HC Deb 13 May 1981 vol 4 cc761-2
12. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans for relieving the acute housing shortage in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

It is quite wrong to refer to an acute housing shortage in Scotland. On the most recent estimate, the number of houses exceeds the number of households by more than 150,000 and in the public sector alone there are an estimated 35,000 empty houses. There are, of course, some local shortages and the special needs of particular groups need attention. I expect housing authorities to concentrate their resources on these priorities.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that there are more than 150,000 people on waiting lists throughout Scotland and that local authorities are currently building about 5,000 houses a year? Does he accept that the recent White Paper on public expenditure shows that the Government are intending to slash public expenditure on housing by 42 per cent.? That is the largest cut in any sector of the Scottish economy. Was the Prime Minster told about this "success story" before she made her rather stupid speech in Perth last weekend?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman uses, as so many others, the simplistic total of those on waiting lists and implies that all those on waiting lists are homeless or in grossly unsuitable housing conditions. He must be as aware as anyone that a large proportion of those on waiting lists merely wish to transfer to a house in another area or, for some other reason, would prefer to move house. Few local authorities would seek to suggest that the size of the waiting lists is equivalent to the degree of housing shortage in their areas.

Mr. David Steel

In turn, will the Minister avoid giving simplistic statistics to the House? Is he aware, for example, that in Roxburgh district there may be some empty houses but that that is no argument for doing what his Department has done—namely, to refuse consent to the SSHA to build a scheme at Kelso merely because there are empty houses at Hawick 18 miles away? Will he exercise some realism in housing in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

It is for the SSHA to decide how to use the resources that are available to it. I emphasised in my main answer that shortages remained in certain localities. It is wrong to suggest that there is an overall housing shortage in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems in Scottish housing is lack of mobility? Further, does he agree that the Government's highly successful policy of selling council houses will ease the problem?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. The problem will be eased by not only the sale of council houses but the removal under the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 of residential qualifications that are imposed by a number of local authorities. The latter provision has made an important contribution that has been recognised by both the CBI and the STUC.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Minister accept that there is a shortage of houses in which people want to live and of a standard that it is right to ask them to live in? Does he appreciate that his remarks about the lack of a shortage of housing will be regarded as crassly insensitive in Scotland? Is he aware that new-build starts in the private sector in 1980 were the lowest since the war and in the public sector the lowest for over a decade? Is this not a record of which he should be thoroughly ashamed?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, I ask him to listen to the following words: the overall housing shortage is virtually a thing of the past in most areas and the worst problems of overcrowding and bad conditions have been dealt with. Those words appear on page 1 of the Green Paper on housing that was published by the previous Labour Government in 1977.