HC Deb 22 January 1992 vol 202 cc418-41 10.26 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I beg to move, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved. I propose to keep my opening remarks brief. This is the 14th annual housing support grant order to have been laid before the House. Hon. Members will remember that housing support grant is a subsidy paid to those local authorities which, on the basis of reasonable assumptions about income and expenditure, would find it difficult to meet the costs of council housing from rental income. Full details of the grant settlement for next year are given in the order and the accompanying report.

I should like, as usual, to express my thanks to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, with which the grant settlement for next year has been discussed. Although COSLA has reservations about certain aspects of the settlement, I am grateful for the constructive and helpful approach that it takes in our annual discussions on these matters.

The draft order provides that the total grant payable next year will be £47.5 million. This sum represents the difference between the eligible expenditure and the relevant income of those authorities which, in the absence of grant, would have a deficit on their housing revenue accounts.

Eligible expenditure consists mainly of loan charges and management and maintenance spending. The loan charges that we estimate authorities will have to meet in the next financial year are, as usual, based on a projection of each authority's capital debt to the mid-point of the 1992–93 financial year, taking account of new borrowing and debt redemption.

In order to calculate interest charges, we apply to these projections of capital debt the pool interest rate expected for local authority debt in 1992–93. Our present estimate of this rate is 9.8 per cent. Interest rates may fluctuate, however, and 1 can assure the House that if there is a significant change in the estimate of the pool rate for 1992–93 we shall, as is normal, bring forward an appropriate variation order. For the moment, our estimate of loan charges for all authorities in 1992–93 is £505 million.

During this debate last year, a number of hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)—expressed their concern at the position of some authorities which, it was argued, faced average interest rates consistently higher than the pool rate of interest.

I discussed that matter with COSLA, and we gave serious consideration to a proposal to use individual estimates of the average interest rate that would apply to each authority. COSLA agreed, however, that the use of the standard pool rate should be retained, subject to changes in the system of prior year adjustments to ensure that differences between estimated and actual loan charges were more closely reflected in such adjustments. I welcome that conclusion, to which COSLA agreed and which will mean that in future authorities are better protected against unexpected local variations in interest rates.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Can the Minister assure us that the changes, especially as they apply to Roxburgh, will mean a better deal than last year? We understand that these are provisional estimates, but the overall amount of money has been cut. There is widespread concern north of the border, especially in counties such as Roxburgh, that the allocations for next year will be less than they are for this year.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The reason for the level of housing support grant is that the interest rates have come down. That factor was taken into account. What the hon. Gentleman, and the two other hon. Members to whom I referred, called for would have been to the disadvantage of the majority of authorities in Scotland, including Glasgow. However, we believe that it is possible to meet their point by adjusting the pool rate of interest and compensating those authorities where the estimates are found to be out. Action is being taken.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I should be interested to hear how the Minister arrived at an average interest rate figure of 9.8 per cent. I do not know anyone who can get that rate at present.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is the estimate held by the Scottish Office but, as I said, if it is found to be incorrect, we will introduce a variation order—something that we have done before.

The other major item of expenditure to fall on housing revenue accounts is that on the management and maintenance of the housing stock. Our estimate of eligible management and maintenance spending in 1992–93 is based on an assumed average spending level of more than £526 per house. That represents a 15 per cent. increase over the equivalent average for the current year. It is the highest annual increase ever adopted for the grant calculations, and it provides evidence that the Scottish Office is prepared to make a real and growing contribution to the costs of providing improved services to council tenants.

There is a further aspect of eligible expenditure to which I draw the attention of the House. It concerns the way in which we have estimated the amounts of lost rental income arising from vacant houses. In previous years, that has been estimated with miscellaneous income on the rough-and-ready basis that it would form the same percentage of management and maintenance spending as it did in the year preceding the year in which the settlement was determined.

Lost rental income from vacant houses has been growing at an alarming rate—from £11.3 million in 1985–86 to more than £29.5 million in 1990–91—and authorities were automatically compensated through the grant system for that loss of income. Such a position could not be allowed to continue. The system has therefore been changed so that the Government's liability in respect of local authorities' lost rents will be limited to a set percentage of their overall rental income. For 1992–93, that has been set at 2.5 per cent.

I am satisfied that the 2.5 per cent. level takes adequate account of the numbers of vacant houses that arise in the normal course of local authorities activities as a landlord, as well as those houses being held empty for the purposes of comprehensive improvement schemes or demolition or disposal. More generally, I shall continue to urge local authorities to minimise the number of empty houses that they hold.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Like me, the Minister spent some time in local government. Does he recall sitting in his surgeries and listening to people saying, time after time, that they had refused houses? That is an exercise in choice. If people are exercising choice in that way, why should the local authority be penalised in the way that the Minister suggests?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The vast majority of authorities will not be affected this year. The policy is discouraging authorities from obtaining an increased number of empty houses. We believe that the 2.5 per cent. level is a reasonable assessment, taking into account all the circumstances. It is true that some houses will be vacant for decant, improvement and other purposes, but we believe that 2.5 per cent. of lost rental income is entirely reasonable when one takes into account all the factors.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to develop the arguments first.

As for standard rents, the assumed average rent for 1992–93 is £26.36 per house per week. That represents an increase of 10 per cent. above the assumed rent for the current year. I should stress that the rent figure of £26.36 is not a forecast of the actual average local authority rent for the next year; nor is it a guideline or recommendation to authorities. The figure of £26.36 is the average rent which, for the purpose of the grant calculations, we consider authorities should reasonably be expected to receive. The actual rent levels of individual authorities may be higher or lower depending on authorities' own decisions about income and expenditure. I shall discuss the implications of the subsidies settlement for actual rents later.

Dr. Reid

I am sorry to repeat the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), but I am afraid that the Minister did not answer it. It was an important point as regards not only the practice of council house lets but also the principle of freedom of choice. If the Minister believes in freedom of choice and if the tenant chooses not to have a house because of its condition, why should the council be penalised? Should not the Minister be investigating why houses are repeatedly refused and why the choice is exercised against taking them—often due to their bad condition? Should he not provide substantial means to upgrade those houses, rather than negate tenants' choice and penalise the council?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the sums involved have been growing at an extremely alarming rate. As I said, in 1985–86, £11.3 million was lost in rental income because of empty houses. That figure has increased to £29.5 million. We believed that that trend should be arrested and authorities should be given maximum encouragement to bring empty houses back into use. If a house is uninhabitable and the council cannot do it up itself, the council should investigate other possibilities, through a housing association or the private sector.

I wish to mention the housing support grant arrangements for subsidising local authority hostels. Last year in this debate, I announced that hostel grant was being extended to all authorities with housing department hostels, and that 15 local authorities would qualify. I announced that additional capital resources were being made available to local authorities specifically to help them deal with homelessness. Some of those additional allocations have been invested in additional hostel provision.

To ensure that those new hostel grants are taken account of in the grant calculations, hostel grant has been yet again extended. We have thus been able to make a contribution to the net costs of new hostels in 1992–93. Those contributions have been based on the average cost per hostel bed space in Scotland as a whole. I recognise that the level of contribution may not cover 100 per cent. of the net costs of some of those new hostels, particularly in the case of a certain hostel in Edinburgh, where the annual running costs are more than £21,000 per hostel space. It would be unreasonable to expect the Government to fund hostel provision at such a level. Nevertheless, the overall hostel grant for 1992–93 of more than £1.6 million will be shared among 17 authorities, compared with £1.4 million among 15 authorities in the current financial year.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

The Minister will know that, due to the policy on selling council houses—which the Government have pushed heavily—many districts contain many elderly people who have never been able to purchase a house and are now dying off. The finances of those elderly people have been so severely reduced because of Government cuts that those residents have been unable to keep their houses in as good a condition as normal. The local authorities will have to return those houses to their normal standard before they can release them. Repossessions of houses bought by local people provide a further reason for local authorities to provide housing for homeless families.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Spending per council house is being maintained. I have visited the hon. Gentleman's district council, which has been working with Scottish Homes. He is right to say that the provision of adequate housing for the elderly is extremely important; but, in the settlement reached so far for this year and the provisional allocations, not only has spending per house been maintained but—over and above that—there is a further £21.9 million: £7.5 million for homelessness projects; £7.5 million for energy projects which can help the elderly; and £6.9 million for innovative projects in urban regeneration schemes.

General fund contributions represent a subsidy from community charge payers to council tenants. Such contributions are indiscriminate, in that they benefit all council tenants regardless of their circumstances, and they are unnecessary to the extent that tenants who are unable to meet the costs of their housing receive assistance in the form of housing benefit.

I therefore make no apology for our proposal that 49 of the 56 local housing authorities should be barred from estimating for such a contribution next year. The remaining authorities will be allowed to budget for varying levels of contribution, amounting in total to £1.5 million. The level of those contributions has been calculated as the amounts necessary to restrict the average rent increase in each of the authorities concerned to a maximum of 10 per cent.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

The Minister seems to be trying to skate over the serious problem of homelessness in Scotland. Is he oblivious to the fact that, according to Shelter, the homelessness figures in Scotland have more than doubled over the past seven years? The Scottish total is now well over 34,000 and in some areas—for example, Falkirk district, where at the last count there were more than 1,300 homeless applicants—local authorities have received hardly a penny over the past decade or so in housing support grant.

All that the order offers Falkirk district council is a relatively trivial amount for hostel accommodation. When will the Minister face up to his responsibilities, and do something for homeless people—such as giving every housing authority that requires housing support grant, and every housing authority that requires capital allocation, the necessary resources with which to build and maintain council housing and cater for homeless people throughout Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that the bids for the £7.5 million that we have allocated for homelessness projects next year should be in by 7 February, and the allocation will then be made as soon as is practicable.

May I make a general point? The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities would have preferred to have complete discretion in regard to whether to use the funds for any other purpose, but Shelter welcomed the fact that specific projects had been called for, because it knew that the funds would definitely be used for those projects.

The effect of our subsidy proposals on local authority rent levels for 1992–93 will vary. 1 should make it clear that decisions on council rents are for local authorities. The majority of authorities do not receive housing support grant in respect of their council housing; nor do they make GFCs. Clearly, the subsidy proposals will have no direct effect on the rent decisions of those authorities.

As for the other authorities, changes in the level of subsidies from 1991–92 to 1992–93 will have a varying impact. In a number of cases, subsidies are a relatively minor component of housing revenue account income, and the influence of the subsidies decisions is likely to be outweighed by authorities' own decisions on, for example, management and maintenance spending. Even when subsidies form a sizeable proportion of housing revenue account income, it remains only one of a number of factors that need to be considered.

I should particularly draw the attention of the House to the expected expenditure of local authorities on loan charges, which amount to more than half of all local authority expenditure. Because of the decline in interest rates over the past 12 months, the loan charges payable by many authorities will be lower next year than this year. That should enable many local authorities to increase rents by relatively modest amounts, while still leaving room for real improvements in the level of management and maintenance spending. The general fund contributions specified in the order will ease the position of those few authorities that face the need to increase rents by more than 10 per cent.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), there are 2,000 homeless people in my constituency. That number has shot up. My authority received £1.7 million in housing support grant for 1980–81. It has not received a penny for the last 12 years. Homelessness is increasing inexorably, but for 12 years there has been no housing support grant. How can the Minister possibly justify that?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Housing support grant is a deficit subsidy provided by the Government to bridge the gap between reasonable expenditure and reasonable income. In practice, the major factor that determines whether an authority qualifies is its level of outstanding capital debt per council house. When the hon. Gentleman's authority makes a hid in its housing plan for the homeless, that hid, together with the other bids for the £7.5 million, will he looked at with the greatest possible care.

The allocations that have so far been made are provisional. In previous years, the final allocations have always been considerably higher than the provisional allocations. The final allocations are due to be made in March. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) says that it is allocated to sales. What matters is how much is spent on housing stock in the public sector. More than £1 billion has been spent on public sector stock as a result of right-to-buy sales. That is why it is strongly welcomed throughout Scotland.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Minister agree that he ought to have taken Shelter's advice that 84 children arc being made homeless each day? The Minister is working on a £2.40 a week increase, but the average increase in Scotland is £2.50 to £3. Does he also agree that he has made a mistake in the estimates by saying that he has given 0.5 million to Scotland, when in reality he has stolen that sum? There is a £53 million shortfall.

The £47 million allocation is too low. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says that it is short of £1.5 million. The Government arc talking about spending £521 per house. COSLA is spending £541 per house. Next year, it will spend £600 per house. COSLA says that there is a £53 million shortfall. Therefore, the Government have not allocated £7.5 million to deal with the homeless.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The combined provisional allocation for 1991–92 for the housing revenue account and the non-housing revenue account was £520 million. The combined HRA and non-HRA for 1992–93 is £532 million—£12 million higher. Spending per council house is being maintained, and the £7.5 million for homelessness projects is over and above that—as is the £7.5 million for energy projects, for which the hon. Gentleman's authority will be bidding.

Mr. Maxton

Not true.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it most certainly is true.

The analysis of the relatively modest impact of the subsidies settlement on local authority rents would appear to he confirmed by those authorities which have already settled their rent levels for 1992–93. In particular, I note that Glasgow has opted for an average increase of about 7 per cent., while Edinburgh is considering an increase in the range of 5 to 7 per cent. The hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) will be aware that the increase in that city will be 6.5 per cent.

The proposals made tonight constitute a fair and reasonable subsidies package. They set out an acceptable balance between the interests of the council tenant, the community charge payer and the national taxpayer. We have consulted local authorities about the order and I strongly commend it to the House.

10.49 pm
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I suppose that the only good thing that could be said about that speech is that it will be the last one that the Minister will make before the election in his present role as Minister responsible for housing. It is the last one that he will make because he will be returning to the Bar thereafter. God help the criminals that he will defend. I have a great deal of sympathy for them.

As the Government stagger towards defeat in the election, I thought that because this was the Minister's last speech we might just have had a contrite speech which at least recognised that over 13 years he and his Government had created a major housing crisis in Scotland. It is a crisis which has led to a deterioration in our housing stock, to which my hon. Friends have referred in terms of housing support grant for empty properties.

The most ridiculous position with regard to empty properties is in Castlemilk where hundreds of houses are standing empty as part of a redevelopment programme that is at least partly financed by the Government. Glasgow district council is losing housing support because those houses are standing empty and bringing in no rental income. What an absurd position. It is also the case in other partnership areas.

Our housing stock has deteriorated. Fewer and fewer houses are being built in the public sector. Our houses are increasingly damp. As my hon. Friends pointed out, there is an ever-increasing number of homeless people. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) was right when he said that Shelter's figure showed that the number of homeless people had reached 34,000. But let us remember that that figure does not include young homeless people living rough, in hostels or on the streets in both Scotland and London. The figure includes only those people who are accepted by local authorities as homeless. Of course, we also have ever-rising rent levels.

The Minister's speech was, as ever, bland, inadequate and complacent. We have come to expect that from the Minister, as we did from his predecessors. As ever, he says that all is well. He says that he is allowing local authorities to spend enough money to fulfil housing needs in their area. That is a travesty and a farce. Let me give some of the facts and compare next year with this year and with those for the whole period of the Government. Let us look first at basic figures for the total resources that local authorities in Scotland will have to spend on housing in the coming year. As the Minister said, the general fund contribution has been reduced from £2.2 million to £1.5 million.

The Minister made much play of how he was improving housing support grant. It has been reduced from £55 million to £47.5 million. Capital consents—which are not part of the order but will be very much part of the overall expenditure on housing in the next 12 months—have been reduced from £453 million to £412 million. Of course, there is the £120 million for the non-housing revenue account. But local authority expenditure on capital allocations has been reduced from £453 million to £412 million.

Local authorities expected a rise at least equivalent to inflation, which would have meant a rise in total housing expenditure from £510 million this year to £531 million next year. Instead, it has been reduced to £461 million. The Minister made great claims about the £7 million increase, but total housing expenditure for local authorities, the statutory providers of accommodation for homeless people, is being reduced. That is a farce. In real terms, the Government are making a cut of £70 million.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I have two district councils in my constituency—part of Hamilton district council and Clydesdale council. Hamilton's housing expenditure is being cut by more than £1.8 million and Clydesdale's by £1.1 million. How can the Minister say that he is trying to help homeless people when he is cutting the means of helping them?

Mr. Maxton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he knows, I live in Hamilton and am aware of its housing problems.

Mr. Graham

Is my hon. Friend aware that, since the start of the year, 300 houses a day have been repossessed? In Scottish terms, we are talking about 30 houses a day. Over a 10-day period, 300 houses, which people are desperately trying to get from local authorities, will have been repossessed. The Government say they are tackling homelessness. What a travesty!

Mr. Maxton

Absolutely. I shall return to repossessions, about which I recently received an interesting letter from the Minister.

The Government have been in office for almost 13 years, but 11 years ago housing support grant stood at £228 million. The general fund contribution provided a further £100 million, but is now down to £1.5 million. In the early 1980s, housing support grant and the general fund contribution provided £328 million, but next year they will provide only £49 million. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities estimates that since 1979 £1.5 billion of direct Government support has been cut from housing in Scotland.

Those are cash figures. In real terms, the facts are more catastrophic. In 1979, 47 per cent. of housing costs came from rents, 39 per cent. from housing support grant and 14 per cent. from rate fund contribution. This year, 93 per cent. will come from rents, 7 per cent. from housing support grant and only 1 per cent. from the general fund contribution. Housing costs rely almost entirely on rents paid by tenants. Rents have risen from an average of £4.92p in 1979 to an average of £23.18p this year and COSLA expects the average increase to be between £2.50p and £3—an increase of 10 per cent., when the Government estimate inflation to be 4.1 per cent. Since 1979, rents have risen by more than 370 per cent.—much more than the rate of inflation. Local authorities can do little to improve their housing stock. They cannot build sheltered housing for the increasing number of elderly people. Tenants with major dampness in their houses, with all the ill health that that can lead to, particularly among children, are told that although the council would like to do something it does not have the money to do so.

The capital allocation position is more farcical than housing revenue support. Gross allocation has been cut by £41 million, but the net consent—the money local authorities know they can spend at the beginning of the financial year on housing developments—has been cut by £71 million, or 34 per cent. They have to make up the rest from the sale of council houses.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

My hon. Friend refers to council house sales and capital allocations. What would he say to a local authority such as that in my constituency which, we understand from the orders, is expected to have capital receipts from council house sales of £8.346 million but which will be allowed to spend only £6.587 million on building new houses and on capital expenditure? That is a negative capital allocation. In view of the fact that East Lothian has more than its fair share of repossessions and subsequent homelessness, why on earth are the Government taking money for house building away from it?

Mr. Maxton

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I was coming to that point. The most ridiculous aspect is that eight local authorities in Scotland now have a minus net allocation. Their gross allocation is less than what the Government expect them to obtain from the sale of council houses. Perhaps the Government will say what happens to the surplus money. Where does it go? Who is allowed to spend it? Does it go to the Exchequer? That would be ridiculous as it is a local priority to spend the money.

The Minister and I were members of the Committee that dealt with the Bill which introduced the right to buy. I remember the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), and his junior Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), saying that the great thing about the right to buy was that local authorities would have more money to spend on housing. The money received was to be an extra, not taken off local authorities' other allocations. If the local authorities sold houses, they would at least have extra money to spend. However, that is not what is happening. The receipts have now become a substitute for spending consents rather than an addition. Eight authorities in Scotland are now in the ludicrous position of having to sell more council houses to get more money than they are being allowed to spend.

We are in the middle of a major economic recession and the private housing sector is on the verge of collapse. How are people who face unemployment and short-time working suddenly going to be able to buy their council houses if they did not do so previously? The impact of the most recent increases in discounts is rapidy wearing off and the Government's latest announcement is a major blow to local authorities and their tenants. Housing departments cannot plan their repair and redevelopment programmes on this basis, let alone start building new houses.

The orders and capital allocations will do nothing to help to solve Scotland's housing problems. In particular, they will do nothing to help the growing number of homeless people. The Minister has made great play of the £7 million. As I said, there is a cut in capital allocations of £71 million. The way to solve the problem of homelessness is to bring the empty houses about which he is so concerned back into use by redeveloping them, to get rid of the dampness and to allocate them to homeless people.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and 1nverclyde (Mr. Graham) said, the orders do not help people facing repossession of their homes by mortgage companies because they cannot afford the payments. I recently wrote to the Minister about the problem and asked him to give extra resources to local authorities in the form of capital allocations—that is nothing more than the right to borrow—so that more local authorities could take up the excellent scheme piloted by Clackmannan district council. It is worth quoting the Minister's reply. It states: It is true that I have welcomed the Clackmannan scheme but it is important to remember that that district council have chosen to commit their own resources to that scheme in the light of their judgment of local needs and priorities. It is open to other local authorities to do likewise within the existing level of resources available to them. The Minister is nodding. Thus he is saying that any money for such schemes must come from the same capital allocations which he has savagely cut this year. In other words, local authorities must choose between using the money to help someone facing repossession, and redeveloping a damp house and getting rid of the dampness, or perhaps building sheltered housing, rewiring the houses and doing other works on them. That is a farce, and the Minister knows it.

The Minister went on to say: Individuals entered freely into their mortgage commitments and it would be inappropriate for the public sector to provide additional resources to assist anyone who got into difficulty. That was said by a Minister who, with his colleagues, has for 13 years bribed, cajoled and blackmailed people into buying their homes—a Minister whose Government's only housing policy has been obsessively to foster home ownership. Now, like Pontius Pilate, he wants to wash his hands of the problems that he has created. He is happy to allow local authorities to use their scarce resources to help, but he stands aside and does nothing.

As I have said, the one ray of hope in the debate is that this is the last time that the Minister will stand at that Dispatch Box presenting a housing support grant order. The sooner the election comes the better, so that we can begin the task of bringing sanity and concern back to Scottish housing.

11.6 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

We have just listened to the standard speech that we hear regularly from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). Perhaps when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, he will tell the House how much public money is spent on housing in Scotland. It is important to understand that local authorities are not the only providers of housing in Scotland. Vast sums of public money go into other areas—I include housing benefit, because that is taxpayers' money that goes straight into the housing coffers, to the benefit of the individuals who qualify. It is public money.

As in our other debates with them, the Opposition deal in what I call Monopoly money, or fairy tale money. Opposition Members talk about how they will spend it and what they will do, but when they are asked how they will finance their plans they find that they cannot give us straight and relevant answers.

I welcome my hon. Friend's initiative on empty properties. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have felt for many years that too many properties in the control of Scottish local authorities remained empty for far too long. I have mentioned the housing developments in my home town of Dundee before, and I do so again, because those developments have pioneered ideas of what to do with properties that people did not previously want to live in. Such initiatives require support.

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Member for Cathcart acknowledges that the Government and the local authority are collaborating in his constituency so that unpopular properties in which people did not want to live may be renovated and brought back into use. That is a sensible use of resources.

I welcome the Government's recognition that, if we are to deal with the problem of homelessness, funds must be allocated specifically for the task. It is fairly clear that, if the funds were allocated generally, with local authorities left to make the decisions, they would not give homelessness the priority that they could and should have done—they have not done so in the past.

That is also true of the way in which local authorities refused over many years to acknowledge defects in houses. At one time they pretended that defects did not exist. Conservative Members, and some other hon. Members who have taken a direct interest in such matters, know that some local authorities pretended that conditions such as dampness did not exist. We discovered that a long time ago, when we carried out an inquiry into dampness. Until we exposed the problems, local authorities were telling us that there were none.

Mr. Graham

What could they do?

Mr. Walke

r: What could be done? The hon. Gentleman must be aware of the scale of the problem and the fact that we did not have direct control of decision making. That is why I welcome the £7.5 million being allocated positively for specific projects. For too long we allowed the decisions to be made locally. Sadly, that did not operate to the benefit of the people, partly because of policies that, at the time, were deemed to keep rents down for everyone. That is why I have always—I make no apology for this—said that I welcome the use of housing benefit as a means of directing funds to those in need, thus preventing the funds going to those not in need. That is the proper way to help people in need.

Mr. Maxton

What about mortgage tax relief?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman mentions mortgage tax relief. He has never understood the difference between allowing people to keep their own money and spending taxpayers' money. The hon. Gentleman has no understanding of finance and he makes that clear every time that he speaks. That is why I believe that, contrary to what he thinks, my hon. Friend the Minister will be on the Front Bench for a long time.

11.10 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister, who is usually courteous in giving way, refused to give way to me in his opening remarks. I can only think that he was afraid—not of the figures in the order, but of the figure of 1,234, which is his majority over the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh, West.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has set out to the House the basic figures which form the backdrop to our debate. They show the drop, if one takes inflation into account, of £71 million in the cash available for investment in public housing in Scotland.

That is happening when, as has already been said, homelessness is rising, and it is widely accepted that the quality of housing and the number of houses below tolerable standard in Scotland have been grossly underestimated for many years. One need only think of the report last month from the Public Accounts Committee. In the 44 per cent. of Scottish housing surveyed, the number of houses deemed to be below tolerable standard was up to the level on which the Scottish Office had operated in respect of Scotland as a whole.

Against that background, we are discussing a further cut in the resources available to our local authorities for housing. In the housing support grant itself, there is a reduction of 14 per cent. and there is a reduction of 34 per cent. in the net capital consents for 1992–93.

I repeat the question put by the hon. Member for Cathcart. The Government expect an increase in the sales of council houses in the next year. On what basis are the estimates made? Can the Minister also tell us, for the most recent year for which figures are available, how the receipts compare with what the Government estimated for the year ahead? Judging from the local authority representations made to my hon. Friends and from a letter from Ettrick and Lauderdale district council to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the local authorities cannot see how, especially at a time of recession and repossessions, people will make the financial commitment to buy their own houses. The Minister owes it to the House to explain how the figures have been arrived at.

Homelessness is a growing problem. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) mentioned a figure of 34,500. That is the number of households that, in 1990–91, applied to the local authority as homeless under the statutory provisions. The number of people who are homeless is far greater than that. Some 84 children per working day have been made homeless in the most recent year for which figures are available. That is intolerable. Yet, against that background, we get fewer resources for local authorities to meet the challenge of housing.

Hon. Members may think that I am fortunate, because both islands councils in my constituency are receiving some housing support grant, which is more than can be said for some local authorities in Scotland. In Orkney, where there has been a waiting list increase of 30 per cent. in the last five years and where, because of high rents in the private sector, more and more people are looking to the local authority to provide housing to let at costs which can be afforded, there is a reduction of £200,000 in housing support grant for the coming year. That has prompted a doubling of the rent increase initially proposed for Orkney tenants. The council has a relatively small debt, yet it believes that, because of its prudence in trying to keep the debt down, it is being penalised.

The question that I wanted to ask the Minister, when he would not give way, applies to my constituency and to that of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). It is estimated that, in the islands, building costs are 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. higher than in mainland Scotland. The Minister said that £526 per house had been taken into acount for repair and maintenance costs. COSLA believes that the amount being spent this year is £541 per house. Even allowing for the grand gesture of the 15 per cent. increase, it will still not meet what is being spent per house in 1991–92. If we take inflation into account, the amount is estimated to go up to £602 per house. Grossed up, there is a shortfall of £53 million.

The Minister referred to an average. In the islands, I am talking about costs which are 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. above the average. There is nothing in the report which goes with the order to show that any consideration has been given to those substantially higher building costs. I hope that the Minister will respond to that when he replies to the debate.

In the case of Shetland, there is £4.59 for housing support grant, mostly reflecting the high debt charges which occurred as a result of the enormous building programme which Shetland islands council had to incur to meet the challenge of the oil industry and the terminal coming to Sullom Voe. That programme was carried out on behalf of the nation, but the debt charges continue.

The total capital consents for the HRA allocation for Shetland this year are only 70 per cent. of what was requested. Having been prudent in times past, and having tried to make realistic assessments of the housing programme, the council is being penalised. Before the storms of 1 January, the council had already realised that those living in caravans would have to be rehoused in better accommodation, yet the resources being made available will hardly help the council to start to address that problem, although it will make every effort to do so.

No doubt the Minister will recognise that weather conditions in the islands are another contributory factor to the higher building costs, because higher standards are needed to withstand the weather. To date, the Minister has responded in negative terms to the appeals for an increase in the capital allocations, both for the housing revenue account and for the non-HRA capital consents. He has indicated that the matter may be considered sympathetically if more money is available later.

I stress that considerable costs will be incurred even when insurance has been taken into account. I think I am right in saying that a cost of £500 per house has to be met by the council before the damage is covered by insurance. That will lead to a substantial cost. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind should resources become available.

On homelessness, £7 million has been set aside for specific projects. As the hon. Member for Cathcart has pointed out, it is being taken away with one hand and given back with the other. No doubt that was done with a fanfare to pretend that the Government are trying to do something about homelessness.

I stand corrected if I am wrong—I hope that I am wrong—but it has been put to me that some of the projects which the Minister has said have to be submitted by local authorities must be projects which are not already in their capital programmes. One wonders what the Scottish Office thinks local authorities are doing if they are not already trying their best to make provision for the homeless and to cover some of those things in their capital programmes.

The Minister is encouraging some projects to be taken out and resubmitted so that specific funds identified for homelessness can be put forward, and trying to give the impression that the Government care about homelessness. We know, and the figures show beyond any shadow of doubt, that, as the crisis of homelessness mounts in urban and rural areas in Scotland, the Government's response has been to cut, cut and cut expenditure again. That has been a policy of failure over the past 12 years. For the sake of the homeless, if for no one else, the sooner the Government go the better.

11.20 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

Once again, we have had to listen to the Minister's complacent view of the Scottish housing scene. He places rose-tinted spectacles on his nose and gives us the view that his Department is available only to those who enter the Scottish Office and see matters from its point of view.

I wish to refer to the city of Glasgow and the people whom I represent. Time and again, the people of the city of Glasgow are hammered by the Government's housing policies. We have some of the worst housing conditions in the developed world, yet that is not bad enough for the Minister. He is concerned with inflicting continuing pain and suffering. Last September, he announced that, for 1992–93, housing support grant would not be given to local authorities for rents lost through houses being empty if the total amount lost was more than 2.5 per cent. of rental income. Glasgow's housing department estimates that for 1992–93 it will have 5.7 per cent. voids, or an average of 7,700 houses—a lost-rents budget of more than £10.5 million. That is not through choice.

The Scottish Office has said that the total amount of housing support grant withdrawn will be about £1.7 million—that is the total for the whole of Scotland—of which no less than £1.6 million will be borne by the city of Glasgow. That alone will add about 24p a week to the average rent of council tenants in Glasgow. That angers people in the housing department, because almost half the total voids in the city exist not because the council does not want to let them but as a result of tenants' decants, improvements, demolitions or transfers to developers or co-operatives. People are particularly angered because the Scottish Office enthusiastically supports the initiatives. It is no wonder that housing department officials in Glasgow, as well as councils, are incensed that the Minister is using housing support grant to penalise the council for pursuing initiatives.

The Minister's arguments are utterly perverse. He reduces subsidy as a means of penalising the city of Glasgow for carrying out the housing strategy which the Government purport to support. That contradiction in terms is compounded, first, because Glasgow has been making determined attempts to reduce those voids. The council reduced the total number of voids in its stock—the empty houses by 11 per cent. over the past year.

Secondly, it reduced the total number of lettable voids—the Minister will appreciate the differentiation between total voids and those that are lettable—by 27 per cent. over the past year. The council is improving its position, yet it is still being hammered.

The third reason why that inflicted reduction is a disgrace is that it is shot through with hypocrisy. At the same time as councils have been told that they must limit their voids to 2.5 per cent.—they are being hammered if they do not—an entirely different approach or a more relaxed regime is being applied to Scottish Homes. I have in my possession a letter from Mr. Peter McKinlay, the chief executive of Scottish Homes, in which he admits—he has no secret to hide—that as at 29 December 1991 we had 2,016 houses void out of a total directly factored stock of 56,248 houses. That comes to 3.7 per cent. of Scottish Homes' stock, but no action has been taken against it; there is no restriction on what it can spend. It is a matter of double standards: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I hope that the Minister will make some attempt to explain that appalling situation and say why Glasgow and other authorities—Clydebank and Shetland are the other two—are kept in that position while Scottish Homes is allowed to get away with it. It is utter hypocrisy. I shall happily let the Minister answer that point now, if he wishes.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the portable discount scheme which Scottish Homes operates has been made available to tenants who live in tied houses? He should bear that factor in mind.

Mr. Watson

I am glad that the Minister mentioned the portable discount scheme, because this letter goes on to talk about it, and it might interest him. He has not, of course, answered my question. Evidently, the portable discount scheme is so popular that the total number of sales in Scotland under the scheme was 12 in 1989–90, 74 in 1990–91 and 32 to date. That is hardly any explanation whatever of the preferential situation, and it is not a fair comparison.

We should give the Minister some credit. He had, we understand, a distinguished record in his earlier years as a boxer. That is something for which he might well take credit. I suggest that he can take absolutely no credit now for this situation where the Marquess of Queensberry's rules have been cast aside. In a boxing match, if a boxer knocks someone down he is forced to retreat; the Minister advances on people that he has knocked down and he puts the boot in good and proper.

I wish to give one personal example which I came across a week ago. Mrs. Brenda McDonald, who lives in Queen Elizabeth square in the Gorbals, suffers the most appalling housing conditions one can imagine. Dampness is rife, wallpaper hangs off the walls and two of the four rooms are utterly uninhabitable. Her children had been sent home from school because their clothes were smelling. They did not smell because they were dirty. Mrs. McDonald is scrupulous in cleaning them, and it takes days to dry washing in the house that she is forced to occupy. They smelled of the dampness that pervades that house, and it almost made me sick when I visited her.

Those are the conditions in which the people in Glasgow are living, but that is completely ignored by the type of story that we heard from the Minister this evening. It is simply not good enough. Of course, this is his last appearance at the Dispatch Box, but when will he understand housing in Scotland? He shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding. He inhabits a different world. When the election comes, the people of Scotland will show what they think of his performance.

11.26 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

As an hon. Member for Edinburgh, the Minister should be well aware of the housing crisis in Edinburgh. The scale of homelessness in Scotland is a national scandal, and nowhere is it worse than in the capital city itself. Time and again I have experience in my surgery of people with the most desperate housing circumstances, people who, 15 years ago, I know, would have been offered council housing without difficulty but who now find it impossible to get a house.

The underlying reasons for that are the failure of public investment in housing stock, the failure of the Government to provide adequate support for housing in Edinburgh and the selling-off of council houses without them being replaced by other public sector houses.

In 1979–80 Edinburgh received over £11 million in housing support grant. That was phased out within a few years, and for a considerable number of years we have had no housing support grant—I will come to the hostel support grant, to which the Minister referred, in a minute. That £11 million in 1979–80 would have bought a lot more housing and paid for a lot more building work than one could ever get today for that money. I asked the Minister how much that was in 1991–92 prices, and it is £26 million. That is a measure of the shortfall: £26 million at current prices that we were receiving in 1979–80 in housing support grant. When this is multiplied over, say, a 10-year period, it comes to £260 million. That is an indication of the lack of support for public sector housing in Edinburgh.

The Minister spoke about the hostel support grant which he now provides to Edinburgh. It is quite inadequate. The Minister may refer to the high revenue costs of the proposed third hostel in Randolph crescent. That hostel will be in addition to the hostels at Leith and Greyfriars. The hostel support grant that the Minister plans to provide in the next financial year will hardly be enough to pay the revenue costs of the two existing hostels. I appeal to the Minister to face up to that and at the minimum to give sympathetic consideration to the representations that he has already received from Edinburgh district council about an increase in that small housing support grant for hostels.

With regard to the housing revenue capital allocation, we in Edinburgh have a real grievance in respect of the provisional gross allocation for 1992–93. Edinburgh does not believe that it has any chance of achieving the targets for receipts. In recent years Edinburgh has broadly hit its targets, but it believes that it has no chance of achieving the Government's targets in 1992–93. By any test the gross provisional allocation represents a cut. In real terms, housing revenue block provisional allocation will represent a cut.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

How does the hon. Gentleman believe that I could justify spending 20 times more than the national average—20 times more than on anywhere else in Scotland—on the hostel at Randolph crescent?

Mr. Strang

If the Minister wants to sit down and talk to representatives of the district council about the costs of running that hostel, that would be fine. No doubt he could ask his officials to do that. However, the proposed money is not even sufficient for the other two hostels. There is nothing in the proposed hostel grant for the next financial year for the third hostel because the money is only sufficient for the first two. The Minister may not want to cover the total costs of running the third hostel, but surely the Government could at least increase the figure as a contribution towards the running of that hostel.

The Minister must be aware of the disgraceful situation in relation to the modernisation of our older tenements in Edinburgh and the utterly inadequate allocation for repairs and improvement grants. The Minister's gross allocation for that in 1992-93 is £24 million. No less than £12 million of that has been earmarked for the pre-1984 application backlog. A further £9 million has been allocated for the backlog in 1993–94.

Even in housing action areas like Portobello in my constituency, people who were assured that their repair grants would be paid in the current year have had their works halted. There are cuts in this year's repairs and improvements which are desperately required and which should be going ahead.

The test in relation to the improvement grants is how many houses have been improved. I received a parliamentary answer to a question that I tabled last November. It shows that in 1989–90 the average number of dwellings that received modernisations and improvements was 538. In the previous three years the average was 776.

Over the past two years when I have spoken to officials and my constituents I have said that, just as in the run-up to the 1987 election, in the run-up to this election we will find that the money will start to flow and with a bit of luck we might get more repairs and improvements. In fact, the opposite has happened: the money has not been made available. One of the most effective ways of getting building workers off the dole—there are many who are in that position in Edinburgh—is to step up improvement and repair grants.

The Government must accept a large share of the responsibility for the housing disaster in Edinburgh because of their failure to provide the financial support that the district council has warranted.

11.35 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I wish to make only a short contribution to the debate. I have been the leader of a local authority, I served within local government for 16 years and for many years I was a housing chairman.

I have spent a great deal of time in Scotland—even the new year—and I have seen much badly designed and ugly municipal housing as I have travelled within the country. In some areas there is a high density of population and badly maintained housing stock. Council tenants have rights, and someone must speak up for those tenants whether they live in Scotland, England or Wales. If resources come from central Government and the housing stock is not managed properly—for example, painting properties and repairing gutters regularly—what happens?

When several years pass and it is decided that the properties should be painted, the workmen say, "We can't paint these window frames and those doors because the wood has rotted. That has happened because they have been neglected for so long." They are then neglected for another few years, but in the end it costs a great deal—more than regular maintenance would have cost—to repair the doors and windows.

The answer is not always to throw resources at a problem. The problem often lies with local councillors and local government officers who let down council tenants by not using the resources which are provided to undertake the work for which they were earmarked.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dickens

I shall not give way because I want to be brief.

There are many—particularly Opposition Members—who would like to condemn people to live in council houses for the rest of their lives, to pay rent until they are in their graves and to have nothing to sell so that they can leave money to their children or be in a position to buy a retirement home. I often wonder whether part of the hidden agenda is to abolish home ownership. I have suspected that for some time, and the electorate should be warned.

Scottish Members should stop moaning about the resources that Scotland is given. Tell local councillors and local government officers to use the moneys for what they were intended. Council tenants have rights, and if they are withheld we shall fail those people and the people of Scotland generally.

11.37 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I am disappointed that the Minister has once again attacked local authorities throughout Scotland, and especially Glasgow district council. He spoke of houses that are lying empty, but he must know that many tenants want some houses to remain empty so that there is a choice of housing. If there are no vacant houses and a family suddenly becomes homeless, or a property is destroyed in a storm, only hostel accommodation will be available, not decent housing.

The Minister is a former councillor and he must know that when tenants see their councillor or Member they do not say, "I want a local authority house." They express a wish for a local authority house in the community in which they were born and in which their mothers and fathers have remained. There are some who want sheltered housing while others want multi-storey dwellings or a property with a garden in which their children can play. It stands to reason that, if a local authority is a responsible authority, there is bound to be some empty housing stock.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) was right to say that the Government have asked Glasgow and many other authorities to become involved in new housing initiatives. Sometimes they mean demolition, and there will have to be decanting until the co-operatives that my hon. Friend has in Castlemilk are ready. In my limited experience of local government, the only way that there can be decanting of property is by having some empty housing stock. Glasgow has property such as Easterhouse and Drumchapel, which were built at the time of the Wheatley housing reforms.

The then Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, said that he would build so many houses a week. He forced local authorities to build houses, many of which were not traditional in structure. Many of my constituents have taken up the right-to-buy option. In one case, the Government had to buy back the properties because they had been built with aluminium. There was such corrosion in those dwellings that it was only fair that the Government should buy them back. When those houses fall down around the tenants—and they will—the local authority will have to rehouse them. They will say, "We have been 20 years in this area, and we want decent housing." The Minister must be fair.

I am a little sick of hearing the Minister and Conservative Members saying that, where there are rent rises—there will be rent rises in Glasgow because of the Government's decision—they will look after the people in need through the rent rebate system. I do not want to mention anyone's name, because I do not have permission to do so, but there is a railway driver living around the corner from me. He is out at 3 am, sometimes at 5 am, and sometimes at 2 pm the following day. He works whatever overtime he can get. His wife works hard in a local newsagent shop. They are not entitled to rebate. When there is a rent rise, couples like that are hit. They work hard to get something extra for the family, to have a decent holiday or perhaps to put their children through further education.

The sneaky thing about the order is that it will be Glasgow district council that will get the blame for the rent rises, not the Minister or the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Every official to whom I have spoken has said that, because of the Government's decision, services will decline. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of law and order. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) is always talking about law and order. I have more multi-storey dwellings in my constituency than any other hon. Member. Old-age pensioners are frightened because there is no concierge service.

Mr. Dickens

Who built those houses?

Mr. Martin

I do not want to digress, but the houses were built because the local authority was put under pressure when the then Tory Government said, "Build multi-storey dwellings if you want support grant." Both the Government and the local authority built those dwellings.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Who got the profits?

Mr. Martin

That is another story.

No matter who built those dwellings, pensioners are frightened, and they would appreciate the protection of a concierge service. They will not get it, because of the Minister's statement tonight.

Every police officer to whom I have spoken has said that street lighting and communal lighting is important in the prevention of crime. The housing authority is responsible for communal lighting, and I know that if the proposal is adopted, when the lighting fails on a Friday night, it will not be returned for the pensioners until Monday—if they are lucky.

We are all committed to improving services for tenants regardless of whether they are owner-occupiers or council tenants. However, we can never achieve that objective if the Government keep squeezing local authorities who are dedicated to improving services. The most important requirement after heat and food is a decent home. The facts show that 90 per cent. of our problems relate to housing. It is important that everyone has a decent home, and the Minister should provide that.

11.46 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) referred to his home town of Dundee, which he has now left—to the great delight of Dundonians across the city. He paid tribute to the pioneering work that has been carried out by the Labour council in Dundee, and I think that he was referring to the Whitfield partnership between central Government and local government, and the private sector. I agree with the hon. Member that the council and central Government should be congratulated on the work that has been carried out in the Whitfield district.

However, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention that the work was made possible by huge injections of public cash. All that work required massive public investment by central Government and local government—which is precisely what the order does not allow. Setting up housing co-ops and refurbishing and modernising blocks requires public investment. Even if the private sector is to start to build houses, it will require grants, and blocks will have to be demolished and land given over to it at virtually no cost.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Whitfield, it is that the housing problems facing the people of Scotland will not be tackled effectively until the Government release the resources to enable councils to begin to do so-something which all Conservative Members and Ministers ignore time and time again.

There are only four partnership districts in Scotland, and they were set up not as trail blazers for what would happen across Scotland in future, but as window dressing. They provide Ministers with somewhere to take the press and media, so that they can turn up for half an hour or an hour in the morning, have their picture taken beside the latest improvement and then disappear. Outside those partnership districts, the housing conditions are disgraceful—there is dampness and disrepair everywhere. The Government ignore those problems, as they can show off the partnership districts to the media.

The Secretary of State's report accompanying the order referred to the aggregate amount of housing support grant being the difference between two estimates that the Secretary of State for Scotland has to make: first, the eligible expenditure for a housing authority and, secondly, the likely relevant income. The formula was applied to Dundee, and the Secretary of State concluded that Dundee's income exceeded its eligible expenditure, so Dundee should not receive any housing support grant.

There is nothing new in that fact. Dundee has not received any housing support grant since 1982–83. In every one of nine years, Dundee has been denied that grant by the Government because the Secretary of State for Scotland always estimates that the income going into the housing revenue account was more than the council needed to spend in the Dundee district.

The Minister has been round Dundee with me and looked at the terrible housing problems it faces. He has been to districts such as Mid-Craigie and Beechwood, and he knows perfectly that there is a crying need for further investment in those areas. The only reason that the council does not spend money on those districts is that they do not have it—it has been denied them by the Government. However, the Minister can ignore that reality because he has a neat and tidy formula contained in the rate support grant order which allows him to persuade himself that Dundee has more money than it needs when, in reality, it does not have nearly enough money to do what is required.

According to the order, the estimated expenditure on repairs and maintenance per house should be £396.43. People in Dundee would be very pleased to be told that, in the coming year, the council would be able to spend that amount on their houses; but the reality is very different. Apart from the cost of repairs and maintenance, the council must meet the repayments on the capital building carried out in previous years. That means that there is far less to spend on improvements.

Government legislation also prevents Dundee district council from carrying out improvements that it wishes to make to certain properties. The Minister will know—because I have written to him about it—that, as a result of the Government's right-to-buy policy, communal properties exist where owner-occupiers and council tenants live side by side.

The Government are aware of the problems that can arise in such circumstances. They know that, when essential repairs and maintenance have to be carried out, owner-occupiers are legally obliged to bear their share of the cost incurred by the council. If they refused, they could be taken to court and forced to pay. That obligation, however, does not extend to the cost of improvements.

In a recent case in Dundee, damp was invading a number of deck-access blocks with flat roofs, and the council decided to install pitched roofs instead. One owner-occupier, however, did not simply refuse to pay his share; he could not pay. The council sought legal advice, but discovered that it could not take the owner-occupier to court. The court would not have found in its favour, because the law obliged owner-occupiers to pay their share only of essential repair and maintenance costs. The council considered paying the owner-occupier's share itself, but was told that it had not the legal authority to do so. Thus, the Government have prevented the council from improving the block concerned: it is a shambles and a disgrace.

I wrote to the Minister, asking him what he was going to do about the matter. He replied with a lot of waffle that had nothing to do with the problem; the problem itself he dealt with in a single sentence: I am not in a position to comment on the District Council's decision, which I know has been taken in the light of legal advice. The Minister is walking away from his responsibilities. Some of my hon. Friends have pointed out that this is his last opportunity to speak from the Dispatch Box on a housing support grant order, but I will go further: it is the last opportunity that any Minister will have. There will be a general election in a few months' time, and there will be a Labour Government after that general election—and a Scottish Parliament.

11.52 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall look into the points made by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) about Scottish Homes' empty stock. I should make the general point that the final allocations in previous years have been substantially up on the provisional allocations. What hon. Members have said will be taken into account, however, and I am happy to see any hon. Member who has legitimate points to make about matters of pressing urgency.

As for the homelessness allocations, we shall take very seriously what all bidding authorities say in their representations, and we shall announce the allocations as soon as possible so that the necessary steps can be taken. As a result of the bids already received earlier this year, some 700 units have been provided for homeless people. We believe that that figure can be more than doubled, and that it will be generally welcomed in Scotland.

I was asked why Dundee does not receive housing support grant. Dundee's outstanding capital debt per house is only £3,814, which is well below the Scottish average of £5,052.

Several hon. Members asked about empty housing. We believe that the 2.5 per cent. rents-lost assumption makes reasonable allowance for temporary vacancies during redevelopment, as in Castlemilk and other parts of Glasgow. The effect of the change in the method of housing support grant calculation is relatively small. In Glasgow's case it will involve 13p a week on Glasgow's rents. I have told the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that I am willing to consider the points that it wishes to put on empty houses when making the housing support grant settlement for the year thereafter.

Three factors must be borne in mind this year in respect of final allocations and receipts. The first is rising receipts; the second is that spending per council house should be maintained: and the third is that there are 26,000 fewer council houses than there were last year. If our estimates of receipts are found to be incorrect—in previous years they have been found to be cautious and underestimates—and a supplementary allocation is made, we always take that into account and do our utmost to make sure that those authorities which, through no fault of their own, have a shortfall benefit.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have only one more minute left. If the hon. Lady wishes to see me, I shall be happy to meet her and listen to her representations.

The estimate for receipts in 1991–92 was £243 million. The actual amount received was £280 million. The outturn was very much higher than expected. I strongly believe that that will happen this year. Our position is strong and creditable. Since the Conservatives came to power, 240,000 houses have been built in Scotland, but I must make it—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 ( Exempted Business).

The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 138.

Division No 51] [11.56 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Harris, David
Allason, Rupert Hawkins, Christopher
Amess, David Hayes, Jerry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Arnold, Sir Thomas Heathcoat-Amory, David
Ashby, David Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Atkins, Robert Hill, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Hind, Kenneth
Batiste, Spencer Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bellingham, Henry Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hunter, Andrew
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Irvine, Michael
Boswell, Tim Jack, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Janman, Tim
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Jessel, Toby
Bowis, John Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Buck, Sir Antony Knapman, Roger
Burt, Alistair Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Butler, Chris Knowles, Michael
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Knox, David
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Carrington, Matthew Latham, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Lawrence, Ivan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Chapman, Sydney Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Chope, Christopher Lightbown, David
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Conway, Derek Lord, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Couchman, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gran, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Day, Stephen McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Devlin, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Mans, Keith
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Marland, Paul
Dover, Den Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Dunn, Bob Maude, Hon Francis
Durant, Sir Anthony Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin
Dykes, Hugh Meyer, Sir Anthony
Emery, Sir Peter Miller, Sir Hal
Evennett, David Mills, lain
Fallon, Michael Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Favell, Tony Mitchell, Sir David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Moate, Roger
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Monro, Sir Hector
Fishburn, John Dudley Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Morrison, Sir Charles
Fox, Sir Marcus Neale, Sir Gerrard
Franks, Cecil Nelson, Anthony
Freeman, Roger Neubert, Sir Michael
French, Douglas Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Gale, Roger Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Norris, Steve
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Paice, James
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Patnick, Irvine
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Porter, David (Waveney)
Gregory, Conal Portillo, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Powell, William (Corby)
Grist, Ian Price, Sir David
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Raffan, Keith
Hague, William Redwood, John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hannam, Sir John Riddick, Graham
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Rowe, Andrew
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover) Walden, George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Waller, Gary
Stevens, Lewis Ward, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Watts, John
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wheeler, Sir John
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitney, Ray
Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Valley) Widdecombe, Ann
Widdecombe, Ann
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Nicholas
Thornton, Malcolm Wood, Timothy
Thurnham, Peter Yeo, Tim
Townend, John (Bridlington) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tredinnick, David
Trippier, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Trotter, Neville Mr. David Davis, and
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Timothy Kirkhope
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Alton, David Dewar, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dixon, Don
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Doran, Frank
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Douglas, Dick
Battle, John Dunnachie, Jimmy
Beckett, Margaret Eadie, Alexander
Bradley, Keith Eastham, Ken
Bray, Dr Jeremy Enright, Derek
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Evans, John (St Helens N)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Caborn, Richard Fisher, Mark
Callaghan, Jim Foster, Derek
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Foulkes, George
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fyfe, Maria
Canavan, Dennis Galloway, George
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) George, Bruce
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clelland, David Golding, Mrs Llin
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Graham, Thomas
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cox, Tom Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cryer, Bob Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cummings, John Grocott, Bruce
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hardy, Peter
Dalyell, Tam Haynes, Frank
Darling, Alistair Hinchliffe, David
Home Robertson, John O'Hara, Edward
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Parry, Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Patchett, Terry
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Illsley, Eric Primarolo, Dawn
Ingram, Adam Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, leuan (Ynys MOn) Reid, Dr John
Kennedy, Charles Robertson, George
Kilfoyle, Peter Rogers, Allan
Kirkwood, Archy Rooney, Terence
Lamond, James Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leadbitter, Ted Salmond, Alex
Leighton, Ron Skinner, Dennis
Lewis, Terry Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Litherland, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Soley, Clive
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Spearing, Nigel
Loyden, Eddie Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
McAllion, John Steinberg, Gerry
McCartney, Ian Stephen, Nicol
McCrea, Rev William Stott, Roger
Macdonald, Calum A. Strang, Gavin
McFall, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McKelvey, William Turner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Vaz, Keith
McWilliam, John Wallace, James
Madden, Max Walley, Joan
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Martlew, Eric Wigley, Dafydd
Maxton, John Wilson, Brian
Meale, Alan Winnick, David
Michael, Alun Wise, Mrs Audrey
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Worthington, Tony
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wray, Jimmy
Morgan, Rhodri Young, David (Bolton SE)
Mowlam, Marjorie
Mullin, Chris Tellers for the Noes:
Nellist, Dave Mr. Robert N. Wareing and
O'Brien, William Mr. Thomas McAvoy.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.