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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I will develop the point, and then give way to the hon. Gentleman. It has become a tradition at my meetings with the convention for me to forecast the overall average rent increase for the coming year, despite the Government's subsidies forming such a small proportion of the housing revenue account income. That makes it extremely difficult to forecast average rent increases with any accuracy.
Despite that, I advised the convention this year that I expected rent increases for 1994-95 to average between 4 and 5 per cent. That remains my best estimate, although I note that a number of authorities, including Glasgow, have already announced average rent increases for next year that are well below my estimate of 5 per cent.
I know that Opposition Members will consider that, when compared with current rates of inflation, a rent increase of 5 per cent. is too high. I must remind them that year by year, local authorities are making real improvements in the management and maintenance services that they provide to their tenants. It is right that those extra costs should be met by those tenants who can afford to do so. Tenants who cannot afford to meet their housing costs receive housing benefit and are fully protected against rent increases.
Mr. Canavan : The Minister will recall that he and I were elected to Parliament on the same day. At that time, the Labour Government had introduced the whole system of housing support grants and virtually every housing authority in Scotland qualified for assistance under that system. We now have a situation where virtually none of them do. My local authority gets no support at all, except under the hostel agreement.
The flagship of the Government's housing policy seems to be Scottish Homes, the national housing authority. The authority announced a 6 per cent. increase in rents early this week, which is more than twice the rate of inflation. How can the Minister justify that increase, at a time when he is imposing a limit of a 1.5 per cent. increase on public sector workers' wages? That is a disgrace, and it is a cut in the living standards of working-class people and their families. Is it not about time that the Government, and the Minister in particular, recognised that and took action to give housing authorities, including Scottish Homes, sufficient resources to improve the housing stock, as well as recognise that a reasonable level- -
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The decision on rents was a matter for the Scottish Homes board and, as a result, more will be spent on Scottish Homes' stock and on the public sector tenants who are living within that stock.
There has also been a movement away from generalised subsidies towards personalised subsidies, through housing benefit. I mentioned the sum of £750 million which is to be spent on housing benefit in Scotland. I defy any hon. Member to say that that is a small sum. It is an enormous sum, and justly so. In that context, the proposals before the House make up a fair and reasonable subsidy package. They balance the interests of tenants, the council taxpayer and the national taxpayer. I commend the order to the House.
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Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : Here we are once again, having our annual February debate on the housing support grant order. The needs are greater once again, and the amount of cash keeps getting smaller. I notice, incidentally, that there are no nationalists in the Chamber ; nor were there any in the Committee room upstairs where we were discussing sheriff court fees. We must conclude that the homeless and the state of Scotland's housing are matters far too unexciting for the three stooges to bother with. I took a bet with myself on how long it would take for a Conservative Member to mention the irrelevance of housing benefit. I did not think that the Minister himself would introduce it so early in his speech. As Opposition Members have pointed out, housing benefit is obviously aimed at householders ; it has nothing to do with building and repairing housing stock.
Today, we learn of the housing support grant--the only direct Government support for council housing--for 1994-95. Once again we see a drastic fall, from £36 million to £25.7 million, to be shared among just some of our housing authorities while others will receive not a penny. That is a cut of 28.4 per cent. As was pointed out, in 1980 the figure was £228 million, which was shared among all housing authorities. In that year, general fund contributions provided a further £100 million or thereabouts for housing.
This year, Glasgow's housing grant will be cut from £11 million to roughly £1.5 million. Edinburgh, the capital, will receive £0.5 million for hostels and nothing at all for its mainstream housing. It is hard to credit that our capital city is receiving not one penny for its mainstream housing.
Incidently, I wonder why the Minister does not have printed on the order, which is available from the Vote Office, a table showing each authority's housing support grant for mainstream housing and for hostels, showing who receives what, what they received last year, and who receives nothing at all. Would that not be a useful piece of information under the tenants charter?
How does the Minister come up with such an absurdly irrelevant, useless, out-of-touch, global figure of £25.7 million and such unfair and inadequate grants for some authorities and nothing at all for others? Believe it or not, one thing he does is to create a grant formula based not on actual levels of local authority income and expenditure but on notional levels of money spent and money coming in.
When I describe how the general portion of housing support grant alone is made up, hon. Members will see for themselves the scope for cheating homeless people and council tenants out of their rights. The Scottish Office's own document states :
"the amounts by which the sum of estimated loan charges, estimated management and maintenance expenditure, estimated rents lost, estimated capital expenditure funded from current revenue and estimated other expenditure exceeds the sum of estimated rental income, estimated general fund contributions, estimated balances brought forward and estimated other income."
There are eight items to estimate, but hardly a hint of reality to be seen in any of them.
Let us consider rents lost. If a council decides to redevelop some of its houses, as happened in Glasgow and in other parts of Scotland, which it does with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Government, is it not farcical and unfair if it loses housing support grant because houses are standing empty and earning no rental income?
Column 749Instead of assuming 3 per cent. or any other percentage of income lost, why does the Minister not act on the reality of the actual rents lost?
When discussing this matter with local authorities, the Minister had the cheek to put the tenants charter on the agenda. He mentioned the right to repair. Remembering the year-on-year reductions in housing support grant and the number of eligible local authorities, we might ask "What with?"
The Minister builds in groundless assumptions all over the place. In his calculations he began by grossly overestimating income from rents. He anticipated an average increase in rents from £26.51 to about £34.86 a week. In support of that, so he said, he called in aid the rents for Scottish Homes. Considering that his decisions affect the rents of Scottish Homes, is that not like a burglar telling people they have no right to complain as he took even more from the house across the road?
Even if actual rents rise by 5 per cent. next year, the Minister's estimate of rental income will still be £236 million higher than the reality, and that fairy tale helps him to reduce housing support grant. The Government's assumed figure for management and maintenance for 1994-95 is less than the amount that authorities have told the Minister that they need to plan to spend. The Minister has increased the assumed figure per house by 15 per cent. Nevertheless, he comes nowhere near closing the gap between his notional figures and the reality--assuming that the local authority receives any housing support grant.
At present, only 29 housing authorities receive a grant of some type. Of those, 12 only do so as a result of receiving hostels grants. Just 17 out of a total of 56 receive housing support grant for their mainstream houses, and next year even fewer will do so--13 only will receive even that grossly inadequate support.
The settlement per house gets less and less every year. It is important to realise that fact when considering housing support grant figures each year. Not only are fewer authorities made eligible every year, but the amount per house, when one considers the remaining housing stock in the local authority sector, gets less year on year. In 1992, 697,000 houses received housing support grant of £47.5 million, or £68.10 per house. In 1993, the housing stock was down to 668,000, and £53.69 was received per house. In 1994, 646,000 houses are to receive £39.74 per house. That illustrates the way in which the Government, far from responding to the housing need in Scotland, on that per house basis are demonstrably worsening the condition of Scotland's public sector housing stock.
Last year, in the debate on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1993, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked the Minister what news he had for those people managing women's refuges to meet the growing demand for such hostel accommodation. The Minister replied that they are financed, not from housing support grant, but from the aggregate external finance. He did not commit himself to meeting the needs, but simply contented himself with a bureaucratic and technical answer--and still the refuges turn away many women whom they cannot help.
I ask the Minister, why do only a minority of housing authorities in Scotland qualify for hostel accommodation grant ? Does the Minister think that homeless people,
Column 750people needing hostels under care in the community, and battered wives needing shelter, live only in certain parts of Scotland but do not exist in others ? Should he not organise a grant system which meets the needs of the most desperate of our people ?
Last year we pointed out that children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are more likely than others to suffer ill health. We emphasised the need for housing adapted to suit people with disabilities. We told the Minister of overcrowding in our constituencies. Since then, in addition, we have had the damning evidence of the Scottish Homes survey--the Minister may not remember its existence--commissioned by the Scottish Office about the condition of Scottish housing. Last year, in the debate on the Housing Suppoort Grant (Scotland) Order 1993, the Minister said that the survey "will be enormously helpful in pointing the way to effective targeting of resources in the future"--[ Official Report, 17 February 1993 ; Vol. 219, c. 445.]
Where are those extra resources? Why is the money being cut instead of increased?
At the current level of funding, by 2000 some people will still live in the damp houses that they now occupy. Where is the serious money to treat damp houses and prevent so many of our nation's children from growing up with asthma and bronchitis due to the damp and difficult-to-heat housing in which their parents are forced to live.
Hon. Members have pointed out that rents are increasing inexorably. In 1979, the average council house rent was £4.92 a week. Under the present Government, tenants will pay about £28 next year. Those rents have increased well in excess of inflation. Tenants are paying more and getting less for their money.
Thirteen years ago, Scottish housing authorities built 7,000 houses for rent in one year. In 1992, they could build only 1,650. They have even had to pull down housing of sound construction which has deteriorated as a result of lack of investment. The Government have created a shocking waste of public money.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) pointed out at Labour's local government and European conference a week ago, we have called time and again on this dogma-bound Government to allow local authorities to embark on a new programme of house building for the thousands of homeless families in our communities and the thousands more young couples who desperately need homes of their own. We should provide jobs for building workers and suppliers across Britain who are crying out for new orders. Once again, the housing support grant is an abysmal failure. It is a smack in the face and a sneer of cold disdain to every one of our people who is inadequately housed from a Government who long ago lost any sense of being a Government for all our people.
I call on my hon. Friends to vote against the order. We should tell the Government to tear it up and come back with an order that addresses the problem. In future, the Government should not come to the House with such grossly inadequate funding for local authorities when they know so well the size of the crying need.
Column 751conditions down here in London. I am grateful to organisations such as the Simon Community, the Salvation Army, the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church for doing something to help our homeless people. The Government stand condemned for failing to do what those charitable organisations are trying to do. How can the Government claim that, with housing support grant, they are helping to build more hostels when they are aware of the terrible pressures that local authorities face?
My native city of Glasgow has an excellent record in respect of helping the single adult homeless. The Government have done nothing but try to hinder the city. Without finance, local authorities cannot help the single homeless.
There have been two by-elections in my constituency. Like many other members of the Labour party, I had an opportunity to canvass and meet people on housing estates. It is a sad indictment on us that some of those housing estates are worse than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
Tenants remember when some of those housing estates were excellent places in which to live. As a result of the Government, who claim to be the Government of law and order, turning a blind eye to the antisocial behaviour of some tenants, other tenants are living in fear. They are not secure in their own homes.
Head teachers have reported that children are taking it in turns to stay away from school because at least one child in a family has to remain at home to stop the home from being burgled. The Government are simply taking finance away from local authorities. If the Government are serious about law and order, they should ensure that every tenement flat has a security entry system. The Minister should provide money for such systems.
If tenement flats had security entry systems, elderly and young people would know that no one was prowling around the back door, on the landing or up the close trying to see whether anyone was at home. Those systems would help to reduce crime. They would also help tenants who take pride in their properties, who wash the stairs and keep the gardens clean. They would know that no passer-by could get in to destroy what they had worked hard to achieve.
Years ago, if tenants--possibly elderly people--were standing around, strangers were not able to enter. Nowadays, elderly people are frightened to tackle strangers, so they need a secure system. The Minister ought to give serious consideration to that matter in the case of every council property and, indeed, every private property. Grants are available.
I am thinking especially of multi-storey flats. I have heard Conservative Members criticise local authorities for building such flats. Actually, some of them are beautiful and a joy to live in. I wish there were one in London that I could use four days a week. There are several such buildings in my constituency. The Government of the day forced the local authorities to construct multi-storey flats, threatening to withdraw grant from those refusing to build non-traditional housing. That is the type of thing with which the House concerns itself at present.
If the Minister seriously wants to secure an improved quality of life for the tenants of multi-storey flats, he should make provision for a concierge service and for camera surveillance at points of entry. In my constituency we have what are the equivalent of three streets rising into the sky. In some cases, anyone can gain entry--drug
Column 752addicts and burglars, for example. There is evidence that a block of flats with a concierge service is a much better place in which to live.
The Minister mentioned Scottish Homes. I realise that this debate is about local authorities, but there is a comparison to be made here. I suspect that the Minister is more interested in looking after Scottish Homes than in looking after local authorities. After all, that is where his placemen are. The Minister can pick the Sir James Mellons of this world, but he cannot pick the democratically elected local authorities and the housing convenors. It must be said that most of the Scottish Homes property in my constituency is excellent. It is well looked after and is a credit to tenants and management. The Minister is aware, however, of my deep concern about some of the community-based housing associations, some of which are getting too big for their boots. An association in the constituency of Hillhead increased rents by 50 per cent. What would happen if a local authority did that? When an increase of £1 a month was proposed for dwellings in Glasgow, there were almost riots in George square. Trade bodies, the tenants' association and everyone else turned out. In my constituency, some rents have increased by 30 per cent. What makes the situation worse is the fact that 75 per cent. of the rent income of some community-based housing associations is spent on administration--paying for officials. Thus owner-occupiers in the catchment area are not contributing as much as those who pay rent, resulting in an unfair burden on the latter. The agency responsible is none other than Scottish Homes.
Many tenants who have been with a community-based housing association for 15 or 16 years find, when they apply for a house or a flat in another part of the association's area--perhaps because of arthritis or some other disability--that they are granted a change of dwelling only if they opt for an assured tenancy instead of a secure tenancy. The Conservative party talks about citizens charters and people's rights, but every day of the week in my constituency tenants are losing their right to appeal to a tribunal. I hope that the Minister will examine that aspect.
One terrible case with which I am dealing concerns a woman whose husband left the matrimonial home. She has been told by the housing association-- which is an agent for Scottish Homes--that she can remain in the property, but on an assured tenancy. That is the worst kind of discrimination. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House fought for women's rights and now those rights are being lost. There is no sheltered housing in the Haghill and Germiston communities in my constituency, yet the houses there were built before the war--under the John Wheatley legislation. Some tenants have lived there since they were two or three years old, after leaving the slums and other parts of the city. Now that they are of advanced years, there is no sheltered housing for them. To obtain that, they must leave the friends and relatives with whom they have lived all their lives. Why should not those who have put something into society get something back at the end of their days?
Column 753There have been many debates about council house sales. I am on record as saying in Glasgow district council in 1974 that we should experiment before the Government moved in and forced a local authority to sell its housing stock. Some of my hon. Friends were also councillors at that time. Perhaps that is how I got a reputation for being a so-called right winger. The sale of council houses may be successful in desirable areas, but young couples are not getting the chance that their mothers and fathers, and even their grandparents, had of obtaining a better house.
How can the Minister say to young couples who have been paid off by the railway workshop or the cigarette factory in my constituency, "You can buy your council house"? They do not have two ha'pennies to rub together. They cannot even afford to send their children to the Christmas treat at school. How can the Minister say, "If you want a nicer house, buy one"? Local authorities must have the flexibility to give a chance to young couples who have served their apprenticeship in bad housing.
The Minister sold off decent housing. It was a popular move. In my constituency, some local authority houses that were bought at a discount for £10,000 have changed hands several times and are now on the market for £40,000. Some people have done very well, but unless the Minister gives local authorities the money to buy two, three, four and five apartment houses, there will be losers. Those people who will lose deserve something better than they have now.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : I may say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), as one right winger to another, that I agree with him on the voluntary bodies issue. We are fortunate that there are such bodies, which show that they care and take action.
I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about what I would call realistic rents. I have always believed that local authorities should charge realistic rents, which would ensure that properties were maintained in a viable condition. If we had done so many years ago, we would have had funds available through the rents system to deal with the massive problems of dampness and so on. Housing benefit takes care of those who cannot pay, and it should be the vehicle through which funds are used to ensure that local authorities maintain their stock in a viable condition.
While I am sure that the hon. Member for Springburn is right in saying that some multi-storey buildings are nice places in which to live, he must agree that most people, given the option, would prefer to live in a different kind of property. That is my experience of people wishing to obtain housing.
Mr. Kynoch : The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) referred to the security of some of those properties and to the security systems on the doors. Does my hon. Friend agree that such matters are for the local authority rather than for the Government ? Is he aware that in the city of Aberdeen many local authority properties are having such systems fixed ?
Column 754things would have been funded adequately and properly. The hon. Gentleman's reference is another example of insufficient cash to deal with problems.
The hon. Member for Springburn mentioned housing associations. I am sure that he is right in believing that some housing associations may have caused problems. In my constituency, the vast majority of the housing associations do a good job and I commend them.
However, the hon. Gentleman highlighted something that should be examined-- the incidents in which individuals, for a variety of reasons, are forced into a transfer of tenancy. They should not be forced from a secured tenancy, with all that that means, into taking an assured tenancy with the resulting changes in the parameters. That question needs to be examined and perhaps the Government will take it on board.
In conclusion, as I know that many hon. Members want to speak, may I say that I am delighted that at long last we are beginning to talk in a sane way about how we fund local authority housing.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : I, too, recall speaking in the same debate on 17 February last year. It seems that, one year on, matters have not greatly improved. As we heard, rents have continued to rise and, according to Shelter, homelessness in Scotland has risen by 15 per cent. in the past year. Of Scotland's housing stock, 4.7 per cent. is still below a tolerable standard.
As the Minister knows, I have a special interest in housing in rural areas, where the problem is especially acute. Again, homelessness has increased and the proportion of housing of a low standard is larger than in other areas. In 1991, according to Scottish Homes figures, 6.6 per cent. of rural housing was below tolerable standard as against 4.3 per cent. in urban areas. Low wages, which tend to prevail in rural areas, especially in the highlands and islands, mean that, usually, local people cannot afford to pay markely facing that problem of hardship, but face higher living expenses than those in the rest of the country.
In many areas, the situation is exacerbated by the demand for holiday homes. I spoke about that last year and the Minister wrote to explain the Government's thinking behind the 50 per cent. council tax discount for holiday homes in Scotland and in England, especially in places such as the Lake District, but, of course, not in Wales. I am still worried about the lack of any attempt to secure a population balance in small communities which can so easily end up lifeless. I have seen it all too often : every second house has become a holiday home, people have left and the place is dead.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), Scottish Homes has just announced an average rent increase of £2.07p a week--6 per cent.--from 1 April. The Minister said that that was not a matter for him : I think that we shall hear the phrase "not a matter for me" more and more in this place. But whatever gloss the Minister puts on the housing position and whatever figures are bandied about, I still receive far too many letters about housing problems in rural parts of my constituency. Let me give two examples.
Column 755An ambulance man employed in accident and emergency services, and restricted to a certain rural area--albeit quite a large one--by operational requirements, has been on the housing waiting list since 1991. Although that man plays an important part in the community, he has to live in a caravan : to me, that means that he is homeless. It is dreadful that someone who gives service to the community cannot obtain a home. I wonder what he thinks as he passes all the empty holiday homes ; I am sure that he is not too happy.
I received a letter about a man with two children, whose wife is pregnant again. He lost his job when the company for which he worked went bankrupt, through no fault of his. He was unable to keep up the mortgage payments ; all four lived in one room--lent by a friend--for six months or so and then in a box room in a relative's house. Eventually, the man managed to get another job, which took him away for two out of every three weeks. That relieved the situation somewhat, but the stress and anxiety took their toll on his wife's health. I am glad to say that, after a year, Argyll and Bute district council housed the family, but it was a long and difficult year for them.
According to the district council's housing plan for 1993-98, the housing condition survey found that much of the stock in my constituency--in both the public and the private sector--was in urgent need of repair. The cost was estimated to be some £163 million and that was based on 1989 prices. Where on earth will the council find that kind of money?
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : I am sure that in the hon. Lady's constituency--as in parts of mine, such as the islands of Arran and Cumbrae--there is support across the political spectrum for allowing the council to stop selling houses in areas where there is high demand and little supply. The Scottish Office, however, will not even make the concession of allowing the council to stop selling at any point in the decline of the stock. Surely, in rural communities experiencing the circumstances described by the hon. Lady, the least that the Government could do would be to allow authorities that discretion, given that it is not even a matter of local political contention.
Mrs. Michie : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. Over the years I have advocated that local authorities should be allowed to stop selling because they know what the problems are. How can it be regarded as dreadful that some thought should be given to a change of use being granted before family houses are turned into holiday homes and thus adding to the numbers that are left empty. I am sure that the Minister will be delighted to hear that I intend to finish on a positive note--
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Does the hon. Lady agree that the capital debt overhang afflicts housing in many Scottish councils, including the central belt and the rural communities? The position is especially bad in the rural areas because more housing stock there has been sold. Is she aware that the entire rental income of at least one council in Scotland is not enough to cover the interest payments on the accumulated capital debt? In such circumstances, how on earth is it possible for a council to invest in its housing stock?
Mrs. Michie : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has reinforced my argument. I remarked that Argyll and Bute district council was asking where it would get the money to tackle its housing problem.
As I was saying, the Minister will be delighted to know that I shall finish on a positive note. Some harsh words have been said about Scottish Homes and in the past I have accused it of not honouring its promises. However, I welcome the joint announcement that was made last week by Scottish Homes and Highland and Islands Enterprise that they are carrying out a major study of the link between rural housing availability and economic development. The population of the highlands and islands has been rising steadily over the past 20 years and is currently about 370,000. Although people are arriving, many indigenous people are having to move away and the lack of housing in rural areas is seen as a major constraint on the economic and social development which is so necessary if local people are to have the opportunity to stay if they so wish. I know that there are particular problems in the western isles and north-west Sutherland where the reduction in population is a cause of great concern.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise said :
"Economic development creates demand for housing, while a lack of suitable housing is a block to the creation of employment which underpins communities. This is particularly true of remote rural areas, where the gain or loss of a few households or jobs can make the difference between a community progressing or declining." I wholly agree with that statement. I am glad that the study will include the remoter parts of the highland region, the Western Isles, Shetland and my own constituency of Argyll and Bute. I want to put it on record that the joint study is being undertaken. I hope that it will be carried out in good time and that any recommendations will be acted on speedily. I shall certainly be watching very carefully to see that they are carried out.
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) : When some of my colleagues became aware that I might try to catch your eye to be allowed to speak on housing, Madam Speaker, they queried whether I should be allowed to do so, bearing in mind that I represent Strathkelvin and Bearsden, a constituency usually associated with leafy suburbs in which the majority of the population own their own homes. However, as the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) knows, that is not quite a true picture. It has been suggested that the Government recession has brought us to such a state that even the good burghers of Bearsden are in difficulty over council housing. There is little council housing in the Bearsden part of my constituency--a small sheltered housing development--but that is not the case in Strathkelvin. In Strathkelvin, of which I represent a part, there are 8,055 council houses, of which 4,834 are in my constituency. The majority of those, just over 3,000, are in Kirkintilloch, there are some in Bishopbriggs and the rest are in Lennoxtown and Torrance. Those are looked after by an excellent district council with a tip-top housing department.
The housing stock is kept in good repair. The council has just completely replaced all window frames and installed insulation. It has a devolved, democratic system of fulfilling the wishes of the people of Kirkintilloch, Bishopbriggs, Lennoxtown and all other areas. It is responsive to people's wishes and needs in this important
Column 757area. Lest anyone persists in the notion that my constituency consists of leafy suburbs, let me say that that is not the case. Once again, the Government have given nothing by way of housing support grant to Strathkelvin. Does that mean that there are no problems in my area? Certainly not. My surgery is regularly filled with people looking for houses. They have been looking for many years, but are making no progress. Many of them want exchanges. Homelessness is a problem in my constituency. The homeless write to me and come to my surgery, but they have been given nothing by the Government.
The Minister will tell us that the housing support grant is basically deficit-based. He will say that it is based on estimated relevent income, eligible maintenance, relevant accounts, estimated this and estimated that. That means that it is plucked out of the air. Is all that estimation relevant or in any way related to the needs of people in the area? It should be related to those needs, but in my area it clearly is not. How can it be, when the Minister gives no housing support grant to combat major homelessness and help people who have been waiting six or seven years for council houses? It is clear that the method of calculating the formula is wrong and it is time to return to the drawing board and reassess the calculation so that it relates purely to need. I hope that the next housing support grant proposals will relate to that and will give my district authority, which spends money wisely and well and looks after its housing stock, a greater amount.
My housing authority is so highly regarded in the district that residents of Scottish Homes who are being offered new landlords wish the district authority to take over. There are 488 houses--
Mr Galbraith : If they were occupied there would be people in them! That would certainly do somethng for those people. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are often good reasons for such houses being unoccupied. I shall not abuse my hon. and learned Friend any more. He is a splendid friend of mine and we have spent much time together.
The issue has been raised many times. My constituents who currently reside in Scottish Homes wish the district authority to be their new landlord. Yet that choice has not been open to them, because of the connivance and instruction of the Government, who spend all their time talking about choice, freedom of the individual and devolving power, which we all realise is a complete fallacy because they give choice only when it suits them.
This is an issue of which the Government should be ashamed. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will use his good powers with Scottish Homes to allow it to conduct a ballot and thereby give my constituents who live in its housing the opportunity to propose Strathkelvin district as
Column 758its landlord, because it has shown itself to have a highly efficient, effective, devolved and accountable housing management system which is a credit to the area. I trust, therefore, that, when the Minister proposes the housing support grant next year it will adequately recognise the needs of my community.
I held a surgery last weekend. Thirteen constituents attended, 10 of whom raised issues related to the standard of their housing in one form or another--repairs, overcrowding, dampness and similar problems. Hon. Friends who represent constituencies not only in Glasgow but in conurbations throughout Scotland receive such complaints regularly. The housing support grant figures that the Minister gave this evening betrayed once again the lack of grasp that he and his fellow Ministers have of the housing needs of Scottish people. The figures were not based on local authorities' estimates of their needs. The Scottish Office, contrary to those estimates, ignores the actual income and expenditure of local authorities. It regularly meets the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the larger local housing authorities, but continually ignores the advice and information that it is given.
Housing support grant has dropped from £47.5 million in 1992-93 to £35.9 million last year and to under £26 million this year. Grant for Glasgow, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said, has the most severe housing problems in Scotland, has decreased from £11 million to just over £1.5 million. That is woefully inadequate. The Minister has been told time and again by Glasgow district council and by housing authorities that considerable additional resources are necessary and that the problems will be addressed only by debt write-off. He continues to ignore that, and the problems continue to mount.
At present, 60 per cent. of the housing revenue account, of which housing support grant once provided a major part but now provides only a minor part, is spend on repaying local authorities' loans. Tenants are more likely to be paying off interest on those loans than getting any improvement in the housing stock in return for their rent.
Housing support grant is now under £26 million for the whole of Scotland, but only 13 years ago it was £228 million. If the Government convince my hon. Friends and me that the situation is improving, they will have done a remarkable job because we all know from our surgeries that the problems are getting worse rather than better.
COSLA calculates that, on a cumulative basis, about £1.8 billion has been taken out of housing resources in Scotland in the past decade. That direct Government support would have been available if funding had continued at anything like its level when housing support grant was introduced. That is a massive amount and I invite the Minister to comment on what it could have done in terms not only of building new houses, treating dampness and repairing leaking roofs and ill-fitting windows, all of which can contribute to the incidence of chronic illness throughout the central belt of Scotland, but of providing shelter for homeless people.