Housing

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Iain MacCormick Mr Iain MacCormick , Argyll 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

Nothing which has transpired so far in the debate has changed my view that one of the most divisive aspects of society in the United Kingdom today is housing and the way in which society is divided into those who live in council housing and those who live in privately owned houses.

This is very sad. It has been shown already during the debate. It was instanced by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in his exchange with the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). I am very glad that it is part and parcel of the Scottish National Party's policy on housing that Housing should not be used to further any ideological end, or to punish or bribe particular groups or as a weapon in the Treasury's armoury of demand management. I feel quite certain that this is the atmosphere in which we should be tackling the problem. From what has been said today, I am not convinced that the Conservative Party has a real and ideal counter to what it sees as being the present situation in council housing.

However, as I do not imagine that many speakers representing Scottish seats will be speaking in this debate, I should like to look briefly at the housing situation in Scotland. I suppose it must be obvious to anyone in the House, regardless of the part of Great Britain he represents, that the housing problem in Scotland is much worse than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is not only very much worse; it is of a slightly different nature.

The Secretary of State said that the majority of people are home owners. That is not so in Scotland. I believe I am correct in saying that in Scotland the proportion of the housing stock that is publicly owned as council housing is higher than it is in any other country in Europe, this side of the Iron Curtain. That is not something in which we in Scotland take pride but it is something that we have to examine carefully if we are to find the right way to tackle the problem.

Not only is the nature of the problem in Scotland slightly different; the degree is certainly frightening in its intensity. I believe that there are still about 250,000 houses in Scotland lacking in the basic amenities. I believe there are still about 180,000 that are below the minimum tolerable standards. These are things in which, regardless of party, no one who represents Scotland or has the interests of Scotland at heart can take any pride whatsoever.

It is obvious to hon. Members that many of these conditions are often to be found particularly in urban areas. However, in view of one of the comments made earlier by the hon. Member for Henley about holiday resorts and rural areas, one ought to bear in mind that one of the things that the Cullingworth Report showed was that, regardless of how beautiful a facade a community might have or an individual house might have, often what lies behind that facade presents an entirely different picture and that, indeed, in some of the rural areas of Scotland, as is the case in some other parts of the United Kingdom as well, there are extremely bad conditions. In my own constituency of Argyll far too many houses are below the minimum tolerable standards.

As for council housing, it is a fact, sadly, that it is not just old council houses—those built prior to the Second World War—that are often below standard; even new council housing in Scotland, certainly in at least one instance in my constituency, falls far below what I should regard as being a proper environment for any person in this part of the twentieth century to live in.

I am probably correct in saying that Argyll is one of the most sparsely populated counties in one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, yet in my own home town of Oban there is a council housing estate, built just a few years ago, on which the density of people per acre is higher than in any similar project that has been carried out in Western Europe virtually within living memory. This is the sort of thing that is utterly wrong. If we as a society are using large sums of money to help in the provision of housing, we must be sure that we provide the right kind of housing—housing that people would want to buy. No one would dream of wanting to buy one of the houses to which I am referring, even if they were being put up for sale much more freely than is at present the case.

I want to make a few comments about home ownership and council housing. I believe, as I think everyone present believes, that as many people as possible should be encouraged to own their own houses, but I am not at all convinced that what the Conservative Party, through the medium of the hon. Member for Henley, says about the sale of council houses is either practicable or just. Clearly, in every place where council housing exists there are some extremely nice council houses, in what are called high amenity areas, and there are some simply awful council houses. It is a matter of common sense that were we to pursue a policy of simply saying "Right. We shall sell any house that anyone wants to buy," we would certainly be left with a situation in which local authorities would be lumbered with the worst houses and with deteriorating housing. That would offend my instincts of justice in the whole matter of the provision of what is, after all, the most important thing that any family is likely either to own or to rent.

There are all kinds of ways by which we can arrive at a happy medium concerning the sale of council houses, but there is no magic solution. There is no wand that anyone, be he a member of the Conservative Party or any other party, can wave to find an instant answer.

Indeed, I must say, in parenthesis, that one of the less educating aspects of the Conservative Party these days is that its members seem to believe that they can make instant policies for any given situation that arises, regardless of the cost in either financial or social terms.

The Secretary of State spoke about "savage and unacceptable increases in rent," and took pride in having avoided those savage and unacceptable increases, but we must remember that we are not all talking in terms of rent. In my part of Scotland, in the constituency of Argyll, many householders have recently been faced with savage and utterly unacceptable increases in rates. No debate on the subject of housing can ignore that situation. If, on the one hand, we are trying to encourage people to own their own homes, we must, on the other hand, make quite certain that we do not impose intolerable financial burdens on people who achieve that happy state of affairs.

Clearly, as a spokesman for the Scottish National Party, I look forward to the day when a Scottish Assembly is set up. I look forward to a time when we shall genuinely see the whole question of housing policy in Scotland removed from the worst aspects of political confrontation. I look forward with confidence to the setting up of a Ministry of Housing in Scotland which will be able to pay much closer attention to the problem than is paid at present.