HC Deb 29 March 1988 vol 130 cc937-64

'The Secretary of State shall, upon coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a Scottish house condition survey in order to establish the current condition of the fabric of local authority, housing association and privately owned housing stock in Scotland; to identify property which is below the tolerable standard; and to assess the likely future requirement to repair and refurbish those homes. (2) The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey within six months of completion of each survey. (3) In consultation with local authorities the Secretary of State shall calculate and provide such funds as are necessary to effect all repairs to public sector houses as have been identified as necessary by any Scottish house condition survey. (4) The Secretary of State shall have regard to the house condition survey in determining the provision of incentives for the improvement or repair of private sector housing:.— [Mr Home Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Home Robertson

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2 — Scottish housing needs survey`The Secretary of State shall, upon the coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a survey of Scottish housing needs in order to establish the number of individuals and or families in Scotland who are homeless or who are housed in inadequate or inappropriate homes and he shall take steps to house them adequately and appropriately.'. New clause 14—Homeless persons annual return'The Secretary of State shall, after consultation with local authorities, Scottish Homes and any other relevant housing agencies, make an annual return to Parliament showing:

  1. (a) the number of applicants under the Homeless Persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987;
  2. (b) the number of successful applicants under the above-mentioned provisions
  3. (c) the number of successful applicants under the above-mentioned provisions who were subsequently found suitable accommodation.'.

Amendment No. 126, in clause 1, page 2, line 12, at end insert— '(h) establishing a programme with local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the Homeless Persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.'

Mr. Home Robertson

New clause 1 would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a house condition survey and provide for remedial action to deal with any problems identified in that survey for the public and private housing sectors in Scotland.

New clause 2, which we are also debating, would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a survey of housing needs, with particular reference to homelessness, every five years. It would also impose on the Secretary of State a duty to take steps to deal with the problems that would be identified. We are also debating new clause 14 and amendment No. 126 in the name of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), which also deal with homelessness.

The Bill is described as a housing Bill, but it makes no reference to or provision for the most serious underlying problems of housing in Scotland. It is simply a doctrinaire measure to undermine the functions of elected local authorities in Scotland, to destroy the rights of tenants and to promote the interests of private landlords. The new clauses are a serious attempt by the Labour party to persuade the House of Commons to incorporate in the Bill a recognition of the condition of Scotland's housing stock and housing needs.

At present, the Bill includes a list of seven general functions and 19 specific powers for the new quango that the Government propose to set up in part I—Scottish Homes—but there is no reference to a duty to survey the condition of Scottish housing or the housing needs of the Scottish people.

The Minister should be aware of the problem, because I remember being a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs at the same time as he was. That was in the good old days when there was a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. We looked at the problems of dampness and other conditions of housing in Scotland, and the consensus was that there was a case for establishing a house condition survey in Scotland. However, we are still waiting for something like that to be carried out.

Let me start with housing needs. Surely the right to decent, secure housing must be one of the most fundamental human rights to be recognised in any civilised nation. However, as we know to our cost, an intolerable number of Scots are being denied that basic human right today. The number of Scots who are becoming homeless each year has risen by over 50 per cent. since the Government came to power.

The official Scottish Office figure for homelessness for 1987 is 24,196. That was the number of applications accepted by local authorities. However, we understand from Shelter that the real figure may be in excess of 30,000 because a number of local authorities allocate houses to people who may become homeless before they fulfil all the criteria provided for by the Act.

In addition, we know from statistics furnished by COSLA that 200,000 Scots are stuck on waiting lists waiting for rented housing in Scotland. Scottish Members come face to face with that problem every time we open our mail and conduct surgeries in our constituencies. I fear that, because the Government have so few elected Members from constituencies in Scotland, they may not be genuinely aware of the depth of human misery being experienced by so many people in our nation.

There are 1,250,000 Scots living in overcrowded accommodation—one quarter of Scotland's population. That is significantly worse than the comparable figures for England and Wales. Indeed, overcrowding is such an inherent problem that the Government have seen fit to devise a tax on overcrowding. Because so many people cannot obtain homes of their own, they cannot become ratepayers. They have to stay in shared accommodation. The Government are evidently so appalled by the fact that those unfortunate people cannot pay their local taxes directly because they are denied the opportunity to become householders, that they have devised a poll tax, which is a tax on overcrowding and bad housing conditions. That is the depth to which the Government are prepared to descend.

The Government's failure or refusal to tackle or recognise the housing crisis that is afflicting people in Scotland is nothing less than a national scandal. The Bill is designed to make things worse by promoting high rents and insecurity for tenants, and it is a cruel insult to thousands of Scots who do not want or comprehend the policies of this minority Government in Scotland.

The Minister tells us that under the legislation there will be an upsurge in the building of new houses to let by the private sector. He should listen to the private sector. He should read the evidence of the Grieve report in Glasgow, which makes it abundantly clear that it is unlikely that the private sector will be able to respond to the Government's challenge.

6.30 pm

The Government should be encouraging local authorities to provide for housing need in the way that they best understand. It would be helpful if the Bill contained some reference to a housing needs survey, which would at least recognise the existence of the mounting tragedy of housing need in Scotland.

I shall move on to the case for a house condition survey. It is important to put it on record that the Scottish Office is alone among Government Departments responsible for housing in the United Kingdom in refusing to conduct a proper house condition survey. There is a house condition survey in England and Wales, but the Government steadfastly and resolutely refuse to conduct such a survey in Scotland. The Scottish Office administration evidently prefers to remain in ignorance of housing conditions in Scotland. It is rather like the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. However, Ministers in the Scottish Office appear to be evil in regard to people in Scotland.

On the basis of incomplete returns from local authorities, based on information given to councils rather than on any active survey, the Government are sticking to the fatuous assertion that there are only 55,000 houses in Scotland below the tolerable standard. We know that that figure is inaccurate. We had a long debate on the subject in Committee, but the Minister is determined to continue the daft pretence that there are only 55,000 homes below the tolerable standard in Scotland.

We are indebted to Glasgow district council, which conducted a scientific survey of housing standards in that city. It identified 44,500 homes as being below the tolerable standard in the city of Glasgow alone. That leaves only 10,500 in the rest of Scotland. If we then look at the figures that the Government like to quote from the returns from local authorities, we discover that a further 4,180 of the houses below the tolerable standard are in the district of Argyll and Bute.

If we take that district out of the calculation, it appears that in the rest of the nation of Scotland there are only 6,320 homes below the tolerable standard. That is obviously nonsense. The Minister simply wants to conceal the fact that there are many more sub-standard houses in Scotland.

During an interesting debate on the subject in Committee, it became all too clear that the Minister preferred not to know about the grim picture of housing conditions in Scotland. Not only is ignorance bliss for the Scottish Office; it appears to be official Government policy.

If there was time, I could offer the House a long and disturbing list of estimated figures produced by COSLA and by voluntary agencies such as Shelter, indicating that there are probably 500,000 damp houses in Scotland and that there are probably 250,000 council houses in need of major repairs or refurbishment. I invite the Government to face their responsibilities and conduct a survey so that we can evolve proper policies to deal with the underlying problems of housing in Scotland.

The Minister saw the evidence with his own eyes when he was a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in 1983. The Grieve report put before the Government more devastating evidence about the situation in Glasgow. There is a serious problem affecting housing in Scotland. There is a desperate need for investment to improve the standard of housing in Scotland and provide for the needs of people who are homeless or living in overcrowded conditions. Why do the Government not get on with the job of identifying the facts so that we can have a practical debate about housing to deal with the problems?

Mr. Bill Walker

It is important that we should understand the difference between activity and action. I cannot say whether the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is right in saying that there are 500,000 damp houses in Scotland, because I do not know. I was a member of the Select Committee that conducted the inquiry into dampness and it was clear that at the beginning of the inquiry local authorities were claiming that there was no problem. It was only as the inquiry developed that local authorities began to accept that there was a problem. At the beginning of the inquiry, local authorities were not prepared to accept that there was a problem, and in some instances it seem that they were oblivious to any problem. Local authorities have been responsible for housing problems for a long time.

I am not convinced about going through the motions of activity rather than action. I believe that the Opposition's response to the statement earlier this afternoon showed that they are still more interested in activity than action. This afternoon represented action; the proposal represents activity.

Mr. McAllion

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that local authorities would not admit there was a problem at the beginning of the Select Committee inquiry. Will he substantiate that claim and name the authorities that would not admit that there was a problem?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Member may be interested to know that one of those local authorities is Glasgow. It is all clear in the Select Committee report. I know that other members of the Select Committee are present. Indeed, some of the Labour Members on the Select Committee were horrified at what it found. Officials to whom we spoke during the initial stages of the inquiry were trying to tell us that the problem was not of the scale that we discovered it to be. I make that observation only because it seemed that the local authorities, which have had responsibility for many decades, were unaware of the condition of their properties.

The survey that the hon. Member for East Lothian proposes in the new clause would not change anything. That is why it would be activity rather than action. The problem requires the kind of action that was taken earlier this afternoon—selecting specific areas and dealing with them in a way that will resolve the problem. We should be united about how we deal with that.

I find it offensive that the hon. Member for East Lothian should think that he knows more about the problems of council housing than Conservative Members. I find it equally offensive that he should talk about overcrowding when some Conservative Members have first-hand experience of overcrowding and know what it means to be one of eight children living in a two-roomed house. That is overcrowding. I could give him more details, but we do not solve these problems by hurling insults at each other. However, I found that abusive tonight and during the debate in Committee. We should be concerned about finding solutions to real problems.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I shall give way in a moment.

The Government acknowledge that there are real problems. They are changing what was done in the past because it did not work. That is why new ways of tackling the problem were announced in the statement this afternoon. The Opposition should be welcoming such proposals, but, again, they were girning and greeting in a way to which we have grown accustomed. The solution to the problems will be found in using resources in the most effective way and by involving local people. That is what the Government are doing.

I suggest that one of the reasons why county councils' coffers are so devoid of funds is that many decades of artificially low rents have deprived them of millions of pounds which they would have got from the public purse. Housing support in all its various forms, including housing benefit, has been available for many decades, but a low-rents policy artificially depresses the rent value and stops a council receiving public support in the form of housing benefit and the other forms of housing support that existed before housing benefit came into being. That deprives the housing coffers.

It is a deliberate policy, followed largely by Labour-controlled authorities, which starve themselves of funds that could be used to maintain their stock in a much more habitable condition. That is another indictment of housing management. The Bill will create much better management for national housing resources. The Government should reject the clauses. They are activity, not action.

Mr. Kirkwood

I rise to speak to new clause 14 and amendment No. 126 that stand in my name. I subscribe entirely to the argument deployed by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) about the housing needs survey and the house condition survey, both of which are extremely important. However, I shall confine my remarks to homelessness.

There is no consensus about the scale of homelessness, largely due to disagreement about how the problem should be measured. New clause 14 is a very neutral and anodyne attempt to remedy that problem. The Government regard as homeless only those people who satisfy official statutory criteria that are established by the homeless persons provisions in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. The Government argue that there was a decrease last year in the number of homeless people, but the figures are still one third higher than they were when they came into office. The Government figures available to me show that in 1985–86 the number of officially homeless persons was 10,906 and that in 1986–87 that number fell to 9,868.

Pressure groups and local authorities have criticised those criteria; they are suspect and far too restrictive. They exclude many genuinely homeless people from the official statistics, such as married couples living with parents or parents-in-law. Shelter's regular survey of people who apply to be considered as homeless and who are therefore granted priority status for housing allocation purposes shows a steeply worsening trend. Shelter's figures show that, in 1985–86, 26,329 people applied to be classed as homeless and that in 1986–87 there were 31,218 applications. That controverts the figures that were given to me in a written answer on Monday 14 March. The Government gave information about those who had applied to be classed as homeless in each local authority from 1978–79, and it is set out in a table in the Official Report.

The purpose of new clause 14 is to establish a formal mechanism to allow the true extent of homelessness to become known. Under new clause 14, the number of people who consider themselves homeless and who apply to be granted homeless status by the local authority—such figures are now collected by Shelter but are not kept centrally by the Scottish Office — would be set out. Furthermore, those who succeeded in being classed as homeless—those are the only figures that are now acknowledged by the Scottish Office—would be set out. Finally, those who were found accommodation after having been classed as homeless would be set out and would thereby become known to Parliament.

The nature of the success or otherwise of the Government's housing policy for the homeless would then be much clearer. At the moment, the homelessness problem is substantially understated, whether deliberately or otherwise. Poor statistics hamper attempts to assess the extent of the problem in Scotland. I ask, therefore, that new clause 14 should be considered in that light.

6.45 pm

Amendment No. 126 seeks to establish a programme with local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the homeless persons provisions of the 1987 Act. There is no obligation on the new housing agency, Scottish Homes, to concern itself with homelessness. The amendment seeks to remedy that omission. Scottish Homes will probably be the largest landlord in Scotland. The amendment seeks to oblige the new agency to share the responsibility for homelessness.

Local authorities have an exclusive statutory duty to attend to that problem under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. Scottish Homes will be the largest landlord in Scotland and local authorities will be deprived of both resources and stock to tackle the problem of homelessness if many of their tenants transfer their homes to other landlords, as the Government clearly hope and intend. In those circumstances, it would be ludicrous if Scottish Homes did not share the responsibility for housing the homeless.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I intervene, I hope briefly, to support new clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) made an excellent case for it. Although the case is overwhelming, the Government still resist it.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I remember a debate when the Conservative party were in opposition. On that occasion, the Minister was on the same side as me. He called for more action from the then Labour Government to establish a house condition survey. The Minister has the power to do that now, but he sits on his backside and does nothing.

Mr. Clarke

I accepted my hon. Friend's intervention because I knew that the Minister was listening carefully. He is a very good-natured Minister. He can show great courtesy, which puts to shame most of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench. Therefore, I live in great hope that on this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) will not be disappointed. The argument is extremely powerful.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has been consistent on each occasion when he has spoken on this matter. The Select Committee on which my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian, the hon. Member for Tayside, North and I served took evidence that suggested that Scotland should adopt the practice that has been followed in England and Wales for some time. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North believes that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and many other organisations that gave evidence to the Select Committee were wrong on that point, I should like him to put forward an argument that would persuade me that the money that has been spent in England and Wales has been spent unwisely.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North made a splendid point in support of the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian when he said that, as he recalled the evidence that was given to the Select Committee, some of the councils were "oblivious" of their conditions. If that is so, it is all the more reason for having a national survey.

Mr. Bill Walker

The point that I was making was that what the Select Committee achieved by having its inquiry was to make councils aware of the situation. That was one of the really positive effects of that inquiry, which I believe was the Select Committee functioning and operating as it should, which sadly was not always the case. It was a very good inquiry, which did a lot of good and made councils aware of a situation which before the inquiry they were at least suggesting did not exist.

Mr. Clarke

I find myself again with the hon. Gentleman, in that I agree that it was a good inquiry. It was so good that it made a recommendation to the Government, and the Government tossed it out. Had they accepted even the proposal that we should have a pilot scheme, as recommended by the Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for East Lothian might not have found it necessary to move this new clause today.

If there are so many variations in the approach of one local authority as against another—I submit that there are — clearly we ought to be trying to establish a national standard in an attempt to identify the national problems that exist in Scotland and the local implications of those problems.

I will give an indication of the absolute confusion that reigns on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), on 8 July 1987, as recorded in Hansard, column 184, put a question about dwellings requiring major repair in 1986 and received a reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland. I will not go into great detail, because an enormous table was provided, but it only adds to the confusion. For example, taking districts neighbouring Monklands district, I find that in Falkirk ther are 14,708 such houses; in Motherwell there are 4,600 and in Strathkelvin there are 1,119.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on very important problems that Strathkelvin experiences in terms of capital, where it was found that the sale of council houses was not the prize that it was offered as being. The same table suggests that in Monklands the score is nil. I thought that I was reading about Albion Rovers! I cannot accept, based on my own local knowledge and on the number of constituents who come to me, that the situation in Monklands can be represented by nil. I do not believe it.

I do not necessarily criticise the Secretary of State, or the council, because Monklands district council's officials, in responding to the request from the Scottish Office to give this information, may have found their own method of making the calculation, but I believe that, given the problems of dampness which the Committee identified and of which we are all aware, given the problems of overcrowding, which we are discussing today, and given the problem of homelessness, it really is quite unacceptable that we should have information which is nowhere near that available to our hon. Friends who represent English and Welsh constituencies.

This was the plea even of the Institute of Environmental Health Officers. They did not want, within given local authorities, to take it upon themselves to say what standards should be set and that they therefore should make a judgment in terms of inspection and the efficiency of their own authority. They were hoping that there would be national standards and national provision of information. The small amount of money that the English and Welsh experience has cost—over £1 million, as I understand it, in each case—is a great deal less than the £800 million that COSLA quite rightly demands as necessary to invest in our housing stock. But in the absence of a survey, we shall keep getting the kind of confused reply to which I have referred.

I end as I began, by explaining that I find it quite astonishing that the Government are being so stubborn. The Secretary of State referred to COSLA, which clearly would support the new clause suggested by my hon. Friend, but the Secretary of State is very selective. Last night, during the exchange on the poll tax, it was said that there was not a single question at COSLA, and that somehow or other left the Secretary of State feeling that he had COSLA's support.

Whether or not the right hon. and learned Gentleman is selective, the fact is that COSLA, based on the kind of experience for which there is no substitute—that of its own councillors and housing committees dealing day after day with the problems that we are addressing—strongly takes the view that we are making a meal of this in Parliament by not taking our positive decision. When we do so, I hope that we shall do so in terms of my hon. Friend's new clause.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

These new clauses seek information about and clarification of the reality of Scottish housing conditions and Scottish housing needs and to find out the truth about homelessness nationwide. I should have thought that they would be welcomed by all Members. The solution to any major problem must be preceded by an analysis if it is to be made effectively and efficiently. Housing is no different. It is important to delineate the problem, identify the exact extent and nature of it, and then to gather the necessary resources and apply them in a sensitive way in meeting the needs of people.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that Angus district council does not already know how many dark houses it has, how many people it has on its waiting list and what the problems are in Angus?

Mr. Welsh

I should be happy to tell the House what a good housing authority Angus is, with a zero rent increase this year and record spending on repairs, maintenance and the modernisation of houses. Angus district council would do exactly what I am suggesting — find out the extent of the problem and apply the resources sensitively to meet the needs of the people—but I am talking about housing survey for the whole of Scotland.

In Scottish housing we have not even reached that simple first base, and it has taken quite a deal of time for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to figure that out. There is no accurate statement of the extent of Scottish rural and urban housing problems. The reality is not known. The remaining problems can be guessed at from the statistics applied by COSLA and organisations such as Shelter, but enough is known to encourage further and more detailed study of the reality of Scottish housing needs and Scotland's housing stock. Carry out that study and a very important first step will have been taken towards providing a solution to our major national housing problems.

The Government maintain that local housing authorities already have sufficient information about the condition of housing stock and, in particular, public housing stock. The local authorities disagree, and I am inclined to believe them. Even the Government do not claim that there is enough accurate information about the condition of privately owned houses. The estimates that exist cannot easily be reconciled. For example, the 1981 census recorded 23,400 houses as lacking an indoor toilet, while local authority returns for the same year suggested that the figure might be as high as 70,000.

With such huge disparities between existing sources of information, surely it is essential that an objective assessment of housing conditions be carried out. A crucial feeling about all existing information is that it fails to provide any assessment of the general level of disrepair in either the public or the private sector.

In July 1985 an inquiry into British housing, chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh, published a report making considerable use of the English and Welsh house condition surveys. It stated: No comparable information is available for Scotland; we think it should be. With an attitude like that, would that the Duke of Edinburgh, rather than a lord, was the Scottish Housing Minister.

In November 1985, the Department of the Environment conducted an inquiry into the condition of local authority housing stock in England, which produced an assessment of the structural condition of English council houses and of factors such as poor heating systems, condensation and insulation, asbestos, security, vandalism and environmental problems, and window and door replacement, so that information is available for England. Why should it not be available and put to use in Scotland? Surely such information is the only basis for any sensible housing policy.

7 pm

The means of conducting such a housing survey exists through Scottish local organisations such as COSLA. It has produced a housing information survey kit, adaptable to the needs of local authorities. The means of delivering such a survey are already in place, thanks to local authority initiatives, so it would be easy for the Government to carry out this necessary housing survey if they had the will. It must be national, giving the national picture of what faces the Scottish population. I am under no illusion that such a survey would be the be-all and end-all, but it would give us a snapshot of the reality, and as such it would be an important first step towards examining the problems and getting in the resources to solve them.

Parliamentary answers tell me that England has had four such surveys and that yet another is planned for 1991. If the Minister's English colleagues believe that such a survey is essential and invested more than £1.5 million on the last house condition survey, why is it not possible for Scotland to have one, given our much worse housing? Three housing surveys have been conducted in Northern Ireland, along with a mini-survey last year — why nothing for Scotland?

It cannot be for financial reasons, because the Government have told me that it would cost only about £5 million for a Scottish survey. Surely such a small amount is a worthy investment, given that it will form the basis from which to tackle Scotland's housing problem. Where better to use a unified Scottish housing agency than as a basis for such a survey? Would the Minister allow Scottish Homes to carry out the survey, given the small amount involved? If not, why not?

I know the answer to my questions : such a survey would give an exact picture of the atrocious conditions in which so many of our fellow Scots live, and the Government have no intention of meeting the Scottish housing needs or supplying the resources with which to tackle them. A housing needs and conditions survey should be undertaken, along with a survey of homelessness, as a first step in seriously dealing with Scottish housing problems, but I guess that the Government will once again duck their responsibility and Scotland will be left out on a limb—with no survey, no basic information, and no resources with which to tackle our housing problems.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Nothing bears better testimony to the utter cynicism of the Conservative party about Scottish housing than the vast expanses of green on the Conservative benches. I thought for a moment that they were about to grow vaster, but I see that the hon. Membr for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is not leaving us. We see precisely two Scottish Conservative Members, yet when the Division Bell rings no doubt their English compatriots will flood in to vote through this attack on Scottish housing, just as they did—

Mr. Bill Walker

There are only 11 Scottish Labour Members present.

Mr. Galloway

The hon. Gentleman has proved that he has at least 10 fingers, but there are, as I say, only two Scottish Conservative Members present to deal with this vital issue. The Minister gets paid to sit where he is and would lose his job if he did not, and the hon. Member for Tayside, North is the only Conservative Member not much in demand as a dining companion, so he can sit here at 7.3 pm.

My point was a serious one. When the Division Bells ring, English Conservatives will flood through the doors, never having seen a Scottish home or a damp house in Scotland, to vote through the legislation which has nothing to do with an attempt to make the critical problems of Scottish housing better and everything to do with lining the pockets of their friends, who they hope they will be able to conjure into the private rented sector when the legislation is passed.

The Government's cynicism is almost Orwellian. The title of the Bill, Housing (Scotland), and Scottish Homes, which has nothing to do with Scotland and was never voted for by the Scottish people, are evidence of that. Indeed, the concept was decisively rejected by them at the general election. So the Bill's title is an abuse of language and its contents are utterly alien to the Scottish housing scene and have nothing to do with houses, as the next 48 hours will show — and as the 80 hours in Committee showed.

Nothing shows the Government's cynicism more than their refusal to accept the new clause, which would oblige Scottish Homes to have a national house condition survey. How could anyone go into an enterprise as vast as tackling the problems of Scottish housing without a survey to show how serious the problem was? Much was made in Committee, in the White paper and on Second Reading, of the similarity between Scottish Homes and the Scottish Development Agency. Does anyone seriously believe that the SDA would undertake a vast and important strategic enterprise such as running Scottish housing without first conducting a survey to see what the problems were? Scottish Homes wil be whistling in the dark —deliberately and wilfully so—if it sets about its business without ascertaining the extent of the problem.

In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) attempted to flatter the Minister into giving way on this issue, but I could have saved him his breath. We tried that many times in Committee, by reminding the Minister of his previous support for the demand for a national survey. We flattered him by telling him he was the most civilised and gentlemanly of the Tory Ministers—but to no avail.

Many Conservative Members have given their reasons for resisting our demand. Some of them care about Scottish housing—I include the Minister in this category —but are afraid of such a survey because of the results it would yield. After being studied, the survey would lead to a demand by people of all political persuasions in Scotland for resources, money and energy, which the Thatcherite Government in Scotland are not prepared to put into Scottish housing, the Scottish economy or any other aspect of Scottish life.

Other Conservative Members do not want the survey because they do not give a damn. Some Members on the Committee were not even Scottish; others were Scottish but lived in castles; others were so dry in their Thatcherite philosophy that they almost thought it was a crime that people should depend on the public sector for housing in the first place. So if their houses were damp, their roofs leaked or the close in which they lived had not been decorated for goodness knows how many years, that was their own fault. If they would only pull themselves up by their boot straps, their problems, according to these Conservative Members, could be solved.

A house condition survey would illustrate the fact that Governments and local authorities of all political colours labour under misconceptions about the critical problems of Scottish housing. Certainly the Government seriously underestimate the scale of those problems.

Let us examine the issue of sub-tolerable conditions. We had great fun discussing that in Committee. The Secretary of State thought that there was a different number of sub-tolerable houses in Scotland from the number given by his junior Minister. The Minister gave two different figures within 20 minutes about the number of such houses in Scotland. It all depends on one's definition of tolerable. What is being forced on Scottish tenants as tolerable would certainly not be tolerable for many of us. If there was such a survey, we would find that the number of houses involved was dramatically different.

It has been said that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. I shall use the example of Glasgow, because of the shortage of time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. According to the Government, there are only 11,000 houses in the city of Glasgow that are below tolerable standards. That would be a joke if it were not so tragic. Glasgow district council, which has, I dare say, every reason to know better than the Government—shame though that may be on the Government — estimates that 44,000 houses are below tolerable standards. That figure is reached after applying a moderate definition of "tolerable". My experience of just 10 months as a Glasgow Member of Parliament is that a hell of a lot of the sub-tolerable houses in Glasgow must be in my constituency, but, when I look around at the constituencies of some of my hon. Friends in Glasgow, I know that that cannot be true.

Such a survey might also throw light on an issue that is perhaps not so politically contentious, but it is one that I raised in Committee and want to raise again on Report. It relates to obsolete and sub-tolerable wiring and electrical equipment. Members on both sides have correctly made all sorts of noises of concern and consolation when fire tragedies have occurred in many parts of the country. Yet how many of those fires were caused because innumerable houses, perhaps millions of them, in Britain as a whole have ineffective, inefficient or obsolete wiring?

I shall give, if I may, only the Glasgow statistics. According to Glasgow district council, 45,000 houses in Scotland have obsolete or inadequate electrical wiring, or equipment, and heating. That is a scandal which Scottish Homes would do well to address, but the organisation cannot address the problem unless it knows it exists, and it cannot know that it exists until it carries out a survey to ascertain it.

The great problem of dampness in Scottish housing is even greater than homelessness, in my opinion. The Scottish Opposition, which is 50 strong, happen to know this because many, if not all, of us represent areas where dampness is endemic. Because there are so few Conservative Members, who in many cases represent constituencies where dampness is much less of a problem, I do them the credit of saying that they may not appreciate its seriousness.

Every week people come to my surgery with children's toys, with coats, or with photographs that demonstrate dampness on an obscene scale. Children are living in houses and sleeping in bedrooms that are giving them bronchial problems and asthma and making them ill. The Government do not even care enought to conduct a national survey of dampness in housing so that they at least know the extent of the problem, even if they do not make any attempt seriously to redress it.

I hope that the Minister will obey his instincts and agree to set up a national house condition survey. I know that he will not, for he would be sacked if he did.

7.15 pm
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I shall be brief, but I wish to speak on the important issue of a house condition survey. I put it to the Minister that the lack of a survey points to the Government's indifference to the value of the public debate on the issue during the past nine months.

The Government had several objectives in the White Paper. They wanted increased home ownership, diversification of choice and tenureship and a major revamping of the peripheral housing estates. The word that was missing from those objectives was "quality". I suggest that quality of housing was absent because the Government are not interested in the quality of homes in Scotland. If the Government were the least bit interested, they would have included a house condition survey in the White Paper, as the new clause demands.

What are we asking for? Hon. Members have said that Scotland wants the same as England and Wales. How could the Minister possibly undertake a major revamping of Scottish housing, which was mentioned in the White Paper and the consultative document, without thoroughly knowing the problem and having detailed statistics? The least that the Government could do is to set a target, and set it in concrete, so that we know where we are going. The Government have failed to do that because they are not interested in housing in Scotland. That is the only message that could go out from the House.

The statistics have been gone over in the past few months and I will not repeat them. Experts have estimated that more than £6 billion is required for modernisation and repairs. It is up to the Government to knock down that figure and to come back and prove that that money is not needed. I contend that they cannot do it because they have not investigated the matter sufficiently.

Homelessness has been mentioned. In my surgeries, like those of other hon. Members, the majority of cases concern housing, notwithstanding the fact that local district councils do their best. Indeed, my district council has undertaken its own housing condition survey and submitted it to the Scottish Office. It requires £110 million over five years. The Scottish Office says that the council can have £20 million over five years. The Scottish Office did not request details about what was wrong with the housing in my constituency. Every utterance of the Government must be rejected because they will not undertake any basic analysis of the problem. Until they do that, we cannot accept their word.

Mr. Canavan

I rise to support my hon. Friends briefly and, first, to congratulate them on tabling the new clause.

It is a poor reflection on Conservative Members that only one Scottish Tory Back Bencher is in the Chamber to listen to this very important debate. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that Opposition Members have put forward a very strong case for a survey of housing conditions and needs.

I hope that the Minister might remember his days as a humble Back Bencher when he made radical statements supporting the needs for the type of survey that is outlined in new clause 1. I remember the hon. Gentleman making great emotional speeches about the sufferings of his council house tenants in West Pilton — the Minister agrees with me—which was in his constituency at that time, although it is no longer. West Pilton is an area of Edinburgh which the Minister claimed at that time was suffering from multiple deprivation. He rightly fought a good fight on behalf of the council house tenants of West Pilton, in the House, in the Scottish Grand Committee and in Scottish Standing Committees dealing with housing legislation.

The Minister was in opposition then and he could afford to stand up against the then Government and promise the earth to his constituents once he got into office. The hon. Gentleman now has responsibility for housing in Scotland. I know that the appointment was subject to criticism and that unkind remarks were made about him. People talked about his lack of experience in such matters as council housing and spoke about his being one of the last remnants of the Scottish aristocracy. I do not want to repeat those unkind remarks because I know that, despite his aristocratic background, he is a sincere and honest man.

The Minister is one of the more honourable or at least one of the least dishonourable of the rascals in the Scottish Office ministerial team. Certainly when we compare him with Ministers who have responsibility for such matters as health, education, sport and the arts, we see that, despite his obvious faults and failings, he is a man of some integrity. I am sure that when he replies to the debate he will bear in mind the valid points made by my hon. Friends. I know that he will not be so partisan as to say that merely because one of his own Back Benchers made a contribution, he will, out of party political prejudice, ignore the needs of Scottish council tenants and other tenants. The new clause refers not just to public sector tenants but to those in the private sector.

New clause 1 says: The Secretary of State shall, upon coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a Scottish house condition survey". The five-year period is very important. Some people may think that such a survey should be conducted every 10 years while others may think that housing is such a fast-moving, dynamic matter that there should be a survey every two or three years. My hon. Friends have struck a good balance, because five years is the maximum lifetime of a Parliament so that we could expect a housing survey in the lifetime of each Parliament. Five years is just one year longer than the maximum lifetime of a housing authority, if we confine the meaning of housing authority to directly elected district councils.

That means that, within the lifetime of each Parliament and probably within the lifetime of each local authority, between elections, we can expect a housing survey to take place. My hon. Friends have got the timing just about right.

What is the purpose of the survey? The new clause says that it is to establish the current condition of the fabric of local authority, housing association and privately owned housing stock". Not only the fabric of houses should be surveyed; we should also survey the social conditions that arise because of the state of the fabric. However, I do not want to quibble over that. If the fabric is faulty, that usually leads to miserable social conditions, and action must be taken to remedy such faults. Obviously the problem must first be identified and that is why the need for a survey of the fabric is absolutely essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), spoke about the problem of dampness in houses in his constituency. He spoke in moving and graphic terms about the poor people who come to his surgery week after week, month after month. I certainly sympathise with my hon. Friend. I am sure that all hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies, and particularly Labour Members who represent deprived inner-city areas and other areas in which poor housing conditions still exist, can testify to the great need to eradicate the problems of dampness.

Less than a decade ago the Minister was speaking in the House and in Committee about the problems of dampness in houses in his constituency. I supported him at that time and all that I want him to do now is to support me. There is no point in saying that local authorities, the Scottish Special Housing Association, the future Scottish Homes and private landlords should each deal with the problems of dampness in their own houses. The Minister knows that local authorities often lack the resources even for a comprehensive survey, never mind the remedial action necessary to deal with the problems once they have been diagnosed.

Dampness can be a severe problem, causing not just social but severe medical problems. As my hon. Friends have said, mothers sometimes come along with children to our surgeries. They become almost like doctors' surgeries when children are coughing and spluttering because of dampness in the house. We can hear the child wheezing.

It is impossible to visit every home in one's constituency and to conduct some kind of personal survey, but I have visited many homes because some parents have pleaded with me to come and see the conditions in which they and their families have to live. Sometimes I have had the time to go to view these conditions and it is a heart-rending experience to see such problems in a house that may be less than a decade old. There is something wrong with the architecture or the building or the heating of such houses, or possibly all three factors come into it, when severe problems of dampness or condensation arise. Houses of that age could not by any stretch of the imagination be called old.

If we had a national survey such as the one outlined in the new clause, at least we would be able to identify the scope of the problem. I hope that we could also identify the root causes and deal with them. I hope that, if the Minister accepts the need for a statutory survey of the sort that my hon. Friends have in mind, he will bear in mind that it is not good enough simply to look at the fabric of the houses and carry out a superficial diagnosis. It is essential to ask the tenants about the heating system, for example.

Local authorities often say that a tenant is using the wrong kind of heating system for his house and that it is contrary to the advice that he has been given by the council. Such tenants often come to me and ask, "How can I possibly heat my house using gas, electricity or whatever system is recommended by the council? Here is my weekly income. I simply cannot afford anything other than a paraffin heater." As we all know, a paraffin heater is disastrous not just in terms of the fire risk, especially when there are young children around who might coup the heater, but because it causes severe condensation.

If a survey such as that outlined in the new clause were conducted throughout Scotland, we should find that many poor people who are eking out a living on supplementary benefit are being forced, because of economic circumstances, to use paraffin heaters.

In view of the Minister's experience in West Pilton, perhaps he will tell us whether there are still areas in his constituency in which such problems prevail. Perhaps he will tell us what he intends to do to alleviate the situation for his constituents and for other people. If he says that he does not have as many council house tenants as he used to have, as a result of the boundary changes, I remind him that the new clause also refers to privately owned housing stock in Scotland.

Tory Members are very good at pointing the finger at the inadequacies of the council housing stock. Ironically, those inadequacies are often caused by the Government's failure to give housing authorities sufficient resources to improve or expand their housing stock. However, the problem is not confined to local authority, Scottish Special Housing Association or other housing association property. The problem cuts across the divide between the public and private sectors.

7.30 pm

Unfortunately, even in relatively new houses in the private sector, we find problems of dampness. That may be due to the economic circumstances of the owner-occupiers. They may take on a mortgage to buy a house when both the husband and wife are earning. Then perhaps a family comes along and the woman stops working. The man is then made redundant, so the family finds itself struggling to keep up the mortgage payments. There may be a tendency in such circumstances to cut down on heating costs, so a cycle of dampness and damage to the fabric of the house is established. Perhaps the problem does not exist to the same extent in the private sector, but it certainly exists in much of the older private sector housing stock and in some newer private sector housing.

New clause 1 states that one of the objects of the survey is to identify property which is below the tolerable standard". That is an excellent idea. It is about time that the Government started to look at houses in Scotland that still fall below the tolerable standard and to consider ways of improving the standard. What may have been considered tolerable 10 or 20 years ago may now be considered intolerable. We should never be complacent about housing standards. We should always be considering ways of improving them.

Perhaps the Minister will give us the most up-to-date figures of the number of houses in both the public and private sectors which fall below the tolerable standard. I refer to the statutory definition of the tolerable standard which appears in the Scottish Development Department's circulars and in statutory instruments.

It is a terrible indictment of the Government that they have contributed in some respects to a lowering rather than a raising of standards. For example, the building company Barratt indulged in some disgraceful lobbying to try to influence hon. Members in an attempt to lower the building regulations standards. As a result, some people in Scotland live in what has been described as hen-hut accommodation and do not have sufficient room to move around in the house.

The Tory Government connived with Barratt to lower those standards, despite the fact that building control officers, representing local authorities throughout Scotland and with no political axe to grind, were adamantly opposed to the lowering of those standards.

I should be interested to know whether the financial link between Barratt and the Tory party had anything to do with the Government's lowering of those standards. Some people in Barratt accommodation are living in property that would previously have been described as intolerable or at least below the standards set down by the building regulations. That is a bad record for the Government. They have flouted professional advice. I do not know what advice they received from their officials at the Scottish Development Department. I have always believed that most civil servants, with a few exceptions, are incorruptible, and I am sure that they would not be over-influenced by Barratt.

The lobbying appears to have been done at the highest levels of the Conservative party. Barratt obtained the ministerial ear and had the regulations changed. That was a disgraceful episode in the history of housing in Scotland. I shall be interested to know which Tory party members, Tory Members of Parliament and, possibly, Ministers have received hospitality from Barratt and invitations to their time-sharing flats in the Highlands. It is a shoddy business when a private sector company is able to influence the Government unduly in the formulation of Government regulations.

I did not originally intend to raise that matter, but it came to mind when I saw the statement in new clause 1 about tolerable standards. Part of the object of new clause 1 is to assess the likely future requirement to repair and refurbish those homes. In other words, it is not sufficient to conduct a survey and find out what is wrong. We must also obtain an estimate of the resources required to carry out the necessary repairs, refurbishment, modernisation and, in some cases, demolition and rebuilding. Many mistakes have been made by architects and builders.

Sometimes it is not old houses that need to be demolished. I remember canvassing at a by-election in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart). We visited a high block of flats which, I believe, was opened by the Queen not very long ago. I have no doubt that those flats would come within the scope of new clause 1. Only a few people were living in them even at that time. Those flats should be demolished and, as I understand it, that is in the process of being done.

Perhaps the Minister will tell me what, if anything, has been done about a booklet that I came across in the Library and which was produced by the last Labour Government when Hugh Brown was Minister with responsibility for housing at the Scottish Office. An excellent Green Paper was produced in about 1976 and, whether or not one agreed with some of its tentative proposals, it certainly contained a wealth of statistics on housing conditions in Scotland. It was obvious that at least elements of a survey had been carried out. Will the Minister consider upgrading the good factual information which was contained in that excellent Green Paper?

In 1977 the Scottish Development Department published "Guidance for Local Authorities—Assessing Housing Needs". I do not recall the Tory Government saying when they won the 1979 general election that that document's approach was no longer Government policy or that it was null and void just because there had been a change of Government. In case the Minister does not have that report, its reference number is ISBN 0114914826.

The report was the result of much hard work by a committee chaired by Mr. C. J. Watson, BA in geography from the centre for urban and regional studies of the university of Birmingham. Most of the others on the committee seemed to have a Scottish background. The report contained more than 100 pages. Can the Minister tell us what has happened in the decade since it was published? Do the Government still hold by the report, or have they updated it? What are the Government's criteria for conducting a survey along the lines set out in new clause 1?

Subsection (2) of new clause 1 states: The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey". That should go without saying. Unfortunately, with this Government, who do not believe in open democracy, we must spell out the details for them. I congratulate my hon. Friends on doing so in the new clause. We do not want such a survey to lie on the shelves collecting dust in New St. Andrew's house. It should be presented to Parliament and be accessible to all Members.

I suggest that the Minister should consider breaking down such surveys, not just by local authority area but by constituency, so that we can all see the state of housing in our areas. I am sure that that would equip us better to ask constructive and well-researched questions in Scottish Question Time. I am sure that the Minister would welcome such questions based on these surveys rather than have hon. Members ask him to provide the information that should be available in them.

Obviously, house condition surveys must be open to parliamentary inspection. I go further and say that such surveys should be debated. Members from down south have been invading debates on Scottish affairs on the Floor of the House and if some hon. Members take exception to too much time being taken up on Scottish affairs, I suggest that we debate the house condition surveys in the Scottish Grand Committee. Of course, that Committee has its limitations because it normally meets for only two and a half hours and, by the time the Front Benchers have had their shilling's worth, there is only enough time for Back Benchers to have a pennyworth each. That means that only two or three Opposition Back Benchers can speak. There should be open-ended debate, without a guillotine, either on the Floor of the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee.

7.45 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I doubt whether this is the appropriate moment to discuss that matter. The hon. Member should address his remarks more directly to the new clause.

Mr. Canavan

I am referring to subsection (2) of the new clause, which states: The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey within six months of completion of each survey. There are various ways of submitting measures to Parliament. They can be submitted to Parliament as a whole or can be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the great respect I have for the occupants of the Chair and, if it is your wish, I shall proceed to subsection (3) of the new clause — it is important as I am sure you will agree—which states: the Secretary of State shall calculate and provide such funds as are necessary to effect all repairs to public sector houses as have been identified as necessary by any Scottish house condition survey. We should not let the Government off the hook. It is a matter not only of identifying the problem but of attempting to solve it. Some local authorities have put great efforts into carrying out a local survey of housing needs and conditions, but they are not able to do all that they would like to remedy the problem, because the Government will not give them the funds to do so.

My local authority has had a drastic cut in its capital allocation since the Government came to power and has received not a penny in housing support grant in recent years. If Falkirk district council has not had a penny of housing support grant and has suffered a capital allocation cut as well, what hope do council tenants have that repairs will be carried out? Under the new clause, a survey will have to be conducted and local authorities will have to be given enough money to do something about the problems that would be discovered by such a survey.

My hon. Friends have restricted subsection (3) to cover public sector houses, but in subsection (4) they extend the new clause to cover the improvement or repair of private sector housing. Certain statutory minimum requirements have been laid down in terms of private sector housing improvement grants. I should like the Minister to clarify a point. If a house falls below the "tolerable standard", the person who lives in it—whether as an owner-occupier or as a tenant — or the owner is entitled to an improvement grant. This is a mandatory grant, but there are other types of improvement grant that are discretionary. It is up to the local authority to decide what percentage of grant to give.

My former constituency contained not only part of Falkirk district housing athority but several other housing authorities. As I recall, the practice seemed to vary from one local authority to another. I wonder whether there is perhaps a case for increasing the amount of statutory grant—provided, that is, that local authorities are given adequate resources to implement a raising of the standards.

I have no doubt that some of my constituents' problems would be identified in a national survey as outlined in new clause 1. At present, they go along to the local housing authority to ask for an improvement grant. They are told, "All right. We have to give you an improvement grant to bring your house up to tolerable standards. But you want standards slightly above tolerable standards and we shall not give you a grant for that element." That is a pity. Surely we should not think simply in terms of the minimum standard. I have always said that there should be nothing but the best for the working classes. I am sure that the Minister, as a good aristrocrat, will agree with me that we should be bettering standards all the time rather than contenting ourselves with minimum standards.

Is not there a case for tightening the definition of tolerable standards and giving local authorities more money to make home improvement grants to bring houses up to those improved tolerable standards, as well as allowing them to exercise more discretion in making grants to people who want to improve above tolerable standards?

New clause 2 would also provide for a survey, but it refers to needs as well as housing conditions. That is very important, too. Perhaps the Minister does not hold centrally the figures for the number of people on waiting lists. In the past when we have tabled questions — for example, asking the Minister whether he will give us the number of people on housing waiting lists in each local authority area — we have received one of those word-processor replies saying, "Ha, ha. This information is not held centrally." Frankly, that is not good enough. If we had a survey as outlined in new clause 2, we should have access to the information required.

New clause 2 deals with the identification of housing needs. I suppose that we would need some kind of questionnaire; it would be no use writing to a local authority and asking, "What are the housing needs in your area?" A lot of groundwork would have to be done and people would need to be asked what their needs and wishes were. Like the Minister, I recognise that many people want to buy rather than rent their houses. Unlike the Minister, however, I do not think that the Government are entitled to cut to a minimum—perhaps even reduce to zero —the assistance that they give local authorities to replace the housing stock that they are forcing them to sell off. Perhaps the Government think that they will get cheap popularity by opening a bargain basement to sell council houses at huge discounts, but future generations may be very hostile to them if, as a result of their one-off decision in the late 1970s and 1980s, there is a vast reduction in the amount of public sector housing at a reasonable rent.

I have always believed that the Government should try to get the balance right. If in a survey under new clause 2 someone expresses a preference for buying a house rather than renting, in the public or private sector, that is fair enough; let us give that person help. We should help first-time home buyers such as young couples, in particular. However, we should never try to minimise the importance of the job that local authorities have to do in continuing and expanding public sector letting. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

New clause 14 is a Liberal proposal and, as usual, the Liberals are not here. I shall speak in support of the new clause because it seems very reasonable. I do not want to be sectarian and say that just because it is a Liberal proposal Labour Members should not support it. It refers to the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. The House will recall that the original homeless persons' legislation emerged from the Lib-Lab pact. I was not a supporter of the Lib-Lab pact, but I was certainly a supporter of better provision for homeless persons.

What has happened since the Act was passed? This Tory Government have refused to give local authorities adequate resources to fulfil their obligations under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. I am sure that many other hon. Members have heard constituents who have been on the waiting list for a considerable time—perhaps for years — complain not only that they cannot get a house but that someone else has been jumping the queue under the homeless persons provisions. That has caused a lot of aggro and the resulting antipathy has been misdirected against local councillors, although the fault lies fairly and squarely with the Government and their lack of an effective housing policy.

Let us examine the alleged queue-jumping. Often, the local authority is looking at a particular case and judging it under the terms of the homeless persons legislation which obliges it to give priority to a homeless person or family. Almost inevitably, those who are already on the waiting list—perhaps initially with more points than the homeless person—feel that they are being penalised and that they will therefore have to wait much longer for the house that should be theirs as of right. This Government do not consider housing to be a basic human right, and the operation of the homeless persons legislation therefore presents increasing difficulties.

There may be nothing wrong with the legislation itself. I am sure that most hon. Members agree that those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness should be given statutory protection. However, that statutory protection will cause difficulties unless local authorities are given adequate resources to deal more effectively with those on the ordinary waiting list rather than what is sometimes referred to as the homeless persons' list.

8 pm

I see a need for new clause 14. Indeed, as I said earlier, the Liberal, Stephen Ross who used to represent the Isle of Man—[Interruption]—no, the Isle of Wight—was instrumental in getting the homeless persons legislation onto the statute book. I believe that the Isle of Wight is now represented by a Tory.

This is a Liberal new clause, but I support it and I am sure that if he were here, Stephen Ross would support it too, although like many things about the Liberal party the clause is a bit pussy-footed. It states: The Secretary of State shall … make an annual return but that does not mean anything. Where are the Liberal Members? They are not even here to answer the point.

If the Secretary of State makes an annual return, we can guess what will happen to it. It will gather dust on the shelves of New St. Andrew's house. It is important that some action is taken on that annual return. If we had formulated the new clause—if it had been formulated by the Labour party rather than being a damp squib of a Liberal amendment—we would have beefed it up and stated that more resources should be provided. Of course, the reason why we did not bother to do that is because it can be adequately covered in new clause 1.

To get back to where I started, new clause 1(3) is very important as it relates to the provision of funds, as is new clause 2, the other Labour new clause, which states: The Secretary of State shall … take steps to house the"— individuals or families— adequately and appropriately". Although I am not a lawyer, I understand that in a Bill "shall" means "must". I understand that lawyers, like Liberals, are different people and say "shall" as if it was something futuristic and predetermined, but we know that that is not always so. Instead of saying "must", it states "shall". It is a bit of an abuse of the English language, and it is legal jargon, but so be it.

Finally, amendment No. 126 is also a Liberal amendment and establishes a programme for local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. I am not sure what "sharing responsibility" means, because a local authority has that statutory responsibility at present. I am sure that that means that most of them are not trying to shirk that statutory responsibility, despite the difficulties in taking it on. All that is required is not so much a sharing of responsibility as the Government giving the local authorities sufficient resources to fulfil that responsibility.

We have had an interesting debate on the three new clauses and one amendment. I apologise to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) because, as a result of urgent commitments and problems in my constituency, I missed his speech, but I do not need to read Hansard tomorrow because I could virtually repeat his speech verbatim, as I have heard his housing speech on many previous occasions. With the exception of the hon. Member, every hon. Member who has spoken has been constructively critical of Government policy.

I repeat that the Under-Secretary has at least some integrity left, unlike some of the other Ministers in the Scottish Office. Therefore, I hope that he will respond constructively, in the same constructive spirit with which the Government policy has been criticised during the debate. I very much look forward to what he has to say.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am very glad to respond to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and to tell him that yesterday I was able to make an additional allocation to Falkirk of £2 million under the housing revenue account of which he was perhaps —[Interruption.] Well, although the hon. Gentleman is questioning it, that is certainly in the documents before me.

On the hon. Gentleman's question about below tolerable standards— —[Interruption.] I am speaking to the hon. Gentleman. I wish to answer his speech, which lasted for an hour. The number of below tolerable houses in Scotland has been reduced from 121,000 in 1979 to 55,000. Those are the most recent figures that I can give. They come from the local authorities themselves.

The handbook to which the hon. Gentleman referred, "Guidance for Local Authorities — Assessing Housing Needs", was published nearly 10 years ago. It shows that even the previous Labour Government acknowledged the need for housing surveys, which I believe are very necessary.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is not in his place, but I would advise him that it is our commitment, in the White Paper, to improve the supply and quality of housing. As I have said, the statistics that we use come from the local authorities. There is a dilemma, because a worthwhile survey would cost at least £5 million—probably slightly more—and, quite frankly, that sum would modernise 1,500 council houses or provide over 2,000 repair grants. Therefore, I did not feel that it could be justified, for a variety of reasons.

New clause 1 seeks to impose on central Government responsibilities that are properly those of local authorities. The front-line responsibility for considering the requirements of an area rests with the district or islands council. The authorities have ample powers to carry out surveys of their areas to establish housing conditions. With this in mind, my Department is undertaking a research project on the conduct of local surveys with support from the Institute of housing, the Rowntree Trust, the Scottish Special Housing Association and a number of local authorities. The pilot survey in Nithsdale district has now been completed and we hope to issue guidance to local authorities this summer which will assist them to derive the maximum benefit from any survey work which they may comtemplate.

As I said during the Standing Committee's consideration of the Bill, we are keeping the possibility of a national house condition survey under review. We are not, as yet, however, convinced of its merits. In particular, it is unlikely that a national survey would yield useful results at below district level unless the sample size was large, and consequently the survey would he expensive. As I have already said, the cost of a national survey—which we estimate to be just over £5 million—would have to come out of the total resources available for housing. Frankly, I did not feel that I would be justified in reducing the increase that has just been made in the allocations to local authorities in Scotland in order to spend more than £5 million for a housing condition survey.

Incidentally, I advise the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that Glasgow's housing revenue capital allocation for next year, 1988–89, is now £88 million, which is 6 per cent. on the equivalent allocation for 1987–88. It received an additional £19.5 million yesterday.

My brief response to new clause 2 is that the Scottish Development Department gathers information about the level of homelessness from local authorities throughout the year on a case return basis. In any event, I cannot agree that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to take action to provide housing directly. This is properly the responsibility of local authorities.

For much the same reasons, I do not believe that new clause 14 is acceptable. I can, of course, appreciate the difficulties and anxieties that occur when people are made homeless or are threatened with homelessness. Indeed, my Department is at present undertaking research into how authorities discharge their duties under the homelessness legislation. The aim of this research is to draw out, to document and in due course to disseminate examples of good practice. The more effectively and sensitively the legislation is applied, the more we can ensure that the distress that people face if they become homeless is kept to a minimum.

In addition to that research, the Scottish Development Department already collects statistical information from authorities through the year on a case-return basis to determine the extent of the homelessness problem. My Department also monitors the numbers of applications under the homeless persons legislation and the working of the Act generally. I do not believe that a formal requirement to consult relevant housing agencies and to make an annual return to Parliament on the level of homelessness would in any way ease the very difficult problems that can arise. We need to build on the existing links between all the agencies involved and to promote improved housing management.

Finally, let me say a little about amendment No. 126. The current legislation places responsibility for helping homeless people, in my view correctly, on district and islands councils. It is right that councils must consider whether changes are required to their housing allocation policies, and whether they can make better use of their existing stock, in the light of their exercise of that responsibility.

The problem of homelessness is not simply one of the total accommodation available. Indeed, as I often argued in Committee, there are some 130,000 more houses than households in Scotland. Homelessness is also to an increasing extent a problem of mismatch — with, for example, much accommodation being in the form of family houses, but the trend now being the formation of smaller households.

If these difficult problems are to be solved, we need good housing management and close co-operation between local authorities and the agencies involved. I do not believe that it is sensible to impose on local authorities a statutory requirement to act in tandem with Scottish Homes and to share responsibility in dealing with homelessness applications. In my view, one body in each area should have a clear duty to take the lead in ensuring that the homeless are found accommodation.

The Government will certainly look to Scottish Homes to co-operate to the full with local authorities on all matters of mutual interest. In areas where Scottish Homes acts as a landlord, local authorities will of course consider whether houses owned by Scottish Homes are available to house those whom the local authority determines to be in need of accommodation under the homeless persons legislation. There is therefore room for sensible and constructive co-operation between local authorities and Scottish Homes in dealing with people who require that necessary assistance, but I do not believe that this cooperation would be encouraged or enhanced by the teens of the amendment.

I do not believe that the new clauses and the amendment are acceptable, and I ask the House to reject them.

Mr. Home Robertson

I wish that the Minister would stop spinning this yarn about housing capital allocations and suggesting that the Government are giving local authorities money to do the job. That sort of remark simply aggravates people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). The Minister should come clean about what is going on.

As for all the mealy-mouthed stuff about homelessness, statistics and a mismatch between available and overcrowded houses, homelessness is not a matter of statistics or of mismatch. It is a personal disaster to those who are affected by it.

It has been made abundantly clear in the debate that there is an overwhelming case for proper surveys of housing needs and conditions in Scotland. How can there possibly be a proper investment planning process in Scotland, let alone a proper assessment of housing needs, in the absence of accurate information?

We do not have adequate housing for our people in Scotland. The Minister knows it, and the House knows it. What we need is a proper, planned programme of investment, and the basis of such a plan must be accurate information. The Minister keeps saying that they are thinking about it, that they might carry out a survey at some time, that they are still thinking about it. The legislation provides the opportunity to lay a duty on the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the Scottish housing crisis, and he cannot begin to do that without accurate information.

We are about to move to a vote. Let me remind English Members, who form the overwhelming majority in the House, that in their country there is a house condition survey so that there can be proper planning of housing investment. All that we are asking is for the same facility to be available to the people of Scotland. I urge my hon. Friends and, indeed, the whole House to support the new clause.

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

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 243.

Division No. 237] [8.15 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Duffy, A. E. P.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Allen, Graham Eadie, Alexander
Alton, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Armstrong, Hilary Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Fearn, Ronald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barron, Kevin Fisher, Mark
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Flannery, Martin
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Flynn, Paul
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Derek
Bidwell, Sydney Foulkes, George
Blair, Tony Fraser, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Galbraith, Sam
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Galloway, George
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) George, Bruce
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Buchan, Norman Godman, Dr Norman A.
Buckley, George J. Gordon, Mildred
Caborn, Richard Graham, Thomas
Callaghan, Jim Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hardy, Peter
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Heffer, Eric S.
Canavan, Dennis Henderson, Doug
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clay, Bob Holland, Stuart
Clelland, David Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hood, Jimmy
Cohen, Harry Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Coleman, Donald Howells, Geraint
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cox, Tom Illsley, Eric
Crowther, Stan Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Janner, Greville
Cunliffe, Lawrence John, Brynmor
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Darling, Alistair Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kilfedder, James
Dewar, Donald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Dixon, Don Kirkwood, Archy
Doran, Frank Lamond, James
Douglas, Dick Leadbitter, Ted
Lewis, Terry Quin, Ms Joyce
Litherland, Robert Randall, Stuart
Livingstone, Ken Redmond, Martin
Livsey, Richard Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Reid, Dr John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Richardson, Jo
Loyden, Eddie Robertson, George
McAllion, John Rogers, Allan
McAvoy, Thomas Rowlands, Ted
Macdonald, Calum A. Ruddock, Joan
McFall, John Salmond, Alex
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Sedgemore, Brian
McLeish, Henry Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McTaggart, Bob Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McWilliam, John Skinner, Dennis
Madden, Max Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Marek, Dr John Steel, Rt Hon David
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Steinberg, Gerry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stott, Roger
Maxton, John Strang, Gavin
Meacher, Michael Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Meale, Alan Turner, Dennis
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wall, Pat
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Wallace, James
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Wareing, Robert N.
Moonie, Dr Lewis Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Morgan, Rhodri Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Mullin, Chris Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Murphy, Paul Winnick, David
O'Brien, William Wise, Mrs Audrey
O'Neill, Martin Wray, Jimmy
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Young, David (Bolton SE)
Patchett, Terry
Pike, Peter L. Tellers for the Ayes:
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Mrs, Llin Golding and
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. Frank Cook.
Aitken, Jonathan Burns, Simon
Alexander, Richard Burt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butler, Chris
Allason, Rupert Butterfill, John
Amos, Alan Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Cash, William
Atkins, Robert Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Atkinson, David Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baldry, Tony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dunn, Bob
Bellingham, Henry Durant, Tony
Bendall, Vivian Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fallon, Michael
Benyon, W. Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bevan, David Gilroy Fookes, Miss Janet
Biffen, Rt Hon John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fox, Sir Marcus
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gale, Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter Glyn, Dr Alan
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gow, Ian
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gower, Sir Raymond
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bowis, John Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gregory, Conal
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Brazier, Julian Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bright, Graham Grist, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester) Grylls, Michael
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Buck, Sir Antony Hampson, Dr Keith
Hanley, Jeremy Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, John Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Morrison, Hon Sir Charles
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Harris, David Moss, Malcolm
Haselhurst, Alan Neale, Gerrard
Hawkins, Christopher Nelson, Anthony
Hayes, Jerry Neubert, Michael
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hayward, Robert Nicholls, Patrick
Heddle, John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Oppenheim, Phillip
Hill, James Page, Richard
Hind, Kenneth Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Holt, Richard Pawsey, James
Hordern, Sir Peter Porter, David (Waveney)
Howard, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Price, Sir David
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Raffan, Keith
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rathbone, Tim
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Redwood, John
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Riddick, Graham
Hunt, John (Ravensboume) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hunter, Andrew Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Irvine, Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Irving, Charles Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jack, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Janman, Tim Rossi, Sir Hugh
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rost, Peter
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rowe, Andrew
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Ryder, Richard
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sackville, Hon Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sayeed, Jonathan
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knapman, Roger Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knowles, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knox, David Shersby, Michael
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lang, Ian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Latham, Michael Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Speller, Tony
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Squire, Robin
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lilley, Peter Steen, Anthony
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stern, Michael
Lord, Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Stradling Thomas, Sir John
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Sumberg, David
Maclean, David Summerson, Hugo
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Madel, David Temple-Morris, Peter
Major, Rt Hon John Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Malins, Humfrey Tracey, Richard
Mans, Keith Tredinnick, David
Maples, John Trippier, David
Marland, Paul Trotter, Neville
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Twinn, Dr Ian
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Mates, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Waldegrave, Hon William
Mellor, David Walden, George
Meyer, Sir Anthony Walker, Bill (T'slde North)
Miller, Hal Waller, Gary
Mills, Iain Ward, John
Miscampbell, Norman Warren, Kenneth
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Watts, John
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Wells, Bowen
Moate, Roger Wheeler, John
Monro, Sir Hector Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, David Tellers for the Noes
Wood, Timothy Mr. David Lightbown and
Woodcock, Mike Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
Yeo, Tim

Question accordingly negatived.

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