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Column 810cannot be satisfactory. It is worlds removed from the--at times--almost insufferable complacency with which the Government inspect their housing record. It is the result of 10 years of neglect by the Government--sins of omission and of commission.
Worse still, the Government seem to want to weight and distort their arguments and policies even further. Their arithmetic on housing finance is a cruel message to anyone who wants to remain in the public sector. That message is getting through, but should never have been sent out : those who live in council houses should be there only because they have nowhere else to go or cannot manage to escape. That is not choice, by any standard. It is the end product of the misconceived policies which the Minister has followed so slavishly and complacently in recent years.
We hear about the Government's commitment. Let us examine public expenditure on housing, as shown by Government figures. At 1987-88 prices, it was £866 million in 1982-83. In 1989-90 it will be £537 million, a drop of almost 40 per cent. If a real cut of 40 per cent. measures up to the enormity of the crisis, if it shows the sort of commitment about which the Secretary of State boasts, and if he is really the sort of Member who is proud to represent public sector housing as well as owner-occupiers, he should examine these figures, and then his conscience.
This is a tragic error. It is the wrong approach, carried out in the wrong way with the wrong social objectives. We believe in and want to create choice. We are not opposed to owner-occupation : it should be encouraged-- but sensibly. On the other side of the equation, there should be genuine choice that can be exercised in decent conditions by people who do not want to buy and who want to continue to rent in the public sector.
We oppose the orders because they directly threaten to compound the errors that have accumulated over the past decade or so. If unchallenged and continued, they will inevitably deepen the real crisis that we face in Scottish housing.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : It was a bit rich of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to talk about creative accounting, given that he is a member of the party that, between 1974 and 1979, introduced massive real cuts in local government and had to go to the IMF.
We also heard from the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), with his creative and enterprising mind. We always knew that he was one of the intellectuals of the Opposition, but even he was stretching the imagination by claiming to have participated in a phantom debate.
Dr. Reid : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive the eccentricities of a humble Back Bencher like myself, who was quoted on a speech that he did not make, but what would he make of a Government Department, such as the Scottish Office, responding in detail in the same article to the speech that I had not made in a debate that had not taken place?
Mr. Walker : I would say that, once more, the hon. Gentleman is indulging in fantasy and creative accounting. It is right and proper that some defence should be made to even a phantom debate because something that appears in the press does not appear to be phantom and it must
Column 811therefore be dealt with. That is why the other side of what appears in the press must be answered. It is no good just saying that the debate did not take place or "We didna ken it was on", because the fact is that the hon. Gentleman has been caught out and he must live with it.
The hon. Member for Garscadden referred to mortgage interest relief, which is just a continuation of what has gone on for many decades under successive Governments. If I heard the hon. Gentleman aright he was suggesting that the way in which the Government approach mortgage relief encourages people to enter into the maximum amount of debt. How can he explain the capital borrowings of local authorities, if that is not also entering into the maximum amount of debt? There is certainly a lot of creative accounting in that.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that tax allowance is exactly what it says--it is an allowance ; it allows people to keep the money that they have earned whereas, quite properly, housing benefit is taxpayers' funds being directed to individuals in need. That is the difference. To pretend that the two are the same is to distort the truth.
It is interesting to note that housing support grant in Scotland will increase, as it has previously, from the figure of £54.6 million to £60.4 million--an increase of over 10 per cent. That is a real increase. It is directed towards only 23 of our district councils--33 are outside the apportionment, including my own two district councils of Perth and Kinross, and Angus, and will not receive any of the £60.4 million. Once again, taxpayers in my constituency are seeing their funds directed to councils outside Tayside.
One should also consider the huge sums that are paid directly to individuals into the housing coffers from housing benefit. That is what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was saying. The important point is that we are talking about the vast sum of £600 million-plus going directly into the housing coffers. It is creative accounting to pretend that that is not an aid to public sector housing.
One should recognise that at least this Government are working on both fronts. There is no question but that £600 million is a lot of money. Quite properly, that money is going to individuals in need rather than a blanket figure going to a statutory body. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition. The Government recognise that those in council housing, local authority housing or public housing of any kind, who are in need of financial support because of their financial circumstances, quite properly, should be, and are being, assisted.
Anyone who has made any attempt to study public sector housing, will realise that two major problems have been management and maintenance. Many of the houses built in the past 30 years have been found to be badly designed and poorly built. That is why the repairs allocation of £361 per house is welcome. It is an increase of 8.5 per cent.--again, a real terms increase--and following two years of real increases, it must mean that many more repairs will be completed during 1989-90, which is to be welcomed.
I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that 73,700 houses improved in 1987, a greater number than in any of the previous 10 years, is welcome. Certainly, for people who have been living in sub-standard local authority houses, these improvements are welcome. When we add that number to the almost 332,000 local authority
Column 812dwellings, we find that almost 40 per cent. of the stock has been included in modernisation schemes at a cost of over £1,000 million. For the Opposition to say that the Government do not care and have not directed any funds is a distortion of the facts. We can at least produce hope in Scotland, which is the finest part of the United Kingdom in which to live. The quality of life in large areas of Scotland is far superior to that in the south-east of England. We should be pleased to know that things are being done in parts of Scotland where they need to be done.
Many of the messages coming from the tenants say that local authorities are not always good landlords. Many dreams have been turned into nightmares by defects such as dampness and condensation, which have created health hazards and misery. Some of that was the direct result of bad management and lack of supervision by local authorities. Local authorities would not admit that dampness and condensation existed until they were proved wrong.
The Scottish Special Housing Association, the other public sector landlord, has also had substantial resources devoted to it to meet its needs and the demand for new houses. We have seen 7,500 new homes costing £485 million, and £930 million has been spent on 32,000 new and rehabilitated houses. At the same time we have seen a drop in the number of households renting in the public sector. That is welcome, because it means that people are buying their homes, and for the first time in decades the figure fell below 50 per cent. in Scotland, until today it stands at about 48 per cent.
Over 132,000 tenants have been able to buy their homes, and that is a direct result of the Government's legislation, which was opposed by the Opposition. The proportion of households owning their own homes has risen in Scotland from 35 per cent. to over 44 per cent. That is good news for the people who own their homes. The Opposition say that our record in office is not good. The Labour party's record in office was abysmal and ours is far superior.
Since 1979, the resources made available for improvement and repair grants have, on average, been seven times higher per year than during the years of the last Labour Government between 1974 and 1979. The Conservative Government have spent £77 million per year compared with the Labour Government's derisory £11 million per year. Between 1982 and 1984, the maximum rate of repair grant was boosted from 50 per cent. to 90 per cent. During that time, Scotland's cities were transformed and private sector stock in the stone-built tenements was restored to its original structural magnificence. That is true of Dundee and of many of our other cities. The inside of those lovely buildings was modernised to a standard beyond the dreams of the original builders. Over 272,000 grant applications were approved, and today the private sector stock stands at about 1 million dwellings. The number of houses below tolerable standard has been more than halved to fewer than 56,000. That is still too many and there is still much to be done, but to suggest that the Government are doing nothing is a travesty of the truth.
We are continuing our programme of improvements, new building and change. Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 came into effect on 2 January this year. All new private lettings after that date will be assured or short assured tenancies. Under both forms of tenancy, landlords and tenants will be able freely to negotiate rents
Column 813before the start of the tenancy. That is choice. Scottish Homes will work in partnership with other bodies to develop new approaches in housing that are long overdue and very necessary. Scottish Homes will have the benefit of experienced staff from both the Housing Corporation and the Scottish Special Housing Association. This background of knowledge, expertise and experience should combine with the new powers and functions to give Scottish Homes the ability to achieve the change in quality for the life of tenants that has eluded local authorities since 1945.
The motion will continue that change. We introduced the tenants charter as part of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. It has granted public sector tenants several important new rights, such as the right to buy at generous discounts--the Opposition opposed that--security of tenure, the right to succession, the right to a written lease and the right to alter or improve one's home. To suggest that the Government have done nothing is nonsense. Now, tenants' choice and rights will be extended by the Housing (Scotland) Act, which will also allow them more responsibility.
Tenants in Scotland will have the opportunity to seek a new landlord and new forms of tenancy, if they so wish, without moving out of the houses in which they live. There is no compulsion, so this is choice. All the Opposition can do is wring their hands. One has only to look at the results of their stewardship between 1974 and 1979 to realise just how hollow are their speeches.
We, the Conservative Government, have improved conditions and increased choice, and have made it possible for many more people to own their homes, giving them the opportunity to pass a capital asset on to their children, an opportunity denied to them by previous Administrations. We continue to increase grants and choice, while the Opposition girn and greet and complain. Worst still, the Labour Opposition steal the clothes of the Scottish National party, and make them respectable, with the devastating results that we have seen in the recent opinion polls. That should be worrying the Labour party. Instead of shadow boxing, and making speeches in debates that do not take place, they should be working out how to become a real Opposition, one capable of alternative Government. They should be turning their minds to that rather than to the negative nonsense that we have heard this evening.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : It is important to remind the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), and the Minister, both of whom talked about subsidies going to council houses, that council tenants are also taxpayers. They are not getting money for nothing. The hon. Member for Tayside, North spoke nonsense about mortgage interest relief, which is a blanket subsidy that goes to people who are not necessarily in need.
It is significant to note that just before Christmas there was a by- election in Glasgow. The successful candidate, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) promised the people of Govan that he would be here to defend their interests. Glasgow district council has been forced, because of the order, to increase rents by £4 a week but the hon. Member for Govan is not present to defend
Column 814the people of Glasgow. The hon. Member for Govan can afford any council rent rise because he writes for a dirty Tory rag.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The hon. Gentleman is playing a dangerous game. Only a quarter of his hon. Friends have bothered to turn up for the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is in Govan working for his constituents, which is what three quarters of Labour Members seem to have chosen to do. It is a silly game to play.
Mr. Martin : If I was in Springburn tonight, which I would like to be because I am a resident there as well as its representative, many people would be asking why I was not here defending their interests. The hon. Member for Govan should get his priorities right. He had tears running down his cheeks when he told the people of Govan what he intended to do for them, but he conned those people. He is interested only in writing for a Tory rag.
I listened with interest to what the Minister said about the standard of repairs. He was suggesting that some local authorities give too high a priority to the level of repairs and will have to cut down. The Minister knows that much of the council housing stock, particularly in Glasgow, Springburn was built after 1945 when the Government told the local authority that it would have to embark on building non-traditional houses. For example, we have the Blackburn houses and houses with hardly any timber because of those policies. Until the 1960s, local authorities such as those in Glasgow were forced to build houses such as those on the Easterhouse estate because the Tory Government of the day told them to do so. Also, in the early 1960s local authorities were forced to build multi-storey housing. It is one thing to leave a tenant without rewiring or double glazing but how can the Minister expect a local authority to leave multi- storey flats without a lift so that people have to walk up 22 storeys? The only thing a local authority can do is use its housing budget to ensure that repairs such as that are carried out. If the Minister takes subsidies away from local authorities, he is forcing council tenants to accept more responsibility, and some of them do not live in the non-traditional houses.
Many of the non-traditional houses have flat roofs. With hindsight it is easy to say that no house that has to endure damp such as that in the west of Scotland should have a flat roof. We know that that leads to dampness problems. However, when they were being built, the architects--the experts- -told local authorities to use flat roofs and they conned the Governments involved--usually a Tory Government--into providing subsidies for the building of such houses. As a result there were severe problems with damp. Hutchinson E type houses were an example of that, as were the Balgrayhill corridor-type houses in my constituency. The problems were so great that the Government have encouraged local authorities to put the traditional gable roofs back on.
That type of dampness has caused bronchitis. Those with chest complaints such as asthma have been forced out of their houses. It is unfair to force local authorities to say to these tenants, "It does not matter whether your son has chronic asthma ; he will have to stay in the house." That is morally wrong. The Minister's comments about the level of repairs were extremely unfair.
Column 815There has been talk about the sale of council houses. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will agree with me that some houses that were bought in Knightswood for £8,000 with discounts have since been sold for £38,000. The ex-tenants have moved to Bearsden.
Mr. Martin : But there are 8,000 unemployed in my constituency, and I am not the only Member who represents a constituency with such unemployment. Few of those who are on the dole can say, "I shall buy that house for £38,000." The hon. Member for Tayside, North need not talk to me about choice. There are many other tenants who are still sitting in council houses in Possilpark and Hamiltonhill who have been forced into that position.
There are other ex-tenants who have bought their house, and good luck to them. They have bought because the Government have forced up rents. The only option for many is to buy. But parents are coming to local councillors, myself and other hon. Members and asking, "Why cannot my son and daughter have a council house in the area in which they were born and bred?" The answer is simple : the council houses have been bought and the Minister will not allow any more local authority houses to be built.
The Minister had better put on his thinking cap. If he wants communities in areas such as my constituency, where there are still good, sound communities, he must ensure that if council houses are being sold at one end of the market, there is decent housing stock at the other for those who are in dire circumstances.
I came across a tragic case a few weeks ago of three members of a family suffering from cancer. The mother of the family was one of them. It was her dream to get a part of what everyone wants, the Swedish houses. Why not? She had spent 25 years in her house. She could not fulfil her dream because there was no ground floor accommodation available for her, which was what she needed because of her disability.
We say that we want to help the sick and the disabled and integrate them within the community, not isolate them. We should not be saying to tenants, "You are severely disabled and we are sorry, but you cannot have the house that you want in the community in which you have lived for 25 years."
The Minister should understand what he is doing with local government. There has been talk about 1974 to 1979, the period during which I was a councillor. I enjoyed much satisfaction from being able to get things done during those five years. There is evidence of the rehabilitation that took place in Glasgow. We saw the implementation of modernisation schemes in Knightswood and Govan, for example. Unfortunately, councillors are now suffering from despair because they do not have a decent budget. It is wrong to treat the dedicated in that way. Local government is a means of ensuring that there is proper housing, to provide people with a decent quality of life. Unfortunately, the Minister is removing that opportunity from almost every generation in Glasgow.
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The order goes nowhere near to tackling the housing problem in Scotland, and the Government continue to turn a blind eye to the housing crisis by understating the need for expenditure and overstating the level of income likely to be achieved. The Minister predicted that the average rent will increase by £1.34 a week, but already some increases are higher. In my constituency, the projected increase is £2 a week.
The Government have identified 356,725 houses which need to be modernised or improved. They are suffering from condensation, dampness, warped doors and windows and cracked fabric, inside and out. The £5 million increase in housing support grant is welcome, but it is destroyed by taking away £19 million of general fund contributions, leaving tenants to pay an extra £14 million to bridge the gap.
The average weekly rent in 1988-89 is £16.23--an increase of 10.8 per cent. over the last year. In Argyll and Bute, the average rent last year was £18 a week, and it is projected to rise to £20--an increase of 11 per cent. Rents are rising faster than inflation and contribute to the rate of inflation. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has told us about the unbelievable 230 per cent. rent rise since 1979.
Part of the reason for the rent rise is the rise in interest rates, which is the result of Government policy to dampen a boom in the south-east of England. Scotland can go hang. The order seems a waste of paper. There is a long list of local authorities with the word "nil" against each. It would be easier to say that only five districts and three islands councils will receive anything. I believe that the Government are attempting to worm out of their responsibilities by ignoring the need for investment in the public sector. Rents are rising so quickly that they are making renting unattractive. Are the Government pushing up rents just to encourage more people to buy their council houses? Many do not want to buy because their homes are in such poor condition, and the incidence of mortgage default is growing significantly. Can the Minister tell us, although perhaps not tonight, how much housing benefit is paid out in each local authority area and how much mortgage tax relief is given in the same area?
The most important and disturbing thing of all is the plight of the homeless. According to Shelter, the number of homeless people in Scotland last year was an appalling 29,185. It is unfair that local authority tenants should have to bear the cost of a statutory service which is used equally by all sectors of the community. Such costs should be met from the revenue support grant, which would spread the load more fairly. The Government have failed singularly to tackle the problem of homelessness. In my constituency the number of homeless has risen from 180 in 1984 to 308 in 1988. To an hon. Member representing Glasgow or Edinburgh, that may not be a large rise, but in small areas and pockets of my constituency that is a large increase. That is not even the true figure. It reflects only those who go to the local authority and officially declare themselves to be homeless. The figure does not include those people
Column 817who live in overcrowded conditions, single people or childless couples who have no legal rights under the homeless persons legislation.
Not only is the plight of those people a stain on a so-called civilised country ; those people cause resentment and bitterness among local people, particularly in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, because the people in greatest need are often allocated houses before people who have waited patiently for their turn on the housing list.
Genuinely affordable housing for single people is in very short supply. They will continue to make up an increasing proportion of the homeless. It is now not possible for many local authorities to secure sufficient permanent accomodation or to make what is available available quickly enough. Some authorities have to rely on costly temporary accomodation for longer and longer periods. Local authorities are unable to perform their statutory duties adequately. There is a decline in new building and renovation and that is reducing the lettings available to homeless families to say nothing about those on the waiting lists.
All that is compounded by a further problem which particularly affects rural areas. It was estimated in 1986 that there were 19,446 second homes in Scotland. There were three in Bearsden and Milngavie and 2,763 in my constituency, and that was the highest figure for any area in Scotland.
It is very sad to see wealthy people out-pricing locals by thousands of pounds. Young couples who cannot now afford those houses must give up jobs and homes because they cannot match the inflated prices. Therefore, we lose the indigenous population and a priceless heritage and culture. House upon empty holiday house is visited perhaps once or twice a year. In this day and age where money is the god, no one in the Government cares. The order will do nothing to help the housing crisis in Scotland.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : The order does nothing for the homeless and even less for the tens of thousands of Scottish tenants living in terrible conditions. It turns the screw on people who rent and do not buy and it is yet another manifestation of the Right-wing extremism which is gripping the Tory party in Scotland. I have never seen the Minister responsible for housing in Scotland look so worried at the Dispatch Box nor the Secretary of State look so craven. The Secretary of State would sell out his own city to appease the new Right.
Never has Edinburgh had two Conservative Members of Parliament--two members of Government--who have done so little for its people, or so much to damage the reputation of our great city. While Glasgow's housing budget is receiving nearly £28 million from the Government this year, Edinburgh is getting nothing. While Shetland receives nearly £4 million, Edinburgh is getting nothing. Are there no homeless people in Edinburgh? Do Edinburgh's tenants not deserve fair treatment? Clearly not. If only the Minister and the Secretary of State treated Edinburgh in the same way as Glasgow--and that is far from generous--Edinburgh would get at least £8 million from the Government this year to help towards its budget for the homeless.
Column 818The Government's own figures show that in Scotland more than 88,000 houses need rewiring. Over 150,000 need major structural repairs. A quarter of a million are damp or have condensation, and over a third of a million need modernising. In each and every one of those houses, hundreds of thousands of Scots and their families are suffering from the effects of unmodernised houses with draughty and leaking windows and damp. That is the reality behind the Government's figures ; those are the issues that the Minister has sought to dodge from the Dispatch Box.
Between 1986 and 1990 the Government will allow councils' spending on their capital accounts to fall from £200 million to £125 million. That will be the amount of their guaranteed borrowing. The plight of home owners who are still awaiting 90 per cent. grants is uncertain. The Minister will know from his mailbag, as I know from mine, that many of his constituents-- like mine--will still not be guaranteed to receive a contribution towards "grant-aided" work. Some have been waiting for many years.
Figures have never been the Minister's strong point. The withdrawal of grants from Edinburgh district council, the cut in rent income resulting from Government policies and the Government's failure to help the homeless should have resulted in an average rent increase of £5 a week for every tenant in Edinburgh. But, through prudent management and cost-cutting measures, the district council has managed to cut the increase by a fifth. Revenue support grant, of which the Minister gave details earlier, has meant that that Labour council is having to squeeze even more value for money from its services and receive an even smaller contribution from the Government.
If the Government's calculations of what Edinburgh should be spending are correct, they are an insult to the people whom I represent. The figures in today's and last week's statements show that the Government are allowing Edinburgh to spend far less than other areas. The Minister thinks that Edinburgh should be spending only £214 per annum on services for each adult : £214 to keep the streets clean, stock the libraries and equip and staff the schools. Perhaps he will tell us why he is letting Dundee spend £226 and Glasgow £336, according to the Government's calculations. Those are the facts which the Minister seeks to dodge.
The Government's contribution to the poll tax in Edinburgh is, frankly, bare-faced robbery. They are allowing only £438 per head, which is £244 less than for Glasgow. That means that Edinburgh's poll tax payers are having to pay through the nose for council services. If they received equal treatment to Glasgow, instead of having to set a poll tax of £385, Edinburgh and Lothian councils would have to set a combined figure of only £151. It is sad that the Minister is now selling out Edinburgh, but it is typical of the Government bowing to the extremism which has now gripped the Tory party in Scotland. The message that we have received today is that the Government care nothing for the tenants and even less for those groups who are under pressure because of Government measures. The Secretary of State's figures for the budget which deals in part with homelessness show the shameful record which he must defend, but which he is defending so inadequately. In the Labour Government's last year in office, they set a budget which at today's prices was £418 million, out of which councils were allowed to
Column 819spend money on the homeless. Under this Government, that has dropped to a grant of only £60 million, which is one seventh of its previous levels.
The Government's record on helping the homeless reflects that trend. We can see that their contribution has dropped from £418 million--out of which the homeless could receive some contribution--to £377 million in the Government's first year of office, to £243 million in their second year, £147 million in their third year and so on, until it now stands at £60 million. What the Government are doing to help the homeless in the Minister's own city--the capital city--is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) so rightly said, nothing at all. Yet the Labour Government were able to support Edinburgh--a Conservative council at that time--to a tune of £22 million in a direct contribution to its housing support grant, out of which the council could spend money on the homeless.
By 1983, the Government had cut that budget to zero and since 1983 they have given Edinburgh and its homeless not one penny. In fact, for seven years Edinburgh's homeless have received no help from the Government. In those years it has been left to the Labour council to show some compassion to the homeless. The Government have not even assisted the Labour council. They have stopped the Labour council taking any money from the rates and now any money from the general fund to help the homeless. That has caused Edinburgh's Labour council to look to a group of people whose incomes on average are lower than those of the population as a whole--the tenants. It is the generosity of the tenants of Edinburgh that has helped the homeless, who are less fortunate than themselves. Whether they be in the Grass Market, whether they have lost their homes because of mortgage repossessions or because of marital breakdown, those people are being supported entirely by Edinburgh, and that is a shameful record.
What we know from recent events, from the figures and the Government's abysmal record, is that we do not have a Secretary of State or Ministers who will stand up for the capital city, never mind for Scotland. We have never had such a Secretary of State and Ministers from Scotland who have done so little for their constituents or their home towns. What is all the more lamentable is that they have not been generous to other parts of Scotland--they have been Scrooge-like in the amount of money that they have given or allowed councils to spend. Considering the low level of spending and the extreme and pressing need in all parts of Scotland, it is shameful that they can do so little to help the capital city of Edinburgh. They appear to have taken money from Edinburgh and volunteered it to the Prime Minister, the Treasury and the fanatics who care not a whit for the homeless, not a jot for people who rent their houses and who appear to care less for Edinburgh than for any other area.
The important consequence of the debate is that the Secretary of State and the Ministers should be brought to account before the House for their mismanagement of Scottish councils' funds and for their lamentable failure to stand up for the needs of the population of Edinburgh and Scotland. They have been brought to account tonight, and the people of Edinburgh will take note.
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Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has a great deal of expert knowledge of housing and has outlined the problems of Edinburgh and Scotland. I hope that the Minister was listening because those issues are relevant to the living standards and environment of the Scottish people. His message was well worth hearing and I hope that the Minister took note. Housing support grant is what it says--it is the amount of money central Government are prepared to give to support public housing in Scotland on a national basis. It is clear that the Government are giving less and less to any national housing programme. It is also evident that the Government have no national housing programme in Scotland. Their retreat from providing finance is witness to their lack of commitment to Scotland's housing situation and housing problems.
Since 1979-80, the housing support grant contribution to the housing revenue account has been slashed from 39 per cent. to 7 per cent. In 1989- 90, only 23 out of 56 Scottish housing authorities will qualify for any form of housing support grant. By deliberate policy, the Government are withdrawing their financial commitment to any national housing programme.
As a consequence, the burden of financing council homes has shifted on to the tenants, but, at the same time, there has been a continuous reduction in Government funding--it has fallen from £391 million to £60 million when calculated on average prices. That staggering decline in commitment worth £331 million has taken place in less than a decade.
The Government are retreating from the problem. How else can one describe a Government who have done nothing to overcome the damp and decaying conditions prevalent in the Scottish housing stock and who have consistently refused, at the same time, to undertake a Scottish housing conditions survey? They are simply failing to measure up to the problem.
During the past nine years tenants have seen their rents rise by 230 per cent., but capital expenditure on housing has lagged far behind. Therefore, the Scottish tenants are getting the worst of all possible worlds--high rents and reduced housing standards. As a result of the Government's housing policy, more than two thirds of Scotland's housing stock now receives no grant support at a time when thousands of homes are simply below any tolerable standard. Once again the housing support grant settlement shows no national commitment whatsoever to tackling the major problems of homelessness, dirt and overcrowding and the other problems that are endemic in Scotland's housing system. The Government's callous indifference to Scotland's housing crisis is in the order for all to see. The Government's housing priorities are quite clear when the vast mortgage interest relief subsidies enjoyed by the south-east of England are compared with the sums being made available to Scottish local authorities. The Government always accuse Scottish council tenants of being sheltered from market forces, yet the £60 million provided for Scottish public sector housing pales into insignificance beside the subsidy of almost £5 billion given to English private housing through mortgage interest tax relief--by a factor of more than 80.
Column 821I wish to draw the Minister's attention specifically to homeless persons--a growing problem which the Government have singularly failed to address. The increase for the hostel portion of less than 1 per cent. of the aggregate grant is totally inadequate, but the 33 authorities which do not qualify for housing support grant are placed in an even worse position by the Government after this settlement. I hope that when the Minister has listened to my arguments, and to the points put to him earlier, he will give the House a cast-iron guarantee that he will look at the current legislation and report back with new proposals to help local authorities cope with the growing problem of homelessness.
At present most housing authorities which do not receive housing support grant have to meet all the costs of running their homeless persons' services through the housing revenue account. Surely that is unreasonable. It is unfair that local authority tenants should bear the costs of the statutory service which is used equally by all sectors of the community. Logically those costs should be met from revenue support grant, as that would spread the financial load much more fairly.
Funding hostels for homeless persons is a major problem for the local authorities which own and manage them. Those hostels are notoriously expensive for residents to operate, and even more so taking into account high void levels. I hope that the Minister will address that point when he replies to the debate.
The hostel portion of housing support grant was satisfactory while virtually all authorities were eligible. But when authorities were taken out of grant no account was taken of the grant that they had lost. I understand that a number of authorities such as East Kilbride, Perth and Kinross, Edinburgh and Inverclyde have lost quite substantial financial assistance. For example I understand that the additional combined costs of the homeless persons' service in East Kilbride and the hostel deficit has meant an increase of 75p per week per tenant, given the very small district council housing stock. In Edinburgh the figure is an approximate addition of £1 per month or £12 per tenant per year as an additional burden.
The homeless in Scotland need action, but the Government simply starve them of funds. As COSLA points out, the resources and consents available next year, excluding receipts, represent a cash reduction of £96 million for housing in Scotland.
The Government are producing a cash standstill, assuming that the greatest input to assist housing programmes must inevitably come from council house sales. It is a crazy way to run any council housing policy to say that housing provision will not be determined by the housing needs of the population but by the number of houses that can be sold. That is exactly what the Government are doing. They are imposing another major problem on Scotland's housing.
The proposed paltry increase of £5 million in housing support grant is nothing short of pathetic. As a direct result of Government policy, council house rents inevitably will rise. COSLA estimates that they will increase above the rate of inflation. The tenants are paying the price for the Government's policy. However, tenants in SNP-controlled Angus will benefit from a housing policy
Column 822which gave them a zero rent increase last year and a small increase this year which keeps Angus tenants well below the Scottish average.
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : One reason why the SNP- controlled Angus council rents will be lower is that that council is prepared to accept a subsidy from Tayside region to collect the poll tax.
Mr. Welsh : I am referring to a zero increase in rent last year. Angus was the only council to achieve no rent increase. That fits in with the SNP's record in every year of its administration of keeping rents down. Angus tenants have benefited from that policy. That has happened, despite the Government's policy.
Mr. Tony Worthington : (Clydebank and Milngavie) : Has the hon. Gentleman noted that there is no connection between what he has said and what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said? Will he now make such a connection?
Mr. Welsh : The only connection that it is feasible to make is the contribution made by the Tayside region towards rates collection by Angus district as collection agents. Its rent record is much more important. After having one of the highest rent levels throughout Scotland under the Conservatives, Angus now enjoys under the SNP one of the lowest rent levels in Scotland. I repeat that that record has been achieved by its own management record and despite the Government's policy.
Mr. Jimmy Hood Clydesdale) : Angus district council is collecting the poll tax and giving a subsidy to the tenants, which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Hamilton district council, which covers part of my constituency, has refused to collect the poll tax, with the result that tenants have been penalised by 28p per week. However, we are standing by our principles. We do not speak about them ; we act on them.
Mr. Welsh : I do not know whether that intervention was helpful. However, the hon. Gentleman is on very weak ground, since fewer than a quarter of his colleagues have turned up, so perhaps we could point an accusing finger at them.
I reiterate that the low-rent policy in Angus has been achieved by good government which has benefited the tenants. Tenants in other districts will not be so fortunate. Rent increases have been outpacing inflation. The capital allocation is about 50 per cent. short of what is required seriously to tackle Scotland's housing problems. That is due to this Government's policies, which are inadequate to meet Scotland's housing needs. The housing support grant package is typical of the Government's attitude, and it simply will not do.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for having called me. I was getting worried about the lateness of the hour. I am glad that I have been called to speak in the debate, because I have issued a press release. I should not have liked to annoy Conservative Members twice in one week.
I shall repeat a few items that some hon. Members have read, because there are visitors in the Strangers Gallery who are eager for details of Scotland. It will permit me to repeat a few points that have already been published. I did
Column 823not intend to speak in the debate, but I am doing so as a result of popular acclaim. I do not withdraw or regret one word that I did not say last Tuesday in the House. I agree with every word that I did not have the opportunity to say on that occasion, but there are two tragedies to which I wish to refer.
First, in the seven days since I should have made that speech, there has been no change in the housing situation in Scotland. Secondly, it is rare in the history of Parliament for a Minister to be given one week's notice of the detailed case that is to be made against him and to be given the opportunity at the Dispatch Box to reply to the criticisms that are made of him and still to make such a pathetic effort of defending the Government's record.
Another item should be mentioned at the beginning of my speech. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is laughing. I enjoyed listening to his interventions and jokes this evening. God knows the people of Scotland have little enough to laugh about. One thing in particular intrigued me--that the Minister, the hon. Member for Tayside, North and their colleague the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) actually read the Evening Times and are affected by it. That only goes to create a new law in physics--that even paper can sometimes penetrate the thickest walls of the largest mansions and the thickest minds of the biggest bigots in Scotland.
I am glad to note that some controversy has been caused, but the tragedy is that, for thousands of people, the Evening Times --not the debate--will bring little information or solace. Even tonight, as we debate the issue in the relative warmth of a comfortable Chamber, beneath the vaulted ceilings of the Palace of Westminster, almost 30, 000 people will share neither warmth nor a roof over their heads. It has already been mentioned that 29,185 people in Scotland will draw little solace from warmth or a roof. They will not read Hansard in the morning, and they will not have read it last Wednesday. Therefore, they will know little of our debates.
Few of those 30,000 people will hear about the debate on wireless or television. They do not have wireless or television, or access to the privacy that allows them to listen to radio or to watch television. Many of them will pick up one or two pieces from the popular press about a debate that is carried on late at night, yet those 30,000 people are the real substance of the debate. I make no apology for having tried to highlight their plight by every possible means. If that resulted in a joke, because the Government's incompetence lost us a debate that we should have had a week ago, it is not I, but Conservative Members, who should apologise. Those 30,000 people are the real substance of the debate. They have been mentioned by hon. Members tonight. I refer not only to the young couple who were mentioned in the Evening Times article. There are many of them. Last week they were still lying on relatives' couches, trying to keep marriages together in their early months. This week they are on the very same couches and they have not been forced to move on to others.
Old couples have been mentioned. I refer to people who have lived for years and decades in family homes. Because of a drastic delay in repairs and damp conditions, they now find themselves either having to move out of their homes or, once again in their old age, become dependent on people who are much younger. I make no apology for having raised that matter. Tonight we can debate the