Exact numbers are not available as returns of empty houses from local authorities are not required. Many houses are, of course, vacant for short periods only. But I am aware that in some places there are disturbingly large numbers of council houses which have not been let for some time.
Can my hon. Friend try to obtain detailed figures on this because is there not a fair amount of evidence to show that in many parts of Scotland the utterly irresponsible efforts of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and his hon. Friends during their term of office to persuade local authorities to build council houses, totally regardless of future need, in pursuit of politically-chosen housing targets, which they never came within miles of achieving, have landed local authorities with appalling and quite unnecessary additional debt?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend to this extent: it demonstrates that the need in Scotland is for more houses in the places where the need is greatest and not just for more houses anywhere. Serious cases are becoming apparent at the moment. I understand that about 1,000 houses are empty in Dundee, 660 in Edinburgh and 500 in Paisley, to take three major examples.
The term "disturbingly large" could apply to Livingstone and Blackburn in West Lothian. But is not the real problem concerned with bringing in industry? Surely this situation has arisen not because of the fault of any local authority but because of the failure to attract subsidiary industry for the motor industry?
There are examples where this is the case and we, too, are extremely concerned about the problems of attracting industry. This has been discussed in other debates this week. But there are areas where industrial problems are not to blame but where the fault lies with the historical position and the unsuitability of the houses concerned. We are encouraging local authorities to look at these problems and we will do all we can to help the authorities to solve them.
Mr. Edward Taylor:
Is it not the case that many towns which have many empty houses, also have long waiting lists? Is not the real problem in many cases that large schemes are starved of amenities? Will my hon. Friend study some of the massive schemes in the big towns to see how money could best be spent to improve amenities there?
I sympathise with what my hon. Friend said and I hope for support from both sides in our efforts to improve the standard of council house schemes and their amenities in the future.
Would the Under-Secretary try to give us more information about this—not now but later—because we want to study where the houses are and why they are empty, especially those which were built while the Conservatives were in government, and in respect of which a speech was made in the Scottish Committee in 1957 by Lord Craigton.
I will not attempt to match the right hon. Gentleman's historical reminiscences, which I am sure we shall be able to buy in the shops one day, but I agree that it would be desirable to get more information and I shall see what can be done.