HC Deb 04 March 1986 vol 93 cc172-86

It shall be the responsibility of each district council in Scotland to ensure that there is sheltered Housing available for 5% of its resident population over the age of 65 years."—[Mr. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.45 pm
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

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

In the midst of the general housing crisis in Scotland, much of which the Government have caused, is a housing problem for the aged. An increasing proportion of the population are aged over 65, and an increasing proportion of them require housing that enables them to remain in society although they cannot entirely look after themselves.

In an excellent document, Age Concern recognises that the need is simply not being met. Very few local authorities in Scotland have anything like enough sheltered housing for people aged over 65. I represent an area in which 41 per cent. of the population live in council houses. Week in, week out, constituents come to my surgeries seeking special needs housing or sheltered housing supplied by the local authorities. Many of them are nearly housebound, or have partners who are nearly housebound. Many have to negotiate stairs, which makes mobility even more difficult. They require homes on the ground floor with some form of alarm system linked to a warden who can provide immediate help. Too many elderly people live without such support.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) wants to speak about this subject. Due to his past connections with Age Concern, he will no doubt be able to give more details.

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

One is taken by surprise in this place from time to time and this afternoon has been no exception. It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of new clause 2.

Although I hope for a sympathetic response, I know that we shall get a response from a Minister who understands what I shall talk about, as the Minister and I have had some discussions on the matter before. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, I was involved with the needs of the elderly as a director of Age Concern Scotland. I shall quote from an excellent document which it produced and which, I believe, was sent to all Members of Parliament—it was certainly sent to the Minister—entitled "Housing Facts and Figures". The introduction says:

Age Concern Scotland believes that every pensioner has the right to a decent home. A decent home should be warm, adapted to the pensioner's real needs and at a price the pensioner can afford. We have all been worried about warmth during the past few weeks. We know that old people often live in houses that are difficult to heat. Those who are lucky enough to live in sheltered housing are relatively well off. During the past few weeks, we have been worried about pensioners freezing to death in inadequate housing. Those of us who campaign for extreme weather payments should not sit back and think that we have achieved anything very substantial, because the payments are limited to relatively very few pensioners. Many others who need help will not benefit. If the Government have their way with the Social Security Bill, matters will deteriorate rather than improve.

One of the best ways in which to ensure that pensioners are kept relatively warm in winter is to ensure that they have a decent house which is well insulated and easy to heat rather than draughty, large and prone to substantial heat loss. During the past couple of decades, sheltered housing has therefore been advanced as one of the best means of housing old people.

It was my predecessor at Age Concern, which was then called the Scottish Old People's Welfare Council, the late Marjorie Salmon, who launched the idea of sheltered housing in Scotland at a conference in Aberdeen. The principle of sheltered housing was not then fully accepted, and people had not thought through the possibilities. A lot of tribute is due to those pioneers of some decades ago.

As to the need for sheltered housing for the elderly, the recommended rate — at least, it used to be the recommended rate—is 50 per 1,000 of the population, although I think that the Government are shying away from the fact that it is a recommended rate because increasingly they are unable to get anywhere near that rate, as I shall demonstrate.

The need for sheltered housing is increasing, not just because of the present severe winter but because the population is living to a greater age. Demographic changes are brought about by improvements in medical services so that people are living longer, for which one is thankful, and the percentage of old people in the community is increasing. It can be seen from the report to which I have referred that the figure is moving up to 17 per cent., and will be up to 20 per cent. by next century.

If one considers the type of housing in which old people live it is regrettably the case they are much more likely to lack a bath than is the case in the population generally. Old people are more likely to share a bathroom than the rest of the population, yet when one is old and retired, with the possibility of coping with incontinence and other difficulties, baths and facilities such as hot and cold running water are even more necessary than they are for the population generally.

Old people spend a much larger percentage of their income on the provision of housing. It is therefore very important that they get good value for the money they spend on housing. As I said in the debate that was truncated last Thursday, unfortunately public expenditure on housing has been halved in the lifetime of the present Government. The Minister tried all manner of twists and turns to deny this, but the facts speak for themselves. When the Government took office, over £1 billion a year was being spent on housing; the amount now is only £556 million, which, by anybody's arithmetic, is about half; and this at a time when needs are greater, the number of old people is increasing, and they are living in substandard accommodation. As a result, fewer new houses are being built.

Since 1979, 45,000 jobs in the Scottish construction industry have been lost. There is, on the one hand, this increasing number of old people in substandard accommodation desperately anxious to get into sheltered housing and on the other hand many construction workers who are unemployed. This is a ridiculous situation. It is time that the Government recognised the need and took the opportunity to put men—and, may I add, some women, as I note the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) — in the construction industry back to work.

If one examines the need, the recommended level of 50 per 1,000 of the retired population is not over-generous. There is a need for 36,000 sheltered housing units, identified in the Age Concern document, and confirmed by Government, yet fewer than 16,000 sheltered housing units currently exist. The shortfall is still well over 20,000 units. That is needed to provide the right facilities for old people.

Amenity housing, as the Minister knows, although one stage down in some ways, remains an important provision for old people. Again, on Government figures, the need is estimated to be over 72,000, yet in Scotland only about 4,500 amenity houses exist. The shortfall is over 67,000. One has to bear in mind the huge shortfall identified in the Age Concern document and the opportunities for unemployed workers to provide this housing.

I discussed this matter earlier today with my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) and, although the need is as important as the quick revision of sheltered housing to meet that need, there are a couple of other things which ought to be borne in mind. I am sure that the Minister will agree, as my right hon. Friend reminded me, that when discussions are taking place between the local authority and the housing association which may be providing the accommodation for the local authority, careful consideration must be given to the appropriate location of sheltered housing units. It is important not to build units on outlying sites at a distance from the centre of the town. Housing for old people should be provided in the community so that they can participate in, and see what is happening in, the community, and be within easy reach of shops, post offices and other facilities. Full account should be also taken of the fact that old people can be annoyed by excessive interruptions from young people or by traffic.

There is a tendency, not too prevalent, for some authorities and organisations, in their enthusiasm to provide more sheltered housing units, to skimp on the provision, so that instead of providing two-apartment houses they provide studio apartments. That is not the sort of accommodation we should offer old people in retirement. It would be intolerable to see a return to the single-end type of accommodation which some elderly people had to live in at the start of their lives.

I have indicated the substantial need for sheltered housing that exists. We accept that the amendment is fairly rigid in its targets. The aim is to give the Government an opportunity to respond and to recognise how far short of what is required the present provision is.

The elderly feel under attack from the Government. Indeed, they have been concerned about the lack of provision for heating, given that pension increases recently announced amount to pennies instead of pounds—40p for a single pensioner which, as my hon. Friend the member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, is enough to buy four eggs. The last Labour Government devised the formula that pensions should go up with increases in earnings or prices, whichever was the larger. If that formula were applied, a single pensioner would be better off by £4 a week and a married couple by £6.50. We know that in all those areas the pensioner is under attack.

I hope that we shall not see a negative attitude to this new clause from the Government. I hope that they will give some sign, even if the new clause is not acceptable, that pensioners have some hope of living in a decent house which is easy to keep warm and clean and in which they can continue to live during their retirement, in comfort and happiness. I hope that we shall get such a commitment from the Government but, if I am honest, having seen the Government's record, I have my doubts.

5 pm

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

In 1980, a report sponsored by the Scottish Home and Health Department and the Scottish Education Department, entitled "Changing Patterns of Care. Report on Services for the Elderly in Scotland", was published. It was the report of a programme planning group set up by the Advisory Council on Social Work and the Scottish Health Service Planning Council.

Chapter 4 of the report dealt fully with housing for the elderly and what was required to deal with probably the biggest housing challenge facing Scotland today, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, is the need to provide good, comfortable housing for a steadily increasing elderly population.

The report worked on the proposition that probably 50 sheltered housing places per thousand people over 65 would be about right. That is not a scientific figure, but it is the kind of figure on which the report was working. On that basis, it was estimated that in 1977, 34,900 such places would be required. The report went on to deal with amenity housing.

The report compared the requirement with what was happening. In 1978 the total number of places completed, under construction, or approved, awaiting a start, was 12,597 for sheltered housing and 6,209 for amenity housing. The report went on to say that adequate resources should be allocated to the sheltered housing programme.

The position has worsened since that time. The report estimated that the capital costs for the sheltered housing programme that was put forward would be £317 million. I have no doubt that the Minister will say that the Government cannot afford that expenditure. Let me remind him, as I have reminded the House on many occasions, that that £317 million is just about the amount — my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will be able to correct me if I am wrong—that we are spending on 1,200 folk 8,000 miles away in the Falkland Islands. If we can afford that in the Falkland Islands, we can afford it for the old folk of Scotland.

It is now five or six years since that report was produced, and the number of elderly people is increasing. The problem is becoming more acute month by month. The number of people aged 65 and over in mid-1984 in Scotland, was 724,600. On the basis of 100 beds per thousand of the over-65s, that would give us a figure of 72,460. The Age Concern document to which my hon.

Friend referred was much more conservative. It gave a figure of 36,230. If one looks at the sheltered housing provision then existing, one sees that the total was 15,948 — considerably less than half what the total provision should have been. There was a shortfall of more than 20,000.

It is a well known fact, with which the Minister would not argue, that every responsible body in Scotland, of all political persuasions and of none—housing associations, local authorities, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, trade unions, architects, builders, churches, the National Economic Development Council, the Labour, Liberal and Social Democratic parties, and even members of the royal family — is coming to realise the great dangers of inadequate housing, whether for the young or the old, but particularly for the old. All those organisations, and I suspect many Conservative Members — although only two Back-Bench Tory Scottish Members are here, because they do not care very much about the problem — would assert the need for far greater investment in public housing, not least for our old folk.

Britain's construction record, by international standards, is appalling. As a percentage of gross domestic product spent on construction, our figures are disgraceful. The United Nations figures for 1982 show that Switzerland was spending 16.2 per cent. of its gross domestic product on construction, Canada 14.6 per cent., Finland 13.6 per cent., Ireland 13.2 per cent. — one of the poorest countries in Europe—West Germany 12.7 per cent., France 11.6 per cent., Italy 11.3 per cent., and Sweden 10.7 per cent. The United Kingdom was bottom of the league, at 7.5 per cent., and it is getting worse all the time. That is a disgraceful record. It is an evil record. Like my hon. Friend I despair of the Government doing anything about it, because they just do not care.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

First, what is the Scottish Office's best assessment of the global need in the next two decades for sheltered housing? There must be some figures. If the Minister does not have them, perhaps his Parliamentary Private Secretary will be able to provide them before the Minister replies.

Secondly, there is a problem that I do not think is special pleading for the Linlithgow constituency because other places are in a similar position. Take, for example, Blackburn. Blackburn blossomed forth quickly a quarter of a century ago. It was expanded for the purposes of the then British Motor Corporation and British Leyland. When I first became the Member of Parliament for Linlithgow —West Lothian as it was then—many families in their late twenties and early and middle thirties moved in to expanded Blackburn, expanded Whitburn and expanded Armadale. But it does not need any genius to now that they are mostly aging at the same time. They are communities with special needs because people are suddenly reaching ages between 60 and 70 at the same time, yet there is inadequate sheltered accommodation and accommodation suitable for elderly couples.

That problem could be repeated in many parts of Scotland, although in few areas in such an extreme form as in Blackburn. What is the Scottish Office thinking on areas of special need because of the history of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Thirdly, I am appalled by the figures given to me by the excellent director of housing in West Lothian, Mr. John Spraggon, concerning the present demands from one-parent families compared to three or four years ago. What is Scottish Office thinking on one-parent family accommodation? The break-up of marriage involves a single person and sheltered housing—or at least single housing, may be the best answer to the problem.

Fourthly, what thought has been give to the provision of simple, even mundane, medical treatment within sheltered housing — for example, chiropody? The Minister will be aware that there is a shortage of chiropodists and that the queues for treatment are getting longer and longer. Something could be done about that and, in terms of the old proverb "A stitch in time saves nine", it could save endless trouble. Will simple medical facilities—it need not be more than a room—be made available in new sheltered accommodation or in areas of clustered sheltered housing?

The legacy of Coal Board housing is a problem facing the mining areas, if not West Lothian in particular. The condition of such housing varies considerably. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) can confirm that some are in such appalling condition that they must be demolished. In other areas the Coal Board housing is of an extremely high quality and well built—often at the turn of the century. The same can be said of the old Scottish Oils Ltd. housing.

Will the Government have discussions with the Coal Board on the future of this housing in areas where there are no longer, rightly or wrongly, any pits? I am talking specifically about the position in Stoneyburn and the area of Wilson terrace. These areas used to serve the Polkemmet pit, which has been closed, and other pits. The Coal Board has said that housing management is not its forte. The West Lothian council has said that although it could purchase the houses at market price there is no question of improving them out of existing financial resources. I discussed this matter with the chairman of the West Lothian housing committee, Mr. Robert Lee, a serious councillor who told me that the council cannot afford to do the improvements which the long-term tenants understandably ask for.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am finding it difficult to relate what the hon. Gentleman is saying to sheltered housing for the over-65s. I am sure that he can relate his remarks to the new clause.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not want to go on and I shall cut my remarks short.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on the needs of the construction industry. The industry could play an important part in the matter of sheltered housing and with regard to unemployed building workers and underemployed resources. It may not cost anything like what the Government anticipate, especially when one takes into account the extra taxes that firms would pay, the reduction in uneployment benefit paid out, adjustments to housing benefit, national insurance and the whole social calculus.

Last month I was asked to address the Institution of Civil Engineers and at its request I am preparing to speak to the Forth Valley building employers. When I do this I see how necessary it is for the construction industry to get something of a fillip. Have the costs of creating sheltered housing been taken into account in terms of the social calculus?

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I support the amendment. I am sure that most hon. Members would welcome more sheltered housing for their constituents. I know that some local authorities, especially my own—Falkirk district council—are doing their best to meet the housing need. Recently my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) opened a new sheltered housing complex at Tygetshaugh at Denny in my constituency. My hon. Friend and I spoke to virtually all the residents immediately after the official opening and most were undoubtedly delighted with the new accommodation. However, I am sure that there must have been many more old people who were disappointed because, although the council is doing its best, the Government are not doing enough. The Government are not giving local authorities sufficient funds to meet the housing needs.

The new clause proposes that we should lay down national targets so that each district council would try to ensure that there is sheltered housing for at least 5 per cent. of those people over the age of 65. That would certainly go some way towards meeting the need, provided that the Government have the political will to give sufficient resources to the local authorities.

5.15 pm

A few weeks ago we had a debate on housing support grant and housing capital allocation. The truth of the matter is that many councils are getting nothing by way of housing support grant—that includes Falkirk district council—and councils receive little in terms of housing capital allocation compared with their needs. The Government are not playing the game. I do not wish to see another statutory obligation placed on local authorities unless sufficient support is given by the Government to meet such obligations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke about the Age Concern document which stated that in the case of old people the proportion of their income which goes towards heating their homes is higher than in the population in general. Similarly, the proportion of their income which goes towards housing is higher than the average for the population. When discussing housing and the needs of the elderly it is no use giving them a roof over their heads — they need adequate heating, especially in this weather; otherwise, there may be a health risk, and certainly at this time of the year it could be a matter of life or death. When the transition was made from the old system of rent rebates to the new housing benefit. many old people, including those in sheltered housing, lost out. The Prime Minister did not mention that this afternoon when she was quizzed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) about heating assistance for old people and indeed others on low incomes.

I hope the Minister will adopt a more generous attitude tonight. It is important not just to help the local authorities to meet housing needs, but it is also important to help people to meet their heating requirements. I support the new clause and I hope that if the Government accept the new clause it will be strengthened by more commitment on their part. I am sure such a commitment would be welcomed by old people in sheltered housing and those old people who are literally queueing up for a place in sheltered housing.

Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

On Saturday, a constituent came to see me at my surgery. He is an elderly gentleman of nearly 80, and he told me that his wife was a stroke victim in the district hospital, which is quite a distance from the constituency. If he misses the bus to get there, he has to get a taxi because there is no other means of transport. The doctor at the hospital had written to say that if my constituent's wife could go into sheltered housing, which would mean that she would be near her daughter in the Bridgeton district of Glasgow, she could be released into the community and a precious place could be made available at the hospital.

My constituent was ashamed at having to ask for help and at having to give details of himself and his family to people like me. He felt as though in some way he was asking for favours. I tried to tell him that the fault did not lie with him. He should not have had to come to us. He should have such accommodation as of right. He was doing the community a service, because at his age he and his daughter were prepared to look after his wife. It was shameful that his wife had to be in hospital because we could not provide sheltered accommodation.

The new clause lets the Government off the hook. More than 5 per cent. of sheltered housing should be available in the council stock. It is a scandal that, in this day and age, elderly people are either confined to hospital or sometimes to their homes without proper back-up, when all that the Government need to do is to give a little more and provide sheltered accommodation. It should not be difficult for the Government to build new sheltered accommodation, or instruct a Government agency such as the Scottish Special Housing Association, and the community-based housing associations, to do so. They could even adapt some of the council housing stock for sheltered housing.

It is time that the Government stopped telling people that everything is all right in sheltered housing, when they know very well that we are in a desperate situation. The Minister knows that a great deal of our housing stock is allocated to people who are under-occupying four or fivebedroomed houses. They were young people when they went into the house and were bringing up young children in the 1950s, or in some cases in the 1940s. Those houses are not being released for families, because we do not have the proper housing stock. It is shameful that some of our elderly tenants get only the support of a home help, sometimes for an hour a day, and in some cases every second day. It is time that the Government did something to alleviate the problems. We are being modest in asking for this small amount of sheltered accommodation.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I support the new clause. I echo the comments made by other hon. Members in urging the Government to try to achieve a percentage target for sheltered housing in each local authority in Scotland. That must be underpinned by the requisite finance from the Scottish Office, so that the authorities can meet the target. It would be ludicrous for us to put forward such a proposal without some clear sign from the Scottish Office that it is willing to loosen the purse strings for new build and new start.

I know that the Minister will have heard in Committee from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) about the highlands and islands. The Minister will be aware of the correspondence from and exchanges with my hon. Friend and myself over some of the tremendous problems in housing generally being experienced in those areas.

Encouraging a percentage target for sheltered housing in the highlands and islands will accentuate the difficulties experienced elsewhere, because of the increased cost of new build. On the west coast, places such as Fort William and Mallaig, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, and some in my constituency, have persistent housing problems. In places such as Ullapool, Kyle of Lochalsh, Gairloch and Aultbea, the local council, even if it had a percentage target at which to aim, would be hampered more than most local authorities in introducing a programme for increased sheltered housing, because the number of houses that it would be able to complete, with the finance available, would be smaller than the number in areas that are nearer the markets and do not have the problems of haulage and so on. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

We all want more sheltered housing. It is important to set in context the problems that may be emerging in the Highlands regional council at the moment. In the sheltered housing scheme in Achiltibuie, which is about the most remote corner of the north-west of my constituency, because of cuts in other aspects of Government provision to the regional authority, there is a question mark over the provision of a warden for the sheltered housing. This is part of the broader picture. The new clause, which is commendable and has the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber and myself, must evoke a response from the Minister that is considerably more sympathetic than other responses. It must recognise the realities of providing sheltered housing, particularly for the elderly, in the highlands and islands.

In the north of Scotland we have a higher average proportion of elderly people, and that is a persistent historical fact. Although not so much in the past few weeks, strangely enough, we also have fairly severe weather conditions in comparison to the rest of Scotland. The weather in other parts of Scotland has been exceptional recently. These factors contribute to the costs that old people must sustain and to the difficulties that have to be met. I hope that the new clause will evoke a positive and supportive response from the Minister.

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

I understand the concern and interest of Opposition Members and the reasons why the new clause has been tabled. Although the amendment was tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), the name of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) also appears on the Amendment Paper. We appreciate the previous incarnation of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and the interest that he has in the subject. However, I am surprised the the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends who have supported the new clause wish to impose a new duty on local authorities which removes discretion—although I am sure that that was not the intention—and sets a rigid target. That may well not have been the intention of Opposition Members.

Mr. Maxton

The Minister is nit-picking.

5.30 pm
Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for Cathcart accuses me of nit-picking, but I can make more of my point. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman to see the error of his drafting ways. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cathcart understands, even if his hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley does not.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Ancram

I would like to finish my point and then I will certainly give way.

As the hon. Member for Cathcart will remember, I suggested in Committee that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities may not always be aware of what Opposition Members wish it to do. In terms of the new clause, I have a shrewd suspicion that that is the case and that, were COSLA consulted as to whether it wanted a rigid new clause of this type, it might not be quite so supportive of Opposition Members as it frequently is.

Mr. Maxton

I am delighted to know that COSLA supports me in most of my actions. If the Minister is prepared to give a commitment now that he will move a new clause in another place which states not less than 5 per cent.", as he is so concerned about us laying down such a rigid target, I would be perfectly happy, as would my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, to withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is trying to fish his way out of trouble. He has not answered the real criticism of the new clause—that it imposes a rigid target on authorities. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley appreciates that.

I would like to put the matter into perspective. It is important because all hon. Members are concerned about the elderly and the housing available for them. I have referred to the need to provide more support housing for the elderly. It is important that hon. Members realise that that housing need not necessarily be sheltered. We should not talk about sheltered housing to the exclusion of other forms of housing, which may be as important and as valuable to elderly people.

The new clause relates to sheltered housing. I am always apprehensive when I see Opposition Members getting up, especially the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) who seems to look at life through glasses that are tinted with something that I cannot understand.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

They are red-tinted.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman says that his glasses are red-tinted but whatever colour they are they tend to distort what he actually sees.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that the situation is getting worse in relation to sheltered housing. I would like to give the House one or two figures to help hon. Members appreciate the true position.

In Scotland in 1979, there were 6,877 sheltered houses. By 1985, the last year for which I have figures, there were 17,854. That is very nearly a threefold increase. The total housing for the elderly and disabled in Scotland in 1979 was 12,570. In 1985 it was 34,438. Again, that is nearly a threefold increase.

It is important that, if hon. Members wish to make speeches, they do so with a full knowledge of the facts. Local authorities are already under a duty to consider the housing conditions in their districts and the needs of the district with respect to the provision of further housing accommodation. That gives the authorities both discretion and duty in provision. The new clause takes away that discretion and replaces it with a requirement to provide bed spaces for 5 per cent. of the population over 65 years of age.

Dame Judith Hart (Clydesdale)

Will the Minister relate the figures for sheltered housing to the increasing ratio of the elderly in the population? Without that comparison the figures are meaningless.

Mr. Ancram

I intend to do that. I shall give the detailed figures that will answer the right hon. Member's question.

The recommended rate, as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley said, is of 50 bed spaces per thousand people aged over 65. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was slightly confused about the figures that he gave, as he mixed bed spaces and units. The recommendation endorsed by COSLA and subsequently endorsed by the Government, is 50 bed spaces per thousand of the elderly over 65.

Mr. Foulkes

Old couples do share beds.

Mr. Ancram

Couples sometimes share units as well, and the hon. Gentleman must be aware of that.

The average provision in the whole of Scotland at present is 47 bed spaces per thousand population over 65. That is 4.7 per cent. and is not far off the 5 per cent. that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley requires.

I have already referred to some of the increases since 1979. Those increases have allowed us to reach a position which, while it is not quite at the target of the recommended level, is close to it. There have been percentage increases in the various forms of housing for the elderly as follows. In sheltered housing there has been a 65 per cent. increase between 1979 and 1985. in sheltered wheelchair housing there has been an increase of 295 per cent. over the same period. In amenity housing there has been an increase of 115 per cent. over that period and there has been a total increase of 154 per cent. over that period. The growth in population aged 65 and over was 1 per cent. to the mid-point of 1984. There has been a considerable advance in that time in terms of actual provision.

Areas such as West Lothian, referred to by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and Midlothian, in which Opposition Members have an interest, provide only six and four bed spaces respectively per thousand of population over 65. That reveals that elsewhere in Scotland provision is well in excess of the guide figures that have been proposed.

In view of the accusations and allegations, particularly from the hon. Member for Fife, Central, I would like to give more figures. The number of persons in Scotland over the age of 65 is 724,624. At present there are 32,810 sheltered bed spaces in Scotland and 1,348 wheelchair sheltered bed spaces. These figures amount to 47 bed spaces per thousand persons over the age of 65. There are, however, variations within those figures. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) spoke about the islands and the remoter areas. Authorities such as Shetland have 173 bed spaces per thousand of the population over 65. Badenoch and Strathspey, which are rather closer to the hon. Gentleman, have 123 bed spaces per thousand of the population. Ross and Cromarty have 51 bed spaces and are therefore up to target.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Ancram

I will give way in a moment.

Skye and Lochalsh have 50. They are up to target.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member must allow me to finish this point. He deployed some figures the other day and I want to deploy my figures now.

There are authorities, including city authorities such as Dundee, which provide 184 bed spaces per thousand of the population over 65.

It is important to recognise that while there are areas where bed space provision in terms of sheltered housing is much lower than it should be—these areas must be working to meet the targets—there are other areas that have provision well above the recommended level. The overall figures in Scotland are nearly up to the recommended level endorsed by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Mr. Foulkes

This is the most central point in comparing figures. My understanding of the recommendation included in the circular—I admit that that was a Labour Government circular which may have been abandoned or changed by the present Government—was that the recommended level was 50 units per thousand. The Minister seems to have transposed that to bed spaces. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us when that change took place. It is clear from the document issued by Age Concern, which analyses the statistics, that the understanding is that it should be units per thousand. I have been working on that basis and my hon. and right hon. Friends understand that the base is 50 units per thousand. When did this sleight of hand by the Government take place? When did they change the sheltered housing units to bed spaces?

Mr. Ancram

It is my understanding that the measure has always been bed spaces. The figure of 50 per thousand arises from a survey carried out for the whole of Britain in 1962, and was incorporated in the Scottish housing handbook as helpful guidance to local authorities when the Labour Government were in office. I am being handed a piece of paper which confirms that. The number of people requiring this sort of accommodation is best assessed on the basis of bed spaces which they will take up. I know from having opened some sheltered accommodation units that some are for single people and others for married couples. Therefore, that is the correct way to deal with the matter.

It is important that hon. Members recognise that the ratio is on a national basis. Local authorities should have the discretion, which the new clause would remove from them, to decide how far they meet or exceed the ratio, depending on the circumstances in their localities. Equally, it must be right that local authorities judge their overall housing needs and priorities. In that way the needs for sheltered housing can be assessed against the requirement for other accommodation within the bounds of what the authority, and ultimately the country, can afford.

At present sheltered housing is provided in many ways, not just by local authorities. The housing associations with public resources provide some of the accommodation contained in the figures that I mentioned. There is private investment in sheltered housing. A local housing authority would take account of all those matters in considering the needs of its area, especially its need to provide sheltered housing.

Mr. Kennedy

The Minister probably made the point clear when he quoted the ratio figures earlier, but am I correct in thinking that those figures referred only to local authority provision, and did not take other forms of sheltered housing provision into account?

Mr. Ancram

Even the new clause is not clear on that. It states that the responsibility of each district council in Scotland will be to ensure that there is sheltered Housing available for 5 per cent. of its resident population over the age of 65 years. As nothing was said to the contrary, I assumed that that included sheltered housing provided by housing associations. They continue to contribute to the level of sheltered housing and bed spaces within sheltered houses for the community. It is important to realise that both local authorities and other agencies have an important role to play, and have been playing it.

Mr. Kennedy

Our emphasis has been on local authorities. There is a hint in the Minister's reply that the figures that he gave did not refer only to local authority provision, but included all the other forms of provision. Will the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Ancram

It is generaly accepted that local authorities are not expected to provide for all housing needs. They must form a strategic overview for their areas, and marshall resources to meet local needs, working in cooperation with other agencies, such as housing associations, the Scottish Special Housing Association, new town development corporations and the private sector. That is part of a housing authority's general strategy, and does not apply only to sheltered housing. Private developers are now making a significant contribution to the special needs housing sector which until now has been provided by the public sector. The fact that provision is coming from the private sector does not diminish the value of the accommodation.

Mr. Kennedy

What about the figures?

Mr. Ancram

My figures cover all the ways in which sheltered housing has been provided. Much of the total is made up by housing association provision.

Mr. Maxton

Will the Minister confirm that all his figures have been for bed spaces, not sheltered housing? There is a difference.

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to me, he would know that I gave the original figures separately from the bed space figures. The original figures for the increase in shelterd houses were 6,877 in 1979 rising to 17,854 in 1985. Within those houses there are varying numbers of bed spaces. I said that the hon. Member for Cathcart appeared to be confused about bed spaces and houses. We are talking about providing accommodation for a recommended number of elderly people, that is 50 per thousand of the population. The number of sheltered houses that have been built has increased threefold since 1979. None of us is complacent, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the figure in the new clause is almost met at present.

5.45 pm

I would he the first to admit that more work needs to be done for the elderly. I have recognised the needs of local authorities by increasing their capital allocations over two years by 43 per cent. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) continues to consider that increase a reduction, but authorities which have seen substantial increases in their capital allocations realise that they have more resources available to do what they want, and that is right.

The new clause, as it stands. would make poor law and would not be welcomed by local authorities. On further consideration I am sure that the hon. Member for Cathcart will consider that it should be withdrawn. If he does not, I must invite the House to reject it.

Mr. Maxton

Once again we have an example of how the Government and the Minister cannot make up their minds whether they are in favour of extra public expenditure on housing, or whether their economic philosophy leads them to reject that. The Minister keeps trying to prove that he is a generous, liberal man when it comes to housing matters, but all of us, including our constituents and his, know that that is not the case. We know that overall the Government have cut housing expenditure by 50 per cent. since they came to office, and that sheltered housing—

Mr. Ancram

What did the Labour Government do?

Mr. Maxton

We are talking about the Tory Government. They have been in power for nearly seven years, yet their only answer to any case that is made is, "What did you do about it?" They know that the Scottish people reject them and have no interest in their policies, so they can only drag in what is becoming increasingly ancient history.

Mr. Ancram

The hon Gentleman has got back on his old high horse about cuts in capital expenditure on housing in Scotland. He knows that that is incorrect, so I shall not refer to it. He also knows that last week his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) announced that a Labour Government would increase expenditure on housing by between £4 billion and £5 billion. The hon. Member for Garscadden shakes his head, but if he reads The Scotsman of Friday 28 February he will find himself quoted there in connection with a major policy document. Perhaps he would like to explain to the House from where the extra money will come, and why, having seen a cut of 37 per cent. in housing under the Labour Government, anyone should believe that a future Labour Government would increase spending.

Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Govan)

That was a waste of time.

Mr. Maxton

I agree with my right hon. Friend that, as usual, the Minister is trying every last possible way to divert attention from the effects of his housing policy. He is trying to curry favour with his Back Benchers, who have a great deal of interest in the condition of housing in Scotland.

When the Minister tried to say how well the Government had done in Scotland in providing sheltered housing, he made no effort to set the increase in sheltered housing against the increase in the numbers of elderly. He than switched the attack from sheltered housing to bed spaces for the elderly, and he used every diversionary tactic to get away from the basic argument that the Government are failing the elderly in our society. He does not even have any of his hon. Friends present on the Government Benches to say, "Hear, hear," when he does make a few comments. The Minister even went back to 1962 to dig up that argument.

All the organisations which are concerned with this issue are worried, not about bed space, but about sheltered housing for those who are in need in our society. There has been a change in thinking and in the way in which society approaches the elderly, particularly those who are not as capable of looking after themselves as they once were. In the past we provided homes for the elderly to go into. Increasingly, and rightly, the aim is to allow the elderly to stay in society and live among their friends for as long as is humanly possible. Therefore, since 1962 there has been a shift in the way in which we look at the problem.

The problem is not just the lack of sheltered housing, but the way in which the Government have slashed the services for the elderly in a variety of other ways. In my constituency we talk about amenity housing. In my constituency houses are provided for the elderly in Dougrie place. An alarm system has been in place from those houses to an old folks home, Glenwood Lodge, for the past six years, but the system came into operation only last month because the Strathclyde region did not have the resources to be able to afford the extra staff in the old folks home to allow it to become operative. It is not just a matter of sheltered housing. There has been an overall decline in the way in which the Government treat the elderly.

I do not accept the answers that the Minister has given, but I accept tht there may be defects in the way in which the new clause is drafted. That is always possible when the Opposition draft amendments without the help of the advisers that the Ministers have, and without the help of the parliamentary draftsmen. The Minister claims that the clause is an inflexible and rigid imposition upon local authorities and that they ought to be allowed to decide their future in such matters. The Government insist on the right to buy, they insist that every local authority should sell its council houses, and they insist that the money local authorities may borrow for building must be limited by the Government, but whenever it suits the Government's purpose they use the shoddy argument that local authorities must have the right to decide. That is a shoddy argument coming from the Minister, who has made every effort to tighten and centralise control over local authorities. It is a spurious argument coming from his lips.

I accept that the wording of the new clause may be defective. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to