HC Deb 28 February 1978 vol 945 cc289-327
Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 13, leave out from 'prescribed' to'; and' in line 14.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, we may consider Amendment No. 8, in line 24, at end insert— '(2A) The Secretary of State shall also take into account as a matter of priority any substantial element of dampness in local authority houses which constitutes a hazard to the health and welfare of the tenants and their families, in determining the said proportion payable to a local authority.' We may also consider Government Amendment No. 9.

Mr. Brown

These amendments concern the basis on which aggregate HSG is to be apportioned. Amendment No. 5 deletes the requirement that the method of apportionment should include weightings for sparsity and density of population. Amendment No. 9 establishes a broader requirement that the method of apportionment must have regard to any special needs affecting housing expenditure. Amendment No. 8 deals with dampness, and perhaps I shall be allowed to say a word or two about that later.

The Government amendment arises because of an amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) and accepted by me, but qualified or conditioned by the need to look at the specific wording. In Committee, we were all in sympathy with this attempt to draw attention to the special needs of the different areas and to take account of any factor which required special attention. In spirit, we all supported the hon. Member's amendment. However, since the Committee stage, the Government have had discussions with COSLA on this specific matter, and I have been persuaded that the hon. Member's amendment is defective in some respects.

The reference to weightings is too restrictive, and it may be that the words which were included in the amendment— the needs of sparsely and densely populated areas —would give the impression that these were more important than some other matters which would obviously need to be taken into account in the calculations. In other words, COSLA has impressed upon us that a reference to special needs rather than mentioning the specific point about sparsely and densely populated areas would be more appropriate than an incomplete list of factors, two of which were mentioned in the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Fife, East.

I repeat that the Government accept the spirit of the amendment moved in Committee. I suggest merely that the form of words in the Government's amendment clarifies to some extent what we are after, satisfies COSLA and, I am sure will satisfy the hon. Member for Fife, East.

I turn to Amendment No. 8. This is a most important subject. Dampness in some houses in Scotland is a serious matter. I am under no illusions about the importance of this, but we are not debating the problem of dampness or condensation. I am being asked in an amendment to try to include specific reference to this subject which in turn can influence the apportionment of housing support grant.

5.45 p.m.

The Government appreciate the seriousness of the problem. However, it is difficult to define precisely serious condensation and dampness. We have no precise figures about the number of houses involved. I doubt whether anyone has. For the people whose houses are seriously affected, the problem is troublesome and distressing. In fact, that is a total understatement. It is all very well for us to say that there are not many houses affected in Scotland—and that is true—but to the individual whose house is seriously affected it is a total disaster. Therefore, I hope that I can carry both sides of the House with me.

I am not condemning local authorities. I am urging them to treat this matter as a serious problem and to treat it sympathetically. We recognise that it can involve additional expenditure on local authorities by way of supervision costs in investigating complaints, identifying causes, devising remedial measures and advising tenants about how best to cut down condensation, the additional repair costs of redecoration or of installing equipment to extract moist air, and capital investment—

Mr. Younger

Does the Minister accept that the whole trouble about this is that the vast majority of local authorities make out that dampness is condensation in order that they do not have to do anything about it? It is that which drives people absolutely mad.

Mr. Brown

I do not go so far as to condemn all local authorities and say that they are passing the buck. I am not as extreme as the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in his condemnation of local authorities. However, I can see that there is a tendency to blame the tenant.

Mr. Canavan

Too much.

Mr. Brown

Probably too much, and I think that a local authority is entitled to blame a tenant only when it has itself satisfied the tenant that any structural defect in the building has been put right or that the installation of extractor fans has been completed.

I have experience of this problem in my constituency, and I know how difficult it is. But local authorities must take on board the need to deal sensitively with people who are genuinely distressed about the state of their houses. It is no exaggeration to say that sometimes people lose all pride in their houses simply because they do not seem to be able to find any solution to the problem.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

Can the Minister explain why there is dampness at all? My house is not damp. Why should anyone else's be?

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Member cares to invite me along to his house one evening, I shall try to give him the benefit of the little expertise that I have acquired. However, I should not like the House to regard the hon. Member for Edinburgh. South (Mr. Hutchison) as an eccentric. He is not. He makes a very valid point. I do not know anything about the salubrious district in which he lives, but I know all too well that two identical houses with no defects, occupied and well-heated, can be quite differently affected. One can be quite free of damp, whereas the other can have black fungus growing in it. That can easily happen in a house occupied by a family who are not short of a bob or two, and I assume that that would apply to the hon. Mem- ber for Edinburgh. South. Even in a house where people have gone to extreme inconvenience and sacrifice to ensure that it is adequately heated—and it is not cheap to do that nowadays—there may still be this problem.

It is a serious matter, and all that I can say on behalf of the Government is that, with these new arrangements, if an authority wishes to spend money on putting right structural defects, installing extractor fans or doing any of the remedial work which it thinks necessary, in future it can be capitalised and will come into the reckoning for grant.

This is a big improvement. I am not saying that it is enough, and I am not saying that it will satisfy every authority. But once we get the provisions of the Bill better understood by some local authorities and by elected members the financial inducement will be such that authorities will be encouraged to attend to the problem, which is very serious.

Mr. Craigen

Will the Minister comment on the variations in practice which arise over the investigation of dampness? In private sector housing the environmental health department make the investigations—the old sanitary inspectors. In public housing it is left to the housing management department. There is often a loss of faith in the process. I got the impression earlier that the Minister was tending to play down the awesome problem of dampness in local authority housing.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend does me an injustice. On the contrary, I have urged authorities to pay more attention to the problem. There are all sorts of wee men who come around with meters and stick things in walls, and then say that nothing is wrong. I am not making a party point. Previous Administrations have had the same problems and no one has yet come up with a perfect solution.

There are many ways in which local authorities can help. They can look at rent levels and take account of them if they fail to find a solution to the problem.

In recognising the importance of this amendment—I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and some of his colleagues are particularly concerned about this problem in Edinburgh—hon. Members must realise that it strikes all authorities, irrespective of who is in control. I hope that they will approach the attempt to find a solution on the same basis. I believe that this legislation will encourage local authorities to tackle the problem.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

The Minister was kind enough to tell me last week of the alteration he proposed to make to the amendment that I moved and that was accepted by the Committee. I fully understand his reasons for making the alteration, and I certainly accept the spirit in which he has made what I hope will be an improvement. I hope that the House will be prepared to accept it.

I hope that the Minister's amendment goes to the second "and" in line 14. If it goes only to the first "and" it leaves out the word "sparsity" and leaves in the word "density", which might mean that one needed to be very dense in the head to get the subsidy. I hope that it goes to the second "and".

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Yes, it does. There is a semi-colon somewhere that is very relevant. I am told that we have it right.

Mr. Canavan

I want to make a few remarks about the amendment relating to dampness in council houses. All of us have had a large number of complaints from constituents about allegations of dampness. I had a communication this morning from the Strathkelvin District Council, which covers part of my constituency. The letter said: A number of detailed surveys recently carried out on council houses reveal a substantial measure of condensation in a majority. Many tenants in my constituency think, rightly or wrongly, that "condensation" is a euphemism by the housing authority for dampness.

Some housing authorities go so far as to blame tenants for dampness and condensation in their houses. I know of one director of housing, covering one local authority in my constituency, who recently attended a public meeting of tenants complaining about dampness. This director said that the tenants must accept the responsibility themselves and went on to list three main reasons for dampness. These were the boiling of kettles, the use of paraffin heaters, and breathing. Is anyone seriously suggesting that to get rid of dampness or condensation council house tenants should stop boiling kettles, stop using paraffin heaters and even stop breathing? This seems to be the limit of the constructive thought that we get from some directors of housing.

Unless there are initiatives from local authorities themselves, the Minister should step in either with guidance or with instructions. It is in this respect that the amendment is very relevant.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

Basically I quite agree with the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). However it is perfectly true that condensation can be caused by a number of factors and everyone knows that in certain climatic conditions one can get heavy condensation unless one takes steps to avoid it. The problem is in mixing up condensation with dampness, because this is very wrong.

Mr. Canavan

Yes that is true, but I have had constituents coming to my surgeries on Saturday mornings complaining about dampness in their houses. They have produced smug letters from the local authority saying that it is not dampness but condensation. I have gone along to some of these places and I have seen the wall-paper hanging off and black fungus growing on the walls. It is quite intolerable that local authority tenants, or anyone else, should be asked to live in such conditions.

I think that there is a lack of expertise among some housing authorities in detecting the reasons for dampness or condensation. Part of the reason could be the design and structure of the housing. The standard of architecture and design of some local authority housing leaves a lot to be desired. We need a bit more variety in local authority housing schemes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is not in order in talking about types of housing scheme on an amendment dealing with dampness and condensation.

Mr. Canavan

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the structure of a house has a great deal to do with the problem. An amazing number of local authority houses have been built without chimney or flue. Ventilation is very important. Tenants should be able to choose the type of heating they want and if a house is deprived of a chimney or flue from the very start they are limited in their choice. This applies especially in mining areas where tenants get concessionary coal and they deeply resent it if the only house that they are offered is one without a chimney. A chimney is also good for ventilation and lack of proper ventilation can be a contributory cause of dampness.

Similarly, lack of satisfactory insulation can be relevant to the problem of dampness. It is important to realise that this problem is not confined to old houses, but applies also to many houses built recently. I know of houses less than 10 years old which are subject to grave problems of dampness.

6.0 p.m.

Another point relevant to the problem outlined in the amendment is the type of heating in houses and the cost of heating There is an amazing disparity in the costs of various types of heating. Tenants often have virtually no choice and sometimes have to use a fuel that is unsuitable for the structure and design of their houses.

There is even a wide difference in the costs of different types of solid fuel. The difference between the cost of bituminous coal and solid smokeless fuel is fantastic. Many tenants in my constituency cannot afford smokeless fuel, yet the Secretary of State and local authorities are implementing smokeless zones and forcing tenants to use smokeless fuel.

Unless these tenants decide to break the law—and some may be tempted to do so—they have to either freeze or buy paraffin heaters or calor gas stoves and these are not ideal heating for the family or for getting rid of condensation and dampness.

I was disappointed that after a local inquiry just over a year ago, the Secretary of State decided not to repeal the Bannockburn smokeless zone order, which I regard as a major contributory factor to dampness in Bannockburn. I know what I am talking about because I live in a local authority house in Bannockburn and I know how the tenants feel.

Instead of giving merely a negative answer to the overwhelming majority of tenants who wanted the order repealed, the Secretary of State might at least have offered some money to the local authority to enable it to provide adequate fireplaces and alternative appliances that could burn smokeless fuel efficiently and at an economic cost to help alleviate the problems of dampness which have a serious effect on people's health.

My experience is that the houses most affected by this problem are those heated by electricity. Many tenants who moved into all-electric flats were initially pleased to have central heating for the first time in their lives, but the enormous escalation in the price of electricity recently has meant that they simply cannot afford to use the central heating and they, too, have had to buy paraffin heaters and calor gas stoves, with the result that they have suffered serious condensation and dampness in their flats.

It is about time that local authorities, particularly those carrying out renovations, thought not only of ripping out fireplaces, but of installing central heating throughout the whole house and I hope that the Government will give them financial assistance for this work.

I have been shown around the homes of many of my constituents and I find that the problem of dampness is most acute in rooms which are empty during the day and which people cannot afford to heat properly. I hope that the Government will give every encouragement, including financial inducement, to local authorities to instal central heating. This would go a long way to alleviate dampness.

A copy of the letter from Strathkelvin District Council has been sent to the Scottish Development Department and I hope that the Minister will look at it personally and will not fob it off to his civil servants or allow it to gather dust in St. Andrew's House. The letter says: The Council are calling positively for a national compaign as regards condensation. I wholeheartedly support him in in this.

I am sure that this council is not alone in saying that the majority of its tenants are complaining about dampness. We need a national programme of co-ordinated research and study into this problem so that proposals can be brought forward and appropriate action taken. But all this will be impossible unless we get adequate resources from the Government.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

I am glad to be able to follow in debate the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). He was right to take these matters seriously. The Minister said that, to the best of his knowledge, the problem was not widespread, but that is not the evidence from my constituency.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I did not say that. The problem is geographically widespread, but it affects only a relatively small number of houses compared with the total stock. However, I did say that for those people who are affected it is a major disaster.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am grateful to the Minister, but what he has just said is still not supported by the evidence from my constituency. The Pilton damp action group says that 50 per cent. of the houses in West Pilton suffer from dampness in varying degrees and that 137 houses are priority cases. Edinburgh District Council's housing committee has funds to deal with only 100. This will lead to all sorts of complications about how to choose which 100 of the 137 priority cases should be dealt with.

The purpose behind the amendment is the principle it raises, namely, that something must be done as a matter of priority for council houses in Scotland where dampness constitutes a hazard to health. One has only to go into the council houses where young children are living and see the black marks on the walls and the dampness seeping through the walls to realise that this must inevitably have an adverse effect on the health of the children.

Last year, the Pilton damp action group in my constituency was formed under the leadership of Mrs. Brenda Lipscombe because 50 per cent. of the houses were suffering from dampness. The group held meetings and the tenants affected filled in forms and sent them to the environmental health department and the local clerk of works. When this did not produce any final results, they got in touch with other damp action groups in the Edinburgh area and wrote to the Secretary of State on 23rd May inviting him to visit the council houses and see the dampness. He replied in a way that did not satisfy them and he did not make more funds available. I do not think that the offer to visit the houses was taken up by the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary.

The group conducted a survey of the problem in West Pilton to discover the extent of dampness and it was realised that many of the tenants were using paraffin heaters because they were considerably cheaper. The problem with these heaters is that much of the heat goes out of the windows because high ventilation is required.

The group made two requests. First, that there should be rent and rate reductions for the tenants; and, secondly, that full compensation should be paid for the damage to tenants' property caused by dampness. The Under-Secretary replied to these points in a letter to me on 24th October. He said: I very much sympathise with the situation of tenants who are suffering from dampness, but this represents a housing management problem which is firmly the responsibility of Edinburgh District Council. The purpose of the amendment is to provide that there should be an obligation on the Secretary of State to take this sort of matter into account. I appreciate that the Under-Secretary is sympathetic, but the tenants want more than that; they want positive action.

As the Minister confirmed in his letter, the building research establishment at East Kilbride also conducted a survey in Edinburgh. After that survey, the district council made application for capital expenditure. Certain sums were made available, but they do not cover the total spent on the dampness.

Considerable concern has been expressed by local councillors and Mr. Jim Carson, a Scottish National Party councillor, has written a full letter in this connection which has been sent to the Minister.

One of the problems in Edinburgh is that the council is upgrading older houses. Many of the best houses are the older houses. Some of those that have the dampness are the newer houses. That is why we need to establish what causes dampness.

The problem is not solely an Edinburgh matter. The Scotsman reports today that anti-damp rent strikers in the Gorbals have withheld between £30,000 and £40,000 in rents and a campaign spokesman has said that incalculable damage has been done to health, and the anger and despair felt by tenants who are still living in damp conditions are best summed up by the fact that an increasing number are withholding their rents.

I uphold the law and its enforcement in all circumstances. However, as Macaulay said, suppressing disaffection without suppressing the cause of disaffection is like removing a rattlesnake's rattle but leaving its venom intact. It is not enough merely to tell those who are defying the law and refusing to pay their rent that they must pay; we must remove the cause of the disaffection. I suggest that that should be done by making a determined attempt to treat the matter with priority.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that Macaulay, whom he quoted, was an Edinburgh Member of Parliament in the nineteenth century? That indicates that the problem has continued for rather a long time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Craigen

I welcome the amendment as it applies to special needs and offers rather more flexibility.

I draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is a growing need in the Glasgow area for the provision of more sheltered housing. A special need that should be borne in mind by the Scottish Office when it is considering and drawing up the terms of the aggregate expenditure is the problem facing some local authorities where the age structure within communities has so altered that there is a steady requirement to increase the supply of two apartment houses, and especially sheltered housing.

As for dampness and condensation, if I seem to be carping it is not so much at my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State but at the impression that seemed to exist about 10 minutes ago that they do not present a problem in a number of areas. Obviously living habits differ even within flats within one multi-storey block. However, building materials have differed remarkably in the past decade. Some of the problems that are arising stem from the use of new building materials that have been used without adequate testing over a period.

I support the amendment as it introduces the problems of dampness and condensation as special factors in the calculation of the housing support grant. Surely we cannot overlook the extra expenditure that dampness causes when considering rents. That applies to central Government and local authorities and to all tenants within a local authority area who are having to meet the cost of remedial work.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)

I speak specifically to Amendment No. 8, which relates to an acute and widespread problem in Scotland. The widespread nature of the problem is clear as various hon. Members have referred to the problem as it affects their constituencies in Stirlingshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is an acute problem throughout Scotland. Hon. Members have given us examples of how dampness and condensation create practical problems and difficulties for individual households. The Under-Secretary of State can count on all-party support for the amendment. There seems to be a general air of sympathy towards the attempt to meet the problem. Therefore, in tackling it the hon. Gentleman may count on broad all-party support.

Sympathy is not enough; we require cash and action. The Minister has said that the problem may be related to a situation such as that caused by influenza as it is so widespread. If that is so, let us have the serum and let it be applied. As I have said, cash and action are required in calculating the housing support grant and in dealing with the problem of condensation and dampness. I suggest that the Minister should think about instituting a national research programme—in other words, further to define the problem and to think through solutions that can be applied.

Cash should be given to local authorities through the housing support grant. I hope that the Minister will take into account the need for extra money to implement new techniques that are appropriate to meet and defeat the problem.

When considering the cash that is given to local authorities, I hope that the Minister will give attention to house design and the materials that are used. We must look for new designs and new materials that are suited specifically to the Scottish climate and Scottish needs.

Above and beyond the debate, there is a case for special grant aid to meet the specific problem that has been outlined. That should be backed up by a national campaign to draw the attention of local authorities and everyone involved to the need for action to be taken immediately to help those who are faced with the problem.

6.15 p.m.

The Minister has said that few people are involved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us what is known of the problem—for example, the number of houses involved and the number of people involved.

When dealing with these problems, it is often found that those involved are those least able to help themselves. They are often the ones who are most acutely affected. The problem sometimes affects houses that are occupied by low income families, or by old people. When electrical installations provide the heating, it is possible for such families to build up massive fuel bills, which hit hardest those with lower incomes.

I refer to the individuals who have contacted the Government. For example, there is Jim Carson of West Pilton. I appreciate the mention given to him and his efforts by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). Apart from individuals, the Strathkelvin District Council has tried to draw the problems of its district to the Government's attention. It is a national and widespread problem.

There is a need for some financial mechanism to take into account, in terms of rents and rateable values, the problems created by condensation and dampness. I ask the Minister to tell us whether he is willing to take the problems into account in those terms.

I ask the Minister whether it is possible at Government level to take these problems into account when considering the cost yardstick. There is a problem as regards new house building where, because of the strictures of the indicative cost system, we may be inbuilding structural defects in house construction. I hope that the Minister will give specific attention to that matter.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us what he intends to do in dealing with the matters that I have mentioned. I hope that more cash will be applied to meet the problem. There is a need for a national research programme and new techniques. There is a need for new house building materials and designs to be applied to meet the problems that have been raised during the debate. I accept the amendment in the hope that if the House accepts it the Government will be forced into action to meet a specific problem.

Mr. James White (Glasgow, Pollok)

I take up the matters raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen).

I say again that it is high time that the Glasgow District Council stopped robbing people by demanding rents and rates when, as in the district of Priesthill, there is not merely dampness but flooding. In fairness to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I must tell the House that he was kind enough to visit the area some time ago. However, to my way of thinking the area is a ghetto. I have been to places such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, and I have been round Blackhill, but no place compares with Priesthill. Notwithstanding the severity of the problem, nothing ever seems to be done about it.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) said about our house building record. I had hoped that some of the terrible houses in Priesthill could be bulldozed and that the residents might move into Darnley. However, the Conservative Party and the nationalists on the Glasgow District Council brought about a dramatic cutback. That policy was applied to house building and to houses nearing completion, despite the fact that the people of Priesthill desperately wanted the houses to be built.

For the past seven years I have been fighting this cause. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to promise me some help today. I have had visits from officials from the Scottish Office, the Strathclyde Regional Council and the district council. It is rather like visiting the Berlin Wall: everybody comes and looks but nothing happens.

Yesterday we discussed the subject of law and order. I am not surprised that there should be lawlessness, hooliganism and vandalism in places such as Priest-hill. It is not unusual for whole streets to be without lights and for doctors and ambulance men to go around with torches.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member realises that we are not having a wide ranging debate. This is not yet the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. White

I sincerely hope that I do not have to wait for the Scottish Assembly in order to get something done. Mr. Deputy Speaker.

For the sake of people in Priesthill, I hope that the Minister will indicate how we can lean on the district council to get something done about the problems in that area.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I am glad to intervene briefly in the debate, because I did not serve on the Committee and I have not had the benefit of listening to earlier discussions on this matter.

Dampness and condensation are matters of genuine concern to many of my constituents. I agree with the Minister that, although this problem may be relatively widespread in different areas, we must keep it in perspective. However, the problem of dampness affecting an individual's house is a matter of great concern. Those with experience of property will know that dampness is difficult to diagnose and to put right.

I have had recurring problems brought to my attention in my constituency. Fortunately, with the exception of one area that I should like to mention, the problem has affected only individual houses. In most instances the housing authority, through its property services or housing department, has been sympathetic and helpful. Unfortunately, in some cases, it has taken months, even years, before the problem has been satisfactorily resolved.

Generally, I think that a great deal requires to be done by way of giving advice on the prevention of dampness and condensation. Someone who does not have practical experience of property may think that dampness is due to external factors—perhaps to the construction of the building—when it is in fact due to the use of certain types of heaters and so on. Therefore, before waiting for the complaints to be made, advice should be made generally available to tenants on the best forms of heating and ventilating for their houses. If more general advice on this matter were available, some of the problems could be prevented.

I welcome the amendment and Amendment No. 8. Dampness is not restricted to older houses. For example, there is a relatively new housing development in the village of Auchenblae in Kincardineshire. The houses were built only two years ago. They are in a somewhat exposed position, but they were built to modern design and standards by a well known firm of builders. I visited a number of those houses just over two weeks ago. I was appalled to see in various places in those houses black mould at wainscot level on the ground floor and at ceiling level in the bedrooms on the upper floor. There was dampness in living rooms, bedrooms, cupboards, on walls, stairways and in lobbies. It was most disconcerting. A number of the tenants had moved from older property into this new property expecting to find much better conditions than they had left. For some young couples these were their first homes. One has to meet people in these circumstances to appreciate how galling and discouraging the situation is.

These problems have been reported to the local authority and various investigations have been carried out. However, I was appalled by the advice that was given. I know that it was meant to be helpful and constructive, and I am not criticising the local authority. However, the tenants were advised to put ventilators in cupboards and to fit electric fans to help extraction and so on. Various tenants had not tried these methods, but they did not feel that it was their responsibility as they were paying rent and rates. They were the first tenants of these houses and they wondered why these suggestions should have been made to them. Other tenants had tried heating at a high level—the houses are heated electrically—while others had put in ventilators, but still the problem persisted.

I know that the local authority has this matter in hand. Indeed, I am in touch with the housing manager. Knowing the constructive way with which he deals with complaints, I am sure efforts will be made to find a solution and that action will be taken.

I raise this matter because it demonstrates that we are dealing with a problem that arises not only in older property but in new property. With the benefit of building regulations, modern experience and so on, one would have thought that this kind of difficulty could have been overcome.

It is right that we should discuss this matter in the House of Commons. It is also right to try to introduce it into measures such as the one under consideration in an endeavour to resolve it. I know that any action that can be taken by the Minister will be greatly appreciated by my constituents.

Sometimes these problems in technical terms are slow of resolution for very good reasons. We should be kidding ourselves if we thought that they could be resolved easily and quickly. But this is a problem for the occupier in terms not only of nuisance but of expense for redecoration, damage to clothing, furniture, curtains, carpets and so on.

It is an absolute waste of resources to build new houses only to have these problems arise. Dampness and condensation affect the fabric and reduce the value of houses and eventually lead to expensive repairs having to be carried out. A little extra money spent on construction—for example, to ensure that houses are properly insulated—will at the end of the day save not only money, but a great deal of distress to many people. I appreciate that money is required to help those who are in difficulty now, but I hope that the lesson to be drawn from the debate will be that we should devote more thought and money to the construction stage in order that we may at the end of the day save more resources.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). However, he made one comment which probably surprised many hon. Members, namely, the suggestion that new houses were less affected by dampness and condensation than old houses. I think that the experience of many hon. Members is quite the opposite: that new houses are more affected by dampness and condensation than old houses.

In modern building there should be no excuses for dampness. The construction methods and materials that can prevent dampness are or should be known. The main problem in my constituency in multi-storey flats appears to be condensation.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns suggested that there should be a national campaign and investigation into the causes of dampness and condensation. I am sure that a great deal of investigation is going on, but I suggest that experimentation nationally must be encouraged. By nationally I do not mean only Scotland. The problem affects the whole of Britain, as a recent television programme clearly showed.

6.30 p.m.

I do not know the solution. I am familiar with the building industry. I have spoken to many people who have had experience of this in the building industry and one hears a variety of solutions. One old builder, for whom I have great respect, believes that the real reason, particularly in modern housing, is that there is no flue and that there are fitted carpets. He believes that that is why old houses do not suffer from so much condensation. There may be something in what he says.

Compensation is not enough for those who have suffered this great inconvenience. There are houses in my area which inspectors have examined and treatment has been given. The houses have been redecorated and after six months they are back where they were. People who hope that they will be able to live a reasonably comfortable existence are in dread that the damp will start again, that fungus will start growing and that paper will come off the walls. I say, not that there should be no compensation, but that there must be a fundamental examination of the causes of the problem.

Hon. Members have referred to the different local government departments which might be concerned. It could be the sanitary inspector, the environmental health inspector or the housing manager. No one cares a damn who looks after these matters. The person concerned does not care whether the official comes from one department or another or what hat he wears. People expect action to be taken by the council.

Mr. Craigen

I agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. When I raised this matter earlier it was because people often complain about the buck-passing between different departments of a local authority and about the buffeting they experience when pursuing a claim.

Mr. Carmichael

That is what I am saying. The involvement of different departments is for the convenience of the local authority. If there is buck-passing, it should be sorted out at a high administrative level and ordinary people should not have to put up with it.

I have sympathy with Amendment No. 8, but it only papers cracks—if I may use such a phrase in this debate. We need an intensified campaign to investigate condensation. Dampness in a modern house is normally caused by neglect in building. The only real problem is that of condensation. I hope that the building research people will deal with it now.

Mr. Rifkind

The Minister said that the problem of dampness was like influenza in its geographical application. But the reaction from both sides of the House suggests that the disease is reaching epidemic proportions. The problem is more serious than the Minister accepted. He said that the concentration of dampness was not substantial in any one particular area and that the number of houses affected was limited. We can give examples from our constituencies.

I refer to the situation in the Firrhill Estate in my constituency where the tenants' association took a survey of 260 flats. In that survey there were over 200 complaints about dampness. If that occurs in one small part of Edinburgh it is not difficult to work out the extent of the problem throughout Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I appreciate the debating technique of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), but it is grossly unfair and does nothing to satisfy those who are affected to take a sample from a place where the incidence of damp might be high. It is not typical of other housing schemes, even in Edinburgh. It is unfair to say that this applies in all the council estates in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

The Minister has declared himself to be ignorant of the facts. We are giving examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) told the House about an area in his constituency where 50 per cent. of the tenants have damp problems. A long-term survey in a block of flats in my constituency showed that 200 out of 260 tenants complained of dampness. Complaints have come from Oxgangs, Wester Hailes, Saughton Mains, Calders and Broomhouse. In virtually every council estate damp action groups are complaining about serious damp. There is a substantial problem in Glasgow where literally thousands of tenants are complaining. Many of them have withdrawn their rents in protest. The problems exist in every part of Scotland. Virtually every city south of the border also has this problem. It is a serious problem which has a heavy concentration in the areas that hon. Members have mentioned.

One of the difficulties is to persuade local authorities to accept responsibility. In my area and elsewhere local authorities have suggested that the problem is caused by the fault of tenants. They say that the problem is not caused by water penetration or construction but by the methods of heating used by the tenants. I find it difficult to acknowledge that that is an explanation for the extent of the problem.

No doubt if many individual tenants heated their homes properly the problem would be solved for them. But there is no doubt that the problem of the severe dampness in local authority houses is not confined to bad tenants. Many exemplary tenants have tried to carry out reasonable suggestions only to find that the problem is as serious as ever. It is wrong to suggest that this is caused by the habits of tenants.

To a large extent, the problem is concentrated on council estates. If the difficulty were caused by the heating habits of the occupants, one would expect to receive representations and complaints about dampness from owner-occupiers and private tenants as well as from council tenants. Virtually every representation that I have received has been from tenants of local authority housing. They all suggest that the housing is the cause of the difficulty.

Mr. Russell Johnston

If a house is privately owned the owner would be unlikely to write to his Member of Parliament about it. An owner-occupier would endeavour to deal with the problem himself. One should not make comparisons of that kind.

Mr. Rifkind

I take the point. But if this were a severe problem to owner-occupiers, we should be aware of the fact. It exists in individual cases. Some private tenants and owner-occupiers have complained of dampness. But largely the trouble is restricted to local authority housing. We could be certain that if it existed on a substantial scale in owner-occupied dwellings there would be many representations to us.

I must offer my congratulations once more to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), who has now taken his place on the Government Front Bench. I congratulated him in a previous debate on moving an amendment on behalf of the Government when the Minister was not prepared to move it himself. He now appears to have followed the logic of his own argument and has crossed the Floor in a limited sense and in perhaps a premature way.

Mr. Younger

Surely the point my hon. Friend is making on this amendment is that with privately owned houses the owners do something about dampness, but with council houses no one does anything about it.

Mr. Rifkind

Certainly the local authorities have failed to respond adequately to the problem in their properties. There has been considerable discussion about the advice that local authorities have given to their tenants for dealing with the problem. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire, before he assumed his present elevated position, pointed out that in at least one case tenants had been advised that if they stopped breathing that could solve the problem of dampness and condensation.

Another curious proposition put to tenants in my area and elsewhere in Scotland was that they should switch on all the heating and leave the windows open, and that over a period of weeks or even months the condensation would disappear. I am not sure how many tenants would be prepared to put their heating on for 24 hours a day. In a strictly technical sense, this proposal might have dealt with the problem, but I notice that the local authorities have not volunteered to pay the heating bills of the tenants concerned.

Three courses of action are required to deal with this matter. The local authorities must accept that in a substantial proportion of their housing stock there is a severe problem of dampness which is caused not by the heating habits of the tenants but which relates to the structural conditions of the properties. Secondly, there is a powerful case for saying that where a local authority tenant is prevented from using part of his house because of dampness he should not be expected to pay the full rent for that house. The landlord, whether a private or local authority landlord, undertakes to provide a house for a tenant. If a quarter, a fifth or a third of that house cannot be used, as is the case with many houses in my constituency, it is not just or proper to expect payment of the full rent for the property.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I understand that the hon. Member is skilled in valuation matters. Does he accept that in valuation determinations by the valuation appeals committees account can be taken of dampness in houses, and that the valuation can be adjusted accordingly? Is it not the case that one of the prime areas of evidence that the committees take into account is whether there has been a rent deduction before that? The two systems are built into each other, and the committees can make spot reductions in valuations to take account of extensive dampness.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Member is correct. The problem here is that the local authorities maintain that the dampness is caused by the tenants, but they refuse to consider the possibility of a rent reduction, and therefore one would have to pin the responsibility upon the local authority before a rent or rates reduction could be made.

The Government must bear some responsibility in this matter. The problem is a national one and it would take a large amount of money to rectify the situation. It would therefore be unreasonable to expect the local authorities to meet the full cost themselves.

When I raised this matter with the Minister he replied in a letter dated 10th October: If there is a need for capital expenditure, proposals will be put to the Scottish Office who I am sure would be ready to consider as sympathetically as possible a reasonable and satisfactory scheme. I am glad that the Minister said that because it indicates that the ball is firmly in the local authorities' court to bring forward useful and sensible proposals. The Minister has gone as far as he can at this stage to indicate that the Government would respond favourably.

If the local authorities or the Government run out of all other ways of trying to resolve this problem, they could consider a suggestion made by a lady of 70 who wrote to me saying: Why not study Eskimo igloos and houses in Lapland? It would not surprise me if they have some cheap, simple solution". I commend that suggestion to the Minister if all else fails.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes

When I raised the matter of dampness in our discussions on this Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee, mine was a lone voice pointing out the problems faced by many tenants in all parts of Scotland. I am sure that in many homes in Scotland there will be some rejoicing that in the House of Commons many hon. Members appear to be drawing their different experiences together and that there might now be some recognition of the fact that a problem exists. More than anything else tenants suffer from the problem of dampness, the problem of keeping paper on the walls and the problem of the mildew that appears on their clothes, in cupboards and so on. When they manage to arrange for someone from the clerk of the works department to call, he takes a quick look round, says that it is conden- sation and goes away again, acting as though that resolves the matter.

I am sure that my experience is no different from that of other hon. Members. When one goes to a local authority and raises a specific case, the authority carries out an investigation, makes checks and puts special meters against the walls, and says that the problem is not of dampness but of condensation. But I wonder whether we are speaking about the same thing. It may be that the experts have a different view of condensation from me. I cannot for the life of me believe that some of the conditions I have seen are caused simply by condensation.

I was intrigued by the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) that it may not be the construction of the house that is at fault but the fact that tenants now have floor coverings that give much better protection against draughts and that there are no flues as there used to be with coal fires.

Judging from my experience, thousands, if not tens of thousands of tenants are suffering from this problem and they do not know which way to turn. I suspect that the local authorities do not know what to do either, which is why they say "This is just one of those things. There is nothing wrong with the construction of the house." Like other hon. Members, I have heard the advice offered to tenants that before going out they should leave the heating on full blast and open the windows. They are told that after two or three days the problem will go. Perhaps it will for a short while, but when the tenants revert to their old habits, it will simply return. Anyway, who could afford to leave the heating on in that way at this time of year? Who would leave the windows open on most housing schemes?

If there was a serious study of the problem, at least tenants might think that their views were being taken into account. In Mastrick in Aberdeen and in Northfield there are streets in which the tenants' associations have been fighting for years to get something done. The city council, which is the local authority, has made up its mind that houses there—they are not new houses, although they are not very old—should have foam pumped into the wall cavities to stop the penetration. That is clearly an expensive scheme. The city council is talking in terms of £100,000, which is for only a small part of the area, and there is no guarantee that the idea will work.

We should therefore take this matter very seriously. The Government should take account of these problems in allocating finance because, as I said in the Grand Committee, I have a sneaking suspicion that in five to 10 years we shall have the same problem of repair and maintenance in multi-storey flats. It will be very expensive.

I hope that the Government will seriously take this into account and will urge local authorities to deal with the matter seriously. I hope that they will not simply fob off the tenants with the age-old cry that it is condensation. That will no longer do.

Mr. Russell Johnston

There is no doubt, to judge from the contributions made from both sides of the House, that there is complete agreement that the problem of damp is a ruinous and an often deeply distressing matter. Equally, it is clear from what the Minister said at the beginning of the debate that he entirely recognises the problem, as do the Government.

The question that we face is whether it is necessary, and what difference it would make, to write the amendment into the Bill. Is the Minister satisfied with the vigour with which local authorities are tackling the problem? There has been considerable evidence from both sides of the House that individual Members, irrespective of party, are not satisfied with vigour with which the local authorities have been tackling the problem. One wonders to what extent this Government or previous Governments have leant on local authorities to try to get matters dealt with more quickly.

Does the Minister receive many approaches from local authorities asking the Scottish Office whether it can give assistance, technical advice and so on in dealing with what practically everybody seems to suggest is an almost intractable problem? We have been falling back on solutions ranging from stopping breathing to opening all the windows and putting the heating on. That is not exactly a sign of a technological, sophisticated, advanced age.

Therefore, one wonders to what degree the Scottish Office, which is at the beck and call of the Minister, has the expertise with which to advise local authorities. Although in the Bill we are talking about money, and the amendment seeks to write into the Bill that in considering the disbursal of money the Minister as a matter of priority should give special attention to the question of dampness, it is not only a question of money. It is a question of being able to deal with the matter in the correct way. We can spend a large amount of money and make no difference. Therefore, I should like that point to be clarified a little.

Is the Minister, if he receives requests of that kind, able to respond effectively? If local authorities say "Help us. We have this damp problem", can the Scottish Office effectively assist them?

A number of Members asked how widespread the problem was. Every hon. Member has experience of dampness in one form or another, either limited or quite large, in his or her own constituency. I have experience of the problem in Inverness, Fort William and Skye. To some extent, it seems to come in cycles. There are periods when there is evidence that dampness exists quite largely and then it does not arise so much for a period.

On the other hand, there are examples quoted by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) mentioned some a minute ago—of dampness having persisted for many years, and it does not seem to have been tackled.

I should like the Minister to give us any general information about how widespread the problem is. This would presumably be a matter which would determine how much money should be allocated and what priority should be given to tackling the problem.

Finally, I come back to the amendment. This is what we shall have to decide about at the end of the debate, apart from expressing what I think is a general degree of disturbance at the problem and the persistence of the problem of dampness. We are, after all, on the same side, as far as I can see. The Minister is not being accused of introducing damp as some sort of deep-dyed Labour policy. This is a problem which has existed for a long time. The question is whether the amendment would make any effective difference or whether in any event the Government are determined to tackle a problem of long standing with considerable priority.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The problem of dampness has been a curse to local authority housing for years. It has been a constant complaint of Members of Parliament, of whatever constituency. I am glad that Members on both sides of the House have tried to bring home to the Minister the seriousness of the problem.

It is significant that most hon. Members who have spoken come from the East of Scotland where there is a low rainfall and low humidity. Those who, like myself, come from the South-West have to face the problem of twice the rainfall and a very much higher humidity, which does not help with solving the problem that we are talking about. Many hon. Members have been to council houses and seen the fungus, whether black or green, and the ruined wallpaper and ruined ceilings and mildew on furniture, often with good tenants who look after their properties. The housing departments try to give advice, always seemingly based on the famous word "condensation".

As hon. Members have said, the remedies for condensation are varied, but on the whole they are inefficient and unsatisfactory. It is right that there should be pressure from hon. Members on the Minister to come up with a very much higher standard of advice from the Scottish Development Department. Do his architects have consultations with the building and construction industry?

Surely, in 1978, we can begin to appreciate the problem and to find out how best to tackle it, perhaps in the end through much more satisfactory advice to tenants. The Minister can set an example tonight in what could be worked out with his technical advisers. He could give help in a physical sense through financial resources to improve buildings, as so many of them are under 25 years old. What advice will he give on design to be put into the plans for the new housing to be built this year and there- after? We must make a positive effort to stamp out this problem as soon as possible.

I hope that the the Minister realises hon. Members' anxiety because the technical advice has not been forthcoming from the Scottish Office Development Department to local authorities. I hope that he will work out advice to be given to tenants on what to do with the houses that are presently suffering from damp, a matter which is within the resources of the average tenant to tackle. We cannot just go on talking about turning up the heating and opening all the windows. That is not practical advice in Scotland today.

I hope that the Minister has got the message. We are not best pleased about all this and we want something constructive to be done about it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I shall be very brief as the problem of condensation and dampness has been covered by other Members. The problem is to be found in every constituency, and mine is no exception.

I should like to ask the Minister what effect his proposed programme of 40,000 houses per year to be improved by way of proper insulation will have on the condensation problem. Are those matters linked in the Government's mind? Do the Government think that any relief will be given to the tenants of those houses which are particularly afflicted by condensation if the insulation programme goes ahead at the speed envisaged by the Minister?

Does not the Minister accept that one of the problems stems from the all-electric houses? Does he not feel also that the cost of electricity is having an impact on the tenants of those houses, as they cannot afford to burn the same amount of electricity as they could four or five years ago because of the terrific escalation in the cost of electricity by comparison with the cost of other fuels in that period?

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

This has been a very useful debate. Although the public would not always give us credit for this, it reflects the contact that hon. Members on both sides of the House have with the problems that confront people.

I do not think that even an independent Scotland would guarantee that the problems of condensation and dampness would be solved overnight. The debate has reflected the concern and frustrations felt by many tenants in trying to deal with the problems. I am not making excuses, but we have had many suggestions about causes and possible cures. The question "Is it dampness or is it condensation?" shows the difficulties in deciding what the problem really is and thus seeking appropriate solutions.

7.0 p.m.

I think that 12 hon. Members have contributed to the debate and the only one who referred to the amendment was the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). I am left with the responsibility of trying to persuade the House whether the matter should be included in the calculations for the distribution of housing support grant. We are not debating the problem of dampness or condensation or the amount of Government money involved. We are debating merely whether in distributing Government support we should take into account, as Amendment No. 8 says, any substantial element of dampness … which constitutes a hazard to the health and welfare of the tenants and their families".

I am sorry that I must be pragmatic here. What is a "substantial element of dampness"? Who would define it? Would we have arbitration between the Government and local authority as to how many such houses should be calculated as having a "substantial element of dampness"? What constitutes a hazard to the health and welfare of the tenants and their families"? That might vary according to the family and the size of house. I am not minimising the problem but looking at the practical aspects.

Mr. Welsh

Instead of asking questions, why does not the Minister give the tenant the benefit of the doubt?

Mr. Brown

I do not know what that means, but it sounds absurd.

Mr. Welsh

It should be clear whether a house is suffering from damp. The hon. Gentleman is nit-picking. It should be obvious to those involved.

Mr. Brown

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has any experience of the matter. It is not so obvious to the tenant or the authority what is causing the trouble, whether it is dampness or condensation and to what extent a contributory factor might be the family's life style—for example, their inability to provide the heat that might help to improve matters, however understanding we might he about that inability. I am not suggesting that heat would necessarily cure the problem.

Is it suggested that we should distribute more housing support grant to one authority than another on the basis of what a tenant says? I shudder if that is what the future Government of Scotland will base their decisions on. Evidence can be disputed, even in a court of law.

The amendment, if not technically defective, would introduce two specifications into matters that are covered by special needs. I am under no illusions about how the House feels. I am not satisfied that local authorities are tackling the problem with the vigour that it demands. It is one of the biggest problems in the whole of housing in Scotland. I even wish the authorities would consider slowing down normal modernisation to deal with it.

If I thought that money could solve the problem I would urge local authorities to spend money to cure dampness rather than to provide someone with a new kitchen unit. There is no comparison. One can put up with an old sink for another few months. To the extent that I could lend any weight to a campaign on those lines, I would give it.

Various suggestions have been made, but I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment. However, I am more than willing to consider asking authorities to indicate in their housing plans the extent of the problem. This might encourage them to make an assessment.

I do not like bandying figures across the Floor of the House. That is why I picked up the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) when he gave the example of almost 90 per cent. of houses in one small area being affected. When we are talking about almost a million local authority houses we do not know what is involved. It would be wrong to speak of 50 per cent. or anything like that figure being affected by dampness.

I am more than willing to discuss with COSLA the encouragement of local authorities to include the matter in the preparation of their housing plans—the plans for this year are almost coming up again—to see whether that would be a means of drawing attention to the problem and tackling it.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) asked whether help had been given. The Government have given assistance with electric heating bills to low-income families, those in receipt of family income supplement, supplementary assistance or supplementary pensions. But that is not enough. It is not merely a financial problem.

I hope that I shall have the backing of the House in whatever action we decide to take to encourage, exhort or cajole local authorities to pay more attention to the problem. Government money is available. I have explained that the change in the Bill should help to attract a Government contribution.

It is for the local authorities themselves to do many of the things that hon. Members have suggested. They have complete freedom to reduce the rents, but that would be a defeatist approach. They have complete discretion to carry out many of the suggestions that have been made.

I have already explained why the Government and COSLA do not want written into the Bill specific references to any particular problem. The debate has drawn attention to a particular problem, which will to some extent be reflected in management and maintenance, where factors are built in to take account of such matters. The proposals in the Bill are correct.

Provided we have the determination, in association with the local authorities, to tackle the problem, I think that we can give priority to providing the resources, however limited they might be. It is certainly a problem that affects too many people in Scotland.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We have spent a long time talking about dampness and may have forgotten the valuable contribution made to the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) in getting the Minister to adopt an amendment to take account of the special problems of special areas. My hon. Friend advanced a very important argument in Committee, which undoubtedly led to the Minister's making a major change in the Bill.

All speakers, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) have emphasised what a desperately serious problem dampness is. It has been emphasised, quite rightly, that it means fungus and rooms unused and that it means for many people living a life of virtual hell in their council houses.

The second thing that has been emphasised is the frustration of hon. Members. We have had discussions on this matter previously. We have heard the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raising the matter on previous occasions. Ministers have expressed concern. Previous Conservative and Labour Ministers have urged local authorities to do something about this dreadful problem, but the fact is that precious little seems to be done.

We should bear in mind the experience of all hon. Members who visit the homes of those who are suffering from the problem, who are just about getting to the end of their tether, and who set up groups and committees which meet councils and Members of Parliament, when it still seems that nothing appears to happen. We still have the same men coming around with the same machines and the same advice about condensation.

Earlier in the debate I pointed out that under the Government there had been a substantial reduction in the building programme. It is down to 26,000 houses. From what the Government say, it appears that there will not be an expansion but probably a further contraction in house building. Therefore, what we must say to the Government, and what the whole House must say, is that we must not have just another discussion tonight, with a few more generalisations to the Minister about what needs to be done, and assurances about the determination of local authorities. We need to do something tonight and to have something inserted in the Bill that will be an indication to local authorities that they must prepare a plan of action and do something about it.

In the amendment it is suggested that we should say to local authorities that they will get more or less, dependent on their dampness problem. It is necessary that the Government should announce a crusade over the next two years, during which there will be an endeavour by the Government, using their resources under the Bill, to ensure that dampness is eradicated from Scottish council homes. I believe that this could be done by ensuring at the beginning that more money was given to those authorities that wanted to deal with their problem, and those authorities that had not dealt with it would suffer in their grant latterly. In other words, we must use the discipline of the Bill to ensure that something is done.

When we are considering a housing Bill and when there will probably not be another such Bill for a long time, we should endeavour to do something about the problem of dampness. The Opposition amendment makes a contribution to its solution in making clear to local authorities that we want a crusade against dampness. We want urgent action taken by local authorities, and if such action is not taken there will be consequences for local authorities.

My experience and, I suspect, the experience of all those who have spent some time in the House, is that if we just give general assurances in the House, nothing much happens. We want to put statutory obligations into the Bill, or some kind of statutory restraints, and this is the only way of ensuring action by local authorities.

In the circumstances, although I accept what the Minister has said about certain technical defects in the amendment, in the light of the general view of the House tonight, I believe that it would be right for us to write this amendment into the Bill. If the Government can in another place make some other suggestions as to how we can have a guarantee of action on dampness, let them do that. But, in

view of the strong feelings that have been expressed this evening, it would be unthinkable that we should finish the debate without having made this alteration in the Bill.

This is a useful amendment, and I hope that the House will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move, Amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 16, at end add: '(1A) The report accompanying a housing support grant order in accordance with section 1(6) of this Act shall contain a table showing the estimated amount of grant payable to each local authority for that year.'. I move this amendment to fulfil an undertaking given in Committee, which arose from an amendment moved by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). The amendment originally moved by the hon. Member referred to the likely grant to be received by each authority. I accept that the thinking behind that, to have required the actual entitlement to be specified, could delay the laying of the order and the report. What I am now suggesting is "estimated" rather than "likely". I hope that that will satisfy the suggestion contained in the original amendment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I am most grateful to the Minister for this improvement in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed: No. 8, in page 3, line 24, at end insert: '(2A) The Secretary of State shall also take Into account as a matter of priority any substantial element of dampness in local authority houses which constitutes a hazard to the health and welfare of the tenants and their families, in determining the said proportion payable to a local authority.'.—[Mr. Teddy Taylor.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 146.

Division No. 128] AYES [7.15 p.m.
Adley, Robert Blaker, Peter Butler, Adam (Bosworth)
Aitken, Jonathan Body, Richard Channon, Paul
Arnold, Tom Bottomley, Peter Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Clegg, Walter
Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East) Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Cockroft, John
Bain, Mrs Margaret Braine, Sir Bernard Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Bell, Ronald Brooke, Peter Cope, John
Berry, Hon Anthony Bryan, Sir Paul Costain, A. P.
Biggs-Davison, John Buchanan-Smith, Alick Crawford, Douglas
Critchley, Julian King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kitson, Sir Timothy Royle, Sir Anthony
Dunlop, John Knox, David Sainsbury, Tim
Dykes, Hugh Lawrence, Ivan Scott, Nicholas
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Lawson, Nigel Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Elliott, Sir William Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Emery, Peter Loveridge, John Shepherd, Colin
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Luce, Richard Shersby, Michael
Farr, John MacCormick, Iain Silvester, Fred
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) McCrindle, Robert Sims, Roger
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Macfarlane, Neil Sinclair, Sir George
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Fox, Marcus Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Speed, Keith
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Marten, Neil Sproat, lain
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Mather, Carol Stainton, Keith
Glyn, Dr Alan Mawby, Ray Stanbrook, Ivor
Goodhart, Philip Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Mayhew, Patrick Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Gray, Hamish Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Grieve, Percy Mills, Peter Tebbit, Norman
Grist, Ian Monro, Hector Thomas, Rt Hon P (Hendon S)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Montgomery, Fergus Thompson, George
Hannam, John More, Jasper (Ludlow) Townsend, Cyril D.
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Walker, Rt Hon P (Worcester)
Hayhoe, Barney Mudd, David Warren, Kenneth
Hicks, Robert Nelson, Anthony Watt, Hamish
Holland, Philip Neubert, Michael Weatherill, Bernard
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Nott, John Wells, John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Page, John (Harrow West) Welsh, Andrew
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Wiggin, Jerry
Hurd, Douglas Page, Richard (Workington) Wigley, Dafydd
Hutchison, Michael Clark Pattie, Geoffrey Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
James, David Percival, Ian Winterton, Nicholas
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Pym, Rt Hon Francis Younger, Hon George
Jessel, Toby Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rhodes James, R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Peter Morrison and
Kaberry, Sir Donald Rifkind, Malcolm Sir George Young.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Madden, Max
Armstrong, Ernest Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Magee, Bryan
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marks, Kenneth
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Flannery, Martin Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Bates, Alf Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Beith, A. J. Ford, Ben Maynard, Miss Joan
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Forrester, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Molloy, William
Blenkinsop, Arthur Freud, Clement Moonman, Eric
Boardman, H. Golding, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Gourlay, Harry Moyle, Roland
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Grant, George (Morpeth) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Newens, Stanley
Buchan, Norman Hardy, Peter Noble, Mike
Buchanan, Richard Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Ogden, Eric
Campbell, Ian Hooley, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Carmichael, Neil Hooson, Emlyn Palmer, Arthur
Cartwright, John Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Pardoe, John
Clemitson, Ivor Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Park, George
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Huckfield, Les Parry, Robert
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pavitt, Laurie
Conlan, Bernard Hunter, Adam Price, William (Rugby)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Janner, Greville Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cowans, Harry Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) John, Brynmor Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Johnson, James (Hull West) Rooker, J. W.
Crawshaw, Richard Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rose, Paul B.
Cryer, Bob Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Lamble, David Ryman, John
Dalyell, Tam Lamond, James Sandelson, Neville
Davidson, Arthur Leadbitter, Ted Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Deakins, Eric Litterick, Tom Spiggs, Leslie
Dempsey, James Loyden, Eddie Slallard, A. W.
Doig, Peter Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Steel, Rt Hon David
Dormand, J. D. McCartney, Hugh Stott, Roger
Dunn, James A. McDonald, Dr Oonagh Strang, Gavin
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McGuire, Michael (Ince) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Eadie, Alex MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mackintosh, John P. Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Tinn, James White, Frank R. (Bury) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Torney, Tom White, James (Pollok) Woof, Robert
Urwin, T. W. Whitlock, William Wrigglesworth, Ian
Wainwright, Richard (Colne V) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ward, Michael Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton) Mr Joseph Harper and
Watkins, David Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Mr. Ted Graham.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 3, line 24, at end insert— '(2A) In prescribing the method of determining the proportion mentioned in subsection (1) above payable for any year to a local authority the Secretary of State shall have regard to any special needs affecting local authorities' expenditure on housing.'.—[Mr. Hugh D Brown.]

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 32, leave out 'in the opinion of the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

With this we may also discuss Government Amendment No. 11 and Amendment No. 12, in page 3, line 33, leave out 'an unduly large' and insert 'a substantial'.

Mr. Cook

This is a modest amendment whose effect is to delete the words in the opinion of the Secretary of State so that the subsection empowers the Secretary of State to arrange the distribution of housing support grant so that no local authority has an unduly large increase in any one year. At present the subsection provides that the Secretary of State will have the power to prevent what would be, in his opinion, an unduly large increase.

It is worth recording that when the Committee fell to work on this Bill there were no fewer than five references to the opinion of the Secretary of State in Clauses 1 and 2. In the course of our proceedings in Committee we managed to delete four of those references and in so doing, I believe all Members would accept, made a better Bill. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect and in the course of our proceedings we appear to have overlooked the remaining, fifth, reference to the Secretary of State's opinion, in line 32 of Clause 2.

It would be only logical to carry through the argument made in Committee and to delete the reference. The effect of the amendment is modest. The subsection provides that the Secretary of State may so arrange matters that there is no unduly large increase for a local authority. It seems distinctly superfluous, having said that he may, if he so decides, arrange that there be no unduly large increase, to refer to the Secretary of State's opinion. I presume that it is implicit in his decision so to arrange things that there is no unduly large increase or that in his opinion an unduly large increase was likely to occur.

This seems to me a particularly superfluous use of the words. Deleting them will not substantially alter the powers of discretion which rests with the Secretary of State, but at least it will help to reduce the extent to which the Secretary of State is seen to dominate the two clauses. I hope that the amendment will be acceptable to the Minister and to the House.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I have a good deal of sympathy, as always, with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), although I think that the Minister explained briefly in Committee why it was desirable to leave in the words.

With regard to our Amendment No. 12, we were unhappy, in relation to the transitional arrangements that the words "an unduly large" should appear, and we suggested the insertion of the words "a substantial" in their place. The clause makes provision for the Secretary of State to give some help to authorities when a reduction in housing support grant would result in an unduly large increase for the current year, as compared with the preceding year, in the amount by which rates had to increase. It seems to us that the words "an unduly large" can cover anything, and that is why we have proposed the words "a substantial".

The Minister has come forward with his compromise proposal of "unreasonable". That is probably more helpful to local authorities than "unduly large". This was one of the proposals which arose out of a good discussion in Committee. I think that the Minister will agree that it was a good Committee, because it was one of the few in which we did not have a Liberal Member. To that extent we were able to make meaningful and sensible changes.

Although we have tabled amendment No. 12, I am quite happy and content with the Minister's proposal in Amendment No. 11.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I am happy to accept Amendment No. 10. In the light of what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has said, I take it that he has accepted that "unreasonable" is better than "unduly large". I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 11, in page 3, line 33, leave out 'unduly large' and insert 'unreasonable'.—[Mr. Hugh D. Brown.]

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