Housing Support Grant (Scotland)

– in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 23rd January 1991.

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Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 7:47 pm, 23rd January 1991

I beg to move, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to take the following two motions on the Order Paper: No. 3: That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved. No. 4: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 2550), dated 12th December 1990, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th December, be annulled.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I know that a considerable number of hon. Members hope to catch your eye this evening, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I therefore propose to keep my opening remarks brief.

The housing support grant system has now been with us for 12 years and the House is familiar with the way in which it operates. Essentially, housing support grant is a deficit subsidy paid to those local authorities which, on the basis of reasonable assumptions about income and expenditure, would find it difficult to meet the costs of council housing from rental income. Full details of the grant settlement for next year are set out in the relevant grant order, and I shall discuss them shortly.

I should like to express my thanks to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities with which both grant orders have been discussed. Although the convention has expressed reservations about certain aspects of the settlement, I am grateful for the constructive and helpful approach that it takes in our annual discussion of these matters.

Before commenting on next year's settlement, I propose to spend a little time on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order. It makes changes in the amounts of grant payable during the current year. It is customary to bring forward a variation order if there is a significant change in the level of interest rates estimated to apply to local authority borrowing. For example, last year we brought forward a variation order to increase the level of housing support grant in 1989–90 by nearly £5 million because the estimate of the pool interest rate in that year had increased. This year, a significant change in the estimated pool interest rate has again occurred, but this time it is in a downward direction. We now estimate that the pool or average rate of interest for 1990–91 will be 10·1 per cent. That figure may be compared with the estimate of 10·2 per cent. used in the grant calculations for the Housing Support Grant Order for 1990–91 approved by the House a year ago. Because of this reduction in the estimate of the pool rate, the eligible expenditure of local authorities on loan charges in 1990–91 is now estimated to be less than it was when estimated last January. It follows from this that authorities need less grant than anticipated. Therefore, and in accordance with the usual practice, the variation order now before the House reduces the total amount of grant payable from £59·6 million to £58 million.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

I have a brief question. Why are the Government so appallingly harsh and insensitive in their dealings with Inverclyde district council? The council has appalling housing, with problems of dampness, and there is massive unemployment in the area. The housing problems are a disgrace. Yet we receive no help whatever from this supposedly caring Scottish Office Minister.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I have visited the hon. Gentleman's constituency and seen the housing there. Some remarkable successes have been achieved. I tell the hon. Gentleman what I tell other local authorities. Of course, we shall provide as much public expenditure as we can, but thereafter it should consider all the other possibilities and make arrangements with housing associations and, indeed, the private sector. I vividly remember one street in the hon. Gentleman's constituency where, through an arrangement with Wimpey, the derelict houses have been renovated. It was significant that those who then occupied the houses were people who had lived in the local community previously. Such possibilities should be followed up by each local council.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

Will the Minister do two things? First, will he enlarge on the strong representations which the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has made on the matter? Secondly, will he accept that local councils such as Strathkelvin and Monklands—my two district councils—are genuinely worried that the order does not reflect the needs of the area? Does he accept that if there is a moratorium on housing grants, or if the calculation of sales of council houses is not matched by events, he will accept responsibility for that, agree to review it and introduce a measure that reflects the real needs which have been brought to his attention?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman takes me away from the order, but I shall endeavour to answer his question. The crux of the matter is the gross allocation for 1990–91, announced in December 1989, of £418·3 million, excluding £3 million set aside for the urban partnerships, with the mid-year stock figure of 747,713. That represents an average investment per house of £559.

The gross allocation that we announced on 5 December for 1991–92, again excluding the £8 million set aside for the urban partnerships, is £406·8 million. The estimated mid-year stock figure is 727,277, representing an average investment per house of £559. That means that the spending per house will be maintained. However, the House must take into account that the stock decreases as a considerable number of council houses are sold. The final allocations will be made in due course.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

If I may return to the orders, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

The main order for 1991–92 provides that the total grants payable next year will be £55·4 million. That sum represents the difference between the eligible expenditure and the relevant income of those authorities which, in the absence of grant, would have a deficit on their housing revenue accounts. The main components of eligible expenditure are loan charges and management and maintenance spending. It is a deficit subsidy.

The loan charges which we estimate that authorities will have to meet in the next financial year are based on a projection of each authority's capital debt to the mid-point of the 1991–92 financial year, taking account of new borrowing and debt redemption. In order to calculate interest charges, we apply to these projections of capital debt the pool interest rate expected for local authority borrowing in 1991–92. Our present estimate of this rate is 10 per cent. I appreciate that interest rates fluctuate, but I can assure the House that, if there is a significant change in the estimate of the pool rate, we shall, as normal, bring forward an appropriate variation order. For the moment, our estimate of loan charges for all authorities in 1991–92 is £497 million.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

The variations in the notional interest rates are not worth a candle compared to the disruption that they will cause. Certainly they are not an accurate reflection of the real interest charges that smaller local authorities will have to pay. I understand that if one has a large debt it is possible to do a deal and finance one's borrowings at about 10 per cent. But it is impossible for smaller local authorities to do that. More importantly, will the Minister confirm that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities made representations to the effect that such changes at this stage of the game make matters doubly difficult? It is the eleventh hour in the current financial year. The sums involved are not worth the disruption that the changes will cause.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

That point was raised by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) when he brought a deputation to see me. I told him and the representatives from the Western Isles and his council that, if their anxiety about the pool rate of interest was shared by other authorities, I should be happy for the Department and COSLA to pursue the matter. The system which has operated for years was used in this case and the Western Isles received the second highest subsidy in Scotland—almost £4 million in housing support grant. That amounts to over £32 per week for each Western Isles council tenant. The national taxpayer contributes more towards the cost of Western Isles council housing than the council tenants.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I wish to develop the argument. The hon. Gentleman can intervene again in a moment if he wishes.

The other major item of expenditure on housing revenue accounts is management and maintenance of the housing stock. Our estimate of eligible management and maintenance spending in 1991–92 is based on an assumed average spending level of £458 per house; that represents a 12·5 per cent. increase over the equivalent average for the current year. Hon. Members will be aware that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities considers that that is not enough. On that point, I do not find its arguments convincing. During the current year, of the 21 authorities in receipt of grant, 10 are spending less on management and maintenance than the amount assumed in the grant calculations. That suggests that our management and maintenance assumption for grant purposes is not only reasonable but realistic.

On the income side, we are assuming that rents in 1991–92 will in each authority be set at an average level of £23·97 per house per week. That also represents an increase of 12·5 per cent. above the assumed rent for the current year. I stress that the rent figure of £23·97 which I have quoted is not a forecast of the average council rent next year; nor is it a recommendation to authorities about their rent levels for next year. It is the average rent which, for the purpose of grant calculations, we consider authorities should reasonably receive. The actual rent levels of individual authorities may be higher or lower, depending on their decisions about income and expenditure. I shall discuss in a few moments the implications of the subsidies settlement for actual rents.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The Minister should know that Dundee expects its average rent level to increase to £28·18 next year simply because, once again, the Government refuse to give any housing support grant whatever to the council. Why are the Government prepared to subsidise the borrowings of owner-occupiers in Dundee such as me but are not prepared to give a single penny to subsidise the borrowings made on behalf of the district council tenants by Dundee district? He will be aware that Dundee tenants are paying 67p out of every pound to the moneylenders to which the Government force Dundee district council to turn.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman why the allocations, as they stand, have been made to Dundee. I repeat that the final allocations have not been made. The provisional gross allocation announced for Dundee on the housing revenue account block amounts to £17·39 million. I am pleased to have been able to maintain Dundee's allocation at the same level as the corresponding figure for the current financial year. On a per house basis, there will be an increase of just over 5 per cent., from £498 to £524, per house. That means that the council should be in a position to maintain investment in its own housing stock at the level planned for 1990–91.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

With regard to the intervention of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), will my hon. Friend confirm that housing benefit paid through the councils in Scotland was in excess of £380 million? That makes a bit of a nonsense of the hon. Gentleman's claim about the Government helping only those who have private dwellings.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

More than £380 million is spent through housing benefit on local authority tenants. That does not take into account New Towns' tenants, Scottish Homes' tenants or other tenants in the private sector. That £380 million is a substantial sum of money.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

When will the Minister realise that housing benefit is a subsidy to the person who is in desperate poverty and not to the housing authority? If everyone was well paid, there would not be any housing benefit, but I bet that there would still be mortgage tax relief.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I appreciate that the Government's policy has been to move away from generalised subsidies to targeting those subsidies much more to the individual. The levels of housing benefit have increased enormously in the past 10 years.

I wish to draw to the attention of the House one important aspect of the Housing Support Grant Order. Some time ago the hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) complained that the costs incurred by local authorities in dealing with homelessness had to be met from the housing revenue account and were therefore financed from council rents. With the agreement of COSLA, I have made it clear to all local authorities that that practice should stop. Therefore, local authority expenditure on homelessness, such as the cost of running homeless persons' units and the provision of assistance to voluntary organisations, will now be met from the general funds of authorities. That expenditure has been taken into account in determining next year's aggregate external finance settlement so that the burden will be shared between the taxpayer and the community charge payer.

One area of homeless expenditure, however, must continue to be met from housing revenue accounts for statutory reasons—the net costs of local authority hostels. It is our intention to bring forward legislation to exclude those costs from local authority housing revenue accounts as soon as an appropriate opportunity is available. In the meantime, we have made arrangements to ensure that the net costs of all local housing authority hostels in Scotland will be met by the Government through housing support grant. Those arrangements have been given effect in the main order before the House.

I invite hon. Members to note that the housing support grant hostel portion of £1,425,314 will be distributed among the 15 authorities shown in schedule 3 to the order. If we had not changed the arrangements, only five authorities would have received a share of a total hostel portion of only £384,000. The House will not be surprised to learn that the change has been welcomed by COSLA.

Our aim in providing that additional grant assistance through the HSG and revenue support grant is to ensure that local authorities are properly resourced to deal with homelessness. It is not, of course, the final or definitive answer to the problem of homelessness, but it is one example of the way in which the Government are prepared to help local authorities in that respect.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

Is the Minister aware that Renfrew district council has been allocated £28,500 for homeless hostel accommodation? Does he realise that one can hardly buy a single-end in Paisley for that sum? How far will £28,500 go in helping the homeless in Renfrew? The Government live in cloud cuckoo land.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

Each authority knows its own problems and its own stock as well as, if not considerably better than, anyone else. It is for each authority to work out its priorities within the framework of its allocation. I expect authorities to give priority to homelessness.

General fund contributions represent a subsidy from community—

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I should get on, but I am willing to give way.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

What is the position of battered women in Scotland? The hostel accommodation provided for them meets just one tenth of actual need as estimated by refuge organisations.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

We changed the law in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 so that battered wives should be considered as homeless persons and counted as such. That change was welcomed. Before Christmas we also announced an additional allocation, extra to the resources originally allocated. We are now in discussion with four cities, including the hon. Lady's, and we hope to make the detailed allocations to those cities as soon as practicable when we have all the information. No doubt the hon. Lady's concern will be one of the issues under consideration.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I cannot resist my hon. and learned Friend.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

Has my hon. Friend noticed that some local authorities, including my own, are not getting a bean out of this? People who live in modest circumstances are contributing to the constituents of Opposition Members in Dundee and elsewhere. That is what lies behind my hon. Friend's announcement tonight.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

My hon. and learned Friend makes a relevant point. When I visited his district council—

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The hon. and learned Gentleman's council is the only one on Tayside getting any Government grant. Our constituents are subsidising his.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman will get an opportunity to speak in the course of the debate.

When I visited my hon. and learned Friend's district council, it was clear that it was interested in Scottish Homes' projects. Assistance is therefore available from a number of different hands.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I cannot make the hon. Gentleman's speech for him.

General fund contributions represent a subsidy from community charge payers to council tenants. Such subsidies are indiscriminate as they benefit all council tenants regardless of their personal circumstances. They are unnecessary to the extent that tenants who are unable to meet the costs of their housing receive assistance in the form of housing benefit. Therefore, I make no apology for our proposal that 48 of the 56 local housing authorities will be barred from estimating for such a contribution next year. The remaining eight authorities will be allowed to budget for varying levels of contribution amounting in total to £2·2 million. The level of those contributions has been calculated as the amounts necessary to restrict the average rent increase in each of the authorities concerned to a maximum of £2·50 per house per week.

I estimate that the combined effect of the subsidy proposals before the House will be that the overall average rent increase for council tenants in Scotland will be about £1024 per house per week, or 5·9 per cent. I should emphasise that that forecast is based upon the assumption that authorities will increase their spending on management and maintenance by 12·5 per cent. per house above their budgeted levels for the current year. That would bring average rents to a level of £22·14 per house per week in 1991–92. I do not regard such rent levels as unreasonable or excessive—they are lower than the current average rent levels of New Towns' tenants at £23·22 and Scottish Homes' tenants at £23·81. They are certainly well below those of local authorities in England at £23·74. I should add that those local authority tenants in receipt of housing benefit are protected against rent increases.

I believe that the proposals put forward tonight constitute a fair and reasonable subsidy package. They set an acceptable balance between the interests of the council tenant, the community charge payer and the taxpayer. We have consulted authorities about the orders, and I commend them to the House.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 8:09 pm, 23rd January 1991

I have listened many times to this Minister and to previous Ministers speaking about housing in Scotland. I despair of their ever understanding that Scotland has a housing crisis, especially in the public sector, and that that crisis has existed for far too many years.

The Minister made it clear that many local authorities receive no grant whatever from central Government—either in housing support grant or through the general fund contribution. I point out to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) that, of the three local authorities in the Tayside region—Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross—only Perth and Kinross receives any grant; the other two receive no grant whatever. The collusion between the two Members in suggesting otherwise is wholly unfair.

Every time the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, he reads a brief that is complacent, to say the least, and paints a picture of housing in Scotland that no one—except Ministers and, presumably, the advisers who write their speeches—would recognise. Perhaps even they do not recognise it. Certainly no local authority facing the continuing deterioration of its housing stock, no housing charity and no academic researcher would recognise it. Most important, no tenant paying ever-higher rent for ever-poorer housing would see the house in which he or she lives depicted anywhere in the Minister's speech.

Everyone involved in Scottish housing has tried to show the Minister that there is a crisis. As long ago as 1986, the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities spelt it out. Using Scottish Office statistics, the convention showed that more than 356,000 houses needed modernisation, 88,000 needed rewiring, 234,000 suffered from damp or condensation and more than 153,000 needed major or structural repairs. I make no apology for repeating those figures. I do so practically every time I make a speech on housing. No Minister has yet been able to refute them, no Minister has been able to say that they are incorrect and no Minister has been able to produce alternative figures.

Whether through housing support grant, through general fund contributions or through capital allocations, the Government have failed to provide local authorities with the funds that would allow them to tackle this appalling problem. The crisis has almost certainly deepened since 1986. Ever-deeper cuts have meant insufficient money being spent on basic repairs and modernisation. The orders are part of that pattern. They represent cuts in housing expenditure that can only drive rents ever higher and lead to a poorer repair service and a further deterioration in Scotland's housing stock.

Before Christmas, the Minister seemed to recognise, at least in part, the desperate plight of the growing army of homeless young people. It appears that that recognition was short-lived. There is little point in the Minister's giving money to local authorities to spend on hostels for the homeless if he then takes all that and more away by other means, thus reducing the authorities' capacity to provide permanent homes for those same homeless people. There is no point in providing hostel accommodation if fewer houses are available for the homeless once their spell in hostel accommodation is up.

Let us look at the figures showing the total resources that local authorities in Scotland will have to spend on housing this year. The general fund contribution is to be reduced from £3 million to £2 million. If that is all that the Minister proposes to allow, there is little point in keeping the general fund contribution; one might almost say that it should be abolished. Only eight Scottish local authorities can use it. Housing support grant is to be reduced from £58 million to £55 million. Capital consents—the money that local authorities can borrow to spend on new buildings and major developments—have been reduced from £459 million to £415 million. Local authorities expected the total to rise, at least in line with inflation—from £520 million to £572 million—rather than being reduced to £472 million. That represents a cut in real terms of £100 million in the money that will be spent by local authorities on housing in Scotland during the coming year—hardly the increase that the Minister tried to pretend would take place.

Ten years ago, housing support grant was £228 million —in cash terms, not real terms. The general fund contribution—or rate fund contribution, as it then was —provided a further £100 million. Next year, the two together will provide only £57 million.

COSLA estimates that, since 1979, more than £1·5 billion of direct Government support has been cut from housing in Scotland. The House should remember that those are cash figures. In real terms, the facts are even more catastrophic. In 1979, 47 per cent. of local authority housing costs came from rents, 39 per cent. from housing support grant and 14 per cent. from then rate fund contribution. This year, 93 per cent. will come from rents, 7 per cent. from housing support grant and less than 1 per cent. from the general fund contribution.

All that has placed an intolerable burden on tenants. Rents in Scotland have risen from an average of £4·92 per week in 1979 to an average of £20·88 this financial year. COSLA expects that average to rise by more than £3 a week next year—whatever the Minister may claim to the contrary. A comparison of Scottish rents with equivalent rents in the north of England and the midlands will show the Minister that many Scottish authorities' rents are now far higher than those in England. He can arrive at the overall English average only by including the London boroughs and authorities in the south-east of England.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

What happens to those in receipt of housing benefit when local authorities push rents up? Is that increase paid for from the public purse?

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

If local authorities—especially Labour local authorities—had some way of increasing rents only for those on housing benefit and of keeping rents down for the others, the hon. Gentleman might just have an argument. But every time local authorities increase their rents, they have to increase rents for all tenants, including those who fall just outside the housing benefit range, who are in the poverty trap. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that.

Rents in Scotland have risen on average by 350 per cent. since 1979. That is well above the rate of inflation. At the same time, the Government have continued to subsidise home owners through mortgage tax relief. We are not opposed to such relief for standard rate taxpayers, but we believe that there should be equality of treatment. Last year, mortgage payers in Scotland—including me, I admit—received £470 million in subsidies compared with the £58 million that the local authorities received for their tenants. Hon. Members may not realise that that £470 million is only about 6·5 per cent. of the United Kingdom total, which now runs at £6·5 billion. The Labour party seeks equivalence of treatment in those matters.

I accept that the variation order does not involve large sums of money. However, it cuts housing grant by £1·6 million at a time when more, rather than less, needs to be spent on Scottish housing. The Minister explained that this year's housing support grant was based on an interest rate of 10·2 per cent. The Minister has now concluded that a projected interest rate of 10·1 per cent. is more appropriate. Given the Gulf war and the present economic crisis, I do not understand how he reached that conclusion. I see no evidence to suggest that interest rates will fall. The Minister was asked by COSLA to delay his decision until he saw the economic position, but he refused. More importantly, he refused to give a guarantee that if his estimate was wrong, he would come back to the House with another variation order to increase the grant. I am happy to give way if he would like to give that guarantee now.

On the main Housing Support Grant Order, I have already shown that there is a further reduction in grant. The Minister described his decision and the increases as realistic. The Government will give an allowance of £458 per house for management and maintenance. This year local authorities are spending £485 per house and they expect to spend £543 per house next year just to maintain the present level of service. There is a significant difference. The housing support grant settlement should have been £62 million more simply to allow local authorities to stand still on housing expenditure.

Some authorities may be in trouble, too, over the element in their grant for loan charges. The Minister mentioned the Western Isles. That council believes that its grant, based on the average of Scottish interest rates, is far too low. Most of its loans have been taken out since 1975 at high interest rates; therefore it cannot compensate with the lower interest rates from before 1975. As a result, Western Isles council is faced with having to increase its rents by a minimum of £6·50 a week. It can do that only if it cuts maintenance costs by half.

While capital allocations are not officially part of the debate, we cannot ignore them when considering the money to be spent on public housing in Scotland. Here, too, cuts are taking place. Net consents—the money which local authorities can borrow without consideration of house sales—have risen by £24 million in the capital allocations given by the Minister, but expected receipts from the sale of houses have fallen by £68 million. As a result, local authorities will have £44 million less to spend this year on new build, redevelopment and help to the private sector. Yet again the Government refuse to recognise that there is a crisis in Scottish housing. They do not care that thousands of their fellow Scots live in substandard housing, with their health and the health of their children affected by dampness and cold. People on low wages, just outside benefit level, are struggling to find ever-increasing rents and are forced to trim their spending on food and heating. That is intolerable in a civilised society. The callous disregard of the Government and their Back-Bench Members for the crisis is disgraceful.

However, let me be marginally generous to the Minister: I do not think that he understands or knows what is happening. With his income, he does not appreciate the housing problems of other people. I should like to finish with an apocryphal story, perhaps, about the Minister, which illustrates well his total lack of understanding of Scottish housing and which also shows that he has no right to be a housing Minister.

On one occasion, when travelling in his official car in Scotland with a junior civil servant, to make polite conversation he asked the young man where he lived. The young man said that he had a flat in such-and-such a street in Edinburgh. The Minister replied, "That is very interesting: I have got a flat just around the corner. Tell me, where do you live at the weekends?" I think that that sums up the Minister's lack of understanding about housing.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman is misquoting a piece of gossip produced in the Glasgow Herald. The last story was that this was a conversation overheard at an airport. There is only one senior official in the housing department in that category, and I know very well who it is.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I will not reveal my source, but I assure the House that it was not idle gossip overheard anywhere. It came from a fairly reliable source. The story sums up the Government's attitude to housing and the Minister's understanding of housing. I ask my hon. Friends to vote against the orders to show our contempt for the Government's housing policy.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 8:24 pm, 23rd January 1991

While I would not use the adjectives that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) used in opening his speech, it is no use trying to hide the fact that there are many housing problems in Scotland. Not that they are particularly new —in all the housing debates stretching back to 1964, one recalls criticism of the Government in power, whether Labour or Conservative, for not putting sufficient resources into housing. There is no doubt that housing is sometimes short in quantity, sometimes short in quality, and sometimes both. We must try to move faster towards the production of houses of the standard that we require in the 1990s than we have over the last 20 years or so.

Some authorities have exceptionally good housing records; they have modernised existing houses and have built good new houses. It is a major worry that so many poor houses were built in the 1950s when everyone was cutting costs to the bone. The result was condensation, dampness and virtual reconstruction in the 1980s and inevitably in the 1990s. We have a long way to go before we can say that in Scotland we are even moderately satisfied with the overall quality and quantity of houses.

There have been 220,000 houses built since 1979. Successful council house sales have brought capital receipts to local authorities. One is concerned about the fact that more than 20,000 houses are empty in Scotland at any one time. That makes one raise more than one eyebrow about the quality of housing management in some areas.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Edinburgh Leith

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that Scottish Homes, a Government quango, has refused repeatedly to repair steel-framed houses in my constituency. Those houses may be regarded as substandard by Scottish Homes management, but it is utterly disgraceful that it is increasing rents by 14 per cent. in April when it is not doing the basic work required on those houses. What does the hon. Gentleman say about that?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I am coming to Scottish Homes; it was a great initiative of the Government and of my hon. Friend the Minister. Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), I look forward to action by Scottish Homes in my constituency. I have raised the issue of the condition of some of the houses managed by Scottish Homes and so far I have had a negative response to requests for early improvement. I should like Scottish Homes to be much more active. I do not know the position in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I hope that when the Minister replies he will say more about Scottish Homes. I should like to know what capital investment Scottish Homes is likely to make in my constituency in the coming financial year.

My hon. Friend the Minister was good enough lo visit housing in Nithsdale in my constituency last autumn. I think that he was impressed by some of the new developments and by the housing manager and his staff. There is certainly disappointment there and in Annandale and Eskdale because those areas have not received a larger share of the cake that the Minister has been able to distribute under this order, under the housing revenue account, under the non-housing revenue account to a lesser extent, and, equally importantly, under capital consent. District councils are anxious to get on with improving their housing and with building new ones. To do that they must have more capital consent and more resources.

Last summer we held a useful debate on housing in the Scottish Grand Committee. I told the Minister then of my grave concern about homelessness. I have yet to see any dramatic improvement in this critical problem. I asked the Minister then and subsequently what steps were being taken to get to the bottom of the problem, which is not solely a matter of insufficient housing. People come to Dumfries from Ireland, the Western Isles, the Highlands and central Scotland and in no time at all reach a high position on the housing list because they are homeless. That is most unfair to those who have lived in the area for many years and are looking forward to having a house when they get married—yet these outsiders jump to the top of the list.

I hope that great organisations such as Shelter, Age Concern and the Church of Scotland will make every effort to find out more about the root causes of this national problem, which is not merely to do with a lack of houses. Perhaps we could persuade people to stay a little longer with their parents or to move to areas with available housing. That might alleviate the problem to some extent.

I urge the Minister to reconsider how district councils should allocate priority between those who claim frequently rightly—to be homeless. The problem is getting worse, certainly for single-parent families. I often meet teenage girls with young children who, unfortunately, have been asked by their parents to leave home, even though they have recently had babies. We must try to find out why so many of these young girls are starting families when the fathers are not interested in sharing a home with them or even in helping to pay towards the maintenance of their children. Many of our problems of housing and homelessness stem not just from insufficient housing but from major issues to do with morality.

The Minister has worked hard at housing, especially with Scottish Homes. I should like to know more about what Scottish Homes proposes to do and about where it proposes to do it in the coming year. The organisation has been given a good lead by many of the housing associations. I offer warm praise to Loreburn in my area which has successfully built a large number of houses, many of them for people with special needs, and which plans many more developments. The Minister should encourage housing associations as much as he can. I should like Scottish Homes to share their enthusiasm; and perhaps it will—after all, it has not existed for long. I should like it to take more initiatives and to embark on more expenditure to modernise present stock and to help provide new homes.

Rather than going through the statistics in the orders, I should like to leave with the Minister the general impression that we have a great deal still to do before the quantity and quality of housing in Scotland can be called adequate. I appreciate that this year is financially difficult, given the Gulf crisis and rising costs, but when resources become available I hope that the Minister will agree that greater priority should be given to housing.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn 8:35 pm, 23rd January 1991

I do not agree with what the Minister said about housing in Scotland. Of course, every local authority can point to model housing estates, and Glasgow is no exception. But hon. Friends who have been involved in recent by-elections will agree that every community has its bad housing estates too—for instance, in Govan, in Tewanhill and in other areas that have come to be known as wine alley. There is one in Paisley, too. Some of this housing is in deplorable condition not through any fault of the local authority but because of a history of serious social problems.

The Minister has not faced up to this crisis; he certainly has not tried to help local authorities. He knows full well that the provisions that we are debating are a follow-up to the housing support capital allocation announced in December, as a result of which every local authority in Scotland felt sadly let down by the Government.

My local authority in Glasgow had planned an investment programme of £120 million. Because of the Government's decision, that has fallen to £87 million—a cut in real terms of 20 per cent. That will affect the current budget but, by their very nature, delays in this year's housing programmes—many have already been delayed —have consequences for 1993 too, as the Minister knows.

Every time housing is debated in this Chamber the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) mention peripheral estates in Glasgow, often blaming the city of Glagow for them—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that my colleagues want to speak and that it would be unfair of me to give way to him in such a brief debate. I know that I mentioned him, but he will have a chance to respond later.

Conservative Members blame the local authorities for peripheral estates in which houses sit empty. The Minister and the Secretary of State have often said that we cannot build more houses in these cities, because plenty of them are lying empty. The local authorities have embarked on joint ventures with Scottish Homes and with the private sector, and sometimes they would prefer to do what the Government want them to do: to rehabilitate houses and put them up for sale. However, because of recent Government decisions, these houses will continue to lie empty, and for so long that they will not be able to be rehabilitated. The vandals will move in, the weather will take its toll and mass demolition will follow. Then the Tory press and the Government will blame the Labour-controlled authority.

Many of my constituents live in fear of break-ins by people with drug problems. My house was recently broken into and I understand that the perpetrator was a drug addict. That is happening not just to me but to people who are the poorest of the poor. They are living in fear.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn

My hon. Friend says that I am not poor. I am not as rich as he is, but I am certainly not poor, although I have not got to the Council of Europe yet.

Council tenants live in fear of break-ins and have made representations about it to the local authority. It was planned that many projects in my area would be brought forward to give protection to tenants, particularly the elderly and the disabled, but once again, because of the Government's decision, these elderly and disabled tenants will not get the alarm systems that would make them feel secure, particularly on winter nights. The Minister must know that these are the fears expressed by people when they come to constituency surgeries. They say that they want to move out. I tell them that theirs is a good house, but they persist in wanting to move because there have been too many break-ins in the area.

The Minister must help local authorities to ensure that people stay in the housing estates and thus relax the pressure on the houses that are in high demand. That applies particularly to multi-storey flats. I must have more of them than any hon. Member, and I know that those which have a concierge service to stop outsiders coming and going have now become desirable places in which to live. The children have been moved out of them and they are for middle-aged couples and sometimes single people, who are keen to live there provided that they have protection at the front door and also provided that vandalism does not take place in the lifts, causing them to have to walk up 20 flights, or 30 in the case of the Redwood flats. It would be simple and cheap to get this concierge service into every multi-storey block in Glasgow, but we need the help of the Minister to do it.

Housing officials have now identified Coll Place in my constituency, a full multi-storey block which is now empty, as somewhere that can be turned into furnished accommodation for students and young people who are not interested in long-term lets. But I now have a full multi-storey block which is empty; there is not a soul in the entire building. It is depressing for the people in that community. The officials tell me that, because the Secretary of State will not help, there will be no money available. Nor am I making a case for my own constituency alone. They have identified other places—Castlemilk, Pollok, Easterhouse and other parts of the city —where projects will have to be abandoned.

One would have thought, however, that the Conservative party's pet organisation would be Scottish Homes. One would have thought that, with a community-based housing association movement and all the other projects in which Scottish Homes is involved, it was something the Tories would want to give money to, but I am told that in real terms the non-housing revenue allocation expenditure will drop by 17 per cent. What that means is that where young couples are not being allocated houses, because the areas are popular and the houses have been bought by the sitting tenants, they are turning to Scottish Homes. But Scottish Homes cannot help them unless they get the finance. The Minister knows that.

The Conservatives have always claimed to be the champions of the private sector, but in Glasgow there are 400 cases in a backlog of statutory repairs required in the private sector. The 400 cases are mainly of elderly people living in old tenements in the Duke street area of my constituency down in Denistoun, where the roofs leak and the walls are damp and no help is forthcoming from the local authority. What annoys me is that when grants for repairs are refused it will not be the Government or St. Andrew's House who will get the blame but George Square and district councils.

In my constituency we have "four in a block" houses. They are popular. They have side doors and a garden and are very good for families. I had one and was happy for the children to be brought up in such a house. It only needs one tenant to buy one of those four in a block when the other three are still owned by the local authority and problems arise. The local authority may carry out improvements to the block but, because of a decision by the Government, it cannot give any grant to the tenant who has bought his house, even though he has been encouraged by the Government through leaflets and press propaganda to buy his house and even though he has been told that if the house is old he will be given a grant to do it up.

I am not opposed to tenants buying their houses. When I was a councillor in Glasgow I supported the selling of selected houses to try to encourage young couples to stay in communities consisting mainly of elderly people. But I put it to the Minister that if he is really proud of what local authorities are doing—and I know that he is because he loves coming to open new projects; he has been up to Springburn and he has had a great welcome, and there are plaques on rehabilitated houses to show that he has opened them—and if he wants that positive action to continue, he must help the local authorities rather than hinder them.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside 8:47 pm, 23rd January 1991

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) has demonstrated his deep knowledge of housing in his constituency. Through his speech ran the thread of what he wants, which is some innovative and progressive thinking. That is really what he was saying. We have had problems in public sector housing in Scotland for a long time. Anyone who thinks differently is not facing up to the real issues. Many of our citizens have been forced by circumstances to live in totally unsuitable houses and have had to put up with condensation and damp. I vividly remember our inspection of houses during visits to Glasgow and elsewhere, but particularly to some of the housing schemes in Glasgow. The desperate problems that must be tackled were quite obvious.

There is also the problem of "homelessness". It is rather an umbrella word because it covers everyone who has no permanent home. Hon. Members will know that for a long time I have been interested in the problems of people who find themselves in this position. I cannot describe my investigations as comprehensive or sufficiently deep to provide complete answers, but at least I care enough about these things to become involved. That is true of everything that I do. Opposition Members may doubt some of the proffered solutions, but I care as deeply as they do about problems on housing estates. An Opposition Member who is present in the House grew up on the same housing estate as I did.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

The hon. Gentleman appears to be concerned about this matter. I assume that he will join us in the Lobby to show his contempt for Government cuts.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

The hon. Gentleman should be patient. I shall deal with his speech in a moment. His background and circumstances are quite different from mine and we need no lectures from him or anyone else. I hope that we are all looking for ways to improve the lot of people whose circumstances are totally unsatisfactory, although we may disagree on how we can achieve that end.

I shall now deal with the humbug in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). He accused my hon. Friend the Minister of not caring and not understanding. That is a travesty of the truth because every hon. Member knows that the Minister is one of the most caring and interested Members in the House. The hon. Member for Cathcart will know that many people leave Edinburgh at weekends to come to ski in my constituency. That means that many people living in flats in Edinburgh are not there at the weekends and it is nonsense to pretend otherwise. In this modern and mobile world it is wise to concentrate on those who have problems and say "Good luck" to those who have not.

We are speaking about taxpayers' support for housing. In Scotland more than 20,000 council houses are empty. Hon. Members have spoken about some of the problems and I have been interested in some of the solutions. I have many times criticised Dundee district council, but I hope that that council will agree that I also compliment it when that is required. Some of the innovative housing projects and new schemes near the centre of Dundee are a credit to that council. They are also a credit to co-operation among the private sector, the housing associations and the district council. We must continue to move down such innovative routes.

The hon. Member for Cathcart had some nasty things to say about mortgage tax relief. Presumably he was speaking for the Opposition and would suggest that such tax relief should be abolished. Mortgage tax relief allows people to keep their own money. We are discussing how taxpayers can assist people who are in need, and mortgage tax relief is one aspect of the housing issue. The Government's policy of selling houses and giving people the opportunity to buy at substantial discounts is another way to ease Scotland's housing problems. One of the most notable features of housing estates on which houses have been sold is the improvement in the environment. On such estates vandalism generally decreases because people do not vandalise their own property.

Opposition Members constantly overlook the fact that since 1979 Government policy has sought to direct taxpayers' funds to people in need and not to offer a blanket approach to problems. I approve of that because if public funds are not targeted they will not provide good value. Housing benefit has been deliberately targeted at those whose income, wherever it comes from, is below a certain standard. That benefit, which is taxpayers' money, has risen to more than £380 million in the past year and is for council house tenants only. [Interruption.] Allowing someone to keep his own money is not the same as directing taxpayers' money to those in need. A better understanding of the use of finance would take us nearer to implementing some of the innovative solutions with which I agree.

Housing benefit is paid to the people in greatest need, and the opportunity to buy at discounted prices goes to another group. Now we are moving into the area highlighted by the hon. Member for Cathcart which is just outside the area of housing benefit. There will always be people who are just outside that area and the Government rent-to-buy scheme is deliberately designed for such people. They can buy their property at a discounted price and enter into an arrangement whereby if at some future date the property is sold they will share the increase in its value.

All those schemes deal with social problems, such as the problem of vandalism on many large estates. We must deal with that and part of the solution—not the only solution —is to give more people a stake in their property, thus reducing vandalism and increasing in the community the feeling that the property is theirs and that they can take steps to protect it. I am astonished that some Opposition Members cannot see the benefit of that. The rent-to-buy scheme, which is still in its early stages but doing well, deals with that.

I shall now deal with those who are in need of houses for whatever reason. [Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I should like to call all hon. Members who wish to speak. To that end, it would be helpful if hon Members did not engage in sedentary barracking but saved their breath until they were called.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Opposition Members think that they are being flippant and clever. If they are concerned about those in real need they should separate them from people who are not in real need, of which there are some.

Let us look at the casual homeless problem. In my constituency we understand that because we have much of it. Berry pickers come to Blairgowrie and the surrounding area. Many of them have homes in other parts of Scotland, but when they find that they like my constituency they decide to stay. I have dozens of examples from my surgery. That problem must be addressed by Perth and Kinross district council because those people register themselves as homeless and are put up in accommodation such as caravans. We must not confuse those people with people who are genuinely homeless as a result of factors over which they have no control. Such people are placed on housing lists for many reasons. Perhaps they got married and went to live with their parents. Children invariably come along and we all know what happens in such situations. The problem is complex and not as simple as some people suggest.

I have studied the problems of people who sleep in cardboard boxes and I discovered that more of those people than I had expected said categorically that they would not accept hostel accommodation even if it were offered to them. I am delighted to say that the Salvation Army in Scotland has confirmed that more than once. Those people had chosen this particular way of life and it turned out that some had a drink problem. What I did not know, and was unable to ascertain, was whether the drink problem was the result of the way they lived or whether the way they lived was the result of their drink problem. Whatever the answer, there was some factor in their lives that was creating a difficulty.

There are some of these individuals not far from this very place just along the Embankment, if hon. Members want to talk to them. I have spoken to some of those people and they have told me that they would not go to hostel accommodation because it would interfere with their way of life. The Salvation Army has confirmed that in Scottish main cities a substantial number of such people will not accept its empty hostel beds. That is another problem to which I draw attention.

Nobody to whom I have listened who has made any attempt to study the matter thinks that if the Government give the local authorities more money in whatever way that will resolve the problem. In my view, that is a matter of hope over experience. I believe that the Government quite properly should target public funds, and I think that we could target them much more.

I believe that the voluntary bodies must be involved. The housing associations, Scottish Homes and so on must all be part of the effort to find an answer. I am very happy to say that in my constituency a number of bodies are working to try to find answers. I hope that in due course they will get the sort of assistance which they all say public funds should give. But I believe that such funds should be given only to clearly thought-out, clearly presented projects on a one-off basis. One of the great mistakes in housing in past years is that we have not looked at the revenue implications of some of the ideas. This includes the building of some high-rise flats and so on.

I have spoken for a little longer than I had intended, but hon. Members opposite provoked me to do so and I thought that I should respond.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 9:02 pm, 23rd January 1991

I propose to be brief, and I shall speak mainly about the effects of these orders on several local authorities in the highlands area. It is worth underscoring at the outset the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) in looking at the overall expenditure pattern. These orders represent in real terms, allowing for inflation, a reduction of £100 million for Scottish public housing. That is the basic position. Broken down on an individual constituency basis, although local authorities have their variations and some come off not quite so badly and others come off slightly worse, in real terms it results in a significant loss across the country as a whole.

My specific comments deal in the main with the effect of these orders on the Ross and Cromarty district council, to a lesser extent on the Inverness district council, which straddles both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), and on Lochaber district council as well. Within the mainland highland region—though I am sure that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) will deal later with the specific problems faced by the island authorities—in that order of priority those are the areas most adversely affected.

Let me deal with the variation order first. The difference in Ross and Cromarty involves a reduction of about £60,000. In the Inverness district, the equivalent reduction is just under £50,000, and Lochaber will suffer a reduction some way below that figure.

As the Under-Secretary of State said in opening the debate, the main reason for this is the downward revision of the so-called pool interest rate on which the original grant calculations were based. The pool interest rate is reduced from 10·2 per cent. in the main order to 10·1 per cent. in the variation order. It is not realistic to suppose that Ross and Cromarty can secure borrowing at that rate of interest in the current economic climate. It may be possible that for Glasgow, where the sums involved are huge, special arrangements can be made, but for the small-scale rural authority, in the current economic climate and with present interest rates, there is no viable alternative.

During the current year, Ross and Cromarty's interest payments have increased by £345,000 above the amount allowed for in the housing support grant calculations. In addition, the amount of debt redeemed during the year is £177,000 higher than that allowed for in the calculations. As a consequence of the changes, the council is paying interest charges of £522,000 above the level assumed in the housing support grant calculations. For a council with a budget the size of that of Ross and Cromarty, a £522,000 downside in the housing budget is very serious.

The council has been endeavouring to make administrative savings and, of course, it has cut its expenditure on repairs and maintenance. Nevertheless, at this point—and the council gave me the figures today—it faces a deficit on the housing account of £240,000. With only three months of the financial year remaining, the only option available to the council is to fund certain repairs from capital expenditure. That will reduce the amount available for new build and for what was previously regarded as essential and often long overdue refurbishments and improvements. I hope that the Minister will comment, if not specifically on Ross and Cromarty, at least on the general point that I am making.

The Minister will know from correspondence between his office and myself that I can cite many examples, especially in Easter Ross, Alness and Tain, of much public dissatisfaction and frustration about the delays and cancellations of necessary improvements. There are also problems for the west coast, but I shall deal with those later.

The main order would result in a cash reduction in housing support grant of £133,000, again based on a further reduction in the pool interest rate, this time down to 10 per cent. The council believes that it will not be possible to fund replacement borrowings at that rate, given the same problems of the general economic climate. What does that mean for the rents being levied within the Ross and Cromarty district? I have read the excellent brief prepared by COSLA which has been circulated to hon. Members. It shows that over the next year the average rent rise will be £3.

Within the Ross and Cromarty district, the combined effect of the main order and the variation order will be that, at current expenditure levels, the increase in rent will be about £240 a year, which is £4·68 a week. That is the increase required to balance the housing account. It is significantly above even what COSLA estimates will be the average figure for Scotland. It is a 22 per cent. increase. That cannot be right in an area that already suffers higher general overheads for daily living, transport and travelling costs, and so on.

It must be emphasised that the only alternative available to the council that would avoid increasing rents by more than double the rate of inflation would be, as in the previous category, to transfer certain costs from revenue to capital. There are two main problems with that. First, it increases the cost of the work, and, secondly, it further reduces the ability to finance new build and improvement projects. It should be noted that the council's net consent for capital expenditure on housing has already been reduced by almost £600,000 between the financial years 1990–91 and 1991–92.

In essence, there are three points that I wish to stress to the Minister. In terms of the local authorities—Ross and Cromarty in particular, but the same applies to the others—the calculations on which the housing support grant decisions are based have given totally unrealistic estimates of the rates at which councils in these categories are able to borrow, given current interest rates and economic forecasts. Secondly, for Ross and Cromarty district, the level of debt redemption in both the current year and next year has been seriously underestimated. Thirdly, as a result of a substantial gap between the levels of capital charges supported by the housing support grant and those incurred by the council itself there will inevitably be an excessive burden on council house rents while at the same time reducing capital allocations and therefore creating substantial delays in carrying out much needed house improvements. That is hardly a happy or successful situation for a local authority.

Given that dampness is such a problem in public authority housing in Scotland—people have long enough memories to recall the Scottish Select Committee and they will remember the report that was done in that context—and given the difficulties of geography and climate in the north of Scotland, the position is even worse there. Also, there are the extra fuel and transport costs in new build, not least for the west coast of Scotland, and the lack of private land for public housing in many parts of the highlands. Upward pressure is being exerted on house prices as a result of people decanting from central Scotland and the south-east of England and inflating property prices in the highlands. Thus, we have rising rents and lowering standards in the public sector, further pressures on local authority budgets and personal household budgets and the likely setting back or cancellation of much needed refurbishment and repair. This results in more dampness, more condensation, more frustration and more human unhappiness. That is a miserable state of affairs.

Far from coming forward with a variation order tonight to claw back still more money from the local authorities in Scotland, the Minister should be reversing spending priorities, not just for the highlands but for many other parts of the country as well.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross 9:12 pm, 23rd January 1991

I shall be brief and I do not wish to be controversial because I want my point to be appreciated by both sides of the House, by all parties and all of us who live in Scotland.

Tonight we are discussing two matters, essentially: the civilisation and quality of life which a house gives to a family or the person who lives in it, wherever in Scotland it may be, and the money that local authorities spend on making that provision. One of the scandals, the vandalisms, of our lifetime has been the destruction of the extraordinarily cheap but solid and wonderful houses in the cities of Dundee and Glasgow. These houses could and should have been modernised as those that remain have been so that they are infinitely better homes than the "new build"—I use that appalling phrase in appalling English, far less Scottish, which was used by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). I assume that he means new houses. It always has been and always will be infinitely more expensive to knock down houses that are well built and replace them with rubbish. It is one of the social scandals of our generation that in Glasgow vast schemes have been built without a pillar box or a shop. They are vast places with more people than the city of Perth. I am not criticising Glasgow, rather trying to draw attention to a problem. Money will always be limited and there will always be a complaint that not enough has been provided.

I am concerned that the money that is available should be well spent in order to achieve a single objective— to improve the environment, the housing and the dwellings, whether in Perth, Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Dundee, Ross and Cromarty or wherever. That is the problem which hon. Members on both sides of the House should be addressing, rather than making party political points about whether it was a red council, blue council, pink council, tartan council or any other council that got it wrong.

We are not talking about damp in houses; we are essentially talking about what the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye called new build—whatever that is. We are talking about houses that are badly and expensively built and on which local authorities, whichever ones, spent far more money than would have been necessary if they had done up the houses that were replaced.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I shall not engage the hon. and learned Gentleman in a discussion about vocabulary; I rather agree with him. But will he tell me, in his analysis which is broadly correct, where between Achiltibuie and Glenelg he would renovate all the houses and so do away with new build?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

I could, but it would not be useful to do so. If the hon. Gentleman was interested, I am one of the few Members of the House who could do that, but I will not. I could give him some good examples.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

For example, Achiltibuie—the hon. Gentleman pronounced that in the Scottish way, not in the English way in which he used the words new build—is one of the most sensitive villages in Scotland, and new build, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, has taken place along the shore as if Achiltibuie had none of the glorious surroundings that it has. That is a disgrace. I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what I would have done with Achiltibuie, and he knows it. If he represents Achiltibuie, he should be proud enough of it not to want to see it ruined in that way. Hon. Members should not imagine that I do not know about Achiltibuie. I could go right along the coast if the hon. Gentleman wanted me to from west to east, east to west and north to south. I shall not be caught out by that sort of stupid question from somebody who uses language that is incomprehensible to most hon. Members.

I am making a serious point. It is essential that we should not repeat the scandal that resulted in 50,000 or 30,000 people being dumped in what was then called new build, ripped out of the heart of Glasgow, Dundee or wherever else and dumped on the edge, adding travel costs to their expenses and putting them not into better houses but into infinitely worse houses.

That has been one of the scandals of our generation and no hon. Member on either side of the House should be talking about how much money we threw at the problem. We wasted hundreds of thousands of millions of pounds. We created social and criminal problems and a disgraceful environment for our people. Take, for instance, the street in Glasgow that runs from the High Court, where people are tried, to the Tron, where they drink. People were thrown out of there and settled in the city's environs. They were put into poor environments where they had no relationships. Now places like that street have been restored, and I am glad to say that people have come back. That, I trust, is the hope of hon. Members in all parties. However, it will be achieved only if local authorities are responsible, sensitive and careful.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall , Glasgow Shettleston 9:20 pm, 23rd January 1991

Like all other hon. Members, I am once again indebted to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It always sends us excellent briefs on orders such as these. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) highlighted what I think is the main point in this brief and it is worth repeating. I refer to the fact that, in general terms, these order involve a reduction of £48 million in total resources. In real terms—when inflation is taken into account—the reduction amounts to £100 million. In view of the problems that council tenants face, that is an absolute scandal.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the corresponding debate last year. On that occasion I drew attention to the awful Catch-22 situation affecting the 998 Winget-type houses in Provan and Shettleston in the east end of Glasgow. Suffice it to say that a year later not a single thing has been done to help any of the poor people living in these substandard houses. These orders will not improve the situation one wee bit; in fact, they will make it worse. Help for these tenants is further away than it was even a year ago.

I should like to illustrate the increasing misery that continued and repeated reductions in housing support grant cause to my constituents, living, as they do, in an area with one of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland—in fact, the sixth highest, with 4,421 people out of work on 13 December. In addition, the constituency has one of the highest numbers of old-age pensioners in Scotland and I shall draw the plight of some of those pensioners to the attention of the House.

The Pensioners Action Group East has sent me a list of problems that a very tiny survey brought to light. Mrs. Sadie Hart, herself a pensioner and secretary of PAGE—and a person who was awarded the Lord Provost's award for her work in the community a few years ago—is rightly very concerned that many of her members may not survive this winter unless something is done to improve the housing conditions in which they are forced to live. In her letter to me Mrs. Hart states that the possibility of deaths caused by hypothermia is her greatest fear.

I should like to quote some figures contained in the report of the PAGE survey. Fifty-two people were involved—42 females and 11 males. The average age was 73, the youngest person being 60, and the oldest 93. The shortest tenancy involved was six weeks and the longest 26 years. Of the 53 people, 49 stated that they had health problems. These included arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, thrombosis, high blood pressure, eye problems, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, bladder conditions, leukaemia, angina, asthma, fluid retention, rheumatism, osteoporosis, ulcers, bone disease, kidney complaints, strokes, spondylitis, thyroid complaints and war wounds. It is sad that in this day and age people suffering from war wounds are living in substandard houses.

Forty-four of the people surveyed stated that their houses were very cold; 46 said that the windows were very draughty; 36 use the central heating system, and 12 do not because it is too expensive. Presumably those who do not use central heating simply cannot afford it. The average cost of the heating bills over a two-month period was £97·90. The cheapest bill was £24 and the dearest was £180.

Most of the complaints were that the houses were very cold, the windows were draughty and the under-floor heating too expensive. The sad truth is that the council does not have the resources to do anything to help those tenants, most of whom are elderly ladies who live alone. We, and in particular the Government who are in charge, should he thoroughly ashamed about that.

The survey was carried out in three streets in the Sandyhills area which is generally regarded as one of the best areas in my constituency. If the survey shows the position of old people living in one of the best areas, God knows what it is like for people living in the worst houses in the worst areas. The Government do not give a damn about that. I am sorry to have to say that, but until the Minister does something, his words mean nothing.

The third east end community conference was held in October and the Scottish Office was invited to send a representative to it, but none turned up. The conference covers the former GEAR area, with which the Minister is familiar. It was horrified to be presented with the east end housing plan drawn up by the district council. It is the first thoroughly researched document about the condition of all the houses in the east end of Glasgow. If the Minister has not seen a copy of that report, I will gladly send him one. The report is a couple of inches thick.

The synopsis on investment states: The needs of each estate in the Council sector are analysed, calculating that £230·7 million is required to bring all houses up to modern standards including heating, insulation, security and environmental improvements. That is not too much to ask for. The report continues: In a 10 year programme, a shortfall of £15 million every year requires the Council to decide on where it will concentrate its own resources, and where it will have to look to others for assistance. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart was absolutely right. There is a crisis in Scottish housing which the Government are deliberately ignoring and for which they will rightly pay the penalty at the next general election.

Photo of Mr William McKelvey Mr William McKelvey , Kilmarnock and Loudoun 9:26 pm, 23rd January 1991

I must compliment Kilmarnock and Loudoun district council because I telephoned the council this evening requesting a brief and it sent me a swatch of papers. I will not read them to the House, but I have perused them and they show clearly that the council's current financial position means that, unless additional resources are made available to it, there will be a shortfall of more than £2·5 million in its capital programme for 1991–92. The programme includes figures that have been updated to current costs.

That shortfall in resources will require the district council to reconsider investment in its housing stock which will entail extremely difficult choices and decisions in relation to several essential projects. Having examined the details, it is clear that all those projects are desirable and essential to improve the housing stock. Some of them will have to be delayed and, tragically, some might have to be obliterated from the programme for many years to come.

Kilmarnock and Loudoun district council is very concerned, as I am, that no specific allocation has been made to tackle the problem of homelessness in the area. Like all hon. Members, I understand that cities have particular problems with homelessness because homeless people are attracted to cities. But that does not mean that areas like Kilmarnock do not have a homeless problem. Therefore, pro rata, such areas should have been considered seriously and finance should have been made available so that those areas can begin to tackle what is becoming a growing problem. Throughout Scotland small towns and villages need financial assistance to cope with homelessness. The Minister cannot avoid his responsibility to examine that matter.

The council's community alarm system is an important apparatus for many elderly and infirm people in Kilmarnock. It enables elderly people to have a direct connection with someone operating a central computer. That person is able to provide immediate assistance when those elderly people are in distress or trouble. The system cannot be counted in terms of money. The council should be able to bring many more elderly people into the scheme and provide them with the security that they deserve. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of that point and reconsider the allocation of funds to Kilmarnock and Loudoun district council. Only an extra £60,000 was budgeted for the extension of that scheme this year. This should have been the year of care in the community, but the Government have put back that programme, which means so much to many elderly and infirm people.

The Minister came to Kilmarnock in 1989 and he was extremely well received. Much work was done on his behalf. When it was known that a Scottish Minister was coming to Kilmarnock, it was rather like the film the "Quiet Man". People said, "We will line up and give him stick when he gets off the train at Kilmarnock." I had to explain that it would be unlikely that he would be catching a train, as trains to Kilmarnock were few and far between. However, I convinced them that they should not only queue to see the Minister but should cheer him because we wanted the Minister to see the problems of Kilmarnock. We hoped that that would have an effect on him and that something would be done. We were very glad for the housing improvements that he helped to bring about in Kilmarnock. However, that does not negate his responsibility to continue that improvement and to help to alleviate the difficult housing problems in Kilmarnock.

The Minister must have seen, as I did when I first went to Kilmarnock 12 years ago, that the housing stock there is much better than that in many other areas. For instance, we do not have the problems associated with multi-storey blocks. By and large, the housing stock was very good. Much of it was ageing, but it was very good. A marvellous programme of refurbishment and rehabilitation has been undertaken. It must be seen to be believed.

The council was bitterly disappointed with the lack of progress made with the Minister's officials after more than one visit. The documentation I have, including copies of letters to the Department, points out the problems. They are no exaggeration. It is not acceptable that the grant is almost half what was requested. The council asked for a non-HRA capital consent of £785,000 but it was granted £408,000. Because of that, the voluntary improvement and repairs grants scheme will be suspended, possibly for a full financial year, and that is just after it has been reconstituted. Many points have been made about the depletion of housing stock in Scotland and the difficulties in repairing ageing housing stock. The voluntary improvement and repairs grants scheme must be fully operational this year.

I now refer to Newmilns, a small town in my district. The council wished to provide grants to upgrade certain buildings. Again it looks as though that will not happen and that there will be difficulties.

A decision should be taken on whether a grant can be made available to improve Ananhill house, a listed building. Again, the figure is £50,000. As I said, the prospect of any expansion in the care scheme looks remote.

I have two further items to mention in this brief speech. The Minister will recall that when he came to see Long Park co-op scheme he was particularly keen for it to go ahead. I visited the scheme only seven weeks ago. I was impressed by the manner in which that co-op had undertaken its job and improved the standard of the housing and thereby the living standards of the people of Long Park. It now seems that there are difficulties with Scottish Development Agency funding to infill some mines under part of the secondary scheme. I hope that the Minister can do something about that. I cordially invite him to open the scheme when it is completed. I enjoy opening schemes in Kilmarnock, but I am prepared to forgo that pleasure if the Minister can come up with the money and come back to Kilmarnock. I guarantee him safe conduct.

All Opposition Members are absolutely appalled at the antics of Scottish Homes. It has increased rents throughout Scotland on average by 14·2 per cent. There is absolutely no reason for it other than, as I suspect, that pressures have been applied by the Scottish Office for it to put pressure in turn on those who continue to be tenants to buy their homes. That would remove Scottish Homes' responsibility further to improve those homes. Opposition Members universally condemn the increase.

Kilmarnock has held a policy and resources meeting and decided once again to send the A team down to meet the Minister. We are always cordially received by the Minister but neither I nor the council want to go to the expense of sending the A team down to London to make pleas which are already extremely well documented and which the Minister can read. To save us that expense and time, I ask the Minister to read the correspondence between his Department and Kilmarnock. If he makes a just judgment on the figures, I believe that the additional £370,000 that we seek—it is not a great deal—will be dispatched to Kilmarnock tout de suite.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar 9:37 pm, 23rd January 1991

The Minister was kind enough to dwell on the problems of Western Isles council, but he gave the wrong impression when he implied that it is somehow cushioned from the various cuts made not only this year but in previous years.

I appreciate that the Minister took time to meet a delegation from Western Isles council. Although no new money was put on the table, I felt that some progress, or potential progress, was made.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that a supplementary allocation has been made to the Western Isles for this year. It is admittedly a small sum—£130,000. The allocation was made in response to that representation.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

That is welcome news as far as it goes. The Minister said that Western Isles council was receiving the highest support grant this year. That may be true, but, of course, the Western Isles, like many other authorities in the highlands and islands, faces considerable exceptional costs in providing public housing. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) has already detailed some of those costs.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The hon. Gentleman shares with me the distinction of representing the single-tier islands authority. Has he had an opportunity to examine the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1991? The schedule to the order refers to Orkney Islands district council, Shetland Islands district council, Western Isles district council and Shetlands Islands district council. Is he aware that any such bodies exist?

Before we vote on this, perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, and your Clerk will consider whether the order is competent given that its schedule refers to bodies that do not exist.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me notice of that important point—I hope that it does not nullify certain aspects of that order.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman's council will receive the highest subsidy as a result of the order, so I hope that it will be considered competent for his constituents' sake.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I do not want to rehearse the points already made by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye about the exceptional building costs in areas such as the Western Isles and the highlands and islands. Those regions face additional costs because materials must be imported—in the case of the Western Isles they are carried over the Minches. Councils also face additional costs for repair and maintenance because of climatic factors. The scattered nature of public housing means that it is difficult to get the economies of scale obtained elsewhere.

There is a particular problem facing the Western Isles. The council's experience of paying interest on its capital debt is different from the Scottish Office assessment of those repayments. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has already said that a large part of the explanation for the exceptional capital debt faced by councils such as the Western Isles is the recent nature of that debt. On 31 March 1990 the total capital debt faced by the Western Isles was £111 million. In 1975, at the inception of the council, the debt was a mere £15 million—the debt has increased by some 640 per cent. The total comparable debt faced by all Scotish local authorities in 1975 was £2,965 million, but in 1990 it had risen to £7,982 million. The total Scottish debt has increased by 169 per cent. compared with the 640 per cent. debt increase faced by the Western Isles. That extra debt faced by the Western Isles is due to the higher number of consents granted by the Scottish Office under both Labour and Conservative Governments. When the Western Isles council was set up under the islands authority it had a great deal of leeway because it had to catch up on spending on various aspects of infrastructure, education and housing.

The average annual interest rate faced by authorities such as the Western Isles is now higher than the average faced by other local authorities because a greater proportion of the debt is recent debt, which is more expensive than debt incurred before 1975. In years to come one of the key problems faced by the Western Isles and other local authorities will be the repayment of debt. I am grateful that, as a result of meetings, the Minister is willing to enter into discussions with COSLA to discuss that matter.

The Minister said that if the Government's estimate of the average interest rate faced by local authorities this year turned out to be an underestimate when the figures come in some clawback arrangement will be introduced and the Government will reassess their figures for the following year to make up the difference. That does not help local authorities to plug the gap this year.

That brings me to the key point, which is that the average interest rate does not take into account the different circumstances of local authorities. The difficulty is not only that the average interest rate may be higher this year than the Government estimate but that it will affect local authorities in different ways. I seek an assurance from the Minister that he will not only reassess next year the extent to which the estimate given by the Scottish Office has fallen behind the real average but re-examine the practicality of making special arrangements for authorities that face exceptionally high interest rates because of factors that are outside their control.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Dunnachie Mr Jimmy Dunnachie , Glasgow Pollok 9:46 pm, 23rd January 1991

I want to draw the Minister's attention to certain areas in my constituency, starting with 1265 Pollokshaws road. In the past two years the Minister and I have become pen pals over it, but he still has not solved the problem. The complex consists of both district council housing and private housing built to a standard that has been rejected by the building societies which will not lend any money on it. The building leaks in the winter and is full of draughts in the summer. The windows and porches are full of dry rot. I have repeatedly asked the Minister to make an advance to ensure that the private owners in the complex have houses that are fit to live in. The Minister does his Pontius Pilate act and blames the district council. The council is blamed for a million things, including the fire of London and the black death. That is the only answer that we receive from the Scottish Office.

The Government continue to cut resources to Glasgow district council which, given the money, could make the residents' homes more suitable places in which to live. The district council renovated some of the homes under its control. The funny thing is that, even though the homes were renovated, people who took the Tory Government's advice and bought their homes now cannot sell them because the building societies will not lend any money to anyone who wants to buy them.

The Minister has said repeatedly over the past two years that that is not true. But the Halifax and the other building societies say, "Sorry. Too great a risk is involved in putting money into such buildings." I do not know how many times I have been to see the Minister. I am fed up with talking to him about the buildings. I have given him petitions and brought people to talk to him, but I have received no adequate response.

Perhaps as a result of pressure placed upon it the district council is engaged in a partial repair job. It is working on the windows and porches, but the roofs are left unrepaired. The residents therefore suffer the indignity of using basins, pots, pans and pails to catch the water coming through the roof. For two years or more, your Government have done nothing to alleviate that suffering.

In Minard road, in the Shawlands area of Glasgow, a woman is living in a house with no roof. There are canvas covers where the roof should be. The district council cannot give her money because you will not advance it, despite the many complaints. You say that you have no money to give the district council, then you do your Pontius Pilate act and blame the council.

Photo of Mr William McKelvey Mr William McKelvey , Kilmarnock and Loudoun

My hon. Friend is blaming Mr. Speaker. I am sure that he means the Minister.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Dunnachie Mr Jimmy Dunnachie , Glasgow Pollok

Sorry, Mr. Speaker.

Lack of grants is causing many problems for owner-occupiers in Pollok constituency and you and your party—sorry, Mr. Speaker—the Minister and his party have done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people.

I could talk about Darnley; you know about Darnley, you have been there and you have seen the conditions in which people have to live. You have done nothing about that. In South Nitshill they have been waiting 30 years for modernisation; again, you have turned a blind eye. In central Pollok, again you have turned a deaf ear. In Kennishead there is the only multi-storey housing co-operative in Britain or Europe, and you have done nothing to help the people who are trying to help themselves. In God's name, will you do something to help the people of Pollok who are trying to make their houses fit to live in?

Photo of Mr Jim Sillars Mr Jim Sillars , Glasgow Govan 9:50 pm, 23rd January 1991

Mr. Speaker, you certainly took a drubbing in that speech. It is not my intention to hold you responsible any further. I want to direct my remarks to the person who is responsible. The Minister is following the wrong policy. Obviously Cabinet sub-committees have lost the argument about the amount of resources available for Scottish housing.

The fundamental flaw in Government policy is that they believe that tenure is the way to solve the Scottish housing problem. That was put rather well by David Comley, the director of housing for Glasgow city council, in a speech in February 1989 at the Scottish branch conference in Aviemore of the Institute of Housing. He said: But, first, let's be clear what the fundamental problems of Scotland's housing are—poor quality, lack of investment, poverty". There is a clear link between poor housing and economic activity, employment and wages. David Comley went on to give figures on two aspects of the problem: The Grieve Report, commissioned by Glasgow District Council, called for—the investment of £1,720m from all sectors in Glasgow's housing, including £550m for the peripheral estates.—the write off of the city's housing capital debt, currently £1·25 billion, as a contribution to this. There is no question about it: the people who benefit most from the housing problems in Glasgow are the moneylenders. We have only to consider the extent of the loan charges in the information before us to see the truth in that. David Comley also said: The Government seems to be pre-occupied with tenure; it sees the low level of home ownership and of private renting as the basis of Scotland's and Glasgow's housing problem and a major contribution to economic problems. My view, supported by the reports I have mentioned, is that lack of investment and the resulting condition of the housing stock, regardless of tenure, are the problems. Those of us who represent constituencies in Glasgow know that there is 100 per cent. truth in what David Comley said almost two years ago.

Photo of Mr Jim Sillars Mr Jim Sillars , Glasgow Govan

I will not repeat that because it is not a sensible comment.

If we are seeking solutions to the housing problem, two things should happen in the forum where policy is made. First, the cry of despair of the people who have no homes, who are in overcrowded accommodation or who are badly housed—the people we meet in our surgeries—must be heard. It is not often that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and I agree, but I should like to pay him a compliment because in his speech he certainly imported into this forum the human problems which all of us meet day after day.

Secondly, we need a response to this private cry of despair, but we are not getting one in the capital consents and the various other policies presented by the Government this evening. The Government tell us that the sale of council houses is part and parcel of their policy of generating capital to meet some of the problems explained here tonight. But COSLA tells us in annex 3 of its brief that it understood that receipts from the sale of council houses would be used from the beginning to augment the capital programme, not to substitute it, but that since the last election the amount of money available for capital expenditure has steadily diminished while council house receipts have risen.

I must tell the Minister and the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that the day of reckoning is coming in respect of council house sales. In Penilee, in my constituency, there is terraced housing, six in a block, in which three or four people have bought their houses. A pensioner couple decided that rents were becoming so high that, they might as well get a mortgage. Now they find themselves facing large repair and maintenance bills. They came to me for advice, and I said that I would see about a Government grant but that it could not be guaranteed. To be fair to the district council, it could not guarantee such a grant in the financial year in which the repairs were carried out.

Next, I advised the couple to go to the building society. The difference between what they paid for the house and its capital value now should have allowed an increase in the mortgage to meet this additional expenditure. But the old couple explained to me that that was impossible. They had bought the house in the first place because they lived on a relatively low income and could not afford the rent, so now it was impossible to afford the additional costs of a higher mortgage. So the fabric of this building in Penilee will continually deteriorate, and the same is happening in many other parts of the country.

These proposals, which show a substantial reduction in the resources allocated to Scottish housing, must be judged against the problems. It does not matter whether we use Government, Shelter, or district council statistics; we know that there has been a great increase in homelessness in all parts of Scotland. There is an enormous problem of damp; 234,000 houses in Scotland suffer from it and it is a scourge for the families who have to live with it—80,000 of them in the city of Glasgow.

There is overcrowding and there are too many poor quality houses. I am sick and tired of hearing Conservative Members tell us about the alleged 20,000 empty council properties in Scotland. Would any of us live in those properties? The answer is, of course, no. There is also a lack of specialist housing—sheltered housing for the elderly, housing for the disabled and housing for young people, who are a vulnerable group. Matching the resources allocated to deal with the problem to the problem itself leads to only one conclusion—they are totally inadequate.

I should like to focus on the problems in my constituency. The area known as Corkerhill has a good community council and a good community leader in the shape of Walter Morrison. It is one of the best community councils in Glasgow, often regarded as a thorn in the flesh of the city council, which is what community councils are supposed to be. Corkerhill community council's public meetings are extremely well attended. Articulate and intelligent people gather to try to improve their circumstances. They live in an area of flat-roofed housing, and what they need more than anything else is pitched roofs. There is no money available for them. Now the district council finds it almost impossible to carry out repairs on the flat roofs because as the man walks across them to repair them he causes more damage. Tenants have problems with damp and their children have respiratory illnesses, all because of a lack of capital investment. It has nothing to do with tenure but everything to do with the amount of money available.

Moorpark is the area in Govan where the major drug dealing was done, but by a combination of community pressure and police action they got the major drug baron and the drug problem substantially out of the area. Nevertheless, it has high unemployment, there are many single-parent families, and there is a good deal of poverty. We went along to meet David Conley to argue our case for an improvement in housing because the folk there have no money of their own with which to generate improvement within the area, only to be told that because of the Government's policy there is no prospect of improvement in the current five-year programme and no guarantees for the next five-year programme. How do we stop that community slipping back into its former circumstances? It is, in the end, the Government's responsibility.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from an examination of the documents before the House about the human circumstances that we meet in the streets of Scotland: the Government are a failure, and the sooner they go, the better.

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams , Paisley North 10:01 pm, 23rd January 1991

As a new Member, I am absolutely shocked to find that for two thirds of this debate only three or four hon. Members sat on the Government Benches. Is that what the Government of the country think about Scottish public sector housing? Is that the interest that they are willing to give to it, and can the party with the largest number of hon. Members find only three or four to attend the debate? It is utterly disgraceful.

One thing that I have learnt from the debate, however, is that people who live in cardboard boxes in Edinburgh are overcrowded because they keep their skis in those boxes. We know that they do because they go to the constituency of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) at weekends to ski. He told us this. He also told us that they come to pick berries and that they will not go away. Maybe we shall have to consider issuing visas for Tayside to make sure that they do not stay in his constituency. Does the hon. Member never ask himself why people move around like that? If they were settled in a decent home—

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I am delighted to tell the hon. Lady why people come to my constituency: it is because it is such a beautiful place. If some come there to ski, it is not surprising.

Perhaps I should remind the hon. Lady that, although Conservative Members from Scotland have attended the debate, a lot of Labour Members from Scotland have not put in an appearance at all.

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams , Paisley North

I visit the hon. Member's constituency, but I do not go to pick berries and I do not have to look for a job or a home there. The difference between Opposition Members and Government Members is that we want everyone to live in decent homes, not just some of the people.

Homelessness in Scotland has risen dramatically under this Government. The present situation is almost comparable with that of 100 years ago, with nearly as many homeless people in this country today as there were then. It is a disgraceful indictment of any Government.

Homelessness affects one's whole way of life. It is not just that a person has no roof over his head or is living under someone else's roof. People may be inadequately housed. In Renfrew district, for example, there are 25,000 people on the waiting list. I am not suggesting that they are all homeless, but they are all inadequately housed. Inadequate housing affects people's lifestyles. Children are not educated properly because often there is no extra room in which they can study. Renfrew has massive overcrowding because it does not have the houses to which to move people. The best will and all the management in the world will not solve that problem. Resources are required.

Conservative Members tell us again and again that the problems are caused by mismanagement and that if we tinker here and there many of them can be solved. They are suggesting a redistribution of poverty, which is the basic reason for our housing problems. That poverty is a result of the Government's economic policy. People who do not have jobs lose their houses and have nowhere to go. The Government have deliberately set about destroying public sector housing. Scotland was an egalitarian society in which most people lived in public sector houses, but the Government told them that that was not a good idea and, as a result, the best public sector housing has been sold. The Government have not made available resources to replace those houses and have not given us the receipts from sales to reinvest in the houses that are left. As a result, those houses have continuously deteriorated.

Conservative Members have spoken about empty council houses. A shell without a roof is not an empty house, it is an empty shell. Of course people will not accept such houses. I certainly would not and I defy any Conservative Member to say that he would. The people who are offered such houses are often those who do not have any resources to spend on them. They are single parents and people on fixed incomes. Some of the homelessness among such people has arisen because benefits are no longer available to some young people. Some households totally depend on state benefits and a young person of 17 who has no training, no job and no income cannot remain in such a household because his family cannot afford to keep him. The only way that he can become entitled to income is to go on to the streets and become homeless. His name will then be placed on the homeless list and he will be allocated a house and be entitled to benefit. The vicious circle continues.

Government policies have caused poverty, and that has created the homelessness which has destroyed Scotland's public sector housing. If the Government can offer no better answer than a massive reduction in the allocation of money, it is time that they moved over and moved off the park.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 10:07 pm, 23rd January 1991

The last time that the Minister was in my constituency he was seen on a penny-farthing bike. At least that bike worked. The miserable pittance that the Minister has offered to solve some of Scotland's housing problems will lead to him being called the Minister of rent-a-tent. The Minister's predecessors over the past 10 years have been weak-willed wafflers.

Scotland's housing crisis breaks my heart, and I am sure that it breaks the heart of many hon. Members who receive letters on the subject. I should like to read one which speaks clearly about the problem being created by the Government. It states: Dear Mr. Graham,I am desperately in need of your help. Due to a combination of low-paid work and high interest rates I have been forced to sell my house. After getting into difficulties with the payments I tried to catch up with my arrears, but this eventually became impossible and the building society advised me to sell before they took action themselves, this has left both my wife and I at our wits end— in fact my wife is on medication from her doctor.In order to try to save our home my wife secured a part-time job in Linwood. However, if we were forced to leave Linwood she would have to give this job up because the hours fit in with my children's school hours. The local authority has been nearly broken by the Government's mismanagement in failing to house people in such circumstances.

I have another letter which I am sure will break the hearts of many hon. Members on this side of the House. I hope that the Government will take some action because they have the power to do so. This is a letter from a sergeant in the Army for whom I have tried to secure a house. After 24 years in the Army, having given excellent service, he wishes to come to my area. He wants to stay with his family, with his mother and brother, and with people in the community. We cannot give him a house. The local authority has only a few left and there is not a big turnover in housing. But we have Scottish Homes, over which the Minister has absolute control. Did Scottish Homes respond to this man's need? No, it did not. The Under-Secretary of State should get the rules and regulations changed to allow this man to be housed by Scottish Homes or to allow the man even to purchase a Scottish home. The Government have denied him that right, too. The Minister should hang his head in shame if he cannot help a loyal service man with 24 years' service.

I have another letter to which I wish to draw attention although I shall not read it to the House. It is from an invalid, a woman suffering very serious health problems. She lives in another part of the country and wishes to come to our area. She has tried everything, but has been unsuccessful because the council does not have all the houses in its control. Our area is very much dominated by the houses owned by Scottish Homes. As hon. Members will know, Scottish Homes has become the biggest estate agency in Scotland. It does not contribute at all to solving the problem of homelessness or to assisting the people of Renfrewshire who wish to stay in the area.

I also instance in this debate the massive escalation in rents in my constituency. I believe that the Government are perpetrating mindless mugging. One has only to consider the escalating poll tax, increasing fuel costs, and the ongoing problem of homelessness, all of which have been created by this Government because of the economic position that they have taken in past years involving high interest rates. We know that factories in our area are closing practically every day of the week, yet the Government still continue their mad housing policy.

All hon. Members could quote cases such as I have instanced tonight. Scottish Office Ministers should argue the case, in Cabinet or wherever, to obtain sufficient money to build new houses. We desperately need new houses in Scotland. We also need money to renovate damp houses—houses in which people cannot live because the Government have constantly curbed funds for local government which wishes to improve such houses. I put it to the Minister that we also need sheltered housing accommodation. We need supported accommodation for some of the people whom this Government have thrown on the street. I refer to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill who are walking the streets in my area, in Glasgow and in other cities. The Minister has a duty and a responsibility to fight for the people of Scotland. There is a crisis and we need housing. Perhaps the Minister needs a pair of glasses. I shall give him some and then take him to see the problem.

It has been said tonight that the berry pickers are looking for houses. There are more than just berry pickers looking for houses—loyal service men will come home having fought a war for this country, and they will expect homes fit to live in.

Photo of Mr Gordon McMaster Mr Gordon McMaster , Paisley South 10:16 pm, 23rd January 1991

As a new Member, this is my first opportunity to participate in a Scottish housing debate. I read the orders carefully, and nowhere do they refer to tenants, those who depend on public sector housing. There are statistics—columns and columns of numbers—but there is nothing about those who depend on public sector housing.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) referred to the link between bad housing and bad health. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) has left the Chamber. He referred to the past, when councils ripped people away from the hearts of the cities. I had the pleasure today of welcoming my father as a visitor to the House. He was brought up in the constituency that I represent, in the town of Johnstone. His experience was of 100 people—24 families— sharing four outside toilets. Those are the sort of conditions that people were ripped away from in the hearts of the cities. Perhaps someone in the position of the hon. and learned Gentleman can afford that sort of nostalgia, but it is not something to which the people of Scotland want to return. It put my father in a sanatorium, and it is now endangering young children who suffer from asthma and bronchial complaints. That is the reality of Scottish housing and the lack of proper investment.

I am glad that my hon. Friends have tried to concentrate the debate on the fundamental right to shelter. They have concentrated on homes rather than dwelling units and put people before statistics. Some hon. Members have accused the Minister of indifference to the problems of Scottish housing. It is far worse than indifference. During the past decade, there has been the systematic and calculated destruction of a public sector housing system that has taken a century to build. The Government have tried to destroy it in a decade. Hon. Members have referred to the excellent briefing paper prepared by COSLA. Whatever is said, we cannot disguise the fact that during that decade £1,500 million of direct Government support has been taken away from Scottish local government and it cannot be denied that £100 million more is being taken away this year.

In my maiden speech on 12 December 1989, I said that if the housing support grant for Renfrew district council was restored to its 1979 level, when the Government took office, it would be 34 per cent.—another £11 million for the council. That money would not only improve housing and reduce homelessness, but it would help the local economy because that council expenditure would generate local jobs. That would improve the economic position of the whole area.

During the decade that the Government have had responsibility for Scottish housing, council house tenants have become the most heavily taxed people. Housing support grant has been lost, as has the general fund contribution, yet that is the part that society, the community as a whole, puts into public sector housing. Interest rates and inflation have risen, and that has also had an impact on local authority budgets. I believe that there is something more sinister. What has happened? In the last decade the best public sector houses have been sold leaving the worst and fewer tenants to finance them. That is the reality.

The Government have offered a carrot-and-stick solution: they have offered the carrot of discounts to those people wishing to purchase public sector houses, but they have stood behind them with a stick hitting them to ensure that we do not invest in public sector housing. If a person does not like the conditions in which he is living, if he wishes to improve his lot, and if he wants a wind and watertight house, he will need to purchase that house. That is what has happened to many people.

In conclusion, I draw attention to the plight of many young couples who, because of the problems facing Scottish housing, have been unable to obtain a public sector house. This has often forced them to enter into mortgages which they cannot afford. One of the sad housing statistics is that of the number of young people who are having their homes repossessed because they can no longer keep up the mortgage payments. This is one of the problems affecting constituencies such as mine. I invite the Minister to come, for example, to the Foxbar area where almost half the houses are uninhabitable and where people who are living there are living in damp, deplorable conditions. These people had plenty of promises and statements in the Paisley, South by-election campaign, but they do not want sympathetic noises; they want action. The Government should give it to them.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:21 pm, 23rd January 1991

Understandably, at present people's minds are elsewhere, but it is business as usual for many people in this country. It is business as usual for the homeless young people who are sleeping in cardboard city on the Embankment, not far from this place; it is business as usual for homeless people in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.

A few minutes ago my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) made a light-hearted and humorous comment about Edinburgh. I think that some people forget that, although Edinburgh is without doubt one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, at the same time it has formidable problems, particularly in housing. Just before Christmas a great deal of attention was focused on the plight of homeless people in Edinburgh. On the same day that the Prime Minister announced extra money for the homeless in London I asked the Scottish Office what it intended to do for Scotland. The answer was "nothing". Yet within a few hours the Scottish Office had cobbled together an announcement that £2 million had been allocated to Scotland.

We found out what that £2 million was. It was not additional money being made available to Scotland; it was simply borrowing consent for the four major cities of Scotland. For every penny those cities borrow, the interest has to be paid, not by the taxpayers as a whole, but by council house tenants. Therefore, existing council house tenants in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen will have to shoulder the burden of providing what little extra help there is for homeless people. Of the £2 million being made available, Edinburgh has put in for £1 million. Perhaps that is ambitious, because it is half the programme. If the city gets that £1 million it will provide just 16 beds—16 beds in a city with more than 6,000 homeless people. Half of those 6,000 are in priority need. It is estimated—and it can only be an estimate—that 200 people in Edinburgh sleep rough every night, in graveyards, in the streets, anywhere they can find, every night of the year. There has been a 200 per cent. increase in the homeless rate for 16 to 24-year-olds, young people who are increasingly at risk from violence and sexual abuse. Many of them turn to prostitution, male and female. It is one of the scars of Scotland that in Edinburgh, which is one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, there is this ugly side to the city of people who are in desperate need. The Government are not willing to face the real problem.

The Minister will say that there are empty houses in Edinburgh. Yes, there are. Edinburgh district council is doing all it can to speed up its allocation policies. But there are other problems. Some houses need repair before they can be let and, as other hon. Members have said, people understandably will not take houses that are not fit for reletting.

Another problem is that now that there is no single payment from the Department of Social Security people who are offered houses might not be able to furnish them. Community care grants are being limited and cut in Edinburgh as in other areas. Yet until this year Edinburgh received no housing support grant. This year it received a mere £500,000.

In addition to that problem, the record of Scottish Homes in Edinburgh is abysmal. Edinburgh has 26 per cent. public sector housing, but this year it received only £10·1 million from Scottish Homes, £9 million of which was for committed projects, so only £1 million was available in new money. Yet Glasgow, which has 60 per cent. public sector housing and a population only twice that of Edinburgh, had five times the amount that Edinburgh had from public funds.

I do not grudge Glasgow a single penny of that, but why on earth should Edinburgh lose out so badly? The Government say that that is nothing to do with them and that it is a matter for the quango that they appointed—Scottish Homes. But the lack of public sector rented accommodation means that pensioners who want to live in sheltered housing and in the centre of the city, rather than be shifted out to the schemes in the periphery, cannot do so, young couples who could never afford to buy have no accommodation to choose from, and a growing number of single people have nowhere to go at all.

The Government's policy is all over the place. It is clear that they want to reduce the number of people who live in public sector housing, but when will they face up to the fact that, even if they reduce the number of people in public sector housing, a large core of people will still have no choice other than to rely on public sector housing? They include pensioners and young people who do not have the spending power to buy their own houses.

What will happen to that large core of people for whom buying a house is simply not an option? The Government do not seem to have an answer. Certainly the chairman of Scottish Homes does not have an answer. He refers to something called social housing, as one might expect from a retired diplomat. He has no idea of the problems facing the people in Scotland, and in Edinburgh in particular.

Too often people look at Edinburgh—at Princes street, the castle and the Georgian new town—and they think that it is a prosperous city. Some of it is, but behind those Georgian facades and beside some of those magnificent buildings that are the envy of many tourists who visit Edinburgh there is much hardship and grief. That may give rise to laughter among Scottish Office Ministers, but the time has come when the Scottish Office should stop acting as simply a branch office of the Department of the Environment and realise that the urgent and ugly problems in Edinburgh need to be tackled now.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South 10:27 pm, 23rd January 1991

I have little time left, so I shall make only two important points.

Every hon. Member who has spoken tonight has pointed out the serious housing problem facing Scotland. More than 90 per cent. of those people who contact us at our surgeries, whether of a Labour or a Conservative Member of Parliament, have housing problems. Yet, as councillors keep telling us, we as Members of Parliament have nothing to do with housing. Such is the crisis that the Scottish people are facing that, as a last resort, they have to go to their Members of Parliament.

The orders are another attempt by the Government to hammer public sector housing and council tenants. During the past 10 years in Scotland public sector housing finance has dropped by £1·5 billion. I would accept that if the Government were trying to reduce the amount of money given to housing in the United Kingdom budget, but they are not doing that. During the past 10 years, when they have hammered council houses and taken away £1 x00B7;5 billion in resources for council houses, they have increased tenfold the amount of money being given to the owner-occupier and the private sector. At the same time they have increased substantially the amount given to owner-occupiers.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that mortgage tax relief was not really a subsidy. I remind the hon. Gentleman and all his Tory colleagues that the Adam Smith Institute—the think tank of the Tory party—said that the party and the Government had no right to subsidise owner-occupiers. In fact, a recent Chancellor considered doing away with mortgage tax relief. Why do not the Tories carry out Tory party policy in the case of owner-occupiers? They do so in the case of council tenants. Let us have an even playing field, rather than continual attacks on council tenants.

Lastly, I want to raise a problem from my constituency. The biggest part of the constituency is the new town of Irvine, where there is a tremendous housing problem. The Government have brought people into the new town. Those people have been provided with jobs, and good amenities, including very modern houses. But the urban development corporation is not being provided with money to supply houses for second-generation families. I want the Minister to ask his colleague who is responsible for new towns to look into the problem and see that money is provided for this purpose.

On a previous occasion I requested a meeting with the Minister to discuss the problem. That was after his refusal and the refusal of his officials to meet representatives of Cunninghame district council. In a communication to the council the Minister said that the development corporation was not to be given any money to provide houses for second-generation families, as that was the job of the council. Again, under these orders, he has the cheek to give Cunninghame district council not one penny towards housing support grant—not a penny for houses for second-generation families.

The Minister is quite a decent chap. Let him ensure that Cunninghame district council is given the money to provide houses for second-generation families in Irvine new town.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 10:34 pm, 23rd January 1991

This has been a very useful and varied debate. I shall look into the point that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) made. Some time ago, in a similar debate, he mentioned the Adam Smith Institute's recommendation that there should be a rents-to-mortgages scheme—something for which the hon. Gentleman has called. We are doing precisely that—aiming for a wholly new market. The recommendation will be followed through in due course, and I shall be meeting the housing committee of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss the subject.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

That is not what I called for. I called for the abolition of mortgage tax relief, which is Tory party policy as recommended by the Adam Smith Institute.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman has made that point twice in our debates, once in the Scottish Grand Committee and once on the Floor of the House when he addressed my right hon. and learned Friend the previous Secretary of State for Scotland. He may have made the point as a joke, but he made it very effectively and we are acting on it.

In response to the hon. Members for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), I must point out that the HRA provisional allocation for Renfrew district council amounts to more than £17 million, which represents £535 per council house. That is an increase over the provision for 1990–91 of £528 per house. We are taking the urban partnership initiative very seriously and we have already made available £1·257 million extra for innovative housing.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) referred to 1265 Pollokshaws road. Glasgow district council recently stated that it is willing to make grants available for improvements to those properties. I hope that that will be of considerable assistance to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. However, the hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the significance of the assistance that Glasgow district council can provide.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) referred to someone buying a flat in a council house block of four and asked whether that person would be eligible for an improvement grant. That may be at the discretion of the local authority depending, on how recently the house was—[Interruption.]

I want now to consider the funding for Glasgow to which reference was made by the hon. Members for Springburn, for Pollok and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). As the largest housing authority in Scotland, Glasgow continues to receive the largest share of resources available—more than 20 per cent. of the provision. For 1991–92 the council's HRA allocation of £92 million includes £4·6 million to honour commitments given for innovative housing in Castlemilk in Cathcart. Excluding that earmarked provision, the allocation gives the council an allocation of £616 per council house which is considerably above the Scottish average of £559. The council's net allocation of £60 million is 11 per cent. higher than the corresponding allocation for 1990–91. That increase, together with the resources of around £16 million which the council expects to draw down from its covenant scheme, should enable it to sustain its substantial capital programme. With regard to non-HRA moneys, the allocation of £23 million should support activity.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman should not belittle that £23 million and the point that he made about his constituents could be covered there.

Glasgow does particularly well with regard to housing support grant. It received more than £22 million, which is more than 40 per cent. of the total payable in Scotland, while Glasgow has less than 20 per cent. of the council housing stock.

We would not have guessed from the debate that Edinburgh had just received an allocation of more than £8 million to deal with the pre-1984 tenement block applications. That sum should finish the exercise and that fact should be acknowledged.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Following the Minister's remarks about housing support grant for Glasgow, will he make it clear that he is cutting Glasgow's housing support grant by very nearly £2 million?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman must take account of what I said about interest rates, which have an effect on the total sum. I appreciate that Glasgow's rents have increased significantly in recent years and, although I accept that part of that increase is attributable to reductions in general fund contributions, the major reason is that the council chose to enter into large covenant agreements. It knew before doing so that those agreements were not eligible for housing support grant. However, Edinburgh has a considerably higher allocation than the Scottish average of £559. It receives £685 per house, and the public sector contribution in Edinburgh's capital programme will rise from more than £6 million to £12 million in 1991–92, a substantial increase of more than 112 per cent. It is remarkable that Edinburgh has a £2 million surplus on its revenue account which it could use if it wished. That, of course, is a matter for Edinburgh. No doubt the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) will know why it has not been used.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As it happens, I raised that very point with some senior officials from Edinburgh district council, and the Minister knows the answer. Does he accept that the £8 million ceiling that has been allocated for the housing repair grant scheme deals only with pre-1984 applications and that several thousand people are still waiting for allocations after that time? Will the Minister also consider my point about Scottish Homes? Why is it that Glasgow, with twice the population of Edinburgh, gets five times as much as Edinburgh does for the traditional rented sector in the housing association programme?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

Glasgow gets a larger share because needs in Glasgow are greater than those in Edinburgh. No fair-minded Scottish Member of Parliament would deny that. Edinburgh has problems, and rooflessness, which is not the same as homelessness, is a particular one. I take seriously the representations that have been made. There is no simple solution. The programmes that are being put forward will be carefully considered. We hope to respond as soon as possible. We are making a non-housing revenue account allocation of more than £18 million to Edinburgh, so it is doing very well.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I address my remarks to my colleagues. Are we not sick of statistics being bandied year after year? Ministers attempt to deceive the public by talking of vast amounts of capital allocation which we know have already been spent. They do not talk about the real figures that matter. How long must people languish in houses that are totally unfit to live in? [Interruption.] We want to know for how long our constituents will have to live in deplorable housing conditions. We have had the tenants' campaign—[Interruption.]

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I have visited the hon. Lady's constituency several times. Progress is being made, not least by Queens Cross housing association, which is effectively in her constituency. Scottish Homes, through the housing associations and the housing association movement before Scottish Homes was set up, spent nearly £0·5 billion in Glasgow.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) made an important point about the pool rate of interest used in the housing support grant calculations. If the hon. Gentleman cares to examine the record of previous years, he will note that the pool rate has proved to be a reasonably accurate guide to the interest payable by each authority. I know of no reason why the pool rate should suddenly be regarded as inaccurate. However, as I said earlier, I should be happy for the use of the pool rate to be discussed further with the convention. I mentioned also that the authorities in the highlands and islands a re major beneficiaries of housing support grant. Next year, Ross and Cromarty will receive a subsidy of more than £700 per council tenant. Inverness receives £267 per tenant and Lochaber receives £977 per tenant. On average in Scotland, the subsidy amounts to only £76 per tenant. Those areas in the highlands are doing better than the Scottish average, which is only fair when all circumstances are taken into account.

We have made a supplementary allocation today to Ettrick and Lauderdale, to Roxburgh, Stirling, Kincardine and Deeside, to Western Isles and to Hamilton of £825,000. Of course, final allocations remain to be paid. We shall take into account the points that have been made.

On capital investment in relation to resources generally for Scotland, under the Labour Government there was a reduction in real terms of 36 per cent. However, there has been an increase in real terms of 13 per cent. since 1978–79. Indeed, the provisional housing capital allocation fell by £520 million.

The Government have a good record. Through Scottish Homes we have created a powerful housing development agency funded with more than £1,140 million. Since we came to power we have done a great deal to increase the number of amenity dwellings. The number has more than quadrupled. We have increased the number of sheltered dwellings to over 28,600. We have responded to the aspirations of the Scottish people by introducing not only the right to buy but soon the rents-to-mortgages scheme which will be accessible to 370,000 tenants—even if the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) regrets that he asked for the scheme some years ago. I shall be happy to remind him of what he said in Hansard.

We have demonstrated our determination to provide the resources and guidance needed to enable local authorities to deal efficiently and sensitively with the difficult problem of homelessness. It is often forgotten that since 1979 some 220,000 houses have been built in Scotland. Virtually 60,000 of those were built by the public sector and housing associations.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I have only one minute to go.

The orders provide a fair and reasonable subsidy package for 1991–92 and I am glad to recommend that the House approve them.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 150.

Division No. 46][10.46 pm
AYES
Aitken, JonathanHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Alexander, RichardHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelHarris, David
Allason, RupertHaselhurst, Alan
Amess, DavidHawkins, Christopher
Amos, AlanHayes, Jerry
Arbuthnot, JamesHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Hayward, Robert
Aspinwall, JackHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Hill, James
Beggs, RoyHind, Kenneth
Bellingham, HenryHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bevan, David GilroyHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Boscawen, Hon RobertHunt, David (Wirral W)
Boswell, TimHunter, Andrew
Bottomley, PeterIrvine, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaJack, Michael
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Janman, Tim
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Jessel, Toby
Bowis, JohnJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Brazier, JulianJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bright, GrahamJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Brown, Michael (Brlgg & Cl't's)Kilfedder, James
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickKnapman, Roger
Budgen, NicholasKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Burns, SimonKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Burt, AlistairKnowles, Michael
Butler, ChrisKnox, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Lang, Ian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Lawrence, Ivan
Carrington, MatthewLee, John (Pendle)
Carttiss, MichaelLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Channon, Rt Hon PaulLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Chapman, SydneyLilley, Peter
Chope, ChristopherLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)Lord, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Colvin, MichaelLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Cope, Rt Hon JohnMaclean, David
Couchman, JamesMcLoughlin, Patrick
Cran, JamesMadel, David
Curry, DavidMalins, Humfrey
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Mans, Keith
Davis, David (Boothferry)Maples, John
Day, StephenMarland, Paul
Dicks, TerryMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMates, Michael
Dover, DenMawhinney, Dr Brian
Dunn, BobMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Durant, Sir AnthonyMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Dykes, HughMeyer, Sir Anthony
Emery, Sir PeterMiller, Sir Hal
Fairbairn, Sir NicholasMills, Iain
Favell, TonyMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMitchell, Sir David
Forman, NigelMoate, Roger
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Monro, Sir Hector
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Fox, Sir MarcusMorrison, Sir Charles
French, DouglasMorrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Garel-Jones, TristanMoss, Malcolm
Gill, ChristopherNeale, Sir Gerrard
Goodhart, Sir PhilipNelson, Anthony
Goodlad, AlastairNeubert, Sir Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaNicholson, David (Taunton)
Gregory, ConalNorris, Steve
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Oppenheim, Phillip
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Page, Richard
Hampson, Dr KeithPaice, James
Hannam, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Summerson, Hugo
Porter, David (Waveney)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Powell, William (Corby)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Price, Sir DavidTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Raison, Rt Hon Sir TimothyTemple-Morris, Peter
Redwood, JohnThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rhodes James, RobertThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Ridsdale, Sir JulianThorne, Neil
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)Thornton, Malcolm
Ross, William (Londonderry E)Thurnham, Peter
Rowe, AndrewTredinnick, David
Ryder, RichardTrotter, Neville
Sackville, Hon TomTwinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, JonathanWalden, George
Shaw, David (Dover)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Waller, Gary
Shelton, Sir WilliamWard, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Warren, Kenneth
Sims, RogerWatts, John
Skeet, Sir TrevorWells, Bowen
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wheeler, Sir John
Speed, KeithWhitney, Ray
Speller, TonyWiddecombe, Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wilshire, David
Stanbrook, IvorWinterton, Mrs Ann
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWinterton, Nicholas
Steen, AnthonyWood, Timothy
Stern, MichaelYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Stevens, Lewis
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)Mr. Irvine Patrick and
Stokes, Sir JohnMr. Timothy Kirkhope.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeFlynn, Paul
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Paisley, N.)Foster, Derek
Allen, GrahamFoulkes, George
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFyfe, Maria
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyGeorge, Bruce
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Godman, Dr Norman A.
Battle, JohnGolding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, MargaretGordon, Mildred
Beith, A. J.Graham, Thomas
Bellotti, DavidGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Benton, JosephGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Boyes, RolandGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bradley, KeithGrocott, Bruce
Bray, Dr JeremyHarman, Ms Harriet
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Haynes, Frank
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Hinchliffe, David
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Buckley, George J.Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Caborn, RichardHome Robertson, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hood, Jimmy
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Canavan, DennisHowells, Geraint
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hoyle, Doug
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Crowther, StanIngram, Adam
Cryer, BobJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cunliffe, LawrenceJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Darling, AlistairKennedy, Charles
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Kirkwood, Archy
Dewar, DonaldLambie, David
Dixon, DonLamond, James
Doran, FrankLeadbitter, Ted
Douglas, DickLeighton, Ron
Dunnachie, JimmyLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eadie, AlexanderLivsey, Richard
Eastham, KenLoyden, Eddie
Evans, John (St Helens N)McAllion, John
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)McCartney, Ian
Fearn, RonaldMacdonald, Calum A.
Fisher, MarkMcFall, John
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Rooker, Jeff
McKelvey, WilliamRooney, Terence
McLeish, HenryRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McMaster, GordonRuddock, Joan
McWilliam, JohnShort, Clare
Madden, MaxSillars, Jim
Mahon, Mrs AliceSkinner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Spearing, Nigel
Martlew, EricSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Maxton, JohnSteinberg, Gerry
Meale, AlanStrang, Gavin
Michael, AlunTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Turner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr LewisVaz, Keith
Morgan, RhodriWallace, James
Morley, ElliotWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Murphy, PaulWareing, Robert N.
Nellist, DaveWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
O'Hara, EdwardWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
O'Neill, MartinWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Parry, RobertWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Patchett, TerryWilson, Brian
Pike, Peter L.Winnick, David
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Prescott, JohnWorthington, Tony
Primarolo, DawnWray, Jimmy
Quin, Ms JoyceYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Redmond, Martin
Reid, Dr JohnTellers for the Noes:
Richardson, JoMr. Jack Thompson and
Robertson, GeorgeMr. Thomas McAvoy.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.It being more than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the previous motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded, pursuant to Order [18 January], to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the other motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Lang.

Resolved,That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]