§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (Lord Hughes)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed[...]
§ House in Committee accordingly.610
§ [The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [New system of rents for public sector housing]:
§ Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 1, line 6, leave out subsection (1).
§ The noble Lord said: Subsection (1) would repeal five sections of the 1972 Scottish Housing Act concerning rents in the public sector. My object in moving this Amendment is to show that this is unnecessary and, indeed, a retrograde step, and this will probably be the main debate today at the Committee stage. The principle of those five sections of our 1972 Act is being retained. That principle, I would remind your Lordships, is quite different from the one in the 1972 Housing Act for England and Wales. Much of the substance of those five sections is retained and reintroduced in Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill.
§ Both the noble Lord and his noble friends opposite are in favour of the principle which we established in Scotland in 1972 of councils balancing their housing revenue accounts. For example, in Section 28(2) of our Scottish Act of 1972 we specifically provided for rents to be reduced if that were needed to obtain a balance, and that is similar to subsection (5) of Clause 1 in this Bill, which asks local authorities not to provide for surpluses. But what is lacking is any provision in this Bill to assist local authorities in doing what is necessary in carrying out the principles to which both sides of your Lordships' House agreed. There is nothing to guarantee fairness to all tenants in different areas, and also to the ratepayers who otherwise have to make up most of the deficits.
§ We know that some councils in Scotland will follow the principle in this Bill and the principle which was in our 1972 Act. Some of them have been doing it, and were doing it before the 1972 Act, but we also know that there are others who are unlikely to do so. I know that local authorities in Scotland are to change in May of this year, and in two months' time there will be a different set of authorities—a year after the change in England and Wales. But the housing authorities in some areas are covering much the same ground as before, and it is in the areas where in the past we have 611 found differences in approach that there will be a temptation for some councils to leave rents very low—much lower than in England and Wales, incidentally—despite the rebate schemes which were brought in by our 1972 Act, which is where the unfairness to other tenants and to ratepayers arises.
§ The 1972 Act was fair to all tenants, because the average standard rents could not rise by more than a gradual step each year—namely, £26—while on the way to balancing the revenue accounts. What the Government are doing in this Bill is simply repealing five sections of the 1972 Act, but at the same time reintroducing their substance in the vaguest terms, leaving it to chance whether it is carried out. The only purpose can be to continue the charade based upon mythology fabricated about the 1972 Act.
At that time I met many families in Scotland who had been alarmed by the false scare stories that their rents were to be increased steeply, when in fact their rents were to be reduced under the rebate scheme which the Act introduced. In every case, when I followed up those stories they were traced to the false descriptions of the 1972 Act— the mythology being deliberately circulated. But the clearest proof of this came only the other day from the lips of a Minister of State at the Scottish Office. Unlike the Housing Act for England and Wales, the Scottish Act made no provision for housing commissioners in case of default. There is no system of such commissioners in Scotland, but on 20th January 1975 in another place, at column 1181 of the Official Report, the other Minister of State, Mr. Millan, said:
Many local authorities believed that if they did not carry out the provisions of the Act, … the Secretary of State for Scotland would send in a local commissoner. But the then Secretary of State"—
that was myself—
funked that. We did not have any commissioners in Scotland "—
the Minister continued—
although that action was open to him.
§ It seems incredible that the Minister should have exhibited his ignorance of the Act in that way. Again, he was presumably referring to the mythology about the Act, and so has himself been deceived by propaganda which obscured the facts. But in that event he has made 612 my case for me. Many local authorities, he said, believed that commissioners would be sent in. If any local authorities in Scotland believed that, it could only be because of the propaganda which was being circulated. There was nothing in the Act about it and there is no such system in Scotland. If he believes that the Scottish Act provided for commissioners, what else does he think is in the 1972 Act? Your Lordships will notice that he has also accused me of "funking", because I did not adopt a system which did not exist, and I think that all the Parliamentary conventions require that he should take the earliest opportunity of withdrawing his remarks.
§ The choice before me at the time—I think your Lordships should know this —was either to let the issues go to the courts in Scotland, or to arrange for the Scottish Office to take over the housing functions from the local councils concerned which were in default. The latter course would surely have been labelled as confrontation by the Labour Party, if the Scottish Office had tried to take over the functions from a council. The first of these courses was pursued with the result that every council in Scotland eventually carried out the Scottish Housing Act. One result also was that many tenants who had been paying rent found that they were no longer required to pay any rent at all, owing to the rebate scheme in the Act and their personal circumstances.
§ I completely absolve the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, from any of this. He him self has not been guilty of any errors or, if I may say so, discourtesy. I do not think that anybody can say that I am oversensitive about criticism—one has to possess a thick skin to have been Secretary of State for Scotland for any time. But I think that unless it is put right this is a way in which another false myth can be created. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, like most people in Scotland who are more concerned about housing than about political tactics—and I believe that he is—must know that this is a retrograde step. Perhaps only his diary records his real sensible views on this.
Of course we now have access to the diary of the late Dick Crossman, and he was saying in 1966:
Of course I am in favour of putting up the rents of tenants who can afford to pay and
using the money for rent rebate, but it is not a popular view in the Labour Party.
§ That was from the Minister who was then responsible for this matter in England and Wales. Of course, his personal view went further than what we carried out in Scotland, because the subsidies covered about 90 per cent, of the rebate scheme. It was not the other tenants who were financing the rebate scheme; the greater part of it was done by the Exchequer. In 1972, many English Labour Members of Parliament expressed approval of this system in the Scottish Act and tried to change the Act for England and Wales so that it had the same system; argument developed between them and the Scottish Labour Members about this. Again, I am afraid that the Scottish Members were at that time more involved with the mythology than with the facts.
§ For all these reasons, we must regard the attempt to repeal these five sections as continuing what I would call this "charade", because the 1972 Act has been condemned by certain people and painted in colours which are quite unrecognisable if one reads it. That part of it concerning public sector rents now has to be repealed but the principle of it, and quite long chunks of it, are being re-enacted here in Clauses 1 and 2, quite unnecessarily taking up the time of Parliament. We would suggest to the noble Lord and his colleagues that this is a retrograde step and that it would have been much better to leave the sections in the 1972 Act. I beg to move.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord HUGHES
I can well under-stand the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, found it desirable to put down this Amendment. I can also understand the very strong defence which he has put up of the provisions of the 1972 Act . I do not know whether he was regarding it as a matter of compliment to Her Majesty's Government, or as a matter of criticism, that we are retaining sections of the 1972 Act. I can assure him that we have gone through the 1972 Act with a powerful microscope so that we could preserve those parts of it which were good. As I have said on more than one occasion, it is almost beyond the wit of man to produce an Act of Parliament which is wholly wrong. The 1972 Act is in the same category as 614 almost any other, and in fact I have put down an Amendment for a later stage in the proceedings, the effect of which is to restore a part which was previously being omitted, because on second thoughts we found it better to revert to the previous position.
I regard it as perfectly reasonable that a former Secretary of State for Scotland should find it necessary and desirable to defend the provisions of a previous Act of Parliament for which he was largely responsible. I would say in passing that if, from the Government's point of view, one had to choose the lesser of two evils, in the method to be selected in Scotland of getting towards a balanced housing revenue account rather than a profit-earning revenue account—which was the principle adopted on this side of the Border—he showed better wisdom than his colleagues in the Government who were responsible for English affairs. From our point of view, it was merely a choice between evils.
As I said, I regard it as reasonable that he should find it necessary to defend the attitude that he has taken, particularly because of the way in which he differed from the English Act. But I do not find it necessary to repeat the reason why we are against the 1972 Act, and why these changes have been made. After all, what is the best way of doing it is a matter of opinion. No amount of talk from the noble Lord will persuade me that his method was the better one, and no amount of counter-talk from my-self will persuade him that he was wrong and that ours is the better one. So with one exception I would prefer to let the matter rest there. I was not aware of the fact that the noble Lord intended to quote what my honourable friend the Minister of State said in relation to the 1972 Act, and without having had the opportunity of referring to what was said, and to the context in which it was said, I can neither defend nor criticise what my honourable friend said.
If I heard rightly what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, I think perhaps there is a certain element of confusion. He quoted my honourable friend as saying that local authorities thought that certain things were going to be done, that commissioners were going to be introduced and that the then Secretary of State, who was the noble Lord, 615 had funked the issue. It is perfectly true, as he said, that the Act of 1972 in Scotland made no provision for housing commissioners, but it made provision for something very similar. It made it possible for the Secretary of State to assume the functions of a housing authority if an authority was not complying with the Act. In some cases, I think—I am now speaking from memory— it was the intention of at least one authority to attempt to force the Secretary of State into that position. As he knows, he did not take over that function in any case in Scotland for reasons which he alone can tell, and which I have no doubt seemed perfectly sound to him. I may say I was very glad that he did not exercise that function, which would have produced a degree of confrontation making a difficult situation even worse. That is all I wish to say in relation to our differences as between 1972 and 1975.
Amendments similar to this were moved in another place on both this Bill and the preceding English Bill, but they were not called because I think it was generally accepted that they were what is termed "wrecking Amendments". In fact, Clause 1 stands at the heart of our policy for local authority rents. Quite simply, it is a determination to restore to local authorities the freedom to deter-mine rents which for the first time was removed by the Act of 1972. We pledged in our Manifesto that we would repeal the rent-fixing provisions of the 1972 Act.
One reason is that we think it quite illogical to provide, as the Act did, that rents for every area of Scotland from Lerwick to New Galloway should be fixed in exactly the same way with no possible allowance for varying local circumstances. This Bill provides flexibility by replacing the 1972 Act system with the concept of reasonable rents which empowers local authorities to take all relevant circumstances into consideration when they are determining rents. The efforts of the Opposition in another place to define reasonable rents were, in my opinion, misconceived. It is already generally held to imply—and I am using these words very carefully—that in determining rents a balance must be struck between the interests of tenants and those of ratepayers.
616 Housing functions will be exercised by new authorities from 16th May, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has recognised. What I think is quite wrong is to assume that any of these successor authorities will follow any pattern deter-mined by existing authorities. I think it would be both unreasonable and illogical that we should start off the new authorities in a spirit of mistrust. The one thing which is quite certain about Housing Bills is that, no matter how enthusiastically Ministers may bring forward a Housing Bill as being the ultimate solution of the housing problem in Scotland, the ink will hardly be dry upon the Act before there begin to emerge the conditions which make it certain that another Housing Bill will be brought forward in due course. We think that the present Bill will be an improvement on the 1972 position but—and I say this without any hesitation —I am quite certain that if another Housing Act for Scotland is not passed at Westminster, an early one will certainly be passed in Scotland when the Assembly comes into existence.
I do not think that we shall be totally wrong in our belief that the new authorities will act reasonably in this matter and will accept that there are three parties to council housing transactions—the Government through their subsidy, the rate-payer through his subsidy and the tenant through the amount that he pays in rent —and that it is a primary duty of the new housing authorities (the district councils and the island councils) to accept that they must be fair to both tenant and ratepayer in the way that they divide the burden between them.
It is in that context that I and my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State have recently been meeting district councils up and down the country. I find that they are going into the new régime with enthusiasm for doing a good job on housing. I think that that is very largely due to the fact that the only major function which the new district authorities have is housing, and I believe they recognise that they will stand either to fall or to be praised in public estimation by the way in which they tackle their housing problems. They cannot be regarded as having successfully tackled those problems if they have not dealt fairly on the rents issue. It is for that reason that 617 I think that the Government are not wrong to act on the basis that the new authorities must enter on their tasks with a degree of trust.
I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, having not unfairly stated the position which he represented in 1972 and the views which he still holds, will not find it inconsistent with that position not to press the Amendment.
§ Lord STRATHCLYDE
I rise in sup-port of the Amendment so ably moved by my noble friend. I do so because, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, as a result of some 40 years' experience of government, both local and national, I have not that confidence in certain of our Scottish local authorities to act in a reasonable manner so far as rents of council houses are concerned. I seriously envy the noble Lord his optimism that the new district authorities will be reason-able in regard to what they may consider to be reasonable rents ; it appears to me to have no basis in fact nor to be sup-ported by the evidence over many years of this century. From 1933 onwards, I have been engaged in an endeavour to obtain for ratepayers and council tenants houses rented according to a system having regard to what would be fair to all concerned. By that, I mean the fixing of an economic rent for all local authority houses which would be payable by all tenants and which would ensure, through rebate schemes, that those who circum-stances prevented from being able to pay the economic rent could still enjoy the same standard of housing as was available to others. I have never been able to understand the justice of allowing those capable of paying an economic rent to obtain a modern house at a cut-price rent at the expense of ratepayers, a large proportion of whom are not so well off and who are living in houses lacking the standards which those more fortunate people enjoy.
The insistence on low rents which has long existed in Scotland has been the cause of much of our sub-standard housing. In that connection, I can still very vividly remember an intervention by Arthur Woodburn, then Secretary of State for Scotland, in a debate on housing in the Scottish Grand Committee when he made that very point and did so with 618 considerable force, to the obvious dismay of his own supporters. It is well known that there is nothing which my fellow countrymen like better than a bargain, and they clearly considered that council rents were a very good bargain, at least for those who enjoyed them. Perhaps noble Lords will bear with me if I quote the rents payable at different dates and fixed by different authorities. To take the average rents in the cities and using Glasgow as an example— and may I add that Glasgow's rents were not always the lowest— in 1938 the rent was 5s. l0d. a week ; in 1949 it had gone up to 6s. 2d.; in 1964, after 15 years, it had risen to 12s. 2d, and in 1969 to 22s. 11d. Now I must take yearly rents because that is the way they are given in the returns. That figure corresponds to £59.8 per annum ; in 1972, that had gone up to £92.46 and in 1973 to £131.67. Those last two figures show the difference between the local authority's reasonable rent in 1972 and the fair rent in 1973—an increase of no less than £42.21 a year.
So far as the large burghs are concerned, there is the same gradual increase over the years to 1972, when, taking Kirkcaldy as an example, the average rent under the reasonable rents system was £87.86. Under the fair rents system, that figure rose in 1973 to £145.95. That shows an increase of no less than £50.12.
Thinking that perhaps the counties might show a different picture, I took Ayrshire as an example. In 1971 the average rent was £48.52 and in 1972 it was £72.49, while in 1973 it was £98.89, an increase of £50.73 over 1971 and £26.40 over 1972. Surely these figures prove that the ratepayers in general must, under the local authorities reasonable rent schemes, have been subsidising council rents and in consequence carrying an unjust rating burden over the years until the Act of 1972 became law.
Would the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, explain why the Government are now going back to a system which is so obviously unjust? Does the noble Lord deny the greater justice of the 1972 Act and, if so, will he says where it fails in that or in any other respect? The only reason which the noble Lord has given, and he more or less repeated it today, is that the change back, as he said on Second Reading, 619restores freedom to local authorities to determine for themselves what rents should be charged for the houses built and managed by them.The noble Lord went on:It does so by restoring the well-tried principle of reasonable rents which allows authorities to have regard to local circumstances in determining rent levels."—[Official Report, 4/3/75; col. 1204.]In the light of the figures which I have given, all of which are taken from the Development Department's Rented Houses Owned by Public Authorities in Scotland annual return, would it not be more accurate to say that Clause 1 restores the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul? I will tell your Lordships why the Government are going back to that well-tried system, and I trust that in this matter I shall not offend your Lordships. I am sure that I will not offend the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who I have good reason to believe despises mealy-mouthed people. The explanation is quite simple. The Labour Party in Scotland, playing on their fellow countrymen's love of a bargain, have gained control of practically every local authority in the Scottish industrial belt by what was, in essence, noth-ing short of political bribery. The bribe was letting it be understood, "If you give us your vote we in return will give you low rents and save your pocket." With the passing of the 1972 Act that bribe was no longer available to them, hence Clause 1. I support the Amendment.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord HUGHES
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will permit me to intervene at this stage to reply to his noble friend Lord Strathclyde— and only the traditions of the House prevent me from referring to him as my noble friend also. He knows the very high regard in which I have always held him, though I do not know why this should continue because we never seem to find any subject in this House on which we agree, so obviously our friendship is of an extra-Parliamentary nature. It is only in respect of the final point the noble Lord made that I intervene. He said that the Labour Party had gained control of all the major authorities in the Scottish Central Belt and that we had done so by reason of the bribery which 620 this provision would permit us to restore. I remind the noble Lord that the major authorities in the Central Belt have nothing at all to do with housing. The regional authorities do not have the housing function, so how we could possibly bribe the Strathclyde, Lothians and Central Regions into getting people to vote for us when housing has nothing to do with their functions, I find difficult to follow.
It may be that the noble Lord, having gone back to 1933 in his search for statistics, was confusing the past situation with the present one. I suggest that it does not serve any useful purpose to go as far back as 42 years. That was the time when I was first elected to a local authority, and I remember well that the basis on which I made my maiden speech in the Dundee Town Council was on a motion to reduce town council rents by 10 per cent. If I were a member of the town council this year I would not be moving such a motion, so what I did in 1933 or what anybody else did at that time, although perhaps relevant to the circumstances then—we recall the mass unemployment that existed at that time—is quite different today. Over quite a long period of time there was little or no alteration in council house rents and there was accepted in the majority of Scottish local authorities a pattern that a number of rent increases at regular intervals, of comparatively modest amounts, would eventually reach a balanced revenue account with the mini-mum of opposition, whereas big increases, while perhaps not unreasonable in regard to the total housing burden, produced a measure of resistance which made it difficult to carry them out.
It was said of the previous Labour Government that the pattern of rent increases which took place was greater than under any previous Government. That is perfectly true and I made a point, as did other Ministers in that Government, of emphasising to local authorities the benefit of a good rent rebate system. Of course the important word there is "good", because one can have rent rebate systems which are an absolute farce. But the one which is in operation and which we are continuing is a good system. With a good rent rebate system it is possible to shield the great majority of people from real hardship in the payment of rent.
621 If I were to go further I would simply be retracing what I said on Second Reading and what I have said on this Amendment. Whatever the pattern of the previous authorities, I do not think that any of your Lordships have the right to assume that the authorities which begin to exercise their functions in May will act in the same way as some of their previous constituent authorities may have acted. I admit—I have already admitted this but I do it again—that I may be wrong, and perhaps I am being optimistic rather than realistic in saying that, but I believe that the best way of ensuring that we get a satisfactory situation and realism is to start off by trusting the new local authorities to act reasonably. It will be time enough to remove powers from them, as against all the patterns of recent years, when it has been shown that they fail to exercise their powers reasonably, and until that happens we should work on the basis that the new authorities will do the job which Parliament has entrusted to them.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde has warned us of what could happen again in future, based on his wide experience of local government and Ministerial office at the Scottish Office. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, hopes that the new councils will act reasonably. I am sure that all your Lordships do, and so do I, but they will want guidance and some form of yard-stick to help them to decide what is reasonable. We can go into this matter later, because the debate on the clause stand part will be the appropriate stage at which to discuss what the Government think is a reasonable rent.
As regards my reference to the Minister's remarks in another place, I did not expect the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to reply today, because he has never said anything like that. The system of com-missioners cannot possibly be confused with the alternative—which I mentioned in my statement earlier—of the Scottish Office taking over the administration from a council. The system of commissioners exists in England and Wales, but it did not appear in the 1972 Scottish Act. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is himself very reasonable and I would say that if all councillors in Scotland consisted of people like him we should have no diffi- 622 culties at all. But a cynical few people in Scotland may regard what has happened over the past three years as a skilful exercise in misleading and frightening a lot of people about the 1972 Act. Then, in order to keep up the deception, one has to go through the motions of repealing sections of it, even though they are being reintroduced in another form. This may get some votes, and I fear it will encourage rent "politicking" for local councils in the future; but it discredits politics and politicians in the eyes of the public. As the noble Lord said, this Amendment would be a wrecking Amendment at this stage in the Bill, and he knows that I was not intending to press it. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord CAMPBELL or CROY moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 5, at end insert—
("( ) In discharging the functions conferred by subsections (2), (3) and (4) above a local authority shall take into account that a normal average rent increase for their standard rents in any period of 12 months should be £26, but no more, when a greater increase would be required to balance their housing account.")
§ The noble Lord said: Moving on from Amendment No. 1, and given that the Government are not prepared to leave in the 1972 Act the sections which were carrying out useful work, we believe that local authorities would at least benefit from—and many of them would welcome —the guidance which this Amendment would give them. It would not be mandatory. It is proposed to insert in the Bill a provision which would indicate to them what was a reasonable step in order to raise the average rent each year, if that were needed to help balance the housing account. It would help councillors if a norm like this were prescribed, because otherwise in different areas it would be found difficult to decide what rent increases should be made if they were well short of balancing their housing revenue account. In balancing their revenue account, all the relevant subsidies coming from the Government are counted on the credit side, so these are taken into account. Furthermore hardship does not arise, because of the rent rebate scheme, and we are dealing with the better-off tenants; not those who are eligible for rebates.623
§ Guidance of the kind indicated in the Amendment would reduce the burden on the already overpressed ratepayers in those areas where a council may decide against any increase, or may decide on a derisory increase, when it is a long way from balancing its accounts—and at a time when, in any case, rates are rising for other reasons. We will be asking the Government during discussion on the clause stand part about reviews, because under this clause rents are to be reviewed from time to time. But there is nothing to indicate at what intervals they will be reviewed, or what the criteria should be. At least in order to assist councils, with guidance, we believe that what is proposed in the Amendment would be helpful, even though as a result of our last Amendment not being accepted it would not be mandatory. I beg to move.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
wish to support the Amendment, since one of the most difficult things in the world is to make councillors decide at what point they will make their housing revenue accounts balance. It is extremely easy to bring down rents, but it is very difficult to put them up. Anything which gives councillors guidance in this matter is to be welcomed, particularly when deficiencies in housing revenue accounts are greater than they should be and are not of a manageable character. If the Amendment were approved it would be possible to point to the Act as being guidance and helping councillors to do some-thing which is extremely unpopular. Most people are elected to councils and they do not want to do unpopular things, because people may say, "I am not going to vote for so-and-so because he put up my rent." Councillors try to avoid putting up rents; lots of them try to bring rents down, which is an easier way of currying favour with the electorate. Very few people have the courage to put up rents. It would be much easier for the county councils or town councils concerned, if there was some guidance to show at which point rents must be put up.
This is a very good proposal and it would be extremely helpful not only to those who win seats on the Labour side of an authority, but also to those on the other side, because those members are in the same position as any one else. Putting up rents is very unpopular and if one 624 wants to get elected to a council one does not want to be unpopular. I there-fore support this Amendment which I regard as extremely reasonable.
§ The Earl of CROMARTIE
Before the Minister replies, I should like to speak on this Amendment not only—as the noble Lord knows—as a convener of a Highland county, but also because I am on the new district. We have put up our rents without any trouble whatsoever, and we have a very good rebate system under which people who are in difficulties get rebates. We arc in the middle of an oil area, and I appreciate that that has made a big difference. I think that this proposal is a good idea, and I am not thinking of our rather advanced, good, well-run Highland counties; I am thinking of further South, where this Amendment might be very useful.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord HUGHES
I do not disagree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in moving the Amendment, nor the sentiments contained in the support given to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. It is perfectly reasonable that guidance should be given to the local authorities— particularly as they are new authorities— on what policies should be followed. Unfortunately, the Amendment which has been moved would not give guidance. It would—and it is quite obvious from the way that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spoke, that this was not his intention—restore the situation to that of a mandatory increase. One would have thought that the wording could be interpreted as guidance, but, possibly because of the way these matters are interpreted, it would be taken as something that the authorities must do.
I think that I indicated on Second Reading that we wish to give guidance to local authorities on the matter, and to that extent I may have some responsibility for encouraging the noble Lord to put down an Amendment along these lines. But what we had in mind and what we think is appropriate—and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, knows how often he has done this—is administrative guidance by circular from the Scottish Office. In matters of this kind this is preferable to attempting to give guidance in an Act of Parliament.
625 A circular is to be issued to local authorities, I think within the next few days, and almost certainly before we reach the next stage of the Bill. The circular will point out to the local authorities the background of rising housing expenditure against which authorities should decide how that expenditure net of subsidies should be met between rent and rates. It will touch on the question of when a review should be undertaken. I wish only that it had been possible to produce the circular in time for today, because obviously I cannot expect the the noble Lord to accept that what we are doing in a circular will produce the result which he would hope to get from this Amendment when he has not even seen the circular. However, in view of the totally reasonable way in which he has put forward this proposal, I should not expect that he would find great difficulty in acceding to the request I now make that he would withdraw this Amendment, study the circular in due course and if he then feels that the subject must be returned to, we shall have a reasonable interval during which he will have time to give thought to the matter.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)
I think it may be for the convenience of noble Lords if we were to take the Statement and then to continue the debate on this Amendment.
§ House resumed.