Housing Support Grant (Scotland)

– in the House of Commons at 10:34 pm on 17th February 1993.

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Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 10:34 pm, 17th February 1993

I beg to move, That the draft Grant (Scotland) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 21 January, be approved. I propose to keep my opening remarks brief. This is the 15th annual housing support grant order laid before the House. Many hon. Members will have speeches to make on constituency issues. Hon. Members will remember that housing support grant is a deficit subsidy paid to local authorities that, on the basis of reasonable assumptions about income and expenditure, would otherwise be unable to meet the costs of council housing from their rental income. Full details of the grant settlement for the next financial year are set out in the order and the accompanying report.

As always, I express my thanks to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, with whom the grant settlement has been discussed. Although the convention has reservations about certain aspects of the settlement, I am grateful for the constructive and helpful approach which it takes in our annual discussions on these matters.

The draft order provides that the total grant payable next year will be £ 35.852 million. That sum represents the difference between the eligible expenditure and the relevant income of authorities that, in the absence of grant, would have a deficit on their housing revenue accounts.

Eligible expenditure consists mainly of loan charges and of management and maintenance spending. The loan charges that we estimate that authorities will have to meet in the next financial year are—as is usual—based on a projection of each authority's capital debt to the mid-point of the financial year, taking account of new borrowing and debt redemption. In order to calculate interest charges, we apply to those projections of capital debt the pool interest rate expected for local authority debt next year. Our present estimate of that rate is 9.3 per cent. Interest rates may fluctuate, however, and I assure the House that if there is a significant change in the estimate of the pool rate, the Government will— in line with the usual practice— bring forward an appropriate variation order to adjust the amount of grant payable. For the moment, our estimate of the total loan charges to be met from local authority housing revenue accounts in Scotland amounts to £487 million.

The other major item of eligible expenditure is that on management and maintenance of the housing stock. Our estimate of eligible management and maintenance spending in 1993–94 is based on an assumed average spending level of £605 per house—a 15 per cent. increase over the equivalent average for the current year. That provides evidence that the Government are prepared to meet their share of the cost of the improvement in management and maintenance services that will arise from the adoption of the tenants charter.

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

How wide-ranging is the definition of hostel in paragraph 3(3)? Does it include women's refuges and, if so, will what the Minister has to say tonight enable those managing women's refuges to seek extra money to develop their services to meet the growing need for such hostel accommodation?

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

I agree that women's refuges are important. I shall make certain that the hon. Gentleman is given a full reply during the wind-up. My impression is that they are covered, but I shall make certain and come back to the hon. Gentleman on the matter.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The Minister is describing what he says is a generous settlement for local authorities. If it is, could he explain why Kyle and Carrick district council, much praised by some Conservative Members earlier and now Conservative controlled, is raising rents for local authority tenants by an average £5 a week and in some cases by as much as £15 a week? That means that some tenants simply cannot pay—especially those whose wages are frozen or who have been limited to small increases. Does he agree with the council's action; or does he agree with me that it is disgraceful?

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

I shall deal with rents generally first—

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

I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

As for standard rents, the assumed average rent for 1993–94 is £30.32 per house per week. I stress that that is not a forecast of the actual average local authority rent for next year; nor is it a guideline or recommendation. It is the average rent which, for the purposes of the grant calculations, we consider that authorities should reasonably be expected to receive. The actual rents of authorities may be higher or lower, according to their own decisions about income and expenditure. I shall discuss the implications of the subsidy settlement for actual rents in a few moments, but the actual rent levels are a matter for the district councils to decide—

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

I should draw the attention of the House to certain changes in the way in which the grant for next year has been calculated. Hon. Members should appreciate that, although the broad lines of the methodology of the grant system are by now well established, there is a continuing evolution of the system at the margin. For instance, the grant settlement for next year reflects—

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

The hon. Gentleman should allow me to follow this through; he needs to see the whole subject in perspective. I know that he feels strongly about his local council.

The settlement for next year reflects a different method of assessing whether grant entitlements should be adjusted to reflect overpayments or underpayments in earlier years. The former arrangements involved the use of penny rate products to establish whether the difference between an authority's loan charges as estimated for the earlier grant year and actual loan charges was substantial enough to warrant an adjustment. With the agreement of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the use of penny rate products has been abandoned in favour of a rent product of 70p per house per week as a threshold to determine whether an adjustment is necessary.

We have also responded to the convention's representations about the way in which we estimate the amounts or rents lost as a result of vacant houses. In particular, we have taken account of the numbers of houses held empty and not available for letting. Estimated rents lost for authorities with a high proportion of houses held empty for this reason have been based on 3 per cent. of assumed rental income, compared with 2 per cent. for other authorities. Again, COSLA has welcomed this change.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I accept that, but if a local authority decides to redevelop a large number of its council houses, as Glasgow has done in Castlemilk with the full co-operation of the Government, is it not absurd that it then loses housing support grant because the houses are standing empty and thus making no rental income?

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

The change has been welcomed by COSLA and it takes into account precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The figure is based, for authorities with a high proportion of housing held empty, on 3 per cent. of assumed rental income. That is a move in the direction that the hon. Gentleman wants.

I should also mention the hostels portion of housing support grant. Since we took the decision two years ago to extend hostels grant to all authorities with hostels, rather than limiting hostels grant to authorities that qualified on the basis of their housing revenue accounts as a whole, there has been a welcome increase in the number of hostel places made available by local authorities, from 1,796 in 1990 to 1,956 in 1992. The Government's decision to make available additional capital allocations specifically aimed at relieving homelessness means that the number of hostel places will continue to grow over the next year.

I recognise that hostels are far from the complete answer to homelessness, but they make a signification contribution to dealing with the single homeless. Following consultation with COSLA, a maximum cost per hostel place will be introduced next year. It has been set at a generous level. For each authority, it is three times the average net cost per hostel place for local authority hostels as a whole—multiplied by the number of hostel places provided by the authority.

The hostels portion of grant next year will amount to more than £ 1.6 million, shared among 18 authorities.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

Will the Minister give an assurance that the Asian women's refuge in my constituency will not close? I understand that it is threatened, and many people are anxious to ensure that that facility remains open. Can the Minister give that categorical assurance, so that the Asian folk in Strathclyde can rest in peace?

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

I should like to know more about that. That is almost certainly a local authority decision. If that hostel has been given assistance by urban aid or other Scottish Office sources I shall be happy to make inquiries and will reply to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

Falkirk district council is listed among the minority of local authorities that receive a portion of housing support grant for hostels, but no figure is given. How much will Falkirk district council receive? Also, why do only a minority of housing authorities in Scotland qualify for general or hostel housing support grant? When the system was introduced by a Labour Government, virtually every housing authority in Scotland qualified. In terms of general housing support grant, Falkirk has not received a single penny from this rotten Government for more than a decade.

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

Housing support grant is a deficit subsidy. The hon. Gentleman asks why some authorities are not included. The size of the potential deficit determines grant entitlement. Some authorities have a relatively small deficit, so even small changes in estimated income or expenditure may have a large impact on their deficit. Other authorities have a potentially large deficit.

If I had to give a simplistic example, I would say that authorities that built a large volume of housing in relatively recent years may find that they have much larger loan charges, and therefore are much more likely to qualify for housing support grant than authorities with older housing stock.

Changes in estimated expenditure or income have only a marginal effect on the potential deficit and, therefore, on the grant entitlement. As to the hostel portion, I will answer the hon. Gentleman when I wind up and have the figures to hand.

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

I will also answer the hon. Gentleman's question about hostels, in relation to women's refuges in his constituency.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot just stand up like that when the Minister is at the Dispatch Box. He can ask the Minister to give way, but if the Minister chooses not to do so, the hon. Gentleman must accept that.

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

The hon. Gentleman is very persistent. I will give way to him now, but I have quite a bit to say, and I want to hear all the constituency speeches that other hon. Members may wish to make.

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

I thank the Minister for giving way with characteristic courtesy—the kind of courtesy which I like to extend to him.

Hostels are an important issue, especially in view of the implications of care in the community. Many people will be released into the community, and some will be staying in hostels. Where does Inverclyde come in, and what funds will the district council receive for providing hostel accommodation for those covered by the community care provisions?

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

The final allocations for housing must be made available in March. We are giving high priority to community care, in regard to the funding of both local authorities and Scottish Homes. The hon. Gentleman can be certain that we shall be very specific about that when we make the final allocations.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a definition of hostels. Women's refuge hostels are usually owned by voluntary organisations; because they are not owned by local authorities, they do not qualify for housing support grant, which, in accordance with statute, is restricted to houses and hostels owned by the authorities themselves. Financial assistance from local authorities for women's refuges is usually provided under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. That assistance is subsidised through the aggregate external finance settlement discussed earlier this evening.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) asked about the hostels proportion in Falkirk. I understand that it is £154,770 in 1993–94, compared with the lesser figure of £123,120 in 1992–93. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked about rents. I repeat that that is entirely a matter for the council: Kyle and Carrick's rent was only £20.46 per house per week in 1992–93, well below the Scottish average of £24.75.

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

The hon. Gentleman can make his own case in his own way if he catches the eye of the Chair.

General fund contributions represent a subsidy from council tax payers to council house tenants. This kind of subsidy is indiscriminate, in that it benefits all tenants regardless of their personal circumstances; and it is unnecessary, to the extent that tenants who are unable to meet the costs of their housing receive assistance in the form of housing benefit. I make no apology for our proposals in the General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1993 to bar authorities from budgeting to make general fund contributions next year. Local authorities have been consulted individually about the proposals, and only 11 of them saw fit to make representations on the matter. I have examined those representations carefully and have concluded that none of the authorities concerned requires to increase rents by an amount that would justify a subsidy from the council tax payer.

The effect of the subsidy proposals on local authority rent levels will vary. As I said earlier, decisions on rents are for local authorities to make. The majority of authorities do not receive housing support grant in respect of their council housing; nor do they make general fund contributions. The rent decisions of those authorities are obviously unaffected by changes in the overall level of subsidy. Even in the case of authorities that receive or make subsidy, changes in the level of that subsidy from year to year are usually less important for local rent decisions than changes in levels of expenditure, particularly expenditure on loan charges.

Because of the general reductions in interest rates during the current financial year, loan charges next year are expected to be lower than this year's. As a result, the majority of local authorities should be able to make real improvements in the level of management and maintenance services with which they provide their tenants, with relatively modest rent increases.

Lord James Douglas Hamilton:

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman one last time.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is a very helpful Minister, which is why I want to ask him what advice I should give my constituents, who are being by required Tory-controlled Kyle and Carrick district council to pay £15 a week more than last year. Where do they find the money when their wages are frozen?

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

If I were in the hon. Gentleman's place, I would find out exactly what the council intended to deliver for tenants in its housing programme. If that involves major schemes of modernisation and improvements in management and maintenance, that should be taken into account. The council must decide what levels of rent to fix.

When I met COSLA last month—

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Before the Minister moves off rents—

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

I have not moved off rents; I am just finishing the point.

When I met COSLA, I predicted that rents would increase by about 7 per cent. overall, but that predication now seems to be on the high side, as Edinburgh and Glasgow are considering increases of 6 per cent. or less. The proposals being considered tonight constitute a fair and reasonable subsidies package that balances the interests of the tenant, the council taxpayer and the national taxpayer, and I strongly commend the order to the House.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill 10:55 pm, 17th February 1993

Listening to the Minister, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would never think that thousands of Scottish houses are unfit to live in, that children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are more likely than others to suffer from ill health, and that, among these children, gastro-enteritis and chest infections are normal. Listening to him, you would not think that people with disabilities wait years for suitably adapted housing, that overcrowded families cannot be housed because the council does not have the right size of housing for their needs or that single men and women can wait years just to get a small flat. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, nor would you think that refuges for women who are in danger and in need of that accommodation are so terribly lacking compared with the level of need.

On 18 January, the Minister proclaimed that it was the Government's long-term aim to reduce "indiscriminate" grants such as housing grant, and that subsidies should be more personalised, such as housing benefit. This year, housing support grant will fall from £47.5 million to £36 million—three quarters of this year's housing support grant. That is what the Minister calls an adequate and suitable settlement. At this rate of reduction, it will not be long before it ends altogether. But housing benefit does not make up the shortfall in money needed to take care of housing stock; it is part of the social security system. It does nothing for the fabric of buildings.

Far from making up lost income to carry out improvements, the Minister is presiding over a total cash reduction of more than £56 million. Housing support grant has been chopped by £11.6 million and the general fund contribution, which he mentioned earlier and which at present is a mere £1.5 million, is to be reduced to zero. Does he realise that not only owner-occupiers but tenants pay the council tax? Gross capital consents are to be reduced by £43 million.

The Minister drew attention to an extra £5 million in consents for community care. Would it not be more caring if he provided hard cash? When we take inflation into account, the council tenant might reasonably expect the total to rise slightly, instead of which there is a reduction in real terms of 15 per cent., or £70 million.

In the past decade, by such methods, more than £1,500 million of direct Government support has been denied to Scottish local authority houses. That money could have treated damp walls, replaced roofs and dangerous wiring and preserved pride in communities where houses have not seen a lick of paint in donkey's years and where tenants feel that their area is getting less desirable with every year that passes.

Gross capital consents—permission to incur capital expenditure — have been reduced by a further 10 per cent. Even the limit imposed of £385 million depends on no less than £251 million–65 per cent.—being raised by selling council houses. If district councils cannot hit that preposterous target, the Minister will not recognise reality and permit further borrowing.

Does he seriously believe that that level of sales can be achieved when, daily, people are being thrown out of work and fear being thrown on the scrap heap? It is particularly galling that so many jobs have been lost in the construction industry. Between 1991 and 1992, 1,036 construction jobs were lost to Scottish local authorities. There is work to be done, and the skills are there, but the Government do not want to know.

It need not be like that. There have been crash programmes of home building under Labour Housing Ministers, and even pre-Thatcherite Tories did better than this lot. As recently as 1981, the Scottish housing authorities built 7,000 houses for rent, but 10 years later, in 1991, the total had dropped to a mere 1,546. It takes a sort of perverse genius to cut the number of houses being built and, at the same time, to raise rents, which pay off housing debt, to such an extent as the Government have done.

In 1979, the average council house rent was £4.92 a week. Under this Government, it has risen to £24.75 a week, and the reduction in housing support grant is based on the assumption that rents will rise to an average of £30.32 a week, as the Minister said. Of course, some will be higher and some will be lower—that is what an average means.

The tenants are not getting better housing for their money—it is being used to pay debts. A few people apparently believe, or would have us believe, that there is a simple solution for councillors, and that only a want of political will and principle prevents them from carrying it out. The slogan is, "Don't pay the debts; force the Government to come to the rescue." How odd it is that Trotskyites have more faith in the humanitarian response of the Tories than any of my colleagues. But if, while we are waiting for the miracle, anyone knows a lender who does not mind his loans not being repaid, will he quickly tell the rest of us?

We cannot expect humanity from the Government, but can we at least attempt to reason with them? They know, because their policies dictate it, that rents have been rising at well above the rate of inflation. Tenants' rents are bearing a far heavier share of the payment of loan debts. In fact, the debts are now almost exclusively funded from rents. That being the case, why does the Minister not remove the barriers to borrowing and let councils decide independently how much they want to borrow for capital projects? The Exchequer is not paying much and intends to pay less, and the Government will not allow any contribution from the council tax. It is the tenants who are paying.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

If the Government were to give greater capital consent, since many councils do not receive housing support grant to supplement their financial support for housing, would it not make the situation worse for tenants?

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain later why getting further permission to borrow to build houses will make matters worse. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say.

I also wonder why the Government will not respond to council appeals to write off loan debt. Let us take Glasgow as an example. If the city's debt were written off, its housing officials say that it would have had £119 million to spend immediately, without incurring any debts. Public companies that have been privatised have had millions of pounds of outstanding loan debts redeemed. It is a political decision to give to one but not the other. That means that there is champagne on ice in the boardroom but cold and damp in many a council house bedroom. If the Government will consider write-off when the value of the asset is less than the outstanding debt, why in the name of logic do they not redeem the debt on houses that councils are demolishing?

Let us consider the picture in Scotland today. More than 100,000 dwellings are below the tolerable standard, and the single most common reason is dampness. At the current level of funding, it will be well past the year 2000 before we even catch up on those presently affected.

Homelessness has reached a record level, topping last year's and the year before's, of 37,519 families.

Everyone knows that inadequate housing creates health problems. Shelter estimates that the health of 120,000 Scottish children is in severe danger owing to the fact that they live in damp and dangerous housing. These views are backed up by Glasgow's director of public health, who has recently written a hard-hitting report which points out: half of all households with children have some problems with dampness or condensation. A quarter of a million Glaswegians live in accommodation affected by dampness or condensation. Asthma and bronchitis are rife. Hon. Members representing other constituencies have similar stories to tell.

Fifty years ago, Beveridge had a vision of a society free from poverty. In the immediate aftermath of the second world war, when industry had to be reorganised to meet peacetime needs and we in Britain depended on Marshall aid, we still managed a massive house-building programme. In the 1960s, people believed that, in another 10 years, Scotland's housing problem would be cracked. How wrong could everyone have been? Today, in addition to the damp and dangerous housing that people are forced to live in, houses are lying empty because they are in an unlettable condition and the councils have no money to improve them. Councils do not like to have houses lying empty. They do not deliberately leave them unlet, but they do not have the money to make them fit to let. What a waste.

The Minister has seen in my constituency an area of housing, of sound construction, which has deteriorated through lack of investment, to the point where demand is nil and nearly everyone wants out. For want of necessary investment, the council may be forced to pull the houses down. If the Minister does not find that a shocking waste of public money, I do. It is no use him shrugging off responsibility on to the councils, saying that each council decides its own priorities. Of course they do, but there is a limit to what they can achieve with the funds at their disposal, which do not come anywhere near meeting their housing needs. Glasgow's current HRA debt is no less than £1,111 million, yet its HSG for this year is a mere £11.1 million. With that level of financial support, when will it ever get over its debt crisis?

The Minister knows all this perfectly well. Possibly he wants to do good and make a name for himself as one of Scotland's great housing Ministers. [Laughter] I thought that hon. Members would like that. But the Minister is tied down by the Tory ideology that has sacrificed everything—even the health of thousands of our children—in the cause of reducing inflation. The truth is that our country cannot afford to allow so many of our children to grow up in poverty and ill health—in such damp and dreadful housing—and so many of our work force to have their skills unused.

Bad housing is not something to tolerate; it is an evil to exterminate. It is a sad fact that the Government bear a grave moral responsibility for all these years of criminal neglect.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside 11:08 pm, 17th February 1993

One thing that can be said about the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) is that it was most certainly read. Another is that it was very badly read. She wrote it before hearing what the Minister had to say, and not knowing that the Chair would be occupied by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whom she addressed incorrectly.

The hon. Lady's remarks made it very clear that she still has no idea about finance. It is fascinating. I long for the day when every property is leased or rented at its correct rental value. That value will be pitched at such a level as to ensure that the property is maintained throughout its buyable life. This is perfectly proper and simple to do, but it was not done under the system of housing support grant. When that grant was the main source of support for housing, local authorities used rents as a means of buying votes. I make no apology for saying so. Under the system whereby all rents were charged properly, at a level that would allow building to be properly sustained, housing benefit could be paid to those who could not pay the rent. The marvellous thing about housing benefit is that it is directed at individuals' needs.

The hon. Member for Maryhill drew attention to what she described as a reduction of £1,500 million in housing support grant. But she failed to say that during the same period housing benefit increased by far more than that. Today, many more people are affected—quite properly. I do not argue with that fact. Throughout my political life I have always argued that every family should at least have a proper house to live in. I believe that we all agree about that. The question is how to arrive at that goal.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I am always willing to give way to the hon. Member for Dundee, East.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

If the hon. Gentleman genuinely believes that every family should have a house to live in, does he agree that the last thing that any United Kingdom Government should allow is the disconnection of water and sewerage services from a house? That makes the house unfit for human habitation, and therefore makes ordinary people homeless.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to hear that I take a different view. I believe that unless disciplines and pressures are imposed on some people, those people will abuse the system. People who, for whatever reason, cannot control their finances may require assistance to be provided in other ways. I have not argued with that idea because, unfortunately, there are people who need to be looked after. But because one wants to look after that particular group of people—

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

In a minute.

Because one wants to look after that particular group of people, one should not lay the way open. Anyone who has lived on a council estate knows that the people who live there will be able to say who all the individuals beating the system are—which people are enjoying the benefits of the welfare state, extracting all that they can out of it and deliberately and fraudulently claiming more than—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Oh,yes.Anyone who has lived on a council estate knows that people can tell you who the cheats are. The hon. Member for Dundee, East knows that the people on the estates know who the cheats are, because he knows that in places such as Linlathlen the people can say who properly requires assistance, and should get it, and who is drawing unemployment and social security benefits and working on the side.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. It is not entirely clear to which hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Tayside, North is giving way.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I was giving way to the hon. Member for Dundee, East.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Like the hon. Member for Tayside, North, I accept that the people in Linlathlen can tell cheats from honest people. That is why, when the hon. Gentleman stood in Dundee, East, he was resoundingly defeated—by the voters of Linlathlen.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Of course—the Scottish National party, not the Labour party, defeated me. I stood against a sitting Scottish National party Member of Parliament, and I did not win. If the hon. Member for Dundee, East wishes to stand in Tayside, North, I can guarantee that he will be lucky not to lose his deposit.

We need a system whereby the nation's finances are used for the benefit of people in need—although we may disagree about how we want to achieve that—and people in need must really be assisted. I remember the so-called grand old days—both before the war and immediately after the war, or whenever—and the system then did not produce the necessary goods.

That is why it is essential that we try constantly to find ways of improving on what has been done in the past. I welcome the move towards housing associations, but it would be a mistake to imagine that they alone can find the answers to all our housing problems.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Wray Mr Jimmy Wray , Glasgow Provan

Does the hon. Gentleman remember the 1960s when private landlords were signing over the tenancies of buildings? They were involved in Rachmanism for years. The local authority in Glasgow spent millions of pounds on demolishing tenements when the owners ran to different countries. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that under the Public Health Act 1897 thousands of certificates of disrepair were issued by the local authority to get landlords to do the necessary work? Does he remember recently, with the abolition of the rates, private landlords running round trying to get their tenants to sign for increases because they did not want to give them the rate rebates?

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on caring about people who live on council estates. I too could draw on lessons from the period that he is talking about. What about the housing blocks, built by the local authority, which were unsuitable for Scotland's climate and which had to be destroyed? What about the housing estate which nobody ever lived in and which had to be demolished? That was a waste of public money. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have to learn from the lessons of the past. The hon. Gentleman should not wish his party to live in the past. I do not wish my party to live in the past.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we should learn from the past. May I refer to the comments by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) about tenements in Glasgow and the position since 1979? I want to draw his attention to the amazing progress by the Government on the renovation of old properties in Glasgow over the past 10 years.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the massive public funds that have properly gone into the centre of Scotland's cities. We had an inheritance; all it required was adequate funding to bring it into modern use. The buildings were built to last, like castles, but sadly they lacked modern conveniences. The money given by the Government has made a huge contribution to the city centres of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. The results are there for anyone to see.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Other hon. Members wish to speak. If I keep giving way, no one else will get in.

I want to bring one matter to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister. Let us assume that a family is living in a property owned by a local authority and enjoys tenants' rights. If the property is affected by a compulsory purchase order because of a road scheme, the tenant will have to move. Other agencies will be involved. My hon. Friend should recognise that there are lessons to be learnt because the tenant may find that things get out of control. The district valuer will have to assess that tenant's rights and arrive at a judgment because the building is to be demolished. The value of the property is known, as are the years of rights and what the value would be after taking account of discounts. Surely it should not be too difficult to arrive at a sensible value.

I hope that the lessons of a particular issue will be borne in mind by my hon. Friend the Minister, who will have to take some decisions. I hope that the House will understand that there was a particular matter that I wished to bring to its attention.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Administration Committee 11:20 pm, 17th February 1993

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) talks about local authority housing and buildings of modern design. In that context he talks about Glasgow, but he omits to tell the House that a Tory Government told local authorities such as Glasgow, an area in which my mother and many others were desperate for a home, that if they did not build non-traditional homes they would receive no grant. Councillors who were dedicated to house building in Glasgow and other major cities told the Government,"You are wrong; you are planting problems for future generations."

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Administration Committee

I shall not give way because I know that many hon, Members wish to speak.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) goes back 14 years to talk about rehabilitation. If he visits the Glasgow collection in the Mitchell library he will learn that the Glasgow local authority was involved in the rehabilitation of tenements at Port Dundas in my constituency as long ago as 1910. In 1973, as a young councillor in Govan, I was involved in the rehabilitation of tenements in the Govan road.

Ministers are so often singing the praises of Scottish Homes, and after the local authority in my constituency—it is probably the position throughout the country—it is the largest landlord. There are multi-storey flats in which it is a treat to live. However, the tenant of a local authority, whatever its faults, can approach an elected councillor, and through him he can approach me. More important, a local councillor can contact every senior official in the authority. With Scottish Homes, a tenant will be able to speak to a junior official, but that will be the end of the story.

We have heard about quangos and Government appointments. It is time that people who know something about tenants' problems were appointed to the board of Scottish Homes. This year, rents increased by 9 per cent. They increased by 9 per cent. last year, as they did the year before that. The Conservatives appoint managers and then they step back, as they would with big business. They should remember that not everyone in the public sector is in a position to buy his home, no matter how cheap the price at which it is offered. Some tenants want to continue to rent because of personal circumstances or a feeling of insecurity. The tenants of Scottish Homes are paying higher rents than any imposed by a local authority throughout the country. I defy any Conservative Member to dispute that.

The attitude at the top of Scottish Homes is deplorable, and it permeates the whole organisation. I have two letters with me and another dozen in my office which all say the same thing: "Thank you for writing to Sir James Mellon. Unfortunately, he is in London at the moment and cannot reply to your letter." Would any of us get away with saying, "I am in London at the moment and cannot reply to my constituents"? It is as well for Sir James Mellon that he was appointed and does not have to stand for office.

As I said, that attitude is in evidence throughout the organisation. In my constituency, as in all hon. Members' constituencies, anti-social behaviour is becoming a problem on almost every housing estate. Those at Scottish Homes are taking the attitude that they are not police officers and that they do not want to become involved. That is disgraceful. Scottish Homes is about more than the provision of homes. Skill should be exercised in managing estates. If people have beautiful homes but are ashamed to take their relatives into the community because of the anti-social behaviour that is taking place around them, the landlord, Scottish Homes, should be prepared to do something about their miserable plight.

Scottish Homes takes too little account of what is going on in the community-based housing associations—the other sector in which it is involved. There are good community-based housing associations and no one has any complaints about them. But if the things that are going on in some of the community-based housing associations were going on in a local authority, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) would be standing up and attacking us about it.

I think that I shall write to the Minister about the case that I have in mind because I am getting no satisfaction on it from the director of Scottish Homes. I refer to the case of an owner-occupier of a property in one of my community-based housing assocations, whose home has been flooded five times through no fault of her own. No compensation was granted to her until I went up from London to appeal to a community-based housing association committee. It was touch and go whether I got a hearing. Were it not for some of the fair-minded people on that committee, I should not have been given a hearing. To rub salt into the wound, when I wrote to Sir James, he told me that I must give credit to the association because it had eventually paid compensation. The point is that it paid compensation only after I had made two trips to see it.

Great play has been made of the right to buy. I inform the House that, until I made representations, tenants in my constituency were losing their secure tenancies because they had medical problems. One woman whose young child suffers from a serious illness asked for a ground floor tenement flat for the benefit of that child. She was told by the association in question that, if she did not sign on the dotted line, she would not get to move, and that if she signed, her tenancy would change from a secure tenancy to an assured tenancy. In shorthand, that means being denied the right to buy. I have made representations to the assocation and to Scottish Homes, which will not do anything about the matter. I hope that when I give the Minister the details, he will do something about it.

I recall a case not so long ago when a community-based housing association in my constituency decided to take over the old Springburn hall, do it up and sand blast it. I said that was nice because the community would have a place to hold socials, the local Labour party would be able to have a wee dance, and anyone who wanted to hold a wedding there would be able to do so. I was told, "No, this will be done up with Government funding, urban aid and so on and then sold off as offices to the highest bidder in the private sector." What sort of community-based housing association is that? It must be losing touch with the people who elected its members if that sort of thing happens.

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this matter. It was put to me by a senior official in Scottish Homes in the west of Scotland that, because of the way in which I made representations to the community-based housing associations, I was putting undue pressure on them and he might simply decide that he would take away funding and projects from my constituency because of my behaviour. I do not know a great deal about parliamentary privilege — I may be able to get advice from the Clerks of the House — but I know that it is certainly verging on a breach of parliamentary privilege when I am told that my constituents will suffer because of the way in which I conduct myself. I do not think that anyone would say that my behaviour inside the House and outside was anything but blameless. I have never attacked officials without warrant.

The Minister, as the person in charge of Scottish Homes, should start at the top and cut his way down. He should get his act together.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr 11:31 pm, 17th February 1993

1 shall be reasonably brief. In examining housing support, we must look at the changing scene in housing. In 1979, only 35 per cent. of homes in Scotland were privately owned. At present, 54 per cent. are privately owned. Obviously, that reflects the change in housing support grants. Almost a quarter of a million houses have moved out of local authority control, which means that not quite so much cash is required to go back into the public coffers.

Changes have been made to the way in which houses are maintained by Scottish Homes. I am sad to hear the comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). Happily, I have not had such problems in my constituency, but I sympathise with him. Changes have been made to housing associations and housing co-operatives; surely we must welcome them. We welcome the involvement of tenants and others who get involved in the good and sensible provision of public housing and its maintenance. It does much for the quality of life and the local environment in which people live. A pride is established within communities.

When we examine the background to the £36 million which is allocated to the housing support grant, there is another side to the story. I refer to the housing benefits in Scotland. There has been a policy change from zero to almost £1 billion in the current year. That will mean that housing will be funded in a different way. People will be given responsibilities and be required to pay reasonable rents. Those who cannot afford to pay will be covered by the figure of almost £1 billion which is being made available through housing benefits.

I draw attention to the reference by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) to the rents charged by the Kyle and Carrick regional council. Kyle and Carrick does not receive any housing support grant for its general housing provision. I am happy to say that it receives cash for the hostels. That is welcome. I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that in future he treats Kyle and Carrick in a special way, because there is a real need to deal with the problems of homelessness in Kyle and Carrick.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I shall stick with the problems of Kyle and Carrick.

I suggest that the rise in rents stems from the inadequate repairs and maintenance programme that the Labour administration has carried out in recent years. The rise in rents that is currently required—

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I will give way in the same way as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) showed me courtesy when I sought to intervene in the previous debate.

One of the problems which the new administration of Kyle and Carrick district council faced when it took over the reins in May this year was, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the deliberately suppressed rents that had been established in election year by the previous Labour administration. My hon. Friend the Minister should take that point on board.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I will not give way, but I shall sit down and allow other hon. Members to participate in the debate.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. It is not entirely clear to whom the hon. Gentleman is giving way.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I said that I would not give way but simply take my seat and allow another Member to speak in this important debate.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie , Argyll and Bute 11:36 pm, 17th February 1993

That is an interesting speech to follow. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) sounded optimistic about the figures. I find the housing support grant figures for the next financial year gloomier than ever, as more district councils are pushed out into the cold. Four have been added to the list of those not in receipt of the general portion of housing support grant. Those still in receipt of the grant are once again seeing a reduction. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said, last year the total payable was £47 million. This year, it is reduced to £36 million. That is a far cry from the £213 million in 1979. Still housing remains a huge problem the length and breadth of Scotland.

I should like to take Inverness as an example. It is estimated that the rent increases required to compensate for the reduction in housing support grant will be about 6.5 per cent. I know that other councils will have to increase their rents by 10, 11 or even 12 per cent. In preparing the estimates of income and expenditure, I believe that the Secretary of State is supposed to take into account the general level of earnings. With an increase in unemployment in the highlands, that is cold comfort indeed. That issue does not appear to have been addressed following the closure of McDermott's yard. Even for those in employment, wages are being kept to a minimum, with public sector pay restraint making it difficult to meet the rent increases.

The housing waiting list in Inverness is approaching 3,000. Waiting times for single people can be more than six years, and between three and four years for couples. In Gordon district, the waiting list is almost 2,000 and growing fast, while there are only 5,500 council houses and more than half the current council house vacancies are going to local people.

My constituency of Argyll and Bute will get no housing support this year, which is an incredible situation for a district council struggling with waiting lists. The average wait is anything from two and a half to four and a half years, against a background of rising homelessness. The only light in the gloom is the hostel portion of the grant, that has been awarded to Argyll and Bute, and I welcome that.

The number of homeless varies in different parts of Scotland, but it does not matter to each homeless person whether they are homeless in Glasgow or Lochgilphead—the reality is the same. In a civilised society, it should be a basic right for people to have shelter.

There are no grants for Argyll and Bute—with all its islands—and cuts in similar geographic areas such as Orkney and Shetland. Surely that does not reflect the fact that building, repair and maintenance costs on the islands are between 30 and 40 per cent. above the average on the mainland.

That brings me to the island of Bute. The Minister knows of my concern about Rothesay and the dilapidated state of many of the houses and commercial premises in the heart of the town. It is a beautiful island, with a hardy community struggling in a cruel financial climate. The potential for tourist development is enormous, but buildings are collapsing and have to be shored up before they are demolished, and nothing is put in their place. It is dispiriting and no one—I have been to both the Minister and the Secretary of State—appears to be able to help. Scottish Homes promised me three years ago that it would declare Rothesay a small urban renewal initiative area, but it never happened.

There is not enough good-quality low-cost housing available for rent or ownership. Too many local people have been priced out of the market, especially in rural areas of Scotland. The proliferation of holiday homes adds to the problem.

The new council tax will mean a decrease in revenue for local authorities, because it allows a 50 per cent. discount on such homes—in Wales, it can be 25 per cent. or none. There are different sorts of holiday home owners: those who use them once or twice a year and others who rightly want to retain the family home with a view to retiring to the place in which they were born and brought up. Others, who have a modest little place somewhere in a place like Tighnabruaich or Rothesay, often come from Paisley, Glasgow or Renfrew—they are not wealthy people, but come regularly every weekend and become very much a part of the community and contribute to it. They deserve to be able to have their weekends at the seaside.

In Committee on the council tax legislation, I tried to persuade the Minister to allow local authorities discretion on the amount of discount given for holiday homes, as they did with the poll tax, but that was not accepted. I understand that the response of the Scottish Office to representations from local authorities, particularly in the Highland region, on discretion with regard to the council tax is that it believes that the regulations are fair. They are not.

I make a specific request of the Minister tonight: will he undertake to look again at giving local authorities discretion in the matter of council tax on holiday homes? Those authorities are best placed to decide the level of discount, and should be allowed to do so. I hope that the Minister will take that request seriously. The Minister and the Secretary of State may recall that, after the poll tax was introduced, it was agreed that the authorities should have discretion, and I ask the Minister to consider adopting the same policy on the council tax.

Photo of Mr Mike Watson Mr Mike Watson , Glasgow Central 11:46 pm, 17th February 1993

I have listened to the debate with interest, particularly the contribution of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie). I am not sure whether he meant to contribute to this debate, but he is nothing if not interesting—[Interruption.] That was not meant to be insulting. I would not object to being called interesting, and I meant the comment to be taken in that way.

The Minister is also an interesting individual. He started with an interesting comment when he said that the orders represented a generous settlement. To put a kind interpretation on those words, he can only have meant that the orders were going to be much worse and, after some infighting behind the scenes, the current figures are better than those that were originally intended. However, I doubt whether that was the case. The Minister and his colleagues do not normally allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.

The orders will result in an overall cash reduction of £56 million for housing throughout Scotland in the coming year—a cut of 12 per cent. If one also takes account of the rise in the cost of living, which should have been built into the figures, one discovers a £70 million shortfall and a 15 per cent. cut. That does not even take into account the 10 per cent. reduction in the amount that can be spent on the vital task of improving the housing stock.

The capital consents figure of £385 million depends on 65 per cent. of that figure being raised from council house sales. Whatever one's view of council house sales, everyone knows that the best of the stock has long since been sold. Those that are left are hardly the most attractive houses. In addition, there is mass unemployment and we are at the height of a recession, so there will be nowhere near as many council house sales in the coming year. The figure is grossly exaggerated and overestimated, which will mean a further shortfall in the overall statistic.

The Minister talked of the variation order that he might introduce if the cost of living rose more than he has anticipated. He should be prepared to introduce a variation order if the sale of council houses does not reach the level that he has estimated; otherwise, his proposal will be meaningless. Meanwhile, repairs will not be carried out, new houses will not be built and dampness will not be treated. The Government's priority seems to be to sell more and more houses, to contract out housing management and to cut resources.

That policy is not a surprise, as we have seen the pattern over the 13 years that the Government have been in power. One of the most serious aspects of the underfunding of housing through local authorities is the effect that the cuts and the under-provision will have on various agencies. Those agencies are funded by local authorities and attempt to deal with the growing problem of homelessness in Scotland. Glasgow has the highest incidence of applications from homeless people in the country. Although it has only 13.5 per cent. of the country's population, it has twice that percentage of Scotland's homeless applications.

We must be clear about the sort of people that the agencies assist. Many of them are in the 16 to 25-year-old age bracket and the majority are homeless because their families or friends whom they were staying with have become unable or unwilling to continue to house them. Those people are out on the streets for one reason or another—ultimately, the reason is not important. The statistics highlight the pressures placed on many young people today. They have no homes or jobs and they are increasingly unable to find training places. At 16 and 17 they receive no benefits, and they get only graded benefit payments up to the age of 24.

Meanwhile, more than 250,000 homes are severely blighted by damp in Glasgow. I and other Glasgow Members hear their stories every week in our surgeries, but we cannot effectively deal with their problems because the local authorities do not have the repairs grants to deal with them.

A greatly increased repairs budget, vital for all major cities and conurbations in Scotland, is further proof of the problem. The problems of homelessness continue to multiply. They are, if not disregarded, certainly downgraded by the Minister. The Government reduce the resources available to local authorities and that, in turn, hits the agencies that are trying manfully to stem the tide of homelessness.

One of the agencies in my constituency is an innovative organisation called the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless. It has been in existence for some years now and it is jointly funded by the city council housing department and the regional council social work department. It is performing a vital task, yet the 1992 report highlighted evidence of the continually growing number of young people referred to its city centre initiative and stopover project—two projects set up under the auspices of the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless, which is directly responsible, because of its grant aid, to local authorities.

The city centre initiative is now under direct threat. It is a good example of the co-ordinated inter-agency approach. It involves not just the social work department but the community education department of the regional council, the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless and the YMCA. Its multi-disciplinary approach is so often necessary to provide resources and to deal effectively with all aspects of the problem of young single homeless people.

The city centre initiative is a prime example of the radical approach that agencies and the local authority in Glasgow have used to deal with housing problems in general and the homelessness problem in particular. This valuable agency is now under serious threat. In March 1992 the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless was struck a body blow when it was told by the city council's housing department that its grant was to be reduced by 67 per cent., from £60,000 to £20,000 this year. Staff had to be laid off and that meant that fewer homeless people could be catered for. The decision was taken reluctantly by the housing department, doubtless as a direct result of the financial pressures applied to the council by Government cuts.

Things will get worse in the coming year. Discussions have been held to offset the worst effects on the council for single homeless, but its director was recently issued with her redundancy notice, and it is only a matter of time before the organisation goes under—unless someone comes to the aid of the local authority and provides more funds. Its future is highly uncertain and if it goes under, that will be a tragedy.

Originally the stopover project was unique, but I understand that there is also one in Dundee now—that city faces similar problems. The project was set up to help young homeless people who are on their own, many of them sleeping rough. The project provides crisis accommodation for them for up to 10 weeks. If, because of the reduced finances allowed for in this order, that accommodation disappears, the stopover project could easily go under, and another vital agency and its work will disappear.

Many of these people have nowhere else to go. We may forget care in the community—it has not started yet. These youngsters are the flotsam and jetsam of Glasgow and the surrounding areas and they need this help, if only for short periods.

Will the Minister intervene to ensure that the stopover project and the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless are guaranteed funds to enable them to continue? If the Government allow them to go under, it will prove that they are completely out of touch with the problems of the people whom they seek to represent.

The Government do not have their finger on the pulse of Scotland. They do not represent the people of Scotland and they have no feeling for their problems. If the Minister and the Department cannot deal meaningfully with the housing problems of the people of Scotland and provide them with adequate resources to be decently housed in accommodation that is affordable and fit to live in, he should stand aside and make way for a party that will do just that.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill 11:54 am, 17th February 1993

Tonight, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) showed real knowledge of housing realities—unlike Conservative Members who spoke. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) said rightly that many councils do not receive any housing support grant—and her own receives grants only for hostels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Maxton) drew attention to the plight of the young homeless. Hon. Members on this side of the House displayed their knowledge of the subject and proved that they are well aware of the realities.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I was here the whole time and heard every word. Did the hon. Lady ask leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I did not hear her do so. If she did not ask leave of the House, I object.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Lady did not ask leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. The hon. Lady certainly did not ask leave of the House, but it is too late now. Mrs. Fyfe.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

Some of us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have more serious matters on our minds than trivial details of procedure. If the hon. Lady had managed to remain awake during some of the speeches, I would have some respect for her remarks now.

Hon. Members on this side of the House showed real concern and a genuine knowledge of Scottish housing issues. We were not so fortunate in listening to the contributions of Conservative Members—and that latest intervention was particularly inept and ill-advised.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) had nothing to say and took 13 minutes to say it. Of course housing benefit expenditure has increased—that is because more and more people are out of work. Does he not realise that those who receive it have all or some of their rent paid from housing benefit? By the time that it has paid off a proportion of housing debt and for housing management, precious little is left to pay for repairs to the fabric of properties, which is why council housing stock is in such a drastic state.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) spoke of Scotland's changing housing scene. He was dead right about that. Homelessness has reached record levels. This year is worse than last year, and worse than the year before that. That is the situation over which the Government preside.

Conservative Members do not address the issues. Do they not realise, and do they not care, that families are growing up in unhealthy housing? What chance in life do youngsters have when they have to grow up in damp and overcrowded housing and suffer chest infections? More and more single mothers are suffering depressive illness because of the condition of their homes and the poverty in which they live.

Conservative Members cannot claim that they believe in everyone being provided with a decent home and at the same time vote for housing support grants that are so inadequate that they are a joke.

We were given one and a half hours to debate Scotland's housing crisis. We need a Scottish Parliament, so that we may debate that issue properly and treat it with the seriousness that it deserves, so that we may restore to local councils the authority to govern their localities and not be kicked around by this Government.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 11:59 pm, 17th February 1993

I will read Hansard tomorrow, in case I do not answer in the few moments that are left to me all the points that were made.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) asked various questions about Scottish Homes. I shall suggest to its chairman that he should meet the hon. Gentleman. While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers of direction, that is a heavy-handed measure to use. It has not been employed yet, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to follow up his points at a meeting. If he does not receive satisfaction—but I hope he will—he can come back to me.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) asked whether we could write off local authority capital debt. Unfortunately, we cannot. Local authorities with high levels of capital debt receive housing support grant to help them to service that debt through the loan charges that fall on the housing revenue account. Given that assistance, authorities secure enough income to meet the costs associated with council housing.

I should point out to the hon. Lady that there is no evidence that Glasgow's debt in relation to council housing exceeds the value of that council housing. I therefore see no particular reason why the national taxpayer should be expected to meet the cost of writing off the capital debt when, in any case, the sums involved would be enormous. I can tell the hon. Lady, however, that the results of the Scottish national house condition survey will be out quite soon—this year—and will be enormously helpful in pointing the way to effective targeting of resources in the future.

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

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is very enthusiastic about this subject. First, however, let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that I am aware of the case that he mentioned, and will keep a close eye on it. I hope for a satisfactory resolution of his constituent's affairs.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I am delighted to learn that the house condition survey is to be published at long last. Some of us suggested such a survey, and moved amendments to Housing Bills, back in the early 1980s. I was also delighted to hear the Minister say that the survey's publication would allow him to target resources where they are most needed. Will he guarantee that resources will be made available to deal with the condition of housing in Scotland, as revealed by the survey?

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

The results of the survey will provide reliable information on a national scale. There will continue to be a need for detailed information at local level, but we encourage local authorities to carry out local survey work, as has happened in the hon. Gentleman's authority. In some cases, if local authorities require assistance with that work, Scottish Homes may be able to help. Authorities should consider working in close co-operation with Scottish Homes.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) raised the issue of Rothesay. The provisional allocation for her council is £5·8 million, which is substantial. It is within the council's discretion whether to make Rothesay a priority, but I am glad to note that it has made a strategic agreement with Scottish Homes. I hope that that will help it to proceed with the matter. The other point that the hon. Lady raised, relating to council tax on holiday homes and the question of discretion, is a matter for my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), and I shall refer it to him.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) raised the issue of the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless and its stopover project. He did not raise the question of urban aid, which gives considerable assistance; but, from what he said, I do not think that that is necessarily appropriate in this instance. I understand that the projects concerned are funded by the authority, and future grants are a matter for the district council. We have made clear our concern for the homeless by providing additional capital allocations of some £22·6 million in the past two years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is right: the rents charged in his authority were well below the national average, and the council clearly took that into account in fixing levels.

We will take into account the level of council house receipts from the right to buy, and we shall bear in mind the needs of authorities that do not reach the receipt targets that are anticipated. In the past, when we have been in a position to make supplementary allocations, we have taken that need into account.

I strongly support the order, and I warn the Opposition that, should they have it in mind to vote against it, they will deprive local authorities of millions of pounds. I leave that thought with them.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 144.

Division No. 158][12.04 am
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Cran, James
Alexander, RichardCurrie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Day, Stephen
Amess, DavidDeva, Nirj Joseph
Arbuthnot, JamesDicks, Terry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Dover, Den
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Duncan, Alan
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)Duncan-Smith, Iain
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Elletson, Harold
Bates, MichaelFabricant, Michael
Bellingham, HenryFenner, Dame Peggy
Beresford, Sir PaulForman, Nigel
Bitten, Rt Hon JohnForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Blackburn, Dr John G.Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Booth, HartleyFreeman, Roger
Boswell, TimFrench, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Gale, Roger
Bowden, AndrewGallie, Phil
Bowis, JohnGardiner, Sir George
Brandreth, GylesGill, Christopher
Brazier, JulianGillan, Cheryl
Bright, GrahamGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGorst, John
Browning, Mrs. AngelaGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butcher, JohnGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Butler, PeterGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hague, William
Carrington, MatthewHamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Clappison, JamesHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHannam, Sir John
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Hargreaves, Andrew
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Harris, David
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHawkins, Nick
Couchman, JamesHawksley, Warren
Heald, OliverPickles, Eric
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPorter, David (Waveney)
Hendry, CharlesRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Richards, Rod
Horam, JohnRiddick, Graham
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir PeterRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hunter, AndrewSackville, Tom
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasSainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Jack, MichaelScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jenkin, BernardShaw, David (Dover)
Jessel, TobyShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)Sims, Roger
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kilfedder, Sir JamesSoames, Nicholas
King, Rt Hon TomSpencer, Sir Derek
Kirkhope, TimothySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Knapman, RogerSpink, Dr Robert
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Spring, Richard
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Sproat, Iain
Lait, Mrs JacquiStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lang, Rt Hon IanStephen, Michael
Lawrence, Sir IvanStern, Michael
Legg, BarryStewart, Allan
Leigh, EdwardStreeter, Gary
Lidington, DavidSweeney, Walter
Lightbown, DavidSykes, John
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lord, MichaelTaylor, John M. (Solihull)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTemple-Morris, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnThomason, Roy
Maclean, DavidThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Madel, DavidThornton, Sir Malcolm
Maitland, Lady OlgaThurnham, Peter
Malone, GeraldTownend, John (Bridlington)
Mans, KeithTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Marland, PaulTredinnick, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Trend, Michael
Mates, MichaelTwinn, Dr Ian
Mawhinney, Dr BrianWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Merchant, PiersWaller, Gary
Milligan, StephenWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Mills, IainWatts, John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Wells, Bowen
Moate, Sir RogerWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Monro, Sir HectorWhitney, Ray
Moss, MalcolmWhittingdale, John
Needham, RichardWiddecombe, Ann
Nelson, AnthonyWilletts, David
Neubert, Sir MichaelWilshire, David
Nicholls, PatrickWood, Timothy
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Yeo, Tim
Norris, Steve
Page, RichardTellers for the Ayes:
Patnick, IrvineMr. Sydney Chapman and
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyMr. Andrew MacKay.
NOES
Adams, Mrs IreneBenn, Rt Hon Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Benton, Joe
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Betts, Clive
Armstrong, HilaryBlair, Tony
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Boateng, Paul
Barnes, HarryBoyce, Jimmy
Barron, KevinBradley, Keith
Battle, JohnBrown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Bayley, HughBrown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretCaborn, Richard
Callaghan, JimMacdonald, Calum
Campbell-Savours, D. N.McFall, John
Canavan, DennisMcKelvey, William
Cann, JamieMackinlay, Andrew
Chisholm, MalcolmMcMaster, Gordon
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Madden, Max
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Mahon, Alice
Clelland, DavidMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Connarty, MichaelMartlew, Eric
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Maxton, John
Corbyn, JeremyMichael, Alun
Cox, TomMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Cryer, BobMilburn, Alan
Cummings, JohnMiller, Andrew
Cunliffe, LawrenceMoonie, Dr Lewis
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Morgan, Rhodri
Dalyell, TarnMorley, Elliot
Darling, AlistairMorris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Mullin, Chris
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)Murphy, Paul
Denham, JohnO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Dixon, DonO'Hara, Edward
Donohoe, Brian H.Olner, William
Dowd, JimPendry, Tom
Dunnachie, JimmyPickthall, Colin
Eagle, Ms AngelaPike, Peter L.
Eastham, KenPope, Greg
Etherington, BillPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Prescott, John
Ewing, Mrs MargaretPrimarolo, Dawn
Fatchett, DerekPurchase, Ken
Flynn, PaulQuin, Ms Joyce
Foster, Rt Hon DerekRaynsford, Nick
Foulkes, GeorgeRedmond, Martin
Fyfe, MariaReid, Dr John
Galloway, GeorgeRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Gerrard, NeilRowlands, Ted
Godman, Dr Norman A.Ruddock, Joan
Godsiff, RogerSalmond, Alex
Golding, Mrs LlinSimpson, Alan
Graham, ThomasSkinner, Dennis
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Hall, MikeSoley, Clive
Hanson, DavidSpellar, John
Hardy, PeterSteinberg, Gerry
Heppell, JohnStevenson, George
Hood, JimmyStrang, Dr. Gavin
Hoon, GeoffreyTurner, Dennis
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Vaz, Keith
Ingram, AdamWallace, James
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Jamieson, DavidWareing, Robert N
Johnston, Sir RussellWatson, Mike
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)Welsh, Andrew
Khabra, Piara S.Wilson, Brian
Kilfoyle, PeterWise, Audrey
Kirkwood, ArchyWorthington, Tony
Leighton, RonWray, Jimmy
Lewis, Terry
Livingstone, KenTellers for the Noes:
McAllion, JohnMr. Jack Thompson and
McAvoy, ThomasMr. Alan Meale.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.