Previous Section Home Page

Column 759

When I spoke in the debate a year ago I highlighted the plight of homeless people in Glasgow and mentioned some of the organisations seeking to help them. Their situation is worse now than it was a year ago. The resources of the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless have been slashed, and the Stopover project, a vital refuge for young single homeless people, has been closed for the past three months, with no sign of when it will reopen although it was supposed to do so at the beginning of the year.

The situation continues to get worse. In the meantime, the Government's answer, which is highlighted in the figures put before the House today, is grossly to overestimate the rent increases that can be charged and grossly to underestimate the management and maintenance costs that local authorities will face. It would be interesting if we could reverse that equation even once, to try to pull back some of the ground that has been lost over the past 10 years.

There are many appalling homes, particularly throughout the central belt of Scotland, and thousands of people without any home at all. According to the figure that the Minister cited, the total number of places being made available in hostels throughout Scotland is just over 2,000. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that hostels are not the answer to the problem of homelessness, but when set against the total number of homeless in Scotland that figure comes nowhere near to addressing the problem.

Over the past few days, there have been comments about the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), the most interesting of which was that the hon. Gentleman has three homes. I do not know what anyone does with three homes. I continually meet people who would do anything to get one home. [Interruption.] I will gladly give way to the Minister of State, Department of Employment, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), if he wants to intervene. Apparently he does not.

The problem of home ownership needs to be looked at. The Government say that they are trying to deal with the problem, yet their supporters include the hon. Member for Finchley, who quite happily owns three homes. The hon. Member for Stirling sees nothing wrong in that. Other hon. Members such as the hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) think nothing of trading with council houses as though it were an excellent way of making extra money.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Watson : Yes. The hon. and learned Gentleman is always amusing.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I presume that the hon. Gentleman has a home in Scotland ; and, as he lives down here, he will also have one in London. That is two.

Mr. Watson : I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has managed to put one and one together and make two ; for this evening, that is a quite remarkable achievement. Of course I have a home in London and a home in Glasgow. But the hon. Member for Finchley has his constituency in London, so he should require no more than one home.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. We are talking about housing in Scotland, not Finchley.


Column 760

Mr. Watson : I agree that this is a debate on housing support, Mr. Morris, and I do not suppose Finchley gets much housing support. I drew attention to it merely to contrast the situation with the problems that I meet daily in Scotland.

Many Scottish local authorities have a number of houses lying empty and unable to be let to tenants. There are reasons for that. There is certainly no lack of demand for them and no lack of will on the part of local authorities to repair them and make them habitable. The local authorities lack the resources to enable them to make those houses habitable and secure and to re-let them. The Minister has had this point put to him on countless occasions, especially in relation to Glasgow, but has refused to take the arguments on board. The level of housing support grant has continued to diminish as a result of the Secretary of State once again making those totally unrealistic assumptions, overestimating the amount that will be raised from rents and underestimating the appropriate level of repairs and maintenance. When will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Scottish Office figures that he uses to calculate both those figures are well wide of the mark?

The question of rents was referred to earlier. In respect of income from rents, the Minister has told us that he is assuming that rents will be £34 and above per week next year. That is about 31 per cent. higher than the present average rent. The figure of 5 per cent. was used earlier, and it was pointed out that even that is well above the current rate of increase in the cost of living. The Minister anticipates a figure of approximately six times that. Even if rents rose by 5 per cent., rental income in Scotland would still be about £235 million short. The Minister must be more realistic in his assumptions.

It bears repeating that housing support grant is now the only direct Government support for council housing in Scotland. For next year, projected income has been overstated by about £235 million, with maintenance expenditure overestimated by £18 million. [Interruption.] The Minister may think that that is a matter for some amusement. Those I meet weekly in my constituency do not. They are desperately concerned and the housing department in Glasgow is equally desperately concerned.

At the Minister's December meeting with COSLA, he stated that any authority which faced an above average rent increase for the next year, based on his assumptions, would be treated sympathetically when it applied to receive recognition of the requirement to make a general fund contribution. He said in his opening remarks that, of the nine authorities that had applied, apparently with his encouragement, not one had been permitted to do so. The Minister rejected all the submissions and he did not say why. I hope that he will take the opportunity to give his reasons when he winds up. What is the point in encouraging local authorities to make use of the general fund contribution when none of them has been allowed to do so?

We must look at the picture across Scotland as a whole. It has already been said that only 13 of the local authorities are getting the mainstream grant from the housing support grant, only 21 are getting the hostels grant and, astonishingly, only 6 per cent. are getting both. Those figures include major conurbations. The city of Dundee gets nothing. Edinburgh gets nothing for its mainstream


Column 761

grant. Other major conurbations, such as Motherwell, Renfrew, Inverclyde and Aberdeen, get nothing in either category. I invite the Minister to justify that.

We have seen the housing conditions survey and the figures that it produced on the standards of housing throughout Scotland. The Minister is living in a different


Column 762

world, and so are those of his hon. Friends who think that there is nothing wrong in owning a number of houses. I want to deal with the problems of people who either have no home at all or who live in totally inadequate housing. That is what this debate should be about, but it is not, because the funding has been consistently cut. That can only mean poorer housing for many of those whom Scottish Labour Members represent.


Column 763

10.46 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : If we look at the details of the financial provision about which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) was speaking, we see that, 13 years ago, the housing support grant stood at £228 million and the general fund contribution at £100 million. Next year, the combined total of both will be a mere £26 million. On a cumulative basis, that represents the £1.8 billion loss of revenue for housing over the past decade that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central specified.

No other aspect of social provision can have such a direct impact on people's lives as the lack of housing finance. The problems of dampness, inadequate housing and homelessness are rife throughout Scotland. I know that the Minister is a compassionate man. I hope that he will deal with those aspects in the debate and show that he recognises that the lack of housing finance over the past decade is causing real problems for people throughout Scotland.

The basic limitation on housing finance in Scotland is the capital debt overhang. In fact, 60p to 65p of every pound of rent paid in Scotland goes to refinance the interest payment on the housing accumulated capital debt. In many councils, the figure is almost 100 per cent. For Gordon council, in north-east Scotland, the figure is more than 100 per cent. In those circumstances, it is simply impossible for councils to reinvest adequate sums in the maintenance of houses, never mind in any building programme. I would like the Minister to tell us directly how on earth finance can be injected into housing when individual district councils face such a financial problem.

I suspect that the Government's attempt to diminish public housing in Scotland was sourced in two hopes. First, there was an ideological drive against public housing--and perhaps the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) was the main protagonist. The argument was that if public housing was reduced in Scotland, people would be more amenable to the idea of voting for the Conservatives. Over the past decade, public housing in Scotland has been reduced, but there is no sign that the social engineering favoured by the hon. Member for Stirling has had any impact on the Conservative party's fortunes.

Secondly, it was argued that public housing was an economic problem for Scotland and that it was an inhibition on economic development. It is clear from studying the situation throughout the United Kingdom over the past few years that, in many ways, the housing market in the south of England has been much more of an economic problem for that area than the housing market in Scotland has been for Scotland. The preponderance of private housing in the south, with all the emphasis that that gives to a boom-bust cycle in the economy and over-investment in property, has been much more of a problem in terms of economic management than the degree of public housing has been in Scotland.

I ask the Minister to move away from the campaign against public housing in Scotland. He must realise that hundreds of thousands of Scots are entitled to live in good quality, rented accommodation in the public sector. If we are to get back to basics, let us get back to the basic provision of high- quality council and other public housing in Scotland. Any ideological Government drive against the public sector in Scotland should now be abandoned as not having fulfilled the political aspirations of the hon.


Column 764

Member for Stirling but having condemned hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland to the abject misery of substandard housing over the past 10 years.

10.50 pm

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : This document is largely technical. Anyone in Scotland who happened to read it would not find out much about housing in Scotland because it is deliberately designed to be difficult to understand and interpret. The Government hope that they will be able to slip this document through the House without too much press coverage or awareness in Scotland of the way in which they are treating council housing.

This represents one of the few occasions when the House can debate council housing in Scotland ; therefore, we should take advantage of this occasion and try to interpret the document. We should never forget that although few hon. Members live in council housing, hundreds of thousands of our constituents do so. The council housing sector remains important to constituents, although it may not be so important to hon. Members who represent them.

The experience of my hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate, and who continue to speak about their surgeries in their constituencies, is one that almost all Labour Members can repeat. Every surgery that I have held in Dundee since 1987 has been dominated by the issue of council housing and the lack of decent, affordable council housing for those who need it. The Government have ignored that forum in Scotland for a considerable period.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about Dundee. Does he conclude that the housing needs of the people of Dundee were a major factor in the recent by-election which we won so spectacularly?

Mr. McAllion : My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The Labour party in Dundee won a council seat back from the Scottish National party, which had held it for a considerable time. We won it back with a convincing majority. Indeed, the turning point in that by-election was when the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) graced Dundee with his presence. Thereafter, the votes haemorrhaged towards the Labour party and away from the SNP. I invite the hon. Gentleman to return to east Dundee any time he wants to come--he reinforces Labour's position in that city every time he visits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) made an interestng point about the impact of council by-elections and the experience of hon. Members taking part in them. I remind him of the importance of debates on council housing, especially on the periphery of Scottish cities where council housing is predominant and of such a poor standard, where unemployment is high, where the crime rate is high and where the problem of drug abuse is common. My hon. Friend said that one of the most important things that can be done in terms of Government support for council housing in Scotland was to make funds available for various security measures to make council housing more secure for people who live in it.

In Hilltown, and especially the Maxwelltown area where there are such problems, Dundee district council must now spend part of its housing revenue account on putting in security cameras, security entrances, concierge systems and so on. That is the sort of thing with which the


Column 765

council should be given direct assistance by the Government, but it gets absolutely nothing in housing support grant. It receives no help whatever to deal with all the problems that it faces. That is an absolute disgrace.

Given the condition of the housing stock in Dundee, it is a disgrace that we must divert part of the money which should be spent on the housing stock into security measures so that people can feel a bit safer in their homes. An even bigger disgrace is the fact that the local council gets no help from the Minister, or from the Government who are responsible ultimately for housing in Scotland. Schedule 3 to the order refers to what we call the hostel portion, and those councils that will qualify for it in 1994-95. Twenty-one local authorities in Scotland qualify, but Dundee is not one of them. I remind the Minister that I intervened during his speech to ask what the level of homelessness in Scotland was. He replied that he would give the answer in a minute, but two, three, four and then five minutes passed, and the Minister sat down without giving the answer. Lored as homeless. Some 72 per cent. of those households found permanent or temporary accommodation. Local authorities have statutory responsibility, especially for priority cases. Some of the other cases lost contact.

Mr. McAllion : I thank the Minister for those figures. Is he not ashamed of his boast that he is making about 2,000 places in hostels available to the homeless in Scotland? That is in no way adequate to meet the problems facing councils across the country. He says that Dundee council has a statutory responsibility to deal with the priority homeless cases. Why is he not giving Dundee any of the hostel portion? Why is Dundee not getting assistance from the Government to help with the homeless problem?

The Minister should go to some of the agencies that work with the homeless in London, particularly young homeless Scots. He would discover that the young homeless Scots who head towards London because they cannot find housing back in Scotland mainly come from Glasgow ; in second place after Glasgow comes Dundee. What assistance is Dundee getting from the Minister next year in terms of support for the homeless ? Absolutely nothing.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I set up a firm in Dundee recently, and all the 800 staff had no difficulty in finding housing. How extraordinary.

Mr. McAllion : What is extraordinary is that anyone in the House could begin to understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said. I did not understand a word of what he mumbled across the Chamber to me.

The idea that apportioning £2 million to 21 difficult local authorities in Scotland is in any way commensurate with dealing with the problem of homelessness is put in context by remembering the amount that local government reform will deny the new Dundee council. It will lose £2.25 million in terms of grant aid and expenditure. The Minister for Local Government and Planning tells me that that is not a significant sum. If £2.25 million is not a significant sum, neither is the £2 million that the Minister


Column 766

has allocated to 21 different authorities across Scotland to help them tackle the homeless problem. The Minister should begin to take that on board.

The order deals also with the different authorities in Scotland that get housing support grants from the Government. The Minister knows that there are 56 different housing authorities in Scotland. Only 29 of them just over half--will receive any housing support grant from the Government. That means that 27 different housing authorities in Scotland will get absolutely nothing, among them Dundee. Dundee has had nothing from the Government during the past 10 years in terms of housing support grant.

Owner-occupation in Scotland is heavily subsidised through mortgage tax relief, and other forms of tenure are heavily subsidised through right-to- buy schemes, rent-to-mortgage schemes and stock transfers. Even the private sector is heavily subsidised through gro-grants. With that mind, does not the Minister think that it is an absolute disgrace that 27 different councils in Scotland do not receive a penny in subsidy from the Government for the council housing for which they are responsible ?

The Minister was in Dundee recently when Wimpey opened the new private housing development in Mid Craigie. He and other Ministers authorised a grant of more than £2 million to Wimpey Homes to allow them to build private houses for sale on the market and to make a big profit for Wimpey Homes in the process. Is it not a disgrace that the Minister can subsidise the profits of private house builders at a time when he gives nothing to 27 councils across the country? If he does not think that that is a disgrace, it is time he recognised that it is and it is his responsibility to do something about it.

Mr. Bill Walker : Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the taxpayer directly provides housing support to pay for people's rent, that money is paid indirectly to the individual and that it goes into the coffers of the housing department? Does he agree that that amounts to many millions of pounds?

Mr. McAllion : The hon. Gentleman is referring to housing benefit, not housing support. I shall tell him of my experience with housing benefit. One of the cases at my recent surgery was about housing benefit. It involved a constituent, who was a single parent with three children, who had a private flat in Dundee because access to council housing had not been available to her. She had been living at the address for three and a half to four years. The Government changed the regulations and qualifications for housing benefit. She received notification that she no longer qualified for housing benefit in private accommodation because the rent was too high and that she should move out of the private accommodation and into council accommodation.

My constituent appealed against the decision. Because her landlord got wind of the fact that the council was challenging her right to housing benefit, he has given her notice to quit. She will have to get out of the home that she and her family have known for the past four years and move into the council sector--and not into good housing in the council sector, because the good council housing has been lost through the right to buy and other measures that the Government have introduced.

She will be asked to move into areas of Dundee that are euphemistically called areas of low demand--areas where


Column 767

nobody wants to live, where crime, vandalism, unemployment and drug abuse are prevalent. She and her family have been put at risk because the Government are denying them housing benefit. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) should not tell me that everybody's needs are looked after. Those who depend on the council sector do not have their needs looked after by the Government.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I am not aware of the situation in Dundee, but I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with much interest. What about the father of those children? Is he responsible for their upkeep?

Mr. McAllion : You would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I started on the Child Support Agency. The fathers who are being chased are those whose wives depend on income support. Anyone who does not depend on income support is not chased by the Child Support Agency. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that that is the case, he does not have any working -class constituents. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let us get back to the debate.

Mr. McAllion : I shall follow your instructions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and get back to the debate and not pursue that matter any further. Before the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) sneers, let me say that the father could have been dead ; I have no idea about him. The hon. Gentleman should not make

As the Minister will be aware, Inside Housing, which is read by all housing professionals in Scotland and is regarded as one of the most prestigious magazines dealing with housing in Scotland, dealt with the order in its issue of 28 January. It stated :

"Scottish local authority tenants face steep rent rises next year following the government's anouncement of a £10 million cut in housing support grant last week."

Hon. Members should not be under any illusion as to what the order represents. It represents a £10 million cut in housing support grant to be made available to local authorities. This year, there was £35.9 million in housing support grant ; next year, there will be only £27.5 million. As Inside Housing says, that means an average increase of 5 per cent. in council sector rents next year, and the Minister has admitted as much.

It is a case of double standards, not "back to basics". The Government parade around the country, boasting about low inflation, but they then increase inflation by putting up rents at twice the level of inflation. Why is it that only council sector tenants have to pay higher rents when everybody else's rents have been kept in line with inflation? It is because of a vile, anti-council tenant policy which has been pursued by successive Ministers.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I seek some information, because a question was asked some time ago and it was not answered. Perhaps, in relation to Dundee, the hon. Gentleman will say how many void houses there are, how long they have been in existence--

Mr. Canavan : Empty houses.

Mr. Porter : They are called void in England.


Column 768

Will the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) also say what monetary effect that has on the Dundee local authority? Before I cast my vote, I should very much like to know what the local authority is doing.

Mr. McAllion : The hon. Gentleman would do better not to intervene in Scottish debates because he shows his ignorance of the reality of housing conditions in Scotland. It is that some district councils have houses which they cannot let--houses which are available to be let but in which people are frightened to live as a result of the general conditions in the district in which they are located. If Conservative Members do not understand that there are vast tracts of cities in this country in which people are frightened to live because of the state to which the Government have reduced those districts, it is time that they began to do so, instead of trying to score cheap debating points. We are speaking about real conditions in which people have to live, not making pure debating points, as Conservative Members try to do with their debating skills. Earlier, the Minister spoke about the Government's commitment to maintaining the physical condition of Scotland's housing. Has he not read the national housing conditions survey which was carried out by Scottish Homes on his behalf, which showed that 423,000 dwellings in Scotland suffered from damp, serious condensation or mould and that 3.5 per cent. of that number--nearly 15,000 houses--suffered from all three conditions at the same time? Yet he speaks about the Government's commitment to maintaining the physical stock of housing in Scotland. Let him try to tell the people who live in that housing that the Government are committed to maintaining the stock of the house in which they live. The Government are not committed and I will never be convinced that they are.

I have spoken for long enough and I do not want to give the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) a heart attack. I would not want to be responsible for any further by-elections. I must, however, tell the Minister that the difference between the people who live in the council housing sector in Scotland and everyone else is simply that they do not vote Tory, and for that reason they are not a priority for the Government. Unlike the tenants of Westminister city council, there will be no designated housing policy for them because there is no reward to be had from that for the Conservative party in Scotland.

The Government are simply writing off council housing in Scotland because they believe that council house tenants vote Labour. The Government want to change people's voting patterns so they are trying to destroy council housing. Their priority is tenure change instead of the priority that will be the priority of the next Labour Government when a Scottish parliament is set up, and that is to ensure that everyone in our country gets a decent house which they can afford, and which is a decent place in which to live.

11.6 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words, especially after the robust and sincere speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). I think that the only mistake that he made was in giving way to some of the Conservative Members who have not been sitting through what has been an interesting debate, to


Column 769

which, to be fair, the Minister and some other Conservative Members from Scottish constituencies made useful contributions. It is a pity that it has been spoiled by some sedentary interventions and one or two standing interventions.

As in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and for Dundee, East, concern about housing features as a major issue at the surgeries that I hold every week in my constituency. The second most urgent subject mentioned by constituents is problems arising from the Child Support Agency, which is astonishing. Until a few years ago, it used to be the poll tax but, thankfully, we do not have that any more and now the agency has taken the place of the poll tax in the extent of the problems that it causes. It is taking the place of the poll tax in the way in which it is making Conservative Members, and especially members of the Government, unpopular, not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom.

I find that, apart from maintenance problems, many difficulties are experienced by people who seek transfers to smaller houses or to larger houses--in most cases, families to smaller houses. Throughout Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley the sale of council houses has distorted the available stock. As no replacement stock has been provided, it is difficult for even the most sensitive and understanding local authority--I have that in Cumnock and Doon Valley, although not in Kyle and Carrick--to find appropriate houses for people seeking transfers. That causes great hardship.

The problem could be solved overnight if the Government would release the money that is available from council house sales for the building of new council houses. That would be the sensible thing to do. It would also provide jobs for people in regions of high unemployment. Housing and unemployment problems could be dealt with substantially overnight.

My next point relates to an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). Many of my constituents, like those of my hon. Friend, live in houses owned by Scottish Homes. Whenever people are asked their preference, they say that they want Scottish Homes to continue as their landlord or, if that is not possible--as unfortunately appears to be the case--they prefer the local authority to take over responsibility

Those people particularly do not want to be part of housing associations. They do not want to be part of a housing authority black hole or to be under a private landlord, especially when it is unclear where accountability lies. To whom are housing association members accountable ? Technically, in some ways they are accountable to Scottish Homes, to the funding body or to the Government. However, in reality, they have no direct accountability in the way that local authorities have accountability.

Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden rightly said, the tenants are not given the opportunity of exercising those options. Scottish Homes says that it wants to get out of house ownership so that that option is unfortunately not available. I pressed Sir James Mellon on that and he said that his board would not accept that option. He said that Scottish Homes was going to get out of house ownership and house rental.


Column 770

The option of local authority ownership is also not available. Council tenants are left with Hobson's choice.

I want to amplify the point I made earlier about the homeless hostel in Ayr. It is astonishing that a great deal of money--thousands of pounds--has been spent on Landsborough house ; and the Secretary of State should be aware of what is happening as he lives near by. The house was named in memory of the late James Landsborough, who was an excellent councillor on Kyle and Carrick district council. However, Tory-controlled Kyle and Carrick district council is showing its lack of foresight by saying that all that money will be wasted because Landsborough house is to be demolished for new commercial development which the council has proposed for the site.

What is to happen to that expenditure ? Surely there should be reference to the district auditor. Surely the Secretary of State should examine the matter. We hear criticism of other councils, but we seldom hear Kyle and Carrick taken to task, and I suspect that I know why.

Mr. Robathan : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) wishes to raise a point of order because she is wearing a hat. Is that the case ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Any hon. Member who wants to raise a point of order can do that. It is entirely up to the hon. Member.

Mr. Norman Hogg : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The remarks of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) are impertinent, improper and insulting to a colleague in the House. The hon. Gentleman should be a gentleman and withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Robathan : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a new Member of the House, I thought that one wore a hat in the House only if one wished to raise a point of order. I did not think that my remarks were at all disrespectful.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : May I inform the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that the hat is used if a Member wishes to raise a point of order during a Division. To the best of my knowledge, we are not in the middle of a Division at the moment.

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) shows how green he is--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let us return to the debate.

Mr. Foulkes : Indeed. The hon. Member for Blaby is not just disrespectful to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) ; he is disrespectful to all the people in Scotland who are concerned about housing because he has intervened in such an infactile way on several occasions during the debate.

It is ridiculous and it will create a great deal of hardship

Dr. Godman : I have never seen the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) before.

Mr. Foulkes : Well, unfortunately, my hon. Friend will see a lot more of him. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will not dignify the hon. Member for Blaby by continuing to refer to his infantile interventions.


Column 771

What is far more important is the question of rents in Scotland. At present the average is £26.51 per week, yet the Government assume that the figure will be £35.86 in the next financial year, despite the fact that, in the calculation of the housing support grant, they are assuming an increase of 5 per cent. Anyone who can do the simplest arithmetic will realise that the difference between the two figures that I have just quoted is much more than 5 per cent. The local authorities will have to find a great deal of money to make up the difference. They will be underfunded by many millions of pounds. I should like to conclude with a brief reference to the Cumnock and Doon Valley district council. The council, whose area has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the whole of Great Britain, will receive no housing support grant and no hostel support grant for this year or next year. That is an absolute disgrace. In addition to its high unemployment rate, the area is the home of people on very small incomes. Its residents work in the textile and other industries in which wages are very low indeed.

The whole tenor of this debate has been meanness on the part of the Government--the worst meanness in housing that I have known for a very long time. The provision of affordable decent housing is a basic right, and it is about time the Government understood that. 11.15 pm

Mrs. Fyfe : I should like, by leave of the House, to wind up on behalf of the Opposition. Seven Opposition Members have spoken in the debate, but we have had a contribution from only one Conservative--the uncharacteristically brief speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker).

I have to say that it was utterly trivial and childish of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) to make the point that he made when my colleagues were dealing most sincerely and passionately with the needs of their constituents, who worry deeply about the state of housing in Scotland. People outside must despair of Parliament and must wonder how aware are some of its Members of the needs of their people.

As I want to leave the Minister time to answer some of the important questions that have been put to him, I shall be brief. Will he please answer the question about assured tenancies and secure tenancies and the rights of women who are separated from their husbands ? That question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin).

The Minister should stop making ludicrous over-estimates of rental income and ludicrous under-estimates of management and maintenance costs. That is his way of distorting the housing support grant calculations. Will he, in future, print a detailed and informative housing support grant order and, while he is about it, stop talking about capital allocations--a term meant only to confuse ?

Does the Minister intend to fund a programme to ensure that homeless youngsters and battered women have somewhere to go--that there is adequate hostel accommodation ?

As time is short, I shall not quote the Scottish Homes survey, as I intended to do. The Minister commissioned Scottish Homes to undertake the survey. He has only to go back and read it again. Last year, he warned us not to vote against the corresponding order, saying that if we did, the housing authorities would get nothing.


Column 772

I have heard nothing to make me change my mind about urging my hon. Friends not to vote for this order. Let them vote against it and tell the Minister to meet COSLA again and to re-read his own housing survey so that some realism may be built into his estimates. Only then shall we see some sense and humanity in the funding of our housing.

11.18 pm


Next Section

  Home Page