Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 am on 23rd January 1989.

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Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 1:17 am, 23rd January 1989

Local authority tenants' rents have risen by 230 per cent. in the past nine years. As a result of these orders, we see that the average rents next year will once again exceed inflation. The capital investment required to maintain and improve the housing stock is still some 50 per cent. short of what the authorities require to tackle Scotland's housing crisis. That has been debated well tonight. The acid test was that, if the Government were interested in Scottish housing they would have provided a housing condition survey. They have not done so. They have, however, given us some limited housing statistics. In 1986, their statistics identified that out of Scotland's 843,000 council houses, 360,000 needed to be modernised, 88,000 needed to be re-wired and 235,000 suffered dampness arid condensation.

How are the Government tackling that crisis? As an example, I shall take my constituency of Dumbarton. This year Dumbarton has no subsidy for public sector housing. The last time it received a subsidy was in 1981–82, when the housing support grant was £910,000 and the rate fund contribution was £2·1 million. There was a subsidy of more than £3 million in that year, with £5 million income from rents. Since then, we have received nothing at all.

The capital allocation last year was £7 million, with the authority being allowed to go to the private market to find £1 million. It was assumed that £6·4 million would come from council house sales, but the authority will fall short of that—which it has told the Government—for many reasons, not least because not as many people are buying houses as was estimated. That is one consequence of the Chancellor's high interest rates. The Government, however, have set their figures in stone and are paying no attention to the problem. It would seem appropriate to be flexible and for them to look at last year's allocation, so that they could help councils such as Dumbarton to help the public sector tenants.

I would draw attention to an anomaly in Dumbarton. The public sector does not receive any subsidy towards the cost of removing lead piping. Lead piping is a problem in a considerable number of Dumbarton's council houses. I believe that the housing authority has drawn this to the Minister's attention. I ask the Minister to meet the local authority and discuss the pressing problem of lead piping in Dumbarton, so that we can get that dealt with. Strathclyde regional council has found a temporary solution, but the long term problem must be attended to. I hope that the Minister will undertake to meet and consult me about this matter.

The housing crisis in Scotland cannot be solved until the Government realise that a substantial, real boost in housing resources is required in the next five to 10 years. Over the years, problems have been caused by the progressive withdrawal of rate support grant and other moneys to local government. The Government are out of step with the widespread Scottish view, whether that is expressed by COSLA, the Building Employers Confederation, Shelter or Church organisations who believe that decent, modern living conditions are an essential ingredient to maintain the social fabric of the community.

Last year the Prime Minister was up in Scotland talking to the Church of Scotland. At the end of her speech, the convener gave her a document on housing. In conjunction with the Secretary of State and Ministers, I want her to treat that document with the same urgency with which they treated the "Scottish Enterprise" document and Mr. Bill Hughes. I hope that the Prime Minister and her Ministers will consider that document over a weekend as they did the document presented by Mr. Hughes so that the problems of Scottish housing are put in their proper perspective.