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Rents And Incomes

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the ratio of the average local authority house rent to the average household income in Scotland for the year 1973.

Will the Minister say whether those figures include rents rebated? Does he recognise that if rebated rents are taken into account this may be an extremely low figure? Does it not justify the provisions of the Housing Finance Act? Would it not be more realistic to stand by those provisions and to use the resources thus saved for the building of badly-needed houses?

One thing we are not convinced about is that the 1972 Act, whatever other virtues it may have, produced more housing for the Scottish people. On the specific point raised by the right hon. Lady, the figures are taken from the family expenditure survey of 1973 and relate to rebated rents. The ratio between rents and income has been increasing. The figures require a lot more study before we can justify any excessive increases in local authority rents.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Scottish tenants were very grateful for the rents freeze implemented by the Labour Government? Will he, in turn, congratulate Scottish Labour local authorities which, over the years, have managed to keep rents of council houses at a reasonable level? Will he tell my constituent the right hon. Member for Renfrewshire East) Miss Harvie Anderson), that it ill behoves those who live in large country mansions to criticise the rent levels of council tenants who are obliged to live in much humbler circumstances?

There has been a unanimous welcome by local authorities for our decision to give back to them freedom to determine their own rent levels. Most constituents—unfortunately, not all of them—voted for us at the last election. Most council tenants, not because they are council tenants, certainly appreciated the freeze on rents which was introduced as part of the counter-inflation measures.

Does the Minister agree that the average income of private tenants living in private rented accommodation is less than the average income of those living in council houses? In those circumstances, why are the Labour Party and he himself, as Minister in charge of the recent Bill, still supporting an unjust system, under which those who are poorer support those who are richer?

I challenge some of the assumptions behind that question. Many people in the private sector pay rents which are far too high for the type of slum accommodation in which they live. I would rather approach the matter on the basis of being fair, As a general rule, it is not wise to hand out public money unless there is a proven need for it. There are other sections of the community in which no income tests are applied—including owner-occupiers—so it is very difficult to generalise and apply a policy in an attempt to be fair to all sections. I am convinced that we have the right housing policies for the people of Scotland.