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Column 824consequences of the Government's failure to provide adequate housing support in Scotland, but the people such as those whom I have mentioned must suffer the consequences of the Government's housing policy.
For many years, it has been obvious that the overall picture of contributions for council housing in Scotland has been one of cuts and neglect, so there is nothing new in the substance of tonight's debate. The proposals for 1989-90 do nothing to halt that neglect. There has been a real cash reduction of about £96 million, which will do nothing to reverse the opinion of people in my constituency and others who suffer throughout Scotland that the Government are the real enemy when it comes to imposing rent increases upon them time and again. Nothing will be done to ease the burden of council tenants with rent arrears caused by cuts in housing benefits.
When I listened to some of the smug jokes that were being put around tonight, I thought of a case that I have mentioned in the House before. I make no apology for raising it a second time. An 83-year-old man is suffering from pneumoconiosis. One does not get that disease in a billiard hall or a pub. It is the result of a lifetime of working in the depths of a pit and producing wealth for others. That man went to war in 1939. He did not ask then what his country could do for him, or what he could do for his country. He just went and did what he had to. Now, the Government have taken away his housing benefit, and his rent has increased from 72p to £47 a fortnight. Surely someone with that record is entitled to ask, in the last decades of his life, what his country is going to do for people such as him.
Since the Government took office nine years ago, rents in Scotland have increased by an average 230 per cent.
Mr. Bill Walker : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way with his usual courtesy. When he gives us these figures, will be carefully consider the level of housing support before the Conservatives came in in 1979? What was it in real terms? What is it today? Will he consider the fact that increased rents for those who can afford to pay them have gone into the housing coffers? Those who cannot afford to pay are--properly--given housing benefit.
Dr. Reid : My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has already dealt with some of those points. As others of my hon. Friends have said, many local councils and district authorities get not a penny, compared with 1979. The amount of unemployment that has been created in Scotland since 1979 is another part of the equation.
The defence put up by the hon. Member for Tayside, North is an unusual one. The Government would usually plead that rent increases had nothing to do with them. They are all to do with supply and demand--with the laws of the economy, or the Book of Revelations. They are never anything to do with the Government. In this case they cannot claim that, because there is nothing natural about a 230 per cent. increase in rents. It is out of all proportion to increases in housing costs, as dictated by the supply and demand of the market that is so beloved of the Government in other circumstances. For instance, since 1981, housing costs--on the Government's usual criteria--have risen by 44 per cent. in Scotland ; during the same period, the Government have compelled rents to rise by 124 per cent.--80 per cent. more
Column 825--to compensate for the loss of central grant and local contributions. That increase--from £4.92 to £16.23 a week--is of staggering proportions. It cannot be related to supply and demand. Yet this order means that average rent increases next year will once again immensely outstrip inflation, with some authorities being forced to consider increases of £3 a week or more, or £4 or more in the Glasgow area.
What will we say to constituents who are already going under with rent arrears? There has been a massive increase in rent arrears in the past year. I can only tell my constituents the shameful truth about the Government's dogmatic insistence on undermining public sector housing, and the roles that rent increases and the sales of council houses have played in that. I can tell them that housing support grant is the only direct government subsidy for Scottish housing, and that this deliberate Government policy has meant more than £290 million in cuts in grants and subsidies. I can tell them that as a result of that, council rents are now more than £7 a week higher than they would otherwise have been.
None of this compensates for the misery that has already been suffered, and which will continue to be suffered, in many parts of Scotland. Those increases might buy some hon. Members a large cigar or a couple of brandies after dinner, but over a week, they are sufficient to cripple many households in my constituency and throughout Scotland which are already crippled by debts and which will face even greater debts as a result of the poll tax. When, in anticipation of some of the points that my hon. Friends and I would raise, the Minister told us that rents in Scotland were lower than those in the southern half of England or across the border in England, and when he accused Motherwell district council of keeping rents artificially low in comparison with those elsewhere, for instance in the south of England, why did he also not tell us the average salary in the south of England compared with the average salary in Bellshill Shotts, Newarthill or Carfin? Why did he not tell us the average rate of unemployment in the south of England compared with that in parts of my constituency? Perhaps it is because he does not know, but it could be because he does not want to ask himself the question because once he reveals the average salaries and access to jobs in those areas, he will have to concede as a matter of moral principle and economics that rents in certain areas of the country are justifiably low because of social and economic circumstances. I take it as a testimony of the efforts made by my colleagues who serve on Motherwell district council that they should be criticised here for attempting to ensure that the social and economic effects of poverty and unemployment in Motherwell district are compensated for by some attempt to defend the rents of the people in the area. As my father used to say, "If the crowds boo you and you are away from home, you're playing a damn good game." When the Minister criticises the action of Motherwell district council, that is the best testimony that it could have that its efforts are being well directed for the people who elected it.
The word "crisis" is used liberally these days, but when one considers rent increases and sees how little money is
Column 826available for capital investment or improvements in existing stock or for essential repairs to homes, using the word "crisis" in relation to Scottish housing is justified. Indeed, many would say that it is a moderate word to use.
I am surprised that the Minister should be upset that I have released the Government's own dubious statistics because whether they have been used in a speech in the House of Commons or not, they are the Government's own statistics--and they show that, of the 843,000 council homes in Scotland, no fewer than 356,752 need modernisation, 88,044 need rewiring and, most worrying for pensioners or for people with young families, 234,000 suffer from damp and almost 154,000 need major structural repairs. It is no wonder that the Minister and his cohorts do not like figures like that plastered about in their popular press, even if they are the results of his own Department's investigations into the inadequacies of Scottish council housing at present. Those figures can only worsen as a result of the facts given tonight. Indeed, they have already become worse because the figures that I have just given described the position in 1986 and there have been two more tragic years of rundown in council housing since then. Once again tonight, just as in the tax cuts for the rich, just as in the social security cuts for the poor and just as in the cuts in housing benefit, the Government are cynically hammering the poorest and the most vulnerable in our communities in Scotland. Is it not significant that while central Government support for mortgage interest tax relief continues to increase, direct Government grants in support of local authority housing costs have decreased from £228 million in 1980-81 to £60 million next year?
It is conventional in such debates to refer to one's own constituency and district council and to speak about the effect of the order under debate. Nothing could be simpler. The effect in terms of benefit to my constituency will be absolutely zero. We will receive nothing in grant. Motherwell district council's housing support grant has plummeted from £8.19 million in 1980-81, the year after the Government came to power, to £5.74 million the following year, to £3.3 million in 1982-83 and to £1.4 million in 1983-84, and there has been nothing at all since 1984.
The Minister knows, as I know, that my constituents have paid the price of the Prime Minister's antipathy and antagonism towards them. My constituency has one of the highest proportions of council house tenants in Scotland and a high proportion of unemployment and poverty. As a result of not having voted for the Prime Minister, not coming from her small middle-class shop keeping background or not being successful capitalists, my constituents have been penalised at the rate of £1 million per year. That is £9 million over nine years. If there were anything left, the Prime Minister would take it away. She has taken it all away and my constituents receive nothing in grant.
In the debate the Minister revealed the Government's antagonism towards council housing. I am glad that he made the admission and my hon. Friends will remember it. The Government blame local authorities for pushing up rents. The Minister confessed, probably inadvertently, that rents have been forced up, not because of floating or supply and demand, but because they were too low when the Government came to power. That gives the lie to any
Column 827accusation that rent rises have been caused by anything other than a Government who came to power bent on increasing rents.
Motherwell has not been alone in the scale of its central Government deprivation. As we have heard in the debate, 56 authorities qualified for grant in 1980-81 and that figure has steadily fallen to 23. That has been brought about by a hostile Government on the basis of spurious assumptions. The factors used to determine an authority's eligibility for housing support grant ignores the actual position of housing authorities. The steady reduction by the Government has been brought about by ignoring the actual position of housing and substituting expenditure and income figures that they deem should be applied.
"Deem" is a peculiar word and is constantly used in courts. It means that although it is not known whether something happens and no one has any idea whether it could happen, it will be made up. "Make it up" is translated into legal language and becomes "deem." The Government ignore what is happening on the ground, the actuality of housing problems, and deem the housing needs of an area. In other words, they make something up to suit their own restrictive dogma. Put simply, the Government understate the need for expenditure and overstate the level of income likely to be achieved by a local authority. The difference between the two represents the Government's financial obligation which is steadily and significantly reduced. Instead of deeming, making up and cutting by stealth, why do the Government not acknowledge the massive need for investment to halt the crisis in Scottish housing? Over £1,000 million per annum is needed to tackle the problem but only £569 million has been planned for next year. When consent to apply higher levels of investment in housing has occurred, it has largely arisen from council house sales, which further reduce the public sector stock, and are at the expense of grants and subsidies and lead to higher rents. The Government have contrived to manufacture the worst of all worlds for council house tenants. Had that arisen by accident or by incompetence it would have been a sufficient stain on the Government's record. When it arises as the predictable outcome of deliberate, contrived policy it is a matter of shame for the Government and for the House.
I wish that last Tuesday I had had the opportunity to go into the Lobby to vote against the Government on this issue. I wish that I had that opportunity every night, because every night the Government need reminding of the misery that they are inflicting on thousands of council house tenants in Scotland. That is why, even if the opportunity comes late, I shall be proud to walk into the Lobby to vote against the Government.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : The Government Benches have been sparsely populated for most of this debate. When they have actually shown their faces, English Tory Members have shuffled impatiently as though they were anxious for the business to be concluded so that they could get away home to their beds. The Strangers Gallery is almost empty, the Press Gallery is empty, and the clock tells us that we are well on the wrong side of midnight. All these things tell us that the mother of Parliaments, the seat of democracy, is dealing with Scottish business in the way that it usually does. It is little
Column 828wonder that there is such unhappiness in Scotland with the constitution of the United Kingdom and the way in which the Westminster Parliament deals with Scottish business, or that there is such a demand for Scottish business to be returned to Scotland and put under Scottish control. I do not ask that the House changes the way that it handles Scottish business by having it earlier in the day. I ask that the Government grant the Scottish people what they have always wanted : their own assembly, to look after their own affairs away from this place, so that housing and other matters that are specific to Scotland can be dealt with in Scotland by Scots.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths : I know that my hon. Friend will wish to ensure that the record is accurate, and show that the press have not gone home entirely, but were so buried with their heads down in their notebooks taking every word of his sensible comments that he did not see them from his position.
Mr. McAllion : I will accept your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden, (Mr. Dewar), who drew our attention to a dramatic speech made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. That speech was made not during this debate--it has been his wont to take part in only few debates on Scottish business--but in a previous Parliament, and in it he complained about the corrupt system of council housing finance in Scotland, which he believed was corrupt because it benefited Labour voters. That comment shows the true genesis of the poll tax. Far from trying to root out corruption, and get rid of a corrupt system of financing local government, the Secretary of State has introduced another corrupt system of local government that will benefit Tory voters-- the poll tax.
The Minister described housing support grant as a deficit subsidy. However, if there is no deficit in the way in which the council meets its housing costs, there can be no housing support for the council. How does one establish whether a deficit exists? The Minister said that one makes reasonable assumptions about the income and expenditure of local councils' housing revenue accounts.
Such a system depends on those who are making the assumption, and whether that assumption is reasonable. The Minister seems to be saying that a Tory Minister who knows little about housing in Dundee can make an assumption about the income of the Dundee district council and its expenditure on its 38,000 council houses and can arrive at the conclusion that there is no deficit on the council's housing revenue account, so it should get no subsidy from central Government funds. I can tell the Minister that Dundee district council's housing revenue account for next year will have to receive an additional £6 million over what it received last year, and the Minister is saying that that money will have to be found directly from increases in rent for council house tenants in Dundee and from no other source.
Column 829People who, like me, are owner-occupiers can look forward to central Government subsidies to meet their housing costs in the coming year, but those in the 38,000 council households will get no such subsidy because the Minister says that the revenue must come from rent increases. The people of Dundee are facing rent increases not of £1.34 per week but £3.95 and many tenants will face increases as high as £5.50 a week. The Minister says that that is because the rents have traditionally been too low.
An old couple came to see me last week in my surgery. They have suffered badly under the housing benefit changes introduced by the Government. They are receiving some transitional protection but they have not received any payment for some weeks. They were concerned about the rent increase about to be imposed upon them because they were down to the last £200 of their savings. A few months ago they had £340 but they had to eat into that to pay the rent increase as it stands now. The Minister is telling those people that they will just have to live with it and eat into their savings. After that, I do not know what will happen to them. Perhaps the Minister will explain how that old couple can stop worrying about the rent increases that he is imposing on the people of Dundee and no one else.
If anything is more arcane or difficult to follow than the procedures of the House, it is local government finance. So many phrases have been thrown into the debate--the general fund contribution, the housing revenue account, the housing revenue account block A capital allocation, the housing revenue account block B capital allocation and so on--that it is not difficult to understand why people in Scotland sometimes find it hard to follow the debates about housing and rent that take place here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said that none of the 30,000 homeless in Scotland would follow the debate closely or be able to question anyone on it. I doubt whether many council tenants in Scotland will follow the debate closely, not only because it involves obscure and detailed language with which they are not familiar, but because the Government deliberately stage it at this early hour in the morning when no members of the press are present, so that it will not appear in the press tomorrow and will not be on the radio or television. No one will know why their rent has increased.
When the people in Dundee try to find out why their rent has increased by £3.35 or £5.50 a week, we all know what they will be told by D C Thomson press in Dundee. It will say that the Labour council increased the rents as will Tory Ministers and the SNP opposition on Dundee district council. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government and the Minister now sitting on the Front Bench are increasing rents. No matter how obscure the Minister makes that or how much he wraps it in detailed language, that is the truth and we will ensure that the people of Dundee realise that. That becomes obvious if one looks closely at the housing revenue account for Dundee district council. Compared to last year the council will have to find an additional £6.3 million next year. There are many reasons why it has to find that additional expenditure and most of them are caused by the Government. First, there is inflation. The Chancellor set himself the target of zero
Column 830inflation but the Morning Star on Saturday said in banner headlines that inflation was 6 per cent. plus and rising. The Morning Star has always taken a keen interest in inflation and counter- inflationary policies. It was rightly drawing attention to the way in which the Government's economic policies are failing and the way in which inflation is imposing increases upon councils-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) wishes to intervene, I will gladly give way. I would rather he intervened than continued to shout and mutter from a sedentary position.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can remind the House when the Labour party managed to get inflation down to 6 per cent. when it was in government. I cannot remember a time.
Mr. McAllion : When the Labour Government left office in 1979, inflation was 8 per cent. and falling. Within a year, the Tory Government had put inflation up to 20 per cent. because they gave way to inflationary pressures.
Because of inflation under the Government, Dundee district council will have to find an additional £247,000 to be allocated under the repairs and maintenance heading of its budget. That is just to keep the work at the same level as last year.
One can argue about how much the Government can be blamed for inflation increases, but one cannot argue about, the other Government decisions that have led directly to rent increases in Dundee. For example, they have changed the rules governing the definition of capital expenditure. Repairs and maintenance carried out to re-lets in Dundee used to be paid for out of capital expenditure and came under that heading. Since the Government changed the rules that define capital expenditure, that can no longer be done. By Government diktat, an additional £1.5 million has to be raised from the housing revenue account and so from rents. That is because the Government will not allow the district council to proceed within the definition of capital expenditure.
In 1980-81, Dundee district council received £9.1 million in housing support grant, which enabled it to meet its housing costs. If that level of support had been maintained, a further £72 million could have been spent on the city's 38,000 council houses. If the Government had honoured their commitment to council house tenants in Dundee by continuing to fund that level of grant, rents could be £4.50 a week lower that they are now. Instead of having to face an average increase of £3.95 a week, council tenants in Dundee could be given an average rebate of 55p a week. That would have been the result if the Government had paid up what they owed in housing support grant.
In 1985-86, Dundee district council received £4.917 million in rate fund contribution--the general fund contribution as it is now known--to help it meet its housing costs. Since then, direct Government action has caused the contribution to be cut in three huge swathes so that it is now absolutely nothing in the order that is before us. That is another massive blow to the housing revenue account and another reason why rents will have to increase in Dundee. That is the consequence of Government action. The council is not responsible for that.
Changes have been made to the housing benefit regulations and the district council estimates that these have cost it £190,000 in lost rent. That sum will have to be found from the housing revenue account next year, and
Column 831that will mean increasing rents. It was calculated that on 31 March 1988, rent arrears in Dundee stood at £884,000. The following day saw the introduction of housing benefit and social security changes. By 30 September, arrears had increased to £1,226,000. The people of Dundee, whom the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) claims have been protected by housing benefit, could not afford to meet the increased rent levels. They were taken out of housing benefit and they had lost social security payments. They could not afford to pay their rents and the council could not get the money from them.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Some of my constituents have the good fortune to pay their taxes to the Perth and Kinross district council and some are infinitely less fortunate and have to pay their taxes to Dundee district council. As the same system of support applies to both councils, why is it that those who have the misfortune to be taxed by a rabid Labour- controlled council such as Dundee have to pay twice as much as the fortunate citizens who are taxed by Perth and Kinross?
Mr. McAllion : That may have something to do with the fact that Dundee district council has 38,000 council houses while Perth and Kinross has only a small fraction of that number. The costs that have to be met by Perth and Kinross district council are infinitesimal compared with those that are faced by Dundee district council. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had thought about that he would not have got on his hind legs to ask the question. I am glad that one English Tory--the hon. Member for Stockton, South--has remained in the Chamber to listen to some realism instead of opting to be plonked down in the south to learn nothing about what is happening in Scotland.
Mr. McAllion : I am coming to that. There is the so-called benefit that is derived from selling council houses to sitting tenants. Dundee district council sold 1,600 council houses to sitting tenants last year, which meant a loss of rent income of £1.802 million. That sum will have to be raised from the housing revenue account, which in turn will mean increasing rents throughout the city. It would be all right if new council houses were still being built, but there are tenants who are trapped in multies, tenements or other housing which for various reasons is entirely unsuitable for them. There is a massive shortage of suitable housing in Dundee and so many are trapped in unsuitable housing and pay high rents. That is because the Government are selling the only houses which these tenants can aspire to live in by taking a place on the housing waiting list.
Mr. Bill Walker : The logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be that councils that sell off more of their housing are worse off. Why, then, is Dundee, which has one of the worst records of selling homes, worse off than Perth and Kinross, which has one of the best?
Mr. McAllion : The hon. Member is not comparing like with like. Dundee district council is in an entirely different league from Perth and Kinross. I do not represent Perth and Kinross. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North would like to tell us how many houses that council owns, we might be able to make a comparison.
Dr. Reid : In view of the resounding silence on the Conservative Benches, are we to assume that the three supposedly pertinent points that have just been made about housing finance in areas represented by Conservative Members have been based on ignorance even of the number of council houses in their areas?
Mr. McAllion : My hon. Friend is right. I have given the hon. Member for Tayside, North every opportunity to tell the House how many houses Perth and Kinross district council owns, but he will not do that because he does not know the answer. Nor does the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). They must sit in embarrassed silence because neither knows the answer, although they claim to represent that local authority in the House. The Government's squeeze on capital expenditure in years past has contributed to rent increases. District councils, faced with a loss of houses because they have been forced to sell them and because they cannot get the capital allocation that they need to build new houses, have had to take out covenant schemes to build the houses they need. Such schemes are fine at the time, but a day of reckoning comes when repayments have to be made, and repayments are being made in a climate of climbing interest rates because of the Government's policies. That means another massive cost to the housing revenue account, and it is another reason for higher rents.
Labour district councillors in Dundee are doing a magnificent job on behalf of tenants in the city, whom they are trying to defend in a rapidly deteriorating situation. We have heard some statistics about homelessness tonight. Conservative Members had better know that, in Dundee, during the past five years, homelessness has trebled--and that figure does not take into account factors such as recent increases in mortgage interest rates, which will lead to a great deal more people being made homeless in the city. Housing benefit and social security changes will add to the problem.
The Government make out a good case for tackling the housing crisis in Scotland. They speak about co-operation between the Government and local councils and an attempt to deal with the many problems, especially in peripheral estates such as Whitfield.
Mr. Devlin rose --
Mr. Devlin : On the contrary--the hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that English Members are not interested, and now he is trying to stop an English Member intervening. All I want to know is how many private sector houses there are in Dundee.
Mr. McAllion : I have no idea how many private sector houses there are. At one time, Dundee had 40,000 houses, which constituted about 60 per cent. of the housing stock. It now owns about 38,000. In a statement about the Whitfield estate, the Government agreed that the way to tackle the housing crisis in peripheral estates is to increase expenditure on them and housing services. When the Government are asked for the money, however, nothing happens. They
Column 833have slashed housing support grant, taken away the general fund contribution and slashed the capital allocation to the council. Next year, Dundee's housing revenue account block A allocation is to be cut by more than 50 per cent., from £9.95 million last year to just £4.43 million this year. How is the council supposed to tackle the city's massive housing problems when the Government will not even let it borrow money to spend on housing? It is selling the housing stock as fast as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden mentioned the Minister's refusal to have a house condition survey, such as is done in England and Wales, for Scotland. However, there are housing check lists. Dundee district council carried out one of those checks last year to update its five-year rolling plan for housing in the city. It found that 13,800 houses needed modernisation and 11,300 houses suffered from condensation and damp. It has calculated that it will need £25 million a year in capital allocations to deal with those problems. However, the Government have suggested that Dundee should receive only £4.03 million in capital allocation.
We could understand that level of allocation if there was a shortage of money. However, we cannot pick up a paper today without reading that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has £15,000 million of Budget surplus that he does not know what to do with. We only want a tiny wee fraction of that £15,000 million to start to tackle the housing problems in Scotland. No one understands why the Minister will not agree to that.
Mr. Bill Walker : The hon. Gentleman's head seems to be full of interesting statistics. If Dundee district council had £25 million to spend tomorrow, how would it find the work force to carry out the work? He knows as well as I that there is a dearth of tradesmen in Dundee to carry out that type of work.
Mr. McAllion : The hon. Gentleman has made an absurd allegation. He knows that the Government used to produce statistics which gave the numbers of unemployed people in different categories and from which we could tell how many building workers were unemployed. However, the Government were so embarrassed by the number of building workers on the dole in Scotland that they will not produce them. They refuse to give any figures about the number of people on the dole in Dundee. If £25 million was allocated to Dundee this year, it would spend it, but not in the way in which the Government would spend it. It would not spend it on one housing estate in the city which would be a kind of model to be publicised on the television and for which benefit could be claimed.
The Whitfield estate in Dundee shows what can be done, but every other estate in Dundee shows what is not being done for housing in Scotland. Councillor John Henderson has assured me that Dundee would spend the £25 million if it had it. I would be very glad to hear the Minister tell us at the Despatch Box that Dundee was going to receive that money. That would suit me entirely.
I came across an article in The Scotsman today about Mr. John Jenkison the director of housing for a new private management company set up under the Scottish housing legislation. He is director of Waverley Housing
Column 834which is targeting council houses in the Borders and taking over houses from district councils. Mr. Jenkison is quoted as saying : "Ultimately the district councils will not be in a position to offer choice because they will not have any stock. The Government is on course to remove that function from district councils." That comment comes not from a Labour Member, but from someone who supports the Government's policies and agrees with the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 and who knows what the Government are about. They are about taking the right from district councils to provide reasonable houses at reasonable rents to people on low incomes. The Government do not have any mandate for that in Scotland.
I began my speech by saying that a Scottish Assembly was the only forum in which housing could be properly dealt with for Scotland. I end on the same basis. We shall never get justice from the Tory Benches. The people of Scotland know that. We will never give up until we get a Scottish Assembly with Scottish control over Scottish housing.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Earlier tonight my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that the Minister was one of the nice men in the Tory party. Some of my colleagues say that he is a gentleman. However, the people in Scotland in council houses do not need a gentleman ; they need someone who is prepared to stand up and fight. That is sadly lacking.
Since 1979 there has been a systematic attack on council house tenants. Since then rents have increased massively by more than 230 per cent. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is smiling. He should come and smile at my constituents--the elderly and disabled--who are forced to pay those massive rent increases. Since 1979 the rents have escalated.
A report by COSLA shows that in 1986 the Government's limited statistics identified that, out of 843,000 council houses in Scotland, 356,725 need to be modernised and 88,000 needed to be re-wired. That is an unbelievable indictment. COSLA says that 234,000 houses suffered dampness or condensation, while 153,746 needed major or structural repairs. We need a Minister who is prepared to ensure that the housing crisis in Scotland is solved.
I was appalled to hear the Minister boast proudly that he was not apologising for the fact that rents in Scotland were going up again. He was quite happy to see a £1.48 increase--after the trauma of the housing benefit cuts, the fear of what the poll tax would bring and the record levels of unemployment that still exist in Scotland. People are suffering more and more because of the Government's inability to improve--or rather their deliberate policy not to improve--the quality of life for people who are homeless ; people who are living on state benefits, but are desperate because they are unemployed.
The Minister is not prepared to stand up and fight. There should not be a £1.48 rent increase ; there should be a decrease, and a massive housebuilding programme to give folk decent housing. We do not want the nonsense that we are hearing tonight.
I accept that the Minister is a gentleman, but I am no gentleman. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for
Column 835Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is not here tonight for this important debate, but I was born and bred in Govan. I know what it was like to live under a private landlord. My mother and late father know what it was like for five of us to live in a single end. We were over the moon the day the note came through the door from the Glasgow corporation offering us a decent house--a house with a bath. I had never seen a bath. I thought that it was something that you put a goldfish into. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it was like that in those days. The only water that I had seen in a big bath was in the swimming pool. I do not have the background of a gentleman who has lived in a big fancy house. I still do not live in a big fancy house : I live in a Scottish special house, and I rent it. I see the poverty around me, created by the Government's cuts in social security and housing benefits. I see the fear that the Government are creating in Scotland. I plead with the Minister to stand up and fight for these people to ensure that they need not pay such a punishing rent. He has the power to do something to ensure that the people of Scotland have a decent chance.
As I have said, my life started in Govan, and I went to a house in Pollock. When I married I could not get a house. I had to go to a private landlord. Eventually I had a bit of luck : I got what is called an "economic expansion house" because of my job. Unemployment is so massive that it is hard for anyone to get a house, let alone an economic expansion house, yet Government policy is to continue to push rents so high that ordinary men and women are forced to buy their homes.
I said to the Chancellor the other day that mortgage default was one of the main reasons why many people were ending up homeless. They could not afford to pay their mortgages, and were having to go on to the streets. Massive pressure was being put on the local district council, because these folk were genuinely homeless. They are systematically selling off these people's only chance of a house and a decent living.
As I have already mentioned, we have a gentleman as a Minister, and the people of Scotland are looking for leadership to ensure that they have the right to a decent house--a right to a home that they can afford. They want decent housing which is not suffering from all kinds of defaults. They are looking for leadership that gives them the right to rent--a right which this Government have denied to them. I see that the other Under-Secretary the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is sat there smugly smiling. I assure him that there are more than 3,500 homeless people in Renfrew district and Inverclyde who are not smiling tonight. They are weeping in overcrowded conditions. There are family bust-ups, domestic problems, divorces, separations and everything else going on, because of the level of homelessness. There are more than 30,000 people in Scotland whom the Government know are homeless. However, that is the tip of the iceberg-- there are more than 30,000.
Many people have given up the ghost. We read in the Scottish papers the other day of an old man, who is living in a tent in a park. He is desperate for a home and he has asked the local authority to provide him with one. I am sure that the local authority will find him a home, but it is time that the Government gave the 30,000 homeless a home and some young people the right to a decent future.
Column 836They do not want a castle or thousands of acres where they can shoot partridges and grouse, they want a home where they can cook and from which they can go to work. It is time that the Minister gave them that leadership. 1.17 am
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : Local authority tenants' rents have risen by 230 per cent. in the past nine years. As a result of these orders, we see that the average rents next year will once again exceed inflation. The capital investment required to maintain and improve the housing stock is still some 50 per cent. short of what the authorities require to tackle Scotland's housing crisis. That has been debated well tonight. The acid test was that, if the Government were interested in Scottish housing they would have provided a housing condition survey. They have not done so. They have, however, given us some limited housing statistics. In 1986, their statistics identified that out of Scotland's 843,000 council houses, 360,000 needed to be modernised, 88,000 needed to be re-wired and 235,000 suffered dampness and condensation.
How are the Government tackling that crisis? As an example, I shall take my constituency of Dumbarton. This year Dumbarton has no subsidy for public sector housing. The last time it received a subsidy was in 1981-82, when the housing support grant was £910,000 and the rate fund contribution was £2.1 million. There was a subsidy of more than £3 million in that year, with £5 million income from rents. Since then, we have received nothing at all.
The capital allocation last year was £7 million, with the authority being allowed to go to the private market to find £1 million. It was assumed that £6.4 million would come from council house sales, but the authority will fall short of that--which it has told the Government--for many reasons, not least because not as many people are buying houses as was estimated. That is one consequence of the Chancellor's high interest rates. The Government, however, have set their figures in stone and are paying no attention to the problem. It would seem appropriate to be flexible and for them to look at last year's allocation, so that they could help councils such as Dumbarton to help the public sector tenants.
I would draw attention to an anomaly in Dumbarton. The public sector does not receive any subsidy towards the cost of removing lead piping. Lead piping is a problem in a considerable number of Dumbarton's council houses. I believe that the housing authority has drawn this to the Minister's attention. I ask the Minister to meet the local authority and discuss the pressing problem of lead piping in Dumbarton, so that we can get that dealt with. Strathclyde regional council has found a temporary solution, but the long term problem must be attended to. I hope that the Minister will undertake to meet and consult me about this matter.
The housing crisis in Scotland cannot be solved until the Government realise that a substantial, real boost in housing resources is required in the next five to 10 years. Over the years, problems have been caused by the progressive withdrawal of rate support grant and other moneys to local government. The Government are out of step with the widespread Scottish view, whether that is expressed by COSLA, the Building Employers Confederation, Shelter or Church organisations who
Column 837believe that decent, modern living conditions are an essential ingredient to maintain the social fabric of the community. Last year the Prime Minister was up in Scotland talking to the Church of Scotland. At the end of her speech, the convener gave her a document on housing. In conjunction with the Secretary of State and Ministers, I want her to treat that document with the same urgency with which they treated the "Scottish Enterprise" document and Mr. Bill Hughes. I hope that the Prime Minister and her Ministers will consider that document over a weekend as they did the document presented by Mr. Hughes so that the problems of Scottish housing are put in their proper perspective.
It is traditional to say that this has been an interesting debate, but this has not been a debate.
We have had the usual fumbling, inept performance from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and one Back-Bench contribution from the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). His only contribution to such debates is to say that, because housing benefit has gone up since 1979 and cuts have occurred in the rest of housing support, somehow the Government have been awfully generous to the poor.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman the facts. Every time rents go up, it is inevitable that housing benefit goes up. As soon as the number of the unemployed goes up, housing benefit increases. In 1979, however, the housing benefit system was much more generous. It included 100 per cent. rent rebate and 100 per cent. rate rebate. Now, every council house tenant must pay at least 20 per cent. of his rates and he will have to pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax. Mr. Bill Walker rose --
Mr. Maxton : I do not have time to give way. The hon. Gentleman made a lengthy speech, when his sole contribution was to suggest that there has been a massive increase in housing benefit, which is due to the Government's economic policies and rent rises. At the same time, however, council house tenants have had to face poorer housing conditions and cuts in benefit, but the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that.
Mr. Walker rose --
My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) have given a
Column 838catalogue of the cuts that local council house tenants in Scotland have had to face. They have described the appalling dampness in the housing stock in their constituencies and the ill health that that causes.
The debate has been so one-sided it is not true, but we are used to that in Scotland. The Scottish people have no one on the Conservative Front Bench or Back Benches to whom they can put their case. Mr. Devlin rose --