HC Deb 09 December 1981 vol 14 cc853-4
10. Mr. Norman Hogg

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take steps to increase the public sector building programme and in particular the construction of council houses.

Mr. Rifkind

I recently announced that an extra £38 million would be available to housing authorities in Scotland for house building and improvement in the current year, largely because of the additional receipts earned following the success of the Government's policy on the sale of public sector houses.

Mr. Hogg

Does the Minister accept that this is hopelessly inadequate, in view of the scale of the problem in Scotland and the fact that more than 48,000 construction workers in Scotland are unemployed? Does he agree that the time has come for more money to be spent on new house construction and modernisation schemes?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is right if he is implying that more of our resources should be concentrated on capital expenditure and less on current expenditure. If he will do his best to encourage local authorities to reduce their current expenditure so that more is available for capital investment in housing and so on, he will help to overcome the problem that he has identified.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does the Minister accept that housing in Scotland is critical, particularly in the cities? Will he give this matter urgent priority? Unless we have more houses, especially sheltered housing for the elderly, there will be many difficulties, including much longer housing lists in cities.

Mr. Rifkind

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said. He will appreciate that the local district council of the city that he represents would have had several million pounds more available for capital expenditure on housing, including sheltered housing, if it had taken a responsible decision on rents.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is the large number of empty council properties? Does he accept that an imaginative scheme is needed so that these houses may be occupied or sold? We require more sheltered housing, not the large housing schemes that we have had in the past.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right about the priorities. There are many empty houses in cities such as Glasgow and other urban areas. I compliment the Glasgow district council on its homesteading experiments, which have been conspicuously successful in Easterhouse and elsewhere. I am sure that in all those areas there is a great interest, particularly among young married couples, in buying surplus property that the council cannot persuade people to rent. I hope that experiments of that kind will be tried in many parts of Scotland.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Minister accept that the so-called concern of the Government for Scotland, which was mentioned a few minutes ago in a particularly lickspittle way by the chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), has resulted in a tragic combination of the lowest number of public sector starts since the war and the highest unemployment in the construction industry since figures were started? That will not do. Is not the Minister filled with a feeling of black despair as he contemplates the dreary deflationary package unveiled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, which holds out no help whatsoever for people who hope to live in council houses in Scotland or for those in the construction industry who wish to provide those houses?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that the policy of reducing capital expenditure on housing was advocated in the Labour Government's Green Paper on housing and has been continued by this Government.