Public Accounts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 28th October 1992.

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Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 6:44 pm, 28th October 1992

The first major house condition survey —that by Glasgow district council—was carried out without any help from the Scottish Office. It was almost actively discouraging the council because it knew what would come out and that what it would cost to get Glasgow's housing back into proper condition would be millions more than it would make available. There is a smugness in the words of the Scottish Office about the house condition survey.

When the Minister came to his job, I welcomed him, and I admit that he has done a better job than most of his predecessors, although that is not a great compliment. However, his predecessors told me that there could not be a house condition survey and that they did not have the true facts.

In paragraph 4 of its report, the Committee says: Prime responsibility for the condition of Scottish houses rests with their owners. Local authorities, in addition to their responsibilities for the housing stock which they own, also have the major responsibility for implementing housing legislation in their areas. The Department's role is indirect. They exercise influence and control over the housing sector by a variety of means". I do not accept that the Scottish Office played an indirect role in the condition of housing in Scotland over the past 12 years and the present crisis in housing. Instead, its role is central and direct because, over that time, it has been cutting the funding of local government housing in such a way as to make it impossible for local authorities to carry out their function of ensuring the good condition of Scottish housing.

Eleven years ago, the housing support grant was £228 million and the general fund contribution provided a further £100 million. This financial year, the two of them will contribute £49 million. Since 1979, £1.5 billion of direct Government support for Scotland has been lost. These are cash figures. In real terms, the facts are even more catastrophic.

In 1979, 40 per cent. of housing costs came from rent, 39 per cent. from housing support grant, and 14 per cent. from rate fund contribution. This year, 93 per cent. comes from rent, 7 per cent. from housing support grant, and less than 1 per cent. from the general fund contribution. Thus, the Government's cutting of housing support in Scotland makes a direct contribution to the decline in the condition of Scottish housing, including the increased number of houses suffering from dampness, with all the ill health that that can lead to, and the increased number of houses that need rewiring, replumbing and redevelopment. That is not an indirect role; it is a direct role.

Capital allocations have also played their part in the condition of Scottish housing. Again, the Department has a direct role in this. The capital allocation has been cut again and again. I take the point made by my hon. Friends who represent English constituencies, that they want the capital receipts from the sale of council houses released to be used in housing. In Scotland, those receipts have always been used, but there has been a net receipt. In other words, there is a gross capital allocation, but local authorities are then told that they will have to sell a certain number of council houses and are given a net allocation. Far from benefiting from what other sales might take place, they find that they do not have the money that they require. It is ludicrous that this year eight local authorities in Scotland—Berwickshire, North-East Fife, East Lothian, West Lothian, East Kilbride, Hamilton, Perth and Kinross and Orkney—are required to sell more council houses for more money than the Government will allow them to use for building and redevelopment.

The role of the Scottish Office when it comes to the condition of housing in Scotland is not an indirect one. The Scottish Office is largely responsible for the fact that the condition of Scottish housing has declined over the past 13 years. A massive job needs to be done in either rebuilding our housing stock or redeveloping it, and it can be done only when the Government are prepared to make proper public financing available. I hope that the Government have read the report and will take account of it.