HC Deb 05 June 1991 vol 192 cc381-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Patnick.]

10.16 pm
Mr. Jim Siliars (Glasgow, Govan)

I want to raise with the Minister the question of housing in the constituency of Govan. It is axiomatic that, as the constituency of Govan is part of the city of Glasgow, our housing problems arise from the condition of that city and our problems will be solved only if Glasgow's policies and resources are adequate to meet housing needs.

I begin by putting a question to the Minister: is there a housing problem on a scale that demands extraordinary action well beyond the present resources that have been applied within the city of Glasgow? That is the key question. There are two responses. The first is the Government's response as conveyed to me in a letter from the Prime Minister dated 29 May this year. His answer was no. The second is that expressed by experts, investigators, the council and councillors in Glasgow, the city's officials, the city's Members of Parliament and, above all, by the experience of the people. Their answer to the question is yes; there is an exceptional problem that requires exceptional action.

I shall set out in the course of my argument the relative terms of the Prime Minister's letter and I shall then examine them against our arguments from Glasgow and from within Govan. I believe that those who argue against the Government will be able to prove conclusively that there must be an urgent response to the private cries of despair from the families who are tortured by dampness, overcrowding, poor environment and homelessness and those who are terrified because there is no security for their homes.

Let me read a relevant passage from the Prime Minister's letter that I received in reply to one of mine: I recognise that a substantial proportion of Glasgow's council housing suffers some degree of dampness and condensation, although the returns made by the District Council to the Scottish Office indicate that the problem is not as extensive as is quoted in your letter. Glasgow district council house condition survey shows that 38 per cent. of the city's public sector housing stock —62,400 houses—is affected by dampness and condensation. The tenants argue that 53 per cent. of the housing stock—87,000 houses—is affected.

The tenants' views are not lightly dismissed in the house condition survey. In paragraph 4.14 it says: In the tenants' view, 53 per cent. of GDC houses had a dampness or condensation problem, much more than the 38 per cent. reported by surveyors, and much more than in any other tenure. The tenants' estimate probably includes recent or recurrent problems not visible when the surveyors made their inspection. The district council does not dismiss the argument that 87,000 rather than 62,000 houses are affected.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Glasgow district council's figure is correct and that 38 per cent., or 62,400 houses, are affected. That figure represents human misery on an appalling scale and it is reflected in Govan constituency. The housing condition survey showed that in my constituency 57.8 per cent. of the housing is below tolerable standards of dampness or has condensation or some significant dampness or condensation. It is no wonder that 57.8 per cent. of the housing stock is in that condition because, according to the survey, 31.3 per cent. of houses lack central heating and 20 per cent. of houses lack roof insulation.

Even if the tenants' figure is not accurate and the council's figure, on which the Prime Minister relies, is correct, the Prime Minister acknowledges that a substantial proportion of Glasgow council housing suffers some degree of dampness and condensation. We have an admission from the Prime Minister that there is a pretty big problem. What is his response? Unfortunately, it is self-satisfaction. In his letter to me he gave no sign that the Government understand the true position in Glasgow or Govan.

The Prime Minister continued in his letter to tell me: Glasgow's gross HRA allocation for 1991–92 is over £100 million, which amounts to 22 per cent. of the Scottish total although Glasgow's share of council housing in Scotland is under 20 per cent. The Prime Minister showed a fair degree of self-satisfaction in boasting about the figure of £100 million. I will tell the Minister what that translates to in real terms in my constituency. For new capital starts this year, we have the princely sum of £280,000. That was allocated to one project, phase 1 of re-wiring Mossheights. That is an allocation for new capital starts of £280,000 in an area which has 14,500 council houses. That cannot possibly touch people's needs for new windows, replacement of lead pipes, roof repairs or extensive renovation.

I shall list some of the areas in my constituency. There is Hillington, Penilee, Cardonald, Mosspark, Dumbreck, Corker hill, Drumoyne, Teucharhill, Moorpark, Ibrox, Cessock, Riverside, Tarfside Oval, Old Govan itself, Craigton and Shieldhall. Corkerhill requires £1 million to be spent to put pitched roofs on houses with flat roofs which are letting in water day in and day out. Such is the condition of the flat roofs that, when the workmen go on them to patch them, they break up the roof. Water penetrates those homes daily, and dampness spreads to increase illness among the children and other members of the community. Shieldhall, for example, requires work to the value of £1 million. I could cite case after case in which there is a crying need for investment, which cannot possibly be met from new start capital of £200,000.

Acute problems exist in all the areas I mentioned—including overcrowding and homelessness. The right-to-buy policy has increased to the point where there is a shrinking council house sector. Glasgow people cannot do what they used to do—move up the housing quality chain. That was once the way of life in Glasgow. It was rough justice, but it was accepted that, one day, one could move from poor housing conditions into better conditions. That choice is no longer available to the people of the city.

A report produced by the technical services agency for District 31, a Govan community council, confirms evidence produced by Corkerhill community council, and illustrates the need to tackle the scourge of dampness and condensation which makes life a nightmare and is a cause of despair for so many people. The report concludes: These properties, with the operations outlined in this report, could provide housing of a standard fit for the next century. As they are, however, the balconies will continue to give rise to penetrating dampness, and the present insulation/ventilation and partial central heating system will make them expensive to heat, throughout, to a level where thermal safety … could be achieved. As a result, the elderly tenants in particular will suffer from cold stress-related illnesses, while large families will experience outbreaks of mould to thermally-isolated parts of their homes. That reference to mould reminds me of a statement by a lady in Corkerhill in respect of the letter written by the Minister in response to a complaint about a lack of housing investment. The Minister replied that Glasgow was the city of culture—implying that things were a lot better there. At a public meeting during Glasgow's year as the city of culture, a lady said to me, "Aye, culture—I've had it growing on my walls for a year."

Earlier this year, Glasgow's municipal housing convenor was quoted in The Glaswegian newspaper as saying that it would take 300 years and more than £2 billion to make the city's housing damp-free. He said: We're in complete sympathy with tenants' anger. But the Government won't let us spend anything like the amount that's needed. Three hundred years is a bit long for folk to wait.

Security is another problem in my constituency, as it is in other parts of the city—especially where there is much drug-related crime. Old people and others are living in anxiety and terror. They are terrified to use the lifts. They are also frightened about staying at home in case their doors are kicked in and they are attacked. They are terrified to leave their homes, in case their doors are kicked in while they are out and various items of household furniture, televisions, videos, pension books, and money are taken.

I can give the Minister an example from Ibroxholm Oval, which is a couple of hundred yards from my own constituency office. Last week, there were 11 break-ins in that area in the course of just five days, and two old people were severely assaulted. One young girl has suffered five break-ins. There was virtually nothing left to take from her flat except the lass's kettle—and last week, that was stolen as well. People living in such conditions are absolutely terrified. The fundamental problem is that they have no secure door entry systems. The district council, to its credit, installed concierge services in Iona court and Broomlown court, which are on either side of Ibroxholm Oval, but that made Ibroxholm Oval the major target for folk who engage in crime, and everything that happens will happen inside Ibroxholm Oval.

Security is not only a housing but a law and order issue. The Government must act with a special allocation of money specifically for security. Our old people deserve no less.

The problems that I have described demand action and the mobilisation of resources. The Government have it within their power to act. One measure would transform the prospects for meeting people's housing needs—the writing off of the city's housing capital debt of £976 million. That huge burden imposes a huge penalty on tenants. It means that 75p in every pound of rent collected goes to meet debt charges. With that burden around the neck of the council and tenants, there is no chance of effectively tackling the housing crisis facing Glasgow and Govan families.

I put that to the Prime Minister. It is not a new suggestion or an idea that I have invented, because it can be found in the Grieve report on Glasgow's housing. That was an objective study. It was set up by the district council, but it was not laudatory of everything that the council has done. It was an objective panel—Sir Robert Grieve, the late Sir Monty Finniston, Professor Karn and Ian Clark. They suggested wiping off the capital debt.

That is a valid idea for a Tory Government, because since 1979 they have written off £15 billion of capital debt. For example, £4.9 billion was written off to privatise the English water companies and £3.4 billion was written off to privatise British Steel. If they can write off that capital debt to stuff the pockets of people who will make a profit from it, they can do something for the people of Glasgow.

Writing off just under £1 billion would compare favourably with the £2.7 billion that is calculated to be the advantage to the south-east of England of mortgage interest relief. I put that to the Prime Minister. His reply was that Glasgow, in acknowledgment of that capital debt, is receiving just over £22 million in housing support grant —the exact figure is £22.7 million. He said in his letter to me that Glasgow has enough money to meet expenditure. It is not meeting expenditure that is at issue but whether that expenditure is enough to meet the housing needs of the people, and the answer is no.

I want to put that figure of £22.7 million in context. It must be realised that it is only a part payment of the huge amount of interest that must be repaid on the capital debt. I do not know the figure for the current year, but in 1991 it cost Glasgow £119 million to service the capital debt —£19 million more than the £100 million that the Prime Minister boasted will go to Glasgow this year. When one compares that £100 million about which the Prime Minister boasted with the £195 million that the Grieve report said would have to be invested in Glasgow's housing, one begins to see how the Government are failing the people of Glasgow.

Compared with other parts of Scotland, Glasgow has a low income per household. Therefore, it is heavily reliant on council housing. Unfortunately, it tops the list of major cities for social deprivation and need. The justification for those statements is contained in the Grieve report, yet people still live in those adverse circumstances and face dampness and illness, overcrowding, lack of maintenance and inadequate security. They are lumbered with a housing debt that they simply cannot meet.

As the Grieve report said, Glasgow is a special case. Within Glasgow, Govan—along with other areas of the city—represents a special case. I want what the people will demand—a capital debt write-off as the prerequisite of a real attack on housing problems, and an emergency injection of cash—now—for security purposes.

Ordinary folk in Govan and other parts of the city of Glasgow have a human right, and that human right is to enjoy the same kind of housing that the Minister and I can buy for ourselves and our families—in terms of spaciousness, comfort and security. That is the challenge that I put to the Government tonight, and I hope that I shall get a positive response.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) on his success in securing this Adjournment debate. He has raised a number of issues. Many of the criticisms that he voiced were directed at Glasgow district council, whose responsibility it is—within the allocation made available to it—to address housing needs. I have no doubt that the council will take note of the hon. Gentleman's comments about Corkerhill and about dampness, of his call for more security systems and of all the other points that he matte about individual housing schemes in Glasgow.

The hon. Gentleman has recently made critical comments about Scottish Homes. I should mention to him the fact that no less than £82 million is being spent by Scottish Homes in the Glasgow area this year, a considerable proportion of it in Govan—a point to which I shall return in a moment.

Glasgow has been generously treated in terms of capital allocations, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, have totalled more than £100 million, representing more than 22 per cent. of the total resources, while Glasgow's proportion of Scottish local authority housing is just under 20 per cent. I should also mention the fact that an additional allocation of £750,000 has been made available to Glasgow to enable the council to introduce proposals for a wide range of accommodation to house the young and single homeless.

Moreover, under the partnership initiative, considerable sums have been made available to Castlemilk and the final HRA allocations included £26.9 million to support housing regeneration projects in the Castlemilk partnership area, which, as I know the hon. Gentleman would agree, has some of the most pressing problems anywhere in Scotland. We have made available further additional resources, amounting to £21.8 million for innovative projects in Ardencraig, Scarrel, Glenacre and Croftfoot in Castlemilk over six years.

The hon. Gentleman asked about dampness and condensation. In recognition of the extent to which those problems affect Glasgow's housing—including housing in areas such as Corkerhill—the council has been invited to bid for a share of the additional resources of £2 million which we are making available for energy savings and efficiency projects, and I hope to announce the distribution of those resources shortly.

Glasgow's non-HRA capital allocations amount to more than £24 million for 1991–92. Overall investment in housing in Glasgow this year amounts to more than £125 million, setting aside the resources earmarked for the innovative housing projects in the Castlemilk partnership area. That means that the council has resources of more than £109 million in aggregate for investment elsewhere in the city.

I am very sympathetic to the needs of Glasgow and believe that those allocations are tangible evidence of our commitment to regeneration in Glasgow. I should point out that it is open to the district to increase the resources available by encouraging more council house sales. Let me give an example. Since 1979, only 12.4 per cent. of Glasgow's council houses have been sold, compared with more than 20 per cent. in Scotland as a whole. Part of the reason for that lies in the fact that the council is taking about 12 months to process applications. Its average processing time for such sales amounts to more than 11 months. I regard that as quite unacceptable. Another example is the grudging reluctance of the council to meet—

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No. I am answering the hon. Member for Govan, and there are many points to answer in the limited time available.

Our recent publicity campaign on rents into mortgages revealed that more than 20,000 tenants in Scotland were interested. Some 4,400 came from the Glasgow area, representing 23 per cent. of the Scottish total. The district council has produced a leaflet, mentioning that only two tenants from East Kilbride and eight from Glasgow have taken up the scheme. In fact, the latest figures show that 13 sales have been completed in East Kilbride and 19 in the Glasgow region of Scottish Homes. The latest figures show that there have been 249 applications from local authority tenants under the scheme—16 from Glasgow district council—and that a further 149 tenants from Glasgow have requested counselling visits. One thousand rents-to-mortgage sales in Glasgow would produce about £9 million of receipts for Glasgow district council, which it could spend on the rest of its public sector stock.

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should call for the abolition of Scottish Homes. In only two years, it has established itself as a major vehicle for improvement and innovation in Scottish Housing. It has already invested nearly £600 million in Scotland's housing stock and plans over £300 million of expenditure in 1991–92. It is making a vital contribution to tackling housing needs in the areas with the worst problems in Scotland. It is responding to the aspirations of tenants who wish to exercise greater control over their housing through the formation of housing associations and co-operatives.

Scottish Homes' contribution in Glasgow has been considerable. It has given nearly £11 million in grant to housing associations in the Govan area in the past two financial years and expects to spend a further £4.8 million this year. In total, it expects to spend more than £82 million in the Glasgow area this year—an immense sum—yet the hon. Gentleman wishes to deprive his constituents of such support by abolishing Scottish Homes, thus halting projects that are in progress. He would do away with Scottish Homes in spite of the reality—

Mr. Sillars


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No; I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question.

The hon. Gentleman would abolish Scottish Homes despite its great expertise, ability and the know-how which has been built up over the years and which it would be a tragedy to disrupt. The Central Govan and Talbot housing associations are undertaking work, with grants from Scottish Homes. A special needs programme of £1.2 million for mentally handicapped and elderly people in Govan will shortly be completed. With Scottish Homes' assistance, Linthouse housing association will also be converting Elder Cottage hospital in Govan to provide 22 sheltered housing units. In addition, Glasgow district council has come to strategic agreement with Scottish Homes, which will be in the interests of the hon. Gentleman's constituents and of Glasgow as a whole.

The hon. Gentleman appears to believe that writing off capital debt is like waving a magic wand, and that, by doing so, Glasgow's difficulties would be resolved. However, the costs associated with debt write-offs would, in Glasgow, involve expenditure of £976 million. That would have to be raised either through taxation or borrowing. It follows that any decision along those lines would have to be considered most carefully and would, of course, require legislation. We have no such proposals.

I do not believe that there is a case for writing off Glasgow's capital debt, and I shall say why. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it amounts on average to £6,700 per house, which is well below the value of the housing stock on the basis of right-to-buy sales, which is about £19,000 per house. There is therefore no evidence that Glasgow's capital debt is excessive in relation to the capital value of the assets with which the debt is associated. The value of right-to-buy sales is about £10,000 per house, which is more than the average debt and, similarly, a rents-to-mortgage sale would produce about £9,000 which is, again, much more than the average debt.

In addition, because of the system of housing support grant through which the Government give assistance to those authorities that need it, there is no possibility of the district council defaulting on its loan payments. The Government provide substantial housing support grant to Glasgow. This year it amounts to £22.7 million, or £160 per council house. That represents 40 per cent. of the Scottish total of housing support grant, compared with Glasgow's share of Scotland's council house stock of less than 20 per cent. Since housing support grant was introduced, Glasgow has received a total of £386 million from the Government. Housing support grant is a deficit subsidy designed to fill the gap between estimated expenditure and estimated income.

The Grieve report also recommended the disposal of empty stock. If Glasgow cannot cope with the empty stock on its own, it should follow up possibilities with Scottish Homes and housing associations. Should vacant stock still be available, it would be possible to involve the private sector to an ever greater extent. I believe that such a policy would undoubtedly succeed.

I have listened carefully to the criticisms levelled by the hon. Member for Govan, but his claims are unfounded. This year we have made available more than £100 million to Glasgow district council to spend on its own stock. The council can use that substantial level of resources to tackle condensation and dampness, homelessness or other problems in Govan or elsewhere. It is right that the council should take its own view on priorities. Moreover, the council will benefit from the additional resources that we are making available for homelessness, energy efficiency and the urban partnership.

Resources for investment could be increased if the council were to take a more positive attitude towards the scope for right-to-buy and rents-to-mortgage sales. Its record on those is deplorable.

Scottish Homes has brought additional resources to Scottish housing and it has made a major contribution of £82 million to the Glasgow area—equivalent to literally millions in Govan. The hon. Member for Govan should express gratitude to those at Scottish Homes for working flat out at the sharp end of the housing problem for his constituents.

There is no case for writing off Glasgow's capital debt. The Government are providing more than £22 million in housing support grant to help tenants. We have increased spending on housing in real terms by 17 per cent. since 1979, whereas it fell by 35 per cent. under the previous Labour Government, which the hon. Member for Govan then supported.

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.