Rate Support Grant (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1974.

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Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Paisley 12:00 am, 25th March 1974

My hon. Friend will notice that it is not night but morning.

Mr. Sillars: I am grateful for the correction. However, having been a railwayman I am used to the night shift and look at it in that way.

However, returning to my point about matters having gone too far for the necessary corrective measures to be taken, I have been brought up to believe that, when one has political power, provided that one has the will to make the necessary changes one can do so. I am disappointed that we are having to take most of a Conservative measure. I see the hon. Member for Cathcart nodding. He is no doubt nodding himself into a position where he will not have to divide the House in about an hour's time.

My right hon. Friend tells us in House of Commons Paper No. 38 that he consulted the local authority associations, but, as he said in introducing the order, he did not have a great deal of time in which to consult local authorities. It is also said that an increase order can be introduced. I hope that my right hon. Friend will do so, for a number of reasons.

I am rather concerned with paragraph 5 on page 4 of HC No. 38, which covers briefly but succinctly the economic background against which the order was framed. It talks about local authorities marking time with some of their plans for expansion of their various activities. I fully recognise the difficulty facing the present Government. We have inherited a dreadful mess from the Conservatives. In some areas local authorities cannot afford to mark time. They must go forward at a very rapid pace of development.

I refer specifically to activities connected with housing, leaving aside the need to build more houses, which is a clamant need in Scotland at present. In the Cumnock area of my constituency we have ambitious plans for housing development. Although the last Government said that they would not stand in the way of developing housing, they stood in the way of developing the sewers and drainage systems which are essential if housing schemes are to proceed. I have been told by local councillors that the Underwood sewerage scheme was held up and that this has had a marked effect on the housing plans in the whole Cumnock area.

Can I have an assurance that any marking time by the local authorities will not simply not apply to housing but will definitely not apply to associated developments which are essential if housing is to to proceed?

The second point concerns the urban programme mentioned in paragraph 14 of HC No. 38, which states: Provision has been made for a moderate increase in current expenditure under the urban programme, although savings will be required in capital expenditure. What does this mean? If savings are required in capital expenditure, that is bound to have a great impact on the urban programme, because to a great extent it is capital expenditure that takes an urban programme forward, taking the areas earmarked from dereliction into a reasonably modern situation. I believe that the urban programme is not sufficiently imaginative.

I will not mention to too great an extent areas in other constituencies, but I saw "Current Account" on BBC television in Scotland last Thursday. Part of that programme covered the situation in Ferguslie Park in Paisley and part of the city of Glasgow. That was a shattering programme for anyone to see. We have Ferguslie Park and Blackhill, and there are small housing areas in towns and villages all over Scotland which are in a shocking state because of the poor quality of housing construction. It was so poor when they were built that they were bound to degenerate into modern slums. We have flatted dwellings in which no one wants to live, and certainly no hon. Member of this House would take up an allocation to one. The urban programme should be extended to the point where we should consider, adopt and prosecute a policy of bulldozing down these poor quality buildings and rebuilding much better ones.

I come to paragraph 13 of House of Commons Paper No. 38 dealing with the Rate Support Grant Order. The view expressed there must be the Civil Service view rather than that of a Labour Secretary of State for Scotland. It tells us that the estimated growth rate of about 14 per cent. in 1973–74 is higher than expected. Surely we would not expect this to be any different, given the effects of three and a half years of Conservative rule in Scotland, especially in housing and social service—when they dumped people into the poverty trap.

What happened in three and a half years of Conservative rule was that the social condition of Scotland deteriorated to such a point that a great deal of pressure was placed on the social work departments. Before I left Ayr this morning I spoke on the telephone to the director of social work in Ayrshire, well known to my right hon. Friend as well as to me. We were discussing some of the problems arising out of the housing crisis, caused by a collapse of the house building programme under the Conservatives.

More and more of us are finding that families are desperately seeking a house, but cannot get one, either from the council or from the private sector. The director told me that in the past year we have taken more children into care than ever before, because families cannot find homes. The accommodation of the social work department is bursting at the seams, while the work load of the social workers is building up.

I do not expect my right hon. Friend to build these houses in 24 hours. It will take time to repair the damage, but it seems to be extremely optimistic for the order to talk about growth in terms of 5 per cent. That underestimates the sort of welfare condition we have inherited.

The final sentence of paragraph 13 in the House of Commons Paper says: As in other services, economies in the procurement field will be necessary. Am I right in thinking that this means that economies in procurement will take place at the time of the changeover from the present system to the new system of local government when people will be building empires all over Strathclyde? It seems we are unlikely to get any economies at all. I give a qualified welcome to the Paper, and look forward to the increase order that I hope we shall get from my right hon. Friend.