Housing Support Grant (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:16 pm on 23rd January 1991.

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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.