Mr. Hughes : That is very rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to most of his speeches in the debates on the current Local Government and Housing Bill, and he has based every argument on Wakefield.
Mr. Hughes : I am entitled as a London Member of Parliament, having spent years in local government in London, to base some of my arguments on London. Hon. Members will make their speeches about other parts of the country. I shall talk about London, because I have seen the disgraceful housing conditions caused by Labour's policies in London.
Mr. Spearing : The hon. Gentleman has been talking about east London. Does he realise that the Government's policies are reversing nearly 50 years of public housing policies for the metropolis and that the social effect on people in east London is to drive young people from the towns in which they were born because they cannot afford to live there? The Government are destroying communities that make this country and of which the hon. Gentleman should be proud. However, he is ignorant because he comes from Harrow. He does not understand.
Mr. Hughes : I do not know where the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) came from originally, but my wife's family are real east- enders and know a great deal about what is going on in the east end. We get from the hon. Members representing the Newham constituencies the sort of middle-class pretensions of latter-day "Johnny come lately" east-enders, which realy makes east-enders sick. Real east-enders recognise that such people are a bit of a joke when they consider their real living conditions.
I recognise that, certainly in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark, generations of Labour control did nothing to help the situations that have been pointed out to me by the hon. Member for Newham, South. Young people have voted with their feet and have left those boroughs-- indeed, his own borough--for generations before this Government came to power. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Tower Hamlets borough council, under the control of his party, did not allow any private building in that area. When the GLC put 34 maisonettes on the market for sale, 1,600 people queued overnight to try to buy them.
Mr. Trippier : My hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) give his reasons why the private rented sector had declined so much. It has declined from 50 per cent. immediately after the war to 8 per cent. today. That has happened because of the Rent Acts, which the hon. Member for Hammersmith supports and which we are deregulating, and a massive expansion of municipalisation, which Opposition Members have always supported and to which they have no constructive alternative.
I regard the order as a realistic approach to what can be provided. But I understand that missing from the instrument, although it was in the 1987 consultation paper, is a definition of room sizes, and I am concerned about the sizes of rooms that can be counted as habitable rooms. It
Column 1049has been suggested, for example, that a box room might qualify. A more detailed test, perhaps taking account of floor space, might be helpful.
People recognise that what the Government are introducing is fair and reasonable. The suggestions of Labour Members may sound attractive, but people know that a Labour Government never could or would implement their promises. But that does not matter much because they appreciate that the Labour party will never achieve office and hence will never have the opportunity to impose their policies. 12.57 am
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : This is one of the most mean and vicious pieces of legislation that I have witnessed since coming to this place. The Minister represents a neighbouring constituency to mine. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about what they are proposing and will withdraw the order and allow further time for debate.
The Association of District Councils says in the document that it has submitted that it had only five days in which to consider this proposal. Considering that the Chancellor had a £14 billion surplus, the Government cannot claim that there is any urgency, financial or otherwise, to introduce a measure such as this. If the Minister considers that a problem exists, he should have further discussions with the local authorities in the coming year and then introduce a more sensible measure.
In his introductory remarks, the Minister spoke of fair rents, market rents, reasonable market rents--meaning presumably that market rents, even if they were considered to be reasonable, would be higher than fair rents-- and unreasonable market rents. For a Government who believe that the solution to the housing problem lies with a free market and an increase in the private rented sector, this is an appalling piece of legislation.
Considering the changes that the Government are forcing on local government in housing, with another housing measure going through this year, I have no doubt that tonight's order represents a foot in the door prior to assessing council house rebates in a few years from now. I urge the Minister to appreciate that many people have no choice of size of property or even location of that property. Time after time the Government talk about choice, but people's choice is determined by ability to pay and, depending on where they live, they may find it impossible to get the appropriate sized property. It is appalling that, when the Government are considering people's homes, they should talk about rooms of a certain size or rooms that are not needed.
The Minister did not like what my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, although he did not overstate the case, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that there must be fairness of treatment for people, whether they are renting or buying houses. I do not know how the Minister can justify a person buying a house bigger or more expensive than is necessary and getting the maximum subsidy, and even tax rebates in some cases, and at the same time support this order. That shows the point that the extreme Right wing of the Tory party has reached in 1989.
Column 1050I ask the Minister to think again. He said it was a matter of collective responsibility. He did not want to say who was responsible. But even if it is collective responsibility, it will always be his name that is remembered as that of the member of this Government who moved this appalling motion tonight. He should think again and, before it is too late, say that he is prepared to withdraw it and talk with the local authority associations.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : I just want to ask the Labour spokesman who will wind up this debate four questions. We heard from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) no intimation of what Labour party policy is in this area.
First, does the Labour party have any policy or any limit on the housing benefit which can be given to an individual or spent as a proportion of total Government expenditure?
Secondly, is there any property size limit which the Labour party would impose on housing benefit claimants?
Thirdly, would it place any limit on the areas which housing benefit claimants might move to, given the size and cost of properties?
Fourthly, if there are no limits on any of those three matters, can the Labour spokesman who sums up tell us what he says to Labour councils which allocate properties to families based on the size of the family, and ask families to move if they are occupying properties of a size they do not require?
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : At least the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) have the gall to stand up and attempt to involve themselves in this debate. For that reason alone they will both be honourable candidates for the order of the brown nose.
To answer the hon. Member for Pembroke, the Labour Government would not be operating in a housing market as chaotic as the present market. It is as simple as that.
The hon. Member asked to what level housing benefit should go. The answer is the level it is required to go to in order to provide people with decent homes in which to live and accommodation that we would find acceptable for us to live in. That is the sort of standard that we should impose upon other people. That seems to me to be sensible and rational.
What worries me about all this is the stench of hypocrisy that pervades it.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : The hon. Gentleman and I are serving on the Local Government and Housing Bill Committee, and indeed he is the Whip for the Labour party. The Labour party criticises the £8,000 limit for claiming housing benefit. What limit would the Labour party have?
Mr. Soley : As usual, the question is irrelevant. As I have said on a number of occasions, what we must do--and have frequently said that we will do prior to a proper reform of housing finance--is to ensure that rents are
Column 1051assessed independently of the landlords so that we do not fall into the trap in which the Government presently find themselves, with housing benefit rising through the roof.
Mr. Banks : I do not honestly believe that, other than those on the Front Bench, any Conservative Member has read and understood the order. The reluctance of Conservative Members to support the Minister is all the evidence we need to know that Conservative Members do not know what it contains. They just want to get through it, get away and disappear home. It is appalling when the House passes such measures at this time of night. There is something very contemptible about the way in which the Minister has brought this to the House. The Government are trying to slip it through the House at this time, rather like thieves in the night--knowing very well that it will be given very little, if any, press coverage.
The first time that most people will realise how this order is to affect them will be when it smacks them straight between the eyes. They will not read about it in the newspapers, or hear about it on the radio or television. The Government have also ensured that the timetable is so short that there has not been enough time to consult, advise and inform. That is deliberate and contemptible. I am surprised that the Minister has allowed himself to be used in this way.
The deregulation of the private rented sector and the introduction of the assured tenancies for new, private and housing association tenants, under the 1988 Act, has meant that rents are increasing rapidly. The Government have argued that this will not stop people on moderate incomes from finding accommodation because they will receive housing benefit. What the Prime Minister said at this afternoon's Question Time shows that she does not know about the reality--she does not have the personal experience and the factual information is not provided for her. In this afternoon's Prime Minister's Question Time she unintentionally misled the House.
We now know that benefits will escalate, and to solve that problem--which is largely of their own making--the Government have allowed local authorities to decide how much benefit to pay to the tenant. They have also changed the rent officer's role, from one of setting fair rents under the old system, to one of setting the level of subsidy that a council can receive on the benefit which it pays. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith gave an example where, if the rent of a flat, as set by the landlord, was £80 but the rent officer says that a reasonable market rent is £60, that is all that the council may receive from the DSS. The council is then in the unenviable position of having to decide between paying the full amount and asking the rate or poll tax payers for the extra £20, or paying benefit of £60 and leaving the tenant to find the extra £20, or risk eviction and homelessness. Many councils-- especially those in London where rents are generally much higher than elsewhere in the country and where many local authorities are rate-capped-- will pay benefits only when they can be sure of receiving subsidy. The Government must face the implication of deregulation and make full subsidies available--which is what the Prime Minister was suggesting this afternoon. They should not expect hard-pressed councils to pick up the tab and tenants to suffer. If landlords are to be prevented from exploiting the benefit system, there must
Column 1052be either rent control or the Government must dispense with hypocrisy and set a ceiling over which no benefit should be paid.
Mr. Corbyn : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Social Security Standing Committee discussed this matter at great length? One concern that emerged, which Ministers were unable to answer, was whether, if a local authority paid the difference between a housing benefit allocation for the rent level and the real rent level, this would be permissible expenditure. Could local councillors be threatened with surcharges for spending money in order to keep people in private rented accommodation to avoid them being thrown on the streets and becoming homeless and thus ineligible for rehousing under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 because they would be deemed intentionally homeless?
I am reading deliberately, because I still cherish the thought that one or two Conservative Members may realise how appalling the order is and start asking questions. Perhaps I am being charitable. Even the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes)--because he was reading his brief and learning from it as he made his speech--suddenly fixed on the question of room size, and suggested to the Minister in a more reasonable tone that perhaps he should consider it. That is a fair question, and I hope that the Minister will answer it when he sums up.
"In most cases, except where the council cannot legally restrict benefit which applies to vulnerable and elderly people, benefits will be paid only up to the level set by the rent officer.
Tenants, many already with little money, will undoubtedly undergo hardship.
However landlords have listened to the Government's rhetoric and because of the Housing Act have greater ability to levy higher rents and obtain the eviction of tenants.
In London about 10 per cent. of all households accepted as homeless by London boroughs--3,000 families--are homeless because they have lost a private tenancy. This has been constant since 1980, during which time the sector has declined rapidly. Therefore homelessness as a result of eviction, rent arrears etc. constitutes a growing proportion of those living in private rented accommodation. This measure will create an even larger problem for private tenants and many housing association tenants too.
The result will be that people with lower or moderate incomes, as well as the young and unemployed, will increasingly face eviction and possible homelessness."
Let us consider the concerns about unreasonably large accommodation. No Member on either side of the House would be prepared to live in the conditions that the order will impose on private tenants. If we are not prepared to endure the restrictions that we are placing on others, why should they be prepared to accept those restrictions? Why should we have the gall and hypocrisy to inflict them on them?
I hope that, even if the order is passed, when hon. Members read it again they will put pressure on their own Front Bench--perhaps even privately--to redress some of its blatant injustices. The timetabling is bad : there has been no time to consult. Local authorities have not even had time to set up the necessary software on the computers to make their calculations. We shall simply have more muddle and confusion to add to the suffering that the Government have already inflicted on those in both the private and the public rented sectors.
I ask the Minister to reconsider--even at this late hour--and to announce that he will withdraw the order from further consideration.
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Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : In my view, this is an inevitable consequence of the Government's policy of moving from subsidising public sector housing to supposedly trying to subsidise individials. There is much sense in such a move, but it is a humane and tenable policy only if the subsidies offered to those individuals are properly and generously given.
This order will rebound against the Government in the weeks, months and years to come because it is iniquitous and unfair. Certainly it contradicts any attempt to make flexible use of the available housing stock. The point was made earlier that the configuration of available empty housing stock in Scotland suggests that, by and large, it is larger rather than smaller. That means, for example, that it is difficult if not impossible to accommodate the almost 50 per cent. of waiting lists in Scotland which consist of single people, matching need with supply.
There is a very great question mark in my mind about whether the order will save money in the longer term. Certainly it will greatly increase bureaucracy, which is worrying. Ultimately, the money saved will not be worth the implementation of that bureaucratic edifice. The order will certainly affect the standards of accommodation available to vulnerable groups of people on housing waiting lists. The order should have set minimum standards. Almost inevitably, it will lead to increased homelessness. If more people become homeless, more people will have to go into bed-and-breakfast accommodation and that will increase the cost to the Exchequer.
We had some interesting debates on the Housing (Scotland) Bill 1988 in Committee and on the Floor of the House about the appeals system which would deal with the part of the legislation covered by the order. I have seen many appeal systems in social security and other legislation, but this is the worst by a long way. I can think of no justification for using the term "appeal system" in its accepted sense in this context. The system is totally and completely unjustifiable and should be re-examined.
I am most worried about the effect of the order on vulnerable groups. In previous legislation there were safeguards for vulnerable groups--that no deduction should be made if the household contained someone over 60, someone incapable of work, a child or a young person unless suitable cheaper accommodation was available and it was reasonable for the local authority to expect the claimant to move. No such safeguards exist in this order.
It may be of interest to the House that on 11 October a Minister in the other place said during the debate on the Housing Bill that "the interaction between the subsidy controls and the need for local authorities to consider the position of elderly and disabled claimants who might find it difficult to move to smaller or cheaper accommodation has to be very carefully considered."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 1988 ; Vol. 176, c. 750.]
It would be interesting to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas- Hamilton), when he replies to the debate, exactly how the position of those vulnerable groups has been considered under the order. The hon. Gentleman holds collective responsibility for what was said in the other place by the Earl of Caithness, so we wait to hear what safeguards have been put in place to protect vulnerable groups.
Column 1054The order will affect the tenants' choice provisions and will act as a considerable disincentive. The provisions apply to assured tenancies and not to local authority tenants. If someone has a spare room and decides to opt out and enter an assured tenancy, he may be lumbered with contractual arrears due to under-occupation, so public sector tenants with spare rooms would be stone mad to consider exercising choice and moving to another landlord if they are on housing benefit.
In conclusion, the result of the new order will be to increase homelessness among those already disadvantaged by being in particularly vulnerable groups with none of the safeguards of previous legislation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : Surely the hon. Gentleman's point about assured tenancies would not apply to ownership co-operatives or housing associations.
Mr. Kirkwood : I accept that. I was talking about the position of a person with a local authority tenancy who moves to an assured tenancy with a spare room. If I have got that wrong, I shall be happy to be put right.
This is one of the worst orders that I have come across in my six years in the House. It is a disgrace and the Government should consider nothing short of withdrawing it.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : I want to make one point about the position of elderly couples, of whom there are many thousands in my constituency. Their children have grown up and moved away, so they find themselves with at least one spare room. I have read the order carefully and there is scope in it for the difference between their real rent and the reasonable rent to be subsidised up to 50 per cent. It seems to me--and I am asking for clarification on this--that the Government are asking local authorities to meet the other 50 per cent. Is it not the case that, under the order, many thousands of elderly couples, through no fault of their own, will find that they cannot cover their rent fully and they will be forced to leave flats and areas where they may have lived all their lives?
It is one thing to say that local authorities encourage such pensioners to move. To my knowledge, no local authority forces pensioners to move out of the home in which they have lived for 40, 50 or 60 years. Under the order, thousands of pensioners, especially in London, may find themselves forced to move out of the only home that they have known for 50 years to save money. I want an assurance for my pensioners in Hackney that nobody will be moved out of his home under the terms of the order.
Mr. Trippier : I want to deal quickly with three points. It is obvious to the House that I shall not be able to deal with all the questions raised, but I shall try to deal with most. First, there is a misunderstanding about the order. Comparatively few people will be paying rent above what will be assessed as the market rent. By any standards, the market rent will be relatively high and we have accepted that.
Secondly, there is a misunderstanding about the payment of 100 per cent. of subsidy to the market level. It is only if those elderly people are paying rent above the market level that the subsidy will drop to 50 per cent.
Column 1055Thirdly, the local authority can subsidise the rent itself, so it does not mean that people have to make a contribution, and that goes on in many cases at present.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I shall give a concrete example from Cardiff, which was discovered by a ward councillor in the past week. An elderly pensioner widower had lived in the same two-bedroomed terraced house for 50 years on a controlled tenancy. The rent had been increased by the landlord to £160 a month and, because the house was under- occupied, the man's housing benefit had been assessed at £60 a month. How is a pensioner supposed to meet that £100 a month difference? The pensioner was in tears as he explained this, after receiving his £15 weekly allocation. He could move to a local authority flat, but he would not be any better off and there are almost no local authority flats. The two-bedroomed terrace house he rents is £100 more expensive than the housing benefit he is receiving.
Ms. Abbott : The Minister has said that when only 50 per cent. subsidy is available, the local authorities may provide the other 50 per cent. of the difference. The point I am trying to make to the Minister--and his colleagues may be able to fill him in more than I can--is that many London local authorities will be hard put to make up that difference. I am not persuaded by anything the Minister has said that there will not be many pensioners in London and other local authorities who will find themselves forced out of their homes. I took the opportunity earlier to look up the details of the family seat of the Dukes of Hamilton. It is called Lennoxlove. It ill behoves some Front-Bench Conservatives, who have not one spare room but hundreds of spare rooms in their family houses--
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : I noted with interest the brief intervention of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) who sought soft landings for kids in safe play areas in a ten-minute Bill last week. I wonder what he thinks about the hard landing that many thousands of pensioners will experience as a result of the order. Since 1979 the Government's housing record has been despicable. Little or no municipal housing is being built, less private housing is being built and those in the south-east complain about high housing costs because there are not enough houses. The lack of housing leads to increased demand and higher prices. As Conservative Members have said, the order seeks to deal with problems in the south-east, but it will also hammer thousands of people in the rest of the country, particularly in Scotland.
We are told that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), does not have the courage to come to the Dispatch Box tonight, and I am not surprised. However, I invite him to do so to tell us what will be the effect of the Scottish homes legislation which enables council tenants to have a private landlord. Will they be
Column 1056telling people who take up that option that if they have a spare room in their house they will lose their housing benefit? This is a despicable measure. It should be condemned by everybody. I am sure that Conservative Members in the Chamber tonight do not understand the terrible damage that they are doing to the poorest and least advantaged people in Britain. This is a despicable measure from a despicable Minister and we hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will come to the Dispatch Box and defend it.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : The order owes nothing to the housing needs of the British people. It is not designed to do so. It is just another example of the Tory Government slaughtering the housing needs and hopes of millions of people on the altar of the market economy, with all its gobbledegook about market forces and who will set and pay rents.
I shall not say that this is a landlord's charter ; it is worse than that. It is a profiteering landlord's charter. The rent officer will no longer be an independent objective person who ensures that a fair rent once fixed is adhered to and to whom one can appeal if a landlord tries to increase such a rent. People, particularly in London, will be harassed out of protected tenancies by con merchants and thrown on to the streets so that the private rented sector, the free market, can allow the level of rent to rise to its natural level--the highest that can be obtained.
The Minister knows perfectly well what the effect of the order on people in receipt of housing benefit will be. In the past, such people could obtain a tenancy from a private landlord with the assurance that their housing benefit would meet that rent and the landlord would know that he could collect such a rent. Landords will now know that if the rent that they are charging is above the level decided on by the rent officer as the market level, the housing benefit will not meet those needs so that the tenant may not be able to pay the full rent. It is very likely that the local authority will not be able to pay the difference even if it wants to, so, yet again, unemployed people and those on low incomes in receipt of housing benefit will be deterred, if not prevented, from obtaining housing on the private rented market.
When the Minister talks glibly about market rents, he knows perfectly well that the levels that his Department is now working on are way out of date. He talks of rents of £50 and £60 a week for one-bedroomed flats in the private sector in inner London. He should go to my constituency and look in some of the accommodation agencies. In their windows there are one- bedroomed flats going for £100 a week or more in the private rented sector. The effect of their deregulation has been to force up private sector rents, to have people thrown out on the streets, and there will be greater homelessness and profiteering by landlords.
The fact that the Minister claimed that the local authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who made an excellent speech, was doing the same as the Government shows his ignorance of what local authorities are doing. They try to have minimum criteria, which ought to be possible to achieve, whereby children of vastly different ages do not have to share a room, whereby parents do not have to share a room with their children, and whereby there is
Column 1057some respect for people with a serious illness, such as septicaemia, so that they can have a separate room in their flats.
Under this order there will be a rabbit-hutch formula, whereby poor people in receipt of housing benefit will be forced to live in disgracefully small, sub-standard accommodation.
Mr. Pike : Is it not true to say that, when local authorities lay down their criteria, one of the things that constrains them is the increasing pressure from the Government, which makes it impossible for local authorities to meet the demand? That has to be borne in mind when one is considering any criteria that the local authority have with regard to their allocations policy.
Mr. Corbyn : Precisely. My local authority does its best to meet the housing needs of the people of the borough. It cannot do it. No London borough is capable of even fulfilling its statutory housing obligations at the present time. As the situation gets worse, the definition of intentionally homeless gets wider and wider, so that local authorities do not have to take people into bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation. Most of those people who tonight are sleeping on the streets around Waterloo station, the National Theatre and along the South Bank, who are begging at the main stations of this city, who are sleeping over the grilles of tube stations on Charing Cross road, not long ago had somewhere to live.
Those people are the victims of market forces, the victims of what this Government are doing and believe should be done to poor people, who cannot afford the landlords' rent. That is what it is about. The Minister has an arrogant smirk on his face tonight, the arrogance of a man who has thrown people on the street, who knows full well that the measures he is putting through this House tonight, in the dead of night, will cause untold hardship.
This country is very rich indeed and has enormous resources. If this House and this Government wanted to, resources could be found to provide a house for everybody in this country. There need be nobody sleeping on the streets ; there need be no homelessness and no evictions because people cannot meet the kind of rents being demanded. What is required to do that is control on profiteering, and funding for local authorities to enable them to build what is required. It needs a Government determined to put in train the construction of the council houses needed for rent, rather than the pitiful level of 15,000 which have been completed this year. It is with great anger that I ask the House tonight to vote against this disgraceful order, one of the most disgraceful orders I have seen during the time I have been in this House, and one which will cause untold misery throughout this country. It is a disgrace that it should be debated in the middle of the night, when the media are not here to report this travesty of justice.
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : My first question is whether the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), will be replying to the debate or not. He seems to be indicating that he is not. That is an absolute disgrace. It is an insult to the people of Scotland
Column 1058and to Scottish Members of Parliament, and it is yet another abuse of Scottish legislation put through this House by the Government. In fact, it is the second example in 24 hours because earlier today we debated major changes in water legislation in Scotland in just an hour and a quarter. The Scottish Office Minister is too much of a coward to come to the Dispatch Box--
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well when I spoke to him yesterday that it was possible to hold a separate debate, in which case I would have moved the motion and replied to the debate. However, the orders have been taken together.
Mr. Foulkes : Four Scottish Members have participated in the debate- -my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and the hon. Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh). That makes it imperative that the Minister should reply. He has been here throughout the debate, so it is perfectly possible for him to do so. All that the English Minister needs to do is to pass over his brief.
Mr. Maxton : It is disgraceful that the Scottish Office Minister will not reply. However, it is not untypical of Scottish Office Ministers or of the Government--particularly when they are pushing through a measure that is so obviously based on what happens in London and has nothing to do with Scotland. If the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), think that he can reply to the points raised by Scottish Members, he is mistaken. He knows nothing about Scottish housing legislation or about how this legislation affects Scotland. The whole affair is beyond belief.
This is one of the most hypocritical pieces of legislation that I have seen for a long time. I sat through the legislation that brought in the poll tax for Scotland. I remember that the Government based almost their entire case for that on the little old lady who had been widowed and lived on her own, paying the same rates as the family next door. No one in the Government suggested then that she might be better off moving into less luxurious accommodation. The Government gave her a massive subsidy--up to £1,500 in my constituency--by introducing the poll tax. Well-heeled widows living alone get massive subsidies, but poor widows on housing benefit have their benefit slashed and have to look for somewhere else to live--or find enormous sums of money to avoid doing so.
The Minister can keep looking at his watch for as long as he likes. I shall talk right through and he will not get the opportunity to reply to the debate.
Mr. Trippier : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you give us guidance so that we can clear up whether a Scottish Minister should reply to the debate? Am I not correct in saying that it is within the purview of any hon. Member to object to two orders being taken together, and that if even one Opposition Member had objected, the orders would have been debated separately? I challenge the
Column 1059hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) because I believe that he knew that if the orders were taken together the Scottish Office Minister would not reply.
Perhaps I may tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that it is customary, though not obligatory, to allow the Minister who introduced an order to reply to it.