Orders of the Day — Housing Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 am on 15th December 1986.

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Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 2:05 am, 15th December 1986

I must confess to being in difficulty with this debate. Like the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when I saw that the debate was in the name of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), I, too, assumed—obviously, wrongly—that it was on Scottish housing. Unfortunately, I do not have a bunch of advisers desperately passing me notes to reply to hon. Members' points. I hope that hon. Members will accept my apologies for not being able to reply in detail to their points, because I do not confess to having any great knowledge of English housing.

It is clear hon. Members' speeches, especially those of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and for Burnley (Mr. Pike), that they face many of the problems that we face in Scotland. In Scotland, 49 per cent. of housing is council housing, so the problems faced by councils are great. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broadgreen, who, in his graphic description of Liverpool, related the housing crisis much more broadly. Unemployment and social deprivation create many housing problems, which are then made worse by unemployment and social deprivation.

I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) on one point. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) referred to the fact that earlier only two Labour Members were present for the debate on defence policy and NATO. It is remarkable that there are no Conservative Back Benchers present to talk about housing. More people have been made redundant in the construction industry since 1979 than would be made unemployed as a result of even the wildest claims by Conservative Members about Labour's defence policy. Of course, to most of our constituents, the problems of dampness, high rents, of repairs not being done and of inadequate sheltered housing are of much greater importance than Conservative attacks on our defence policy.

I wish to limit my remarks to some of the Government's recent actions in Scottish housing policy. A recent Scottish Office press release was headed, Big Cash Increases for Housing Announced". The Government were proudly announcing their increases in capital allocation, yet when the true figures came out, they showed that the total cash for housing next year will increase by only 2 per cent.—well below the inflation rate. The Minister shakes his head at that. He may care to look at his own figures.

The Government have also cut the rate fund contribution limit from £69·8 million in 1986–87 to £43·7 million in 1987–88, compared with their own figure of £112·4 million in 1983–84. Housing support grant next year will be £46·5 million compared with £50·7 million this time last year, although there is to be a variation order to cut this year's figure to £44·5 million. As a result, tenants of only 25 out of the 54 housing authorities in Scotland will receive any subsidy on their rents and two thirds of the total housing stock in Scotland will receive no grant at all in the coming year. Those restrictions mean that only 12 per cent. of council house costs will come from the public purse and 88 per cent. will come from the tenants in rents and other charges. In 1979–80 rents covered only 47 per cent. of council house costs while Government grant accounted for 53 per cent.

At the same time, almost inevitably, rents have increased. If the Government have their way the average rent increase next year will be £1·32 and some council tenants will face increases of more than £3. Even the average increase is more than 10 per cent. or more than three times the present rate of inflation, and since 1979 average rents in Scotland will have increased by 191 per cent. or double the rate inflation. How any Government can justify loading those costs on to tenants, I do not know.

Meanwhile, the Government have done nothing to reduce the subsidy paid even to the wealthiest home owners through mortgage tax relief. We are not in favour of abolishing mortgage tax relief completely at the present time, but we believe that it should be for standard rate taxpayers only and not for the wealthiest people in our society. It is certainly grossly unfair for the Government to increase subsidies to the better off members of the community while constantly cutting those available to council house tenants, many of whom are among the poorest people in our society.