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Mr. Speaker : Order. Will it be for the convenience of the House to take together the two motions on the Order Paper?

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : Will we have a three-hour debate if both matters are taken together, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker : Yes.

Mr. Dewar : Very well.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It would be sensible to take both together if the complete picture is fully to be understood.

Mr. Speaker : Then we shall discuss also the following prayer : That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 2081), dated 29th November, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th December, be annulled.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Housing support grant is a subsidy that is paid to certain local authorities to help them meet their council housing costs. To be more precise, it is a subsidy paid by the Government to those authorities which, on reasonable assumptions about the income and expenditure falling on their housing revenue accounts, would otherwise have an excess of expenditure over income. Full details of the housing support grant settlement for 1989-90 are set out in the draft order and in the report which accompanies the draft order. The amounts of grant which will be paid to individual authorities are listed in annex C of that report. The House will wish to note that the total amounts to over £60 million. This is an increase of 11 per cent. over the £54.6 million which is being paid during the current year.

Before discussing in detail certain aspects of the settlement, I should record my thanks to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, with whom I have had full discussions about the settlement.

I mentioned earlier that the housing support grant calculations depend upon reasonable assumptions about local authority income and expenditure levels. These assumptions give rise to a certain amount of misunderstanding. They are crucial, however, to an understanding of how housing support grant is calculated and to the determination of the grant entitlements of individual authorities. It may therefore be helpful if I deal

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briefly with each of the main items of income and expenditure associated with housing revenue accounts and describe the assumptions underlying the estimates.

The loan charges which we estimate authorities will pay in 1989-90 are based on a projection of each authority's capital debt to mid-1989-90, taking account of the estimated amounts of new borrowing and debt redemption. To calculate interest charges, we apply to these figures of capital debt the average interest rate expected for local authority borrowing in 1989-90. At present, this is estimated to be 10.2 per cent. I appreciate, however, that interest rates may fluctuate. I can assure the House, therefore, that if in practice interest rates are significantly different from our estimate we shall bring forward an appropriate variation order. At present, however, we estimate loan charges for all authorities in 1989-90 to be just over £464 million.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The Minister just made an important statement to the effect that the Government will bring forward a variation order if there is what he rather quaintly described as a fluctuation in interest rates. How much of an increase would there have to be for the Government to reimburse Scottish housing authorities?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is customary to bring forward a variation order if there has been a significant change in the level of interest rates applying to local authority borrowing. This year, the latest estimate of the pool interest rate for 1988-89 is the same as it was when the 1988-89 order was made in January 1988. I have no plans, therefore, to bring forward a variation order for 1988-89 but, as I said, if there are significant changes in interest rates, we shall bring forward an order for next year.

The other major item of expenditure on housing revenue accounts concerns the cost of managing and maintaining the stock. For 1989-90, we have increased the management and maintenance assumption in the housing support grant formula by 8.5 per cent. I am pleased to tell the House that this is the third year in succession in which we have been able to adopt an increase which is higher than inflation. The per house allowance will rise from £333 during the current year to £361 in 1989-90, which should encourage further real growth in repairs expenditure.

On the income side, we are assuming for the purposes of the settlement that rents will increase by £1.48 per house per week over the 1988-89 order levels, bringing rents to £18.93 in order terms. This increase of 8.5 per cent. matches that of the management and maintenance assumption. I invite the House to note this deliberate linkage, which reflects the fact that improved levels of service have to be paid for by increased rents.

I should also stress that, in making these assumptions, the Government are not seeking to fetter the discretion of authorities to make their own decisions about the level of rents and about the level of management and maintenance expenditure. We are making these assumptions for the purposes of calculating housing support grant and we do so in the interest of equity --to ensure that all authorities are treated fairly in the distribution of grant. We thus avoid an authority receiving more grant because it is inefficient at carrying out repairs, so loading up its housing revenue account with maintenance expenditure. Similarly,

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if an authority chooses to set a higher rent to improve the levels of service it provides to its tenants, it may do so without being penalised in grant terms.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : The Minister mentioned rent levels. Is he aware that, since the Government came to power, council house tenants in Scotland have suffered rent increases of 230 per cent.? In view of that, how can the Minister possibly justify a situation in which out of the 56 housing authorities in Scotland, 33 will not receive a single penny in housing support grant and 48 will be prohibited from taking a single penny from the general fund for the housing revenue account? How on earth can the Minister possibly justify that vicious attack on the living standards of council house tenants?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My first point in reply to the hon. Gentleman relates to the formula. Essentially, the amounts of housing support grant payable are derived from an assessment of the expenditure and the income falling on local authority housing revenue accounts in 1989-90. The means by which the various items of such expenditure and income are estimated are set out in the report accompanying the order, and the way in which the HSG is calculated is known as the HSG formula.

Mr. Canavan : Answer the question.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : If the hon. Gentleman wants me to spell out the formula in greater detail and explain how it works, I would be pleased to do so.

The Government choose an average rent level and an average level of management and maintenance expenditure which they consider reasonable for all authorities. Those reasonable levels are known as the HSG assumption, and the Scottish Office recalculates the housing revenue account of each authority using those assumptions about rent levels and management and maintenance expenditure.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) wants to know why we use assumptions rather than actual figures. I will give him an example. The average expenditure per house in 1988-89 in Aberdeen is £294, but it is £552 in Dumbarton. That does not necessarily mean that Aberdeen is more efficient than Dumbarton. Levels of expenditure depend not only on efficiency, but also on political decisions about the level of service to be provided and on technical decisions about the extent to which repair programmes should be capitalised. That is why we use the assumptions to which I referred.

If there is still a deficit on the recalculated account, that deficit is made up by paying an equivalent of housing support grant to the authority concerned. The main factor in determining whether an authority receives a housing support grant is its level of loan charges.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West asked why rents have increased so much and he referred to a figure of 230 per cent. Rents have indeed risen by more than the level of inflation since the Government came to power. However, that reflects the artificially low rent policies that many Scottish authorities maintain at the expense of their ratepayers.

Mr. Canavan : Oh, come off it.

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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman disputes that. I will give him the figures. On average, the rents for local authority tenants in Scotland are £2.55 less than those paid on average south of the border. The estimated average rent increase for this year will be less than that for last year. We calculate that the rise last year was £1.65 and that the estimated average rent increase for 1989-90 will be about £1.30 to .£1.34.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) : Why is Edinburgh district council treated so disgracefully while the Scottish Development Agency, a Government body, is given finance that is essentially a subsidy for Barratt, which will benefit in a part of Edinburgh known to the Minister-- West Pilton Circus? The company will make a vast profit.

Does the Minister think that that is a good thing, or does he realise that it is one of the cynical cons repeatedly condemned by the people of Edinburgh?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am proud that, when West Pilton was in my constituency rather than that of the hon. Gentleman, I invited the SDA chairman and chief executive down. Through their intervention, considerable environmental assistance was given so that an adventure playground could be built. The SDA has continued the tradition, and I am very glad that it is assisting with urban regeneration projects in the hon. Gentleman's constituency which I believe will benefit his constituents.

Our calculations in December suggested that an increase of about £1.73 would be sufficient to allow Edinburgh district council to make a small but real improvement in the services that it provides for its tenants. While rises in interest rates may now suggest a slightly higher increase, the figure suggested by the council's Labour group appears excessive. Tenants should be in no doubt that, if rents are increased by the threatened £4 a week, it was the council--not the Government--that imposed an increase on that scale.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) rose --

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I should like to go on. I shall listen to the hon. Gentleman's speech and reply to him when I wind up the debate.

I must repeat that, despite the increase in housing support grant for 1989- 90, it is the Government's policy to reduce indiscriminate subsidies to council housing so that resources may be concentrated on capital investment, and to target money towards individuals who need it. This year housing benefit in Scotland is expected to reach £623.8 million. We are limiting contributions that authorities may estimate to make to their housing revenue accounts from their general funds. Hon. Members will have noted that for 1989-90 the limits on such contributions have been set at £3.5 million in aggregate. That compares with limits totalling £22 million this year and an outturn figure of £42 million in 1987-88.

I make no apology for those figures. The progressive reduction in the amount of general fund contributions means that authorities can no longer maintain rents at unreasonably low levels by systematically subsidising their housing revenue accounts at the expense of their ratepayers. In achieving that position, I believe that we have put the finances of council housing on a much sounder basis. Housing support grant remains to help authorities that have particular difficulties in meeting their loan charges because of historically acquired debt ; but

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indiscriminate subsidies to tenants, regardless of their ability to pay for their housing, have been substantially eliminated. Because rents are now at a more realistic level, council tenants can look forward to a real improvement in the levels of service provided by their landlord.

Mr. Dewar : Will the Minister briefly explain why it is so obnoxious to give some subsidy to the public sector tenant, while the bill for the Treasury contribution to mortgage interest relief continues to escalate without let or hindrance?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Housing benefit in Scotland this year is expected to be more than £623 million. That is not being obnoxious to the council tenant, but targeting subsidy to those who need it. If mortgage tax relief has continued to rise, as indeed it has, it is largely because the Government have enabled many more people to buy their own homes. We believe that that fits in with the aspirations of the Scottish people.

I welcome the fact that local authority rents are able to make a greater contribution towards meeting housing costs--

Mr. Nigel Griffiths : Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : No. Many hon. Members wish to speak, and I want to develop the points that I am making.

Let me return, however, to our proposals for general fund contributions in 1989-90. As I have said, the aggregate of the limits on contributions amounts to £3.5 million and positive limits have been allocated to eight authorities. The contribution limits have been calculated to ensure that the average rent increase in those authorities can be restricted to £2 per house per week, or that the average rent can be held to £20.50 per house per week. The calculations are based on the Scottish Development Department's estimate of the loan charges which each authority will face in 1989-90. They assume that there will be an increase of 8.5 per cent. in authorities' management and maintenance expenditure over the levels for which they themselves budgeted in 1988-89. Let me emphasise that we are working from authorities' own figures, as reported to CIPFA--the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. Those calculations are therefore as realistic and as accurate as we can make them.

I should also stress that in no sense should the maximum £2 per house per week increase be regarded as a norm or standard to which authorities are expected to conform. It is not the business of this Government to set local authority rents. Authorities will be making their own decisions about the levels of management and maintenance expenditure in their area and about the rents which they will need to set in order to balance their housing revenue accounts.

Finally, I should like to touch briefly on the combined effect of the subsidy proposals before us tonight. I calculate that the overall effect of housing support grant and general fund contributions on the housing revenue accounts of local authorities in Scotland will be to generate an overall rent increase of around £1.34 per house per week.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) rose--

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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I want to finish this point.

Mr. Graham : Can the Minister tell the tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association--which the Minister controls--why he is putting their rents up by an average of £1.88, when they already have some of the highest rents in Britain?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The rents of SSHA tenants will not be as high as tenants of new towns and certainly will not be as high as those of many housing association tenants. The estimated average rents of SSHA tenants for 1989-90 will be £20.82. The estimated average rents for Scottish local authority tenants will be £17.57 and for new town tenants £21.26.

I express my conviction that the fact that there has been an increase for the SSHA tenants will mean that there will be a considerable amount to spend on management and maintenance. If authorities decide to increase rents by more than the figures we have calculated--

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I shall listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says in his speech, and I shall be happy to respond to it in my reply.

This order relates to local authorities. If the authorities decide to increase rents by more than the figures we have calculated--for example, to meet expenditure on management and maintenance increased by more than the 8.5 per cent. we have assumed--this is their prerogative. But I emphasise that that will be the authorities' own decisions, and that high rent increases are not being imposed by the Government. An average increase of £1.34 per house per week would be rather less than the amount of the increase last year. That would bring average local authority rents in Scotland to £17.57 per week. I do not regard that as unreasonable. It is well below the current year's average council rent of £18.78 in England and Wales. It is also substantially below current rent levels in housing association, SSHA and Scottish new town houses.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) made an interesting contribution to the debate. I was, of course, forewarned about what he would say, because much of his speech was reported in advance by last Wednesday's Evening Times. Indeed, this debate was reported as having taken place, which was no doubt attributable to the hon. Gentleman's pioneering approach in favour of exclusive journalism.

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that a tribute was paid to him by the Leader of the House, who said :

"The detailed speech that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) appears to have made in the House in the early hours of the morning and which is set out with such cogency and clearness by Mr. Hernon is a tribute to the hon. Gentleman's foresight rather than an indication of the hours that he keeps in the House."--[ Official Report, 19 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 488.]

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : I thank the Minister for raising this matter, which is testimony to the efficiency of my press operations and the absolute incompetence of the Government in cancelling the debate in the first place. Lest the Minister is disappointed, my name is down to speak tonight and I shall ram every one of those words down his throat.

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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I was just about to say that I looked forward with interest to discover whether he would use the same speech, but I am grateful, at least, for the opportunity to respond tonight.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North complained about excessive rent increases and about the lack of housing support grant for Motherwell district council.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you could explain how the Minister will reply at the end of his speech to the interventions that hon. Members have made, if he is now to reply to a speech that has not been made?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The article appeared under the headline :

"Rents rise hammers the Scots"

I am glad of the opportunity to reply to the hon. Gentleman. Despite the absence of housing support grant, Motherwell district council has consistently maintained rents at a level substantially lower than the Scottish average. The management and maintenance expenditure of the council is also well below the Scottish average. In effect, the council's low-rent policies are restricting the levels of service that it provides to its tenants.

It is, of course, within the council's discretion to take such a course of action, but I do not believe that we would be justified in providing subsidies to maintain that situation.

Dr. Reid rose--

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I shall not give way, but I look forward with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech, which I shall follow carefully.

I believe that the proposals considered 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 the authorities in detail about the orders, and I commend them to the House.

11.3 pm

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : One of the differences between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) is that my hon. Friend writes his own scripts, which has some virtue.

I thought, however, that the Minister organised and shuffled his many bits of paper with unusual dexterity and I enjoyed some of his remarks. It is always fascinating to know--it has never struck me before--that the way in which the housing support grant is calculated is known as the housing support grant formula. That is a gem worth preserving.

The Minister then plunged into a remarkable farrago of nonsense about notional figures, bordering on myth, as he dealt with the way in which the formula works.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : I am interested in the concept of notional figures based on myth. If the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) writes his own script and delivers notional speeches that were never given, but were nevertheless published in the press, and does not admit that that is a misleading and dishonest thing to do, why are we worried about myth?

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Mr. Dewar : All I can say is that I welcome the presence of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is refreshing to see him here as he is one of the great entertainers of the place. I hope that he will contribute later.

One of the problems that we face is that we get locked into debate on specific orders. Each of the litany of orders is taken as a whole and debated intensively. The danger is that we may lose sight of what has been happening to housing in Scotland. If we try to achieve some sense of perspective, it is clear that the situation is deeply depressing and that some of the carefully presented figures used by the Scottish Office represent no more than creative accountancy, which does not disguise the fact that housing has been harder hit than any other sector or that the prejudices of Government have directly impacted on the lives of our constituents.

There are many myths, some of which are at the basis of the Government's approach. In Conservative circles there is still a feeling that council house tenants are heavily subsidised. All too often in ministerial minds, and certainly in the minds of Conservative Back Benchers, the word "subsidy" becomes associated with the term "lazy". We are told that the system is corrupt. I recall the Secretary of State for Scotland making a dramatic speech in which he said that local government finance was a corrupt system designed to favour people who voted Labour, in a tendentious attempt to suggest that the local government finance system is one of the ways in which the dependency culture is perpetuated. I believe that that is to misrepresent and misunderstand in a grotesque and wounding way.

Despite the special pleading of the Minister, there is a painful contrast between the treatment of public-sector tenants and that of owner-occupiers. Tax relief on mortgages constantly escalates. It is difficult to defend a system in which the value of one's mortgage increases with one's income and in which anyone with a substantial middle-class income would receive genuine advice from his accountant that he should plunge into the maximum debt that he can raise. We all know that that is a crazy system, and the Minister wisely did not try to defend it.

I understand that the best estimate of the cost to the Treasury of mortgage tax relief in 1984-85 was £3.5 billion. In 1988-89 it has gone up to £5.25 billion. That is certainly an under-estimate, because it has not caught up with the recent escalation in interest rates. It is difficult to calculate a Scottish figure because the statistics changed in 1982-83 with the introduction of MIRAS. However I understand from the Library, using the family expenditure survey, that the figure is probably just under 7 per cent. of the total--an annual figure of perhaps £350 million. When we compare that with the £55 million or £60 million that will be spent on housing support grant, the point is eloquently and brutally made. I find the Minister's attempt to use housing benefit as an alibi totally unconvincing.

Mr. Douglas : My hon. Friend has failed to remark on an additional advantage to the owner-occupier, particularly in cities such as Edinburgh where the capital value of the assets have increased in the past year. An article in the property page of last week's edition of The Scotsman shows enormous increases in capital value which cannot be available to council tenants.

Mr. Dewar : That is a fair point. I am strongly in favour of helping people to get into home ownership if they so wish. However, I object to a system which is designed to

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help those who are already prosperous, who are almost certainly already property owners and who will use the system as a tax advantage and not as a way of broadening the base of what was once called the property-owning democracy.

For the Minister to use housing benefit as an alibi is a joke. Housing benefit provides help for the lowest income group in distress. By pushing up rents, as the Minister is determined to do, more people will be forced into the housing benefit net. No doubt he will then parade it as evidence of the Government's generosity, and the whole process will become a pathetic intellectual fraud.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of abolishing mortgage tax relief?

Mr. Dewar : I hardly imagine that the Minister is not aware of my answer. No, I am not in favour of doing that, but I am in favour of spending money to help those in need of help to get into the home-ownership market. I should have thought that in his better moments, the Minister might have taken some interest in achieving that end.

The Government's approach to housing is not even-handed. The public sector is being manipulated in a way that puts ever-increasing burdens on those who wish to continue to rent. The impenetrable good nature of the Minister is no consolation. I fear that he is a man who knows not what he does but who is prepared to accept it.

Housing support grant in the coming year will be £5 million higher than it is in the current year. That will be paraded by some people as good news, but if we look back to 1980-81 we find that we spent £228 million on housing support grant, whereas next year we shall spend only £60 million. That is a measure of the Government's indifference. In 1980-81 it made up 37 per cent. of total housing costs in Scotland. Next year it will be 7 per cent. and 33 authorities will receive no grant.

Let us take Glasgow as an example. In some ways it is the best case to take from the Minister's point of view, because it is one of the few authorities that is still receiving a significant amount of help. In 1980-81 Glasgow received £49.4 million, whereas in 1989-90 it will receive £27.8 million, in cash terms. In real terms that is a fall over that comparatively limited period of 65 per cent. For Scotland as a whole, in 1987-88 constant prices, between 1980-81 and 1989-90 the drop is from £338 million to £54 million, a fall of 84 per cent. Yet Ministers say that they are generous to the public sector and that they bring good news. We are creating a massive housing crisis. There is no way in which the Minister can hide that.

The general fund contribution to rents has dropped this year from £22 million to £3 million. I apologise for using so many figures, but they put into sharp perspective the reality of what is happening. In 1983-84, the figure was £125 million--18 per cent. of total housing costs. In the coming year the figure will be less than 1 per cent. The Minister says, with almost breathtaking complacency, that he is not trying to set rents for authorities, but that does bear even the most cursory examination. It is a disgrace. It is not just an abstract entry in a municipal balance sheet. It means that rents, which have increased in nine years by over 230 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) mentioned, will again be substantially increased.

The Minister does not convince anyone when he says that rents in Scotland are still below those south of the

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border. I do not believe that anyone would accept as a rational argument the claim that everything south of the border has to be duplicated in Scotland. That is the whole point of having a different form of housing stock, a different form of local government finance and a different approach to the social responsibilities of providing housing. It is a puerile argument--one of which the Minister should be ashamed--merely to say that, on average, tenants in England pay £2.55 a week more. If one considered housing costs, wages and incomes per head in Scotland, one would find that the picture was very different.

The point, as Renfrew pointed out in its representations to a number of hon. Members last week, is that many local authorities are now reaching the stage where housing is entirely self-financing. That is extraordinary, particularly when we look at the contrast with the other end of the housing market. It has been done largely in order to keep down the poll tax in its first year of operation and to make a few political points.

Ministers are full of brave talk about choice, but choice for them has a very special definition. It is distorted and destroyed for those in the public sector who wish to exercise choice by continuing to rent. Renting has, quite deliberately, been made a very unattractive option for anyone who is above the rebate level. That cannot be defended.

The Minister may be a nice man. [Interruption.] A lively debate has broken out in the ranks behind me. I am prepared to accept that he is a nice man, although my judgment may be distorted by my knowledge of some of his predecessors. At one time, Opposition Members thought of having the Michael Ancram memorial meeting tonight, but we decided to resist the temptation. The Minister cannot wander into politics and not be answerable for what he does.

The structure of housing finance is now based more and more on sales and anticipated receipts. In 1989-90, the general fund contribution will be £3 million. Housing support grant will be £60 million. Borrowing in the normally accepted sense and authorised by central Government will be £125 million. On top of that, the standstill in real terms which is being allowed for this year includes £307 million from anticipated receipts of council houses. For the first time we have a redistribution of receipts. Thirteen authorities have been asked to give up £10 million of their receipts which are now being reallocated.

I shall encapsulate the point. In 1987-88, of the total sum available for housing in the public sector, about 33 per cent. came from the sale of council houses. In 1989-90, only two years later, that figure went up to 71 per cent. That is an unsatisfactory basis on which to fund the totally inadequate effort, without commitment, to do something about the collapse of housing stock in this country and its impact on the individual living standards of many of our constituents.

Mr. Home Robertson : My hon. Friend is touching on a point of enormous interest in my constituency. East Lothian local authority, a comparitively small authority, is the hardest hit by the new concept of negative capital allocation. How can it possibly make sense for a small district council to pay the Government as much as £2.8 million of the proceeds of council house sales before it is

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allowed to start to spend any capital funds on the renovation or building of new houses to meet the urgent housing need in that district?

Mr. Dewar : I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. They are now real problems for many district authorities, and not just on the capital side. There is another important problem that I might mention, and I shall fall to that temptation. I refer to what is happening to homeless persons and to the provision of hostel accommodation. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) will return to this point if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

A reasonable man may think that this matter should be taken account of in the revenue support grant, but it is not. A few authorities are accommodated in the housing support grant calculation, but for many that do not have housing support grant, anything that they do for hostels and in trying to cater for the real problem of homelessness in the community must fall as a direct charge upon rent-paying tenants. I am told by the Scottish Council for Single

Homeless--perhaps the Minister will deal with this point--that the figure in Edinburgh is as high as £1.27 a week for every tenant. That is an extraordinary figure. It shows the Government's absolutely deplorable failure--on occasions, I tend to under-use language ; I shall settle for "deplorable"--to face up to their responsibilities in regard to homelessness.

If we put it all together--the tragedy and the impact upon the individuals to whom I have been referring and the problems on the capital side--it means the gradual and steady deterioration that every hon. Member can see in the statistics, incomplete through they are, and in our own constituencies, week in and week out.

In its brief report--I make no apology for quoting it--the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities gives the Government's figures for 1986 and suggests that, of the 843,000 council houses in Scotland, 88,000 require major rewiring, about 234,000 suffer from dampness problems of one sort or another, and 153,000 require major renovation and repair. Of course there are arguments about whether the figures are accurate. It is difficult to know, because the Government will not carry out a house condition survey. We do not even have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to examine the evidence and come up with authoritative estimates.

No hon. Member could in all honesty deny that the situation is deteriorating. Whatever rent level may be fixed, we are sliding towards asking people to accept housing that they should not be asked to accept and in which they cannot reasonably be expected to live. My district council, Glasgow, would be the first--it would want--to concede that even preliminary inspection of dampness problems may be put off for many months because of the pressure on limited resources and limited staff.

Sometimes I do not know what to say to a tenant who tells me that he has reported something which, rightly or wrongly, he believes is affecting the health of his children. Such people may wait for two or three months without anyone approaching them to deal with the problem. I know that the answer is that it will be some time yet before anything happens, and even when property is inspected it will be longer before the remedial work is carried out. That

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