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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am very glad of the opportunity to respond to this debate.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) asked why Dundee did not receive the hostels portion of the housing support grant. The answer is quite simple : Dundee does not have any housing department hostels. If it were to provide such hostels, it would certainly qualify for that portion. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that 5.5 per cent. of the council housing stock in Dundee is empty. I hope that the hon. Member will use his good offices to encourage the council to bring more of its stock back into use.
Mr. McAllion : I will use my good offices to make that 5.5 per cent. of housing stock available for rent, if the Minister will give the council the money to put it in a fit condition to rent.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We will certainly bear in mind Dundee's bids before the final allocations are made in a few weeks' time.
As the comments of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), much is happening in respect of rural Scotland. Scottish Homes has produced 1,700 additional homes in rural areas, and £3.3 million was provided for that purpose during 1992-93. An evaluation of the rural demonstration areas has been undertaken and the results will be published later this year. Per capita, rural areas receive more in local authority allocations that the average for the rest of Scotland.
Scottish Homes is looking carefully at how it may bring vacant stock back into use. It held discussions with the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Landowners Federation. I repeat that an additional £3 million was made available to Scottish Homes to enable further progress to be made.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) indicated dissent .
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman must be realistic. Many vacant houses in Scotland are in the private sector.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish." I know that a great many public sector houses should be brought back into use.
Mr. Ingram : Is the Minister aware that not one tenant has been placed in any of the 80 brand new houses in my constituency built by East Kilbride development corporation and available for occupancy since last November ? Why ? Because the Government are trying to force housing associations into the town. Those houses should be allocated now. They have been empty since November.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is the Minister responsible for new town housing, is in his place and will
Column 773have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments. I have little doubt that there will be rapid progress in the coming months, in relation to those houses.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked for the release of council house receipts. They are already released to public authorities in Scotland. We estimated that £230 million would be raised from council house receipts this year. In fact, the figure is £268 million--and those entire receipts go the public sector, which will be greatly to its benefit. That sum increases the overall sum to be spent on public sector stock to £440 million.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) put the case for Glasgow. Last year, Glasgow's housing revenue account produced a surplus of more than £60million. In those circumstances, there is no need for additional Exchequer support. Housing support grant is a deficit subsidy. Glasgow is projected to have a relatively small deficit next year.
Mrs. Fyfe : The Minister visited Glasgow and saw its housing need. Does he really believe that level of housing support grant comes anywhere near meeting the needs of the people of Glasgow for decent housing ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Yes. The housing support grant is perfectly fair, when one bears in mind that Glasgow set an average rent increase for next year of only 2.8 per cent.--which we estimate is well below the national average.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr.Martin) spoke about security. In urban regeneration schemes, we give priority to installing strong security systems--and Glasgow district council has been doing so in the multi-storey flats at Castlemilk. I support that policy, and the hon. Gentleman's comments will not be lost on that district council.
The hon. Member for Springburn said that a housing association had increased rents by 50 per cent. I am aware that in certain circumstances-- for example, on a change of tenancy--rents may be substantially increased, but secured or assured tenants would not pay such increases. That would be contrary to the terms and conditions of their tenancies.
I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Springburn would give me the details in writing and I shall consider them thoroughly. We have been consulting on the question of changing from a secured tenancy to an assured tenancy, because there has been an inconsistency in the way in which housing associations have interpreted the law. We have received responses to that consultation, but there is a case pending. Milnbank housing association is challenging the rent officers and we are awaiting the outcome of that case. We shall bear in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman has made and if he will give me the details, I shall look into it.
Mr. Michael J. Martin : Milnbank housing association is in my constituency. Scottish Homes is leaving Milnbank to take the legal action through the courts and Scottish Homes is willing to pay part only of the legal costs. I hope that if that is a test case in which the Government are interested, they will take all the costs on boards and not
Column 774burden the rent payers of the Milnbank housing association, which operates in only a small part of my constituency.
I shall be able to furnish the Minister with cases in my constituency where rents have been increased substantially and I hope that he will look into them.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will write to me about the case that he mentioned of the increase of more than 50 per cent. As I said, the Government will not make a decision until after the outcome of that case. On the issue of homelessness
Dr. Godman rose--
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We have taken a large number of measures to deal with homelessness. We have provided some £27 million for extra capital allocations, we have provided more than £10 million for homelessness under the urban programme and, of course, we have provided the hostels portion of the housing support grant, which has been debated tonight. We have also provided cash incentive schemes and we are providing substantial support to the voluntary organisations.
In the past week, Scottish Homes has announced that it was promoting lead tenancy arrangements, whereby empty private property is leased to housing associations for letting to homeless families, and that it was using new, furnished accommodation grants for housing associations to encourage provision of accommodation for the homeless.
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. A. Godman), whose constituency I shall be visiting before long.
Dr. Godman : May I say how pleased I am that the Minister has accepted my invitation to visit certain housing schemes in my constituency.
If a housing association threatened a tenant with an assured tenancy, what powers would the housing association ombudsman have to overturn such a decision ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The housing association ombudGentleman is free to refer cases to the ombudsman.
As the House will know, the housing scene has changed dramatically over the past few years.
Mr. Canavan rose--
Mr. Watson rose--
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I still have a lot to say [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. There is too much noise.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : If I give an obvious example, Scotland has overtaken England in the percentage of public sector houses sold to sitting tenants. There is 0.5 per cent. more in Scotland.
We all know that the scene is changing greatly. More and more local authorities are accepting that their role need not be confined to the direct provision and management of their own housing stock. Increasingly, they are realising
Column 775that housing needs may be met most effectively by acting in an enabling role and by co-operating with Scottish Homes, housing associations and the private sector to jointly plan investment and provide homes for their areas. There are now some 42 strategic agreements with local authorities and those are bearing fruit. Only this morning, I was in Falkirk, from where the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) comes, and saw a successful development which involved the district council.
Mr. Canavan rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. When I stand, the hon. Gentleman must sit.
Mr. Canavan rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I do not think that the debate should end in such confusion. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, others must resume their seats. Does the Minister wish to give way or not ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member for Falkirk, West, his constituent, the district council, Scottish Homes and the developer had an extremely successful housing development in the small urban renewal initiative. Conservative Members warmly welcome partnerships such as that : it is working, and it will continue to work. I commend the motion to the House.
Question put : --
The House divided : Ayes 304, Noes 250.
Division No. 123] [11.30 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony