I have heard nothing tonight which leads me to believe that the number of letters that I receive about housing problems in my constituency will diminish.
The order goes nowhere near to tackling the housing problem in Scotland, and the Government continue to turn a blind eye to the housing crisis by understating the need for expenditure and overstating the level of income likely to be achieved. The Minister predicted that the average rent will increase by £1·34 a week, but already some increases are higher. In my constituency, the projected increase is £2 a week.
The Government have identified 356,725 houses which need to be modernised or improved. They are suffering from condensation, dampness, warped doors and windows and cracked fabric, inside and out. The £5 million increase in housing support grant is welcome, but it is destroyed by taking away £19 million of general fund contributions, leaving tenants to pay an extra £14 million to bridge the gap.
The average weekly rent in 1988–89 is £16·23—an increase of 10.8 per cent. over the last year. In Argyll and Bute, the average rent last year was £18 a week, and it is projected to rise to £20—an increase of 11 per cent. Rents are rising faster than inflation and contribute to the rate of inflation. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has told us about the unbelievable 230 per cent. rent rise since 1979.
Part of the reason for the rent rise is the rise in interest rates, which is the result of Government policy to dampen a boom in the south-east of England. Scotland can go hang. The order seems a waste of paper. There is a long list of local authorities with the word "nil" against each. It would be easier to say that only five districts and three islands councils will receive anything.
I believe that the Government are attempting to worm out of their responsibilities by ignoring the need for investment in the public sector. Rents are rising so quickly that they are making renting unattractive. Are the Government pushing up rents just to encourage more people to buy their council houses? Many do not want to buy because their homes are in such poor condition, and the incidence of mortgage default is growing significantly. Can the Minister tell us, although perhaps not tonight, how much housing benefit is paid out in each local authority area and how much mortgage tax relief is given in the same area?
The most important and disturbing thing of all is the plight of the homeless. According to Shelter, the number of homeless people in Scotland last year was an appalling 29,185. It is unfair that local authority tenants should have to bear the cost of a statutory service which is used equally by all sectors of the community. Such costs should be met from the revenue support grant, which would spread the load more fairly. The Government have failed singularly to tackle the problem of homelessness. In my constituency the number of homeless has risen from 180 in 1984 to 308 in 1988. To an hon. Member representing Glasgow or Edinburgh, that may not be a large rise, but in small areas and pockets of my constituency that is a large increase. That is not even the true figure. It reflects only those who go to the local authority and officially declare themselves to be homeless. The figure does not include those people who live in overcrowded conditions, single people or childless couples who have no legal rights under the homeless persons legislation.
Not only is the plight of those people a stain on a so-called civilised country; those people cause resentment and bitterness among local people, particularly in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, because the people in greatest need are often allocated houses before people who have waited patiently for their turn on the housing list.
Genuinely affordable housing for single people is in very short supply. They will continue to make up an increasing proportion of the homeless. It is now not possible for many local authorities to secure sufficient permanent accomodation or to make what is available available quickly enough. Some authorities have to rely on costly temporary accomodation for longer and longer periods. Local authorities are unable to perform their statutory duties adequately. There is a decline in new building and renovation and that is reducing the lettings available to homeless families to say nothing about those on the waiting lists.
All that is compounded by a further problem which particularly affects rural areas. It was estimated in 1986 that there were 19,446 second homes in Scotland. There were three in Bearsden and Milngavie and 2,763 in my constituency, and that was the highest figure for any area in Scotland.
It is very sad to see wealthy people out-pricing locals by thousands of pounds. Young couples who cannot now afford those houses must give up jobs and homes because they cannot match the inflated prices. Therefore, we lose the indigenous population and a priceless heritage and culture. House upon empty holiday house is visited perhaps once or twice a year. In this day and age where money is the god, no one in the Government cares. The order will do nothing to help the housing crisis in Scotland.