Scottish House Condition Survey

Part of Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 29th March 1988.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 6:15 pm, 29th March 1988

New clause 1 would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a house condition survey and provide for remedial action to deal with any problems identified in that survey for the public and private housing sectors in Scotland.

New clause 2, which we are also debating, would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a survey of housing needs, with particular reference to homelessness, every five years. It would also impose on the Secretary of State a duty to take steps to deal with the problems that would be identified. We are also debating new clause 14 and amendment No. 126 in the name of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), which also deal with homelessness.

The Bill is described as a housing Bill, but it makes no reference to or provision for the most serious underlying problems of housing in Scotland. It is simply a doctrinaire measure to undermine the functions of elected local authorities in Scotland, to destroy the rights of tenants and to promote the interests of private landlords. The new clauses are a serious attempt by the Labour party to persuade the House of Commons to incorporate in the Bill a recognition of the condition of Scotland's housing stock and housing needs.

At present, the Bill includes a list of seven general functions and 19 specific powers for the new quango that the Government propose to set up in part I—Scottish Homes—but there is no reference to a duty to survey the condition of Scottish housing or the housing needs of the Scottish people.

The Minister should be aware of the problem, because I remember being a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs at the same time as he was. That was in the good old days when there was a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. We looked at the problems of dampness and other conditions of housing in Scotland, and the consensus was that there was a case for establishing a house condition survey in Scotland. However, we are still waiting for something like that to be carried out.

Let me start with housing needs. Surely the right to decent, secure housing must be one of the most fundamental human rights to be recognised in any civilised nation. However, as we know to our cost, an intolerable number of Scots are being denied that basic human right today. The number of Scots who are becoming homeless each year has risen by over 50 per cent. since the Government came to power.

The official Scottish Office figure for homelessness for 1987 is 24,196. That was the number of applications accepted by local authorities. However, we understand from Shelter that the real figure may be in excess of 30,000 because a number of local authorities allocate houses to people who may become homeless before they fulfil all the criteria provided for by the Act.

In addition, we know from statistics furnished by COSLA that 200,000 Scots are stuck on waiting lists waiting for rented housing in Scotland. Scottish Members come face to face with that problem every time we open our mail and conduct surgeries in our constituencies. I fear that, because the Government have so few elected Members from constituencies in Scotland, they may not be genuinely aware of the depth of human misery being experienced by so many people in our nation.

There are 1,250,000 Scots living in overcrowded accommodation—one quarter of Scotland's population. That is significantly worse than the comparable figures for England and Wales. Indeed, overcrowding is such an inherent problem that the Government have seen fit to devise a tax on overcrowding. Because so many people cannot obtain homes of their own, they cannot become ratepayers. They have to stay in shared accommodation. The Government are evidently so appalled by the fact that those unfortunate people cannot pay their local taxes directly because they are denied the opportunity to become householders, that they have devised a poll tax, which is a tax on overcrowding and bad housing conditions. That is the depth to which the Government are prepared to descend.

The Government's failure or refusal to tackle or recognise the housing crisis that is afflicting people in Scotland is nothing less than a national scandal. The Bill is designed to make things worse by promoting high rents and insecurity for tenants, and it is a cruel insult to thousands of Scots who do not want or comprehend the policies of this minority Government in Scotland.

The Minister tells us that under the legislation there will be an upsurge in the building of new houses to let by the private sector. He should listen to the private sector. He should read the evidence of the Grieve report in Glasgow, which makes it abundantly clear that it is unlikely that the private sector will be able to respond to the Government's challenge.

6.30 pm

The Government should be encouraging local authorities to provide for housing need in the way that they best understand. It would be helpful if the Bill contained some reference to a housing needs survey, which would at least recognise the existence of the mounting tragedy of housing need in Scotland.

I shall move on to the case for a house condition survey. It is important to put it on record that the Scottish Office is alone among Government Departments responsible for housing in the United Kingdom in refusing to conduct a proper house condition survey. There is a house condition survey in England and Wales, but the Government steadfastly and resolutely refuse to conduct such a survey in Scotland. The Scottish Office administration evidently prefers to remain in ignorance of housing conditions in Scotland. It is rather like the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. However, Ministers in the Scottish Office appear to be evil in regard to people in Scotland.

On the basis of incomplete returns from local authorities, based on information given to councils rather than on any active survey, the Government are sticking to the fatuous assertion that there are only 55,000 houses in Scotland below the tolerable standard. We know that that figure is inaccurate. We had a long debate on the subject in Committee, but the Minister is determined to continue the daft pretence that there are only 55,000 homes below the tolerable standard in Scotland.

We are indebted to Glasgow district council, which conducted a scientific survey of housing standards in that city. It identified 44,500 homes as being below the tolerable standard in the city of Glasgow alone. That leaves only 10,500 in the rest of Scotland. If we then look at the figures that the Government like to quote from the returns from local authorities, we discover that a further 4,180 of the houses below the tolerable standard are in the district of Argyll and Bute.

If we take that district out of the calculation, it appears that in the rest of the nation of Scotland there are only 6,320 homes below the tolerable standard. That is obviously nonsense. The Minister simply wants to conceal the fact that there are many more sub-standard houses in Scotland.

During an interesting debate on the subject in Committee, it became all too clear that the Minister preferred not to know about the grim picture of housing conditions in Scotland. Not only is ignorance bliss for the Scottish Office; it appears to be official Government policy.

If there was time, I could offer the House a long and disturbing list of estimated figures produced by COSLA and by voluntary agencies such as Shelter, indicating that there are probably 500,000 damp houses in Scotland and that there are probably 250,000 council houses in need of major repairs or refurbishment. I invite the Government to face their responsibilities and conduct a survey so that we can evolve proper policies to deal with the underlying problems of housing in Scotland.

The Minister saw the evidence with his own eyes when he was a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in 1983. The Grieve report put before the Government more devastating evidence about the situation in Glasgow. There is a serious problem affecting housing in Scotland. There is a desperate need for investment to improve the standard of housing in Scotland and provide for the needs of people who are homeless or living in overcrowded conditions. Why do the Government not get on with the job of identifying the facts so that we can have a practical debate about housing to deal with the problems?