Public Housing (Scotland)

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:05 pm on 13th April 1984.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office) 12:05 pm, 13th April 1984

I congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) on raising this important topic and giving the House the opportunity to discuss public sector housing in Scotland before we return to Scotland for our Easter recess. It is appropriate that the hon. Gentleman should raise the issue now because, as he said, housing is perhaps the issue that is most often raised by constituents.

In the past few months the House has given a good deal of attention to public sector housing. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of our debates on the Tenant's Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Bill before Christmas during which many of the subjects that he has dealt with today were covered at some length. More recently, during our consideration of clause 6 of the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill several of the issues that he has raised, especially the balance between capital and revenue in housing accounts, were dealt with fairly fully.

Although the hon. Gentleman rightly said that this is not a party political issue—I pay tribute to him for that—there is a tendency among Opposition Members to suggest that public sector housing in Scotland is undergoing a crisis. It is important to see the issue in perspective. Some people suggest that the Government are doing nothing to cope with the crisis. I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for not falling into that easy political trap. Some of our critics have gone so far as to suggest that we have no housing policy at all, although they argue in the same breath that our policy of encouraging a larger private sector in housing demonstrates our lack of concern for the public sector. I find it difficult to see how they can suggest that we have no policy when they argue that our policy is one with which they do not agree.

I should be the last to deny that there are serious housing problems in Scotland. The Government take those problems seriously. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs recently highlighted one problem—condensation and dampness. The Government hope to publish their response to the Committee's report shortly. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the housing condition survey for Scotland. Although I shall make a few comments about it, because it was dealt with in the Select Committee's report, we shall deal with it in our response to the report. Obviously it would not be right for me to pre-empt the response this morning before we had had time to receive the report and consider our response.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Committee did not regard the case for a housing condition survey to be conclusively proven. I had doubts about its effectiveness. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I said to the House at Question Time on Wednesday, which he quoted. A national survey would need substantial resources if it were to meet all the possible requirements for information. A sample of the same size in Scottish terms as that of the survey done in England would not provide the level and detail of information that would be of any use. If we were to have a national survey designed to provide the right level of information, it would take up substantial resources that could be better used in directing research at specific areas of the housing stock where problems have been identified.