HC Deb 27 February 1986 vol 92 cc1137-64

`(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State for Scotland to carry out and publish the results of a national House Condition Survey at intervals no greater than 5 years. The field work for the first such Survey is to be commenced no later than April 1987. (2) The development of the Survey shall be carried out by the Secretary of State in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities which shall agree the design, survey sample size, monitoring of the field work and the format of the publication of the Survey. (3) The Secretary of State shall agree with COSLA the appointment of an independent consultant or consultants to the Survey. (4) The House Condition Survey shall be carried out in accordance with the requirements of Schedule A.'.—[Mr. Dewar.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.57 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this we are to consider amendment No. 14—New Schedule A—

  1. '1. The HCS must be designed to provide sufficient information to test the adequacy and effectiveness of existing housing policy and legislation, and to formulate new policies and legislation where these are found to be necessary. The information obtained by the HCS shall also be sufficient to review the adequacy of existing resource provision.
  2. 2. All information gathered by the HCS shall be published in a format which provides details both nationally and for each district and island authority.
  3. 3. The HCS shall provide information about the condition of all existing dwellings and their facilities. The dwellings shall be identified by the type of their construction, age and tenure.
It will include, inter alia, the number of dwellings in each category which:
  1. (i) require statutory action under the Housing (Scotland) Acts;
  2. (ii) require structural or other repairs and the extent of any such repairs necessary to provide a minimum 30-year life for the dwelling;
  3. (iii) lack facilities (including e.g. Standard Amenities, central heating, insulation);
  4. (iv) require improvement (including full or partial modernisation, rewiring); and
  5. (v) fail to meet the criteria for the Tolerable Standard.
4. In addition the HCS must be carried out in such a manner as to provide an accurate assessment of the number of dwellings in each category which suffer from rising or penetrating damp or condensation. 5. The HCS shall specify the cost and other resources requirements of the work identified as necessary. 6. It shall also indicate the timescale within which the work identified should, in the professional opinion of the surveyor, be carried out. 7. The HCS shall be accompanied by such other social, household and local authority surveys as may be required to determine social and expenditure priorities.).

Mr. Dewar

I have pleasure in putting forward a simple proposition, based on common sense, which commands widespread support in Scotland. I need hardly tell the House that I expect the Minister to resist it. Our proposal is that Scotland should have a national house condition survey, which would provide us with much information about the state of the Scottish housing stock. We should try to gather a solid and sound basis of information before we draw up our housing plans. We should assess the scale of damage and need before we plan how to meet it. It is a straightforward and admirably sensible suggestion. It is not confined to the public sector, where information can be gathered by means of check lists supplied by the local authorities. It would extend the knowledge of the Scottish Office into the more difficult private sector area, especially private sector rented and tenement accommodation. A survey would give us an accurate snapshot of the state of our housing stock, which could then be updated.

We have had a fair amount of skirmishing over the months, and I understand that the Government are opposed to a house condition survey, on the ground that it is unnecessary. They say that they already have all that they require in the information supplied by local authorities. They argue, therefore, that a national house condition survey is a luxury which we do not need and possibly cannot afford. My first answer is one that I have already given — local authorities are telling only part of the story. My second answer is that I believe that the basis on which the checklist is compiled is not as satisfactory or as accurate as a house condition survey would be.

Anyone who looks at the continuing debate on the dampness problem—that scourge of living standards in Scotland—will appreciate the point. I do not think that one can seriously dispute that the checklists compiled by local authorities seriously underestimate the scale of the dampness problem. I believe that an impartially conducted survey — "impartially" meaning an outside agency performing a specific task with training and incentives—would provide a more accurate picture of the dangers and difficulties in Scottish housing.

This is not a revolutionary proposition. Many people have supported it. A house condition survey is conducted in Northern Ireland. There have been surveys in 1974, 1979 and 1984, and it is intended to continue to update them. That is one part of the United Kingdom where the house condition survey is seen as a useful tool and is part of the continuing process of monitoring and coping with housing problems.

A house condition survey in England is undertaken by the Department of the Environment. It has provided remarkable statistics on what is happening in England, which might, if they were mirrored in Scotland, put a different complexion on the debate on housing. In 1985, looking at local authority stock alone, the survey found that there were just over 4.5 million dwelling houses, of which no fewer than 3.8 million required expenditure—84 per cent. of the total stock. This would have involved expenditure of £18.8 billion. Those are formidable figures. The Department of the Environment apparently found no insurmountable obstacles to carrying out that survey and bringing it to a successful conclusion. I cite those English figures because they suggest that a similar survey in Scotland would produce startling figures which. I hope, would do something to jerk Ministers from their present inertia and complacency about housing in Scotland.

The English survey estimated that the average cost of repair and renovation per dwelling was £4,900. There is no reason to think—I say this cautiously—that Scottish housing stock is in a significantly better state than housing stock south of the border. There may be arguments for suggesting the opposite, but let us give it the benefit of the doubt. If one applies the average cost which was discovered south of the border to the 840,000 council houses in Scotland, note that one finds that a frighteningly substantial sum would be required merely to renovate and bring Scottish housing stock to the standard that we should expect in a civilised society. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has said that we need £880 million a year over five years—that figure is similar to the one arrived at by making my calculations—merely to stop a backlog from building up, and continuing deterioration.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting, as he appears to be by using those figures, that every unit of the council housing stock in Scotland needs that average amount spent on it? How has this come about when, in the past 15 years, 80 per cent. of council housing stock in Scotland has been either renovated or newly built?

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is room for argument. When he makes that point, he makes a case for a house condition survey. If one assumed that the picture in Scotland was similar to that south of the border, one would expect about 80 per cent. of council house stock in Scotland to need that kind of work done on it, and the amount would run into the figures that I have cited. The Under-Secretary of State may say that that is alarmist, gloomy and unjustified scaremongering—no doubt all sorts of phrases may come tripping off his tongue—but I merely underline the fact that we do not really know because Ministers obstinately refuse to carry out the house condition survey for which we are asking. I am asking merely for a reasonable proposition to be put forward, based on the English experience. Of course I shall listen if the Under-Secretary of State can give me substantial reasons why the picture in Scotland should be different. I believe that we should get out of this rather sterile debate in which the hon. Gentleman takes what seems to me to be a plausible proposition and pours scorn upon it, but refuses to produce the wherewithal which would allow us to settle the argument in a civilised, sensible way.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Surely the local authorities should have been establishing for a long time what the problems are if they were serious about maintaining their housing stock. I submit that if there is a problem on the scale suggested by the hon. Gentleman, local authorities have not been doing their job properly.

Mr. Dewar

That is an interesting proposition. I think that local authorities would say that they have been trying for a long time to alert the Government to the dangers and problems and have found that it was equivalent to a dialogue with the deaf. They have been pressing for a house condition survey and for the necessary resources. I say to the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson), before he becomes obsessed with public sector housing stock, that I was careful to say that a house condition survey would be particularly valuable to the private sector, especially the private rented sector.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

I am relieved that the hon. Gentleman stressed that last point, because I was worried that he had concentrated solely on local authority housing. Is he aware that the number of houses below tolerable standard in Ettrick and Lauderdale is much higher than the Scottish average? We are talking not about trivial repairs, but about housing which is still below the tolerable standard laid down years ago-for example, 7 per cent. in Galashiels and 5 per cent. in the district as a whole. These are not, in the main, council houses.

Mr. Dewar

I entirely agree. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed to the diversity of problems within housing stock in Scotland. He has reinforced my general case. I do not want to suggest that this is a council house campaign alone. I used those figures because I was comparing housing in Scotland with the English housing figures in the recent survey down south.

The Opposition take a different view of the realities and of the Government's efforts. The commentary on the public expenditure White Paper which was produced in February—this this month—gives a useful table showing expenditure in constant terms. In 1980–81 the Government committed to housing across the board — I am not making a public sector point alone—£1.005 billion, but by 1985–86 that had decreased to £589 million. In five years the Government's commitment to home improvement grants in the private sector, to support in the public sector, and to every form of housing activity had almost halved in real terms. If Conservative Members suggest, in the face of those figures, that the crisis is the fault of local government, they are allowing all common sense to be overruled by blind party loyalty.

The figures show what is happening again and again. For example, contributions per house in the public sector stock in cash terms were as follows: £255 in 1980–81 and £80 in 1985–86. We all tend to use exaggerated language in the political debate, but one is entitled to say that that is a dramatic, almost catastrophic, decline. It is reflected in housing conditions which will seriously undermine the quality of life for thousands of Scottish people. I find it pathetic—I use that word with consideration—and sad that responsible authorities in areas like Glasgow state that they believe that as a result of these cuts it is likely that about 21,000 of their public sector stock could be classed as below the tolerable standard. The authorities are not proud of that, but it is forced upon them by Government policy.

We may well be faced with major clearances equivalent to the slum clearances of the past if we do not reverse the trend. Part of the essential preparation for the attack upon the housing problem is to establish accurately the scale of the problem, and that needs the type of survey that is asked for in the new clause.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman knows that there are various sorts of surveys. The schedule that he has tabled as an amendment says: The HCS shall provide information about the condition of all existing dwellings". I want to establish whether that survey will cover all the houses in Scotland.

Mr. Dewar

I am well known to be a reasonable man—sometimes that is held against me as a criticism. If the Minister is saying that his opposition to the new clause is based upon that consideration, I say to him with full-hearted generosity that I am prepared to withdraw the clause—on the understanding that it will reappear in another place in another form—if he says that he will accept, in principle, a house condition survey, but wants to discuss with COSLA a sample basis. I certainly would not stand on every line of the schedule. I think that the Minister is making something of a barrack room lawyer's point on this. I hope that he will not attack the clause simply on that basis. We should concentrate on the principle and see whether we can reach some sort of agreement.

8.15 pm

Whatever the arguments, one thing is clear. A new house condition survey would reveal that the present capital expenditure allowed for housing in Scotland is totally inadequate. This year the public sector housing revenue account is £389 million. It will increase to £449 million—I am relieved at that—but it will still fail hopelessly to meet the problems that we face. I commend a house condition survey because it would do something to puncture the complacency of Ministers. They seem to imagine that they are supplying sufficient money and are meeting the demands and needs of housing in Scotland.

I have a letter which is addressed to the Under-Secretary of State who is to reply to the debate. The letter, dated 4 May 1983, is from the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who was then the Minister with responsibility for housing. He said: There is already no real dispute as to the scale of this problem (dampness) and the public authorities already have the means to tackle it provided they give it high priority in their capital programmes and in housing management terms. No one in Scotland believes that that is true.

The root of the fallacy is that we have not accurately quantified, by means of a housing survey, the amount of dampness that exists and the scale of the problem. If there was a house condition survey, we could perhaps blow away this rather feeble pretence that we could conquer dampness in Scotland if only local authorities could make minor adjustments in the ordering of their priorities. That is a deeply mistaken approach.

We want a house condition survey, and so do COSLA, Shelter and almost all local authorities, and I believe that many ordinary people in Scotland, when they listen to the argument, will want one too. The Under-Secretary of State himself once wanted such a survey. In March 1983 I spoke at a weekend school at St. Andrew's university. The Minister also addressed the school. I say openly that I do not remember the hon. Gentleman's speech on that occasion—it must have been insufficiently memorable—but fortunately other people have better memories than me. I have been told—I am satisfied that it is so—that at that weekend school the Under-Secretary of State specifically committed himself personally to support a house condition survey in Scotland.

A member of the audience, Mr. Breslin, wrote to the Minister on the 5 April 1983-1 have the correspondence-and said: In replying to my question you stated that you would be in favour of a National Housing Condition Survey similar to that in England and Wales. I would, therefore, urge you to take all possible steps to enable such a survey to be carried out". The Minister replied on 12 April: Dear Mr. Breslin, Thank you for your letter about a Scottish House Condition Survey. I will be raising this with the Minister". There is no challenge to that account. It is clear that that recollection is correct and that early in 1983 the Minister supported a housing condition survey.

I say without malice that the Minister is entitled to put his principles in his pocket when in office. No doubt that is a great temptation. This may look like good House of Commons jousting, but it is a serious matter. The point I wish to make—the Minister will not dispute it, I hope—is that when he was on the Back Benches—I accept that when one is on the Back Benches one has the luxury of making up one's own mind, and I accept also that ministerial responsibility is a serious concept—he was in favour of a house condition survey. He stated that quite openly. Now he has apparently turned tail, and I think that he owes us an explanation.

Mr. Ancram

I make no secret of the fact that at that meeting, when asked that question, I said that I was in favour of a house condition survey on the same basis as the English one. I got in touch with my hon. Friend who was then the Minister with responsibility for housing. However, I realised that a sample size based on the English survey would have covered only 900 houses in Scotland. I realised also—although the hon. Gentleman does not realise this—that that would give no information of any sort which we did not already possess. For that reason, I began to ask what a national house condition survey could achieve.

Mr. Dewar

That is an extraordinarily implausible explanation and performance, but there we are, we have to live with such disappointments.

It is possible to look at a larger sample, and there are a number of ways of doing so. If the Minister is saying that the mechanical basis for carrying out a house condition survey would not transplant happily from England to Scotland, let us look for a Scottish basis for a Scottish solution. There is nothing wrong with that. The point is that the Minister, until he took office, was personally committed to that principle. I suspect that privately—I do not want to embarrass him by asking him to rend his clothing and wear sackcloth and ashes—he is still in favour of the principle. It is very sad that he retreated when he found himself at the portals of the Scottish Office.

This is an important issue. I believe that an argument of expediency lies behind the ministerial stance. It is very convenient not to have a house condition survey because it allows Ministers to dispute what may be obvious subjectively, but what is difficult to establish statistically without a survey. It allows Ministers to say that the scale of the crisis is not as it is painted by local authorities and that therefore they do not need to provide the finances that are obviously required.

The refusal to have a house condition survey is a symbol of the Government's indifference to the reality of what is happening in Scotland. It is ultimately irresponsible to hide the facts purely to justify, as a matter of expediency, policies which are based on prejudice and which do not serve the needs of the Scottish people.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in favour of a housing conditions survey. I cannot understand why the Minister is so excited about this matter and is refusing a survey which would be useful to him.

Mr. Ancram

I am not excited.

Mr. MacKenzie

The Minister has given the impression of being excited, because he has been on his feet about three times in the past 15 minutes. Over the past few years we have had more interference from the Scottish Office in the affairs of local government than I can ever remember. Rate capping and other measures have been offensive to local authorities. If the Secretary of State and his Ministers are going to give guidance to local authorities on housing matters and interfere with them directly or indirectly with the rate support grant and housing support grant, they should have better information at their fingertips than they seem to have at present.

What troubles me is that Ministers tell us from time to time that there is no shortage of houses. That may well be arithmetically correct. I remember listening to a speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden some years ago. He said that arithmetically one could make an equation of the number of people needing houses and the houses that were still available, and they might work out to be equal, but that in Scotland there was a serious shortage of desirable private and public sector houses. My experience is that there is a considerable shortage of the up-to-date houses.

I became a member of Glasgow corporation in 1952. I hasten to add that I was a brash and youthful town councillor, but that was some years ago. When I went to my surgeries in those days there would be 30 or 40 people waiting to see whether they could get a roof over their heads. At that time a person had to be on Glasgow corporation's housing list for seven years before he or she would be considered for a house.

When I have my surgeries now I am not troubled to the same extent by people who are looking for a house. They are now looking to transfer out of the house that they already have. I am also speaking on behalf of a number of my colleagues because that is the experience that most of us have. People want to get out of houses that are damp or in a poor state of repair. They want to move to one of the higher amenity schemes in Glasgow and other places.

I have the pleasure of sharing the representation of the people of Castlemilk with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). We are constantly approached by constituents who point out the number of houses in the area which are boarded up because they have been destroyed or interfered with by vandals. They are boarded up because the local authority does not have the wherewithal to put the houses in a good and sufficient state of repair.

In Rutherglen—the older part of my constituency—I am approached by people who are worried about simple things such as rusting window frames. I have reports, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden said, of dampness. Dampness has been a constant complaint and much more should be done by central Government to assist local authorities to deal with the problem.

Last, but not least, local authority tenants complain to me about rewiring. In my constituency, the tenants were recently told that there was insufficient money to rewire their houses. The firemaster's representative had told some of them that their houses were a fire hazard, but the local authority was unable to rectify them because it did not have the wherewithal.

If the Secretary of State is serious about putting local authority houses in a good and proper state of repair and solving the problems of dampness and rewiring, I do not know how he will make a proper judgment of how to allocate the money if he does not have a survey of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) said that he was anxious about the private sector. So are we. I have never understood the present Administration's attitude towards providing assistance for repairs and renovations for private sector houses.

I have had the experience, as have many people, of being a public representative for some time. There is no doubt that middle-aged and elderly people in my constituency know where they want to go if they have a choice of a house in the centre of the town or of moving to a housing scheme on the outskirts of the town. In Rutherglen and Cambuslang people want to live as near to the centre of the town as they possibly can. There are stocks of older houses in what I suppose could be called a near-twilight zone. If money were spent on them, they could have another 20 or 30 years of useful life. People want to live in older houses in the centre of the town when they are middle-aged and elderly. We can see that from the rush there is for housing association houses.

If the Secretary of State and his representatives conducted a survey of some of those older private sector houses he would discover that they could be given a useful life longer than the one at present forecast if a little money were spent on them.

Most of us were brought up on the old proverb: A stitch in time saves nine With a little expenditure, we could give private sector houses a much longer life and we could give people what they want. The Secretary of State will never find out what they want unless he conducts a proper survey working with the local authorities, the housing associations and the people who are interested in this matter. I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider the matter. He cannot make a proper judgment about the housing position in Scotland, either private or public, unless he has the information at his fingertips. Unless he has the information at his fingertips he cannot make a proper allocation of the resources. I hope that he will accept the amendment.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I find it incomprehensible that the Minister should refuse to grant the housing conditions survey which has been requested. If there is doubt about the condition of housing, even a sample of 900—small though it is—may help.

One of the things that the Government did which I found unacceptable at the time was the way they discontinued the housing plans which were supposed to be produced on a rolling basis by local authorities. One of the provisions of the housing legislation of the 1970s placed a duty on local authorities to assess the need for housing in their areas, to compile a plan and adjust it as necessary and, from time to time, to send a copy of it to the Scottish Office. No doubt the then Administration found that useful, because on the basis of the information provided by the housing plan they could look at the housing needs in Scotland, see which areas of the country perhaps needed special attention. They could look, in particular, at different housing types and perhaps see, by comparison with housing plans throughout the country, which local authorities were actively responding to the problems. The Scottish Office could also see what difficulties were emerging and could budget accordingly. I fully appreciate that the housing plan might not have been sufficient to deal with the requirements contained in the new clause, because it seeks a more intensive look at housing conditions in Scotland.

8.30 pm

Briefly, I would like to point a finger at the Government and ask why they are not prepared to have a housing survey in Scotland whereas in other parts of the United Kingdom they are willing to do so.

Mr. Ancram

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer that when I come to that point in my speech. The hon. Gentleman has made a point which I think he must reconsider because he is basing his argument on what he thinks is the absence of housing plans. The housing plan system is still in force and we still receive housing plans.

Mr. Wilson

I remember serving in Committee on the Housing Bill which took away the statutory obligation on housing authorities to provide such plans and to make them available to Governments. I stand to be corrected if some later Housing Bill has changed the picture, but I do not think that it has. The Minister still has to face up to the question of why surveys have been granted by the Government for Northern Ireland, Wales and England but not for Scotland. I do not necessarily take the view that we should follow in the footsteps of England or any other part of the United Kingdom. However, I was struck by the fact that the Minister was using as his main prop the argument that in Scotland, pro rata to the English survey, there would be only some 900 houses contained in the sample. What is the condition which applies to Northern Ireland or Wales, which are both smaller countries than Scotland? We should put that to the Minister.

What have the Government to lose? If the Government maintain that the housing position in Scotland is good and improving, the housing survey will show that. If, as many others suspect, the condition of our houses is deteriorating, the housing survey will point to the need for more expenditure on the part of the Government. I think that that is the nub of the argument. The Government obviously would not wish to make money available in greater quantities towards housing. The leaflet of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says: What has the Government done? That is an ominous sounding phrase. It goes on to say: The Government has drastically reduced the amount Councils are allowed to spend on housing each year.

Because the housing grant has been progressively cut back there are problems for local authorities in dealing with problems of modernisation, re-wiring, condensation, structural repairs and so on.

We all know from our constituency experience that in the last quarter of the financial year there are many more requests from constituents requiring repairs. They are frequently told, when they approach the housing division, that there is not enough money left in the kitty for that financial year. They are told to be patient and wait with their rotting windows and with the draught taking the icy winds of January, February and March into their houses. They are told to be patient and spring will come and perhaps some repairs will then be done to the house.

Mr. Henderson

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it will not be a housing condition survey which will fix those windows, it will be a joiner?

Mr. Wilson

I agree. That is indubitably the case. However, perhaps the housing condition survey will point out to the Government the need to supply additional money to local authorities with which to employ joiners and provide the window frames and other things which will be required. Joiners have to be paid, the material has to be bought and it is sometimes difficult for local authorities to budget.

A question mark is not just hanging over the public sector because, in the private sector, the drop in improvement grants from the 90 per cent. level has slowed down much of the modernisation work which was being carried out. I think that the Government are remiss there. I know that the increase in the improvement grant was put into effect six months, or perhaps just a little more, before the 1983 election and after the election the tap was turned off. No doubt, if we continue talking about this long enough and approach the 1987 election, or whenever it will be, the tap might be turned on again. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is sitting there hoping that my analysis will prove correct.

Those grants were a good use of public money. One can see the changes which that couple of years of investment brought to the private sector. In the inner cities houses were cleaned externally and the inside of the houses were modernised and brought into better condition. However, we still have far too many slums.

Two things are particularly worrying. First, very few new houses are being built to house some of the people who are still living in the poorer private accommodation. Secondly, because of the lack of money for Local authorities, some of the housing estates are sliding backwards in terms of maintenance and the surrounding environment. That is perhaps one reason why, as the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) pointed out, many people go to see Members of Parliament and councillors for housing exchanges. They want to transfer up the market if it is possible. They want to move out of a poorer area into a better area. That is not an unnatural thing to want to do. It is not unnatural to want to improve one's environment. However, part of the problem is that there are probably too many schemes where there are difficulties, and too many houses which suffer from condensation.

We already have the equivalent of the housing conditions survey in the valuable work that was done by the Select Committee. The Committee pointed to the need to invest much more money in upgrading insulation and ventilation in many council houses now suffering from condensation. Unfortunately, in spite of that trenchant report, the money has not been made available. I hope that the Government will do something about that. Equally, I hope that they will agree to the housing condition survey because that will be added ammunition for the work that needs to be done.

I was speaking today to a Welsh Member of Parliament who was questioning me about this debate and expressing surprise that we did not have a housing condition survey.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

A new alliance.

Mr. Wilson

Indeed yes. The hon. Gentleman said it was very useful to have exchanges of information on a transnational basis.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Wilson

Transnational. He said that the Welsh Office used the Welsh housing survey to obtain more money for housing purposes from the Treasury. I have come across a document which shows that the same applies in Northern Ireland.

For those reasons I hope that the Minister will consider holding such a survey. If he has nothing to hide he can go ahead. If he does have something to hide perhaps that is the reason why he refuses such a reasonable request this evening.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I hope that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will look carefully at this new clause. I found it fascinating that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) drew attention to the work of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He and his right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) refused to take any part in that Select Committee and left all the hard work to those willing Members of the Labour Party, the alliance and the Conservative party. Yet the hon. Gentleman confidently calls in aid the work of the Select Committee. It is true that it conducted an inquiry into dampness and condensation, and produced a good report. I would have thought that that report, coupled with information from local authorities about the conditions of their properties, would be sufficient to show that there is a need for something to be done. The Select Committee saw some appalling conditions, in which people should never be allowed to live. The report is there for anyone to read.

Mr. Maxton

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he was one of the signatories of that unanimous report, and that it recommended that there should be a house condition survey?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman will realise that I did not support that particular aspect of the report. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen looked again at my comments in Select Committee during evidence sessions, they would realise that I did not support that aspect. I do not support such a survey, not because such a survey would not be worth while, but because the evidence is already available. We know of the need for improvements. Local authorities have the evidence. My hon. Friend the Minister has the information and knows what needs to be done. A house condition survey will not tell us anything that we do not already know, and we need not bear its cost. It is more important to use available money sensibly and properly. Local authorities, for different reasons, have not made use of the funds available for dampness and condensation. The tragedy of that is borne by those who must live in the properties and tolerate the conditions.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I am pleased to see that there is something that the hon. Gentleman does not already know. I was a member of the Select Committee during the investigation, and I remember clearly the recommendation that there should be a proper house condition survey. The hon. Gentleman was also a member of the Select Committee, and still is—heaven help the Committee. I am not aware that he or any other hon. Member moved a minority report to suggest that there should not be such a survey. Why, then, is he now standing on his head?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that that is not how the Select Committee has conducted it activities. When we have tried to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests, it has not helped the Committee. However he may consider my views on different matters, I have tried desperately hard with others to make it a working, meaningful Committee which is doing something worth while for Scotland. We often differ, properly, in our political views, but we should not differ on the importance of the Select Committee's work and the way it presents reports. At times all hon. Members must decide not to make a big issue of one aspect because other aspects of a report are important.

Mr. Henderson

Does my hon. Friend recall that the Select Committee did not commend a house condition survey but recommended that the Government might give further consideration to it?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend is right. I do not have the report before me. I did not want to quote from it because, without it, one is always in danger.

Mr. Maxton

Despite the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the Select Committee's work, does he agree that, once a report has been produced and agreed unanimously, whether he agrees with it all or not, it is up to each hon. Member not then to start saying that he disagrees with this bit and that bit, which only undermines the whole report?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that some of his hon. Friends have disagreed with various reports and made their views clear, as I have done. That is how these things are.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will resist the temptation. Instead of conducting surveys, I would prefer the Government to persuade local authorities which could and should spend more money to rectify the problems.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)


Mr. Home Robertson

The hon. Gentleman should follow that, if he can.

8.45 pm
Sir Russell Johnston

I could not follow that in quite the same way.

The Minister keeps saying that he is willing to be convinced of the need for a house condition survey. Indeed, he spent a great deal of time saying that in Committee. I shall quote his words, which he will undoubtedly be happy to listen to—perhaps happier than listening to mine. He said: I said then, I said on Second Reading, and I say again today"— that was quite a good start— that I have always been prepared to consider the case for such a survey. But being prepared to consider it and being convinced of its merits are two different things … I have considered it and the Department continues to keep the question under review. Basically he is putting the onus on us to convince him that it is a proper step to take. However, the onus is also on him, especially at this late stage, to tell us clearly why it is that Scotland is so extraordinary different from England and Northern Ireland. What is it about Scottish housing that is unique and so different that such a survey is of no use to us, while it is useful for others?

Please will the Minister not give us the sampling argument, which has been well dealt with by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)? All hon. Members accept that the English sample was so small that it would be inappropriate for Scotland. It is equally true that the sample in Northern Ireland was of a different size, and there is no reason why the same cannot apply to Scotland.

The Minister has adduced two arguments in opposing the proposition. First he says that it will cost too much. In Committee he stated: Before committing the taxpayers' scarce resources to such an exercise I would want to be absolutely convinced that any additional or better information that it might provide would justify the costs … The convention's own estimate of the cost is up to £5 million. That would be £5 million which would not be spent on renovating local authority stock or on improvement grants. I was doing a calculation as to what that would mean on the ground. It would mean, for example, that some 1,540 council houses which would otherwise have been modernised would not be modernised." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee 11 February 1986; C. 527–8.] That is not an entirely insubstantial argument. The Minister argues that it will cost a lot of money, so we must ensure that it is being usefully spent, especially as it could, theoretically be spent on something else.

I question whether if the money is not spent on a housing survey, bingo, it will be spent on maintenance grants and building more houses. It is not unreasonable to question that. Nevertheless, our original argument remains unanswered. Why is it that the funny people in England-indeed, some of them are — and Northern Ireland think that having access to the information justifies the cost of acquiring it? Why is it that voluntary organisations, such as Shelter and others who spend all their lives considering how best to provide housing, are 100 per cent. in favour of a survey? None is opposed to it, although they are surely well aware of the Minister's argument that it will cost £X and that £X will then not be available for something else.

Mr. Maxton

In Northern Ireland they believe that all the information is present and known as a result of the housing conditions survey and they are able to allocate extra resources for housing. That is the position in Northern Ireland.

Sir Russell Johnston

That point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) takes me easily to the Minister's second argument — that the information is already known.

The Minister said in quite a long speech on 11 February: Local authorities have a duty under the Housing Acts of 1966 and 1974 to consider housing conditions and needs in their areas and carry out surveys of inspection … Hon. Members have already referred to the fact that Glasgow district council is currently engaged on such an exercise. The Minister substantiated his argument a little later by saying: Obviously a localised survey is more likely to be organised in such a way as to try to take account of the more localised aspect. I think that there is value in proceeding in that way."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 11 February 1986, c. 530.] That basically is the Minister's argument and he is nodding his head in argument with that. That argument confines itself exclusively to local authority housing and that point has already been made by other hon. Members. If the Minister wants to argue the point, I will certainly give way to him.

Mr. Ancram

I would not want the hon. Gentleman to proceed on a false premise. I understand that the survey which is being carried out in Glasgow is examining both public and private sector housing stock. The checklists which were returned to us were supposed to do the same.

Sir Russell Johnston

I do not claim to be a great expert in these matters, but the House does have the benefit of the knowledge of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who is sitting with his feet up on the Dispatch Box. If I may quote his pellucid words from the Committee proceedings— The Minister did not answer at least two or three points"— that is putting it mildly— made to him by me and by COSLA. One is that the check list includes only local authority housing. He admitted that that is the major source of information. So 40 per cent. of all housing in Scotland is excluded from his statistics." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 11 February 1986; c. 531] I assume that the hon. Member for Cathcart made that point because he had good information to support it. As the Minister did not go out of his way to contradict it, I assumed that the hon. Member for Cathcart was correct. However, just to cover the final possibility, even if in certain special circumstances Glasgow district council were making particular and special arrangements, is it not normal under the Local Government Acts of 1966 and 1974, to which the Minister referred earlier, to consider just one housing group?

Substantial information may be obtained about local council housing conditions from the surveys laid down by the acts of 1966 and 1974. Presumably, by aggregating the information, one can gain knowledge of the overall position. However, if the hon. Member for Cathcart and I are correct, and the survey does not include housing in the private sector, that makes it less easy for the Government to determine their policy for example on maintenance grants. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, the Government have switched on and switched off their policy of maintenance grants without any clear evidence of a concerted through policy.

In conclusion, I hope that, since the general range of voluntary organisations involved and interested in housing are in favour of such a survey, since the local authorities are in favour, since the Government's policy already operates surveys in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and as the hon. Member the Minister himself supported one when he was no more than an ordinary, humble Back Bencher——

Mr. Gordon Wilson

He was never humble.

Sir Russell Johnston

I submit to that correction—when he was an ordinary Back Bencher. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should now demonstrate some of this open-mindedness which he has been vaunting and pay attention to what is being said. As the hon. Member for Garscadden said, if the words on the Order Paper are not quite right then their Lordships in another place should have more time than us to work out something more appropriate.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

If the condition of Scotland's housing stock were as good as Ministers keep telling us, I do not see that the Minister should have any difficulty in accepting new clause I. Of course, knowing the Minister as I do, I know that he believes in the advice of Emile Coué—if one says something often enough, one starts to believe it. The trouble is that nobody else believes Scottich Office Ministers when it comes to the bland assurances that we receive about the condition of Scottish housing. The Government have singled out housing for some of the most severe cuts in public expenditure since they came into office. The Minister may look puzzled, but it frankly puzzles me why housing should have been singled out in this way. No other sector of public activity so intrudes on the environment in which we live and could make such a significant contribution to improving employment in the community while at the same time lifting the living standards of our communities.

Let us be blunt about this: much of Scottish housing, whether in the public or private sectors, looks pretty drab. Some of it is really unsatifactory. With a number of my colleagues today I met the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security about payments for the severe weather conditions. The Minister must accept the interlocking relationships between housing and heating difficulties in Scotland. The report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on dampness brought out that point in a number of its studies and recommendations.

It might be argued that if we could improve the structure and the nature of Scottish housing we could reduce the size of heating bills. At the same time as giving people more comfort in their homes, we could actually create more employment in the community. The Minister may launch into yet another ideological hang-up over a public versus private housing opportunity. The last Labour Government encouraged and achieved a higher number of new-build houses in the private sector than the present Government have since coming into office in 1979. We do not need to take any lessons from the Government when it comes to supporting and encouraging the private housing sector.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman, as a fair man, will recognise that many of the Scottish housing problems to which he has referred, problems that we all recognise as being severe, have been with us for a long time. It is surprising that these problems have suddenly come to the notice of the Labour party.

9 pm

Mr. Craigen

This Government have also been with us for a very long time—too long. I may be exceeded in my fairness only by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I recognise that some of the problems go back to Victorian times but I did not start making speeches on housing only after the Tories came into office in 1979. I was making speeches long before that, and the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) was not here for long then—a previous constituency got shot of him after six months. The electors in another constituency got rid of the Minister (Mr. Ancram) after six months as well.

I can understand why the Scottish Office has been rather resistant to proposals for a survey, because it would quantify the horrendous extent of the problem facing authorities in Scotland. It would also show that the private sector is also vulnerable. I know that a survey was done on inter-war housing in the private sector which showed that that sector will continue to be vulnerable in the foreseeable future. The Government's recent Green Paper on home improvements recognised the contribution that renovation of our old housing stock has made. What is required of the Minister this evening is an acceptance that that programme will keep abreast of the requirements that face Scottish housing in the foreseeable future.

We have a large Victorian heritage as well, and a number of houses constructed during that time have stood the test of time remarkably well—more so than some of the housing stock that was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. The renovation programme carried out by both Labour and Conservative Governments has shown that one can give a fresh lease of life to these older properties at rather economic prices. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), with his Glasgow shrewdness, pointed out, people prefer renovated older houses to some of the post-war system built housing. There has been consumer preference for many of the older houses that have been brought up to modern standards.

There are many problems in my area that are perplexing the local authority—for example, the deck access schemes. There are police aspects as well, such as combating the incidence of crime and vandalism, all of which will incur considerable cost. The Minister and I served in Committee on the housing defects legislation. That measure benefited only those people who had taken the Government at their face value and purchased houses which they then found had structural faults that required either remedy or another home, because the problems were beyond repair. The Government may also have to recognise that certain system-built properties are beyond repair, and that it will be necessary for the Government to write off the debt charges rather than leave the housing authorities to face this burden.

Some other facts have emerged from the housing survey. The Minister should recognise what has been recognised by the housing authorities, that there will be a shortage of the necessary skills. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) will agree that, when the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities came to lobby Members of Parliament during the time of housing support grant orders, Bailie Jim McLean, the chairman of Glasgow housing committee, said there would be a shortage of electricians and other skilled tradesmen, given certain levels of programming in the modernisation of houses.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)


Mr. Craigen

The loud voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) comes across quite sharply.

That shortage of skilled tradesmen is typical of what is happening in the construction industry. We are wasting a lot of our skilled tradesmen.

I hope that the Government will accept the new clause. If it amounts to as little as the Minister in his interventions insisted that it did, he does not have much to be afraid of by accepting it. I do not support the new clause simply because I want to be information-rich about the problems of Scottish housing. Most of us who are dealing with constituents all the time look around our areas and are only too familiar with the problem of deteriorating housing stock. I hope that the Minister will bite the bullet by accepting the new clause and that he will recognise that there is a need for Scottish housing to get a bigger slice of the cake. It is the duty of Scottish Office Ministers to argue with their colleagues responsible for other areas in the United Kingdom the case that Scottish housing deserves a bigger slice.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I support new clause 1. I want to put the record straight about the affairs of the Select Committee and the inquiry into damp housing. There were two reports, and the original report was never ratified by the Select Committee because, unfortunately, an election intervened. The original report was much stronger than the one that followed. It was a scathing indictment not only of the Government, but of local authorities of all political colours which for years concealed and masked the problems of their housing stock, because the problem was so huge that it would have become a massive national embarrassment. New members arrived in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and we had to water down the original report in order to get the new members, who were somewhat more extreme in their Right-wing views, to accept what was to be a consensus.

Mr. Henderson

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to give a tendentious description of the deliberations of a Select Committee on a report that has never been published?

Mr. Speaker

If the report has not been published, the hon. Member should not disclose it. I think that what he said was a preamble to his speech.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) and I took part in the survey. I think he will agree that we were both disgusted and shocked by what we discovered. In the summary of conclusions and recommendations, at paragraph 84(4), the Committee said: The Committee is inclined to consider that a comprehensive, centrally funded and organised survey of housing stock, as advocated by a majority of witnesses, would be justified in terms of practical benefit. We do not, however, consider the case conclusively proven". That is what the Committee reported.

Mr. McKelvey

Of course that was the case. Nothing could have been conclusively proven because some members of the Committee had not heard the evidence. In natural justice, we could not have pushed the original report.

However, the evidence which was gathered and which appeared in the published report showed clearly that the vast majority of those from whom we heard evidence believed that such a survey would give the Government a clearer idea of the problems of public and private housing. That was most important because there had been no survey of private housing, and the survey undertaken by some local authorities provided inconclusive and incomplete evidence.

All the members of the Select Committee were horrified by the conditions in which some people lived, and we saw only a small proportion of bad housing. The extent of dampness was not fully known at the time. Some witnesses said that about £157 million would be needed immediately to redress the problem. So excited were the Government when we produced the evidence that they allowed £1 million or £2 million to stave off the worst publicity. That was a completely inadequate sum to deal with the problem, which still exists. It exists because we have not had a proper survey. However, authorities have now taken a much more serious attitude, are considering the matter and are telling the truth.

The evidence given to the Committee showed that some authorities had told their tenants who were living in abysmal, damp and unhealthy conditions that it was probably caused by heavy breathing at the top of the stairs and in some of the bedrooms. That may sound funny to some people, but it is not funny for those who live in council or private houses that are riddled and rotten with dampness, which affects not only their health but, more importantly, the health of their young children. We saw young children with serious chest infections caused by the damp penetration and mould.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) said that he does not know why the Government fear such a survey, but he knows very well why they fear it. Such a survey would prove beyond doubt the amount of money that must be injected into local government coffers to halt the extension of dampness in the horrible accommodation in which so many people must live, to redress the balance and to ensure that, in the future, we do not build the houses which cause such defects. The cost of curing the defects would be about £250 million, and that is exactly why the Government will not spend the small amount needed for the survey. It would be an indictment of their refusal to spend the money that would give all the people in Scotland who deserve proper and decent homes, whether in the public or private sectors, the opportunity to live in what we would consider decent and respectable housing. That is why the Minister will not accept new clause 1, and say it is disgraceful.

Mr. Home Robertson

It is quite understandable that much of the debate has concentrated on the condition of housing in urban Scotland. Like the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), I was a member of the Select Committee which examined the condition of housing in Scotland and reported on dampness. We saw some truly revolting conditions in some of our urban stock, but I should not like the debate to be concluded without some reference to the condition of housing stock in rural Scotland.

In rural Scotland, we are talking principally about privately owned housing. The House should consider the matter every bit as much as urban housing. The Rural Forum organisation, which is made up of voluntary organisations concerned with rural social problems in Scotland, reported last year on the state of rural housing. It came up with some fairly alarming conclusions. Those of us who represent rural or semi-rural constituencies know that quite a lot of the housing stock there is in a pretty ropy condition.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

9.15 pm
Mr. Home Robertson

I am getting pretty bored with the hon. Member for Tayside, North.

I have taken quite an interest in the condition of agricultural tied housing in Scotland, in which people do not even have security of tenure. Too often, people are compelled to live in such houses, which are in the most appalling condition. They are damp and are effectively prisons. I pay tribute to Rural Forum for examining the condition of housing in rural Scotland and for making recommendations. The Conservative party has something to be ashamed of in that it has masked housing conditions all over Scotland. It is quite in character that it should resist the idea of preparing a proper house condition survey.

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and others of my hon. Friends who have spoken in favour of the new clause, as it is important that we get to know the facts and the extent of the problem in all parts of Scotland. This is as much of a problem, an abuse and a scandal in rural Scotland as in urban Scotland. It is yet another example of the Conservative party betraying its traditional supporters in rural Scotland.

Mr. Ancram

We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate on what started out as a debate on a house condition survey, but the nature of house condition surveys is broader than that.

Some hon. Members know that this issue was raised on Second Reading and was the subject of extensive debate in Committee. I have to tell the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) that it is somewhat difficult fo me to get up about three weeks after a lengthy debate and say something very different from what I said in Committee. I thank him for making my speech in advance and hope that he will not mind hearing some of it again.

New clause 1 and amendment No. 14 represent an attempt to quantify more clearly the Opposition's objectives in introducing a statutory requirement for a house condition survey in Scotland. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other organisations and professional bodies have also expressed an interest in such a survey. I have discussed the matter with COSLA's housing committee.

Several assertions have been made. They keep coming back in wide-ranging terms and concern the Government's record of spending on housing in Scotland. On listening to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and others, it would appear that the Government have slashed capital spending on housing in Scotland.

Mr. Maxton

Total housing expenditure?

Mr. Ancram

We are talking about the condition of housing. My understanding of the remarks that were made was that the structural condition of housing was due to the Government slashing capital expenditure on housing in Scotland.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Ancram

It is only fair to work on facts, not on the mythology put forward by Opposition Members. Large reductions—some 37 per cent.—were made in gross capital expenditure under the last Labour Government. There have been reductions of some 4 to 5 per cent. in real terms under us.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) who makes these assertions, among others, must allow me to make the opposite case.

The figures in real terms on the HRA and non-HRA blocks show that in 1978–79, the last year of the Labour Government, capital expenditure amounted to £416 million. In the coming year, 1986–87, under this Government the figure is £411 million in real terms. Although there has been a minor reduction in gross capital expenditure, it is minimal. When compared to the 37 per cent. reduction by the last Labour Government, it gives the lie to allegations that have been made by the hon. Gentleman.

After two years in which we have seen the allocations to the public sector in Scotland going up in total by 43 per cent., I find it hard to take from Opposition Members the allegation that the Government are not concerned about housing problems in Scotland and are not responding to them. At a time of public expenditure constraint, an increase of 43 per cent. is a remarkable achievement and underlines the concern of the Government about housing problems in Scotland.

Mr. Foulkes

Has the Minister seen the excellent article by Age Concern, Scotland, a well-respected organisation, which has taken figures from the Government's own Scottish commentary and Government expenditure plans and put them into 1983–84 prices so that they are in real terms? They show that in 1975–76 total capital spending was £1,200 million, and by 1979–80 it was still well over £1 billion — £1,066 million. By 1984–85, after progressive reductions, it was down to £546 million. In other words, the present Government cut it by half, while the previous Government maintained it just above the £1 billion level. Does the Minister challenge those figures, which Age Concern has produced from the Government's own statistics?

Mr. Ancram

I do not want to trespass on the debate on new clause 2. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman will make certain representations on behalf of Age Concern, and I suspect that he will be saying again that the Government have not done enough.

I agree with Age Concern that we need to spend more to deal with the problems in Scotland housing stock. For that reason, in the last two years we have increased the HRA allocations by about 43 per cent. All that I can ask of Opposition Members who are accusing the Government of slashing expenditure in all directions is at least to recognise that. They do nothing for their own case by continually making assertions that capital expenditure is being cut.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) raised the problem of condensation and dampness, and this is something that the Government take seriously. Local authorities' returns in 1985 put the cost of eliminating dampness and condensation at £372 million. They indicated plans to spend £214 million by 1991 on this aspect of their programme. As hon. Members know, we have enhanced the allocations made in the last two years to housing authorities with a supplement, not to deal with the problem of condensation and dampness, but to help local authorities to deal with it. This year that supplement at £20 million represents approximately half of most authorities' average planned annual expenditure on condensation and dampness. That is firm evidence of the Government responding to the needs of housing in Scotland.

Mr. Craigen

Is the Minister satisfied, from the feedback that he is receiving from those local authorities, that the technical remedies for removing the incidence of dampness and condensation are effective?

Mr. Ancram

As the hon. Gentleman knows, work on condensation is being done in a number of areas, not least by the Building Research Establishment, to see how best the problem can be cured. Indeed, I think the hon. Gentleman knows of a special project recently started in Glasgow, to which I gave an endorsement, and which I believe will be an interesting example of how the problem can be dealt with.

Mr. McKelvey

The Minister says that the Government have provided almost £20 million in the first year to deal with a problem which we believe will cost about £500 million. Does the Minister know how much it costs the Government to look after those who are ill because they live in damp houses? Would it not have been better for the Government to seize the initiative and say to local authorities that they intend to spend £500 million on attempting to eradicate dampness?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap into which so many hon. Opposition Members fall. A short time ago he gave the figure of £250 million. I have told him that the local authorities say that they want £372 million, so the hon. Gentleman has now increased his figure to £500 million. It is precisely that type of dutch auction that makes the Opposition's case so difficult to sustain.

As the campaign for surveys has progressed, the potential benefits to be gained from it have been somewhat exaggerated. Some of the issues——

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

No, I must get on. I have given way on a number of occasions.

Mr. Clarke

My question relates to the point that the Minister has just made.

Mr. Ancram

When I have developed this point I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Some of the issues that were discussed in Committee went far beyond anything that a national survey would touch upon, far less quantify. More generally, any survey based on methods and sample proportions used in England would tell us nothing that we do not know already. That applies whether one looks at the 1981 sample of 9,000 houses in England, the equivalent of which in Scotland would have been 900, or whether one looks at the 28,000 houses proposed for 1986 in England, which would still give us only 2,800 houses in Scotland. Again, it would give us no information that we do not possess.

To take account of wide variations in housing types and conditions in different areas of Scotland, where there are great differences from area to area, a national survey would need a sample proportion several times larger than any of those that I have mentioned. Even then it would produce only national level results and would provide very little additional information. The large-scale survey proposed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities would produce certain assessments, but they would be certain assessments only at district level where they are needed. It would be a quite unprecedented exercise in terms of organisation and execution, to say nothing of the cost.

There must be a balance between cost and the information that one eventually gets. The new schedule suggests that this proposal will seek to go even further. It was for that reason that I pressed the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). I shall now give way to him.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He seems to be a little worried about the conflicting figures that he has received. I should like to help him. Does he accept that he is bound to get conflicting figures and different advice until there is a national house condition survey? That is what we are urging upon him.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman talks about a national house survey. When I was asked this question in 1983, I too thought that a national house survey was a magical way of producing all the information that we needed to know about every house. However, when one looks at what certain sample sizes produce, what the cost of different sample sizes is and what that money could be used for instead, the argument is different. I shall come to that.

Mr. Craigen

When we were debating the housing defects legislation and I made the point that each house would need to be examined, the Under-Secretary of State said that a survey would be sufficient.

Mr. Ancram

It is nostalgic to have the hon. Gentleman shaking his finger at me after the last six months with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). He obviously believes in this proposal When I asked his hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden whether he was looking for a 100 per cent. survey—because he at least knows the costs that we might be talking about—he was realistic enough to understand that that could never happen. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Mary hill (Mr. Craigen) is suggesting that, he must think very carefully about is implications for housing expenditure in general in Scotland.

A substantial amount of information is already available from the housing plans and check lists compiled by local authorities and from other sources, such as the general house survey and the labour force survey. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) was right to say that the information that comes from local authorities provides a sound and reasonable basis on which to proceed.

9.30 pm

I do not know where the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) gets his idea that the housing plans have been discontinued. They are required on a four-yearly cycle for all local authorities except Glasgow, for which they are required annually. I am sorry to have to continue to correct the premises upon which hon. Members have put forward arguments, but I must say to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochabar that I have a copy of the check list, which, under item 8, includes general needs, dwellings, and all tenures. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that would include the private sector as well as the public. On another sheet, when asking for returns for future programmes, the check list refers to the private sector. If the hon. Gentleman was arguing on the premise that the check list did not consider the private sector, he will understand that he was wrong.

Sir Russell Johnston

I know that the hon. Gentleman has had to deal with many interruptions, so I am grateful to him for giving way. Is he saying flatly that all the housing surveys under the 1966 and 1974 legislation include the private sector? If so, why not use local authorities as Government agents to achieve a national house survey?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is using the fact that he has heard the speech before to try to pre-empt me once again. Under the 1969 legislation, local authorities have a duty to identify houses below tolerable standard, which are assumed to be in the private sector. Obviously they must consider the private sector to complete their surveys.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber mentioned that I had referred to the Glasgow survey in my speech in Committee. That survey is considering 15,724 cases. The sub-sample is considering 2,700 under the Glasgow district council, 258 Scottish Housing Association and 1,157 private cases. That shows that the survey is considering stock across the board.

In addition, we have had the benefit of various ad hoc surveys into specific problems. In recent years these have included the private sector survey on inter-war stock and the report on the impact on housing improvement and repair grants. Reference has been made to the inquiry into the condition of local authority stock carried out in England last year. One source of information available in Scotland is the annual housing check lists, which are completed and compiled by local authorities and which reflect local authorities, views of their stock.

Glasgow district council has taken the matter seriously. It is currently engaged on a survey for that purpose. By doing such surveys, local authorities improve their knowledge of their stock. They are better placed to assess housing needs in their areas, to draw up better check lists and housing plans and to establish priorities for improvement and repair projects. Local authorities might consider more closely their powers and responsibilities in that area.

The Northern Ireland survey on which the hon. Member for Cathcart is so keen, is undertaken by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is the housing authority for the Province. There is something to be said for housing authorities considering closely what Glasgow is doing.

I have considered the representations made by COSLA and I have listened carefully to the arguments in the debate and previous debates. I remain unconvinced of the cost effectiveness of a national house condition survey in Scotland. I believe that the present practice is more suited to Scottish circumstances and more cost effective, in that resources can be devoted to work on the stock. The convention's estimate of the cost of a 56,000 sample survey—only 2.5 per cent. of the total Scottish housing stock-was up to £5 million. That sum of money could be devoted to the modernisation of 1,500 council houses or, in answer to the right hon. Member for Rutherglen, to the payment of about 1,000 improvement grants. I do not believe that a survey of only 2.5 per cent. of existing housing stock would give us information that we do not already obtain from various other surveys.

I remain prepared to consider the case for a house condition survey in the light of the prevailing circumstances. The new clause and amendment are not only wrong, but unnecessary. No legislative provision is required to enable a house condition survey to be undertaken at any appropriate time or in any particular way. The terms of the proposal, especially the detailed requirements in the new schedule, are wholly unacceptable and would give rise to significant difficulties and cost in implementation. I ask the hon. Member for Garscadden to consider withdrawing the motion. Failing that, I shall obviously have to ask my colleagues to reject it.

Mr. Maxton

I can make a short speech if the Under-Secretary of State is prepared to agree to two things which I thought he was conceding. First, I hope that he will allow each local authority to do as Glasgow has done and carry out a survey of its own housing, and that he will be prepared to finance them with extra money to carry it out. Secondly, I hope he will ensure that each local authority carries out exactly the same survey. There is no point in one local authority carrying out a survey with certain standards and another carrying out a different survey with different standards. If the Under-Secretary of State is prepared even to nod and say that he is prepared to do that, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to withdraw the motion, I shall sit down and we will not have to vote.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman has made a number of assertions about check lists. He should look at a copy of a check list and see how detailed is the questionnaire that must be filled in.

Mr. Maxton

I accept that point, but that is not what the local authorities say about the check lists. They make a totally different point. Obviously the hon. Gentleman is not going to respond. I am sorry, but my speech will therefore have to be slightly longer.

Last Friday I attended a conference organised by the Planning Exchange, at which the Scottish Office was represented. The conference was about the Green Paper on improvement grants. Every organisation represented, including Shelter and COSLA and the local authorities, the building federation, the surveyors and the environmental officers, said that a house condition survey in Scotland was needed. The Under-Secretary of State is the only person who seems to disagree—I am not sure that his advisers disagree—but even he did not disagree in 1983. He said that he was convinced by what was said by the then Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for home affairs and the environment—the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart).

In a letter to Mr. Breslin—written on Scottish Conservative party paper, not House of Commons notepaper—he stated: As you will see, he"— referring to the hon. Member for Eastwood— does not really feel that it is necessary to await a survey before tackling the problems of dampness in housing. I hope you will find his letter helpful, and I would welcome your comments. At no point did the hon. Gentleman say that he agreed with the Minister.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

By implication.

Mr. Maxton

That is not by implication. The implication is that the hon. Member for Eastwood believed that there should be a survey. Of course, that would take place after the problems of dampness had been solved.

He is stating only one of the problems. The fact is that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ancram) said that he was in favour of a survey and did not disagree with it. It was only when he attained office that the Minister decided that he did not want it.

COSLA has issued figures, if the Minister will allow me to list them, showing that 332,900 houses need modernising, 118,200 need rewiring, 314,000 suffer from dampness or condensation and 50,000 need major or structural repairs.

The Minister contests these figures—

Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)


Mr. Maxton

If the hon. Lady will allow me to carry on for a moment further.

The Minister has said that the figures are incorrect. COSLA has said——

Mrs. McCurley


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Maxton

As far as I am aware, the hon. Lady has only just come into the Chamber.

Mr. Foulkes

She has been at dinner all night.

Mr. Maxton

COSLA obtained those figures and facts from answers [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will not allow arguments across the Chamber.

Mr. Maxton

COSLA obtained those facts from an answer given by the Minister to a question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen). That is where COSLA obtained the facts. Where does the Minister obtain his facts? He obtains them from the local authorities. If the facts are wrong, the local authorities are not providing the right information. Every organisation which has provided information, which the Minister says is adequate, has said that what it is asked to provide is inadequate.

The local authorities and COSLA think that the information is inadequate. Why is the Minister the only one who thinks that the information that they provide is adequate? It seems an odd thing.

Mrs. McCurley


Mr. Henderson

It seems to me that it ill becomes COSLA to highlight these figures, which are to a degree an indictment of the inadequacy of local authorities to look after the housing stock in years gone by, indeed when the Labour Government were in office. Is it not the case that local authorities have always had a duty to look after their housing stock both in the public and in the private sector? They should have done this over the years.

Mr. Maxton

These figures are a searing indictment of the Government's housing policy over the past seven years.

Mrs. McCurley


Sir Russell Johnston

Give way.

Mr. Maxton

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reply to one point before I give way to another Conservative Member.

Despite what the Minister has said, the Government have halved housing expenditure in Scotland. Despite the fancy terms, the total money the Government spend in Scotland is half what it was in 1979–80. That is why there is such disrepair and dampness in our housing. A large number of people who are unemployed cannot afford to pay their heating bills and that has also worsened the dampness problem. I give way.

Mrs. McCurley

If all the local authorities have the statistics which the hon. Gentleman has given us tonight, what is the need for a housing survey? We know the facts, we know the problems, and we are now attempting to deal with them.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Lady should have been here earlier.

Mr. Maxton

I agree with my hon. Friend. If the hon. Lady had been in the Chamber for the whole of the debate, she might have heard the arguments put forward for a housing condition survey.

There is a major row between the Minister and COSLA over these figures. If the Minister believes those figures are wrong, the best way to solve the disagreement is to have a housing condition survey. We would then know what the facts are and whether the Minister is right.

The Minister is gravely concerned about the costs. He says that a survey is not necessary and the local authorities can do all this themselves. If that is the case, why has the Secretary of State—or may be it was the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)—instructed each local authority to carry out a survey of school buildings? Why is it right for there to be a survey of all school buildings—not just a sample—at the moment, carried out by local authorities with money provided by the Government with a clear commitment that once the information about school buildings has been received the Scottish Education Department will be prepared to consider special programmes?

Mr. Rifkind

It is 100 per cent. though.

9.45 pm
Mr. Maxton

Apparently it is 100 per cent. I am not asking that. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to read the new clause. That might be of value to him. Every organisation involved with housing, every expert, every local authority, every surveying organisation, every building organisation seek a house condition survey. Ministers responsible for housing in England believe a house condition survey to be right. The Northern Ireland Minister responsible for housing believes it to be right. What is it about the Secretary of State for Scotland which makes him say that it is unnecessary for Scotland?

The Government are rightly ashamed of their housing policy in Scotland. They know that housing conditions are appalling. They do not want the facts to be known. I ask my hon. Friends to vote for the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 150.

Division No. 89] [9.46 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Hoyle, Douglas
Alton, David Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Ashton, Joe Janner, Hon Greville
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Johnston, Sir Russell
Barnett, Guy Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Kennedy, Charles
Beith, A. J. Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Bermingham, Gerald Kirkwood, Archy
Bidwell, Sydney Leighton, Ronald
Boyes, Roland Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bray, Dr Jeremy McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bruce, Malcolm McKelvey, William
Caborn, Richard MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McTaggart, Robert
Campbell-Savours, Dale Madden, Max
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Marek, Dr John
Clarke, Thomas Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clay, Robert Maxton, John
Clelland, David Gordon Meacher, Michael
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Michie, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Corbett, Robin Nellist, David
Craigen, J. M. O'Neill, Martin
Cunliffe, Lawrence Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Pike, Peter
Deakins, Eric Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dewar, Donald Prescott, John
Dixon, Donald Randall, Stuart
Dormand, Jack Richardson, Ms Jo
Douglas, Dick Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Eadie, Alex Skinner, Dennis
Eastham, Ken Spearing, Nigel
Ewing, Harry Steel, Rt Hon David
Fatchett, Derek Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Strang, Gavin
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Wallace, James
Foster, Derek Wareing, Robert
Foulkes, George Welsh, Michael
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Wigley, Dafydd
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Wilson, Gordon
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Haynes, Frank Tellers for the Ayes:
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Mr. Allen McKay and
Home Robertson, John Mr. John McWilliam.
Howells, Geraint
Alexander, Richard Cash, William
Amess, David Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Ancram, Michael Chope, Christopher
Ashby, David Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Colvin, Michael
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Simon
Batiste, Spencer Cope, John
Bellingham, Henry Couchman, James
Best, Keith Currie, Mrs Edwina
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dickens, Geoffrey
Blackburn, John Dicks, Terry
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dover, Den
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dunn, Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Durant, Tony
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Evennett, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bright, Graham Fallon, Michael
Brinton, Tim Fletcher, Alexander
Brooke, Hon Peter Galley, Roy
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Greenway, Harry
Bruinvels, Peter Gregory, Conal
Buck, Sir Antony Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Butterfill, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Hayward, Robert Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Henderson, Barry Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hirst, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Howard, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Hunter, Andrew Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Jackson, Robert Sayeed, Jonathan
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lang, Ian Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shersby, Michael
Lightbown, David Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Speed, Keith
Lord, Michael Spencer, Derek
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Steen, Anthony
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Major, John Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Malins, Humfrey Sumberg, David
Marlow, Antony Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mather, Carol Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Thornton, Malcolm
Monro, Sir Hector Thurnham, Peter
Moore, Rt Hon John Tracey, Richard
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Twinn, Dr Ian
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Moynihan, Hon C. Waddington, David
Murphy, Christopher Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Neale, Gerrard Walden, George
Nelson, Anthony Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Neubert, Michael Waller, Gary
Newton, Tony Ward, John
Nicholls, Patrick Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Normanton, Tom Watts, John
Norris, Steven Wheeler, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Whitfield, John
Osborn, Sir John Wiggin, Jerry
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Winterton, Nicholas
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wood, Timothy
Pollock, Alexander Woodcock, Michael
Powell, William (Corby) Yeo, Tim
Powley, John
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Tellers for the Noes:
Proctor, K. Harvey Mr. Francis Maude and
Raffan, Keith Mr. Gerald Malone.

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill adjourned —[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.