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Column 1082the eye of the political storm and have not been singled out by the Secretary of State for criticism or sarcasm. Gordon district council has cut its community charge by 2 per cent. If I remember correctly, that represents a £1 reduction. It could do that not because it had been careful and prudent with its expenditure, in the Secretary of State's terms. I am told that its spending is going up from £5.6 million to £8.5 million. It has nothing to do with the discipline of reducing the poll tax and calling extravagant councillors to heel. That massive increase in expenditure may have been justified. It was possible because its aggregate Exchequer grant and its non-domestic rate income had gone up by 33 per cent.
Clydebank council is increasing its poll tax imposition by 24 per cent., yet its spending has risen by only 2 per cent. The reason is that its aggregate Exchequer grant and non-domestic rate income has gone up by less than 0.5 per cent. That is the message. It has nothing to do with all the claptrap about accountability, and everything to do with the Secretary of State and the sums that he does mysteriously and secretly in the recesses of St. Andrews house.
Mr. Rifkind : I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman say that reductions in the community charge have everthing to do with the grant given by the Scottish Office. Will he join me in condemning Labour- controlled Stirling district council, which, despite an increase in grant of more than 20 per cent. for the forthcoming year, proposes not to reduce its community charge or even to maintain it at its existing level, but to increase it by 18 per cent.--more than twice the level of inflation? Does that not fly in the face of what the hon. Gentleman has just said?
Mr. Dewar : It certainly establishes that the performance of Stirling and the decisions taken by the council are out of line with many other parts of the country. I do not condemn that. It is up to the electors in Stirling, who have been advised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and, more shrewdly, by the local Member of Parliament over many years to repudiate that policy. They have not done so. The Secretary of State may think that the people of Stirling are barmy and do not know what is in their own best interests, but if he believes in democracy, he had better recognise that that formula has gained the approval of a sufficient number of people to continue to elect that council.
I am talking about the general position in Scotland, and I repeat that many of the difficulties that have been mocked rather unsympathetically by the Secretary of State relate to the grants. The general position is exactly as we predicted. COSLA reckoned that the 7.5 per cent. added under the revenue support grant settlement would mean average increases in the poll tax of about 12 per cent.--and that is exactly what is happening now.
Although it would not be fair to other hon. Members to have a major debate about it, I must tell the Secretary of State that almost everything we have said about the social justice of the poll tax and the problems of administration and collection have been fully justified. I have to warn the House, having spent half an hour yesterday struggling--I make no apologies for that--to understand the intricate workings of the new transitional allowance, that the problems that we all anticipate in April in calculating the transitional allowance for next year, making the back payments for this year and adjusting the entire rebates
Column 1083system will be a nightmare. I believe that it will bring a system which is already disliked and widely considered to be unworkable into ultimate disrepute.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State to say a word or two about the business rate and the non-domestic rate. I understand that the Government have decided that £80 million should be made available to reduce the rate poundage by 6.25 per cent. across the board. That is an interesting decision, because it could have been used to take out some of the peaks and to help areas particularly in the urban central belt where the rate poundage was very much higher. The Government decided to spread it thinly across Scotland, so perhaps the Minister could say why.
I should like a fairly specific answer to my second question. In England, the unified business rate poundage is 34.8p. I am told that the rate poundage that will have to be uniformly levied across Scotland to raise the present level of revenue is 55p. That gap has to be closed. I have heard authoritative figures ranging from £250 million to £450 million as the sum required to close that gap. I understand that the Scottish Office has consulted the CBI, and I know that the advice from COSLA was near the top of the range. Will the Minister say what he thinks that figure will be, how far we will have to go to plug that gap and what it will cost the public purse? I close by briefly raising a major issue concerning the housing support grant, which used to be a major factor in local Government finance, particularly for district councils. When the present Government took office, 39 per cent. of council house costs came from the housing support grant. The figure is now 7 per cent. It reached a peak of about £228 million, and it is now down to £60 million. It was £60 million last year, and this year it will remain unchanged. The Minister may say that I should be grateful that it has not been cut further, but as interest rates are higher than they were, they are eating into what is available for genuine housing work, and the figures take no account of inflation. We now have an HSG which will mean higher rents or will handicap authorities in tackling the real problems of deterioration of fabric.
The Under-Secretary of State says a great deal in a pleasant style about the Government's generosity in housing finance. The capital consents and the housing revenue account for 1990-91 compared with that for 1989-90 shows that the Government allocated £474 million in public sector housing capital allocation. In the coming year, the figure will be £420 million. That is a reduction of £53 million and a real terms drop of close on £100 million.
I know that I will be told that the net consent is being increased from £145 million to £189 million and that that is a measure of the Government's generosity, but if the net consent were being decreased and capital receipts were being increased, I would be told that I was being extremely silly and short-sighted in considering the net consent because all that matters is the total amount that will be spent.
If the total amount that will be spent is what matters, there will be the substantial drop that I have just outlined. The problems that I see every weekend in my constituency, and the problems faced by tenants in my constituency and
Column 1084in those of my hon. Friends, make me sceptical and cynical about the well-tailored rhetoric that emerges from the word processors in Dover house and St. Andrew's house.
The housing support grant has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Over the years, it has been cut ruthlessly. If it had been maintained at the level of the early 1980s, we would now be debating a cumulative increase in local authority resources of billions of pounds. Against that, we recognise the miserable inadequacies and desperate need of the Secretary of State to tilt at windmills rather than talk about the realities that he has so sadly neglected.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I have suffered three misfortunes today. First, I have been done out of my Burns supper by this business tonight ; secondly, I have had a bit of masonry whistling around my room upstairs and have been locked out ; thirdly, I am having to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I think that I would rather have seen his holiday snaps.
I shall begin by considering housing, because it is an important issue in Scotland. Last year, the Government set up Scottish Homes, so we must look forward to better standards in the foreseeable future. I know that it will play its part in improving the old Scottish Special Housing Association housing and working with housing associations to develop housing in Scotland.
The housing support grant is a key part of housing management. Housing management involves considering the problems not only of damp, condensation, repairs and rents but of vandalism, bad
neighbourliness, noise and the general feeling that the environment of housing estates is not what it should be. We must also consider the problems of waiting lists and homelessness. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for the work that they have been doing on urban projects, which often improve rather miserable areas. Over the past 10 years, the Government have increased housing investment by 2 per cent. per annum in real terms, whereas under the Labour Government of 1974-79 it declined by 8 per cent. per annum in real terms. There is no doubt but that the Government have given housing a high priority.
I welcome the impact of the sale of council houses, which is what tenants wanted. I am glad that, despite the opposition of the Labour party and Labour-controlled councils, we have sold so many over the past 10 years.
Capital allocations, which are extremely important, have doubled over the past five years. I welcome that increase, and when I raised it with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) before Christmas, he assured me that the aggregate for this year would increase by £64 million, or 50 per cent. That should enable local authorities to maintain expenditure, but the Government recognise that increases are necessary in some of the worst areas.
I am glad that the two districts that I represent--Nithsdale, and Annandale and Eskdale--are receiving allocations far above the national average of £559 per house. Annandale and Eskdale will receive £727, and Nithsdale £815. That is of particular benefit to Nithsdale, where the public sector contribution to housing is increasing by 67 per cent. In Annandale and Eskdale, it is
Column 1085increasing by 16 per cent. Various adjustments have been made in Annandale following the Lockerbie disaster, in which my right hon. and learned Friend was so helpful by providing finance for the rehabilitation of damaged houses.
Nevertheless, the Government have recognised that much remains to be done by making available additional money in the Lochside area of Dumfries. That continuing high investment has allowed the council to undertake many projects. I know that there has been a small national increase in non- housing revenue account grants, but districts in my area have above average allocations. Improvement grants are one of the key ways of quickly improving housing. Rural cottages are not only attractive to live in but enhance the countryside if they are in a proper state of repair. I am in favour of giving as much non-HRA support to district councils as possible.
The Government have allocated substantial sums for the revenue support grant. However, most authorities--but, I am glad to say, not all--have increased expenditure by more than the rate of inflation. I very much doubt whether local authorities would have increased expenditure so rapidly if they had been working under the old rating system. Over the past two years, they have taken the opportunity to increase expenditure and blame that on the community charge and the Government. This year, they cannot blame the Government for cutting expenditure, because almost all local authorities are receiving a substantial increase in expenditure.
I know that there must be a careful balance between prudent expenditure and what other people may regard as excessive experience. That is the key job of councillors. I remember when I was a councillor that councillors were only too keen to spend money on projects that were important to their ward or council. Sometimes restraint must be exercised, particularly when the country knows that the Government are keen to restrain inflation. Increases in local government expenditure are extremely inflationary and add to the problem of restraining interest rates.
This year, the Government have increased the revenue support grant by £242 million and adjusted the safety net. Most important, they have made moves towards the uniform business rate, which will be of great advantage to businesses, particularly small businesses, in Scotland. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) has been given sufficient recognition for what he has done for the rating assessments of sports grounds. His action has been well received by all sports clubs and voluntary organisations in Scotland.
I hope that community charge payers will bear in mind the Labour party's proposals, which chop and change so much that one does not know where one is. But if the Labour party decides on the capital values option, the community charge payer will undoubtedly have to pay a great deal more.
Let us consider the regions and districts. Like the hon. Member for Garscadden, I find it virtually impossible to understand local authority accounting--the use of balances, the options relating to the community charge, the change from the client-group method to grant-aided expenditure and so on. It is very difficult to find true comparisons from one year to the next to establish what is going on. In 1989-1990, with inflation running at roughly 6.5 per cent., the grant to my region was 13 per cent., whereas this year, with inflation at 7.5 per cent., the grant
Column 1086is 14.3 per cent. One might think that there was every reason to believe that the community charge could be stabilised and that a substantial amount would still be left to improve services. The region has had an increase in grant of 70 per cent. over five years, so it is disappointing to discover that the community charge is to increase substantially.
I know that councillors considered various options--increases of from zero to 15 per cent.--and in the end settled for 6 per cent. But add to that a 21 per cent. increase in water charges arising from more stringent requirements relating to water quality, and the overall increase is 8 per cent. That is a substantial increase in view of the money made available through the grant system. Matters have been made worse by the two districts in the area, which have increased their expenditure substantially. In Socialist-controlled Nithsdale, where the grant increased by 18.9 per cent., expenditure has increased by no less than 28 per cent. That was voted through against strong Conservative opposition at a council meeting last night. That is the increase that the community charge payers of Nithsdale will now have to face. In Annandale and Eskdale, with a Liberal Democrat majority, grant is up by 17.3 per cent. and expenditure by 19 per cent. That simply will not do. It is not fair on the community charge payer.
We all want improved services, but we must be careful to ensure that improved services do not always mean substantially increased costs. I support my region in its efforts to attract industry, and I realise that that may cost more. I also realise that school boards may add to costs. But all that should be taken into account against the background of the substantial balances that local authorities can achieve.
The House ought to send out the message that prudent expenditure is essential if we are to make our way forward and maintain low inflation and, it is to be hoped, lower interest rates. We cannot go on spending and spending without facing the consequences. I hope that local authorities will consider their plans carefully. I was sorry to hear that a respected SNP regional councillor in Dumfries and Galloway had had to resign his membership of the party because he wanted the council to maintain the rule of law and collect the community charge. It was sad that his local party should have forced him out.
I gather, too, that the Member of the European Parliament for Dumfries and Galloway and the south of Scotland, Mr. Alex Smith, has had some difficulty recently. When I first saw headlines saying, "MP's bank balance frozen", I wondered whether they referred to me, but it turned out to be the MEP, who is setting an astonishingly bad example to the community charge payers of Scotland.
My message is this: let us have prudent expenditure. We really cannot go on increasing grant from central Government--from the taxpayer--and having it all put into the kitty to allow local authorities to spend more and more. If we do that, we shall become a banana republic, spending far more than we should. That is something we must avoid.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) : No matter how the Government try to dress up the figures, the fact remains--as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said--that they represent a cut
Column 1087of £58 million in funds for council housing and, when inflation is taken into account, a reduction in total resources for council housing of £100 million.
Like all other hon. Members, I am grateful to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for the excellent brief that it has sent us, which exposes the Government's meanness and the true extent, nature and effect of the cuts.
This debate should be not about figures but about human beings. It may be possible to argue about the need--or otherwise--for some items of Government expenditure, but in the name of decency and humanity, the House must agree that, in this day and age, everyone should have a fit and proper home in which to live, and that is especially true of pensioners and children. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case and the order will make matters worse. It will lead to increased rents and a further deterioration in the fabric of our council housing. All that many tenants have left is hope, and some of them do not even have that luxury.
No doubt my hon. Friends will deal with the general questions arising from the order, but I want to highlight what I believe to be a unique and scandalous catch-22 affecting between 2,000 and 3,000 people, which the order will do nothing to remedy. I refer to the 998 Winget-type houses constructed in 1924 in the Carntyne area of Glasgow and divided between the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan and myself. They are the only houses of their type in the whole of Scotland. There are no such houses in Wales and only 2,568 in England.
The houses were classified as defective under the Housing Defects Act 1984. Arguments followed as to what should be done until 1988, when Glasgow district council applied for the houses to be declassified. In March 1989 the Secretary of State refused to agree to the council's request, so the houses are still officially classified as defective. The tenants took the matter up with the ombudsman who, to his credit, found in their favour. But his recommendation, in June last year, was simple : the council and the tenants should get together to discuss the problem. That took us back to square one. No advance of any kind had been made. One wonders what is the advantage of having an ombudsman's report in one's favour. At present an insulation programme is under way in the Carntyne area, but Winget houses are excluded because they require extensive fabric repair. The housing department of Glasgow district council states that outstanding work on the houses includes recladding, window replacement and roof renewal, all directly related to the Winget method of construction. Someone whose house need a new roof or new windows is unlikely to be very comfortable in weather conditions such as those prevailing this week.
The estimated cost of those essential repairs--they are not repairs that should be undertaken only in ideal circumstances--is £12 million. The council says that it will not be able to carry out any of the work in the foreseeable future, and certainly not before 1995. The order will do nothing to help : it will probably make the time scale longer still. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan, the local councillors, the Winget action group, especially Mrs. Brawley and Mrs. Love, the Carntyne residents association, especially Mrs. Robertson and Mrs. Burns,
Column 1088and I have all tried to get something done about the problem. Glasgow district council cannot help because it does not have the money. Sadly, the Government will not help because they do not want to help. Scottish Homes will not help financially. It will give what advice and counselling it can, but it will not help financially because, as it says, it has limited resources and other higher priorities. Appeals to the Scottish Office and to the Prime Minister fell on both stony and iron ground.
The tenants are not political pawns to be used and abused as politicians see fit. Many of them are pensioners who have been tenants of their homes for over 60 years. They have always paid their rents and rates and have never been in arrears. They have probably paid for their houses several times over and their reward is to be trapped in houses which no one will repair. They will be left to rot unless something is done. No politician can possibly justify ignoring their plight.
We heard earlier about damage to the Palace of Westminister. No doubt, however many millions of pounds that damage amounts to, the money will be found to put it right immediately or as soon as the work can be carried out. But not even a penny will be found to put right the disrepair of the 998 homes of those 2,000 to 3,000 people in the Carntyne area of Glasgow. On Robbie Burns' birthday, it is sad to see that man's inhumanity to man continues unabated.
Several Hon. Members rose --
I understand that the housing support grant formula takes into account economic conditions. Glasgow has the eight constituencies with the highest unemployment in Scotland. Surely that factor merits the allocation of additional resources to tackle the appalling housing conditions which, sadly, persist in many part of the city. My constituents have a perfectly good case for sueing Glasgow district council under the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897 and, in all probability, they would win their case. But the only result would be that the council would have to rob Peter to pay Paul. The citizens of Glasgow would be no better off.
Specific Government assistance is needed to resolve the problem. It must be recognised that this is a special and urgent case. I appeal to the Secretary of State and to the Minister to do something positive. They should begin by convening a meeting of the tenants' representatives, Glasgow district council, Scottish Homes and the Scottish Office to discuss what action to take. That would give the tenants some hope, which is the very least that they deserve. 5.52 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumries (Sir H. Monro), I should have preferred to be in Scotland this evening remembering the birth of our bard and enjoying good company. We are here because the official channels agreed to have this debate tonight. I have been told by those who do not understand, "You will be finished by 7 o'clock so you can get to a Burns supper." One would have to be pretty clever to travel from here to a Burns supper in Perthshire.
Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), I wish to speak about housing. Housing is
Column 1089important and many of our citizens depend on properties owned either by a local authority or some other state body. I welcomed the setting up of Scottish Homes. Such a body was long overdue. I am particularly pleased that it is carrying out a survey into rural areas, and I have suggested to Scottish Homes that it should consider places such as Aberfeldy.
Aberfeldy is an interesting place. It is one of the places in Scotland where there have always been more jobs than people to fill them. That is because businesses there are prosperous and doing well. They have to bus people from Blairgowrie to Aberfeldy. Anyone who knows the area will know how far that is and how difficult a journey it can be in winter months. We need to build low-cost housing that could be made available to people who want to work in the Aberfeldy area. I hope that Scottish Homes will take up my suggestion and do just that.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the community charge. The registration and collection system in Tayside region is different from that of anywhere else in Scotland and, as far as I know, in the United Kingdom. Every time there is a change in the amount due, an individual receives a new book. Some people have had three or four books. One can imagine the impact of that on elderly pensioners who did not understand what the first book was about. They may request a change because their conditions have altered. They then have to be given a second book. If that is not right, they are given a third book, and some are on their fourth book. That is appalling ; something will have to be done.
For some interesting reason, a rumour is spreading round Tayside about my position with regard to the community charge. Why anyone should imagine that I do not support the community charge is beyond me. Some scurrilous people have put it about that I have not paid my community charge. I wish to place on record the fact that I and my family have paid our community charge. Like most other hon. Members, I have registered for the standard community charge at my flat in Westminster. I do not understand where those mischievous rumours have come from.
Mr. Walker : None whatever. I have not looked at the public register so I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether I am on it. I see no reason why my name and those of my wife and daughters should not be there. I have commented on the unique collection and registration system in Tayside, so nothing would surprise me. The only thing that I know for certain is that I have paid. Like most people on Tayside I pay by standing order through the bank. A debit appears on my bank statement so someone is receiving the money. If it is not going into the system properly, it is not my fault. On Tayside the administration of one district council is controlled by the Scottish National party. Contrary to the views expressed in the House by SNP members, the SNP in Angus recommends that people should pay the community charge, and it is collecting it. That is interesting because we are told that the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) will not pay his community
Column 1090charge. It will be interesting to see what happens when he does not pay. Other people in Angus will have to pick up the tab.
I also draw attention to the fact that Provost Murray of Perth and Kinross district council, another distinguished member of the SNP who attends the convention to which I shall refer later, has put it on record that he believes that people should behave properly and pay their community charge. As ever, the SNP speaks with different voices. That is why Hamish Watt, Flora Iles and other distinguished councillors have had to leave the SNP. They can no longer stomach the illegal activities that it recommends.
Last Friday we had a rare opportunity to debate the Labour party's policies. It tells us a lot about the Opposition's policies that no Back- Bench Member from any of the Scottish Opposition parties was present. That is not surprising, because many of them were attending the sham convention in Scotland, where they can achieve nothing. All that they can do is talk. They did not attend this House, where changes can be made.
I realise that many hon. Members wish to speak so I shall not speak at great length. If we are to believe the leaks that appear in the Scottish newspapers, the Labour party proposes to replace the community charge with a tax. I use that word carefully. It will bring in a tax based on property valuations. They call it a fair tax, but it is still a tax.
That must raise the constitutional question whether it is possible to have a tax in Scotland that is different from the taxes in the rest of the United Kingdom. If the Opposition are not aware now that that raises a constitutional problem, they certainly would be if they ever tried to introduce it.
Another important point is that we are not discussing a charge. Rates are a charge but-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Walker : No, it is not just a nice use of the English language. I had to obtain Mr. Speaker's ruling on this some time ago. The community charge is a charge. Indeed, the community charge is a community charge. It is not a poll tax. Opposition Members should not persist in trying to legitimise something like that because they might find themselves in some difficulty if they tried to introduce it and used the word "tax". They might find that people in the other House would take exception to there being different taxes in Scotland and in England because of the constitutional position. If the Labour party had a different form of tax in Scotland from that in England, the question arises whether Scotland is to be used--in the words of the Labour party--as "a guinea pig". If so, the Labour party should come clean and tell us exactly what it is going to do.
There is no question why Scottish Opposition Members were not here last Friday--it was because they cannot answer for their proposals, which are flawed and full of leaks. I shall go further and say that, like their proposals for devolution, these proposals are flawed, fraudulent and unworkable. At the next election, despite all their hoo-hah and brouhaha about the community charge, Labour Members will have to tell the people of Scotland their alternative. That alternative will be dissected and analysed and, as on so many previous occasions, the Labour party will be found wanting. That is when the Opposition will find that their support begins to evaporate.
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Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State said that we are here for our annual debate on revenue support grant. It seems as though nothing has changed. Everything sounds the same. The Government continue to show indifference to local councils about the levels of revenue support grant.
The poll tax is now in being in Scotland, but a number of authorities have had to increase it in an effort simply to maintain services. Even with adjustments to compensate for the loss of non-domestic rates, £13 million, still has to be found in Scotland. Costs are increasing daily for councils, which are facing growing pressures on their social work departments as they struggle to meet the needs of an aging population, the costs required to run their school boards and horrendous burden of administering and collecting the grossly unjust, "unworkable" and "fraudulent" poll tax--to echo some of the words of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker).
The poll tax is a terrible mess, as can be seen from the number of irate letters that I believe we are all receiving from our constituents, protesting at the muddle and at the number of poll tax demands that are wrong, to say nothing of the costs incurred by councils that are having to pay sheriff officers to chase those who are in default.
The Minister is aware of the reduction in revenue support grant in my constituency of Argyll and Bute. My council, which is not profligate, firmly believes that that is the result of the formula and the method used for calculating the level of grant. Over the years, on a variety of occasions but without success, the council has tried to persuade Scottish Office officials that the method used for calculating the support grant is unfair and does not take fully into consideration the difficulty of providing services to communities in remote and island areas. The problems in Argyll and Bute are similar to those experienced by the island councils- -in fact, they are probably worse. My constituency contains 28 inhabited islands in its total area of 3,000 square miles.
The Minister has written to me on this subject, and I shall certainly take up his invitation to meet him to discuss it. However, that might not be necessary if the Minister could assure me that he will ask his Scottish Office officials to help if I ask Argyll and Bute district council to present a detailed case for change to the distribution committee. I hope that we can get this settled once and for all, so that the problem does not recur year after year. I hope that the Minister can assure me that his Scottish Office officials will give some help to the council.
I am aware of the time, so I shall speak only briefly about the housing support grant. The last figure I have heard is that there are now 29,000 homeless people in Scotland, which is quite disgraceful. Funding for hostels run by the local authorities still comes from the housing revenue account. Therefore, tenants are having to pay the cost of housing the homeless through their rents.
The proportion of those costs funded through rents has increased from 47 per cent. to 92 per cent. in the past 10 years. As the Government frequently tell us, the number of council house tenants is in decline-- although, I believe, not to the extent that the Government would like--and the burden on current tenants has therefore become much greater.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is particularly acute in north-east Scotland because of the high cost of renting and buying houses in the private sector? Banff and Buchan, and Aberdeen and Gordon have had record increases in homelessness compared with any other part of the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that those authorities need help to enable them to deal with the problem in a way that does not disadvantage existing tenants?
Mrs. Michie : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Providing for homeless people should be the responsibility of the whole community, which is why I plead for funding to be transferred from the housing revenue account to the housing support grant or some other means to be found. The importance of this issue was acknowledged as long ago as 1968, when the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1968 allowed for the "hostel proportion" of housing support grant.
Last year, the Minister said that he recognised that it was a problem and stated that he would ask the Department to write to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to seek its considered views on the extent to which the cost of these and similar services should be excluded from housing revenue accounts. I should like to know what progress the Minister has made, if any, because it appears to take the Government an enormously long time between supposedly recognising a problem and taking practical action to remedy it.
I am especially concerned about housing in rural areas, which requires a different approach from that for urban areas because distribution is focused far more on elderly households from low socio-economic groups. There are estimated to be at least 24,700 "below tolerable standard" properties in rural Scotland. The Minister may wish to excuse the level of housing support grant to local authorities on the grounds that Scottish Homes is now in existence, but even its level of funding leaves much to be desired if we are to meet the real need and to build the type of houses that are required for young people, for single or married people without children, for retired people, for the single middle-aged, for divorcees, widows and widowers, to say nothing of those who live in winter lets, caravans and tied houses.
The Minister knows of my concern about the sale of school houses in sparsely populated communities in my constituency. Once the school house is sold, where on earth is the new teacher supposed to live? There is little choice because demand exceeds supply, and there is really nothing available for them. I give the House the example of the Ross of Mull on the island of Mull, where at least eight local families need housing. Three of the people involved are the local teacher, a home help and the postman. They should not find themselves in a position where they cannot get a house.
Even if houses come on the market, they are snatched up by incomers who can afford a high price. Locals everywhere in rural Scotland are being priced out of the housing market--the hon. Member for Tayside, North referred to this.
I would like to pay tribute to Scottish Homes for its consultative document on rural housing. Although it leaves many questions unanswered--it deliberately poses questions--it is a genuine and commendable attempt to address the real issues and it shows vision and foresight in asking, for example, whether measures must be taken to
Column 1093reduce competition from second home and retirement home buyers, and whether councils should seek balanced communities and controls in targeted areas on the resale of houses so that they are retained within low-cost home ownership initiatives in priority areas. This has been done in England, where the Government have sponsored a rural housing initiative to build 1,800 housing association houses in villages each year on land, planning consent for which is restricted to housing associations catering exclusively for local needs. This is the sort of foresight and enterprise--the great vogue word--that is required, and I will fully support any moves in such a direction. The Minister and the House need to know that resentment is building up in many parts of Scotland among many local people who are unable to get houses. This is a serious situation which I do not like and which I do not believe the Minister approves of either. 6.12 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : Mention has been made of the poll tax which hon. Members on the Government Benches call the community charge. There is one thing that I would like to get on the record : severe hardship is being caused by the poll tax in my area. Many families face bills of over £1,000, and they do not know where the money will come from. The Government should look at the difficulties in areas where unemployment is high and where the few jobs going are low-paid.
It does not help matters when people like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) come to my constituency and tell people, some of whom are in the hands of illegal loan sharks, that they should not pay the poll tax, telling them that it will be all right, they will not go to jail but they might get their furniture lifted.
Mr. Martin : I may be wrong, and it is up to the hon. Member to contradict me, but one thing that is certain is that the poorest of the poor will come out of a warrant sale very badly. It is all right for hon. Members to say that warrant sales will not do a great deal of harm. They do not do a great deal of harm to people earning £26, 000 a year ; but we are dealing with people who have taken a lifetime to get their bits and pieces together. Already, people have been on the telephone to me, telling me that they are in difficulties because they took the advice of a Mr. Tommy Sheridan, a Trotskyist leader, and the hon. Member for Govan. I just think that hon. Members should be careful in the advice that they give when they tell people that they are not going to do something, because the circumstances for some of the people sitting in the audience are different. What is more, it ill becomes officials of Strathclyde region who are community workers employed by the authority collecting the poll tax to give advice like this. I blame not the councillors but some of the community workers who are organising these meetings in their own time. It is hypocrisy to pick up a wage from an authority which is collecting tax while at the same time telling the
Column 1094people they are supposed to advise not to pay it. Once again, some of these people are earning a good shilling or two while giving this advice to the poorest of the poor.
A lot of money is going into housing estates at present from this grant and from previous grants, from both central Government and from local government. Impressive things have been done in my constituency and other parts of Glasgow in doing up houses, but something will have to be done about the environment. People are proud of their houses and their tenement flats, but many tell me that they are ashamed to bring people into their street--not the home but the street. Graffiti cover the tenement closes.
The Secretary of State may well blame the local authorities and the local authorities the Secretary of State. Surely both parties can get together to do something about the environment. It would cost a small amount compared with what is being spent on rehabilitating homes. While we are talking about the environment, surely something can be done about tenants who own dogs which have aggression bred into them--pitbull terriers, rottweilers and alsatians--and which are allowed to roam housing estates. I have heard it said that if there were no bad owners there would be no bad dogs, but that is small consolation to someone who walks into his own street and is attacked by animals which have been let loose. Some of them are used to stop policemen raiding houses for drugs. Surely we can legislate to do something not only about the aggression of these animals but about the dirt they leave in our parks and streets. It makes people feel ashamed when they have relatives from England, Canada and America coming into an area that they were once proud of.
The Secretary of State failed to give me an answer to a problem in high- demand areas in our council estates. These houses have been sold off and, as he knows full well, some have changed hands as often as three times since the sale of council houses began. The Minister will tell me and other hon. Members that Glasgow has a surplus of housing stock. When I was a councillor for Govan, if I could get the best house in Springburn for a Govanite he did not want to move, because Govan was the area where he had been brought up, where his mother and father came from, and where his wife's family came from, and it was the community to which he belonged.
The problem is the same in the rural areas : no one wants to leave the village where he was brought up. The people of Springburn do not want to leave Balornock, Barmulloch and the Carron scheme ; they want houses next to their mothers and grandmothers and other relatives. In the high-demand areas, people have to find £30,000. That is unfair in an area with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. The Minister should look into that.
Commendable work is going on in housing action areas and in areas for which Scottish Homes is responsible. The people running these organisations tell me that they do not have the same fear as local authorities about the rehabilitation of the houses. The Government are prepared to put more finance into rehabilitation, but what is the point, in places like Dennistoun, of rehabilitating the houses to a high standard and then allowing motorways to be shoved through the middle of the district? Residents complain to me that, although their houses are excellent, they would need double glazing and more soundproofing because of the heavy traffic on the road which the Secretary of State approved.
Column 1095I know that the Secretary of State will say that it is a Labour-controlled authority that is building the roads. I have the highest regard for Strathclyde, but it is impossible to talk to its road officials. There is motorway madness at its worst. If people are to get beautiful homes, and if Government money is to be spent on rehabilitation--we are talking about 90 per cent. Government aid--surely there should not be a motorway just outside with cars going along at 50 or 60 mph. I ask the Minister to consider that. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. It may be convenient for hon. Members to know that the replies to the debate will begin at 6.40 pm. If hon. Members speak for about five minutes each, I shall be able to call most of them.