HC Deb 30 June 1975 vol 894 cc1133-62

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)

I wish to raise the problem of urban deprivation in Clydeside. Through the courtesy of Mr. Speaker I have had the opportunity of doing so on previous occasions, when I have sought to describe the gross and terrible unemployment and bad housing which existed in that area during the period of the last Conservative Government. I wish on this occasion to describe to the Government the depressing picture of the city today. Many attempts have been made by hon. Members to get something done about the tragic situation in the city during the last four years. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I cannot hear the hon. Member, and I must ask for silence.

Mr. McElhone

I understand that this question will be discussed in the Scottish Estimates debate on Thursday morning, and I hope that the Conservatives will not try then to make political capital out of the issue at the Government's expense. When they were in Government they had a deplorable record in dealing with the situation in Glasgow. I and certain of my hon. Friends served on the city council in Glasgow when it was Conservative-controlled. The Tory record in dealing with bad housing and unemployment in the city was deplorable. In addition, 11 members of the Scottish National Party sat as councillors, and a check of the city council minutes would show that on many occasions they voted with the Conservatives to deprive many areas of adequate housing and social facilities. In particular, a community centre in my constituency of the Gorbals was dropped because the SNP and the Conservatives joined forces against it.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

Is the hon. Member aware that the Labour Party has controlled Glasgow and most of the West of Scotland for virtually the whole of the last 50 years? If blame is to be apportioned, is it not at least fair for his party to accept a part of it?

Mr. McElhone

Labour Governments have not been without blame in this situa- tion. However, the Labour Party has made bold attempts, even during periods of Tory rule, to deal with these problems. It was, however, under a grave handicap because of the magnitude of the problem in the city. Even the former Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, described Glasgow as having the worst situation in Western Europe. The former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, now in another place, made stirring speeches about clearing Glasgow's slums, but, unfortunateley, did nothing when the Conservatives were in power from 1970 to 1974.

Environmental grants were introduced by a previous Labour Government in 1969, under the Housing (Scotland) Act of that year. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 did a great deal with the provision of improvement grants.

Housing and urban problems in Glasgow are a complex of interrelated issues. We shall never tackle the problems of homelessness, overcrowding, lack of choice and environmental mess unless we understand that underlying this desperately sad position are economic factors. That is a fact of life that many of us on the Labour Benches know all too well.

The recent report of the Department of the Environment indicated that of the 121 worst areas in Great Britain, Glasgow had 115. We have not been short of plans or schemes to tackle this long-term problem. There was the consultative document on the Scottish Development Agency, which spoke, in paragraph 14, about the urgent problems facing Glasgow. There were also the West Central Scotland Plan and the Glasgow areas and needs report by the previous Glasgow Corporation. We have no shortage of ideas, but perhaps we are somewhat short of idealism in tackling the problem, which has bedevilled the city of Glasgow for so long.

Constant attacks on the city of Glasgow by the media, including the Press, constitute a knocking campaign which has resulted in many of the people who have to come to Glasgow—through the transfer of defence jobs, for example—being opposed to coming. The Scotsman reported last Wednesday that the Society of Civil Servants had said that its members would not be compelled to come to Glasgow, and that if an attempt was made to compel them to come they would take industrial action. That shows an attitude towards Glasgow that is not helpful to the city in regard to job opportunity.

We cannot say too often that our cultural provision is second to none among large cities in the United Kingdom. Our parks and recreational facilities surpass those of most comparable areas. We have thousands of first-class houses, both private and municipal, which would be a credit to any local authority.

But, despite the natural protestations of our city fathers—protestations in which I joined when I was honoured to be one of those city fathers—against the attacks by the media and other people, we must acknowledge that we have a considerable number of reservoirs of urban decay and deprivation that do us no credit. These reservoirs of economically and socially disadvantaged people are too often starkly revealed by the coughing or whimpering of a child in a very damp tenement, its lungs crippled by bronchitis, or the nervous tension which shows so often on the face of the mother on the housing estate who is under tremendous harassment from her children because of lack of the proper facilities that should be provided in such areas.

As a former councillor in the city, and a Member of the House for five years, I take some share of the blame. The absence of those facilities and the misery that that absence creates constitute a form of social violence which is often very dangerous if it is not dealt with in time. We have to accept that the burden from which these young people suffer is often such that they are one step away from the courts of law. That is all too often the fate of many of our young people, particularly in the housing estates today. This desperately sad situation accusingly confronts our conscience and our lack of interest as politicians representing the city of Glasgow in particular and Scotland in general.

It is wrong to say that the problem is mainly one of bad housing. We have this strange enigma that, with hundreds of slums in the very worst condition and 40,000 people on the waiting list of the Glasgow Corporation housing department at the same time several hundred post-war houses are lying empty because no one will take them. That is a situation that defies logic. Why will people stay in houses with rats, with outside toilets, and with dampness jeopardising their health and their children's health, refusing to take a post-war council house? The reason stems, in my opinion, from the lack of community that is too often evident in some of our council estates.

I should not like to think that the idea will go out from this debate that I am condemning every council estate belonging to Glasgow Corporation. We have some excellent council estates, and the people in them are a credit to the city of Glasgow as council tenants. But we have to accept that in this time of stress there is a hunger for community within families, and the yearning for that community is often explained by the fact that people are prepared to stay in the old tenements as against taking the offer of council houses available the very next day from the new Glasgow council.

What we need—and we are privileged in having the Scottish housing Minister here tonight—is a combination of support from various Government Departments. If we take the economic factor first, all too often, as the Department of the Environment report shows, the people who live in these areas tend to be the lowest paid and to have the highest number of unemployed within their midst. This is why I welcome, particularly for the young and the families of these disadvantaged people, the chance that will be provided with the new job opportunities created by the Government's plan mentioned in the debate last Wednesday.

But we have to recognise that many of these young people are unskilled. Therefore, I would hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will direct my plea to the Department of Employment to encourage training and re-training facilities, especially among the young people within the area that I am talking about, to give them the chance to prepare for the job opportunities being provided in excellent form by the Government.

This would mean a substantial addition to the present staff of the Department of Employment to make sure that the opportunities that can be provided with training and re-training are made available at the earliest opportunity.

What is also needed—I hope the Minister will respond to this plea—is that the urban deprivation unit in St. Andrew's House should be brought into the city of Glasgow. If anything stands out as a failure of the present local authority structure, it is the fact that the social work department, the housing department, the education department, the transport department and the health department seem to work in isolation. We want these urban action units to come into operation, drawing the different departments together and making them one united force to provide a blanket coverage of the needs of these areas.

I also hope that in our future talks the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the officials will respond to the plea I am making for a sum of £500 million to go towards solving these problems in the city of Glasgow. The city of Glasgow itself is reported in today's Glasgow Herald as saying that it is looking for the same amount as that which I mentioned last week in an interview. I say that we need at least £50 million a year for 10 years. That is not an unreasonable sum, given the size of the problem.

I recognise that we have an extremely difficult financial situation facing the country at present, but I must say that, although I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to meet me after this debate with £50 million as a first instalment to finance the plans that I am suggesting, I hope that, with pressure from hon. Members who represent Glasgow constituencies and others who support the ideals that I am expressing, and certainly with the support of Scottish Office Ministers, the Treasury will make a commitment in principle to allocate sums of money in order to start off the plan for urban deprivation units linking the various departments of the district council—not to replace the duties and activities of the district council, but to link them, bearing in mind what the leader of the council said about the problem being beyond the scope of that local authority. I should like it to be more of a partnership than simply replacing the excellent efforts which have been made. We have to accept that those efforts have not proved successful over the past few years.

I should also like to see additional officers appointed by the Department of Health and Social Security. In these areas, often we find that people do not claim the maximum benefits which they could get in the form of supplementary benefit. Often it is due to ignorance, and I say that with all the kindness that I can muster. When I did a survey of the chronic sick and disabled in my own constituency of Queen's Park. I found that people in the poorer areas did not have the benefits that they could have had if they had been aware of all the rules and regulations about supplementary benefit.

I want to draw my hon. Friend's attention to a dilemma facing me in my constituency. It concerns a group of people calling themselves the Govanhill Housing Association. They have made the point to me that when the considerable sum of £19 million was allocated by the Government for environmental improvement, they were under the impression that that £19 million would go to municipal as well as to private house improvements. The district council has informed them, however, that the £19 million was purely for municipal improvements and not for the old tenements which I and many others of my hon. Friends have in our constituencies. These people have proved themselves a worthy association, and they are tackling plans for modernising not only houses but the back courts. Anyone who understands tenement life in Glasgow knows that many cases of ill health are caused by the condition of back courts because of bad drains and the lack of facilities for the disposal of litter. The housing association has insisted that in any house improvements in the way of hot water and bathrooms, the back courts should be a necessary part. If I send to the Minister the letter that I have received from the assocaiiton, I hope that he will give it full consideration.

Time does not permit me to make the case as fully as I should like in the interests of all those who suffer from this terrible social deprivation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the hon. Gentleman that this debate can go on until 10.30 p.m. If he feels that he has some other relevant information, there is no reason why he should confine himself to the customary 15 minutes.

Mr. McElhone

I am grateful for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, somewhat unusually for an Adjuornment debate, I am supported by a considerable number of my colleagues who may wish to make contributions of their own if the debate can be extended in the way that you suggest.

I ask the Minister also to give attention to the article in today's Glasgow Herald in which the council comes out and says that it could modernise between 2,000 and 3,000 houses a year. That is a considerable number of old tenements. We are long past the idea of simply putting a bulldozer to the older areas, demolishing them, and decanting people out to the peripheral areas. I am glad that that policy has changed and that we have now the housing action area programme, whereby houses are modernised and communities are kept in areas like Govanhill and other parts of Glasgow. It is pointed out that modernisation of 3,000 such homes a year would cost £20 million to £30 million a year, and that would be a considerable slice of the £50 million a year which is necessary if we are to change the image of the city of Glasgow and encourage people to go and work there.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State represents, in Glasgow, Provan, extensive areas of social deprivation. He has worked extremely hard for that area, both as a back bencher and as a Minister, and, to his great credit, he has also taken a keen interest, as housing Minister, in areas represented by other hon. Members. Despite the financial crisis facing the country, the attitude among my people is that perhaps a year or two years for any signs of action may he a year or two years too late, because they are looking for the justice which they think is Glasgow's due in the 1970s. If they are to be given justice, it must be early, because, all too often, justice delayed is justice denied.

In the case of old people in particular, I am extremely glad that the Scottish Office has at least seen fit to send a circular out urging local authorities to take some action on the provision of houses for the chronically sick and disabled.

Someone once said to me that I was always advancing the case for Glasgow. As a proud Glaswegian, I am prepared to do that as far as I possibly can. But there is in Glasgow a source of deep regret to me as a former Glasgow city councillor and now as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow. It is that, despite Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which states that local authorties "shall" provide housing for the chronically sick and disabled—not "may" provide it—Glasgow has not provided one house specifically built for the chronically sick and disabled.

I have raised countless Questions on this matter over the last three or four years. All too often it is the smaller authorities which have moved forward under Section 3. I hope that, apart from sending out a circular, my hon. Friend will say that Glasgow Corporation ought to be doing its best within its housing programme to fulfil its deep obligation to provide houses for the chronically sick and disabled.

A survey carried out in my constituency found that, apart from 771 people who were in need of assistance and not getting it under that excellent Act, at least 20 to 30 of them were acutely in need of the special type of housing that other local authorities have provided. In balancing the claims put forward by hon. Members, I hope that my hon. Friend will give emphasis to this aspect and not only to housing generally. We talk a great deal about social deprivation and the need also for recreational facilities, about improving gardens and the green spaces within such areas. But all too often one finds that the accent is on areas which do not really need them as badly as, say, Black-hill, if I may quote a case in the Minister's own constituency.

My predecessors were distinguished people, and the records show that they made speeches on much the same lines as the one I am now making. The condition of such areas is one of the reasons why we have lost so many of our bright and best young people to England, Canada, Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth. With the discovery of North Sea oil a new life is emerging in Scotland. Certainly this is encouraged with the job opportunities presented to us by the Government. We wish to keep our people. The figures show that not so many people are leaving our country this year, and that is very welcome.

However, if we are to go through a period of severe restraint—and I understand the reasons for it—if there is money available, and I expect that there always will be some, I hope that it will go to the city of Glasgow. I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am being selfish. I hope that they will accept that our areas of deprivation are much worse than anywhere else—as the Department of the Environment has said —and that £50 million per year should go to Glasgow, that the urban deprivation unit should move in to assist the Glasgow District Council, that the Department of Employment should be asked to provide extra staff and that the Department of Health and Social Security should also be asked to provide extra staff. I agree with those facts, because those measures are important and necessary. If they are carried out and a commitment is given, a new and long-awaited change of life will be provided for the citizens of Glasgow.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

All hon. Members who represent Glasgow constituencies, and indeed other Scottish Members will be grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) for raising this subject and also to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and his hon. Friends, who by winning the Division gave us extra time for this important debate. I was anxious to take part in the debate, but I was expecting to have to wait until three, four or five o'clock in the morning before the hon. Member for Queen's Park got on his feet.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that urban deprivation is normally associated with the city of Glasgow. He made an extremely good speech but it was unfortunate that at the beginning he tried in some way to relate the problems to the Tory Party and the Scottish National Party. Having been a councillor in the city of Glasgow, my own recollection is that over the past 50 years the Progressive Party has been in power for approximately two years and for the rest of the time the Labour Party has been in control.

Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)

I should like to put the record straight. The majority of the time was spent under a Tory Government. It was in the main through grants from the central Government that the local authority was able to get on with its housing project.

Mr. Taylor

There have been Conservative Governments that have done their best to help Glasgow and its problems. However, if we are to spend our time deciding whether Conservative councils, Progressive councils or Conservative Governments are to blame we shall not get far. The problems of Glasgow have remained, irrespective of who has been in power at George Square or Westminster. Obviously something needs to be done.

First, we must try to establish just how real the urban deprivation is. We must remember that much of the present controversy has arisen from a report published by the Department of the Environment based on figures published in the 1971 census. All Glasgow Members will be aware that a great deal has been done since 1971.

Second, we must bear in mind that much of the publicity about Glasgow's housing is entirely wrong, mischievous and misleading. Nothing annoys me more than to see on television a programme about a family living in appalling housing conditions. When this is checked out one often finds either that the house concerned has been cleared by the local authority and people have then moved in or that someone who had a satisfactory municipal house has done a moonlight flit and moved into the condemned property. The media could help considerably if, when displaying some of the alleged atrocious housing problems in Glasgow, they gave the whole story and not just half of it.

Third, despite its problems Glasgow has some unique and fundamental assets with its open space, a number of parks and the accessibility of the countryside and the coast. It is within our knowledge that those who have come to live in the city of Glasgow have been enormously surprised by some of Glasgow's unique assets concerning culture and education. However, there is an enormous problem and we must address ourselves to what is wrong and what needs to be done.

The first thing, about which I feel passionately, is that money alone will not solve Glasgow's problems. It is our job, as Members of Parliament representing the city, to make sure that its needs are taken into account by the Government when assessing their spending priorities. However, it would be entirely wrong to give the impression that if money were made available Glasgow's problems would be solved. In addition, we need a change of policy in housing and social engineering. Money alone will not solve Glasgow's problems. An enormous amount has already been spent by the local council and by Governments of both parties. Yet, despite that, Glasgow still has a massive problem.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Queen's Park will join me in saying that it is rather a slap in the face for the city of Glasgow that, instead of giving extra cash, the Government have introduced a new rate system of reallocation within the regions, which will mean that ratepayers in Glasgow will pay about 9p in the pound more than they would otherwise have had to pay.

Mr. McElhone

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair. Therefore, he should put on record that this Government gave the biggest rate support grant for any year and that this helped the Glasgow district authority as well as the regions.

Mr. Taylor

Yes. I was trying not to be controversial. The hon. Gentleman is right that, for the whole of Scotland, we had an all-time record grant from the Government. On the other hand, he will be aware that the reallocation scheme within the regions ensures that, because Glasgow has always had high rates, they will be particularly high in the current financial year.

One thing which should be said straight away, which is shown by the evidence, is that although Glasgow has a bad housing problem there is not an enormous physical shortage of houses. I think the Minister will agree from his constituency experience that if a homeless couple were to move into Glasgow, they could soon be allocated a post-war house, which would have cost a great deal to build. It might take weeks, but in no case would it be more than six months for someone moving into the city to get a corporation house. To that extent, although we have a substantial waiting list, there is not an enormous physical shortage of houses in Glasgow.

I believe that there are three problems which must be faced. The first concerns our slums. There are fewer slums in Glasgow than in the past. That is because of the massive clearance programme. One of our greatest disappointments in the previous Government was that, whereas we put enormous emphasis on improvement grants designed to ensure that Glasgow tenements would be improved, we found the money being spent on the improvement of houses in other parts of the country and very little in the city of Glasgow. People were putting in new dormer windows and adding extensions to houses in the Highlands and so on, but not a great deal was being spent on improving Glasgow's tenements.

I think that in any reassessment of the improvement grant scheme which, I hope, will come from the Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 and the setting up of housing action areas, we should ensure that a great deal of the money available for housing improvement is spent on tenement property in the city of Glasgow and other cities similarly affected.

Recently the Minister announced that there would be a reduction of about £10 million in anticipated spending on housing. He explained that there would be no reduction in housing subsidies but that the Government hoped to recoup the £10 million by an increase in municipal rents throughout Scotland. Since that time a large number of authorities, including the Glasgow District Council, have effectively said to the Minister that they will not increase their rents. To that extent, I wonder whether the Minister could give us some guidance about where the £10 million will come from? What worries me is that it might come off the improvement grants. I hope that the Minister will give us a clear assurance that, if the money is not to be raised by increased rents because of the new freedom given to local authorities since our Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act was repealed, it will not come off the improvement grant programme.

The second great problem concerns private rented accommodation. The Minister will be aware that Glasgow is rather unique in that traditionally it has had a substantial number of private rented homes. Unfortunately, all the evidence is that private homes coming on to the market are not being made available for letting, and the situation on the furnished accommodation side has become appalling. Since the Act of last year furnished lettings have moved away from the market.

What is the Minister's attitude to the private rented sector? At one time the Labour Party indicated in policy statements its hope that private rented property would be taken over by the Government or by local authorities, but we now have the situation that the municipalisation programme has been abandoned—understandably so—because of the financial problems facing the country. In these circumstances, the Minister has an obligation to tell us what his policy is towards the private rented sector.

There is a great deal of urban deprivation in Glasgow, and the problem will become more serious unless there is a change of policy in the giant schemes that were carried out in the City of Glasgow in the rush for post-war housing. There were three giant schemes—Easterhouse, Drumchapel and Castlemilk—and a number of other smaller schemes were undertaken at about that time. The big schemes were starved of amenities and were far too large to foster a real community spirit, and they have given rise to many problems since then. It is in the nature of urban deprivation that where there is a lack of amenities there are schools with an appalling teacher shortage, which means that children who start disadvantaged face even greater problems.

What can be done in this situation? I represent one of the great schemes, Castlemilk, and I think the Minister will agree that we are winning the battle there. The best indication of this is to be found in the demand for houses in the various schemes. When I first became the Member for the area which includes Castlemilk, people could get a house there after wait-for a few months—perhaps six months at most. It now appears from the correspondence that I have had with the housing manager that someone who wants a house in this area has to wait for about two years. This is a remarkable change and an encouraging one. It may be that this is due to the representation in Par- liament which the people there enjoy. I should not wish to put that forward as the reason, but I think the Minister will accept that there has been a change in the situation.

What worries me is not so much the fact that there are problems but that the better schemes appear to be getting better and the worst schemes appear to be getting even worse. This is where one can come up against desperate problems of urban deprivation. It is the kind of problem that one meets in American cities, where the nice areas become nicer and the bad areas become worse. That is why we must do something urgently to deal with the problems that are being met.

The answer is not merely to provide more money. I should like to put forward a number of specific suggestions, none of which would cost a great deal of money. There is a desperate need to inject owner-occupation into our council housing schemes, particularly in schemes with few amenities. The Tory Party has always advocated a policy of selling council houses as of right to every council tenant. My fear is that if that policy were to be enforced without any restrictions in Glasgow, houses would be sold in Merrylee, Knightswood and Mosspark—those pleasant and desirable areas where there are few if any social problems—and not in the other municipalised areas which are different in composition and standards. There must be an injection of of owner-occupation in the most difficult schemes.

If there is no great demand, how does one manufacture it? Every local authority tenant, particularly in difficult areas, should be sent a circular letter saying, what the monthly charge would be if he bought his existing home on mortgage—on the basis of market value less, say, about 25 per cent. in areas like Knights-wood the price would be high. An objective valuation in some schemes might come up with a price of £750, £1,000 or £1,500. All houses which were empty for two or three months, and not because of maintenance work, should be offered for sale by the local authority, which should have a statutory obligation to do so.

If we use all means to inject owner-occupation by offering houses at a low price reflecting present market value, we should do a real service to these areas. The people concerned would know that the price they would get for the house would determine the general norms of the community, and they would make a constructive contribution. This would also achieve a better social mix, which is important in education as well as housing.

More police are needed. One of the consistent and recurrent complaints is that, although the police try to cover the whole area, there are not enough of them. There are not enough men on the beat. Instead, there are Panda cars. We know that there is a manpower shortage, but if the Minister discussed greater police supervision in difficult areas with the Strathclyde Police Authority, he would do Glasgow a service.

Third, in schemes with many social problems, as in the private rented sector, there is a need for a further extension of the welcome direct payment of rent from long-term supplementary benefit recipients. Following a meeting which I and the Castlemilk Amenities Interest Group and other groups have had with the Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, the number of families whose rent is paid direct from these benefits has been increased. It is a great worry when there are so many evictions because of non-payment of rent.

Fourth, public transport should be reglamourised and improved. We forget that many people in the peripheral schemes depend entirely on public transport. Having a car, I often forget this myself. If there is a case for additional Government funds, it is to ensure that the public transport services in areas where many people depend on them are improved.

Fifth, there should be a substantial improvement in maintenance services in council areas. Having met the manager, I know that he has substantial problems, but a considerable improvement would arise from regular liaison among those who operate building departments throughout Scotland to consider how administration could be improved and the tenants given a better idea of what work was being done and the reason for any delay.

Sixth, more discipline is needed. Most of us will accept, not just because we represent the areas, that many of the problems in these schemes come from a small minority of anti-social tenants who, for good reasons or for bad reasons, make life hell for their neighbours. There is need for more discipline to be exercised by housing management departments.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

Is not part of the difficulty that there is sometimes a policy of putting problem families all together in one area rather than spreading them about in communities that can give greater support to problem families?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. However, every area that I know of in the West of Scotland which has made strenuous attempts to have a mixed policy and to say "We are not going to ghetto-ise problem families", as I know Glasgow tried some years ago, found that self-segration has taken place. If two or three rowdy families move into a street, other families try to move out. Even in the big schemes, streets become known as rough streets or nice streets. No matter how hard one tries, without a measure of discipline self-segregation takes place. The Minister will know this from his constituency experience, as I know it from mine.

If we want to try to build up morale and community spirit, local authorities should be encouraged by circular to ensure that young homeless families who have lived in an area all their lives and want a house there are accorded preferential treatment. If at Easterhouse young homeless families who are staying with their folks could be given a house in the area where they have lived and been educated, this could do much more for the area than if families from condemned buildings elsewhere are moved in. I therefore hope that the Minister will discuss with Glasgow and other cities the possibility of such a scheme of allocation.

Second last, I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the possibility of the consumer advice centres which are being set up throughout the country being concentrated and located within our major housing schemes. It worries me that the consumer advice centres which are being set up are often in areas which do not have a substantial number of social problems. If there is a shortage of cash for these centres, they could do far more good in council schemes where there is a substantial number of people who are used to being kicked around, who do not know where to go for advice, and who as a general rule do not have access to telephones.

There is a splendid case for having an advice centre within each large housing scheme in Scotland. Then there would not be just the housing authority represented but the electricity board, the gas board and even the income tax inspector would be in a position to give advice to people who tend to be kicked around by our bureaucratic machinery.

Lastly, I hope that I have not spoken for too long and that what I have said has been constructive. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind and also remember that very few of the things that I have suggested would cost money.

The hon. Member for Queen's Park has rendered an excellent service in pointing out the needs of the city and our constant need for more finance. I hope that the Minister will take the message from me that the mere provision of finance without a change of policy will not solve the problem of urban deprivation in Glasgow.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

In 13 years I have never before, Mr. Deputy Speaker, presumed to have the temerity to speak on the subject of the housing of your city. My excuse for doing so is partly that I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), represent half of Livingston. As is known to you, three-quarters of the population of Livingston are incomers from your city. This raises a question which is becoming more and more urgent—that is, the rail links.

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), I hope to be constructive and to put forward seven points. First, could the Scottish Office once again resume discussions with the Department of the Environment and, indeed, the Lothian and Strathclyde regional councils to see whether it would not be sensible, now that population patterns have changed, to resurrect a passenger service—Airdrie, Bathgate, Livingston, Edinburgh? There is a good deal of indication that on the easterly side of this line it would be nearing profit. I would like to assure my hon. Friends after a good deal of discussion with people in Livingston that, especially at weekends, there would be a very considerable traffic going in a westerly direction from Livingston to Airdrie so that particularly women could catch the Airdrie blue trains to a point of destination in Glasgow. In Livingston there is a real problem of women being cut off from their families. Therefore, both ways there would be a considerable advantage in going back and re-examining the rail link.

I am sure that with buses and petrol becoming more expensive, whereas 10 or 15 years ago it may have made good sense to close this line, equally it would now make sense on a cost basis to consider opening it up, and it might even be a sensible commercial decision for British Rail. It would be a great help to those who come from Glasgow to Livingston. I ask that this suggestion should be considered in depth now that the population pattern has changed so dramatically with the growth of Livingston.

As a council member of the National Trust, I have seen at first hand the success of its small houses scheme, particularly in the county of Fife. I suppose that to a non-Glaswegian it is always striking how beautiful the city is. Often one thinks that there are more gems of architecture in Glasgow than in Edinburgh—I really mean that—and it would be tragic if some of those houses which are in marginally good condition were not saved. Therefore, one thinks in terms of a revolving fund.

In the houses which are being pulled down there are a great number of valuable building materials. I have to confess that two years ago, for my personal purposes I got two lorry loads of the most beautiful cut Caithness stone from the paving stones in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

I hope my hon. Friend paid for it.

Mr. Dalyell

I paid not a ha'penny for it, other than for transport from the Glasgow city boundary to where I live. Otherwise it would have gone to the Glasgow city rubbish dump. That is why I got it free. I will not say that it was a minor scandal, because it suited me. The stone was used for a good purpose. These building materials, some of which are deposited in rubbish dumps, could be used for much better purposes. Perhaps I was lucky, but it does not alter the principle of the thing.

I was greatly impressed to visit, again in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone), the community industry training scheme. All of us who have seen this at first hand know its possibilities. May I express the hope that even when the public sector borrowing requirement necessities are as we all know they are, there will not be a cutback in the help to community industry. I hope that community industry can be enabled to enlarge its training in two particular sectors, to one of which the hon. Member for Cathcart referred, namely, those who are skilled in maintenance of elderly buildings. Those who can cope with the labyrinthine byzantine plumbing of some of the older buildings are fewer and fewer, and there is an argument for training in the maintenance of old property. I couple with this training in the often forgotten art of masonry. I hope there will not be any cutback in community industry.

The next issue I wish to raise is rather general. It extends beyond Glasgow. Some of us are horrified at the prospect that there may be a cutback in the number of teachers employed and in teacher training. Speaking for many of my colleagues, if there are to be cutbacks in the education budget let it be in new building rather than in the number of teachers employed, because oversize classes are a form of deprivation. In fact, it is often the most serious form of deprivation of all. I say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]

Mr. Dalyell

—that, in the value judgment they will be called on to make, the provision of teachers will have a high-powered effect.

Fifthly, I do not want to mislead my colleagues but some of us have recently seen some impressive new housing projects in Rouen, France, and in some other French industrial cities. Perhaps we can learn from this that housing provision can include adequate sports facilities and a proper sports set-up. I am not talking about creating Olympic champions for the future or anything of that kind, but from the point of view of the preservation of property the provision of proper sports facilities—what is being done in West Lothian, for example —is sensible along with massive new housing. Could not greater priority be given not only to Glasgow but to the whole of Scotland?

I should like to mention a West Lothian problem. I am appalled that the combined wisdom of the Midlothian Council and the West Lothian District Council—the region and the district—has created a situation in which the swimming pool at Fauldhouse has now been in working order and full of water for six weeks. Those councils cannot come to an amicable agreement about who is to pay the running costs. The pupils of Fauldhouse are now on holiday. If I know the good people of Fauldhouse, unless a decision is made that swimming pool will be broken into before long, because if those people see water and a brand-new swimming pool somehow they will get their swim, especially in this hot weather when the kids are on holiday. It is about time—I would not normally raise this matter in the House of Commons—that the Scottish Office made some inquiries as to how this situation has come about.

The hon. Member for Cathcart mentioned the police. I am perfectly aware that I am on delicate grounds here. I have already raised with the Home Office —I did not get very far with it—the argument for bringing in a system whereby the blood groups of convicted criminals are recorded in a data bank. This arises in my case not from the dramatic events connected with Lord Lucan, but from a visit a month previously by the Forensic Science Laboratory of the Metropolitan Police at Lambeth. Dr. Margaret Pereira and Dr. Culliforth persuaded us that there are tremendous savings—and this is the point I wish to bring to the attention of my hon. Friends —in terms of police time if blood that is left—and it is often a matter of petty crime rather than dramatic crime—can be identified.

In the past five years there have been various systems whereby the authorities can narrow down a minuscule piece of dried blood to one group in, perhaps, 500, or, in the less common types, to one in 3,000. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the basic issue is in the saving of police time. If such a system were allowed, many suspects could be eliminated. It is self-evident to my hon. Friends that the amount of detective time that would be saved would be considerable. This may sound rather like 1984 but those who argue in relation to 1984 and those who use the civil liberties argument have to admit that we already have in the system a whole data bank of fingerprints. What is the difference between taking data about blood samples of a convicted criminal and taking fingerprints? I do not think that there is much qualitative difference, other than the technical assaults involved. I realise that the puncturing of skin, even to get a blood sample, is an assault.

I take up a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Cathcart. When talking about deprivation we are talking partly about crime. The House of Commons should not frustrate the police in any way by preventing them from using the benefits of modern science. I am saying nothing new when I say that both the Chief Constable of the Lothians and the Chief Constable of the Central Region have said that they would be in favour of this kind of help.

Therefore, I put it gently in these terms. The Scottish Office should give proper consideration to the question whether it would help the police if Parliament allowed them to take blood samples. I do not see why we are bound to follow the reply I was given to a recent Parliamentary Question by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, nor do I think that the Home Secretary is infallible on this matter. I hope that there will be a separate look at the question by the Secretary of State and his colleagues, and by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who I think has responsibility in these matters, and after due consideration we might ask ourselves whether there is not a case for the law of Scotland to be changed to allow blood samples to be taken from convicted criminals. I think that this would help in the battle against crime.

There are others who wish to speak in the debate. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for my opportunity.

10.6 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) for initiating the debate. We have had the good fortune of having slightly longer to debate the subject, which if I may remind hon. Members was urban deprivation in Clydeside. I know that there is a link between crime and the problem we are discussing, but the very narrow point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend would have saved himself another Adjournment debate.

Mr. Brown

I would not have to answer that Adjournment debate. However, my hon. Friend my fellow Under-Secretary has certainly noted the point. No doubt we shall hear more about the matter in the usual charming and brief manner of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.

I start by taking up one or two points that were raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). I always find that when he is at his most charming, cool and rational—or as rational as he can be—he is at his most dangerous. He finished his speech by leaving the impression that he was not asking for the expenditure of any more money. Perhaps he does not remember everything he said, but I have noted about half a dozen different things, all of which would include increased public expenditure.

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He and his party are urging cuts in public expenditure, but he comes along as if some of the matters he raises would not involve this—including more police and the increases in housing expenditure he was advocating. He cannot have that while urging upon the Government that there should be reductions in public expenditure.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In fairness, I think I said that only a few of the things I suggested would involve increased spending, and then very little. The Minister should bear in mind, when talking of priorities, that the Government were not forced last Wednesday to move the Second Reading of a Bill extending State ownership of industry in Scotland and costing £300 million.

Mr. Brown

Included in that is also provision for the very problems we are discussing. The hon. Gentleman should at least recognise that.

I make that point only in passing, however, because I basically agreed with the hon. Gentleman when he said that money alone will not solve the problems we are discussing. Perhaps if more attention—not merely because of the difficult economic climate in which we are operating—could be paid to what can be done, and not merely because it does not cost money, and if more effort could be made in housing schemes, particularly some of those we all know fairly well, which does not cost money, and more effort could be put into encouraging local people to take a greater interest in their own affairs and accept more responsibility for them, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman all the way in that kind of approach.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Cathcart will not expect me to deal with all the matters he raised, but I wish to comment on what he said about the misuse of improvement grants. In the 1974 Act we have provided for better use of the money through housing action areas, we have limited the range of housing which can attract grant by using the rateable value of £100, and there are no grants for second homes. Those are three ways in which we have made the application of money for improvement grants much more discriminating, directing it to the properties which show the greatest need. This is something which we have done in a constructive approach to the use of what money is available, adopting better methods than were adopted by the previous Government.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We had made provision for that.

Mr. Brown

We have made changes to make that provision better.

The argument about municipalisation is a sterile argument. There is no great demand. It is not seen as a solution to the problems in Glasgow which we are discussing. No one is advocating it, and no one believes it to be a solution. Nevertheless it has to be recognised that there has been a substantial and permanent decline in the amount of private rented accommodation available. This is not due to the pursuit of ideological policies by anyone; it is just that the sheer physical deterioration of privately-owned and rented property means that there is a decreasing amount available.

The hon. Member for Cathcart knows that in the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Act 1975 there are provisions which go some way to recognise that the private sector has a contribution to make in providing accommodation at reasonable rents, and he knows also of the restrictions which we have put on the increases which may be included there. I have no need to apologise, therefore, on that score. We are not pursuing ideological policies which are working against any contribution towards the solution of the problems of so-called deprived areas.

Before coming to my detailed reply to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park, may I add a word to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian? I have enough on my plate already without accepting responsibilities for rail links, gems of architecture, community industry or cutbacks in teacher supply. If he is advocating that I should visit France to look at some of the experiments there, I am certainly willing to do that, but as regards swimming bath in Fauldhouse I have no ministerial responsibility whatever. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the matters which he raised—I acknowledge that they are serious and I am not being flippant, especially with regard to community industry and rail links—will be conveyed to the attention of my right hon. or hon. Friends who have responsibility for them.

I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park in raising this debate. I am sure that he has direct links with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I shall be delighted if he can extract what he is seeking from the Chancellor. I regard it in no way as my job to interfere with such personal links as he may have. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that a substantial amount of money is going into Glasgow at present. As I say, it would be wrong to leave the impression that money alone would solve the problems of urban deprivation, but it is none the less an important element.

My hon. Friend referred to various matters outwith my responsibility—increased staff in the Department of Employment and Department of Health and Social Security local offices—and the very fair comments which he made will be conveyed, I assure him, to the proper quarter.

I have no knowledge of the particular problem in Govanhill which my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park raised, but I gather he is writing to me about it and I shall look at the matter with great interest. I know the concern he has on this subject and I welcome the debate. It is wise to remind the House that the debate is about urban deprivation on Clydeside and not just about Glasgow. It would be a mistake if we allowed the impression to go out from this House that all the problems are in Glasgow or that Glasgow has nothing but problems. I am sure that this is not the intention of anyone here.

The recent report confirmed and highlighted some of the problems which have been staring central and local government in the face for years. None of us can be complacent. I am not trying to score party points, but I do not recall any special concern being shown by the previous Conservative Government, and in the short period that the Conservatives or Progressives were in control in Glasgow I do not recall them diverting additional resources into areas of greatest need. No one here has any right to try to score party points.

As there are no hon. Members from the Scottish National Party present at the moment, I have to say in their absence that they were particularly noted for their incompetence as members of the corporation, whatever area they represented, and they did not advocate policies of greater discrimination.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity of reminding the House and the people of Scotland that the Scottish National Party Members, who have been making many silly, irresponsible and unconstructive remarks on this very serious subject of urban deprivation, have not made a single constructive contribution in this debate and their bench is now empty? The attendance record of the SNP in the House is very poor, but they reached a nadir of ignominy in the recent proceedings in the Community Land Bill Standing Committee when they could not even produce one hon. Member—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The question of deprivation on Clydeside does not cover the absence of anyone here, which the people of Clydeside might welcome rather than feel that they have been deprived in any way.

Mr. Brown

Sooner or later, and I hope sooner, the people of Scotland will recognise that the Scottish National Party Members contribute nothing to serious discussions in the House. One of the things that perturbs me locally is that they are adept, in the kind of areas about which we are concerned, at giving the impression that there are instant solutions to some of these deep-rooted problems. In my own area, one would almost get the impression that the gangs would declare peace overnight if self-determination for Scotland was approved today. People know how absurd this is.

Since the 1971 Census, on which the Department of the Environment report is based, there has been no great change in the broad pattern of deprivation but there have been some significant changes. For example, the Strathclyde Region's male unemployment rate improved from 8.9 per cent. in June 1971 to 7 per cent. in June 1975. This was a period during which the British rate increased from 4.2 per cent. to 4.8 per cent. I am not trying to suggest that because the relative position has improved we are not still facing a serious unemployment situation and there is no consolation in these figures for anyone who is one of the statistics.

Also, since 1971 over 30,000 substandard tenement houses in Glasgow have been cleared. Indeed, in our very proper concern for the deprived it is important to keep the right perspective. Over the years, massive efforts have gone into redressing these problems. Much has been done. Glasgow is a good city to live in, and we all aim to make it even better. Strathclyde is a region of magnificent amenity and of growing industrial and commercial potential.

To say that is not to be complacent. I think that the psychological approach to convincing people that things can be better is important, especially since at the end of the day we shall have to rely on people themselves. It is wrong always to suggest that things are grim, bleak and depressing and that we are not making progress. I am not therefore being complacent, but we have to get the balance right. There are far too many remaining areas of blight, and we must concentrate on these. In doing so we must recognise that they are of very different kinds requiring different approaches and different treatments. The problems of Queen's Park are entirely different from the problems of Govan or Kelvingrove or some of the areas where there is older slum property. Therefore, this generalisation that parts of Glasgow are not good places to live in is totally misleading.

We are not looking for the same kind of policies without looking very carefully into the local needs of each area, but we require the participation of the people together with the district, the region and, obviously, the Scottish Office. Piecemeal and unco-ordinated schemes can prove disastrously wasteful and counter-productive. If they do not work, they can leave bitterness, indifference or in some cases even increased cynicism behind them.

The dispersal of deprived tenants from inner-area slums to new and old council estates does not itself solve the problems. In some cases it makes them worse. All this adds to the complexity of the problems that have to be tackled. It is for these reasons that I query the assumption of my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park that the answer to the problems of Glasgow and Clydeside can be solved simply by the injection of new money.

Mr. McElhone

I must put it on the record that I did not imply that money was a panacea for this problem. The majority of the housing estates in Glasgow are a credit to the city. I said that there were reservoirs of socially deprived people in places like Govan. Will my hon. Friend seriously consider bringing in the urban renewal unit, which, with some form of estate management by the council tenants themselves, would go a long way to helping this problem?

Mr. Brown

I was going to add that I did not think my hon. Friend had said it was simply a matter of money. I can assure him that the urban renewal unit in the Scottish Office will be involved in Glasgow, although the details of housing management will still be a matter for the district authorities—although I hope that we may debate this issue in more detail on Thursday.

Mr. McElhone

I want the urban renewal unit to be used not simply to tackle housing problems but to act as a co-ordinator of the various departments which are already active in these areas but not working together effectively.

Mr. Brown

That goes without saying. The unit is a co-ordinating unit designed to bring together the various departments in the Scottish Office which are linked with this problem. When I say that it will be concentrating a major part of its efforts in Glasgow, I mean that it will be providing whatever know-how it has in the co-ordination that is required at district level.

I wish to mention the contribution that will also be made by the Scottish Development Agency, which was debated last week. That will mean that additional money can be available. On top of that, the Scottish Special Housing Association is embarking on a building programme to assist local authorities which still have major slum clearance problems. Over the next three years the largest single number of houses—no fewer than 1,500—will go to Glasgow, and a further 1,000 are intended for the general area. That is a not inconsiderable contribution to be made by the Government at no cost to the ratepayers. I hope that that will be put on the balance sheet in favour of the Government's directing its efforts to these problems.

We recognise that there are problems with reorganisation. Obviously, that matter requires a certain approach. I hope that the new districts will make full use of the powers given them in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 to declare housing action areas. A circular about this has been issued today. I also hope that they will make available to owners the generous grants that are available to bring older houses up to standard. Bad housing conditions are only one aspect of deprivation, but it is important to get people's housing right if we are to have any hope of going on to solve their wider social problems.

My hon. Friend referred to the problems that might arise in the dispersal of civil servants because of the publicity about Glasgow. All of us who had anything to do with the Savings Bank coming to Glasgow—and many efforts were made by many people—recognise that this is a problem. But my hon. Friend was wrong to give the impression that the Civil Service unions were against the transfer. They are arguing about the terms, about whether there should be compulsory transfers or whether they should be by negotiation. One of the main associations is now on record as supporting the dispersal policy, something which did not happen over the Savings Bank.

These are important initiatives that the Government have taken. I am sure that the dispersal policy will be successful and will make a substantial contribution to the general economic wellbeing of the area.

We have also encouraged the setting up of a community development project at Ferguslie Park, Paisley, and one in Motherwell. The Motherwell district and the Strathclyde Region have agreed to carry on with the experiments in Motherwell. I do not think that research is all that is needed.

Dr. Bray

Will my hon. Friend confirm that no cuts have been made in the programme?

Mr. Brown

There are no cuts. This is only a modest research programe. The district and the region have agreed to carry on the initial study, which is for a period of about one year, leading to the formulation of a comprehensive set of proposals for the regeneration of the area concerned.

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State had discussions with some members of the Strathclyde Regional Council last Friday, and some of us are meeting the Lord Provost of Glasgow this week as local Members. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be meeting the Glasgow district next week in a more formal gathering.

I assure my hon. Friend that all the points he raised will be taken into account. We are aware of the difficulty in the short term of finding the financial resources for the existing programmes and for some of the ideas that my hon. Friend advocated. But that does not need to limit our determination to plan and execute effective action, and to do so quickly.

Above all we need ideas, enthusiasm and leadership aimed at securing the cooperation of the people, without whose support nothing concrete will be achieved. It is up to us to give that leadership and inspiration. I think that part of that contribution has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park in initiating this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.