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Volume 171: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many councils have so far set rent increases above Government guidelines in England and Wales.

About 75 per cent. of the English authorities which have announced their rents for 1990–91 have set rents above the guideline. On present information, the average rent increase per week is 76p above the guideline.

Is not that another sign that the Government have made a pig's ear of the assessment of rent levels to local authorities, as they did with the standard spending assessments and the poll tax? Is not it time that the Government admitted that, and had the courage to apologise to local authorities for the incompetence of the Department of the Environment? There is no doubt that it is having a disastrous effect on the economy of local authorities. Before the Minister answers by saying that Sheffield is Labour controlled, I should tell him that obviously it has had to put up rents because the guidelines are low. In Tory-controlled Redbridge, rents have gone up by£15 a week.

The variations are not excessive. I said 76p and that is not an excessive variation on the Government's estimate. When making their estimates, the Government took into account all the rent rebates that had to be paid and the cost of borrowing. One variant is the maintenance budget, which councils set for themselves. Another variant is rent arrears, and one problem is that in many areas large rent arrears go into the accounts and affect other people's rents. Throughout the country, rents in the public sector are well below market values. That is representative of the subsidies that we are giving towards rents.

But surely, morally and politically, those councils have no right to implement Tory policy on the poll tax or on rents. The Minister should say that those councils can resist and fight back. If democracy means anything, the fight back of the common people means a tremendous amount. People power does not happen only in eastern Europe. It can happen here. Does the Minister agree that those elected representatives can resist and fight back, and should not it be encouraged?

The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear that, if I follow him correctly, I agree with him. The Government have done precisely that. They have given local authorities a great deal of discretion over the way in which they raise rents. That is precisely the discretion that they are exercising, so I think that I agree with the hon. Gentleman.