in this order.

It may be of interest to the House that on 11 October a Minister in the other place said during the debate on the Housing Bill that the interaction between the subsidy controls and the need for local authorities to consider the position of elderly and disabled claimants who might find it difficult to move to smaller or cheaper accommodation has to be very carefully considered."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 1988; Vol. 176, c. 750.] It would be interesting to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), when he replies to the debate, exactly how the position of those vulnerable groups has been considered under the order. The hon. Gentleman holds collective responsibility for what was said in the other place by the Earl of Caithness, so we wait to hear what safeguards have been put in place to protect vulnerable groups.

The order will affect the tenants' choice provisions and will act as a considerable disincentive. The provisions apply to assured tenancies and not to local authority tenants. If someone has a spare room and decides to opt out and enter an assured tenancy, he may be lumbered with contractual arrears due to under-occupation, so public sector tenants with spare rooms would be stone mad to consider exercising choice and moving to another landlord if they are on housing benefit.

In conclusion, the result of the new order will be to increase homelessness among those already disadvantaged by being in particularly vulnerable groups with none of the safeguards of previous legislation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

Surely the hon. Gentleman's point about assured tenancies would not apply to ownership co-operatives or housing associations.

Mr. Kirkwood

I accept that. I was talking about the position of a person with a local authority tenancy who moves to an assured tenancy with a spare room. If I have got that wrong, I shall be happy to be put right.

This is one of the worst orders that I have come across in my six years in the House. It is a disgrace and the Government should consider nothing short of withdraw-ing it.

1.19 am
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I want to make one point about the position of elderly couples, of whom there are many thousands in my constituency. Their children have grown up and moved away, so they find themselves with at least one spare room. I have read the order carefully and there is scope in it for the difference between their real rent and the reasonable rent to be subsidised up to 50 per cent. It seems to me —and I am asking for clarification on this—that the Government are asking local authorities to meet the other 50 per cent. Is it not the case that, under the order, many thousands of elderly couples, through no fault of their own, will find that they cannot cover their rent fully and they will be forced to leave flats and areas where they may have lived all their lives?

It is one thing to say that local authorities encourage such pensioners to move. To my knowledge, no local authority forces pensioners to move out of the home in which they have lived for 40, 50 or 60 years. Under the order, thousands of pensioners, especially in London, may find themselves forced to move out of the only home that they have known for 50 years to save money. I want an assurance for my pensioners in Hackney that nobody will be moved out of his home under the terms of the order.

Mr. Trippier

I want to deal quickly with three points. It is obvious to the House that I shall not be able to deal with all the questions raised, but I shall try to deal with most. First, there is a misunderstanding about the order. Comparatively few people will be paying rent above what will be assessed as the market rent. By any standards, the market rent will be relatively high and we have accepted that.

Secondly, there is a misunderstanding about the payment of 100 per cent. of subsidy to the market level. It is only if those elderly people are paying rent above the market level that the subsidy will drop to 50 per cent.

Thirdly, the local authority can subsidise the rent itself, so it does not mean that people have to make a contribution, and that goes on in many cases at present.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

I shall give a concrete example from Cardiff, which was discovered by a ward councillor in the past week. An elderly pensioner widower had lived in the same two-bedroomed terraced house for 50 years on a controlled tenancy. The rent had been increased by the landlord to £160 a month and, because the house was under-occupied, the man's housing benefit had been assessed at £60 a month. How is a pensioner supposed to meet that £100 a month difference? The pensioner was in tears as he explained this, after receiving his £15 weekly allocation. He could move to a local authority flat, but he would not be any better off and there are almost no local authority flats. The two-bedroomed terrace house he rents is £100 more expensive than the housing benefit he is receiving.

Ms. Abbott

The Minister has said that when only 50 per cent. subsidy is available, the local authorities may provide the other 50 per cent. of the difference. The point I am trying to make to the Minister—and his colleagues may be able to fill him in more than I can—is that many London local authorities will be hard put to make up that difference. I am not persuaded by anything the Minister has said that there will not be many pensioners in London and other local authorities who will find themselves forced out of their homes.

I took the opportunity earlier to look up the details of the family seat of the Dukes of Hamilton. It is called Lennoxlove. It ill behoves some Front-Bench Conservatives, who have not one spare room but hundreds of spare rooms in their family houses——

Mr. Tony Banks

Spare castles.

Ms. Abbott

—to lecture the pensioners of Hackney and pensioners in working-class areas about how many rooms they are supposed to have.

1.24 am
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I noted with interest the brief intervention of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) who sought soft landings for kids in safe play areas in a ten-minute Bill last week. I wonder what he thinks about the hard landing that many thousands of pensioners will experience as a result of the order.

Since 1979 the Government's housing record has been despicable. Little or no municipal housing is being built, less private housing is being built and those in the south-east complain about high housing costs because there are not enough houses. The lack of housing leads to increased demand and higher prices. As Conservative Members have said, the order seeks to deal with problems in the south-east, but it will also hammer thousands of people in the rest of the country, particularly in Scotland.

We are told that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), does not have the courage to come to the Dispatch Box tonight, and I am not surprised. However, I invite him to do so to tell us what will be the effect of the Scottish homes legislation which enables council tenants to have a private landlord. Will they be telling people who take up that option that if they have a spare room in their house they will lose their housing benefit?

This is a despicable measure. It should be condemned by everybody. I am sure that Conservative Members in the Chamber tonight do not understand the terrible damage that they are doing to the poorest and least advantaged people in Britain. This is a despicable measure from a despicable Minister and we hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will come to the Dispatch Box and defend it.

1.26 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The order owes nothing to the housing needs of the British people. It is not designed to do so. It is just another example of the Tory Government slaughtering the housing needs and hopes of millions of people on the altar of the market economy, with all its gobbledegook about market forces and who will set and pay rents.

I shall not say that this is a landlord's charter; it is worse than that. It is a profiteering landlord's charter. The rent officer will no longer be an independent objective person who ensures that a fair rent once fixed is adhered to and to whom one can appeal if a landlord tries to increase such a rent. People, particularly in London, will be harassed out of protected tenancies by con merchants and thrown on to the streets so that the private rented sector, the free market, can allow the level of rent to rise to its natural level—the highest that can be obtained.

The Minister knows perfectly well what the effect of the order on people in receipt of housing benefit will be. In the past, such people could obtain a tenancy from a private landlord with the assurance that their housing benefit would meet that rent and the landlord would know that he could collect such a rent. Landords will now know that if the rent that they are charging is above the level decided on by the rent officer as the market level, the housing benefit will not meet those needs so that the tenant may not be able to pay the full rent. It is very likely that the local authority will not be able to pay the difference even if it wants to, so, yet again, unemployed people and those on low incomes in receipt of housing benefit will be deterred, if not prevented, from obtaining housing on the private rented market.

When the Minister talks glibly about market rents, he knows perfectly well that the levels that his Department is now working on are way out of date. He talks of rents of £50 and £60 a week for one-bedroomed flats in the private sector in inner London. He should go to my constituency and look in some of the accommodation agencies. In their windows there are one-bedroomed flats going for £100 a week or more in the private rented sector. The effect of their deregulation has been to force up private sector rents, to have people thrown out on the streets, and there will be greater homelessness and profiteering by landlords.

The fact that the Minister claimed that the local authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who made an excellent speech, was doing the same as the Government shows his ignorance of what local authorities are doing. They try to have minimum criteria, which ought to be possible to achieve, whereby children of vastly different ages do not have to share a room, whereby parents do not have to share a room with their children, and whereby there is some respect for people with a serious illness, such as septicaemia, so that they can have a separate room in their flats.

Under this order there will be a rabbit-hutch formula, whereby poor people in receipt of housing benefit will be forced to live in disgracefully small, sub-standard accommodation.

Mr. Pike

Is it not true to say that, when local authorities lay down their criteria, one of the things that constrains them is the increasing pressure from the Government, which makes it impossible for local authorities to meet the demand? That has to be borne in mind when one is considering any criteria that the local authority have with regard to their allocations policy.

Mr. Corbyn

Precisely. My local authority does its best to meet the housing needs of the people of the borough. It cannot do it. No London borough is capable of even fulfilling its statutory housing obligations at the present time. As the situation gets worse, the definition of intentionally homeless gets wider and wider, so that local authorities do not have to take people into bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation. Most of those people who tonight are sleeping on the streets around Waterloo station, the National Theatre and along the South Bank, who are begging at the main stations of this city, who are sleeping over the grilles of tube stations on Charing Cross road, not long ago had somewhere to live.

Those people are the victims of market forces, the victims of what this Government are doing and believe should be done to poor people, who cannot afford the landlords' rent. That is what it is about. The Minister has an arrogant smirk on his face tonight, the arrogance of a man who has thrown people on the street, who knows full well that the measures he is putting through this House tonight, in the dead of night, will cause untold hardship.

This country is very rich indeed and has enormous resources. If this House and this Government wanted to, resources could be found to provide a house for everybody in this country. There need be nobody sleeping on the streets; there need be no homelessness and no evictions because people cannot meet the kind of rents being demanded. What is required to do that is control on profiteering, and funding for local authorities to enable them to build what is required. It needs a Government determined to put in train the construction of the council houses needed for rent, rather than the pitiful level of 15,000 which have been completed this year.

It is with great anger that I ask the House tonight to vote against this disgraceful order, one of the most disgraceful orders I have seen during the time I have been in this House, and one which will cause untold misery throughout this country. It is a disgrace that it should be debated in the middle of the night, when the media are not here to report this travesty of justice.

1.33 am
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

My first question is whether the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), will be replying to the debate or not. He seems to be indicating that he is not. That is an absolute disgrace. It is an insult to the people of Scotland and to Scottish Members of Parliament, and it is yet another abuse of Scottish legislation put through this House by the Government. In fact, it is the second example in 24 hours because earlier today we debated major changes in water legislation in Scotland in just an hour and a quarter. The Scottish Office Minister is too much of a coward to come to the Dispatch Box——

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well when I spoke to him yesterday that it was possible to hold a separate debate, in which case I would have moved the motion and replied to the debate. However, the orders have been taken together.

Mr. Maxton

Had I known that the Scottish Office Minister would not be replying to the debate, we would have had a three-hour debate and kept Tory Members here until 3 am.

Mr. Foulkes

Four Scottish Members have participated in the debate—my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and the hon. Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh). That makes it imperative that the Minister should reply. He has been here throughout the debate, so it is perfectly possible for him to do so. All that the English Minister needs to do is to pass over his brief.

Mr. Maxton

It is disgraceful that the Scottish Office Minister will not reply. However, it is not untypical of Scottish Office Ministers or of the Government—particularly when they are pushing through a measure that is so obviously based on what happens in London and has nothing to do with Scotland. If the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), think that he can reply to the points raised by Scottish Members, he is mistaken. He knows nothing about Scottish housing legislation or about how this legislation affects Scotland. The whole affair is beyond belief.

This is one of the most hypocritical pieces of legislation that I have seen for a long time. I sat through the legislation that brought in the poll tax for Scotland. I remember that the Government based almost their entire case for that on the little old lady who had been widowed and lived on her own, paying the same rates as the family next door. No one in the Government suggested then that she might be better off moving into less luxurious accommodation. The Government gave her a massive subsidy—up to £1,500 in my constituency—by introduc-ing the poll tax. Well-heeled widows living alone get massive subsidies, but poor widows on housing benefit have their benefit slashed and have to look for somewhere else to live—or find enormous sums of money to avoid doing so.

The Minister can keep looking at his watch for as long as he likes. I shall talk right through and he will not get the opportunity to reply to the debate.

Mr. Trippier

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you give us guidance so that we can clear up whether a Scottish Minister should reply to the debate? Am I not correct in saying that it is within the purview of any hon. Member to object to two orders being taken together, and that if even one Opposition Member had objected, the orders would have been debated separately? I challenge the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) because I believe that he knew that if the orders were taken together the Scottish Office Minister would not reply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman says. The House decided at the beginning of the debate that the two orders would be taken together.

Perhaps I may tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that it is customary, though not obligatory, to allow the Minister who introduced an order to reply to it.

Mr. Maxton

I could not care less what the customs are in this matter. I have points to make about Scotland.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to say that he could not care less what you have said? After you explained what the conventions of the House are, I distinctly heard the hon. Gentleman say that he could not care less what you said. That is a disgraceful way in which to treat you

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for defending the Chair, but I did not take it in that way.

Mr. Pike

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it customary for a Minister seeking to open and reply to a debate on an order to ask for the permission of the House in any event?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not so in the case of an order of this kind, when a Minister who opens is entitled to reply without seeking the leave of the House. Mr. Maxton.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not also a custom of the House, although not perhaps in Standing Orders, that when an order or a Bill is before the House that applies both to England and Scotland, and where hon. Members representing both countries have fully participated, and a Minister from the second nation is present, it is courteous for the Minister for the other nation to wind up the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for Ministers rather than the Chair.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not an abuse of democracy that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) should first challenge my hon. Friend the Minister to answer various questions, and say that he had no intention of telling the House the Labour party's policy, and now deny the Minister the opportunity of answering the questions raised by both Opposition and Conservative Members?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I repeat that it is customary for a Minister who has introduced an order to be allowed to reply.

Mr. Maxton

It is customary, but there are no rules that say it has to be the case. I shall answer one of the questions posed by both the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).

We were asked whether we were prepared to allow any increase in housing benefit, whatever the cost. I will tell .him. On 1 April this year, private landlords in Scotland who, up to now, have been asking for a combined rent and rates——

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the debate is due to end at 1.42 am? The consequence of the Labour Front-Bench filibuster is that my hon. Friend the Minister will not have a chance to reply to the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I confirm that the debate must end at 1.42 am.

Mr. Maxton

The point I was making, when the hon. Gentleman interrupted, was that on 1 April there will be landlords in Scotland——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 ( Exempted business).

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 96.

Division No. 128] [1.42 am
Alexander, Richard Gregory, Conal
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Amess, David Hague, William
Amos, Alan Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Arbuthnot, James Hanley, Jeremy
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Harris, David
Ashby, David Hayes, Jerry
Bellingham, Henry Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Heddle, John
Bevan, David Gilroy Hind, Kenneth
Blackburn, Dr John G. Howard, Michael
Boswell, Tim Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Bottomley, Peter Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Bowis, John Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Bright, Graham Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hunter, Andrew
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Irvine, Michael
Buck, Sir Antony Jack, Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Janman, Tim
Burt, Alistair Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Knapman, Roger
Carrington, Matthew Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Cash, William Knowles, Michael
Chope, Christopher Lang, Ian
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Lawrence, Ivan
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Cope, Rt Hon John Lightbown, David
Couchman, James Lilley, Peter
Cran, James Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Lord, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Day, Stephen Maclean, David
Devlin, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mans, Keith
Dover, Den Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Dunn, Bob Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Durant, Tony Maude, Hon Francis
Fallon, Michael Miller, Sir Hal
Favell, Tony Mills, Iain
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fishburn, John Dudley Mitchell, Sir David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Morrison, Sir Charles
Forth, Eric Moss, Malcolm
Franks, Cecil Moynihan, Hon Colin
Freeman, Roger Neubert, Michael
French, Douglas Nicholls, Patrick
Gale, Roger Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Norris, Steve
Gill, Christopher Oppenheim, Phillip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Paice, James
Green way, John (Ryedale) Porter, David (Waveney)
Raffan, Keith Stevens, Lewis
Redwood, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Riddick, Graham Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Roe, Mrs Marion Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Rowe, Andrew Thurnham, Peter
Sackville, Hon Tom Trippier, David
Sayeed, Jonathan Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, David (Dovor) Waller, Gary
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Watts, John
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Widdecombe, Ann
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wilshire, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Yeo, Tim
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tellers for the Ayes:
Soames, Hon Nicholas Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Stern, Michael Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Abbott, Ms Diane McAllion, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) McAvoy, Thomas
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McCartney, Ian
Bradley, Keith Macdonald, Calum A.
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) McFall, John
Buckley, George J. McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) McKelvey, William
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McLeish, Henry
Clay, Bob McWilliam, John
Clelland, David Mahon, Mrs Alice
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Marek, Dr John
Corbyn, Jeremy Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cryer, Bob Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cummings, John Maxton, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Meale, Alan
Cunningham, Dr John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Darling, Alistair Morgan, Rhodri
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Morley, Elliott
Dewar, Donald Mullin, Chris
Dixon, Don Murphy, Paul
Doran, Frank Nellist, Dave
Dunnachie, Jimmy O'Brien, William
Eadie, Alexander Patchett, Terry
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Pike, Peter L.
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Fisher, Mark Prescott, John
Foster, Derek Quin, Ms Joyce
Foulkes, George Redmond, Martin
Fyfe, Maria Reid, Dr John
Galbraith, Sam Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Golding, Mrs Llin Ruddock, Joan
Graham, Thomas Salmond, Alex
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Skinner, Dennis
Haynes, Frank Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hinchliffe, David Soley, Clive
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Spearing, Nigel
Hood, Jimmy Strang, Gavin
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Wall, Pat
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Wallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Walley, Joan
Illsley, Eric Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Ingram, Adam Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Kennedy, Charles Wilson, Brian
Kirkwood, Archy Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lamond, James Wray, Jimmy
Leighton, Ron
Lewis, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Lloyd, Tony (Stratford) Mr. Allen Adams and
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Mr. Frank Cook.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Rent Officers (Additional Functions) order 1989, which was laid before this House on 23 rd February, be approved.

Motion made, and Question Put, That the draft Rent Officers (Additional Functions) (Scotland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 1st March, be approved.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 95

Division No. 129] [1.53 am
Alexander, Richard Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hunter, Andrew
Amess, David Irvine, Michael
Amos, Alan Jack, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Janman, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Ashby, David Knapman, Roger
Bellingham, Henry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knowles, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Lang, Ian
Blackburn, Dr John G. Lawrence, Ivan
Boswell, Tim Lightbown, David
Bottomley, Peter Lilley, Peter
Bowis, John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bright, Graham Lord, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Maclean, David
Buck, Sir Antony McLoughlin, Patrick
Burt, Alistair Mans, Keith
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Carrington, Matthew Maude, Hon Francis
Cash, William Miller, Sir Hal
Chope, Christopher Mills, Iain
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Mitchell, Sir David
Cope, Rt Hon John Morrison, Sir Charles
Couchman, James Moss, Malcolm
Cran, James Moynihan, Hon Colin
Currie, Mrs Edwina Neubert, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Nicholls, Patrick
Day, Stephen Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Devlin, Tim Norris, Steve
Dorrell, Stephen Oppenheim, Phillip
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Paice, James
Dover, Den Porter, David (Waveney)
Dunn, Bob Raffan, Keith
Durant, Tony Redwood, John
Fallon, Michael Riddick, Graham
Favell, Tony Roe, Mrs Marion
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Rowe, Andrew
Fishburn, John Dudley Sayeed, Jonathan
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Shaw, David (Dover)
Forth, Eric Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Franks, Cecil Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Freeman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
French, Douglas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gale, Roger Soames, Hon Nicholas
Garel-Jones, Tristan Stern, Michael
Gill, Christopher Stevens, Lewis
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Gregory, Conal Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Thurnham, Peter
Hague, William Trippier, David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hanley, Jeremy Waller, Gary
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Watts, John
Harris, David Widdecombe, Ann
Hayes, Jerry Wilshire, David
Heathcoat-Amory, David Yeo, Tim
Hind, Kenneth
Howard, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Mr. Tom Sackville.
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Abbott, Ms Diane Clelland, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Corbyn, Jeremy
Bradley, Keith Cryer, Bob
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Cummings, John
Buckley, George J. Cunliffe, Lawrence
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Cunningham, Dr John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Darling, Alistair
Clay, Bob Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Dewar, Donald Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dixon, Don Marek, Dr John
Doran, Frank Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Maxton, John
Eadie, Alexander Meale, Alan
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Morgan, Rhodri
Fisher, Mark Morley, Elliott
Foster, Derek Mullin, Chris
Foulkes, George Murphy, Paul
Fyfe, Maria Nellist, Dave
Galbraith, Sam O'Brien, William
Godman, Dr Norman A. Patchett, Terry
Golding, Mrs Llin Pike, Peter L.
Graham, Thomas Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Prescott, John
Haynes, Frank Quin, Ms Joyce
Hinchliffe, David Redmond, Martin
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Reid, Dr John
Hood, Jimmy Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ruddock, Joan
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Salmond, Alex
Illsley, Eric Skinner, Dennis
Ingram, Adam Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kennedy, Charles Soley, Clive
Kirkwood, Archy Spearing, Nigel
Lamond, James Strang, Gavin
Leighton, Ron Wall, Pat
Lewis, Terry Wallace, James
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Walley, Joan
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McAllion, John Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McAvoy, Thomas Wilson, Brian
McCartney, Ian Wise, Mrs Audrey
Macdonald, Calum A. Wray, Jimmy
McFall, John
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Tellers for the Noes:
McKelvey, William Mr. Allen Adams and
McLeish, Henry Mr. Frank Cook.
McWilliam, John

Question accordingly agreed to.