HC Deb 08 May 1967 vol 746 cc1189-217

Lords Amendment: No. 6, in page 14, line 44, at end insert new Clause "A"; A. In respect of any year during which a local authority fails to satisfy the Minister that it grants rent relief only to those of its tenants who need it and to the extent that they need it, no subsidies shall be payable under this Part of this Act to that local authority.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I move this Motion in a mood of the greatest reluctance to introduce a note of disharmony into our proceedings. The new Clause would require the Minister not to pay subsidies under Part I to a local authority for any year in respect of which the authority fails to satisfy the appropriate Housing Minister that it grants rent relief only to tenants who need it and to the extent that they need it.

I suspect that Lord Brooke of Cumnor, with that impish humour which characterises all his pronouncements, may well have chosen the words of the Amendment not because they were the most apt for the purpose, but because they follow fairly closely the words of the circular issued by my father on the Housing Act, 1930, which have been quoted during earlier stages in the Bill's progress. Those words were: Rent relief should be given only to those who need it and only for so long as they need it. I think that we will all agree that that is unexceptional as a principle, but that we have sufficient confidence in local authorities to believe that this matter should be left to their discretion. Once again, I feel compelled to protest at the way in which the Opposition contantly urge me to adopt the most grandmotherly tone towards the local authorities.

9.45 p.m.

Even if a statutory sanction of this kind were desirable, which it is not, I am certain that it is unworkable. It would not be practicable to exercise from Whitehall the kind of scrutiny of local rent policy that the Amendment envisages. It would be impossible for a Government Department to assess the rents charged to individual tenants by the responsible local authority, which alone has the necessary knowledge of individual needs and local circumstances. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Conservative Government incorporated in the Housing Act, 1957, the following provision in Section 113(3): The local authority may grant to any tenants such rebate from rent, subject to such terms and conditions, as they may think fit. I take particular pleasure in the then Government's wisdom in that provision, because it was copied exactly from Section 27(1,c) of the "Greenwood" Act of 1930. But what is surprising is that the Opposition, who claim to support the independence of local authorities in everything else, should consider it right to undermine their long-established independence in this field. I remind the House of another provision of the 1957 Act, Section 111: The general management, regulation and control of houses provided by the local authority under this Part of this Act shall be vested and exercised by the authority, and the authority may make such reasonable charges for the tenancy or occupation of the houses as they may determine. Local authorities are also obliged, of course, in fixing their rents—and a number of famous cases in the courts have made this clear—to consider the interests both of the tenants and the ratepayers as a whole, remembering that all council tenants are ratepayers, too. They have to hold a fair balance between the two and the district auditor would, as part of his statutory duty, draw attention to any cases where there is evidence that the balance has been tipped too far against the interests of either tenants or ratepayers.

Mr. Maxwell

I agree with the principle of rejection of the Amendment, since we do not wish to interfere with a local housing authority's right to determine rents. But would not my right hon. Friend agree that, in the implementation of the Government's prices and incomes policy, it would have been preferable had he had the authority to allow local authorities the right to waive the need to balance their books, thus preventing unfair increases in rents which have occurred during the time of the wages freeze?

Mr. Greenwood

That is a rather broader subject than this Amendment and I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would properly rule me out of order if I were to continue the process of informing my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) that you began so effectively a few moments ago. Perhaps I might, with my hon. Friend's forbearance, stick to the Amendment.

The Amendment would, of course, completely alter the position of local authorities. Since subsidy payments would depend on the Minister's judgment on the acceptability of rents charged, in practice local authority rents would be fixed in Whitehall. This is not a condition which the Opposition saw fit to impose when they were in office. Nothing of the kind appears in the Housing Act, 1961, which, until this Bill is enacted, is still the basis of the subsidy system. The Government have made it clear that they intend, in the words of the White Paper which introduced the Bill, that … subsidies should not be used wholly or even mainly to keep general rent levels low. Help for those who most need it can be given only if the subsidies are in large part used to provide rebates for tenants whose means are small. This is not to say that the Government think it right to wave a big stick at the local authorities, as the Amendment would have us do. Local authorities are responsible bodies and have independent and explicit statutory responsibility for the management of their housing and for charging rents which, to use the statutory term, are "reasonable".

The Government believe that it is right, on the evidence of housing costs, and the scale of the local authority building programmes, to provide the additional financial help which the Bill contains. Equally, the Government believe that it is right to leave the allocation of this help entirely to the local authority, since only it is in a position to judge the needs of the area, and the needs of its tenants. This has traditionally been the responsibility of local authorities, and the Government would not think it right or necessary to introduce sanctions of the kind implied in this Amendment.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

A similar Amendment to this was discussed in another place, and the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, quoted from the working party investigating this subject, and said that following the discussions, about the findings of the working party, the Minister would be likely to issue fresh guidance to the local authorities. Can he say anything more at this stage?

Mr. Greenwood

I expect that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), is accustomed to being in advance of his time, for he has anticipated me by a few seconds in what I was about to say. If he could be patient for a moment, while I express my belief in local democracy, and the responsibility of local government, I would be obliged.

What I have said must not be interpreted—and I now come to the hon. Gentleman's point with admirable promptitude—as indicating a lack of interest in rent rebate schemes. As the hon. Gentleman has reminded us, we are at present discussing with the local authority associations the form of advice which we might usefully issue on rent rebate schemes. What is needed is some clear guidance of the general principles on which sound rebate schemes can be based, and some fairly detailed advice on how these can be worked out in practice.

We have had a working party considering the problem. It has now presented its report to me, with a draft circular accompanying it. That circular has been sent to the local authority associations, and we shall be having further discussions with them about it.

Mr. Channon

What the Minister is saying is precisely what his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said on 8th March, when he said that he was glad to tell the House that the working party had completed its report. Two months have now gone by. That is a very long time to elapse since the presentation of the report, and an even longer time since the Government announced the formation of the working party. When are we to have some conclusions in this matter?

Mr. Greenwood

The hon. Gentleman must realise that Ministers always speak with the same voice. My hon. Friend was expressing the position as it then was, and I have reported to the House the progress which has since been made.

We have continued our discussions with the local authority associations, and sent them our views on the draft circular, which has been prepared. I do not think that I can go further into detail on this question. A fair number of local authorities, large and small, though I think not nearly enough, have introduced rent rebate schemes, many of them have been operating successfully for a good many years.

But there tends to be far more diversity in the schemes than the nature of rent rebates really warrants. We have it in mind to give more specific guidance on the detailed construction of rent rebate scales than has been the practice in the past. Whatever guidance we issue, we shall certainly stress very strongly that the actual scale of rebates, like the standard rents, must be adapted to local needs and circumstances.

One could not possibly devise a uniform scheme that would suit all authorities equally well. There must be room for adaptation to local conditions. We can illustrate how a typical scheme might work, but we do not suggest that one scheme will meet every case. This is something which only the responsible local authority can judge, and it should be regarded as a vitally important part of its responsibility for housing management and rental policy.

The Bill provides for greatly increased housing subsidies and the White Paper made the Government's views perfectly clear, that these and the subsidies still payable under earlier legislation must be used to ensure that the most help is given to those who most need it. That is what housing subsidies are for, that is what rent rebate schemes are about. We have made it clear that the introduction of these new subsidies provides an opportunity for authorities to review their rent structure, and to initiate rent rebate schemes, if they do not already have them, or to revise existing schemes if necessary.

I believe that local authorities will do this, and will recognise it as part of their responsibility for housing as a major social service—the only one perhaps where they retain such a wide degree of independent responsibility. I should be very reluctant to detract from that responsibility. None of the debates on this Bill have convinced me that there is any need to take the powers which this Amendment offers, and I would ask the House to reject it.

Mr. Lubbock

The Minister has given the House a very reasonable argument for not accepting this Lords Amendment. I certainly endorse it in spite of the fact that I am a firm believer in proper rent rebate schemes. I am delighted to have the reaffirmation by the Minister of the policy enunciated in the White Paper on Housing for 1965–70, which meets with the approval of all hon. Members. The question is how to give effect to it.

We must consider carefully whether we want to impose on local authorities some kind of uniform scheme and whether this is the right way of doing it. The wording of the Amendment is impossibly vague and I do not know how local authorities could carry it out. It is only a slight improvement on the Amendment we considered on Report, when we were speaking of an economic rent, which would have been quite impracticable and would have placed on local authorities a difficulty of interpretation which this House should not require of the 1,400 housing authorities in the country.

Mr. Channon

Can the hon. Member explain why, in another place, his noble Friends who are members of the Liberal Party voted for this Amendment?

Mr. Lubbock

Of course I can. The hon. Member must not think that I have not read the debates in another place with the greatest care, just as my noble Friends when they considered the Amendment moved by Lord Brooke of Cumnor no doubt considered our Amendment on Report. I do not think that there is any difference between us.

The hon. Member should not try to make a political point in this way. My noble Friends and we in this House agree entirely that rent rebate schemes are an absolute necessity. The only thing that divides us, on consideration of this Amendment, is whether this is the most practical way of doing it. We have had the opportunity of considering at leisure the speeches made in another place. No doubt they had to consider on the spur of the moment what was said by Lord Brooke of Cumnor and by the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Kennet, and make up their minds whether this particular Amendment gave effect to the sort of scheme they would like to see.

They took a certain view and I make no secret of the fact that, after mature consideration and taking such advice as was available time, I think that they were wrong. I hope to be able to persuade them at leisure that the view I am expressing now is probably the correct one. Are we to say that all rebate schemes throughout the country should be of a single character? I ask hon. Members to consider what the rebate schemes operated by local authorities are like at the moment. There are immense discrepancies in them, far greater than can be warranted by local circumstances.

I refer to the table on page 23 of the Housing Statistics for 1965–66 published by the I.M.T.A. I have done a quick calculation of the number of rebates granted by various authorities in Greater London expressed as a number of the total rented properties in the housing pool. I shall not read the whole table but, for example, in the City of London the number of rebates granted as a percentage of the number of properties in the ownership of the local authority is no less than 51½ and in Greater London Council 39,048 rebates were granted in 1965–66, which is 17.8 per cent. of the total number of properties. In the London Borough of Bromley, which happens to be my own authority, the figure is 6.9 per cent. and in Islington the percentage is less than 6.

10.0 p.m.

Does anybody seriously suggest that the differences of social distribution in these authorities in the nature of the properties in their rented pool are such that these enormous discrepancies are warranted by the circumstances? I greatly fear that if any uniform pattern were imposed by the central Government we would have this sort of situation perpetuated. I would much prefer to see guidance issued, as the Minister has said he proposes to do, so that local authorities can come to a conclusion on the basis of their own local circumstances. I hope that that guidance will not be too long delayed.

One thing which I would say in criticism of the Government is that they have been in office for two and a half years, during which they have consistently said that they follow this policy of rent rebate schemes, which will give great assistance to those in greatest need, and yet the working party has still to publish its report and the circular on which its advice is based has not yet seen the light of day.

I would like to know from the Minister whether we can have an opportunity of seeing the report of the working party and whether he might be able to make advance copies of the circular available to those hon. Members who are interested. I know that it is not normally the practice to make available the reports of departmental working parties, but in view of the general interest which has been excited and the political controversy which has arisen concerning rent rebates, we should see the reasoning on which the circular is based.

I am sure that in this, at least, I will carry the occupants of the Conservative Front Bench with me. If we look only at the circular, we will not be able to see the reasoning which has gone into the solution, how the discussion has developed between the Minister and the local authorities and on exactly what basis the advice which he gives has been based. I therefore seriously suggest to the Minister that not only should we be shown draft copies of the circular before it is issued to local authorities, but, also, that the report of the working party might be placed in the Library of the House so that we can all have an opportunity to study it.

Such schemes as these are urgently needed. Here is something on which we can all agree. When a similar Amendment was discussed in another place, the Minister's noble Friend, Lord Kennet, referred to the family expenditure survey of 1965–66. If we look at the payments by households for rent, rates, water and insurance of structure, as shown on pages 30 and 31, we find that in the case of households occupying local authority houses those payments are highly regressive in character.

Towards the top of the scale there is a levelling off from a payment of 42.86s. for families with an income of from £25 to £30 to 49.11s. for families in which the household's income is £50 or more. It is a very small rise as one gets into the upper income brackets. At the bottom of the table, however, one finds that families with an income of less than £5 pay 24.24s. per week in rent, rates, etc., and families with an income of more than £5 but less than £10 pay 31.66s. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Ken-net, pointed out, for these families on very small incomes of less than £500 a year, rent and rates represent no less than £1 in £5 of their household income.

That is why I consider that rent rebate schemes are an urgent necessity. I know of a lot of people who have recently moved into some modern properties in my constituency and who find the rents extremely difficult to cope with, even with the existing rent rebate scheme which we have in the London Borough of Bromley. There are men earning perhaps £12 or £13 a week who are quite incapable of paying the rents which have to be demanded by a local authority for new high-rise—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will not pusue this in too much detail. We are discussing a specific Amendment, as he knows.

Mr. Lubbock

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was about to conclude with this one example. A person earning £12 or £13 a week is not in a position to pay a rent of £4 10s. a week, which is what has to be demanded by a local authority for a new three-bedroomed flat in a high-rise block situated in an outer London borough. That is why I say to the Minister that rent rebate schemes are urgently needed, and I welcome the speech which he has just made saying that he hopes, by the guidance given to local authorities, to see that such schemes are more widely introduced. I understand that only about half the country's housing authorities have rent rebate schemes, and that is a shocking indictment of local authorities.

I am not entirely opposed to the idea of making some kind of rent rebate schemes mandatory on local authorities, as long as they are not specified too closely. We may have to come to that in the end if the guidance which the right hon. Gentleman gives following the consideration of the working party is not effective in seeing that they are introduced. However, this Amendment, with its vague and impossible wording, is something which I could not recommend the House to accept, any more than my hon. Friends and I could accept a similar Amendment which was moved by the Tories on Report stage in this House—

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that what he is now doing is accepting the Amendment put forward by the Opposition on Second Reading, when we said that we thought that there ought to be rent rebate schemes, though not in any particular form? Surely—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to protect the House. We are not discussing rent rebate schemes in general. We are discussing an Amendment of the other place which says that, if the aid is not given to people who need it, there shall be no subsidy.

Mr. Rippon

With respect, Mr. Speaker, that is the whole point, and I am asking the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) to agree that that is what we have been arguing all along. We have said that there should not be rent rebate schemes in a particular form and that, therefore, there has to be an Amendment in terms like this so that local authorities can put forward their schemes, and the Minister must decide whether they are reasonable. That is the only alternative to what the hon. Gentleman said we ought to do, and that is to take the bull by the horns and impose rent rebate schemes on local authorities.

Mr. Lubbock

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) would refer to my own speech on Second Reading which he will find reported in columns 741 and 742. In the course of it, I made a point very similar to the one which he has just made. I do not think that the difference between us is one of principle. We are agreed that rent rebate schemes of some kind are a necessity and should be introduced by every local authority. I am saying that we should allow the Minister to issue this Circular in the hope that it will be effective in influencing local authorities to introduce schemes which will take account of local circumstances and will not impose on him, unless he can help it, the burden of vetting 1,400 different rent rebate schemes which may be submitted to him by all the housing authorities.

I agree with the criticism which was made in another place that, if one is to make the receipt of subsidy conditional on the introduction of a scheme which is acceptable to the Minister, it cannot be confined to this Act and exclude all other Acts by previous Governments under which subsidies are paid to local authorities. This is an unanswerable argument, and if we are to impose some kind of financial sanction such as that suggested in this Amendment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot, on this Amendment, amend the other Acts to which he refers.

Mr. Lubbock

I know, Mr. Speaker, and that is precisely the objection to the Amendment made in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. He was saying that it was illogical on the part of the Tory Opposition to suggest that these subsidies—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not concerned with what was said in another place. The hon. Member must come to the Amendment.

Mr. Lubbock

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. What is in order in another place is not in order here.

The Opposition have not made out their case, on the grounds that I have mentioned. I hope that they will see fit not to vote for the Amendment, realising that there is no difference between the three parties in the House on the need for sensible rent rebate schemes, but that the way they propose to impose them on local authorities is not acceptable, either to the House or to the country.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Mr. Speaker, a few minutes ago you gave the House a brief but valuable lecture on privilege. I hope that I shall not offend against any rules of the House if I say that I think the Amendment is a piece of impertinence by the House of Lords. If I may say so, they are objecting to the giving of a subsidy having lived on subsidies for the whole of their lives.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the good relationship which exists between the two Chambers of the British Parliament.

Mr. Allaun

I thought that I might in some way be offending against Parliamentary rights.

Like hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Lords in their Amendment really want higher rents, but they are masking this unpopular business of raising rents by covering the suggestion with a proposal for a differential rent scheme, or a rent scheme of this kind, to make the proposal look more respectable.

This is an extremely valuable Bill, and I think that the Amendment is an attempt to flout its intentions. I say that for three reasons. First, it has been the traditional policy, certainly on this side of the House, to let local authorities decide what kind of rent rebate schemes they will pursue. I think that it would be a most reactionary step if there were interference with the rights of local authorities to decide what kind of rent rebate schemes, if any, they wished to apply.

Secondly, the rate contribution by many local authorities is very considerable. I know of local authorities which are contributing £2 per week per house, and will do so for the next 60 years. If they wish to do so, good luck to them. Why should the Bill dictate to them what kind of system they should apply when they are prepared to make sacrifices of this kind?

Thirdly, hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are really asking for some kind of means test in the application of the Bill, do not require any form of means test to be carried out with regard to farming subsidies. They do not inquire into the income of farmers to decide who should get the subsidy. Why, therefore, should they do so in respect of tenants? All mortgage payers receive an Income Tax allowance, and I do not therefore see why tenants should compulsorily have their means investigated in this way.

Finally, I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will vote on the Amendment. If they do, they will offend not only many tenants, but many Conservative local authorities who would object as strongly as we are doing this evening if the Amendment were carried.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)

I shall speak only for two minutes because I do not want to delay business. I merely want to say mat the new Clause enshrines the principle of fairness between one tenant and another, both of whom are ratepayers. This point requires to be made clear.

Further, the Clause in no way affects the discretion of local authorities. There is no question of being grandmotherly towards them, as has been suggested. If there is any suggestion of sending out a model rent rebate scheme, it can only be in a form which provides assistance to local authorities by ensuring mat all the pros and cons of the scheme have been considered, and it has been manifestly shown to the tenants that the scheme as presented to them by their local authority, compared to that which might come out through official channels, is fair all the way round.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

The new Clause does not merely ask for a mandatory rebate scheme; part and parcel of it is the imposition of a means test and an inquisition of every council tenant. Council tenants who are to vote next Thursday are entitled to know whether this is the policy of the Tory Party. That is the first objection to the Clause.

Secondly, it imposes upon council tenants a burden which is not at present applied to owner-occupiers and mortgagees. They do not have to undergo a means test. They receive their mortgage relief, which is to be extended to those in the lower income groups. The bigger the mortgage, presumably the more relief is given, so that the richer man benefits most. It is a means test in reverse. Until recently the only people who did not receive relief were those in the lower income groups. This is a form of inequity between council tenants and owner-occupiers.

Thirdly, as the Clause stands it is meaningless. We have had an argument about economic rents and have asked hon. Members opposite what they meant by that phrase, and they did not know. What does "rent relief" mean to anybody who knows anything about local housing finance? Several millions of houses have been built at different times and at different costs, with different rates of interest, although they usually come within the same Consolidated Fund. Different Acts provide different subsidies. How can any council unravel the situation to the extent of knowing whether a tenant is receiving relief? It is nonsense.

In the City of Birmingham many prewar houses and many post-war houses are showing a profit to the council. How can it decide who is getting relief? the subsidy goes not to the house or to the tenant; it goes into the local authority's housing revenue account, and is used for many purposes. It is used for patched-up houses, and sometimes for half-way houses, for housing the homeless. It is used for many other things which have nothing to do with council tenants. I do not see how any council can hope to unravel the situation.

The Clause is complete nonsense. To the extent that it is comprehensible it is grossly inequitable. The Opposition cannot intelligently support such a Clause, and I hope that the House will reject it, even if there is a vote on it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) made much of a distinction between relief for the home owner and that for the council tenant, but the latter gets relief on someone else's money, and the former—if he gets it of, all—on his own. There is a good deal of difference—

Mr. Julius Silverman

There is no difference whatever. In both cases, the taxpayer is worse off and the person who gets relief is better off.

Mr. Griffiths

I would tell the hon. Member—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is as far as we can pursue that byway.

Mr. Griffiths

I support the spirit of the Amendment, though I have some doubt about its wording. The Minister was eloquent about not waving a big stick at local authorities. It is rich that an Administration which sends out Circulars on many subjects—not least comprehensive schools—should plead now that they do not wish to wave a big stick.

The point of the Amendment is that local authorities need guidance, many have asked for guidance and they have not been given guidance. Although the words are not appropriate in these circumstances—although they are ingenious, if not even witty—if the Government have had the Working Party's Report for two months, it is high time that the House knew their conclusions and local authorities received the guidance which the Amendment suggests and which the Government have so far failed to give.

The Minister referred to the maxim that most help should be given to those who need it most. The only logical corollary is that least help should be given to those who need it least. I would go further and say that no help should be given to those who do not need it at all. Unfortunately, many council house tenants do not need help and are consistently getting it at the community's expense. This cannot be right, and their Lordships in their wisdom have offered us an Amendment which enables the Government to give some direction on this matter.

The wording is not clear enough or satisfactory, but I should have preferred the Government to take the initiative, as I hope they shortly will. I was most grateful to hear your advice, Mr. Speaker, on the constitutional point, when you explained what Privilege meant. I now understand clearly, after listening to the Liberal spokesman, that that apparently means that the Liberal Party can say one thing in the House of Lords and something entirely different in the House of Commons.

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) made a penetrating remark about the Liberal Party, but he has it wrong. In fact, they say the same thing in both Houses, but both different ways—

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Gentleman has had some innocent fun at our expense. I would ask him to look at the debate on a similar Amendment on Report in this House, which will show him that our attitude in the Commons has been consistent then and now.

Mr. Channon rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Honours are even. We now come to the Amendment.

Mr. Channon

I turn then, Mr. Speaker, from the Liberal Party to the Government's attitude. The House would not expect me to speak at any length at this stage—

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

Why not?

Mr. Channon

If the right hon. Gentleman is inviting me to do so, I should be glad to follow his wish.

It is our universal opinion that the Minister's speech was doctrinaire and disappointing. There is no doubt that, of the Lords Amendments, this is by far the most important and is an attempt, as the Minister said, by my noble Friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to get back to the original intentions of housing subsidies.

The Minister quoted from his father's circular issued in 1930. Perhaps my noble Friend had that in mind in wishing to get back to the original intentions because the circular of 1930 issued by Mr. Arthur Greenwood, Circular No. 1138, referred to … the clear intention of Parliament that the new grant shall not inure to persons for whom it is not needed. The grant, together with the prescribed rate charge, should be regarded as a pool out of which such abatements or other special arrangements in regard to rent as the local authority propose may be financed. Rent relief should be given only to those who need it and for so long as they need it. That was Labour Party policy in 1930, when the Minister's father was in office. I regret that, in spite of the words of the Minister tonight, his intention seems extremely unclear.

The Minister is wrong to say that all hon. Members are agreed about rent rebate schemes. I have great doubts about whether the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) are agreed.

Mr. Julius Silverman

The hon. Gentleman heard me say in Committee that I support the rent rebate schemes.

Mr. Channon

If that is the hon. Gentleman's view, why does he complain when I support them? Whenever I get to my feet to support them the hon. Gentleman says, in effect, "You are attacking council house tenants. You are making a disgraceful speech". That has been the hon. Gentleman's attitude at all stages of the Bill.

Mr. Julius Silverman

The hon. Gentleman should read what I said. I specifically said that I support rent rebate schemes. I mentioned with approval the fact that the Labour Council in Birmingham had introduced such a scheme. There is no necessity for the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me.

Mr. Channon

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have misrepresented him, and I will of course read exactly what he has said on many occasions on this matter. I understand that he is in favour of the Birmingham scheme because the Labour Party introduced it there, but that he is against the introduction of such schemes elsewhere.

Paragraph 41 of the Government's White Paper, The Housing Programme 1965 to 1970—published not last month or three months ago, but in November, 1965; we had a different Minister who, though he published these fine words, did little to achieve their objective—stated: Help for those who most need it can be given only if the subsidies are in large part used to provide rebates for tenants whose means are small. A number of authorities have had the courage to adopt thorough-going rent rebate schemes and have found that it does not entail raising general rent levels beyond the means of the majority of their tenants. The more generous subsidies now to be provided create an opportunity for all authorities to review their rent policies along these lines". That was Government policy in November, 1965—

Mr. Crossman

Hear, hear.

Mr. Channon

—I am glad to have the confirmation of the Leader of the House.

But the Government did nothing about it. Their Working Party was not set up until November, 1966, a year after the White Paper was published. A great deal of time had gone by and nothing at all had been done about the problem.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a substantial number of housing authorities have just fallen to the Conservative Party and that, for all I know, many more may fall this week? What is to stop them introducing rent rebate schemes if they now want to do so? Is he asking that the Labour Government should force them to introduce such schemes, so that the Labour Party could take the criticism and discredit and should do the dirty work for them?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman obviously thinks that the introduction of rent rebate schemes is dirty work.

Mr. Rhodes

Many rent rebate schemes brought in by Conservative-controlled councils have been very discreditableindeed.

Mr. Channon

That is an interesting point of view and one which the hon. Gentleman should have substantiated earlier. It is all very well for him to come into the debate almost at its conclusion, not having taken part in our discussion—

Mr. Rhodes

I have been present since the debate started. I did not intervene until the hon. Gentleman made those remarks.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman has expressed his view and it tends to support my view, that local authorities should introduce rent rebate schemes of a satisfactory nature. We shall see what happens when the many Conservative local authorities have the opportunity to implement Conservative policy on this and many other matters during the years which lie ahead.

10.30 p.m.

I put a question to the Minister while he was speaking which he did not answer. Tonight, as though it were a great triumph for the Government, he said that the working party had reported. It reported two months ago. What has happened? When will we have some results? I suppose, to use the words of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes), that we have to wait until the local elections are over before the Government take any action because they are afraid of the odium resulting from the dirty work which may be entailed. The hon. Gentleman's own Government has been waiting for two months until the local elections are over before telling us what the conclusions of the working party are.

Mr. Lubbock

I am as enthusiastic as the hon. Gentleman is to see a circular issued, but am I not right in saying that before issuing it the Minister ought to consult local authorities about the working party's report?

Mr. Channon

Certainly. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), but I would have accepted the Government's enthusiasm more readily if they had started this in 1965, if they had done something about it in 12 months instead of waiting.

Mr. Rhodes

The Tories had 13 years.

Mr. Channon

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to go on interrupting, this debate may last a substantial time.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) must contain himself a little.

Mr. Channon

To move to a quieter vein, it is common ground between the two sides of the House that there is considerable unfairness in this matter. There is considerable unfairness and considerable feeling between tenants of privately owned and tenants of local authority accommodation and we on this side of the House wish to strike a fair balance. At no stage have the Government denied the figures which I gave during the Committee and Report stages, for example, of the Greater London area, where the average income of local authority tenants was £25 a week and the average rent £2 5s.

Rents in the public and private sectors are in a state of chaos, as every impartial observer who has made any study of the issue will agree. What we want to achieve is equity. No one on this side of the House has suggested that there should be a rigid or inflexible scheme designed for all local authorities in the country, and any hon. Member who imagines that that has been our view, has not read what we have said throughout these debates.

We know that local circumstances vary greatly and certainly none of my hon. Friends has suggested a blanket scheme or a uniform pattern being imposed throughout the country.

Mr. Frank Allaun

That is what they want.

Mr. Channon

That is not what I want. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman cannot understand what I am saying. I am saying that that is not what I want.

I refer hon. Members again to the last edition of the official journal, Housing, of the Institute of Housing Managers, which repeats many of the figures which are known about this problem. It refers to the joint working party set up by the Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Institute of Housing Managers, and many other learned societies and which has been quoted before. It should be appreciated that it says that out of 983 local authorities, 275 still charge maximum rents of less than 30s. a week for a postwar three-bedroomed house.

Mr. Frank Allaun


Mr. Channon

It has been conclusively proved that there is no substantial difference between the incomes of tenants in private property and those of tenants in local authority accommodation. If anything, the evidence which exists goes to show that the tenants of private property are, if anything, worse off.

The truth of the matter is that the Government are afraid to implement the courage of their own convictions on this issue. I cannot say what the attitude of the Liberal Party is, because, frankly, it has been inexplicable at all stages. The hon. Member for Orpington on Second Reading asked my right hon. Friends to take the bull by the horns and have a mandatory rent rebate scheme.

Mr. Speaker

It would not be out of order if the hon. Gentleman came to the Amendment.

Mr. Channon

I shall not mention the Liberal Party again.

Mr. Lubbock

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Channon

I hope that it will be in order.

Mr. Lubbock

I said again this evening that I would not object to a mandatory rent rebate scheme if the circular which the Minister proposes to issue is not effective in persuading local authorities to introduce sensible rent rebate schemes on their own.

Mr. Channon

Then perhaps honours are even at this stage.

The truth is that the Government have been afraid at all stages of the Bill, on the many occasions when this issue has been raise, to act on their own convictions. They are afraid of their hon. Friends below the Gangway. Ministers believe in rent rebate schemes like this, but they do not have the courage of their own convictions, and are not prepared to put into effect sensible policies such as my right hon. and hon. Friends have proposed here and in another place. We on this side believe in the good sense of the Amendment, and will certainly press the matter to a Division.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has repeated almost word for word what he said on this subject in Committee. I have been checking whether he has added one original remark, but there is none. The Opposition put down an Amendment in Committee in almost exactly the same terms as this, and I told them then that we on this side are unanimous in the belief that rent rebate schemes should be applied by local authorities.

The question is: what does a rent rebate scheme mean? When one looks at all the schemes that are in existence one finds, among other things, differential rent schemes in which individuals are asked to declare every penny they earn before their rent is decided. There are other so-called rent rebate schemes in which, out of a total of 8,000 tenants, only six get a rebate. Is that what is called a rent rebate scheme?

When we were asked in Committee to bring in mandatory legislation to insist on rent rebate schemes I asked hon. Members opposite what they meant by their schemes, and to that question we have had no answer whatsoever. We have had a great deal of humbug from the party opposite—and more than our share. Hon. Members opposite were in power for 13 years—did they ever bring in legislation laying down that local authorities should have such scheme—

Mr. Murton rose

Mr. Mellish

Not yet—wait a minute. I am just getting under way.

Hon. Members now say, after we have been in power for only just over two years that we are failing in our duty. I repeat what I said in the Committee. We set up a working party of local government officials to investigate the whole potential of rent rebate schemes. It was only set up last November, and it has done a first-class job. It has investigated virtually every scheme of which there is knowledge, and has now put forward certain proposals.

Hon. Members opposite have the impertinence to say we have had the report for two months and what are the final suggestions to be. The answer is that the working party went into principles, and has suggested to us certain ways in which it believes that rent rebate schemes should be applied. We, as a Department, and my officers, have worked out the detail of the principles and are now submitting them to the local authority associations. I have to tell the hon. Member for Southend, West that it is the intention of the Government to present the guide lines for rent rebate schemes in June.

It has to be remembered that, first of all, we have to be concerned with the regions. What may well be a good rent rebate scheme for London and the South-East might not possibly apply to the regions. That is one of the difficulties. In some areas—and I put this to the Liberal Party—it may not be practicable to have a rent rebate scheme because the salaries there are fairly uniform, and that is known before we start. Therefore, to say, in legislation, "Thou shalt not get subsidies unless you have a rent rebate scheme" in an area where a scheme would not be valid—what sort of rubbish is that? Against that background, I say that the Amendment is quite unacceptable to the Government.

Mr. Murton

The hon. Gentleman suggested that someone had said that rent rebate schemes should be mandatory. That was never suggested by anyone on this side.

Mr. Mellish

Then I do not know what the Amendment is all about. As I understand, it says that every local authority shall have a rent rebate scheme. That is what the Amendment means if words mean anything. It grants rent relief only to tenants who need it. It means a rent rebate scheme of a kind.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) asked whether we would publish the working party's report. The report takes the form of a short but important report and a draft circular, which we shall be issuing with the recommendations to the local authorities. The report represents the discussions of officials. It was never intended that the working party, when it went into the discussion, should have a report published. It is confidential between the Ministry and the officials who worked on it, and, eventually, the local authority associations.

I have to say, therefore, that it is not my right hon. Friend's intention to publish the report as such. When we issue the draft circular the basis on which we are asking local authorities to implement fair and honourable rent rebate schemes will be made perfectly clear. We shall go further and give a considerable number of examples of individual families and their earnings and how rent rebate shall be offered. We have gone to a great deal of trouble about this because we think it right and proper that in implementing a rent rebate scheme local authorities should know that what the Government have in mind.

Many of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Southend, West, might well be asked of this Government in one year's time, especially in regard to what local authorities have implemented rent rebate schemes on the guide lines laid down by the Government. But the hon. Gentleman has no right to ask them tonight in view of the Conservative Party's record. If we vote—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mellish

If it is important.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that all that one can attempt to do at this stage is to indicate the principles on which rent rebate schemes might be based. Would he not agree that the principle that the rebate should go to tenants who need it and to the extent that they need it is a perfectly fair principle? That is what their lordships have offered us.

Mr. Mellish

I am back on my earlier point, that one could not impose upon some local authorities in some parts of the country a compulsory rent rebate scheme. By implication, the Amendment does exactly that. Indeed, the Conservative Party has said so.

I am arguing that we must first send out our guide lines on what we believe to be rent rebate schemes. I hope that when they have been published some existing rent rebate schemes will be withdrawn and abolished by some authorities—I have in mind both Labour and Conservative authorities—and new schemes applied. The questions raised should be asked of the Government not at this moment but in one year's time after the guide lines have been published.

If this matter goes to a vote, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote again the Lords Amendment.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 90.

Division No. 336.] AYES [10.45 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Gourlay, Harry Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Alldritt, Walter Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Anderson, Donald Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Morris, John (Aberavon)
Archer, Peter Grey, Charles (Durham) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Armstrong, Ernest Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Murray, Albert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Neal, Harold
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Hannan, William Newens, Stan
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Harper, Joseph Norwood, Christopher
Beaney, Alan Haseldine, Norman Oakes, Gordon
Bence, Cyril Hazell, Bert O'Malley, Brian
Bidwell, Sydney Heffer, Eric S. Oram, Albert E.
Binns, John Henig, Stanley Orme, Stanley
Blenkinsop, Arthur Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Oswald, Thomas
Booth, Albert Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hooley, Frank Pavitt, Laurence
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pentland, Norman
Brooks, Edwin Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Price, William (Rugby)
Brown, Bob(N'c't1e-upon-Tyne,W.) Howie, W. Probert, Arthur
Brown, R. w. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Huckfield, L. Rankin, John
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Roy (Newport) Reynolds, G. W.
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hunter, Adam Rhodes, Geoffrey
Carmichael, Neil Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Richard, Ivor
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Concannon, J. D. Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Conlan, Bernard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W. Ham, S.) Roebuck, Roy
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Rose, Paul
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Kelley, Richard Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Kenyon, Clifford Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Davies, Ednyted Hudson (Conway) Lawson, George Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Leadbitter, Ted Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Leator, Miss Joan Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Delargy, Hugh Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Dempsey, James Lipton, Marcus Slater, Joseph
Dickens, James Lomas, Kenneth Small, William
Dobson, Ray Loughlin, Charles Spriggs, Leslie
Doig, Peter Lubbock, Eric Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Swingler, Stephen
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Tinn, James
Eadie, Alex McBride, Neil Urwin, T. W.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) MacColl, James Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) MacDermot, Niall Wallace, George
English, Michael McGuire, Michael Watkins, David (Consett)
Ennals, David Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Wellbeloved, James
Ensor, David McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Whitlock, William
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) McNamara, J. Kevin Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) MacPherson, Malcolm Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fernyhough, E. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Finch, Harold Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Manuel, Archie Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mellish, Robert Winterbottom, R. E.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mendelson, J. J. Woof, Robert
Ford, Ben Millan, Bruce Yates, Victor
Fraser, John (Norwood) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Galpern, Sir Myer Milne, Edward (Blyth) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gardner, Tony Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Mr. Alan Fitch and
Garrett, W. E. Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Mr. Walter Harrison.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Campbell, Gordon Eyre, Reginald
Awdry, Daniel Channon, H. P. G. Fortescue, Tim
Baker, W. H. K. Chichester-Clark, R. Galbraith, Hon. T. G.
Bossom, Sir Clive Clegg, Walter Glyn, Sir Richard
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cooke, Robert Gower, Raymond
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Grant, Anthony
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Grant-Ferris, R.
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Gresham Cooke, R.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M) Doughty, Charles Grieve, Percy
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Burden, F. A. Emery, Peter Gurden, Harold
Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh) Miscampbell, Norman Russell, Sir Ronald
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Scott, Nicholas
Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector Sharples, Richard
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Montgomery, Fergus Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Heseltine, Michael Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Sinclair, Sir George
Hiley, Joseph Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Smith, John
Hirst, Geoffrey Murton, Oscar Taylor,EdwardM.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Holland, Philip Nott, John Tilney, John
Hordern, Peter Peel, John Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hunt, John Percival, Ian van Straubenzee, W. R.
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pink, R. Bonner Walters, Dennis
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pym, Francis Webster, David
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wells, John (Maidstone)
Knight, Mrs. Jill Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
MacArthur, Ian Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Maddan, Martin Ridsdale, Julian Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Mr. Timothy Kitson and
Mr. Anthony Royle.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.