asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied that water authorities are exercising due economies in order to keep increases in water charges as low as possible.
My right hon. Friend has asked water authorities to do everything possible to keep down their charges. I have no reason to believe that they are not heeding that advice.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Welsh National Water Development Authority, through a process of equalising its costs in one year, has brought about a situation in which the rate increase in my constituency is over 143 per cent.? Is he able to do anything about that? Cannot he persuade the authority to equalise its costs, as other water authorities have done, over a number of years?
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend. However, the Water Act 1973 requires authorities to break even taking one year with another. As regards equalisation, there is no way in which my right hon. Friend can intervene with a specific authority. Influencing the authorities is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
Is the Minister aware that water authorities in various parts of the country have put up their rates, and intend to do so again, to a degree which is extremely worrying both to those who are connected to mains water and drainage and to those who are not? Will he give a greater assurance than he was able to give in reply to the original Question asked by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) that he will do his utmost to impress upon authorities the need to restrain short-term capital plans which are not essential?
I am certain that my right hon. Friend and the Minister responsible for water have done their best to impress that on the authorities. Unfortunately, under the terms of the Water Act 1973—which was not of our making—it is not possible for my right hon. Friend to intervene about charges levied by water authorities.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the serious concern which has been expressed to Members of Parliament representing Manchester at the continuing departure of the North West Water Authority from the national recommendations on the calculation of general service and water charges, and their failure to implement assurances which they gave to local authorities in December to rectify the anomaly caused in assessing charges for the current year? Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Manchester area the percentage increase in domestic charges in 1974–75 is 62 per cent.?
I am aware of the level of the increase and of the difficulties faced by some of the Greater Manchester districts. I shall look at what my hon. Friend has said.
Is the Minister aware that the county of Herefordshire falls within the area of the Welsh National Water Development Authority? Will he consider increasing the rate support grant for Herefordshire to that for Wales, which currently receives 37p in the pound compared with 18·5p in the pound received by Herefordshire, thus equalising the water rate burden?
I am aware of the anomaly. Herefordshire and Worcestershire come under the Welsh National Water Development Authority. I cannot give that assurance today. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am meeting a delegation from Herefordshire tomorrow.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the cost of the supply of water ; and what is the average increase in the cost of water rates in the United Kingdom during the year ending 5th April 1976.
The 1973 Water Act provides that it is for water authorities to decide what level of charges is required to meet their statutory obligation to break even, taking one year with another. I understand that the average increase in the authorities' water supply charges in England and Wales is likely to be of the order of 41 per cent.
Is the Minister aware that the increase in the domestic water rate for water supply by the Eastbourne Waterworks Company for the current year is 53 per cent.? Does he agree that the present system for levying water rate is regressive, unjust and unfair and should be scrapped?
We are looking at all the water authorities in the course of a two-year review. I repeat, however, that the creation of water authorities is not our doing. Many of the difficulties which this House and ratepayers face result from the Water Act 1973. I am aware of the position in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. However, in defence of water authorities, I must say that they were left with a considerable burden since 47 per cent. of their expenditure is to service capital debts. They were created naked by our predecessors, and now the public,have to pay for that creation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a difference in the amount of water used for flushing lavatories in Scotland and England? In the interests of achieving lower costs, will he press for uniformity between the two countries on the lower level, even if he gets opposition from the Scottish National Party on grounds of devolution?
I am afraid that water is a subject which I never think of in connection with Scotland.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when it is his intention to introduce the Bill on Land.
The Community Land Bill was introduced on 12th March.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the supply of land is vital to the continuing supply of houses and of industrial and commercial developments and that the uncertainty following the delay in bringing forward the Bill has had a further unsettling effect? Does he recognise that the previous changes in policy have been extremely unsettling as regards the continuing supply of houses? In view of the reservations and counter-proposals which have been put forward by the professional bodies and others concerned with land, would it not be appropriate to refer this Bill to a Select Committee of the House to see whether we can arrive at a policy which will be generally acceptable instead of one which is subject to further change?
I accept that the supply of land for building and development is vital. I cannot accept that last suggestion about arriving at a non-party agreement, since the land issue has traditionally divided the parties, right and left, in this and in many other countries. As regards his other supplementary question, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, because we have taken great trouble in the transitional provisions and in other ways to make certain that the supply of land will not be inhibited or held back by the Bill.
From the opposite point of view, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that it is vital to take into public ownership quickly and cheaply a large amount of land which is needed for housing, with a short transitional period and with few exemptions? Would not that show the public the great benefit that would ensure and also make it much harder for a Conservative Government, should there be one, subsequently to unscramble the Act?
I think that the transitional provisions that we have made are essential to avoid the risk to which the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) drew attention. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), however, I should like the transitional period to be as short as possible. How long it lasts must depend not on the Government but on how quickly the local authorities can gear themselves to carry out the task laid down for them in the Bill.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he has said is not historically true? The 1947 Act, probably the greatest Act in the last two decades, was passed with the consent of both parties. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many Acts since then have been passed by one party or the other? Whichever side was right or wrong, this perpetual change from year to year has done more harm than anything else.
The House always respects the hon. Gentleman's non-partisan attitude to our political affairs. However, the guts of the 1947 Act were repealed as soon as the Conservatives came back to power, and the 1967 Land Commission Act was also repealed as soon as the Conservatives came back to power.
Is not one of the principal difficulties faced by local authorities in solving the severe housing crisis the high cost of building land? Until it is brought into public ownership the problem will not be solved.
My hon. Friend has put the matter extremely lucidly and accurately.
Regents Park (Tree Felling)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many more mature trees in Regents Park his Department is proposing to fell.
Two poplars which are leaning dangerously at the edge of the lake near Flower Bridge in the Clarence Gate area. The remaining 22 horse chestnuts in Broad Walk (South) are coming to the end of their life and will probably be replaced within about five years.
Can the Minister explain why only visual inspection was made of the trees before they were pulled down and why there was no tree surgery to protect the public from falling branches when they were being pulled down? Can he explain, further, why he failed to consult Westminster City Council and Camden Borough Council before taking the action he did?
The park superintendent inspects all trees twice a year, and the Department is advised on these matters by the Committee on Forestry of the Royal Parks. It is that committee's recommendation that we are following.
the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he can take to assist local authorities suffering from land shortage for house building within their own boundaries.
I am not aware of any additional assistance which is required by local authorities to ensure that they make the most appropriate use of available land within their boundaries or beyond them. The Housing, the Town Development and the New Towns Acts all make provision for housing development elsewhere to meet housing needs which cannot be satisfied locally.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the aims and objects of the 1974 Housing Rents and Subsidies Act are to be met, the effects of the reorganisation of local government mean that many local authorities now find it difficult to provide land within city boundaries? Will he take into account one of two alternatives? The first is to consider the amount of land at present occupied in my constituency by British Rail, the gas board and the British Docks Board. They occupy areas capable of providing sufficient land for the development of 6,000 houses. The second alternative is to give local authorities a wider choice of land by transferring the responsibility to the counties in the interim period.
On that latter point, I have no intention at present of making any further changes in the distribution of duties between counties and districts. Dealing with the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I accept what he says about disused land. The South Docks in Liverpool cover a very large area of land. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary recently met representatives of the Docks and Harbour Board, Merseyside county and Liverpool city, and a working party under my regional director's chairmanship is exploring all the possibilities as to how this land could best be utilised by local authorities.
Is the Secretary of State aware that local authorities with insufficient land in both urban and rural areas will not be assisted by any cutback in the money available for improving housing stocks, and that in a time of economic crisis we should be placing emphasis in that direction rather than moving towards more new building?
I cannot agree. Within the total amount of money available for public sector housing—which, incidentally, is far greater than it was a year ago—our priorities are, number one, new additional housing ; number two, the improvement of the worst part of the existing housing stock, which is typically in the private sector ; and, I regret to say only number three, the improvements on which huge sums are being spent on purpose-built local authority estates.
Rented Accommodation(Municipal Purchase)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what reductions he plans in the finance available to local authorities for purchasing privately-rented accommodation.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, with the Greater London Council rate precept planned to rise this year by nearly 80 per cent., it is unjustifiable to spend large sums of money purchasing blocks of flats many of which have very few vacant tenancies? How can the hon. Gentleman justify the GLC's expenditure of £350,000 on a block of flats in my constituency in which there are only two vacant tenancies? This does nothing for the home-seeker and adds considerably to the burdens on ratepayers.
In our view, the purchase of occupied blocks of flats is not the first priority for municipalisation expenditure. The vast bulk of expenditure which has been provided has gone in the purchase of empty properties or blocks of flats in which there is a very high proportion of empty properties. That goes for the GLC as well as for any other local authority which has embarked on this policy. If the hon. Gentleman has specific cases in mind such as the one to which he referred, I shall be glad if he will let me have details.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many local authorities have virtually run out of land within their boundaries on which to build new houses, and that the only way they can hope to reduce large waiting lists is to buy up empty properties offered to them? Will he ensure that adequate funds are available to those authorities which want to buy up empty properties in order to rehouse people on their watiing lists?
Unfortunately, in the present financial situation, I cannot say that there will be no ceiling on total national expenditure. However, provision will be made to maintain the level of municipalisation which local authorities have embarked upon, and we hope in the future to increase it by various means which I am now examining.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make an official visit to Thorne
I have at present no plans to do so.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that 43 residents of Corona Drive, Thorne, who have paid their rates along with the weekly rent for their homes, had not up to last Saturday received any of the rate relief provided by the Government for the current year, even though the local authority paid the appropriate lump sum last autumn to the landlord's agents, who are Corona Properties of Manchester? Is not this blatant robbery by the landlords?
I regret that I have not had the pleasure of visiting Corona Drive in Thorne. I am always sorry that my hon. Friend, who was practically born and bred in Grimsby, moved so far away. If he will send me, as I would like him to, the details of the point he is making, I will look into it at once.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now make an estimate of the number of local authorities whose rates will show an increase next year of more than 25 per cent.
Less than half of local authorities have so far given us the information for which we asked. It would therefore be premature to give a figure.
Is it because of the absence of a General Election this year that the Secretary of State is not prepared to give any help to ratepayers, such as those in my constituency, who face swingeing increases in rates and real cuts in services?
No, Sir. The reason why the special relief was given last year was that ratepayers and local authorities had been grossly misled by the estimates of the previous—Tory—Secretary of State for the Environment.
Is it not a curious coincidence that both last year and this year the areas which have benefited most from the Secretary of State's rate support grant, and which have therefore been able to keep their rates down, are those which happen to have had local elections?
That, incidentally, is not at all true. The area which benefited most from the needs element in the rate support grant was West Sussex.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will introduce greater flexibility into his Department's criteria for speed limits for principal roads, and in particular more discretion for local authorities concerned.
I see no reason at present to change the general criteria but I am always ready to take account of special factors in a particular case.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are local areas, some in my constituency, which do not meet the criteria and, therefore, do not have limits but which, because of local changes in traffic conditions, present serious road safety hazards for the inhabitants? Is he further aware that it will be cold comfort for these inhabitants to know, if serious accidents occur, that it will be those accidents which produce the criteria? Will he let me know whether it would be correct to write to him about this situation or whether I should go through the normal processes? I welcome his assurance that he will give the subject sympathetic consideration. Above all, it is the local inhabitants who know how situations change.
I accept that local inhabitants know a great deal about local conditions. My principal concern is to safeguard the general value of speed limits throughout the country. If they are not safeguarded, their value can be debased. We should then be worse off than we were when we started. I shall be pleased to look at particular cases in which the hon. Member feels that there has been a considerable and noticeable change in traffic conditions.
Does not the whole question of road speed limits need overhauling? Are there not many instances where speed limits are too high and others where they are too low? Is this not a general situation, and is not the law flouted for that reason?
The basic reason why we have criteria is to try to get some sort of standard throughout the country. We find that the law is not flouted if the speed limit is realistic and motorists feel that it is reasonable for the area. We work on an 85 per cent. observance of limits. If a limit is unrealistic, motorists will take a chance no matter how great the penalties.
While I appreciate that the Minister has to change speed limits every now and then, would it not be possible to have a simple and more satisfactory arrangement whereby the voices of the people in the district, who were to be the victims of a change in the speed limit. could be heard?
There are opportunities for local people to make representations about speed limits. If the hon. Member looks back to the period before there was any question of speed limits and such things as pedestrian crossings being the responsibility of the Government, he will find that sometimes, while local people knew an area, they were not always able to assess the difficulties of the area. There was a general debasement of limits. Something had to be done nationally. Criteria had to be introduced. I hope that we make every effort to make them sensible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in addition to the use of speed limits to reduce road hazards he ought to introduce guard rails on pedestrian refuges in the centre of roads? Is he further aware of a tragic fatal accident in my constituency in Bradford Road, Riddles-den, when a girl was killed even though she was acting perfectly properly and was on the central island reservation? Can my hon. Friend assure the House that he will investigate the possibility of providing protective diversionary guard rails on such central islands so that traffic is prevented from striking pedestrians seeking refuge there?
I am aware of the tragedy that took place in my hon. Friend's constituency. I have seen some of the newspaper reports on it. I shall look at the question of guard rails. It is important to realise that the rails on central islands or before pedestrian crossings are principally to make sure that pedestrians do not try to nip across the road at any place other than that area which is designed to give them maximum safety.
Bus Services (Rural Areas)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet in a position to announce proposals for improving conditions in rural bus services, following his discussions with local authorities and bus companies.
I appreciate the concern felt by the hon. Member and we will make a statement as soon as possible.
Does the Minister realise that many areas, particularly the small villages, will await his statement with the greatest interest because the problem is serious? Can he, when he comes to have these discussions, encourage the traffic commissioners to approach what is admittedly a difficult problem with a little more imagination than they have done to date, particularly with regard to specific ideas such as the merging of postal and bus services and the question of local mini-bus services? Is it not high time that these ideas were tried out?
The hon. Member knows that there have been a number of Adjournment debates on this matter. We have discussed it fairly fully. I have travelled round the country and met a large number of traffic authority people, including traffic commissioners. Some of the ideas that the hon. Member has suggested are among those I hope to be putting forward.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent increases in rural bus fares, coupled with the regulations enforced by local bus companies about when concessionary fares can be granted to children, mean that many of my constituents are paying enormous sums every week to send their children to school? Is he further aware that some of them are now sending their children to school an hour late so that they can get concessionary fares? Will he look seriously at the possibility of enabling local bus companies to give concessionary fares for all children going to school in rural areas?
The question of concessionary fares for schoolchildren in rural areas, or any areas, is fairly well laid down in the Education Acts. Schoolchildren should not have any difficulty in getting such fares if they live a certain distance from the school. Some of the other points raised by my hon. Friend will be dealt with in reply to a later Question.
The Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) is complacent in the extreme.
Order. Even on the Front Bench, questions must be asked.
It is complacent in so far as if only the Minister had accepted—[Hon. Members: "Question."] Does the Minister accept that if he had adopted what we proposed in our Road Traffic Bill, particularly the clauses which liberalised bus licensing, the tragic problem of rural areas would be well on the way to being solved? Can he give us an idea of when he intends to announce these relaxations?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if I appeared complacent, my activities over the last few months have not been evidence of that complacency—at least, I hope not. I was aware of the proposals made by the Conservative Government in their 1973 Bill. In fact, I made a comment on them in the House. Since coming to power I have realised that, although the problem varies from one part of the country to another, getting a solution which will be generally applicable is not as easy as specifying the difficulty.
Housing (Loan Sanction)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will amend the present regulations so that loan sanction for local authorities may be given for both the purchase of second-hand as well as new houses.
Local authorities already have powers to buy new and second-hand houses, subject to Government financial controls and policy guidelines such as have been set out in Circular 70/74.
Is the Minister aware that this Question is prompted by the experience of my local council, which recently sold one of its council houses to a sitting tenant? The sitting tenant having been transferred to another part of the country, the council is unable under the present regulations to repurchase the house. Will the Minister look at the matter and consider whether amendment of the regulations could ease the problem?
I cannot answer that question fully without more detail. Under the general consent laid down in the circular to which I have referred, properties which stand empty for six months or so can be purchased without specific application to the Department anyway. Other applications outside the general consent, such as are described in the cate- gories in the circular, would need to be made to the Department.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Question on the Order Paper asking that local authorities should have the power to buy both new and second-hand properties makes the very idea propounded by the Opposition that councils should sell off council houses ludicrous in the extreme? How on earth can local authorities buy second-hand and new houses out of the private sector when they have only half the money that they would otherwise get by selling off council houses at about 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. below the market price, which is what the Opposition want?
The policy of indiscriminate selling-off of council houses, such as was practised by the Opposition when they were in a position to practise it and which is still advocated by them, is to be deplored. I am unable to quote figures without notice, but there has been a considerable reduction in this practice by local authorities. There has been a massive run-down of this practice. There should be a policy of flexibility in housing provision relating to the needs on the ground. This indiscriminate policy pursued like a political gimmick by the Opposition is now at an end.
Returning to the original Quesion, I put it to the Minister that his policy is unrealistic in practice. Is he aware that in one block of flats in my constituency, bought by the GLC, not a single flat is vacant? All the flats are tenanted. Are the tenants to be evicted? If that is not the case, not one homeless family in the GLC area will be rehoused. Furthermore, does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is an extra burden on the already record rise in the GLC rate which my constituents have to bear without benefiting a single homeless family?
As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman has not returned to the original Question. I have already indicated to one of his hon. Friends that I shall be glad to consider the details of such cases. I repeat that among the priorities in expenditure for public ownership in this sector is the purchase of empty or largely empty properties—there are other factors as well—and not the purchase of properties in good condition and fully occupied. That may come later, but that is not the priority now. The hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) asked whether further powers could be made available for local authorities to buy properties.
Palace Of Westminster (Olivercromwell Statue)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to see Oliver Cromwell outside Westminster Hall again.
Early in 1977.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the presence of Oliver Cromwell standing outside this House was never so necessary as at this time as a reminder of the supremacy of Parliament, particularly when so many persons both in the Government and outside this House fail to appreciate where ultimate power resides?
I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman that Oliver Cromwell was a stern defender of our constitutional liberties.
If my right hon. Friend is seeing Cromwell shortly, will he have a word with him about Question No. 36 and get his advice on the practicality of hiving off the railways in Scotland to a Scottish Assembly?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the man who superseded the House of Commons would certainly be among the minority voting "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum?
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Cromwell statue is in safe keeping because in a recent broadcast the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) said that Parliament was diseased, that we wanted a new Cromwell and that he was prepared to melt down the Mace for that reason?
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in view of the representations made about the difficulty of operating concessionary fares schemes for retirement pensioners, evidence of which had been supplied to him by the hon. Member for Cannock, he will now decide to introduce a uniform nationally financed scheme to provide concessionary fares for retirement pensioners and the disabled ; and if he will make a statement.
No, Sir. I have nothing to add to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 11th December 1974.—[Vol. 883, c. 190–1.]
Is my hon. Friend aware that I read that reply with some dismay? Does he accept that the present situation is one of absolute chaos? The concession depends on where a pensioner lives. In some areas pensioners get entirely free travel and in other areas, mostly Tory-dominated, they get nothing at all. The concession also depends on the bus route as a pensioner moves from one area to another. Does my hon. Friend accept that a simple solution would be to have an automatic system for old-age pensioners applicable both to buses and to rail?
My hon. Friend is calling for a national scheme. I think he should realise that the joint circular on local expenditure which went out to local authorities showed that present expenditure amounted to about £35 million. This varies throughout the country. Not all authorities have these schemes, and there are marked differences between them. It would not be practical in the present state of our economy to introduce a national scheme, because it would cost much more than £35 million.
Does not the question posed by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) illustrate the chaos existing in public transport when some fares are subsidised by ratepayers, some are subsidised indirectly by taxpayers and others are not subsidised at all, and when services are being reduced and many people are finding it impossible to afford to travel on public transport? Is it not time that the Government, having been in office for over a year, got down to producing a coherent policy on public transport?
The hon. Gentleman should realise that we have been in power for only a year. During that year the cost of public transport has increased tremendously. Oil and petrol have multiplied the cost factor by five during that period. We must accept that mobility will in future be more expensive all over the world. The Government have tried to help. For instance, there is a general scheme for rebates on fuel duties and the purchase of new buses. Local authorities are empowered to operate their own local services under the transport supplementary grant.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that there is something basically absurd about priorities when we can find resources for mile after mile of motorway which communities do not want and for supersonic air transport but not for decent, basic rural transport for those who cannot afford motor cars, especially when we do not want them to run motor cars in view of the energy crisis?
There are always ways of getting better services by pouring more and more money into them.
It would be cheaper than Concorde.
The problem is in deciding on the best value to be obtained from any expenditure. That is what the Government intend to do. I know my hon. Friend's attitude to a particular motorway, but I get many delegations asking for motorways because they are the only way of making life tolerable in certain parts of the country.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that pensioners find it difficult to understand why, when they go to urban areas like Merseyside, they can have free travel at certain hours whereas companies in the same National Bus Company in rural areas not only offer no free transport but are closing down services? Will he reveal the Government's transport policy in this area?
This is, of course, a question for local authorities. The National Bus Company does not pay for concessionary fares ; it is the local authority which has this power. It must be realised that bus operators are working on a very slim margin all over the country, so that any concessions in one part of their services must be made up by the local authorities or by other travellers.
Battered Wives And Children(Accommodation)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the progress being made on the provision of refuge accommodation for battered wives and their children.
No, Sir, I am not satisfied but think it best to await the recommendations of the Select Committee, to which my Department yesterday submitted a memorandum, before deciding on future policy. Meanwhile, as an interim measure, I have agreed that housing for battered wives and their children, including hostels, should be eligible for local authority subsidies and housing association grant, and I hope that councils and housing associations will make the necessary provision wherever possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he recognise, however, that this is a matter of immense urgency for many women who daily face terrible injuries in their homes? Would he also recognise—[Laughter.] I am surprised that some hon. Members regard this as comic. I suggest that they attend the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, where they will hear evidence which will put them right. Will my hon. Friend recognise that the valuable work done in this field so far has been done by groups of women on a help-one-another basis and that they work in difficult conditions? Will he ensure that local authorities do not harass them in any way on top of their present difficulties?
I certainly take the matter seriously and am trying to treat it as urgently as 1 can. The difficulty is that I am waiting for the results of the Select Committee's consideration and examination of all the evidence given it, not only by my Department, before reaching a view about the longer-term aspects of housing policy and how I can help to deal with this problem. The urgency is reflected in the fact that we have already agreed to provide the necessary subsidy facilities for the provision by local authorities and housing associations of appropriate accommodation for such people who live in tragic circumstances, as I know from cases with which 1 have had to deal as a constituency Member. For the rest we must await the future, but I assure my hon. Friend that I am not complacent.
Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea of the numbers of wives and children involved? This must obviously have a bearing on the kind of accommodation required.
No, 1 have no idea of the size of this problem or of its variation. This is a matter which I imagine will be dealt with much more adequately, at this stage at least, by the Select Committee. But we should not wait for some kind of national assessment of the scale of the problem before trying to provide facilities wherever possible, certainly in the field of housing for which I am responsible. To this extent I am happy that, as a result of what I have said today and contacts that we have with local authorities, facilities will be provided wherever possible under housing subsidy arrangements.
I welcome all that the Minister has said. When the Select Committee reports, which it is hoped we will do as quickly as possible, will the Government find time there and then to implement any recommendations we make, even if they require legislation?
:The hon. Lady will realise that I am concerned with one particular facet of policy and administrative practice—that relating to housing. We should have to await the examination which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will give to the report when it is forthcoming before deciding what legislation will be introduced and what policy decisions will have to be taken.
Licensed Premises (Rents)
Watkins asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations have been made to him about the proposals of brewing companies to increase the rents of public houses following decontrol.
I would refer my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) on 3rd March.—[Vol. 887, c. 342.]
I thank my hon. Friend for that illuminating answer. Is he aware that evidence has been brought to my attention that brewers are proposing increases of as much as 250 to 300 per cent.? Is it not therefore time that their monopoly was cracked down upon instead of being unleashed?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained on 19th December, the Government considered that the control of business rents was having an unintended effect on some parts of the economy. As for the general level of rents, particularly the example that my hon. Friend has given, I understand that a code of practice on tenant security, accepted by both sides of the licensed trade, provides for disputes which cannot be settled by negotiation to go to arbitration.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many furnished lettings were available in England and Wales in each year from 1969–70 to 1974–75.
763,000 households, 4.6 per cent. of all those present on census night in April 1971, were occupying furnished accommodation. Comprehensive information for other years is not available.
That seems a remarkable answer, because the Minister is basing quite a lot—[Hon. Members: "Question."] Does he not realise that what is, I believe, a stable situation will collapse dramatically because of the disincentives incorporated in the Rent Act? Will he stop deluding himself that the only thing that is falling off is the number of newspaper advertisements? The disincentives are forcing landlords to close down the lettings they have been offering.
If the hon. Member has specific information rather than generalisations, I shall genuinely be glad to receive it so that we may more effectively monitor what is happening in the wake of the Act. As for the absence of information for other years, there is nothing startling about that. A census will be taken in 1976 upon which basis we shall be able to update information. It is true that some sample surveys have been taken, but they are hardly an adequate basis for comprehensive statistics.
Will the Minister take seriously the point raised by my hon. Friend? Will he apply some common sense to the whole problem of furnished lettings? Will he now set up an inquiry into the effect of the 1974 Rent Act and apply serious thought to the possibility of providing a new form of short-term tenure?
On that last point, as I made clear in an answer a week or two ago, the answer is No ". I do not think that an inquiry is warranted. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] The Opposition, particularly hon. Members with knowledge of property dealings, would do well to stop playing politics with this issue.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider introducing incentives for the separation and collection of waste by local authorities.
I have asked the recently-appointed Waste Management Advisory Council to consider to what extent incentives may be needed. Some schemes already make a profit and I hope that we can help local authorities to make others do so too.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I urge upon the Government the setting up of an advertising scheme similar to that used for the litterbug campaign in the 1960s, to give people the incentive to carry their waste to central receptacles? I understand that that would be the only economic way of collecting much of the recoverable waste.
I agree with my ron. Friend about litter. I encourage all local authorities to make adequate provision for such waste receptacles so that litter need not deface our streets. However, I think that that is rather away from the original Question on recycling.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his Department is spending about £2 million to advertise the need for waste separation? Does he think that that can be justified at present? Should not the money be allocated to local authorities for other things that they need to do, bearing in mind that they cannot at present find the money to set up the expensive plants that are necessary?
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his figures from. No such expenditure is being made or is envisaged.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that many groups which collect waste paper are experiencing as a consequence of the cyclical nature of the waste paper industry? Will he investigate ways of alleviating the difficulties and giving local authorities further power to store and dispose of waste paper?
I am aware of the problems They arise in the main from voluntary organisations which, properly and public-spiritedly, decided when the market was high that they would have collection schemes and so on. Because of the cyclical nature of the market, the price is temporarily low. I am convinced that the answer is to have longterm agreements between local authorities and the industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is considering Government assistance for storage by industry.
What progress has been made on an excess stock support scheme for waste paper? Proposals from the industry have been before the Government for many months.
That is more a question for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry. It is one of the matters being considered by the Waste Management Advisory Council. We hope for a report within the next month or two.
Local Authority Mortgages
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has now completed his consideration of the proposal to provide Government loans at lower interest rates to local authorities for the purpose of granting mortgages to would-be house buyers ; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list those local authorities which have since 23rd January 1975 announced their intention of charging mortgage lending rates above 11 per cent.
On the general issue, I would refer my hon. Friends to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) on 10th March.—[Vol. 888, c. 31–2.]I will, with permission, circulate in the Official Report a list of 18 local authorities in England which have to my knowledge announced decisions to raise their variable mortgage rate above 11 per cent. in the last eight weeks.
Is it not a fact that many local authorities which help people who cannot obtain mortgages elsewhere are having to pay more than 15 per cent. on their current borrowings, whereas building societies can get money in at less than 11 per cent.? Could not the Government—at little cost to themselves, as they can obtain money cheaply—provide loans equally cheaply to the local authorities for this most valuable purpose?
Applying to local authorities what one might loosely call the building society scheme that we adopted a year or so ago would not be of much help, even if it were acceptable to operate it, because £500 million loaned to building societies must be seen in relation to the £2,500 million loaned by them. The application of that kind of proportion of lending to local authorities would not produce the desired results. The figures have been worked out. In any case, in terms of public expenditure our housing priorities lie elsewhere.Having made those two points, I want to make it clear that we are still carefully examining ways in which we might be able to deal with this serious problem, serious particularly for a minority of borrowers from the local authorities concerned.
While I appreciate that there are differences between the position of building societies and the position of local authorities in some respects in regard to mortgage interest rates, may I ask whether constructive action will be taken to help authorities which are encountering special difficulties? Has the Minister yet concluded consideration of, and given sympathetic attention to, the representations made to him by the Broxbourne District Council over its special difficulties?
We have had a number of representations, not from all the local authorities affected but from quite a few. Except in certain marginal respects, we have not been able to be of immediate assistance to the local authorities concerned, but we are still looking into ways in which we may be able to help in the matter.
is my hon. Friend aware that with every month that goes by more local authorities will have to change more than the 11 per cent. building society rate for their mortgages? This is inevitable because of the nature of local authority financing. May I stress that many of the people who take up local authority mortgages are in the lower income groups and could not obtain mortgages from the building societies? Is it not essential that they should be treated fairly, as were the building society borrowers?
I take the point my hon. Friend is making about the policy practices of local authorities in the issuing of mortgages, although, as a result of recent analytical examination, I would not go too far down that road in a general way. There is evidence of a considerable overlap in the kinds of customers covered by local authority provisions and those covered by building societies—far more than I had thought until quite recently. Nevertheless, we still take the problem seriously. I cannot promise that there will be an immediate answer. We shall try to find an answer, but it must be one which does not involve public expenditure being redirected from higher housing priorities.
In view of the many thousands of empty houses in local authority ownership, does the Minister accept that the proposal contained in Question No. 20 is a far more sensible way of deploying public resources than a programme of municipalisation? Will he have regard to those authorities which are finding it difficult to recruit teachers or to provide homes for public service employees, because those employees do not wish to be council tenants but cannot afford to buy their own homes at the high level of mortgage interest proposed by local authorities?
The hon. Gentleman has raised some cases demanding sympathy in the coverage that has been given to the matter. The housing difficuilties which teachers and other public service workers in London and some other places have experienced did not start with the increase in mortgage rates in recent months. They started a considerable time ago during the great boom in house prices under the previous Government.The hon. Gentleman's introduction of the issue of municipalisation is a red herring. There are considerable pressures form public service worker's organisations for local authorities to buy even more properties in oreder that they may make vacant property available for such workers.
Following is the list:
|Bolton DC.||Luton DC.|
|Bournemouth DC.||Melton DC.|
|Bracknell DC.||Middlesbrough DC.|
|Brent LB.||Milton Keynes DC.|
|Cambridge DC.||North Herts DC.|
|Chichester DC.||Reading DC.|
|Eastbourne DC.||Suffolk Coastal DC.|
|East Staffordshire DC.||Tendring DC.|
|Langbaurgh DC.||Uttlesford DC.|
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much of the increase in grant to the Sports Council of £1.15 million for 1975–76 is in respect of inflation ; and how much is intended for the growth of facilities.
The difference between the grant for this year and that proposed for next can be accounted for by inflation, but the council's estimates for next year include over £3½ million towards capital schemes already under construction or ready to start in that year.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his reply is totally inadequate? Is he further aware that the amount for the increased grant certainly will not cover inflation and will not allow for any expansion of facilities? What is most important, will he accept that the country cannot understand his Government's priorities, because on the one hand they give away hundreds of million of pounds for nationalising industry but on the other hand they cannot afford £2 million for sport?
It is always curious to hear Opposition Members calling for increased public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman debated this matter on Monday night with my hon. Friend the Minister of State with responsibility for Sport. If he is saying that the present Government's record on sport is inadequate and unsatisfactory, I must tell him that when my hon. Friend the Minister of State resumed his responsibility for sport there was a sensational improvement in the morale of the entire sporting world.
While recognising that more public expenditure is necessary for sport and recreation, may I ask my right hon. Friend to remind the Sports Council that in the financial year 1973–74 it spent £1·6 million in administrative costs in order to disburse a mere £2·1 million? Does not my right hon. Friend consider that instead of handing out public money to non-elected and non-accountable bodies it would be far better to have an integrated Ministry of Recreation, answerable to Parliament, which would be responsible for organising and financing recreational and sporting facilities throughout the country?
My hon. Friend has made a very interesting proposal. I would remind him that the fact that the Sports Council is now at such a distance from Parliament—and, indeed, from anywhere else—was due to the reconstruction of the Sports Council by the previous Conservative Government. We should all, of course, like more money for sport. I should like a large sum of additional money for Grimsby Town Football Club—which is a cold place on a windy day. But much as I should like that, we must nevertheless stick to our basic national priorities.
What guidance has the Secretary of State given to local authorities concerning the priority they should give to expenditure on sports facilities?
The guidance was given in Circular 141/74.