Glasgow (Population Changes)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1979.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan 12:00 am, 24th July 1979

I am not sure whether we have now cleared away all the procedural difficulties which the House apparently has to face these days, but I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State is here from the Scottish Office. I am a little surprised that no one has commented on the fact that the Scottish Office is working a Minister short compared with what we used to do. I do not want a reply on that, because the hon. Gentleman will perhaps argue that the quality has changed as well. I merely say that I recognise that it is sometimes inconvenient to be here at this time of the morning. For what it is worth, I can tell the Minister that, including my three previous Adjournment debates, this is about the earliest I have managed.

As I was forced to go back to look at what I had said on those occasions, I found it interesting, and not surprising, that the three subjects I raised related to Easterhouse, to Scottish housing and the Cullingworth report, and in 1970 to a report from the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee entitled "Council House Communities". Again tonight I am on a similar subject, the problems facing the peripheral areas of Glasgow.

The Minister knows the report, "Glasgow: Implications of Population Changes to 1983". I do not think that there is anything between the parties on the background and analysis. Ultimately, there was common ground with the district council, the regional council and the SDD. That all-party recognition of the problem, to call it that, probably first emerged in 1972, when the late Robert Mansley, the director of planning in Glasgow, produced for the council his report "Areas of Need in Glasgow". On page 4 of that report, he drew attention to the fact that Co-ordinated action, involving many Committees and Departments of the Corporation, is needed, and the very high level of expenditure necessary will illustrate that the Government's recent offer of finance for a form of 'first-aid' environmental improvement becomes virtually irrelevant to the scale of the problem to be tackled. I do not suggest for one moment that the previous Government were able to provide resources on the scale which Glasgow always thought should be provided. I do not argue that problems have suddenly emerged of which we have not been aware over many years. But from the SDD report, paragraph 23 on page 17, it is clear that in the past, as I say, there was general recognition of the scale of the problem, although, for obvious reasons, there was never agreement about the scale of resources needed to tackle it in the terms now presented by the report on the implications of population changes to 1983.

There has been general agreement and all-party recognition of the figures: that Glasgow is continuing to lose 25,000 of its population a year, that by 1981 there could be 25,000 houses empty and by 1983 there could be 30,000 houses empty. That is the size of the problem confronting Glasgow and Strathclyde in that context.

We therefore need an assurance from the Government. This is the first opportunity that the Minister has had to speak on the subject, since Glasgow was not even mentioned in the debate last week. I do not blame the Minister for that, and I had better not say anything about the selection by the Chair or I shall be in further trouble. But it was unfortunate that no voice was heard raising these issues, and this Adjournment debate is therefore pretty timely.

I now draw the Minister's attention—I am sure that he will be warned of it—to what was said in the Evening Times on 27 June by Bailie Derek Mason. Dealing with the need to face up to the financial crisis which he sees as more or less permanently facing Glasgow—perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly—he said: It is the intention of the Conservative administration to give the Government such detailed information about Glasgow that, rather than cut any assistance, they will be prepared to treat us as a special case. We are all familiar with how special cases can be built up. The Minister will be fully aware that there will be special pleading when he meets the representatives of Glasgow in the near future.

The Minister should also be aware that I am not just arguing about the peri- pheral areas. I also seek an assurance about the future of the GEAR programme. When the first cuts in public expenditure were intimated, there was a statement by one of these anonymous Scottish Office officials—the type of statement that seems to be made at weekends. I confess that I always shuddered when I read them when I was in Government and said "I wonder who on earth made that one". This was well up to standard, displaying the classic approach that seems to emerge from time to time. It dealt with the question: Will the GEAR programme be affected? The answer was: Yes, but it will maintain its relative priority. As I understand that, it means, in ordinary layman's language, "If everyone else is to get cut back, so will the GEAR programme". Perhaps the Minister will explain.

I should like some assurance that the urban aid programme will continue at its present level. This is entirely within the control of the Government. Will that, too, be affected?

I put my next question in the context of Easterhouse and of one scheme in particular, at Garthamlock. As the Minister will know, in the housing management report for last year, at page 70, the district council, accepting the need for action following on the report dealing with the implications of population changes, said that it had set up what it called an Environmental Revitalisation Officer to prepare a brief which is developed with the assistance of a local community and which balances the requirements of the city with the needs of the existing population in an area. The point has been reached where the emerging surplus of dwellings in Glasgow is beginning to be apparent in certain areas. On page 71 there is recognition of this because there is reference to the preparation of briefs covering five areas—Drumchapel, Garthamlock, which is in my constituency, Priesthill, Lochend, again in my constituency, and Pollok. This is part of the general recognition of the need to do something about these peripheral areas. The briefs in preparation cover over 7,000 houses in these five areas.

The importance of that reference is that it raises expectations in a community. It is all right for us to say "But there was no commitment given that there would be £X million forthcoming." Here we have large communities, and no one can deny that a lot of effort is needed.

I refer again to Garthamlock. Its description is the classic description of a deprived area. A total of 70 per cent. of its residents want to leave it; 44 per cent. of residents have submitted a transfer application form; 32 per cent. wish to leave because of violence and vandalism. There is no sheltered housing in the area. There is a high rate of abscondencies in a year—about 130 out of a total of 1,600 households. Ten per cent. of all households are single-parent families. Unemployment is exceptionally high, with almost 50 per cent. of economically active males unemployed. Car ownership is only 6.5 per cent. of the population.

All the classic indices of a deprived area are set out there in one small part of the so-called Easterhouse township. Yet the Government apparently feel that the selling of council houses is a panacea that will solve all these complex problems. There is some inconsistency here.

The Government's circular of 20 June gives local authorities more discretion. They are no longer required to submit detailed housing projects for approval. I welcome that continuation of our policy, but if the Government believe in it why are they taking such a rigid and doctrinaire attitude to the selling of council houses?

The Prime Minister admitted today that there would have to be some discretion—that, for example, houses in national parks, and tied cottages, might be exempt. I hope that the Minister will not reply too dogmatically and that I am being helpful when I say that I shall seek exemptions in areas of need, where the problems will not be solved with a blanket approach and which need a changed approach to the size, style and layout of houses.

Does this mean—I do not necessarily expect an answer tonight—that there will at least be consultations with local authorities to determine, as the Minister has apparently done with the SSHA, that houses due for imminent modernisation should be excluded from sale? That is a practical problem in some areas. If the expectation of a substantial injection of public money has been raised, might that not enhance the value of an area and allow the argument about selling council houses to continue?

I know that I am raising fundamental questions, but I was not happy with the Minister's attempt in the Scottish Grand Committee on Thursday to justify this policy on financial grounds. I am not now talking about social policy. Of course I believe in extending owneroccupation—I wish we could go into that tonight—but I am not satisfied with his explanation.

This seems like a short-term advantage, like someone selling his gas fire to pay for his summer holiday because he will not need heating until the autumn. That may be an unfair analogy, but the Scottish Office will be forced to seek short-term gains in public expenditure because of the pressure on it to make its contribution to the savage cuts dictated by the Cabinet.

We must consider whether we are not storing up long-term financial trouble. I do not always agree with Shelter—the Minister probably has had more responsibility for that organisation than I ever had—but many arguments in its document on this subject should be taken seriously.

It might be worth while if the proposed Scottish Select Committee considered the arguments on this matter. I warn the Minister—I am not threatening him—that there are areas of discontent. People know that one reason for involving them in this exercise is to enable someone to build a new shooting lodge in the Highlands when nothing is done about houses that are not of a tolerable standard. In other words, the tax relief to those who are earning well over £10,000 is colossal compared with the experience of many of our constituents who will suffer because of the Government's approach.

The Government should take on board that in the summer of discontent that will undoubtedly be theirs there is a need to pause and reflect before they return to this place in the autumn with legislation that they now think they can steamroller through the House merely because they have a parliamentary majority. It is not enough merely to have a majority. There must be social consensus or the right state of mind in the areas where Government policy will bite. I argue that the Government's policies will not be accepted in the areas that I have described.

When reading the report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service, 1 was struck by paragraph 2.3 of chapter 2, which states: It is a wry comment on the way of life in developed countries that we now pay more attention to the diseases of affluence than we do those of deprivation. In the years ahead the Government may be accused of adopting that approach on housing policy. The Government should not overlook the less fortunate in society. I am talking about an area that has colossal social problems. The problems will not be solved by an extension of urban aid contributions. Something much broader is required for Glasgow, which has at least started working on a scheme.

I appeal to the Minister to bear in mind that we need to put a great deal of effort, and be seen to be putting a great deal of effort, into large schemes in Glasgow at Drumchapel, Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Pollok. I appeal to the Government to proceed cautiously and not to be too doctrinaire. If they assess the problems, they will surely accept that it is necessary to spend more money and devote more energy to the difficult areas.