HC Deb 25 May 1988 vol 134 cc318-9
11. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the latest estimates of the number of Scottish houses which are (a) damp and (b) below tolerable standard.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

Returns submitted by local authorities indicate that at 31 March 1987, 38,100 local authority dwellings required treatment for dampness alone, 78,400 required treatment for both dampness and condensation, and a total of 53,000 dwellings were below the tolerable standard in Scotland.

Mr. Griffiths

Is it not disgraceful that more than 100,000 Scottish homes suffer from dampness and that more than 50,000 dwellings, most of them in the private sector, are below a tolerable standard? Why is it that the Secretary of State for Scotland rejects a house condition survey when the Secretary of State for Wales has just spent £1.6 million on such a survey so that he may be better acquainted with the housing problems of Wales and produce a programme for the future? Does not the ignorance of the Secretary of State for Scotland about the problems of Scottish housing and his failure to plan for the future ill fit him for his office?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No. We are not convinced of the case for a national house condition survey as opposed to the requirement for local authorities to fulfil their statutory responsibility to assess the needs in their own areas. We support local authorities undertaking their own house condition surveys, as Glasgow has done.

The number of houses falling below a tolerable standard has been reduced from 121,000 in 1979 to 53,000. We hope that substantial progress will continue to be made. I stress that more is being spent on public housing in Scotland this year than last.

Mr. Lambie

Is it correct to say that when the Minister was a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs investigating housing conditions he not only supported its call to the Government for a housing condition survey but voted for one?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Member has a very good memory. We do not rule out a national house condition survey on principle. [Interruption.] The matter is under consideration. We strongly support the principle of local authorities undertaking their own surveys, as Glasgow has done, which will assist both the authorities and their communities.

Mr. Favell

How many of the councils responsible for housing that is below a tolerable standard are controlled by the Labour party?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I would think a considerable number. However, we expect substantial progress to be made. In the early days there was a great deal of demolition, but now houses will be renewed and rehabilitated, so that families may continue to live in them.

Mr. Ron Brown

Does the Minister agree that if the Government are not to be accused of double standards public housing in Scotland should be brought up to at least the standards enjoyed by the governor general seated next to the Minister, who has an official residence in Edinburgh named Bute House? Is it true that £100,000 was spent on Bute House last year? If so, how can the Minister justify that expenditure?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is important that more should be spent on public sector housing in Scotland this year. The final housing revenue account capital allocations for this year total £58 million more than the provisional allocations and are more than £34 million up on last year.

As to Bute House, obviously it is necessary that it should be kept in a proper condition.

Mr. Home Robertson

In this week of scriptural references, is the Minister aware of the words of Matthew 15: if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch? Has he yet taken an opportunity to look at the Prime Minister's complimentary copy of the Church of Scotland's report on housing in Scotland, which refers, among other things, to the lack of any reliable official survey of housing conditions in Scotland? As Scotland is now the only part of the United Kingdom without a house condition survey, may we take it that the Minister is deliberately remaining blind, ignorant and indifferent to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Scots who are living in overcrowded and sub-standard accommodation?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It certainly will not be a question of the blind leading the blind, because we are issuing to authorities a handbook of guidance on the conduct of local house condition surveys. One of the difficulties about a national house condition survey is that the sample might be relatively small. In our view, it is more effective at this stage for local authorities to carry out their statutory responsibilities by making certain that they know the precise details of their own housing stock.