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Pat Wall

Housing: Tories Threaten Councils

(February 1972)

From Militant, No. 91, 11 February 1972.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In paragraphs 93–95 of the Housing Finance Bill, the Tory Government spell out uniquely Draconian measures to deal with Labour councils who refuse to implement the Tory measures in full.

The government will take the power to appoint a “Housing Commissioner” if a local authority refuse to carry out all the provisions of the Bill. Any councillor or local authority officer who refuses to supply information to a Housing Commissioner, or who fails to supply information when requested, will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400. Failure to pay the fines will lead to the gaoling of Labour councillors.

In addition, the Secretary of State will be able to reduce or suspend any subsidies under the Act to a local authority in default.

By such means, the Housing Revenue of a local authority would be pushed seriously into deficit. Even under existing legislation, the District Auditor can force rent increases under such circumstances; the Tories hope the odium of such increases would then fall on Labour councillors fighting the Tory measures.

£1 per Week Increase

This from a Government that bleats about setting councils free.

Faced with this show of strength from the Tories, the Shadow Cabinet and the National executive Committee of the Labour Party seem determined to confine any opposition to Parliament and “vote-catching” appeals at local level.

The proposals canvassed to date seem to be confined to three main points:

  1. Opposition line by line, clause by clause, to the proposals by the Parliamentary Party. While such opposition is an important part of any campaign, the Tories, with a majority in Parliament, possess the ultimate sanction of the guillotine. In any event, Parliamentary opposition can only be really effective with the backing of a mass protest movement of tenants, led by the Labour Movement.
  2. Advice to Labour controlled councils not to succumb to the Tory blackmail of warning councils who refuse to put council rents up by an average of 50p in April, before the Act becomes law, that the legislation will force increases of £1 per week in November.

    This proposal merely dodges the issue – what should Labour councils who refuse to increase rents before the Act goes through Parliament, do when the Act becomes law? To have any meaning, refusal to increase rents in April, must imply that the movement is determined to prevent the Bill becoming law.

    It is interesting that the Tory controlled Keighley council have refused to increase the rents. By this means they hope to retain control at the local elections, and even if defeated, the odium of a £1 increase will be the lot of the new Labour controlled council

[missing section]

to fix the level of “Fair Rents” at as low as possible. But local authorities will only do the professional assessment of the so-called “fair rent”; the final decision is in the hands of appointed Rent Scrutiny Committees, composed of ex-policemen, army officers, estate agents, and other such “champions” of the working class.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Frank Allaun, the NEC spokesman on housing is quoted as saying that a number of Labour controlled councils will refuse to carry out the Bill. If that is so, what do the NEC propose in face of such a situation? Will the NEC support such action and if so, how do they intend to organise such support?

All those who are serious about defeating the rent legislation and removing the Tory Government, have a duty to campaign for a real fight against the Bill. In every ward, GMC, trade union branch and Trades Council, we should be demanding total opposition to the Bill.

The first principle of such opposition is the refusal of all Labour councils to carry out the Tory legislation. NO INCREASES IN APRIL OR NOVEMBER, LET THE TORIES DO THEIR OWN DIRTY WORK.

Labour councillors should be addressing meetings of tenants, forming associations where they don’t already exist. As the increases begin to bite, a mass movement of tenants will reinforce the campaign.

Mere opposition, however, is not enough. Concrete alternative proposals are necessary, if we are to win mass support:

  1. Public control of all rented property.
  2. Rent Assessment Committees of tenants and trade unionists.
  3. A guarantee that the next Labour Government will repeal any Tory legislation.
  4. Public ownership of land, the building and building supply industries.
  5. A crash building programme to build a million houses a year to eradicate the real cause of high rents and the social misery of slum housing and homelessness


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