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Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South) : May I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that the three hon. Members from my party who have spoken are all associated with the city of Glasgow? We know that Glasgow is a city of culture this year, but Glasgow is not Scotland. If the remaining time is to be divided, I think that you should call Members from throughout Scotland and not concentrate on the city of Glasgow. This week we have had a series of similar debates on England and Wales, yet those debates were totally different, because housing support grants and housing orders affect only a small number of people in England and Wales. In the south of England, the number is insignificant. It is only when we move north into Scotland that we are speaking on behalf of the majority of people, because in Scotland most people are still tenants who are affected by the orders. When so many people are concerned, it is a disgrace that there are so few hon. Members here.
Several hon. Members have said that, during the 10 years of Conservative Government, we have seen an attack on council housing. The Government have moved money from public sector housing into the private sector. Where has all the money gone? A total of £7 billion has gone to owner-occupiers through mortgage tax relief. The Government have taken money from the pockets of tenants and given it to owner-occupiers. In doing that, they have moved money from Scotland to the rich south of England. The Government have been like Robin Hood in reverse, taking money from tenants in Scotland and giving it to the rich in the south of England who have too much money already.
At a time when we are discussing further reductions in the money available for housing in Scotland, the Prime Minister, we are told, is recommending that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should increase the limit for mortgage tax relief from £30,000 to £50,000, or perhaps £60,000, so as to give further help to owner-occupiers in the south of England. That is totally different from the case that the Secretary of State is making about the need to claw back money from council tenants.
Most people in Scotland are afraid of Scottish Homes. They believe that it has been established by the Government as a Trojan horse to attack public sector housing, without appearing to be an attack by the
Column 1096Conservative Government. A large number of houses in my area that were formerly owned by the Scottish Special Housing Association are now under the control of Scottish Homes. People are up in arms. Tenants' and residents' associations are campaigning against the policies of Scottish Homes.
I and the Labour party accept that we cannot stop the Government's policy of the tenant's right to buy. It is a bad policy in principle, but the people have accepted it, and so has the Labour party. Therefore, tenants should have the right to buy. What is Scottish Homes doing? In my constituency, when a house becomes vacant, it is putting that house up for sale. Scottish Homes tells me that these are so-called economic expansion houses--in other words, houses for incoming workers. Surely it is a poor reflection on the new town of Irving when it is said that houses are no longer needed for incoming workers.
There are 4,000 people on the waiting list for Cunninghame district and 1,000 on the waiting list of Irving development corporation. Scottish Homes is beginning to sell houses that are lying empty, but they should be tenanted from the waiting list of Cunninghame district council.
I have been informed that Scottish Homes intends to go further and to announce at some date that every house that becomes vacant, whether or not it is an economic expansion house, will be put up for sale. When the Under- Secretary of State replies to the debate, I want him to confirm or deny that that is the future policy of Scottish Homes.
I have in my constituency 29,000 homeless, the majority of the homeless in Scotland. I want the Under-Secretary, on behalf of the people on the waiting list and the homeless in my constituency, to deal with Scottish Homes. It should not be the Trojan horse of the Tory party in public sector housing. People have the right to a home at a decent rent. They have the right to the same conditions enjoyed by people in the south of England. We should speak for the majority of the Scottish people. In the European elections, we made Scotland a Tory-free zone in Europe. If the Government do not change their policy and look after tenants better than owner- occupiers, after the next election Scotland will be a Tory-free zone in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : I appreciate the position and I shall be as brief as possible. I want to take the Secretary of State up on his point he made about comparing the amount involved in non-payment of rates with that involved in the non-payment of poll tax. He pretended that they were exactly the same, but he was using two different and separate statistical bases.
Let us take the example of a street with 100 houses. Under the rating system, if 15 per cent. of the rates were not paid, that meant that 15 people did not pay. If we assume that there are four adults in each house, under the poll tax we are talking about 400 people in the street ; if 15 per cent. do not pay the poll tax, that is 60 people. That is why there is a tremendous problem for the Government and the regional councils which are trying to collect the poll tax. They have to cope with the magnitude of the non-payment revolt. If the Government want to pretend that there is no problem, they are foolish.
There is a reason why non-payment of the poll tax is succeeding. It is different from every other Government
Column 1097imposition. When the Government wanted to drive young people on to the YTS, they could withdraw benefit from them and we could protest, but do nothing about it. When the Government privatised British Steel and jeopardised Lanarkshire, we could protest, but do nothing about it because they were using the power of legislative and Executive control. The difference with the poll tax is that for it to be implemented the Government require the co-operation of every individual adult in Scotland. They have to register, put in a standing order or a direct debit, send a cheque or postal order, or go along with the money. When the people who have the power in the poll tax equation withhold their co-operation, the Government cannot implement it. Their flagship has struck the rock of non-payment. In the limited time available I shall direct the main burden of my remarks to housing. Whatever the Secretary of State may say today, the Government have inflicted enormous damage on the standards of the people of Scotland. That is summed up extremely well in the brief that we received from Shelter, which states :
"The net effect"
of the Government's policies
"has been that as capital allocations programmes have decreased (a reduction in real terms of £90 million for 1990-91 ... vital new stock has not been built to replace ageing stock and stock lost through council house sales. At the same time the stock that does remain is likely to be poorer quality as the better quality stock is sold off, with high repair and maintenance costs, which are increasingly having to be met from a shrinking rental income base." I echo what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) said--the problem is not about statistics, but about people. I can give three examples from my constituency. In Corkerhill, most of the houses have flat roofs, but require pitched roofs. There have been technical reports and the council acknowledges that those houses face severe dampness problems and have poor insulation. But the people of Corkerhill are fighting for resources with folk in other parts of Glasgow. Insufficient investment is going into the public housing sector to meet the needs of ordinary people.
An area called Moorpark in my constituency has been visited by representatives of every political party. Many hon. Members probably visited it during the Govan by-election. It has suffered a major drugs problem which we have tried to tackle. However, the underlying problem of the housing conditions remains. I was present at a meeting between the tenants association and Mr. Comley, the director of housing in Glasgow. He did not argue for one moment that the area did not require enormous investment or that it was an area of multiple deprivation. However, he had to tell the tenants association that there was no money available in the current five-year programme. Nobody knows what the score is beyond the current five-year programme.
My constituency also includes an area called Teucharhill with which many hon. Members will probably be familiar. This month, the Govan Initiative produced a special secure communities report from which it emerges that there is concern about windows caving in because they have not been replaced for years, dampness and lack of insulation. When we go to get some money, we are told that the council does not have it.
I do not absolve Glasgow city council of criticism ; folk can criticise it for its allocation of funds to one part of the city or another and its inefficiency. But there is no question
Column 1098but that the housing problems in Glasgow can be resolved only by central Government allocating the appropriate amount of resources to meet the people's needs. It is an indictment of the Government and each of us who represent Glasgow constituencies, that we hear such heartbreaking stories about housing when we sit down in our surgeries. The Government have created misery when people are entitled to a decent and harmonious life.
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : These debates can turn into flights of fancy about obscure statistics and heaven knows what else, but as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and a number of my hon. Friends have said, we are talking about the conditions in which people in Scotland have to live. In far too many cases, their circumstances are well- nigh intolerable.
The House would do well to remember that today's proceedings set the scene for poll tax levels and the quality of service in every district and region in Scotland for the coming year. We now know that every one of my constituents, including the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas- Hamilton), who will reply to the debate, will have to pay £407 a head in poll tax--whether it be the Parliamentary Under-Secretary with his means or people living just above the poverty line and income support level. That is the kind of arbitrary, unfair tax which this Government have imposed and local authorities are having to try to implement to fund hopelessly overstrained and overstretched local services. As hon. Members have said, tenants also face higher rents.
The poll tax system in Scotland today is a monstrosity for which the House must accept full responsibility. It was not just Douglas Mason who dreamed up the poll tax before he lost his seat on Kirkcaldy district council. It was not just Michael Ancram who dreamed it up or tried to force it through the House before he lost his seat in Edinburgh to my excellent learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths). The House forced through that tax and imposed it on the people of Scotland. It is small comfort to my constituents to see hon. Members representing English constituencies, who voted for the poll tax in Scotland, suddenly discovering that they do not like it after all when it is imposed on their constituencies.
This is a viciously unfair tax which applies to everyone, whether or not they can afford it. It is also an administrative nightmare, as those of us representing Scottish constituencies can confirm. I can think of many anomalies. For example, a nurse in my constituency is employed by a boarding school which requires her to live in for part of the time. She is a single person on low pay and she had to pay not only her personal poll tax because of her accommodation at work, but a double standard poll tax for her own flat. The tax is an administrative nightmare and grossly unfair.
When calculating the eligibility of local authorities for revenue support grant, the Government assume that all these debts will be paid ; but they will not be paid, because it is such an inefficient tax. The trouble with the minority administration in the Scottish Office is that it exercises power without responsibility. That seems to have been the prerogative of the Tory party in Scotland during the past 10 years.
Column 1099The Tories have no serious aspiration of winning political support in Scotland. They are content to rely on English Lobby fodder to see through their legislation in the House. They have the power to impose any kind of dog's breakfast on the people of Scotland--and that is what the poll tax is. Once the Conservatives have done their mischief, the elected local authorities and their officials have to try to maintain local services in schools and elsewhere which our people so desperately need.
Tonight's business sets the scene for local services in the coming year. When the Secretary of State opened the debate, he suggested that Lothian regional council should cut its budget--do away with pensioners' free bus passes, I suppose. But the local Labour authorities are elected to do a job in Scotland and, unlike the Minister, they have a right and duty to implement the policies on which they were elected.
In my last couple of minutes I shall concentrate on housing. I can certainly confirm what local authorities and Shelter have said about the housing crisis which people in Scotland are experiencing. The housing capital allocations are insufficient to meet the well-known need for investment in repairs and improvements, let alone build the new houses needed to meet the growing needs of people on waiting lists in every part of Scotland. It is intolerable that people have to live in cold, damp housing with windows that require replacement and, sometimes, unsafe wiring, because local authorities are not allowed to spend the money required to bring the houses up to standard.
East Lothian district council's borrowing allocation is £1.221 million on top of its projected receipts from council house sales. That is fully £5 million short of what the council requires to spend on its improvement and repair programme in the coming year. It is better than the position last year, when it had a negative capital allocation, but it is still not good enough.
We must not lose sight of the housing shortage. The Government do not seem to care how many people do not have houses so long as those who have them own them. If ever there was a case of warped principles, that must be it. In my constituency, 5,700 people are stuck on the district council's housing waiting list. Hon. Members hear about such cases in their surgeries. We must deal with young people just married having to live in their in-laws' overcrowded accommodation. What sort of way is that to begin a marriage?
The Conservatives, who claim to be the party of the family, govern Scotland. Local authorities cannot meet those needs. The present state of affairs is a scandal. Tonight in East Lothian, 20 families will be living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation because the local authority does not have homes to let to those people who urgently need them. It is a tragedy and a scandal, and the Government are responsible for it.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : It is unfortunate that, at the end of the debate, we must cram in short speeches, largely because, in opening the debate, the Secretary of State treated us to an epic epistle to absent friends. He spoke for 40 minutes. At the end of the debate, in marked contrast to what we had from the Secretary of State, we get down to the
Column 1100nitty-gritty of our discussion. It is not about abstruse statistics or about calculations in the basement of the Scottish Office. It is about human beings, and in particular about the housing conditions in which they are having to live. Anyone who walks through the streets and is in touch with the real world of people who live in our constituencies knows that there are conditions which are appalling ; that they are getting worse ; and that authorities are being starved of resources by the Government.
A revealing figure is the housing revenue statistics that were accepted by the Government as the grant calculation figure for the management and maintenance of council stock. It is £407 per house ; but the real figure which local authorities will announce next year is not £407 but £466. The difference between the two is represented by the cases we see in our surgeries and about which we read in letters concerning repairs and maintenance that cannot be carried out.
Give local authorities the resources to do a decent job on behalf of their tenants and they will do it, for they are crying out to do it ; but producing bogus statistics and saying that it is £407 instead of £466 does not change the realities of the situation. It simply changes the script and the false basis on which the statistics are prepared.
The poll tax calculations produced by the Government are based largely on false assumptions about inflation and the performance needs of local government. All the time, we get a politically motivated picture. The Secretary of State is trying to build up that picture by saying, on the one hand, that profligate Labour councils are doing things that do not need to be done, are taking daft decisions and are creating services for which there is no demand. He speaks, on the other, of cautious, penurious Conservative councils which are watching every penny they spend.
Look in detail at the figures and the real picture becomes clear, while Scottish opinion polls show that 50 per cent. of the people support Labour policies and 16 per cent. support the Government. Let us take a quick spin round Scotland to see some of the realities that lie behind the facade that the Government erects. It being Burns night, it is appropriate to go first to Ayr--
"Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses
For honest men and bonnie lasses."
The Tory lead is down to a stump, and John Mackay has got the bump. In Ayr, there is a 40 per cent. increase in the revenue support grant settlement to the good Labour council, leading to a cut in the level of poll tax.
Move up the Ayrshire coast to Cunninghame and we find an increase of 13 per cent. in the poll tax. It is not difficult to see why there is that difference, recalling what Kyle and Carrick are getting. Whereas the latter has an increase of 40 per cent., the increase in Cunninghame is barely 3.5 per cent.
No wonder, when consulting that valuable organ of public opinion, The Largs and Millport Weekly News, --we find that the Leader of the Conservative group on Cunninghame district council is not attacking the Labour administration for a poll tax increase of 13 per cent. but congratulating that administration on keeping the increase to that figure. That newspaper reported :
"The budget was welcomed as a fair one by Tory councillors. Group Leader Edith Clarkson said the committee convenors and officers had done very well' The local Conservative councillor hit out at the lack of support from the Government who cut Cunninghame's revenue support grant. She expressed extreme concern over the lack of grant aid."
Column 1101It is nice to know that there are Tories somewhere who have not yet fallen under the malign influence of the Under- Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling.
We move on to Strathclyde, also cited as a bogey figure despite years of fiscal responsibility since its inception. There can be a lower poll tax in Strathclyde, but at a cost. The Tory budget for the area, reported today involves £9 million-worth of cuts in education expenditure. Do the people of Strathclyde want that? They will have a chance to say when they vote in May.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, it is interesting to see the cost when we cross to Lothian. Mr. Moderate Meek has put forward the Tory budget, which includes selling off seven old folks' homes and a ski slope, closing down welfare rights services and taking away concessionary bus passes. Any fool can make cuts, but everybody in Scotland must realise the price that would be paid for the figures that the Tories are putting forward. Those figures are based on cuts in the level not of luxury services but of necessities.
In Lothian this year they would sell off the old folks' homes--as they do a Bradford--and they would sell off a ski slope, thereby keeping the poll tax artificially low. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us what Lothian should sell next year or the year after that.
Let it be clearly understood in Lothian that the basis of the Tory budget this year has involved selling off seven old folks' homes. Is that what the people of Lothian want? They too will have a chance to have their say in May.
We move to Tayside, where less political manipulation is going on with the poll tax. A range of budgets has been put forward in that area, varying from £280 by the Tories, £284 by the SNP--always a wee bit in the middle--and £285 by the Labour administration. Where there is political competition, with the parties aiming to be electable and wishing to maintain a decent level of services, all the calculations come out at about the same figure.
The Tories think that the poll tax can be used as a political game. They think that in Scotland, and now in England, it can be sold by saying that Labour councils mea high poll taxes and Tory councils mean low ones. People are not stupid. They are realising in Scotland, as they will come to realise in England and Wales, the potential that exists for the Government to manipulate the level of poll tax for political advantage.
Those who cannot appreciate that should consult the grant figures, which show an increase for Borders of 13 per cent. The increase in Strathclyde is less than 4 per cent. The increase in Edinburgh is 0.08 per cent. ; in Bearsden and Milngavie, 51.23 per cent. ; in Eastwood, 50.2 per cent. ; and the decrease in Glasgow is minus 0.2 per cent.
Those are the statistics of political manipulation. The people of Scotland will not let the Tories, the architects and onlie begetters of the poll tax, off the hook when the statistics become available. As poll tax levels are set throughout Scotland, they are being seen as the products of political manipulation through grant calculations by the Secretary of State.
I want briefly to discuss housing support grant. Yet again, ordinary people whom we represent will face rent
Column 1102increases this year of at least £2 to £3 as a direct result of Government policies. For 10 years, the Government's ideological motivation has been to drive people out of tenancy into owner-occupation. At least there was a political logic in that, when people could afford to buy council houses or move into starter homes because they thought that they would be no worse off. The tactic of the Government was to force up rents and send people into the private sector.
It can be argued that that was a fair political tactic, but now the position is different. People cannot now go into the private sector or pay their mortgages because of the Government's high interest rate policy. Now, the choice is not between becoming owner-occupiers and staying as high-rent council tenants ; it is between massive rent rises--achieved by Government manipulation of grants--or mortgage misery. The Government and the Scottish Office are confronting the people of Scotland with the choice of rent rises or mortgage misery. Finally, I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). I have no truck with those who, for political advantage, urge poor people not to pay the poll tax in the hope that, at the end of the day, they will make political capital out of attacking local authorities for doing the job that they are legally obliged to do, which is to collect the revenue. As a Socialist and a member of the Labour party, I am proud that in its history Strathclyde regional council has never initiated a warrant sale. It never will do so against people whose need is genuine. My contempt is profound for those who would try to make it impossible for the council to maintain that record--not for reasons of defending the poor, but out of malice in the hope of attacking that Labour authority. I have no time for those people. We will get rid of the poll tax in Scotland, as well as in England and in Wales, by getting rid of the Government. The poll tax will be one of the principal vehicles by which we do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I strongly reject the charge that there has beenany manipulation in the grant, and I shall cite evidence. Stirling had its grant increased by 20 per cent., the Labour authority of East Kilbride by 33 per cent., Hamilton by 18 per cent., Kyle and Carrick by 30 per cent., Motherwell by 29 per cent., and Strathkelvin by 41 per cent. That is clear evidence that the distributions are done entirely on the basis of need, to equalise the needs of an authority on the basis of the arrangements agreed with COSLA, with the balances then distributed on a per capita basis.
There has been not only a 7.5 per cent. increase in the rate support grant but, taking into account other grants, an increase of 8.2 per cent. If authorities spend in line with the settlement, community charges, on average, need not rise by more than inflation. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfies (Sir H. Monro) that there is no doubt that if community charges higher than inflation are set, they will be a direct consequence of growth in spending and not the level of the settlement. The encouraging reality of the community charge is that it persuades the electorate to focus sharply on the validity of council spending plans.
Column 1103On the safety net, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) asked me a specific point concerning her district council. It was invited last year to submit a detailed paper to the distribution committee, explaining how it considers itself to be disadvantaged. So far, it has not done so, but the offer remains open. I strongly suggest that the council does that, as the distribution committee consists of local authority and Scottish Office representatives. The Exchequer buy-out of the safety net means that those authorities such as Grampian, Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, which contributed to the self- financing net last year, will receive their grant entitlement in full in 1990-91 and in future years.
I recognise that there are those who argue that we are giving too much grant to rural areas. Under the new grant system, it is our aim that prudent authorities would no longer be disadvantaged compared with high- spending authorities. The effect of the new system is now being seen, whereas previously it was practically obscured by the safety net. It is now working its way through to the advantage of Scotland.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) wanted me to speak about the business rate. The Government's policy on business rates has been widely welcomed. The across-the-board reduction of 6.25 per cent. in rate poundages is an important first step towards a common rate poundage, and further steps are planned to continue the process towards harmonisation.
The Government recognise the concern expressed by local authorities about the uncertainty of the yield of the non-domestic rating income. That is why we gave a commitment to consider redetermination of the RSG for 1990-91 in the light of actual rate yield.
The hon. Member for Garscadden asked for an estimate of the sum needed to eliminate the balance. The original estimate of the CBI was £250 million. We recognise that the effect of revaluation might affect that figure, and we will take that into account when considering further reductions in the business rates. We believe that the £80 million reduction will be a significant first step along the right road.
On the collection of the community charge, I agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that those who are in a position to pay the community charge should do so. It should be stressed to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that more than 1 million people in Scotland receive rebates--a higher number than the first Scottish Office estimates. I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that those who have the capacity to pay should do so.
It is especially significant that Angus district council, the sole nationalist-controled council in Scotland, should be busily collecting the community charge when the Scottish National party Members of Parliament are claiming that they are not paying. I suggest to the House that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. I remind them of the old New Zealand saying that the tree that is split is nothing but food for the ants.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) raised the relevant matter of a hostel in his constituency. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) raised a similar point. Consultations are taking place with
Column 1104COSLA to the extent that hostel costs should continue to be charged to the housing revenue account. I regret that the consultations are not yet completed, but agreement in principle has been reached that the HRA should be restricted to the authorities' landlord function. Any change involves complex issues, but I hope that that will be completed before long and that revised guidance will be sent out. As hon. Members will appreciate, there has been a £64 million increase in the net allocation. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) asked about the Winget houses. That is primarily a matter for the district council. The final allocations will be made in March and we will thoroughly investigate all available possibilities. If we are in a position to make a further allocation, we will do so, but I am not in a position to do so now.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : No, I must answer a few more points. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) failed to mention that East Lothian had a supplementary allocation in excess of £1 million a month ago. We will keep the points made by hon. Members in mind before final allocations are made in March. I agree with the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute that it is important for Scottish Homes to focus on not only low-cost home ownership but the problems of rural housing. That is why Scottish Homes was asked to go into it thoroughly, to prepare a report and to develop a rural housing strategy. The document, which I think is a good one, made many wide-ranging suggestions. I agree with Scottish Homes that the view of all those with an interest in rural housing should be aired. Only then will resulting policies be seen to be in the interests of all those living in rural Scotland. I hope that policies will be fully developed later this year, as I am sure they will be.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) raised the question of environmental considerations. As time has almost run out, I can only say that I will write to him.
Let me end by saying that our overall housing policies would have received the approval of the great Robert Burns, and tonight I commend them strongly to the House.
It being after Seven o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the Order [19 January] to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the Motions.
The House divided : Ayes 278, Noes 167.
Division No. 50] [7 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Amery, Rt Hon Julian
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes