Earlier tonight my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that the Minister was one of the nice men in the Tory party. Some of my colleagues say that he is a gentleman. However, the people in Scotland in council houses do not need a gentleman; they need someone who is prepared to stand up and fight. That is sadly lacking.
Since 1979 there has been a systematic attack on council house tenants. Since then rents have increased massively by more than 230 per cent. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is smiling. He should come and smile at my constituents—the elderly and disabled—who are forced to pay those massive rent increases. Since 1979 the rents have escalated.
A report by COSLA shows that in 1986 the Government's limited statistics identified that, out of 843,000 council houses in Scotland, 356,725 need to be modernised and 88,000 needed to be re-wired. That is an unbelievable indictment. COSLA says that 234,000 houses suffered dampness or condensation, while 153,746 needed major or structural repairs. We need a Minister who is prepared to ensure that the housing crisis in Scotland is solved.
I was appalled to hear the Minister boast proudly that he was not apologising for the fact that rents in Scotland were going up again. He was quite happy to see a £1·48 increase—after the trauma of the housing benefit cuts, the fear of what the poll tax would bring and the record levels of unemployment that still exist in Scotland. People are suffering more and more because of the Government's inability to improve—or rather their deliberate policy not to improve—the quality of life for people who are homeless; people who are living on state benefits, but are desperate because they are unemployed.
The Minister is not prepared to stand up and fight. There should not be a £1·48 rent increase; there should be a decrease, and a massive housebuilding programme to give folk decent housing. We do not want the nonsense that we are hearing tonight.
I accept that the Minister is a gentleman, but I am no gentleman. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is not here tonight for this important debate, but I was born and bred in Govan. I know what it was like to live under a private landlord. My mother and late father know what it was like for five of us to live in a single end. We were over the moon the day the note came through the door from the Glasgow corporation offering us a decent house—a house with a bath.
I had never seen a bath. I thought that it was something that you put a goldfish into. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it was like that in those days. The only water that 1 had seen in a big bath was in the swimming pool. I do not have the background of a gentleman who has lived in a big fancy house. I still do not live in a big fancy house: I live in a Scottish special house, and I rent it.
I see the poverty around me, created by the Government's cuts in social security and housing benefits. I see the fear that the Government are creating in Scotland. I plead with the Minister to stand up and fight for these people to ensure that they need not pay such a punishing rent. He has the power to do something to ensure that the people of Scotland have a decent chance.
As I have said, my life started in Govan, and I went to a house in Pollock. When I married I could not get a house. I had to go to a private landlord. Eventually I had a bit of luck: I got what is called an "economic expansion house" because of my job. Unemployment is so massive that it is hard for anyone to get a house, let alone an economic expansion house, yet Government policy is to continue to push rents so high that ordinary men and women are forced to buy their homes.
I said to the Chancellor the other day that mortgage default was one of the main reasons why many people were ending up homeless. They could not afford to pay their mortgages, and were having to go on to the streets. Massive pressure was being put on the local district council, because these folk were genuinely homeless. They are systematically selling off these people's only chance of a house and a decent living.
As I have already mentioned, we have a gentleman as a Minister, and the people of Scotland are looking for leadership to ensure that they have the right to a decent house—a right to a home that they can afford. They want decent housing which is not suffering from all kinds of defaults. They are looking for leadership that gives them the right to rent—a right which this Government have denied to them.
I see that the other Under-Secretary the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is sat there smugly smiling. I assure him that there are more than 3,500 homeless people in Renfrew district and Inverclyde who are not smiling tonight. They are weeping in overcrowded conditions. There are family bust-ups, domestic problems, divorces, separations and everything else going on, because of the level of homelessness. There are more than 30,000 people in Scotland whom the Government know are homeless. However, that is the tip of the iceberg—there are more than 30,000.
Many people have given up the ghost. We read in the Scottish papers the other day of an old man, who is living in a tent in a park. He is desperate for a home and he has asked the local authority to provide him with one. I am sure that the local authority will find him a home, but it is time that the Government gave the 30,000 homeless a home and some young people the right to a decent future. They do not want a castle or thousands of acres where they can shoot partridges and grouse, they want a home where they can cook and from which they can go to work. It is time that the Minister gave them that leadership.