HC Deb 27 July 1988 vol 138 cc389-91
3. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what consideration he has given to a wider definition and assessment of houses which are below tolerable standard.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My right hon. and learned Friend is currently reviewing the statutory tolerable standard as part of the proposed reform of the home improvement system.

Mr. Griffiths

Why is it taking the Secretary of State so long to review this matter when so much hardship is being caused to many home owners and council tenants in Scotland by the fact that their houses, which have leaking roofs and crumbling stone work, and are riddled with damp, do not come below a "tolerable standard" in his eyes? Why will he not accept the need for a housing condition survey, such as England and Wales have, to ensure that there is available to the House and the public of Scotland an appraisal of the terrible conditions in which so many Scots are housed today?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

A housing conditions survey would cost about £5 million and that sum would have to come out of housing resources. Frankly, I would rather that local authorities had that sum now, and we believe that it would be better utilised on that basis.

It is important to remember that the primary responsibility for assessing housing needs rests with the local authorities, which have the greatest need for local information.

We propose to change the definition of "tolerable standard" and the new standard will include a fixed bath, shower or wash hand basin and the requirement that the house should be free from serious disrepair. We shall consider any representations about consultation.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that the district council of Kincardine and Deeside has frozen all applications for home improvement grant? That has caused considerable confusion, especially as it has occurred so early in the financial year. Will my hon. Friend use his good offices and those of the Scottish Development Department to resolve the difficulties and confusion that have arisen so that those who have a genuine wish to improve their houses—some of which are below the tolerable standard—are given the proper opportunity to do so?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

This year £625,000 was awarded as the non-housing revenue account capital allocation to Kincardine and Deeside Council, which represents 87 per cent. of its bid and is above the Scottish average. The problem for the district council is that it appears that it has over-committed the resources made available to it. We have already made it clear that officials will be glad to discuss the problems with the council as soon as it wishes.

The resources available for housing were allocated in March, but if additional resources are identified later in the year the needs of all local authorities will be taken into account.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

Is the Minister aware that 250,000 Scottish people now live in damp and intolerable housing conditions? Is the Government's decision not to raise housing standards based on the fact that they cannot cope with present Scottish housing conditions?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is extremely desirable that local authorities should carry out their own housing surveys. We are helping them to do so by sending out an information pack and a detailed brief on how best to conduct those surveys. The results of those surveys can be used in targeting resources to those areas that local authorities consider as priority areas.

The hon. Gentleman exaggerated when he quoted the figure. The information from local authorities suggests that, on 31 March 1987, a total of 119,000 local authority houses required treatment for condensation; 38,100 required treatment for dampness and 78,400 required treatment for dampness and condensation. They are somewhat different from the figure that the hon. Gentleman quoted.

Mr. Darling

If the Minister does not want to spend money on conducting a survey, will he make money available to councils, such as Edinburgh district, where all applications for home improvement grants have been frozen? Is he aware that that council has received more than 8,000 applications, some of which date back to 1983, which cannot be dealt with because of the Government's constant policy changes and because the Government will not make money available for essential repairs? That is causing misery and anger to a growing number of people.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The bid put in by Edinburgh district council this year for non-HRA spending was for £31 million and every penny of that bid was awarded to it. Since that time the district council has estimated that the cost of clearing the backlog of repairs is about £19 million more than it estimated a few months ago. Obviously we are giving careful consideration to that matter as well as to the problems of Glasgow. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are considering what can be done to assist those affected by Edinburgh council's astonishing miscalculation of the figures. We hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Harris

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the total number of houses in Scotland below the tolerable standard has fallen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".] Only the figures. That number has fallen from 121,000 in 1979, under the Labour Government, to 54,000 in March 1987. If those figures are correct—I suspect that my hon. Friend will be able to confirm that they are—will he assure the House that the question from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) was not planted?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures have fallen substantially, from 121,000 to 54,000. We rely on the latest figures from local authorities. Dundee, for example, recently said that it had 1,000 more below tolerable standard—BTS— houses. That is why the figure is 54,000 today.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister live up to his responsibilities for once and acknowledge that a house affected by severe condensation, or a house with no bath or shower, is not a suitable or tolerable habitation for any Scottish family? Will he acknowledge that the official statistics, which were parroted by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris)—he is supposed to know about these things—are a scandalously complacent under-estimate of the number of squalid and unhealthy houses in which far too many Scots are compelled to live? Many of those houses are to be found in the Minister's precious private rented sector. What will he do about the shortfall in funds that local authorities need to deal with this scandalous problem?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is highly desirable that local authorities undertake the surveys for which we have given them the expert information. Then they can identify how best to target resources on priority areas.

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