Housing and Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 25th January 1990.

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Photo of Mr Jim Sillars Mr Jim Sillars , Glasgow Govan 6:27 pm, 25th January 1990

I appreciate the position and I shall be as brief as possible. I want to take the Secretary of State up on his point he made about comparing the amount involved in non-payment of rates with that involved in the non-payment of poll tax. He pretended that they were exactly the same, but he was using two different and separate statistical bases.

Let us take the example of a street with 100 houses. Under the rating system, if 15 per cent. of the rates were not paid, that meant that 15 people did not pay. If we assume that there are four adults in each house, under the poll tax we are talking about 400 people in the street; if 15 per cent. do not pay the poll tax, that is 60 people. That is why there is a tremendous problem for the Government and the regional councils which are trying to collect the poll tax. They have to cope with the magnitude of the non-payment revolt. If the Government want to pretend that there is no problem, they are foolish.

There is a reason why non-payment of the poll tax is succeeding. It is different from every other Government imposition. When the Government wanted to drive young people on to the YTS, they could withdraw benefit from them and we could protest, but do nothing about it. When the Government privatised British Steel and jeopardised Lanarkshire, we could protest, but do nothing about it because they were using the power of legislative and Executive control. The difference with the poll tax is that for it to be implemented the Government require the co-operation of every individual adult in Scotland. They have to register, put in a standing order or a direct debit, send a cheque or postal order, or go along with the money. When the people who have the power in the poll tax equation withhold their co-operation, the Government cannot implement it. Their flagship has struck the rock of non-payment.

In the limited time available I shall direct the main burden of my remarks to housing. Whatever the Secretary of State may say today, the Government have inflicted enormous damage on the standards of the people of Scotland. That is summed up extremely well in the brief that we received from Shelter, which states: The net effect of the Government's policies has been that as capital allocations programmes have decreased (a reduction in real terms of £90 million for 1990–91 … vital new stock has not been built to replace ageing stock and stock lost through council house sales. At the same time the stock that does remain is likely to be poorer quality as the better quality stock is sold off, with high repair and maintenance costs, which are increasingly having to be met from a shrinking rental income base. I echo what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) said—the problem is not about statistics, but about people. I can give three examples from my constituency. In Corkerhill, most of the houses have flat roofs, but require pitched roofs. There have been technical reports and the council acknowledges that those houses face severe dampness problems and have poor insulation. But the people of Corkerhill are fighting for resources with folk in other parts of Glasgow. Insufficient investment is going into the public housing sector to meet the needs of ordinary people.

An area called Moorpark in my constituency has been visited by representatives of every political party. Many hon. Members probably visited it during the Govan by-election. It has suffered a major drugs problem which we have tried to tackle. However, the underlying problem of the housing conditions remains. I was present at a meeting between the tenants association and Mr. Comley, the director of housing in Glasgow. He did not argue for one moment that the area did not require enormous investment or that it was an area of multiple deprivation. However, he had to tell the tenants association that there was no money available in the current five-year programme. Nobody knows what the score is beyond the current five-year programme.

My constituency also includes an area called Teucharhill with which many hon. Members will probably be familiar. This month, the Govan Initiative produced a special secure communities report from which it emerges that there is concern about windows caving in because they have not been replaced for years, dampness and lack of insulation. When we go to get some money, we are told that the council does not have it.

I do not absolve Glasgow city council of criticism; folk can criticise it for its allocation of funds to one part of the city or another and its inefficiency. But there is no question but that the housing problems in Glasgow can be resolved only by central Government allocating the appropriate amount of resources to meet the people's needs. It is an indictment of the Government and each of us who represent Glasgow constituencies, that we hear such heartbreaking stories about housing when we sit down in our surgeries. The Government have created misery when people are entitled to a decent and harmonious life.