§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
I wish to call attention to Government housing policy in Scotland, and beg to move,That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for its failure to produce a housing policy relevant to the needs of the people of Scotland.I realise that this is not a popular day—on a light Whipping—to be in the House at all, but I can assure all hon. Members who are present that I shall not draw attention to the absence of any one Member. Many hon. Members have apologised for their absence. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that I realise that I may have caused some inconvenience to the members of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but as it examined the matter of wider capital allocation it is appropriate that some of its members should be present today.
I had great difficulty in deciding on a subject for debate. I do not know whether the fact has any merit, but it happens to be my birthday today. When I say that my birthday is shared by His Holiness the Pope and the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), it will be clear that I am merely stating a fact and not drawing any conclusion from it, other than to admit that when I put my name forward in the ballot I thought that it might be a lucky day for me. During all my years' membership of the House, this is the first time that I have been successful in the ballot, though some years ago I was first in the ballot for Private Members' Bills.
The choice of housing for discussion was a difficult one, because there are many aspects of Government policy that can be criticised. I thought of the investment by British Leyland in Scotland. Then I thought of fuel disconnections that are taking place, where to some extent the electricity boards are being unfairly condemned in public, though I wish that they would state their case a little better. There are also the problems of the lack of take-up of benefits in Scotland, the future of local government, and the Stodart report. May I say as an aside to the Minister that even the minor problem of the West Lothian question, and the circumstances in which its councillors might feel that they have to break the law are worthy of attention. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the problem of the Murrayfield estate—one of the most difficult to let in Scotland. Even students from Edinburgh would not rent the properties for virtually no rent. I hope that the Minister will view sympathetically the problems that that has caused the council.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Will the hon. Gentleman make clear to the House that he is talking about the second West Lothian question?
§ Mr. Brown
I think that the Minister knows what I am talking about. It is the kind of question that could have been dealt with at greater length and more adequately if we had had a Scottish Assembly—which, of course, I would wholeheartedly have supported.
Since deciding that housing and the wide motion that I have tabled was a suitable vehicle for discussing all aspects of housing in Scotland, two or three events have taken place.
Of course, housing is always an important subject. Occasionally I quote the Secretary of State for Scotland, 20 and in his opening speech on 14 January, in introducing the Bill on tenants' rights, he gave one or two interesting statistics. Since 1971 Governments have spent at least £3½ million on housing in Scotland, and 25 Acts of Parliament have gone through the House since the war. There has been no lack of interest in the subject, but whether the legislation has been correct is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, the subject is an important one, and I make no apology for having chosen it.
I said that three things had happened since I chose the subject. There has been the Tory Party conference, a report was issued by Shelter, and important elections have taken place in the rest of the country, with all sorts of stories about the introduction of Marxism and Communism. At least Lothian and Dundee had a break when the elections were taking place down here. Nevertheless, housing played an important part in those three events, as I shall demonstrate.
I shall not attempt to justify everything that was done by the last Labour Government. I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) had paid more attention to some of the good things that we did. I have said on many occasions that I have a great respect for the Minister's debating skill. However, we can become too selective in our quotations. I want to refer to one quotation that he took from the Green Paper, which I am glad to say people now quote regularly and with more appreciation than at the time when it was produced. In a reply to a question last week from my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), the Minister said:'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. '"If ever there was a selective quotation, that is it. Immediately preceding those words in the Green Paper is the following passage:Housing conditions in Scotland have been transformed over the past half-century. Housing provision has improved steadily".No one would dispute that. The passage that the Minister quoted is followed by this significant sentence:But some serious problems remain and the new problems are emerging.".The Minister nods his head in agreement, but it was dishonest to give that selective quotation, as if we had ever been complacent, merely because there was statistical evidence—some people still dispute it—that there were more houses available than there were households in Scotland.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Ritkind)
I gave that quotation in answer to a question asked by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who had asked what the Government were doing about, to use his own wordsthe acute housing shortage in Scotland."—[Official Report, 13 May 1981; Vol.4, c. 761–2.]If it is believed that there is an acute housing shortage in Scotland, I am entitled to point out that the Labour Government said in 1977 thatthe overall housing shortage is virtually a thing of the past".If that was true in 1977, it can hardly be less true in 1981.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman had better reflect on what he has just said, because it is not very clever. [Interruption.] If some Conservative Members present are not interested in Scottish housing, perhaps they will continue their conversations outside the Chamber. I have better manners than some hon. Members.
21 Four years ago new problems were emerging, and there were existing problems even then. Much has happened in four years, and it has not helped the people with a housing problem in Scotland. Four years is a long time, even in housing matters. The Minister should not try to score debating points unless he is sure that he has all the weight of opinion in Scotland behind him. I suggest that he has not.
Let me look at the official housing statistics from the Minister's Department. The number of dwellings completed in Scotland in 1980 was 20,540, a decrease of 3,140, or 13 per cent., on the total for the previous year. Completions in the private sector fell by 19 per cent. from the record level of 1979 to just over 12,000. The number of starts during the whole of 1980 was 16,410, which was 29 per cent. lower than in 1979. Public sector starts were at their lowest since the war and private sector starts fell below 1,000 for the first time since 1970.
However flattering an interpretation anyone makes of the housing scene in Scotland, by no stretch of the imagination can that be described as anything other than a serious sag in house building, when there is still a need for new houses. We can argue about whether they shall be in the public or private sector, and in what proportion.
§ Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the excess of dwellings over households was 192,000 in 1980?
§ Mr. Brown
That is a bit of sheer statistical information. We used such information when we were in Government, and I recognise its basis, but it needs a great deal of qualification and examination. There is no justification for saying that because we have this wee bit of statistical information we shall do nothing about housing. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech, but it is naive and superficial merely to use that one bit of information without looking at what is behind it.
No matter how difficult the position may be, all Governments and all Ministers have to try to put a bright face on things—nowhere more than at party conferences. Therefore, I was not surprised at what I saw in The Scotsman on Friday 8 May. I must quote as many newspapers as I can, in the hope that I may get a wee mention. There is nothing personal, but I have been feeling a wee bit neglected for the past couple of years.
Here is a marvellous headline:Confident Rifkind goes on attack".Great stuff! The report underneath begins:A self-confident picture of exciting social and industrial change in Scotland was painted yesterday by Scottish Office Ministers on the opening day of the Scottish Conservative Party Conference at Perth.Then the Minister is reported as telling the conference of'immense popular support' for the Government's public housing sales scheme throughout the Labour-dominated council estates of Scotland.He predicted—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that total sales would reach 100,000 a year.
§ Mr. Brown
The reporting was ambiguous. From the report the hon. Gentleman seemed to be suggesting that figure, but now it appears that he was talking about the sale of approximately 30,000 houses a year. He said that that would be a great benefit. The report continued:He advised Tory activists that they would get a 'superb response' from tenants living in Labour-controlled areas. 'We are 22 on a winner', he declared. The more Labour opposed the measure with their 'stupid obscurantist approach' the more tenants flock ed to buy.We all know the feeling of sometimes being carried away with an over-enthusiastic audience. That was on the opening day. Those present did not have much to enthuse over as the conference went on.
I know that it may be unfair to quote those remarks, because it is only a brief report of the Minister's speech, but it is significant that in the view of The Scotsman the highlight of the opening day was that reference to the sale of council houses. We do not agree with those sales, but they represent the only semblance of a policy that the Government have.
Along with the reductions in capital allocation, a worrying aspect of Scottish housing at present is the Government's decision to link rent and rate contributions to capital allowances. My hon. Friends on the Select Committee have prodded the Minister on this matter. That disturbing trend is contrary to the voluntary approach and the good relationships between central Government and local government that I have always thought to be essential.
The trend is having a souring effect on relationships with bodies such as the Scottish Special Housing Association, whose allocation has been cut, and the Housing Corporation. This year no new housing associations will be formed in Scotland, even though they were one means that many authorities could foresee being used to contribute to the removal of sub-tolerable houses and generally improve the standard of housing for many people.
The Government's disastrous housing policies, the failures of their overall economic policy, which are responsible for the cuts in housing allocations, are having several effects on the people of Scotland. I should like to illustrate that by looking briefly at the problems of dampness in housing, using Glasgow as an example. Shelter has published one of its better reports——.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)
I am anxious to follow the points of emphasis that the hon. Gentleman said should be followed in Scotland. However, I am unclear about one matter. The 1977 Scottish housing Green Paper—of which, I understand, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) was the author—reaches a conclusion on page 20, following a detailed analysis of pupulation and the number of houses. It saysThe exercise does, however, confirm that the shift of emphasis in recent years from new building to expenditure on existing housing stock—as demonstrated by local authorities' programmes—is a sensible one for Scotland as a whole which in future years should be reinforced".That is a policy which the hon. Gentleman at that time supported. Does he now depart from that or feel that a concentration of effort in other directions is required?
§ Mr. Brown
Although I might be here, I am sure that I shall not be producing the next housing paper. The trend at that time was quite correct. I do not take anything back, but I have qualified it by saying that we needed to consider 23 the new problems that were emerging. the formation of single-person households was one thing. There is nothing inconsistent between what is contained in the Green Paper and what I am saying. There is a bad bit in everyone, and I have a wee bit of badness in me, too. I shall use that to illustrate one of the problems and to raise with the Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) one of the nastier amendments that they inflicted on me in my lifetime as a Minister.
The Shelter report is one of the best that it has put out. It has brought together some of the trends that I have mentioned and given much detailed information. We are indebted to Shelter for that. Page 2 contains a catalogue of concern about the Government's housing policies. It concludes by dealing with dampness and says:Nor does it include the 150,000 council houses which are affected by condensation and dampness and making life hell for their tenants. Simply to tackle this problem, a recent report estimates, would cost £500 million.On page 10 of the report Shelter deals with Glasgow. It says:an estimated 35,000 public sector houses (a fifth of the total) are suffering from dampness, particularly condensation, with a remedial cost of £4,000 per house.That is a great deal of money to have to spend even by Glasgow standards.
On Edinburgh, the report says:The city has an acute dampness problem. According to its own estimates, 10–12,000 of its council housing—between 17 and 21 per cent.—are suffering from substantial dampness. The official rough estimate of the cost of remedying the problem is £40 million. For 1980–81, it was reported that the council had set aside £450,000 to combat dampness: at that rate it will take 88 years to finish the job.Not even Councillor Waugh can juggle the figures to avoid the conclusion that Edinburgh is not seriously tackling the problem of dampness in council houses.
One of the things of which people accuse politicians is irresponsibility in opposition. There is some truth in that. I hope that I have never been too guilty of it. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West supported an amendment to the Housing (Scotland) Act in February 1978—I have waited a long time to get my own back on him and his hon. Friend. Here is what Gentleman Jim said:First, that there should be rent and rate reductions for the tenants; and, secondly, that full compensation should be paid for damage to tenants' property caused by dampness …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."—[Official Report, 28 February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 298.]All I conclude from that is that for the past two years the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has been seeing the Secretary of State every day to ensure that the Government take that into account. As far as I know, he has not been successful, but that did not prevent him from taking that irresponsible opportunistic line in supporting an amendment. The Minister, too, was on form that day.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I understand that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) is a considerable boxer. I should remind my hon. Friend that he is the converse of Muhammad Ali in that he floats like a bee and stings like a butterfly.
§ Mr. Brown
I shall make no comment. The Minister was carried away, too. He said that I said—although I did not say it: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".—[Official Report, 28 February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 307.]I must make the qualification that I did not say that. That is what the Minister said I said. There is a vast difference because I was never complacent about it.
The Minister said that he could produce figures that suggested that in areas of Edinburgh almost 80 per cent. of council houses were suffering from dampness. Gentleman Jim's figure was 50 per cent. of council houses, although he skilfully left the impression that it covered a wide area, it covered only Wester Hailes and one or two small schemes. However, for the purpose of knocking hell out of me they dispensed with one or two of the finer points. The general impression was that dampness was a massive problem and that the Government needed to devote extra resources to it.
It is a waste of time mentioning the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) because he has gone. We expected irresponsibility from him. That is not good enough for anyone who purports to be leading opinion about Scottish housing. I am not being too personal when I say that I hope that the Minister will take on board that Ministers must be more responsible in housing if we are to get action on such serious problems as dampness. The amendment was shocking, but the question still remains: are the Government prepared to recognise the special problem about dampness in Scotland? Will they do what they said in Opposition they would do and make extra resources available to those authorities which would submit plans in context of their housing policy? It is a shocking indictment of the Government's approach that they have done nothing. Even the SLASH report draws attention to it. The Scottish local authorities special housing group is a Government-backed body.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)
The hon. Gentleman said that a considerable number of local authority houses in Scotland had been affected by this problem over the years, and I agree that it is a considerable number. However, in his condemnation of the present Government's policy, does he suggest that the condensation problem has arisen only in the last two years—in other words, since this Government came to office? He must rememeber that the houses of which he speaks were built mainly under the Parker Morris scheme, approved by the Government and by the local authorities. If the condensation has shown itself in these houses over the years when Governments of both parties have been in office, ought not radical action to have been taken by the Labour Government to get rid of the problem? Is not the hon. Gentleman being rather unfair in laying the problem at the door of this Government?
§ Mr. Brown
I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is a better builder than he is a politician. I am not daft, and I am not making any party point about this. I am challenging the Government to show their concern about the problem, 25 even in the difficult financial circumstances of today. I am suggesting that this is probably the worst problem in Scottish housing. I appreciate that it is easy to criticise because I am not a member of a local authority. However, if I served in a local authority, I would regard the solution of this problem as a priority. We are talking about council houses. A person living in a house which is unsatisfactory because of dampness and condensation deserves the maximum of sympathy, understanding and priority.
Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that officials have been known to say to tenants "If you did not breathe so heavily at night, you would have no condensation problem." The matter is too serious for flippant comments of that kind. There is a real problem, and I hope that the Government will demonstrate their concern about it.
I conclude my speech with a comment on how I see the present Government's disastrous policies affecting Glasgow. I am told that it is not just in No. 10 Downing Street that there is a mole, but that there is even one in the Glasgow housing department. A leak appeared in the Glasgow Evening Times on 8 May about Housing Plan Four. The headline ran:Crisis looms: Housing shortage could hit 60,000.Whether that exaggerated headline was justified is a matter of opinion, but I might point out that, even in the context of dampness, Glasgow is reaching the stage where it may be paying out more or losing more by way of compensation to tenants and loss of rent revenue than it will be able to afford in its capital allocation to carry out remedial work. That is the size of the problem in Glasgow. To be fair, it has at least made some effort to assess the size of the problem.
Glasgow sees a gloomy picture developing in 1981–82. On the basis of a capital allocation which is the minimum figure of £55.3 million, it reckons that 60 per cent. of the allocation will be required for its Housing Plan Three. The Minister referred to this in his evidence to the Select Committee. He said that Glasgow's housing plan was not unrealistic. All housing plans get much nearer to the reality of the problem as time goes on, and Glasgow's is a pretty realistic one. It thinks that its allocation will be 60 per cent. of what it considers necessary in its Housing Plan Three.
That means that, in 1981–82, there will be no new build starts for ordinary housing in Glasgow. It means cuts in sheltered housing. It means no new large houses with gardens in the peripheral estates for larger families. That is one of the acute shortages in types of housing, and it is one of the problems in the peripheral areas. It means cuts in the provision of two-apartment houses. Everyone knows that there is a gross shortage of two-apartment houses throughout Scotland, especially in Glasgow. It means no development in key sites in GEAR or in the Maryhill corridor. It means that rehabilitation efforts will be halved. It means the excellent work that has been done in Saltmark in Glasgow being curtailed to the extent that it will be 20 or 30 years before some pre-1919 council houses are tackled in that comprehensive way. In terms of modernisation, some 27,000 inter-war houses need to be tackled; it could take 10 years. Among post-war houses, some 30,000 need rewiring. Each contains an element of danger. They need rewiring now, 16,000 of them urgently. All that is to be put back, and that says nothing of the number of houses, still with lead pipes in them, which need improvement.
26 I finish on a constituency note to underline the disastrous effect that Government policies are having on Glasgow district council. It has to make reductions in environmental improvements in the peripheral areas. Fewer front doors are being put in closes, and fewer gates are being put in back closes in some of the difficult-to-let housing areas. That represents a real problem—a social problem as well as a housing one.
The SHAC committee's report has never been debated in this House. The reasons are obvious. This Government do not want debates on housing. However, I thought that the committee drew attention to this problem in its report on difficult-to-let housing in a rather dramatic way when it said:The gulf between the standard of these estates and the most popular housing is immense … Such differences should not be tolerated, and the basic aim for future housing policy must be to narrow the gap by improving the difficult-to-let estates. This requires considerable financial and staff resources and in the short term it may well be necessary to discriminate in the allocation of resources in favour of the problem schemes. We appreciate the likelihood of adverse reactions from the tenants of other areas, but it must be recognised that the continuing existence of difficult-to-let areas not only aggravates many existing social problems for which the community as a whole has to pay, but perpetuates them into the next generation. Indeed we doubt whether there can be any other problem facing local government which merits higher priority.This Government have a strong bias towards their wealthy backers and against council housing estates. There is no doubt that, whatever other arguments there may be, in the peripheral estates in Glasgow and in the difficult-to-let areas where more than 50 per cent. of tenants are in receipt of rent rebates not many houses will be bought or sold. Do not let us kid ourselves. The Government are adding to the problem of these difficult-to-let areas with the policies that they are pursuing.
Selling council houses is not a policy. But if the Government indulge in it they should at least indicate that there is some value in it for housing authorities in being able to recycle the money which they get from the sale of such houses. The danger is that, if the Government proceed along the road which they are on now, they will find some way of assuming that housing authorities sell council houses, and will put the proceeds against their capital allocation in the same way as they have done with rent and rates.
I warn the Government that there is a limit. I have great respect for civil servants. They will come up with a practical way to implement policies, however absurd those policies may be. I say that as a compliment to our civil servants, bearing in mind that policies are laid down by the Government. I hope that they are not playing around with this idea, which will increase further the poor relationship and the existing "aggro" in many housing authorities towards Government policy.
From a practical point of view, it would be desirable if housing authorities were able to acquire tenement property, rehabilitate it, and sell it in controlled circumstances, providing that they were allowed to recycle the resulting income for further rehabilitation and sales. I merely fling out that idea.
I am worried about the political scene in general. I hate the labels that are put upon people. I do not know whether I am Left, Right, or Centre, moderate or extreme. However, society must understand that no one—not even President Reagan, with his silly speech about Communism, which was reported today—can justify 27 organising ourselves in such a way that when we have skills in building workers and we have materials, we have people who are inadequately housed. No one can justify the present level of unemployment. The longer it continues and the worse it becomes, the more and more people will want radical alternatives. That is not a fear on my part, because I do not run away from it. Even the scales to which I have referred, of Left-wing dictatorships in the Greater London Council, in Dundee, in the Lothian region or in Glasgow, are absolute rubbish. They are an indication, although not details, of many people who are concerned about the kind of society we have today, the problems of which are being made worse by the Government pursuing the housing policies to which I have referred.
It is for those reasons that the Government should be condemned.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I am extremely glad to have a chance to take part in this very important debate—at least, I think that it is important, and obviously my hon. Friends think so. It seems that Opposition Members think that it is rather less important. Unusually for such a debate, Scottish Conservative Members appear to outnumber Scottish Labour Members. I hope that the friends in the media to whom the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) referred will take note of that as well as of the points that he made.
I congratulate the hon. Member on his good fortune in coming top of the ballot and on the usual moderate way in which he made most of his speech. I also congratulate him on concentrating the attention of the people of Scotland on one of the Conservative policies in Scotland which is most widely known and most widely approved—the sale of council houses. Conservative Members welcome any opportunity to explain to people in Scotland, and to try to convert Opposition Members to the essential virtue of our policy of selling council houses.
However, although the sale of council houses is the matter most in dispute in housing in Scotland, the hon. Member mentioned it but skirted around it. He was a little coy about exactly where he stood. He showed general disagreement, but he was noticeably short of examples to justify his root and branch opposition to council house sales.
Conservative Members notice that whenever Labour Members speak about housing, either in this House or in Scotland, they face a number of familiar dilemmas. They never know whether to say that no one in a council house wants to buy his own house so there is no problem, or that so many council tenants will want to buy them that there is a massive problem. The hon. Member for Provan did not face that dilemma.
There is another problem, particularly for Labour Members. I think that only one Labour Member now in the Chamber lives in a council house. I think that it is the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes).
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, Central Ayrshire. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Fraser) certainly does not live in a council house. My hon. Friends might like to speculate whether it is more hypocritical to attack the sale of council houses if one owns one's own home and does not live in 28 a council house oneself, or whether it is more hypocritical for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) to earn nearly £20,000 a year to live in a subsidised council house, and to scrounge off the ratepayers.
§ Mr. Lambie
I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing attention to the fact that I stay in a council house. He will recognise that I am in good company, because the Royal Family stay in a council house. Princess Anne will be taking her new child back to a council house. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am always anxious to give time for the pro-Monarchy opinions of the hon. Gentleman. We respect him, because at least he sticks by his views. But there is one other dilemma on the question of council houses which the hon. Member for Provan skirted around. I well remember that on Second Reading of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, a number of Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), told us that people would need their heads looking at—I use Labour Members' elegant oratory—if they bought any of the council houses in which they lived. It is a shocking reflection on what Labour Members have compelled so many people in Scotland to live in over the years that they now think that so many of these houses are so rotten that they do not think that people will buy them.
However, Labour Members are wrong, because even those houses in the lower amenity areas, to use the current euphemism, are being sold and will be sold—I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give evidence of this—because the market finds the price. It pays many young people starting off to buy at a bargain price a house or a flat in an area which is not so good as some other council house areas.
In all these dilemmas and difficulties around which the hon. Member for Provan skated, Opposition Members, as so often, will not face up to the fundamental facts about council house sales. The two fundamental facts are, first, that we know from every opinion poll ever taken on the subject that at least three-quarters of the families in Scotland back the Government's legislation and want the opportunity to buy their own council house and want that right in principle; secondly, we know that it is not merely a question of principle but that already, in their tens of thousands, the people of Scotland—the hon. Member for Garscadden smiles. Perhaps he does not know that literally tens of thousands of families in Scotland are involved. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give us the latest figure. It is over 30,000 already, and the legislation has not even begun to gather momentum.
It is clear that Opposition Members do not recognise that the majority of people want to buy and that tens of thousands of families in Scotland have already applied to exercise that right.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Given the hon. Gentleman's well-known passion for people owning their own houses and being allowed to buy them at discount rates, why do his Government not support the selling of private tenanted houses on exactly the same basis? Will he explain why what is good for council house tenants is not good for private tenants?
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, I shall do so gladly. I give two answers. First, in col. 1345 of Hansard for 14 January 29 1980, the hon. Gentleman will find it well set out by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Perhaps I could save the hon. Gentleman the bother by saying that there is an important distinction between public, local authority housing——
§ Mr. Sproat
It is not profit. It is that the Government have the right to legislate for public housing because it is public housing. They do not have the right to legislate for what private individuals own.
§ Mr. Sproat
There is a great difference between local authority housing which belongs to the community and over which the community has a right to have a say, as a group, and private houses which are owned by individuals.
§ Mr. Sproat
I shall give way—for the last time—to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton).
§ Mr. Maxton
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, certainly in my constituency, there are houses that are rented privately that were built by public subsidy, and that many private landlords receive rent on properties on which they have received public subsidies in the form of improvement grants and through rent rebates paid to them by the State?
§ Mr. Sproat
In the elegant phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), "So what?" I just ask the hon. Member for Cathcart, if he as a private owner occupier accepts tax relief on his mortgage.
§ Mr. Sproat
I bet he does. I bet that he is very happy to take advantage of this fact. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) may be interested to know that Aberdeen has an exceptionally good record in the sale of council houses. I think that it is about 300 sales and 1,840-odd applications so far. It is clear that the people of Aberdeen back my view and our view on these Benches, rather than the view of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. These are the figures and they have been checked recently.
Perhaps I could remind Labour Members why the policy of selling council houses is so popular in Scotland. It is because the people of Scotland, however they may cast their votes, believe with us in the principle of the extension of freedom, the freedom for the individual to exercise his or her own right. I know that Labour Members have been rather scathing on occasions.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman says, "Not at all", but he was the one who used the term "cracker barrel philosophy". It may be cracker barrel or it may not, but it is certainly a philosophy which is widely welcomed in Scotland. That is precisely because we are doing just as we have done in education. Just as we are giving parents the right over local bureaucrats to decide where they want 30 to have their children educated, so we are giving these who live in council estates the right to decide whether they want to live in council estates or in their own private homes. We are not telling what they have to do; we are giving them the opportunity to do so. They are only too glad to take up that basic freedom.
Since the hon. Member for Garscadden interrupted, he may remember that in the speech he made in the House some 18 months ago he said that the Bill was a fundamental attack on the principle of local democracy. Does he remember saying that? He certainly said it. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) agrees with that view.
§ Mr. Sproat
Labour Members confuse the principle of local democracy with the rights of local politicians and local bureaucrats. What we are doing is implementing the real principle of local democracy—that is, giving individuals living in the locality the right to decide what they want rather than allowing bureaucrats to say what they want them to do.
The second reason which should appeal to the Labour Party is that this splendid policy of council house sales has probably engineered, or is about to engineer, the most massive redistribution of wealth within Scotland, often in favour of those who vote for Labour Members. But my right hon. and hon. Friends do not mind because we believe that that is right and that individuals should have the freedom to choose whether they want their own housing. If that does mean a massive redistribution of wealth to those who are misguided enough to vote for the Labour Party—or at least those who have done so in the past; let us hope that they change their minds now—we welcome it.
The redistribution of wealth is what the Labour Party is supposed to be all about. But, in practice, when it comes down to the redistribution of wealth away from the local bureaucracy and back to individuals, then it stops. Then it reneges on its principles. Those who, for so many years have stood up as the champions of tenants' rights, at the end of the day refuse to champion the greatest right of all for tenants.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I agree with the principle of choice, but what about those who do not have the money to enable them to choose?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am not certain what the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has in mind. I do not know which individuals he has in mind. We have made allowances not only for building societies to provide funds. In fact, local authorities have an obligation to provide funds if the family decides that it can afford to buy. That shows a typical difference between those on the Government Benches and those on the Opposition Benches. If an individual decides that he can afford it, if he is prepared to slave hard to own his own house, that is up to him to decide. It is not for Labour Members or bureaucrats to say, "No, you cannot afford it. We will not allow you to have your house."
Another reason, following on from that, is that the Bill to which the hon. Member for Provan referred rolls back bureaucracy. For too many years in Scotland local politicians and local bureaucrats have said to people who 31 live in council houses, "You cannot paint your door the colour that you want it. You cannot keep a dog even if you want to. You have got to get out of this council house where you have lived for 30 or 40 years because we have decided that you are no longer a suitable tenant."
That power has been exercised these many years by bureaucrats. We are getting rid of it in great part and once again we are giving power back to the individual. We are rolling back the tide of bureaucracy in Scotland. Also we shall be freeing some extremely able persons in local authority housing departments to operate in more profitable and valuable areas of the community.
This policy of council house sales will enable local authorities to concentrate much more closely on those areas upon which they are best suited to concentrate—housing for the elderly and housing for the handicapped.
I seem to remember the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson)——
§ Mr. Sproat
I am sorry. I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). I genuinely apologise for that error. I can promise the hon. Gentleman that. The hon. Member for Dundee, West has said that there is nothing in the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act that would improve the quality of the housing stock in Scotland. He is totally wrong. The Act will do a great deal to improve the quality of the housing stock because those who buy their own houses will be able to improve them. They will put money into them because they are their own, and they will feel that they have capital assets. They will feel that they are worth improving.
The second argument relates to what I have just said—that, because of council house sales, local authorities will be able to concentrate much more on those houses that remain and improve their quality. Therefore, the Bill not only gives freedom of choice; it does and will increase the quality of the housing stock in Scotland.
The last point of which I wish to remind Labour Members is that this housing sales policy will greatly increase social mobility in Scotland. That has great social and economic benefits. Nobody could represent part of the city of Aberdeen without knowing how often, when a job comes up in Aberdeen, somebody who wants it cannot take that job because he cannot get a house there. This is one of those common difficulties—not just in Aberdeen, of course—which will be greatly eased, because so many people will own their own houses that they will be able to sell. Therefore, the number of houses for sale will greatly increase.
Of course, it is not just a question of economic benefit.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North says, "Absolute tripe." If he has not come across persons wanting to work in Aberdeen who have not been able to because they cannot get houses in Aberdeen, he cannot have been doing his job as a constituency Member very well.
§ Mr. Sproat
No. I have given way about half a dozen times and enough is enough. I shall finish on this point of 32 social mobility. Many persons who have lived all their lives in council houses in the city would like when they retire to move into the country, into the beautiful constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), for example——
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, or into the beautiful constituency of Banff of which my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) reminds me. They could not do that in the past, but now they will be able to sell their council houses and buy a little cottage in Macduff which my hon. Friend the Member for Banff has specially selected for them with an eye to helping all his constituents.
That is the sort of social mobility, economic benefit and social benefit that will flow from the Act. The House does not have to take my word for its benefits. It need only look at the thousands and tens of thousands in Scotland that are already taking advantage of it. I hope that those tens of thousands will grow many times over.
§ 4.29 pm.
§ Mr. Gregor MacKenzie (Rutherglen)
My first pleasant task is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) on introducing the motion. It gives us all the opportunity to think about and discuss Scottish housing. Secondly, I must congratulate him because it is his birthday. I wish him many happy returns, both in years and in the number of elections that he will win in the future.
That is not the only anniversary. Seventeen years ago last Thursday, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and I presented our respective philosophies to the electors of Rutherglen. The question of housing figured largely at that time. The hon. Gentleman will not need to be reminded that on that occasion the electors of Rutherglen decisively concluded that the best hope of getting a good house was to ensure the return of a Labour candidate.
The hon. Member spoke today about the sale of houses, particularly council houses. My own attitude to this matter has always been crystal clear. I do not object to people owning their own homes. On the contrary, if they have the wherewithal and the desire to do so, I think that it is a good thing for them to aspire to own their own homes. But there are plenty of agencies other than local authorities which can provide such homes. What worries me about the hon. Gentleman's speech is that once again we face not only cuts in new housing but cuts in the number of houses now available to those who do not have the wherewithal to buy their own homes. That is a sad state of affairs. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South to talk about freedom. There is not much freedom for someone who does not earn much money and who will be deprived of the only agency—namely, the local authority—which can provide him with a home.
During the speech of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, in comments that I heard during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Provan, it was suggested that we believe that Conservative Members are biased against council houses. Any such bias was hotly denied, with shaking of heads and so on, by Conservative Members. I can only say that, with one or two exceptions, Conservative Members may have forgotten the kind of comments that we heard during the last Parliament and that 33 many of us have heard in the House for 15 or 16 years from Conservative Front and Back Benches about what they called second-class citizens living in council houses. It is perhaps indicative that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) has decided to take himself from our deliberations lest he be reminded of some of the things that he has said from both Front and Back Benches.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
My right hon. Friend will remember that Lady Tweedsmuir spoke of shiftless council tenants.
§ Mr. MacKenzie
We remember those and many other comments from Conservatives. That is why we were puzzled by the shaking of heads a few moments ago.
I have no doubt that when the Minister replies to the debate he will talk about priorities. It is right and proper that he should do so. There must be priorities in public spending. But I am concerned that the cuts that we have experienced reflect an anti-council house bias on the part of the Conservatives and have been far too heavy.
I have one main priority. I believe that the first priority in Government spending should be to industry and for industrial regeneration. Without the creation of wealth, we cannot have the social services that are essential for the improvement of the quality of life. I shall not say from this or from any other Bench that housing should have greater priority than education, or education than health. All of those services are important. But far less is being spent on all of them than should be spent, and that worries me a great deal.
At my surgery, and in my constituency generally, people tell me that they need new or modernised houses, and that joiners, slaters and plasterers are unemployed, brickworks are being closed and timber merchants are going into liquidation. They ask why the essential needs of those groups cannot be met and the necessary houses built at the same time. If one tries to talk about resources—that is the great word these days—they refer to the money pouring into the Treasury from North Sea gas and oil. They cannot understand why the Government choose to spend that money on unemployment benefit when jobs and homes could be provided with it at one and the same time.
The Minister may regard that as a simplistic argument. It comes from fairly simple and untutored minds. But if we listened to the thoughts of the simpler and sometimes more sensible minds, we might get much further along the road than we are at present.
The second argument that is put to me by my constituents was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Provan. It relates to the kind of comment made by the Under-Secretary of State at Question Time last week, namely, that, as there are X thousand empty houses in Scotland and X thousand homes are needed, a housing problem does not exist. First, I do not accept that the equation works out as neatly as the Minister implied. Even if one accepted his arithmetic—and I do not—in my constituency and, I believe, in other constituencies in the West of Scotland, there is a massive shortage of desirable houses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) pointed out at Question Time last week, there is a shortage of the kind of houses that our people want, both in Glasgow and in the West of Scotland generally. I know that from my surgeries.
I became a councillor on the Glasgow corporation in 1952. At that time, 30 or 40 people would come to my 34 surgery saying that they were waiting for any kind of house. As my hon. Friend the Member for Provan will remember from our experience with Glasgow corporation, those people did not receive an offer until their names had been on the list for six or seven years. It is true that we built houses like billy-o thereafter, although I am not sure that we built the right kind of houses. I take my full share of responsibility for that. I am not sure that I should have gone as far as I did, as a member of the planning committee, in authorising multi-storey housing, but we did so because there was a clamant need at the time.
At my surgeries now, people come to me about questions of transfer or complaining about the need for modernisation, rewiring and so on. Another group is that of young homeless people who refuse to accept the offer of a council house in certain schemes in the area. Frankly, I do not blame them, because there are schemes in my constituency and elsewhere where I would not live. There must be scores of council schemes throughout the West of Scotland in such need of modernisation that young people simply refuse to take the houses. Despite the facts that local authorities and tenants' associations have been doing what they can to improve them, certain schemes in Glasgow have a bad image and people will not take houses in them if they can possibly avoid it. I do not know what we can do about housing schemes of that kind—whether we should take a bulldozer to them—but we ought to apply our minds to the question.
I return to the point that the Under-Secretary of State made last week about the equation. If housing policy is to be based upon that concept, we are bound to encounter difficulties. The best way in which to construct a housing policy is to ask people what they want. Our young people still want to have a house with a little space where they can bring up their children. Our older people still want to live in the inner cities where they were born and brought up, either in purpose-built houses with warden care or in rehabilitated houses.
Glasgow district council—particularly in the east end of Glasgow—is to be congratulated on the houses that it is building for old people, in the GEAR area. Those houses are a credit to the city. The more of them that we can have, the better. I have, however, to introduce one note of discord. I do not think that it is right to offer to our older citizens the one-roomed houses that many of them are being offered. It is a foolish policy. Many older people who live in three-apartment houses would willingly move, making a three-apartment house available for a small family, if they could be given a bedroom and a living room instead of being offered only one-room flats.
Many of those older people—and many Labour Members—were born and brought up in what we call "single ends", and it is their desire and great ambition to get out of them. Towards the end of their lives, when they should be having something better, it is hard on them to be offered only a single end, albeit with a bathroom.
People also believe that greater encouragement should be given to programmes for the rehabilitation of houses. I am not particularly concerned whether that is done by the local authorities or by the housing associations, but such programmes should be encouraged. There are good social and economic reasons for doing so. We have a stock of houses that I would place in the twilight category, and it is essential to maintain them in good order.
The local authorities have a very good reputation, and much credit should be given to the housing associations. 35 Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State paid tribute to them last week when he opened the exhibition of housing associations. He referred to the vigorous way in which they are tackling the problem. In my constituency, the biggest meeting that we have had in many years was when a housing association put forward proposals for the rehabilitation of older houses within the Rutherglen and Cambuslang area.
There is also a need to modernise the existing stock of local authority houses. I am talking not merely about prewar houses but about houses that have been built since 1945. Those houses are now up to 36 years old. They are good houses, but they are in great need of modernisation, and the resources are needed to carry it out. Month after month I receive complaints from councillors and from tenants that, for example, a programme of rewiring has had to be postponed for yet another year because the Government are not providing the local authority with the money with which to do the job.
The housing policy that is required in Scotland is much more comprehensive than the policy put forward by the Secretary of State in the course of the last two years. He has merely introduced a measure to allow for the sale of council houses. That does not improve the stock of houses. It does not improve the quality of houses. Until he constructs a much more sensible policy, I am sure that the popularity of this Government will continue to fall, even below the poll figure of 15 per cent. at which it now stands.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I am delighted to be given the opportunity to speak in this important debate. So many people in Scotland live in council houses that it is right and proper that we at Westminster should discuss their housing problems. They will be pleased to know that, as a result of the endeavours of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), we have the opportunity to do so.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Provan on his birthday today. He has introduced the topic in his usual thoughtful and respectable way. The way in which he speaks reflects his genuine concern. None of us is ever left in any doubt that it is genuine. I sometimes feel that other Labour Members are not quite as thoughtful and respectful and are, therefore, not always thought to be as genuine as the hon. Member for Provan.
The hon. Member brought to the debate, as he always does, his special knowledge and experience of council housing. It ought not to be ignored, for it is of great value to the House.
The right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) said that the best policy for electors wanting a council house in Scotland was to vote Labour. But for what kind of houses? Do they really want houses in soulless housing estates, in schemes where no one will want to live in a few years' time? Unfortunately, many Labour administrations have produced such housing schemes. They have also built houses that were so unsuitable that today, after less than a respectable lifetime, they are near-slums, and that is not good investment.
One housing scheme in Glasgow had to be demolished before anyone went to live in it. The houses were never occupied. Is that the kind of message that is given to the 36 electors? I doubt it. But that is the reality; that is what has taken place. Properties were built without thought being given to the human beings who would be living in them, or to their needs.
Behind the Government's new housing policy is the recognition that we are not talking about so many bodies going into so many dwellings. We are talking of real people with real needs, people whose children want proper community facilities, and who do not want their children to grow up in areas which will be vandalised.
I take great exception to the remark of the right hon. Member for Rutherglen that Conservative Members regard council house occupiers as second-class citizens. I have never felt myself to be a second-class citizen. Those who live in council estates and who support Conservative Party policies would take great exception to the right hon. Member's remark.
When the Government took office, they had to deal with the housing position then existing, and develop policies accordingly. We had to take account of the economic situation that we inherited—rising inflation, a national debt of frightening proportions, a world recession and increasing unemployment—in determining our priorities on housing. It is against that background that we must examine the Government's policies.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) nods. It is no use saying "We would wish it to be different; we would wish that we had taken over in different circumstances". Of course we would, but we took over in the circumstances then existing.
It was against that background that the Government introduced policies to make the best possible use of the limited available resources. They had to encourage the building of houses for those with special needs—the elderly and the infirm. Instead of a massive policy of merely building houses, the Government had to concentrate resources on areas of greatest need.
We also had to take account of the imbalance between those living in privately-owned dwellings and those living in council houses. Scotland had the worst privately-owned sector of anywhere in Europe. Therefore, the Government wisely decided that the most effective way to deal with this problem in the short, medium and long term was to implement a policy of encouraging council house tenants to buy their homes. No one would force them to buy. They would have the option to carry on as before if they wished. No one would change that. There would be no pressure. They would be given the option, as of right, to buy.
My father, who paid rent and rates on his council house for 40 years, would have welcomed the opportunity immediately after the war to buy his council house, but he was not given that opportunity. Sadly, he did not live long enough to take up the option that is now on offer.
The hon. Member for Provan raised the important point about damp houses. When referring to council properties, one cannot avoid discussing dampness. It is a serious problem in many post-war properties. Part of the problem is that there has been a complete change in the way that people cook, and in the facilities in their homes. The answer to the problem is both education and building.
Warm air can retain more moisture than cold air. Scotland's climate can undergo dramatic changes in temperature within a few hours. A room can be made warm and humid by cooking and by the use of washing 37 machines or tumbler dryers. These modern appliances have come into use during the last 20 years and are responsible in part for many of the problems of dampness.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) shakes his head. I am sorry to see that, because I am making a constructive, helpful contribution which is based not on supposition but on fact. It is a fact that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Tumble dryers and washing machines emit water vapour. If the air is warm, it will hold that moisture. The air will move around the house and, if it comes into contact with a cold window, it will condense. That is technically what happens. I used to teach meteorology, so I know the properties of air.
§ Mr. Walker
We get a lot of hot air. The problem is not only of construction, but of education. We must encourage people to open windows to get a balanced flow of air to minimise the problem.
There is a need properly to insulate walls. Many postwar houses are inadequately insulated. The result is that the internal walls take much of the temperature of the external walls. If an internal wall is cooler than the air in the room, inevitable there will be condensation. Architects employed by local authorities, planners and councillors are responsible for this problem, because they authorise the construction of unsuitable houses.
Another element of Government policy is to give tenants the right to buy their homes. I have lived in a council property in Dundee under differing administrations—initially Liberal followed by Labour. The attitudes of the managing departments of council properties changed. From being sympathetic and understanding, they became autocratic. Those autocratic authorities began to tell people what they could and could not do. The city now has an authority which refuses to accept that council rents should be increased to a sensible level which the nation and city can afford.
I declare an interest because I have constituents living within the Dundee district. They face massive rate increases because the local authority has refused to acknowledge the facts of life. These people are living next to other constituents of mine in the Perth and Kinross district. There an enlightened administration recognises that council rents should be raised to a level which people in work can afford and which would enable those who are out of work or on low incomes to receive substantial assistance from the central Government. More than 50 per cent. obtain such assistance. Perth and Kinross district has obtained the maximum financial support from the Government, whereas Dundee has not. The difference lies in the fact that one authority has put up rents to those who can afford to pay, and those who cannot afford the rents get Government assistance. Indirectly, that is one way for a local authority to get central Government assistance.
The Labour-controlled Dundee district council has been following for some time a policy of buying votes from those who can afford to pay realistic rents. It is permitting such people to pay lower rents in order to get their votes.
The hon. Member for Garscadden shakes his head. However, that is the position in Dundee. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe it, he should go there to see the dreadful things that are going on there. Sadly, they do not reflect credit on local government. That is sad, because Dundee has a long history of good Labour politicians.
§ Mr. Walker
I am talking not about those who were charged and finally convicted, but about the many others who, immediately after the war, were caring local politicians. Sadly, they have been replaced either by those who finally broke the law and were charged and convicted or by the present lot who are so far to the Left that they would be more at home in Russia or somewhere east of the Iron Curtain.
That is the backcloth against which the Government's policy has to be determined. The good, respectable and responsible authorities have to be protected from the irresponsible authorities. That is why the other aspect of Government policy must be acknowledged. The Government had no choice. They had to introduce policies that would deal with wayward authorities, such as Dundee district council. The majority of ratepayers on Tayside welcomed that.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The hon. Gentleman strains our patience. The statute book has always contained the power for Governments to deal with local authorities that do not carry out their statutory responsibilities. However, that power has seldom been used, although it was used for a while in the 1950s and 1960s.
§ Mr. Walker
Sadly, it was necessary to protect the majority of people from irresponsible authorities such as Dundee district council. That is why the Government had to introduce such legislation, and that is why they had to bring forward policies to deal with wayward authorities.
§ Mr. Walker
I am referring to the legislation to deal with those local authorities that decide to implement policies on housing that refuse to accept that rents should be increased or that council houses should be sold.
§ Mr. Walker
If the hon. Gentleman does not know, I can suggest only that he is wasting his time as Chairman of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
§ Mr. Dewar
I think that the hon. Gentleman must be thinking of clause 13 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. No doubt he will remember that the Minister made it clear that housing expenditure would not be taken into account when calculating whether expenditure was reasonable or excessive.
§ Mr. Walker
That Bill impinges on other aspects of the issues, which are indirectly related to housing. However, I was not referring to that. That Bill must be seen in conjunction with the Government's policy on housing. Housing cannot be taken in isolation, as I said at the beginning of my speech.
§ Mr. Walker
The legislation that I have named is linked to the overall policy. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that, he must still be wasting his time as Chairman of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I think that my hon. Friend probably has in mind the procedures under the Tenants Rights' Etc. 39 (Scotland) Act which enable a tenant to go to the Lands Tribunal if the local authority fails to comply with its statutory obligations.
§ Mr. Walker
I thank my hon. Friend for coming to my assistance.
Government policies must be seen as a whole and not in isolation. I have tried to make it clear that housing is vital to the people of Scotland, but that it cannot be seen in isolation. It must be seen against policies that seek to make people more mobile. If individuals buy their properties, that will serve as a positive contribution towards reducing vandalism. Those are the aspects to which I was referring in the legislation that has been brought forward.
It is not a question of money alone. We are as determined as Opposition Members to find the balance that will lead to improved conditions in council estates. It is also a question of finding the right balance as regards amenities, responsibility and accountability. The measures that the Government have introduced and the sale of council properties will help towards that end. As I said at the beginning, the Government's policies must be seen as a total package.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. This is a short debate on a Private Member's motion. I hope that hon. Members will restrain themselves so that all those who wish to speak can do so.
§ 5.4 pm
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
Hon. Members will recall that a few days ago the Prime Minister spoke to the rapidly dwindling number of Tory Party faithful in Perth, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). However, the hon. Gentleman was not invited to dinner in his own constituency. In the course of her speech, the right hon. Lady said:Two years ago we inherited a nation wracked by domestic strife … We have restored rewards for effort and achievement.If one was to ask how, the answer must be by increasing taxation, by putting about 300,000 people on the dole in Scotland and by putting about 3 million on the dole in the whole of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Lady then said that a few new jobs had been created in Scotland since she came to power. She said:Jobs which help to pay for better living standards, and better services for all our people, in the years to come.It is to be jam tomorrow.
The Prime Minister referred in scathing terms to the extravagance of Labour-controlled regional and district councils. Indeed, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire and other hon. Members have also done that. The right hon. Lady made only one mention of housing. She said that in two years 25,000 families had opted to buy their council houses. I should like the Minister to tell us where those figures came from. On 18 March, in reply to a question from me, the Minister said that from 1 April 1979 to 31 December 1980, 3,402 council houses had been sold. That is a tiny proportion of the total number of council houses in Scotland.
The Minister broke down the figures. He said that 32 council houses had been sold in the Borders, 63 in the 40 Highlands, 562 in the Lothian region, 1,292 in Strathclyde, 357 in Tayside, 618 in Fife, and 47 in the city of Aberdeen. I do not know where the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) got his figures from. He gave the figure of 300 for Aberdeen. According to the Minister's reply, the official figure is 47.
If the policy is successful, what contribution will it make towards solving Scotland's housing problems? Those problems were outlined in the well-argued pamphlet from Shelter and from the Scottish local authorities special housing group. The answer must be "None". That is why almost every local authority in Scotland opposed the policy. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) in that, in principle, I do not oppose a person wishing to buy his house. However, we object to an unwilling seller being compelled to sell.
Local authorities build council houses with their own and with the taxpayers' money. However, they have now been directed by the Government to sell them at knockdown prices. Moreover, if the buyer cannot raise the money, local authorities are being compelled to provide mortages. That is an intolerable form of dictatorship by the central Government. Virtually all Scottish local authorities oppose such policies for reasons that they have advanced and that were discussed during our proceedings on the legislation last Session.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that in principle he does not object to people buying their own houses. It is not right to over-concentrate on that area because the people who buy their own council houses are already in occupation. The problem is caused by people who are not in occupation.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall not labour the point because we have argued it at length. When we come to power at the next election the policy will be overturned. We shall say that tenants have the right to buy so long as the local authority is willing to sell. The local authority knows the local housing problems better than anybody in St. Andrews House. Local authorities must be allowed to decide which houses shall be sold.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Is the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) telling us official Labour Party policy? He is saying that the next Labour Government will allow any willing local authority to sell council houses to tenants. That was not the last Labour Government's policy, because they refused to give local authorities permission to sell. Is there a new policy?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I do not presume to speak on behalf of my party officially. I am stating what I hope that the policy will be. I hope—and think—that the policy will be to overturn the present policy in favour of one which allows tenants to buy their houses so long as the seller is willing. That seems to be fair. The freedom of local authorities is a selective principle on which the Government act or not. When the Secretary of State was approached about the problems of condensation and dampness, he said that local authorities had the freedom to determine their own priorities within available resources. The Secretary of State wants to give local authorities freedom to carry the can for dampness and condensation but he will not allow them freedom to decide what they should do about their stocks of council houses.
41 The Government's latest expenditure White Paper shows that expenditure on Scottish housing at 1980 survey prices has been slashed by more than 40 per cent.—the biggest of all cuts in public expenditure in Scotland. That reveals the Government's housing priorities. By whatever yardstick it is measured, the Government's housing policy in Scotland has been and is one of gross criminal negligence compounded by a breathtaking complacency and insensitivity. Rents have rocketed and house building has plummeted directly as a result of Government policies.
The Shelter report says that fewer houses were being built and that fewer will be built in the years to come while at the same time 150,000 people are on housing waiting lists. When those people are begging and waiting for years for houses, one in four building workers in Scotland is on the dole. That position is becoming worse.
There is a pent-up demand for houses and yet there are lengthening dole queues of housebuilders. What a nonsense and obscenity it is. In February this year 47,579 unemployed building workers were registered as unemployed at a cost of £6,000 a head. That means that £285 million a year is being paid by the taxpayer to pay dole when those men could be put to work to build the houses that so many people want. That does not make sense. It is the economics of Bedlam. That is why the Prime Minister is pelted with eggs each time she goes to Scotland. That is why the Tory Party has only 15 per cent. support in Scotland—the lowest in history.
One need look no further for a reason than to the Government's housing record. Shelter has done a great public service in spelling it out. When the next public opinion polls are published, support for the Government will be even less. The more that the Prime Minster comes to Scotland the less support she will command. She is the most despised woman throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Renfrewshire, East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). He was confused by the figures and the difference between sales and applications. About 1,500 sales have gone through and there are about 18,000 applications. The hon. Gentleman made many interesting remarks. It is a pity that his speech was heard by so few Scottish Labour Members. Where are the other 40 Scottish Labour Members? I accept that hon. Members have other commitments, but this is an exceedingly important subject. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) on his reasonable speech. However, he was speaking to more Conservative Back Benchers than Labour Back Benchers. That is a disgrace. It is an insult to the hon. Member for Provan and to everyone who is interested in housing in Scotland.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not know what the record shows, but I urge the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to scan the Benches and to count. With the arrival of the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) the ratio is changing a little. Now only 38 Scottish Labour Members are absent.
42 The hon. Member for Provan sounded almost defensive about his Green Paper. The end of paragraph 1.2 states:Housing policies have come to a turning point and are due for reappraisal. They should be aligned more closely with housing needs, whether these take the form of recognised deficiencies in existing housing or aspirations for which people are willing and able to pay.I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not accuse me of quoting that out of context. I agree that Scottish housing has reached a turning point. There is a crude surplus of 190,000 of houses over households. That has been so since 1977.
§ Mr. Maxton
Can the hon. Gentleman break down the figures between private and public sector houses which are empty?
§ Mr. Stewart
I believe that the gross surplus of houses in the public sector is 35,000. There is a crude surplus, which changes the whole context in which we have to develop housing policy. It means that housing policy is concerned not with an overall problem but with the limited problem of distribution allocation and quality, and meeting the individual housing needs of families.
In an interesting contribution the right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) asked what should he done about schemes that have been built but which are almost unrentable. The right hon. Gentleman referred to schemes in his constituency and elsewhere to which people will not move.
One answer may have been found by Edinburgh district council in an interesting experience at Martello Court which I commend to Opposition Members who do not believe in the market. A tower block was virtually unrentable and demolition was considered. However, the district council decided to sell the block to a private developer under a complicated profit-sharing arrangement. The developer sold the individual flats in the block. He ensured against vandalism through various security precautions. Every flat has been sold—most of them, I understand, to people on council waiting lists. We should hear less from Opposition Members about the inability of the market to work in Scottish housing.
I should like to mention one matter in which I declare an interest as a Glasgow ratepayer. I hope that the Minister will make some remarks about the housing repair account of Glasgow district council. Conservatives were warning last November about overspending on Glasgow repairs. The budget in January entered into an overspend of £6.35 million. I understand that the overspend now amounts to £7.9 million. These are large amounts. It is no answer for the Labour group running Glasgow district council to blame officials. Those serving in the Labour group are in charge. They are the elected representatives. The overspend in Glasgow is a matter of major concern.
I should now like to turn to council house sales, especially in my constituency, where Renfrew district council, although not refusing to implement the Act, is making its operation very difficult. I should like to mention some points that concern my constituents. The first is the variation in valuations of adjoining and apparently identical houses given by the district valuer and by a private valuer employed by the council. The private valuations, according to my constituents, are consistently £1,000 to £1,500 above those of the independent distract valuer. That is obviously a matter of some concern. Any advice that the Minister can give would be welcome.
43 A second concern is Renfrew district council's standard form of offer that allows the introduction of new title conditions after an offer has been accepted and before the title is granted. Purchasers are buying a pig in a poke in regard to title conditions that are subsequently attached before the deal is completed. These include such conditions as that the new house owner shall not have more than one pet in the household and that he will always consult the district council before repainting the outside of his new home. These conditions are clearly not reasonable. No doubt, the Lands Tribunal will reach a conclusion.
A further concern is the failure of Renfrew district council and other authorities to exercise any discretion under section 1(12)(iii) of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 of the position of a daughter who has looked after her parents for a period. The parents die and the local authority has a discretion to make some allowance in calculation of discount. No allowance is made by Renfrew district council. I hope that my hon. Friend can give some assurance that the Government will examine the matter.
Constituents who wish to buy their own homes have expressed to me their fear of renationalisation without compensation. They are worried that a future Left-wing Labour Government will say in 1984 or 1985 that they intend compulsorily to repurchase their homes at the price paid for them in 1981. That fear is actively encouraged by local Labour politicians. I understand that a motion to a Labour conference from one district council is along those lines. I have pointed out to my constituents that the Opposition Front Bench has never suggested that this would be future Labour policy. I hope, however, that we shall hear what future Labour policy is.
The reaction of my constituents is that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) or the hon. Member for Garscadden will not be in charge. More will be adopting that approach following the ASTMS vote. There is a fear that a future Labour Government may contain the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) as Secretary of State with the hon. Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey) and for Cathcart as Under-Secretaries, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) as Solicitor-General for Scotland.
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
The situation is surely much more worrying for my hon. Friend's constituents than he has described. Those constituents who read the Sunday Standard yesterday will have seen that a Labour-controlled Scotland would not be in the hands of anyone elected. The back room mafia of the Labour Party would control affairs.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend is right. The article was headed "Today Dundee, tomorrow the world". Dundee is clearly run by someone who has never been elected by a popular vote. That is the way things are going. I do not believe that there is any chance of a Labour Government in the foreseeable future. My constituents, however, do not necessarily share my faith in the electoral process. There is a genuine worry about the intentions of a future Labour Government. All the evidence in my constituency, including Barrhead, which is not yet Conservative, is that the Government's policy is highly successful and will become increasingly successful as people recognise the 44 benefits. Once the snowball starts rolling, it will get bigger. I believe that it will revolutionise the social and economic environment of West Central Scotland and the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
I shall deal later in my speech with some of the limited points made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) in his rumbustious fashion. I should like first to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) on initiating this debate. I am also pleased to wish him many happy returns on his birthday.
§ Mr. Johnston
Whether or not he looks it is hardly relevant. I regret to say, however, that the hon. Gentleman may have a point.
I have a high regard for the hon. Member for Provan, especially for the diligence, open-mindedness and fairness that he exhibited as a junior Minister in the Labour Government. This is a good opportunity to say that he is the best junior Minister with whom I, as a Back Bencher, have dealt in any Government throughout my membership of the House.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that in my necessarily brief remarks I have to remind the House that the majority of the difficulties that we face in Scottish housing stem directly from decisions taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government of 1975, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who made the most savage cuts, up to that time, in the resources available for Scottish housing. He reversed the general trend of housing expenditure to rise, which applied even under the Conservative Government of 1970–74. Apart from the brief, unsuccessful and unconvincing boost that took place shortly before the general election in 1979, that reverse has continued unabated.
Labour Members are justified in pointing out that the number of starts last year was the lowest peace-time figure since the 1920s, but the fall in starts since 1979 has been far lower—indeed, minimal—compared with the falls between 1974 and 1979. In that period housing starts per annum fell by almost two-thirds, and it is right that that should be mentioned.
There is no way in which I can sketch a whole housing policy in 10 or 12 minutes. For example, I shall not even touch on the important question of rents. I shall try to analyse the availability of housing from the view of a person in need. It must be a superficial analysis, but it is the basis on which all recent Governments have stated that there they were proceeding.
However, I wish first to put four bald questions to the Minister. First, given that the housing stock in quantity, quality and type, balanced against need—a point taken up by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East—is spread unevenly throughout Scotland, what consideration are the Government giving to discussions with authorities that have special problems, with a view to providing special grants outside the general housing support framework?
We have a total surplus of stock, but that is not true everywhere. What do the Government propose to do to get 45 round that problem? In my constituency the Inverness district council has a waiting list of 1,800 and next year will build only 60 houses. The Minister has said from time to time that waiting lists are exaggerated because not everyone on them is in excessive need. I accept that, but I do not believe that a waiting list of 1,800 is really a list of only 60. Neither my postbag nor the people who come to see me reflect that.
I have been in correspondence with the Minister about the problems of Badenoch and Strathspey. Skye and Lochalsh faces equal difficulties, and in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), who is sitting beside me, the Minister has refused the Scottish Special Housing Association permission to build houses at Kelso on the ground that houses are available in Hawick, which is only 18 miles away. That is not good enough.
Secondly, most people would agree that sheltered housing, whether for the old or the disabled, is particularly necessary in many places. Do the Government accept that such housing requires a special push, which means, I suppose, special money? I have told the Minister in correspondence that the drop in support to housing associations, through the Housing Corporation, has seriously affected work in that sector.
Thirdly, reference has been made to the Scottish local authorities' special housing group survey on heating and energy conservation. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) asked a question on that subject during Scottish Question Time last Wednesday. It is a clear instance where social need and the national imperative for energy conservation come together. I repeat my view that 90 per cent. insulation grants for old-age pensioners are useless, because the pensioners do not have the extra 10 per cent. Has the Minister any proposals in mind?
My fourth question concerns general modernisation, including dampness. The point was well developed by the hon. Member for Provan. It is a serious problem, not only in the cities but in rural areas such as Galashiels. Have the Government any concrete proposals in that area?
Returning to the broad question of need, what does someone who falls within the classification of the homeless persons Act do? He, or more likely she, will probably be unemployed or a low wage earner. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who has temporarily left us, said that he did not know what I meant when I intervened on the question of choice. I meant that one can have a choice if one has enough money. If one does not have the money, one does not have the choice. Owner-occupancy is out. I support owner-occupancy, but it must be noted that housing starts by private builders are down. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), who was engaged in that area, will agree with me.
I also support council house sales with, as I said when the relevant Bill was going through, safeguards in areas of shortage or in the special conditions operating in rural areas. But, again, that option is not open to the homeless. It is open only to those who are already housed. That is why I intervened in an earlier speech to point out that only those already in council houses can purchase them.
Incidentally, I do not complain about the uncharacteristic interference of the Government in the market system by their mandatory discount system, because, although it 46 is arbitrary, it is a way of spreading wealth and ownership. Although it is arbitrary it is a good idea, but it is no help to the homeless.
The homeless lady might approach a housing association, a number of which have catered specifically for battered wives, one-parent families and so on. In Glasgow and the west of Scotland particularly, the associations have done a tremendous rehabilitation job. But cash limits are forcing them to grind to a halt. The Minister knows that that is true and he has met delegations that have told him just that.
The SHHA, the Government's only direct contribution to the alleviation of housing need, has had to cut direly needed modernisation schemes—for example, in Hilton in my constituency—or in Aberdeen, where demand its high, abandon one of its best sites.
The homeless person might look for a private flat. That is an area about which we need to think again. Well-intended legislation for which I voted in the 1960s has had the unintended effect of destroying that market. It is now not available; people are frightened to let flats. It is a matter that we should rethink.
So the homeless person ends up with the local authority. Frankly, many people dread going there, because they are often coldly and unsympathetically treated. Officials who have job security and excellent NALGO-secured wages can sometimes be arrogant and uncaring. I am making not a general but a particular criticism, because it can be made of particular cases. It is worth reminding people in public service that public service means just that.
Let us assume that the homeless person approaches a local authority that has a good record. Incidentally, I am not at all satisfied that the code of guidance introduced by the Minister has been equally applied by all local authorities. The person—frequently a woman with children, who has left her husband after domestic violence—will be given a house that is difficult to let, because that is the only house that is available. As a result, she may be dragged down into a cycle of poverty and antisocial behaviour.
I do not want to make a party political point, but it should go on record that this measure of municipal assistance springs not directly from either this Government or the Labour Government but from a Liberal Private Member's Act introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). Liberal local council members in Scotland have criticised the Act, and I realise that a lack of housing and social work support often result in even that limited act of enforced charity being open to criticism and dispute because of its effect on good tenants and on the general queue.
I often deal with couples who are so far childless, waiting for a house before having a baby. They say to me, quite reasonably, "Why must we give way to those who have children, irrespective of resources?" That is my experience, and perhaps it is the experience of other hon. Members. It is a difficult question to answer.
However, there are plus points. Thanks to the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act, allocation schemes must now be published. That is quite right, although I am told that not all local authorities have yet done so. I shall be obliged if the Minister can let us know before the end of the debate which authorities have not done so. Thus, an applicant for a house now has some idea why he or she has been refused. That is a good thing.
47 Equally, the Labour Government's system of housing plans has probably made local authorities think harder and longer about the concept of housing need than they previously did.
However, a person in real need would probably dismiss many of these reforms as small compared with the massive downward movement in resources available for housing. That is a fact, and it has spanned the past six years. The Government's policies in some respects—not all—are rather horrifying, but an objective observer would recognise that the trend was started most emphatically by the Labour Government, who cannot escape responsibility for some of today's tragedies.
§ 5.44 pm.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) is, to say the least, coy about acknowledging his authorship of the 1977 Green Paper, "Scottish Housing". Possibly that is because, whenever it is mentioned, it tends to provoke an eruption from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie). However, in the absence of that hon. Member, I intend to refer to it.
There is agreement in the Conservative Party—although there may be matters of disagreement within it, as a matter of analysis, of what the problem is and how different approaches may be taken towards the resolution of the difficulties—that the Green Paper is a valuable document. On page 3, it says:The state of Scottish housing today is a tribute to past achievement. The absolute shortage of housing which has dominated housing policy in the past has been eliminated in most cases and housing conditions are vastly improved. A higher proportion of Scottish households than in the rest of Europe now have the use of basic amenities. But housing problems remain".The Green Paper goes on to say that the problems are "more localised and varied".
The same point is made in the document recently produced by Shelter entitled "Dead End Street". It says on page 2:Scotland's record in dealing with slum housing is, at first sight, impressive. As a result, Scotland's housing is more modern, and better provided with the basic amenities, than that in the rest of Britain. But past achievements should not blind us to the considerable problems remaining.If the purpose of the hon. Member for Provan in moving this motion is to look specifically at the new problems that are emerging or at the remaining problems that require to be resolved, I commend it. But I regret that in our debate so far, at least in part, rather than attempting to isolate the specific problems of housing in Scotland, we have dragged endlessly through the same old routine of the number of new housing starts, the length of waiting lists, and so on. That tells us nothing about the real problem.
I come back to the Green Paper, "Scottish Housing". As was said in 1977, if we had continued to build the same number of new houses as were being built at that time, one of the absurd conclusions that we should have reached would have been to match the needs with the number of houses; as a result, we should have demolished about 230,000 houses that were above the statutory tolerable standard. That line of approach should have been abandoned long ago—certainly since 1977.
Then, regrettably, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) continued to make great play of the length of waiting lists. He knows that one of the substantial 48 changes introduced in the tenants' charter in the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act is the whole basis of getting on to a waiting list. Now a person can be on more than one waiting list. There may be a number of reasons why a person wishes to be on a waiting list and be included on that waiting list while he or she is still adequately housed—the person may wish to move, for instance, to be nearer the family. It will not do simply to look at the crude statistics of the housing waiting lists. That does not show the true nature or extent of the problem. It is regrettable, therefore, that our debate has concentrated so much on those apparent manifestations of the problem.
We should concentrate on those aspects of housing where there are special needs and special problems. Both the hon. Member for Provan and my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) concentrated on the problem of dampness.
That is a real problem and one that requires continued examination and effort. I do not intend to deal with that matter. Nor do I intend to deal specifically with the special needs category of housing for the elderly. However, I want to emphasise one point.
In talking about housing for the elderly, we are not simply talking about sheltered housing. Many elderly people want housing that is suitable for their needs but that is not so expensive or so specifically designed as to come into the category of sheltered housing. They want smaller houses which are adequate for their needs and which will allow them to budget properly for heating, and so on. They also want that housing close to shops, close to the areas in which they were born and brought up—the point that the right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) made.
At the same time, at the other end of the age scale there is a requirement for smaller flats for the youngest members of the community. There is an immense social change at home. People are no longer prepared to stay at home until they marry, then to move away and have families of their own. They want to live on their own, and we should recognise that desire.
The problem is that those young people and the elderly to whom I have referred are in competition for exactly the same houses, in exactly the same locations. The younger people want to be in the centre of the towns and burghs because that fits in with their social life, and so do the elderly people. Having identified that problem, should we be examining it specifically and looking to the funding of schemes to overcome it, or should we continue to return to the tired old argument that we should simply pump in ever larger sums without discrimination as to where the resources are allocated? I believe that we should examine that specific problem, seeing not only what money should be allocated to deal with it but what is the most appropriate vehicle for introducing changes.
When I look at those two problems I come to the clear and unequivocal conclusion that the housing association movement, which has been extremely successful in Scotland, is one of the best ways of dealing with them. It is not simply a matter of putting up new houses endlessly on the peripheries of towns. The first need is to provide smaller houses for those whom I have described, and smaller units within rehabilitated tenements and other older buildings.
I think that the hon. Member for Provan would not dissent from that view. In pages 89 and 90 of his Green Paper, he made it clear that the Labour Government of the 49 time were prepared to come in behind housing associations. The Green Paper said that housing associations in Scotland wereconcentrating on the rehabilitation of substandard tenement housing, often bought from private landlords, and on providing new housing for special groups such as the disabled, the elderly and single persons, some of whom have in the past depended on the private rented sector for their housing.Having made that assertion, it concluded:No less important, however, is the encouragement of housing associations to replace part of the role of privately rented housing, backed by more flexible and economical arrangements for Government financial assistance.That is an admirably stated approach, but, whatever other criticism is to be levelled against the present Government over housing in Scotland, the one matter on which they have not cut down is the funding of housing associations.
The hon. Gentleman used one extremely feeble argument when he referred briefly to housing associations. He said that no new ones would be formed in Scotland this year. That may be so, but the hon. Gentleman should have set that statement in the context of the fact that, with 56 district and island councils having responsibility for housing in Scotland, there are now housing associations established in 55.
Moreover, it would have been only fair of the hon. Gentleman to make the point that in 1981–82 the housing associations in Scotland will receive about £73.5 million directly from the Government, through the Housing Corporation. Additional funds may also come to them indirectly through the local authorities. I am not sure what the precise total is, but it is certainly far more in capital terms than they have ever had. In that regard, the Government are to be applauded for their concentration of effort on these matters.
I have in my constituency one excellent housing association, the Angus housing association, which I use to demonstrate the type of housing that it provides and the needs that it meets. It has recently transformed a seventeenth-century house, containing beautiful seventeenth-century panelling. I do not say that housing associations should be in business simply to do that sort of thing, but the right hon. Member for Rutherglen, who was anxious that there should not be single-apartment dwellings, would be interested to see it. A house that had been derelict and rat-ridden for years now comprises eight two-apartment flats in the centre of a town where the inhabitants would otherwise have found no accommodation. As with so many people, their only alternative would have been to move out into one of the peripheral schemes where elderly people, having less access to transport, would be much more remote.
That is one constructive approach that we should be adopting. My hon. Friend the Minister is to be commended on the concentration of effort that he has given to Scottish housing. It is now well past the time for looking at these matters in terms of crude national figures. We should encourage concentration on specific areas and specific organisations in the future.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it is the Chair's duty to protect minority interests in the House, is it correct that it should bring this debate to an end by calling the principle speakers, without a representative of one of the main parties in the House being called?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am not bringing the debate to an end; I am calling the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I hasten to assure the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that I am doing what in the convention of the House is called "intervening". We may well have an opportunity to hear the hon. Gentleman later. I almost said "to have the pleasure of hearing the hon. Gentleman", but I should leave the phrase neutral until we have heard him.
Whatever may be the Labour Party's housing policy, it will not be written by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). He should try to deny himself the pleasure of starting all sorts of unlikely fears with which to frighten his constituents, which I think was the exercise in which he was indulging.
I was delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman describe Conservative housing policy as a snowball, because a snowball is a contrived and impermanent thing that leaves nothing behind it but a rather wet puddle. That seemed to me to be a suitable metaphor to describe the hon. Gentleman's party's efforts.
I congratulate my learned hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) on initiating the debate. He has a great deal of constituency experience, and represents a part of Glasgow in some ways analagous to mine. I know how deeply he feels about the problems of his area and how hard he works on them. He also has a knowledge of office, having been a Minister in charge of housing in Scotland. He deploys that experience very effectively, not only in this debate, but in the internal counsels of the Labour Party.
My hon. Friend has invited us to look at the Conservative Government's housing policy. Therefore, my opening remarks are probably the end of the congratulations. They are certainly the end of the social pleasantries. With his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has presided over a remarkable effort in Scottish housing. His record is memorable; it is also unenviable.
We recently had the Scottish housing figures for the final quarter of 1980, so that we now have the figures for the whole year. By any standards, they make thoroughly depressing reading. The new-build figures are down by 29 per cent. Private sector starts are the lowest for a decade, and public sector starts are the lowest since the war. Local authority tenders for new build accepted in 1980 are down by more than 50 per cent. on the previous year. No matter how much casuistry, how much special pleading there may be, a deplorable and depressing picture emerges.
I recognise that it is a characteristic of advocates that they are professionally involved in defending the indefensible. All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that when the electorate sends him back to the tools of his trade he will have kept his skills bright and shiny in attempting to defend what he has done at the Scottish Office. I do him the credit of imagining that he has found it a thoroughly unpleasant task.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am always interested in charitable works. I believe in the voluntary principle, but the hon. Member should understand that solicitors have a duty to their clients.
In a number of other ways, this has been an interesting debate. We have seen one of the principal Conservative tactics being employed, namely, the diversion. On housing, we do not hear Conservatives talking about resources and the central and essential problems. They develop a nervous compulsion to talk about council house sales. The reason is to be found in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Provan, who quoted what the Under-Secretary, addressing the faithful in Perth, made clear—I thought mistakenly—namely, that he could make council house sales into a political winner. That is the equivalent of bread and circuses. He hopes that he will be able to distract attention from the abysmal failure that has become self-evident across the whole of housing policy.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) swings one of the meanest axes in the Tory backwoods. He talked about nothing else. I am sorry that he has deserted the Chamber, but I hope only temporarily. He is noted for his lack of rapport with the realities of life in Scotland and Scottish industry. His contribution—his flight of social fancy—in the debate on the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, suggested that pensioners in Drumchapel in my constituency might like to buy their council houses to make a capital gain to buy retirement cottages in Argyll. If that is his vision of the realities of the Scottish housing scene, we do not need to spend time listening to his views.
I do not think that we should go over the sale of council houses in detail. The party arguments are well known. I remind the hon. Gentlemen that it is no good suggesting on the basis of X thousand or X hundred applications or inquiries which may in future be translated into sales, that the general theory is a consensus in favour of sales of council houses in Scotland. Even as he dreams his dreams, the Under-Secretary will not think that a majority of council house tenants will be able, or will wish, to buy their council houses.
I am not worried about those who have convinced themselves—in many cases probably mistakenly—that it is to their advantage to buy, but I am concerned about the countless hundreds of thousands who are not able to buy and who see the whole idea as divisive and embittering. They see the council house stock, which they would one day like to occupy, being spirited out of the pool and disappearing beyond their grasp. They see it as a traditional Conservative ideal—which is at least consistent—because Conservatives suggest that it may be individually and personally financially advantageous to buy, but that personal advantage will be against a background of policies that are anything but advantageous for the generality of council house tenants and others living in Scotland.
It is a case of "Blessed are those that have, for the Tory Government will give unto them", but for the majority of those living in my constituency the whole thing is a fraud and a disaster.
We should also consider those matters that the Conservatives are anxious not to discuss, such as resources. Many who work in the voluntary housing sector have been besieging hon. Members about the lack of resources. They have included Shelter and Conservative and Labour councillors. Universally we are told that the 52 problem is one of resources, and resources are not being made available. In a recent written answer to me, figures were given that are extremely worrying. The 1980 survey prices show that in 1980–81 the totality of the housing budget—including current expenditure, capital expenditure, housing associations, new towns, the SSHA; the whole portmanteau of what is spent in Scotland—was £687 million. In 1981–82 that £687 million had melted to £614 million. Next year it will be reduced to £540 million if the Government have their way, and the year after to £460 million. If that is the snowball principle to which the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East referred, I do not like it at all. It represents a disastrous slide in the Government's commitment to the housing needs of the Scottish people. The Government should stand condemned.
§ Mr. Dewar
If the hon. Gentleman is implying that council houses are the lowest common denominator, I find that offensive. To be fair to him, he is probably not a vindictive man and I do not think that he believes that. That is the logic of Conservative arguments.
If we worry about ghettos and people's perception of public sector housing, the one thing that will overcome those damaging, unjust and unfair ideas is having the sort of "Sale of the Century" that is being organised, or rigged, in Scotland, which will flog off all that is seen as desirable and popular in the public sector. The figures represent disaster for those who are struggling to maintain housing standards, and goodness knows how we need to improve housing standards now. The ABC of what is happening shows that the rate support grant fell from £212 million last year to £140 million. That is 34 per cent. or £100 less per council house. That is probably an over-simplification, but it brings home graphically the reality of what the Under-Secretary has achieved during his tenure of office.
The mechanism of housing support as it has been manipulated by Conservatives is unacceptable. The housing support grant has been squeezed. To that has been added an artificially low rate fund contribution which bears no relation to housing need and leaves an enormous gap which it is demanded should be filled by unreasonable large rent increases.
It is a black farce and an accurate description of what has been happening. To concentrate the minds of local authorities on the need to be beastly to their tenants they are told that if they do not keep to that artificially low rate fund contribution figure their housing capital allowance will be cut.
The hon. Member for Pentlands recently appeared before the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I commend to the House the evidence and report of the Select Committee as extremely tidy and useful summaries of how the system works. To be fair to the hon. Member for Pentlands, he made it clear in answer to question No. 121, and a number of other questions, that housing capital allocations should be made on the basis of need. Of course there are difficulties, and there are never sufficient resources to satisfy need, but what there is should be set out on the basis of housing plans and the Government's perception of where the need lies.
The Under-Secretary has retreated from that decent principle. He is saying now that if the local authority in Glasgow does not put up its rents by, let us say, 71 per 53 cent., and does not make that totally artificial rate fund contribution, no matter what the need or how serious the problems it will be punished by the dominees in Dover House by having its housing capital allowances slashed.
In Scotland we have lost £35 million of what was allocated on the basis of need by the Government because of their ideological inflexibility and their wish to dragoon local authorities into policies that they do not want to follow. For example, in Glasgow in 1979–80 the housing capital allowance was £83 million. It was reduced to £69 million in the following year, and this year it was to be £66 million. Because Glasgow refused to put up its rents by close to 70 per cent. in real terms, that £66 million has been cut to £55 million. That £60 million was inadequate in terms of need in any event and in the first place.
I do not want to go into the hard sell, but anyone who represents a Glasgow constituency—and the experience can be duplicated in Aberdeen, Dundee or any other major conurbation in Scotland—will know of tenants who thought that they were on the rehabilitation list, who are living in houses that were built before the war and who have kitchens with one power point and with wiring systems which are not only inadequate but which they fear, in many cases properly, are actually unsafe. There are also people living in houses which are deteriorating steadily because local government finance is not available to maintain the standards that any civilised society should demand.
There are well over 100,000 houses in Scotland which are below the tolerable standard. There are about 50,000 men at present on the dole whose last jobs were in the construction industry, and they represent more than 25 per cent. of the labour force in the construction industry.
The problem is not one simply of new build. The Minister has a point when he says that there should be a shift of emphasis. If he were to say "It is true that we have almost murdered new starts and new build, but we look at what we have done on the rehabilitation side, look at how we have advanced the programme and look at the way that we have been able to modernise streets that might have had to wait years if we had not rejigged the priorities", I should reply that, whereas house improvements in the public sector were 37,000 last year, they are now down to 24,000. The same sort of miserable collapse is to be seen in rehabilitation as we have seen in new build. Even in the private sector the rate is only half what it was in the mid-1970s.
The Opposition really can bring in a firm verdict of guilty against the Conservative Government and their housing policy over the past two or three years. Conservatives are very fond of business metaphors. Despite their democratic trappings, many Government supporters hanker for the concept of Great Britain Limited. If they were looking at housing in the way that someone in charge of a private company would do, by this time they would be panic striken about the lack of investment and reinvestment in their basic plant. If Conservative policies continue as they are set at present, and as they are advertised in the Government's White Paper, running to 1984, for a lot of properties in Scotland it will be a long straight run to the grave.
The Government are doing immense damage, and local authorities are powerless to put it right. It can be said quite genuinely that in a negative sense it amounts to a form of vandalism. We are watching the steady deterioration of our housing stocks, especially in the great housing 54 schemes of our heavy industrial areas. Any tenant there, or anyone who is in contact with tenants there, knows the bitterness and frustration to be found as people come daily to the surgeries of their elected Members of Parliament saying "My rent is going up, my rates are going up, but the services being offered me are deteriorating all the time." There is understandable confusion in their minds about who is to blame. In this House, we know. We know that that is the inescapable consequence of Conservative housing policy over the past two years. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan invites us to condemn it. I believe that we are justified in doing so.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
As this is a Private Member's motion, I make my intervention at this stage, but that does not mean that it is the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
On a point of order. I think that the Minister should wait until all Back Benchers have had the opportunity to speak before replying to the debate. This is an abuse of the private Members' procedure.
§ Mr. Rifkind
This is not an offical Opposition debate. It is a debate on a private Member's motion. Since the spokesman for the Opposition has intervened in the middle of the debate, it is perfectly in order for a Minister to do likewise.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). I mean that genuinely, because many of us recognise that during his tenure as Scotland's housing Minister he made a number of contributions which helped Scotland's housing. It is not just because it is the hon. Gentleman's birthday today that I pay tribute to that fact. I recognise that the introduction of the housing support grant system and of housing plans are a permanent reminder of his tenure, and I know that the House will wish to pay tribute to him for them.
It is important to remember, however, that the Green Paper on housing published in 1977 was an extremely significant document. I do not think that I was being misleading when I pointed to the fact that not only did that document state that there was no longer an acute housing shortage in Scotland, but that the practice of the last Labour Government showed that they believed that to be the case.
It is a straightforward fact, which I know that the hon. Member for Provan will not deny, that between 1974 and 1979 the amount devoted to capital expenditure on housing in Scotland fell from £430 million to £277 million, using a common price base for the two years. That was a dramatic reduction. Therefore, it is not only the words of the Green Paper which showed that the Labour Government believed that the acute shortage in housing was over. Their deeds represented those words, and so it continued throughout their term of office.
I was disappointed when the hon. Member For Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) attacked the Government for not having the appropriate housing policy. But nowhere in his speech did we hear about an alternative housing policy which either he would wish the Government to follow, or which he believed a Labour Government should follow. We had one long complaint about resources, but we did not hear whether a Labour Government of which he might be a distinguished member 55 would seek to reverse the policy pursued by the last Labour Government, who reduced capital spending on housing throughout their term of office. Would a new Labour Government seek to do that? If they would not, why did not the hon. Member for Garscadden make that clear? If they would not seek to do that, in effect the hon. Gentleman was repudiating the policy of the Labour Administration and all those who took part in it. Perhaps he will tell us now what a Labour Government's policy would be.
§ Mr. Dewar
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the figures in his White Paper, I think that he will come to the conclusion that the word "meaningless" amounts to a cruel refusal to face the facts. The resources are going.
Secondly, there will have to be new building, especially in the specialist areas—for the sheltered, the handicapped, the homeless, and so on—and also a genuine emphasis on rehabilitation and modernisation, both in peripheral schemes and in inner urban areas.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is a sorry comment on the hon. Gentleman's contribution that it took an intervention after he had made his speech for us to begin to get the smatterings of a housing policy that he might wish to pursue when in office. He still has not answered the basic question, which is whether a future Labour Government in Scotland would reverse the dramatic fall in housing capital expenditure which occurred under the last Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman has chosen not to comment on that because he does not know the answer.
The policy which this Government are pursuing on housing goes far beyond the sale of council houses, though we take no shame in the fact that that is a major plank in our policy. Essentially, however, the first plank of our policy is to enhance the rights of Scotland's council tenants. We take the gravest exception to the ridiculous suggestions made earlier that somehow Scotland's Conservative Party is hostile to the interests of council tenants.
No one would think that it was this Conservative Government who, for the first time ever, gave security of tenure to Scotland's 1 million council tenants—a right which they have never had before. No one would think that it was this Conservative Government who, for the first time ever, gave local authority tenants the right to appeal against unfair conditions being laid down by local authority landlords. No one would think that it was this Conservative Government who were the first Administration to abolish residential qualifications which were keeping people off waiting lists and inhibiting job mobility. No one would think that it was this Conservative Government who, for the first time, required local authorities to publish allocation rules.
These rights have nothing to do with the right to buy. They are basic rights that every local authority tenant now has and which were introduced in the Tenants Rights' etc. (Scotland) Act, against which the Opposition voted 56 solidly. Scotland's council tenants will not forget that. On that aspect of policy, we have indicated not by words but by deeds that we have as much interest in the real needs of those council tenants, including those who may never purchase their homes—and we have enhanced the quality of their life and the tenancy of their homes.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) implied that the figure of 3,000 for council house sales, which I had given him in a reply, was somehow misleading.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It was the truth at that time. There were 3,000 sales last December. But that figure is miles out of date after several months.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is well over 10,000. Combining together sales plus firm applications to buy, the figure is no longer 25,000 or even 30,000 but something over 34,000. It is increasing by hundreds, if not thousands, every week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) asked about the conflict of valuations. Clearly, it is up to the individual tenant to choose whether he wishes the district valuer or his own valuer to take part in these valuations. That is a right which should be made clear to tenants. If local authorities such as Renfrew are imposing unfair and unacceptable conditions, that can be dealt with by the Lands Tribunal, which will no doubt come to the result and the conclusion that my hon. Friend indicated.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lands Tribunal has recently—on 4 May, I believe—increased the fee for lodgment of appeals from 75p to £6? That appears to be an increase of 600 per cent.
§ Mr. Rifkind
We shall look into that matter. We do not want in any way to discourage tenants from using their right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal.
Therefore, the first objective of our housing policy is to enhance the rights of Scotland's local authority tenants, whether or not they wish to exercise the right to buy. We have shown that in deeds as well as words, as I think that any fair-minded Member would accept.
Apart from that aspect, the second objective is to concentrate the resources available on the capital side of housing expenditure rather than on the revenue side. I mentioned earlier how under the Labour Government the expenditure on capital had fallen. But it was even worse than that, because not only did the grand total fall, but the percentage of total housing expenditure—that is, expenditure which also includes subsidies—fell considerably. At the beginning of Labour's term of office, 61 per cent. of the total was spent on capital, but by the end it was only 51 per cent., and that was on a declining total.
Therefore, there was not only a substantial fall in capital expenditure but a shift in the burden of the way in which those resources were used towards subsidies to individual tenants in a way which many of us, including, I think, the hon. Member for Provan, might not feel was entirely realistic or sensible. We are seeking to reverse that trend in order to ensure that the limited resources that are 57 available are increasingly concentrated on the capital side, where they can create long-term benefit for the community.
In pursuing this objective, we can demonstrate that benefit in a number of ways. The hon. Member for Provan asked what was happening to receipts from council house sales. Because we estimated a net receipt from council house sales of some £20 million—which is likely to be an under-estimate—we were able to increase total capital allocations by £20 million more than would otherwise have been possible. That is one example of the benefit that the sales policy can have on the capital side of housing development.
But there is another major area. The hon. Member for Garscadden attacked us because of our link between rents and capital allocations. The basic point which he has failed to acknowledge is that we were proceeding from a situation in which an estimate has to be made of the likely expenditure on housing which will take the form of subsidies, either through central Government subsidy or some form of rate fund contribution. As with all Governments, we had to make that estimate.
Because in past years local authorities have been notoriously reluctant to introduce realistic rents, if we had applied the same policy as had been pursued in previous years, the amount that we could have made available for capital allocations would not have been £35 million less, as the hon. Gentleman's figures showed, but less by substantially more than that—perhaps up to another £20 million less. Therefore, although local authorities would have been under no pressure from the central Government as to what their rent levels ought to be, the amount for capital expenditure would have been at least £20 million less than has been allocated to local authorities.
All Governments—not only the present Government—must take into account the overall sums that are available for housing expenditure. The fact that about 28 local authorities have had their maximum allocation provided shows that the rent levels that we have offered have not been unrealistic, especially when that figure can be increased to 30 if one takes into account two authorities which did not want the maximum allocation and therefore got simply the sums they had requested.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am sure that the Under-Secretary would not disagree when I say that his policy was to force up rents because he had made a social judgment about the need to do so. However, is he satisfied with the way in which the rate fund contribution is calculated, at just over £12 per capita, with no relation to the amount of public sector housing in the local authority district concerned?
§ Mr. Rifkind
This is the first year of the system. We shall be monitoring the way in which it is operated, and we may wish to make changes. The main objective was to ensure that the ability of a local authority to get its maximum allocation depended on its actions rather than the actions of other local authorities. That was a significant improvement on past policy.
Within total capital expenditure, our third priority is to concentrate the sums available, not on general purpose building in the public sector, but on special needs. That is why, for example, the Housing Corporation this year is getting more than it has ever had—although I freely concede that it is a lot less than it would like. It is why, for example, in the non-housing revenue account of local 58 authorities, where they are giving help to deal with the rehabilitation of derelict properties in the private sector, there has been an increase in real terms of 13 per cent. since the present Government came to office. It is why, when some extra funds were available for the housing associations, we decided to propose to the Housing Corporation that they should be concentrated on sheltered housing for the handicapped, and so on. Therefore, these are the special needs which, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) correctly pointed out, are clearly where the priorities now lie.
What was interesting about the Labour Government's Green Paper was not simply the oft-quoted remark on the first page but the fact that on page 17 they quoted, with implicit approval, a study which showed that on any reasonable combination of assumptions the need for new building in the public sector was likely to be substantially below the numbers provided in recent years. That was their conclusion. There is no reason to depart from it simply because the Government have changed and the previous Government are now sitting on the Opposition Benches. This is an important consideration.
The other area of special needs is the problem of dampness. We shall be taking increasing account of the problem of dampness, as it is indicated by the housing plan of a local authority, in determining what the proper capital allocation should be. I say to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) that clearly that is one of the special needs which the housing plan system is already designed to represent.
The final area of housing policy on which I comment is one which I believe has, in many respects, the greatest long-term importance. That is that we wish to see a gradual end to the residential segregation that has characterised Scottish housing for many years. I think that I can say with all fairness—and even Opposition Members would agree—that there is something very depressing about Scottish housing, in that one will go through a vast estate which is owner-occupied and then cross a road and see a vast single-tenure council estate. Not only, therefore, do we have housing segregation but also the social segregation that flows from it. I think that we shall see, as we wish to see, the gradual break-up of that pattern in a number of ways. One of the means by which it will happen is the sale of council houses to sitting tenants, because even in what all hon. Members recognise to be the best areas, not all houses will be sold.
In addition to that, we have the example of Martello Court, which has been referred to by a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. That example demonstrates that even a tower block with a rotten reputation, in an area which no one would claim to be a high amenity area, does not, with the proper work done on it, have to be demolished or left to vandalism, but can be occupied to provide low-cost homes. It i; most interesting that a substantial proportion of people now living in Martello Court were previously council tenants living in the Pilton area, near that block, but who have now been able to become home owners in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.
I give credit to Glasgow district council for its homesteading operation in Easterhouse. In a very similar way, it has shown that in parts of Glasgow which no tenant would be prepared to touch with a bargepole, if the price is right, it has been able to find young couples who are only too delighted to move in. That not only provides them 59 with homes, but, much more important, it gradually breaks up the depressing single-tenure social segregation that has been characteristic of much of Scotland's housing and which I do not believe any hon. Member would wish to perpetuate.
Our housing policy goes way beyond the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act and the sale of council houses. It goes on to a determination to concentrate the resources on special needs. It has a social objective of creating a less divisive housing community within Scotland. That is a policy that most Labour Members, although by no means all, would equally wish to pursue. They have analysed the problem. They have recognised the defects that past housing policies have caused over the years. However, they have not been prepared to grasp the radical solutions that are required to deal with some of the problems. They have been able to think only in terms of resources. We all accept that resources are vital and will continue to be so. However, there are other criteria. A combination of resources and sensible policies will be the only means of achieving the desired result. That is why we cannot accept the motion and why, if there is a Division, I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject it out of hand.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Bearing in mind the total number of Scottish Members, it is unfair that two parties, one of which can muster three Members and the other two, should be given such a large slice of debate in Opposition time. One Labour Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), introduced the debate. He was rightly called to do so, as he had good fortune in the ballot. Apart from my hon. Friend, two Labour Back Benchers and one Liberal Member, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), have contributed to the debate. You have now called the member of another minority party, namely, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).
It is grossly unfair that minority parties are being given such a large slice of the debate. It seems that the two minority parties in Scotland are to get the same Back-Bench time as is the Labour Party, which is the majority party in Scotland. I accept that minority parties have rights, but it is about time that the Chair recognised that majority parties have rights, too, and that they are entitled to exercise them.
I am the Chairman of the Select Committee that prepared a report on capital allocation, which has featured in a number of speeches in the debate. On the general issue of Back-Bench opinion among the majority party, and as Chairman of the Select Committee that reported on capital allocation, I take grave exception to the representative of the Scottish National Party being called to contribute to the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has had quite a good slice of the time available for the debate. The issue that he has raised is one that is constantly in Mr. 60 Speaker's mind. Mr. Speaker exercises his discretion as best he can, and I am acting in accordance with his instructions.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is the right of the Chair to call such hon. Members as it thinks fit, in accordance with the total number of hon. Members. If there are more hon. Members on one side of the Chamber than on the other, the Chair has the right and the prerogative to call hon. Members on that basis irrespective of whether an hon. Member represents the Opposition party, the Government party or a minority party.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is aware that we now have less than half an hour before the debate concludes.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The situation is aggravated by the fact that what I have described happens time after time. If minority parties occasionally took such a large proportion of the time available for debate that would be perhaps difficult to accept, but acceptable. Surely it is right that you should be able to exercise discretion and call those who have been in their places throughout the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matters that he has raised are fully in Mr. Speaker's mind. I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will read what the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is advancing an unfair argument. In the previous Scottish debate the Liberal Party made no attempt to speak. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman has shown no interest in the past in the fair representation of minority interests in the House.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have raised this issue previously, and so have others of my hon. Friends. It is time that a decision was taken by the Chair. We want to protect minorities, but the Scottish National Party has only two hon. Members in the Chamber, while the Liberal Party in Scotland has only three. The Labour Party has more than 40 representatives in this place. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has been present throughout the debate. I hope that Mr. Speaker and the other occupants of the Chair will consider his argument seriously.
§ Mr. Wilson
I have finally got to my feet, after four minutes enjoyed by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). Although the Labour Party is undoubtedly Scotland's largest party, it has not been represented in substantial numbers during this important debate on housing. Secondly, I, too, have been present throughout the afternoon. Thirdly, the opinion polls tell us that the Scottish National Party is Scotland's second largest party. As the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) knows, had there been a fairer electoral system at the 1979 general election there would have been 11 SNP Members in this place.
61 The Minister concluded by placing reliance on resources and sensible policies. In referring to those two factors he summed up the defects of Government policy. It seems that housing has been chosen to bear the brunt of the public expenditure cuts. About three-quarters of all the cuts in Scotland that will be made from 1981 until 1984 will be in housing. The total expenditure is expected to be £614 million at 1980 survey prices. That compares with £872 million in 1974–75, which admittedly was a peak year. However, since then there has been a steady decline under successive Governments, and that is a damning condemnation of the attitude of both main parties towards housing.
As housing conditions change, so, too, must priorities for expenditure. I shall concentrate on the areas of housing that require much more attention. For too long in Scotland we have been conditioned to talking about housing in terms of quantity. Housing starts and completions may mean a great deal or nothing. In the past we have paid too little attention to quality. We are now having to face problems of renovation and modernisation because of financial skimping over a long period. There are problems with the more recent housing stock that point to fundamental deficiencies in quality.
As hon. Members and others who are expert on housing swing away from the idea that quantity is everything and quality is nothing there is a danger that they will forget that in specialised forms of housing there are shortages. When we were discussing the surplus of houses it was right that it was described as a crude surplus. An analysis would disclose deficiencies in housing type, in housing size and in housing allocation. For example, a house that is 18 miles from one area may be of no use or attraction to someone living in a different area. There are particular problems for those living in rural areas because of public transport shortcomings.
The Minister places some reliance on funding. I think that the hon. Gentleman is disguising the fact that there is insufficient money in the housing account to enable district councils to increase the number of starts. There is a shortage of five-apartment houses, and even larger houses, in many areas. There is also a shortage of sheltered and adapted housing. Certainly the substantial housing work load that I have as a constituency Member discloses deficiencies in certain sizes of housing, so that people go again and again to the housing officers and are still unable to transfer to a type or size of house more suitable for them.
A particular worry in my area is the low priority given under the local rules to matters connected with overcrowding, particularly in relation to families with children of both sexes. The points system has been abandoned, but one begins to build up the equivalent of points for priority under the Dundee system only when the application for transfer is made. If the application is put in when the children are very young one will be fairly high on the scale, but if the application for transfer is made only when the children are between 10 and 14, when puberty approaches and one naturally wishes to separate the children, the houses are often not available. That is one problem relating to overcrowding, not to mention the problem of the very large houses that are sometimes needed but cannot be found.
My second point relates to the use of funds for modernisation. We have all come across cases in which modernisation work in the public sector has been cut back.
62 The Scottish Special Housing Association is also facing a lack of funds, and modernisation programmes are therefore being stopped or postponed. People who have been waiting for years, watching the modernisation programme move closer to their area, cannot understand why the guillotine has come down and there is no prospect of modernisation for the time being.
Quite apart from the damage in human terms, if modernisation and repair work are not carried out sufficiently quickly the housing stock will deteriorate. The point was well put by Mr. George Smith, the Dundee housing director, when he said that unless action was taken within 10 or 15 years the council might be driven to demolish houses that would have been available if modernisation had been carried out. In terms of the proper use of public money it is wrong that essential repair work is not being done. This occurs also in the private sector, although the owner would be well advised to keep his house in good repair, because he knows that if he does not substantial bills will roll in later as a result of lack of investment in the house.
The same applies to environmental improvements. If these are not carried out, whole areas begin to slide, and more problem housing schemes develop as a result.
I have received a complaint from the Hillcrest housing association, one of the biggest housing associations in Dundee, that, due to the operation of the rent assessment committees and the rent officers, it now has to charge such substantial rents that that is beginning to knock out a segment of its market. Action is therefore needed in that context.
Now that we have reached this stage of the debate, the Minister will not be able to reply. Nevertheless, I point this out to him and will probably write to him for an explanation of why Tayside seems to have had the biggest drop in Scotland—about 37 per cent.—in housing finance when it is clear to those of us who live in Dundee and to those who have read "Dead End Street" that the city has considerable housing problems.
§ Mr. Rifkind
As a Member of Parliament from Dundee, the hon. Gentleman will recall that the council there decided to make no increase in rents this year. It was the only authority in Scotland to make that decision. Consequently, there was a very heavy rate fund contribution. As it had been informed beforehand, that meant that it lost about £3 million from what would have been its capital allocation.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am well aware of what has happened. It is not for me to defend the actions of Dundee district council. It is for me, however, to speak for the interests of tenants in the district, and for those who are not tenants, who cannot get a house and therefore do not benefit from the rent freeze. It is my responsibility to protect their interests and to speak up for them. The Minister's action in applying to the capital housing account an argument relating to the revenue side will cause real distress to many people in Dundee. In human terms, I cannot understand how any Minister can be prepared to sanction such inhuman treatment.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman has failed to grasp the point. A maximum sum was available for housing expenditure in Dundee. If the council chose to use a high proportion of that in rate fund contributions to its housing account, it took that decision in the knowledge that it 63 would mean that less money would be available for capital expenditure. Under the Government system of housing expenditure limits, the more that is spent on one form of housing, the less there is that can be spent on others.
§ Mr. Wilson
The Minister is saying in effect that, due to a clash of opinion between the Government and Dundee district council, he is prepared to allow bad housing conditions to continue. I believe that that is a misuse of Government authority in these matters. I appeal to him even now to reconsider his wrong policies.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
The Minister is attacking the Labour administration in Dundee. The House may be interested to know that even without any increase in rents the rate fund contribution to the housing revenue account is average for Scotland.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman arrived back in time to make that point and to defend the interests of the district council. I leave the matter there. I disagree with the Minister, and I shall put my views on record.
Having run out of time in this mini debate, I refer only briefly to the problem of dampness. The matter has been raised many times in debates and I do not think that anyone in the House is satisfied with the approach adopted. I was certainly not satisfied with the reply given to the hon. Member for Inverness at Scottish Question Time. In view of the information produced by the Scottish local authorities special housing group, I appeal to the Minister to give immediate and urgent attention to a problem that is causing misery in tens of thousands of Scottish homes.
§ Mr. Maxton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not intervene in the series of points of order concerning the rights of minority parties. Although I am a member of the majority party, I have relatives who are not, and I respect minority parties. Nevertheless, I take exception to the fact that in this and in other debates those rights have been entirely at the expense of Labour Members, and never at the expense of Conservative Members. Surely they should be shared equally between the two sides of the House, particularly as the Labour Party is the majority party in Scotland.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)
I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), and compared it most favourably with that made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). It was said that the Minister was an advocate, and that advocates were used to defending the indefensible. The hon. Member for Dundee, East and the hon. Member for Garscadden are both solicitors, and I was always told that solicitors were trained to convey. On this occasion they have conveyed nothing of their respective parties' policies on housing. It is sad that, in a debate of this sort, we should have been treated by two official spokesmen to nothing more than a general criticism of what the Government are doing.
I am sure that on this serious problem the people of Scotland are waiting to hear what the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Labour Party will have to offer them when the next general election is held. I hope that we shall soon have another housing debate so that the two hon. Gentlemen may have the opportunity to put forward their policies.
§ Mr. Dewar
I shall be pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman our policy at any time, but I remind him that tonight we have been debating a motion that specifically condemns Conservative Party policy on this matter. We stuck to that. Our condemnation is clearly shared by the electorate of Scotland, judging by the recent opinion polls.
§ Mr. Ancram
I look forward to the occasion when the hon. Gentleman will tell us about the Labour Party's policy. I hope that when he does so he will inform us as to which part of his party's policy it is, because I know that his opinions differ somewhat from those of others.
I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) on initiating the debate. In many ways it has been a useful debate. As usual, he made a sincere and well-informed speech about the housing problems facing Scotland. I sometimes feel that he suffers from a somewhat embarrassed release from the constraints of ministerial office. Indeed, Conservative Members feel sorry for him, as he seems to be the only person defending the record of the Labour Government against the attacks of his colleagues. But we thank him, and on his birthday we congratulate him on having the courage to raise this topic again.
In debates on housing, I am always fascinated in listening to the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Labour Members, when they are here, always speak with great passion about houses, as though houses were inanimate objects—statistics which they can use in various ways. They very rarely speak about the people who live in houses and what those people want. That is a genuine distinction between Labour Members and Conservative Members. We believe that houses are homes for people and that we can only look at housing in terms of the requirements and desires of the people who live in them.
Hon. Members have talked about depressed council house areas. One of the difficulties has been the lack of involvement of the people who live in the houses in the way that the houses were run. They were not able to do things for their own homes. It is for that reason, above all, that Conservative Members welcomed the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act last year, for in many ways it gave tenants and people who eventually bought their council houses the right to decide for themselves in their own homes—a right which they had not had before.
It is a sad condemnation of Labour Members that within all their speeches there is the wistful longing for the days when councils controlled other people's lives. By our legislation we have enabled people to be involved in their homes and their own houses.
There is more work to be done, and I am sure that the Minister realises it. He mentioned that, under the same legislation, we have required councils to publish their allocation policies. But even though this requirement is in statute form, in many ways it is not enough. In my experience as a Member of Parliament, the matter of allocations is one of the greatest areas of concern of people who come to see me.
There are people who have been on waiting lists and transfer lists for years, and they do not understand why they are continually seeing people getting in before them who in many cases applied after them. If we are to satisfy people that the system of housing allocation in Scotland is correct, justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.
65 I hope that pressure can be brought to bear on housing authorities to ensure that there is a greater degree of disclosure of the working of their points systems. People need to know why somebody who applied later often gets housing before someone who has been on the list for a considerable time.
But we have made great steps. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Garscadden to complain that we say a great deal about the right to buy that we have given council tenants. We have been holding a series of public meetings around Scotland to inform people of that right. We have held them in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, and in the summer they will be held all over Scotland. The meetings have been crowded to the doors with people who want to learn about their rights in this connection.
§ Mr. John MacKay
I was in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) on Friday night. I was informed that Conservative councillors had had over 200 people at one meeting to make inquiries about council housing. That is probably a much larger number of people than the right hon. Member for Craigton has at his political meetings.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. From the letters that I receive as chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland, I know that there is growing anger at the deliberate delays that are being practised by many councils in Scotland in selling council houses.
It was fascinating to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I have always wondered what was the basic objection to the sale of council houses. Today he told us. He said that he was not against councils selling their houses; he was against councils being forced unwillingly to sell their houses. Suddenly the hon. Gentleman has become the champion of those who are against compulsory purchase, after the last 50 years of compulsory purchase working in the other direction, when he said not a word against it. It would appear that the hon. Gentleman is selective about the principles that he adopts.
As the Minister pointed out, our policy is not just about the sale of council houses; it is about giving rights to council tenants. They may be simple rights but they are important rights. People have the right to decide on their own scheme of decoration in their own home. If they do something with their own hands in their own home, they know that it will not be taken by the council without compensation. These rights are vital to people if they are to feel that their houses are their homes.
66 The fact that Labour Members never mention these factors makes me feel that they are ashamed that alter years in office they did not have the courage to give council tenants, for whom they always say they speak, these basic and important rights. We are giving back to people a pride in their own homes and in their areas. We are doing that by giving them a chance to influence what is done. As the Minister pointed out, in this way we are getting away from the atmosphere in which people do not care about their home because there is nothing they car do about it. Vandalism is but one sympton of that atmosphere.
When the right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) said that he did not know the answer to the problems created by that depressing atmosphere, it struck me as a doctrine of despair. Surely the answer lies in people. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will remember when he and I were involved in the advisory council of Shelter in Scotland. We tried various experiments with neighbourhood action schemes, encouraging people in tenements in Glasgow to take an interest in their own property—often highly vandalised and decrepit property. We encouraged them to build up the areas and the amenities, to plant a little garden and to paint the staircase. By so doing we were giving them an increasing involvement and a pride. In the end, it raised the whole standard and quality of the area.
That is a positive way in which to look at the depressed areas in our council estates. It is no use Labour Members telling us that we are creating the depressed areas by council house sales, because the depressed areas already exist. I know where they are in Edinburgh and in Glasgow. By getting people involved in their own homes and houses, we have a real chance of doing something to change the position.
§ Question put and negatived.