HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc768-94 7.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson)

I beg to move, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1997, which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved.

This is the annual opportunity for the House to debate the housing support grant order. The debate provides an opportunity to consider not only the detail of the orders, but wider issues relating to housing and housing finance.

The order provides that the total level of housing support grant payable to Scottish local authorities next year will be £15.2 million. Grant for mainstream council housing totalling £11.9 million will be paid to three authorities-Highland, Shetland and Western Isles. Broadly speaking, that 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. Its purpose and the assumptions used are explained in detail in the report that accompanies the order.

The housing support grant order also includes an element—the hostels portion—that provides a contribution towards the running costs of local authority hostels for the homeless. Hostels grant will total £3.3 million to be paid to 20 authorities across Scotland, which will help to support around 2,300 places for homeless persons.

The 1997–98 grant calculations assumed expenditure of £834 per house on the management and maintenance of the housing stock. This represents an 8.2 per cent. increase over the equivalent figure for the current year, and brings the estimate into line with authorities' actual expenditure in 1996–97. For the purpose of the housing support grant formula, the assumed average standard rent for next year has been increased by only 2 per cent., to £39.38 per week, in line with the general rate of inflation.

I should also stress that that is not a forecast of rent levels, nor is it a guideline or recommendation; it is simply an assumption used solely for the grant calculation. Actual rents charged by authorities are, of course, a matter for local decision, and with so few authorities now qualifying for grant in respect of their housing costs, subsidy decisions have little impact on these decisions.

I understand that some authorities propose to increase rents well ahead of inflation. It will be for them to justify those increases to their tenants. Local authorities should consider very carefully the consequences for tenants of increasing rents substantially. I remind the House that the average local authority rent in Scotland in the current year, at £31.28 per week, is well below the English equivalent of £40.06.

As hon. Members will be aware, housing support grant has declined steadily since the early 1980s, in line with the Government's policy of moving away from such indiscriminate subsidies and targeting resources towards those tenants who are most in need through the housing benefit system. In the current year, it is estimated that council house tenants in Scotland who are unable to afford the full cost of their housing will receive rent rebates totalling £587 million. Housing benefit assistance will continue to be available for those who need help with their housing costs.

With only three authorities now qualifying for grant in respect of their mainstream housing, exploratory discussions have taken place with Shetland, the Western Isles and Highland councils with a view to reducing their housing debt to manageable levels and thereby removing the on-going need for HSG subsidy. Those discussions culminated in my right hon. Friend's announcement on Budget day of the Government's intention to commute a portion of the housing debt of the three councils.

The proposal is to convert the annual HSG subsidy paid to the councils into a capital grant and use that money to reduce the councils' outstanding debt to a level where they will no longer require subsidy. The on-going cost of servicing the debt would be offset against future HSG provision.

Rather than continuing to operate the current rather cumbersome HSG procedures for only three authorities, the Government consider that the early redemption of debt would be a more efficient use of available resources. The debt redemption proposals would place the housing revenue accounts of the three authorities on a firmer footing. Subject to detailed negotiations with the three councils, we would hope to redeem the debt before the end of the 1997–98 financial year.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

Will the Minister give an assurance that agreement will be reached with the councils, and that no formula or solution will be imposed upon them?

Mr. Robertson

I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. That is why we are not acting right away: we want to talk to the councils and take them with us every step of the way.

I also draw the attention of the House to the question of general fund contributions. Such contributions represent a subsidy from council tax payers to council tenants. Like HSG, this kind of subsidy is indiscriminate, in that it benefits all tenants regardless of their personal circumstances. It is also unnecessary, as tenants who are unable to meet the costs of their housing receive assistance in the form of housing benefit.

Therefore, as has been the case in recent years, the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1997, which was laid before the House on 3 February, prevents authorities from budgeting to make general fund contributions to the housing revenue account next year.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Minister provide an assurance that he will be sympathetic to the representations made by Inverclyde council? Not long ago, the Minister of State visited an area of Greenock that is bedevilled by very serious housing problems. There are equally grave housing problems elsewhere in Greenock and Port Glasgow. I hope that the Minister will treat those representations as sympathetically as his hon. Friend did some 18 months ago.

Mr. Robertson

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I treat sympathetically and sensitively all representations made to me.

I believe that the Government's proposals for housing support grant next year constitute a fair and reasonable subsidies package that balances the interests of the tenants, the council tax payer and the national taxpayer. I commend the order to the House.

7.22 pm
Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

The Conservative party has waged a vendetta against council housing for 18 years, culminating in the Minister's open admission that he wants to see every council house in Scotland sold off and transferred to the private sector. He claims that that should happen with the consent of tenants.

However, we can be absolutely certain that, if this Government were returned for a fifth term, they would put the screws on council tenants even tighter, and force them out of the council sector and into the hands of private landlords. That would not be considered if there had been a Labour Government or a Scottish Parliament for the past 18 years. Housing will be the responsibility of a Scottish Parliament, and Scottish people who are concerned about housing cannot wait for the return of a Labour Government and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament.

The facts about housing—particularly council housing—speak for themselves. Since 1979, there has been a net decline of 343,000 houses available for rent in Scotland. Last year, local authorities built only 308 new homes. At the same time, about 185,000 households are on local authority housing waiting lists, and the number of households applying to local authorities as homeless has more than doubled over 10 years, from 20,000 to more than 41,000. About 1,000 people sleep rough in Scotland each night.

Since the present Prime Minister took office nearly seven years ago, housing investment in Scotland has been cut by 39 per cent. in real terms. If investment since 1990 had simply kept pace with inflation, there would have been enough money to build an extra 26,500 affordable homes. The house condition survey was conducted during that period, and the facts it revealed are chillingly familiar: 95,000 houses in Scotland below the tolerable standard, 580,000 houses in urgent need of repair and 267,000 houses affected by dampness, including an estimated one in three council houses.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Is it not true that 18,000 homes were built in Scotland in each of the past three years? Is it not also projected that 130,000 homes will be required in the next 10 years? On that basis, are the Government not on target to meet anticipated need?

Mr. Chisholm

The hon. Gentleman should do his sums again. Average new build in the housing association and the council sector has averaged about 4,000 in each of the past 10 years, compared with an average of 12,000 a year under Labour in the 1970s.

Housing is also a health problem. I have the advantage of being responsible for the areas of housing and health, and I frequently point out in health debates that, if people did not live in cold, damp homes, it would have a beneficial effect on the health of the nation.

There is another reason why the distinction that the Secretary of State tries to make between health and local government is completely phoney. Local government is crucially involved in health delivery via community care, but also through housing and other areas that are very important when considering the causes of illness.

This order represents a further turn of the screw, with the housing support grant cut by more than 20 per cent. relative to last year. The order makes an unrealistic rent assumption of £39.36, which is 26 per cent. above the current average in Scotland. It also makes inadequate allowance for management and maintenance.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

This debate is intended to inform the House, so that we may have a sensible and rational discussion. The hon. Gentleman has criticised the level of the HSG order and the rent and management and maintenance assumptions that I have made. Will he give his figures in that regard, so that we may compare my proposals with his in the time available?

Mr. Chisholm

As in the local government debate, Ministers are trying to turn the Opposition Front Bench into the Government. We are nearing the end of 18 years of vicious, downward—spiralling cuts in housing—particularly council housing-and the next Government will clearly have difficulty addressing that situation quickly. The people of Scotland want to know only that our priorities in government are totally different from those of the Minister.

The Minister said openly that he wants to sell off all council houses in Scotland. We say quite clearly that council housing will remain central to our policy. The Conservatives want to pursue a privatisation agenda in Scotland, but we will take a twin-track approach: council housing will remain central, but we shall also support and encourage new housing partnerships in order to secure additional investment. Tenants will play a central and crucial role in those partnerships—the Government do not allow that under their local housing company proposals—and investment will be additional, rather than a cover for massive cuts, as has occurred under this Government.

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman obviously got a bit heated and carried away, but he did not answer my question. [Interruption.] I shall keep talking while the hon. Gentleman gets his lines from the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell), so that she does not need to whisper in his ear. Are we to take it that the Opposition are unwilling to tell us alternative figures to those in the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order, and that we shall therefore argue and debate blindly about what the Government intend to do, getting nothing in return from the Opposition?

Mr. Chisholm

Obviously, when we get into government, we shall have to examine very closely several factors that are relevant to housing. The first factor is the level of the public sector borrowing requirement and, alas, one of the problems that we shall need to confront is a public sector borrowing requirement of at least £26 billion.

If 1992 is anything to go by, the sum will be much larger, because then we were told that the PSBR would be £30 billion, and it was actually more than £45 billion. That is a serious onstraint—[Interruption.] I am answering the Minister's question, if he would contain himself. That is a serious constraint on any Government's housing policy. It is not the situation that we would choose to inherit, but I remind the Government that that public sector borrowing requirement was run up by the Conservative Government; indeed, it is the final monument to their economic incompetence.

Obviously, we shall want to examine that. I shall talk about the 75 per cent. rule in a moment, so I shall touch on it only briefly now, by saying that we shall also want to consider the effect of the rule, including its effect on housing benefit. Obviously, when we have reviewed all that, we shall come up with specific proposals to start turning the crisis around, but, because of the vicious downward spiral that has continued for 18 years, there is no magic solution.

Once again, I refer briefly to the Scottish National party, which is committing a cruel deception on the Scottish people by pretending that housing debt can be magicked away. We realise that there is a serious problem of housing debt, but it cannot be magicked away, because, as this evening's figures show, the loan charges from housing debt run at more than £500 million a year, and in an independent Scotland, servicing that debt would put 3½p on income tax, quite apart from the many other SNP spending pledges.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

I regret breaking into the hon. Gentleman's delusions, but I refer him to the policy document, which clearly sets out how that can be done. The Government have carried out a similar debt commutation for water services. If the hon. Gentleman had the imagination, he would realise that, when all Scotland's resources are available-given that we shall subsidise during the next five years by £12.5 billion, according to the Treasury's figures—those problems could be tackled. Under the hon. Gentleman's solution, there is no solution.

Mr. Chisholm

That was an interesting and important intervention, because it is the second, or possibly third, time that the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) has used the figure of £12.5 billion tonight. That figure is the Scottish National party election manifesto: everything depends on that. The SNP has tabled a parliamentary question that talks about £27 billion retrospectively. It has not received a parliamentary answer that talks about £12.5 billion, but the SNP has somehow managed to conjure that up.

The reality is that the SNP has made such an enormous number of spending commitments that they make any sense only if the SNP can conjure up massive surpluses, and that is the problem. On the point that the hon. Member for Angus, East made about debt commutation, of course debt can be commuted, but the debt must still be serviced; the loan charges must still be paid. In an independent Scotland, the loan charges on the present debt would be the equivalent of 3p on income tax. I do not mind the SNP advancing that policy; I do mind it pretending that it is a no-cost option.

I return to the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order. Before the various interventions, I was talking about the unrealistic rent assumptions and inadequate management and maintenance allowance. That leads to the general subject of rents.

Since the Government came to power, average council house rents have increased by 535 per cent., compared with a general inflationary movement of 162 per cent. Although the housing support grant affects only a very few councils now, those rents will increase further as a result of the order, and also as a result of the 75 per cent. rule, which I want to discuss now.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

The hon. Gentleman appears to be au fait with all the figures. Would he care to tell the House the value of housing benefit, and, specifically, the value of housing benefit that has gone into council house coffers, during the same period? That is still taxpayers' funds supporting council housing.

Mr. Chisholm

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman makes that point, because it was going to be my next but one point, and I am surprised that the Conservative party should want to highlight that, because housing benefit is crucial.

One problem is a lack of figures. I asked a parliamentary question about housing benefit on 29 January 1997, and I was told that housing benefit expenditure figures for Scotland were not available before 1988–89, which is unfortunate; but I shall refer to that question in a moment.

I shall first refer to another parliamentary question, the answer to which, by coincidence, was given to me on the same day at column 250, which shows the full scale of the devastating cuts caused by the 75 per cent. rule-even greater than some housing lobbying organisations have said. In the detailed table on 29 January, I was told that, next year, gross council housing capital expenditure will fall from £341 million to £221 million—a devastating cut of 35 per cent.

I know too well that that will have a devastating effect on council houses in my constituency. Throughout Scotland, 30,000 houses will not have the central heating work, the window replacements or the other necessary modernisation that they require. That is the key problem with the 75 per cent. rule.

I shall now mention something that we are considering very carefully in our review of policy—the housing benefit effect of the 75 per cent. rule. I do not have all the information yet, but I have contacted every council in Scotland to ask a specific question: what element of this year's rent increases is there purely to plug the investment gap caused by the 75 per cent. rule?

In Edinburgh, for example, £1.86 million has been added to council house rents so that a small part of the necessary window programme, which would otherwise be wiped out by the 75 per cent. rule, can be carried out. I want to obtain those figures from every council in Scotland. Then, to balance against the 75 per cent. rule, we shall have a figure that tells us how much extra has been added to rents, and therefore how much extra has been spent on housing benefit because of the 75 per cent. rule. The Government have taken no account of that in imposing that rule.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Will the hon. Gentleman give a straight answer to the following question, which he did not give in the Scottish Grand Committee in Montrose? God forbid, if there were to be a Labour Government, what would he do about the 75 per cent. rule? Would the rule stay at 75 per cent., would it be reduced to or 30 per. cent. or 25 per cent., or would it be abolished completely?

Mr. Chisholm

I believe I have shown that we are taking a completely different approach to the matter; I cannot give a specific answer until I have done the research which the Minister has not bothered to do. He has imposed a 75 per cent. rule without even thinking of its implications for taxation via housing benefit.

We accept that the 75 per cent. rule has a PSBR effect. We shall be confronted by a massive PSBR resulting from the Government's economic incompetence; that is one element. The second element is the effect on housing modernisation, and a third element, which the Minister has forgotten, is the effect on housing benefit.

Unlike the Government, we acknowledge that there is a serious problem in the effect on modernisation and the effect on taxation via housing benefit. All that will be taken into account before we make a specific recommendation. The Government do not acknowledge the problem, because their fundamental reason for imposing the 75 per cent. rule was to force council houses into the private sector by starving the council sector of funds.

The Government have highlighted the fact that 72 per cent. of council tenants are on housing benefit, so one can be certain that the increase in housing benefit resulting from the 75 per cent. rule will be large. If we extrapolate the Edinburgh figure of £1.86 million, which is 5 per cent. of the council housing stock, and multiply that by 20, we are talking about almost £40 million, most of which is housing benefit. I do not know the final figures. We are examining the matter in detail.

Increased housing benefit is not just a public expenditure problem. The Government have shown in their housing policy that they are happy for rents to go up and for housing benefit to take the strain. That causes a public expenditure problem, and an affordability problem, with 72 per cent. of tenants on housing benefit. As rents go up, that creates deep poverty traps if people have such high rents that they cannot move from benefit into work.

Affordability is at the heart of our policy for public rented housing. If rented houses are not affordable, deep poverty traps are created. That is already beginning to happen in the housing association sector in England. With the reduction in housing association grant in England, people cannot afford to move from housing benefit into work. That is the last thing we want.

Affordability is the key factor in rented housing, together with security of tenure. When I speak to tenants, affordability is their main concern in relation to rented housing, but the Government have forgotten about that. Because so much of our economic strategy is based on the movement from welfare into work, we are particularly concerned about the tendency to let housing benefit take the strain and to let rents soar. We do not find that acceptable, on social or economic grounds.

Homelessness is more than just a housing problem. It will be eliminated only by getting the economy right and creating jobs. That is why our policy on youth unemployment is also a crucial housing policy. I emphasised in the previous debate that the one tax that we will impose early in the next Parliament is the windfall tax, which people in Scotland recognise is a just tax on the excess fat-cat profits of the privatised gas, electricity and water industries.

Mr. Wallace

As it may have some relevance, can the hon. Gentleman tell us what impact the windfall tax will have on Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric?

Mr. Chisholm

There will be a tax on the gas, electricity and water industries. Everyone knows about their excess profits. The tax will not have any effect on prices for consumers. Those are excess profits, which we shall examine carefully.

Homelessness is closely related to economic development. Another aspect of the windfall tax will be the setting up of an environmental task force, which will carry out housing repairs as part of its remit. We have a many-pronged approach to the housing crisis, and that is one part of it.

There will be no magic-wand solution. Our priorities for housing are fundamentally different from those of the Conservatives. We shall end the vendetta against council housing. We shall continue to regard council housing as central, but we are open to new housing partnerships in order to secure additional investment. We shall pursue that twin-track approach to turn around the desperate crisis in Scottish housing, and provide people with the warm, decent homes that are an essential part of a civilised society.

7.43 pm
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm). I hear once again proposals from the Opposition to establish yet another quango. Every argument that they ever advance seems to involve the creation of just one more of these bodies.

When the hon.Gentleman spoke about the windfall tax, he failed to address the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) with regard to the effect on the Scottish utilities. There have been no massive profits. The windfall tax suggested by the hon. Gentleman is a tax on fuel. That is what he means and what the effect would be, because the windfall tax would be passed on to the customer. People across Scotland should recognise that.

Mr. Bill Walker

As I understood the case presented by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm), the Opposition are talking about profits made in the past, but the tax would be levied on the current position of the companies and would therefore come out of present-day prices.

Mr. Gallie

My hon. Friend is right. The regulator has already confirmed that, and the hon. Gentleman must take it on board.

I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not turn up at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Dundee on Thursday morning.

Mr. Chisholm

I was active on the Committee that considered the National Health Service (Primary Care) Bill, which is a United Kingdom Bill, despite the fact that the Government did not recognise it as such and did not put a Scottish Office Minister on the Committee.

Mr. Gallie

I accept the hon. Gentleman's comment, but he is the shadow housing Minister for Scotland. I should have thought that he would attend that important conference in Dundee. He was missed by those who were there. Some thought that he was absent because he has recently had a hard time in Scotland on housing issues, principally because of the Labour party's change of tack. Despite his claim that Labour wants an improvement in housing stock in Scotland, any potential source of funding for that has dried up, following the comments of the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that there would be no other funding.

When the Opposition speak about the problem of housing, they miss an important change that has occurred in recent times—people's aspirations. It is recognised that 80 per cent. of people in Scotland want to be home owners. Since 1979, home ownership has risen from 35 per cent. to almost 60 per cent. People have put vast sums into the housing stock in Scotland. They have been pleased to invest their own money and take pride in their properties. That has meant that a burden has been lifted off the taxpayer. The public sector has to find less money to invest in bricks and mortar.

Another major change has occurred in regard to housing benefit. Before 1979, investment was falling: as we can all recall, the hammer had been put on Government expenditure by external sources. The realities of the economy demanded that public expenditure had to be cut. At that time the Labour Government were failing to invest in houses.

When the Conservatives became the Government in 1979, they examined the means of funding the array of public sector stock. Instead of funding bricks and mortar, they decided that it would be much fairer to fund individuals. People who needed support for housing received it through the housing benefit system. The present figure, as promoted by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), is £587 million coming in through the housing benefit system in Scotland.

Our rents are 25 per cent. below levels in England. If Scottish and English rents were equated, there would be an additional £130 million income. That is £130 million that could be invested in public sector housing. Perhaps there are good reasons for the difference. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one-the difficulty of moving from benefit into work. Forcing up rent levels would create problems. Perhaps a halfway house could be found. However, there is money in the kitty that could be used if councils were prepared to charge levels of rent that would still be seen as reasonable.

The right-to-buy scheme introduced by the Government not only gave people pride, but created massive opportunities for work. The extra investment in housing by individuals created work not for the large housing contractors, but for the smaller ones. That has greatly benefited those seeking work in the service industries recently.

The Government made another major change. They went out of their way to try to identify the quality of housing in Scotland, and, through Scottish Homes, they have established a new "below tolerable standards" criterion. Since the first statistics were issued, improvements in housing stock have increased year by year. I believe that the money involved has been well spent.

Let me bring a pet issue to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister. I refer to this year's change with respect to the non-housing revenue account. We have now listened to COSLA, and have removed the requirement for local authorities to provide the private sector with grants for repairs and maintenance. I think that that is wrong. You can bet your boots that now that local authorities have been given discretion, the money will go into the public sector. The private sector also needs improvement. People with their own homes who are not terribly well off need the grants that have helped cities such as Glasgow immensely over the years.

We should consider a specific aspect of housing in Scotland: sheltered housing. There are now 34,000 sheltered housing units in Scotland, while there were only some 2,000 or 3,000 in 1979. I am proud that the Conservative Government delivered in that regard; it is a pity that more people do not give them credit for it.

The order makes provision for hostels, and I am glad to see that south Ayrshire is on the list. However, I should like to hear the Minister's views on the homelessness legislation and the way in which it currently works. I feel that, in many instances, emphasis should be placed on hostel provision. My constituents and I are fed up with young girls who become pregnant, take advantage of the legislation and end up with houses. That is not fair to others on the waiting list, or, indeed, to the young girls concerned. They are pushed into unfriendly, sometimes hostile, environments, and are left on their own, surrounded by resentment. They are preyed on by their peers, and by others. Sheltered hostel accommodation for such people would be very welcome.

Dr. Godman

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that young girls become pregnant in order to acquire homes in the communities in which they live? Where is the evidence for such a malign comment?

Mr. Gallie

A number of 16 and 17-year-olds in my constituency have been housed under the legislation, and there is resentment among other constituents, some of whom have waited for six or seven years to be housed under the normal system. It is from my constituents that I get my evidence, and I tend to believe my constituents.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

If the hon. Gentleman really believes that a young woman becomes pregnant in order to live in a damp and virtually uninhabitable house in a grotty, rundown street, what does that say about the life that that young woman was living before?

Mr. Gallie

I do not think that the hon. Lady listened to what I said to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is now not listening in any case.

Dr. Godman

It is not true.

Mr. Gallie

I never claimed that young girls deliberately went out to get pregnant. What I am saying is that an extraordinary number of 16 and 17-year-old girls do get pregnant, and do end up being housed under the homelessness legislation. It would be far kinder to them, and to all concerned, to enable them to go into proper units where they would receive support—the support that their families should have given them, but cannot give them now.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gallie

I will, but time is short.

Mr. Walker


Mr. Walker

I wonder whether there is a new system of ruling in the House. Do all occupants of the Chair understand that the chap who is on his feet has the right to speak?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all occupants of the Chair are fully aware of the procedures of the House, and carry them out.

Mr. Walker

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find it astonishing that one of your colleagues on the Chairmen's Panel should let you down in the way that he did.

Perhaps Opposition Members will tell us why this generation has such a huge problem of young single mothers.

Mr. Gallie

I well understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, but I do not want to follow that line. I have given my views, as, like every other hon. Member, I have a democratic right to do—irrespective of sedentary comments from some individuals who should know better.

It is said that the solution to all Scotland's housing problems is to establish a Scottish Parliament. Such a parliament will do nothing for Scotland's housing—except, perhaps, take away some of the resources that could be put into it. I do not see what a further level of politicians, bureaucracy and requirement for funds will do to help Scottish housing. It will merely absorb funds that could have been used to provide housing stock.

Finally, let me comment on the 75 per cent. rule mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm). Scotland has been in a privileged position in recent years: since the introduction of the right to buy, Scottish local authorities have been allowed to spend 100 per cent. of their capital receipts. That has not been the case south of the border or in Wales; I am not sure about Northern Ireland. It was left to local authorities to try to reduce council house debt, but, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said, they did not do so. At that point, some discretion must be removed. This year the figure is 25 per cent. Perhaps 75 per cent. was a little hefty, but if anyone is to take the blame, it must be the councils themselves, as they have failed to act responsibly.

7.57 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) for reminding us of the political and philosophical gulf between the two sides of the House. If I understood him correctly, he proposed that pregnant single women should be housed in hostels rather than being given adequate and proper homes. I have no doubt that, were the impossible to happen and the Government survived another term, that policy would be implemented, and babies would be born in hostels. I am sure that the Conservatives would consider that an efficient way of saving money.

On a more positive note, let me take up what the Minister said in his opening speech about the current talks between the Scottish Office and local authorities—particularly Western Isles council—about the outstanding debt burden, which, in the case of Western Isles council, is about £40 million. I welcome the Minister's reassurance that the discussions with the council will be consensual, that there will not be an enforced solution to the matter and that he will seek to reach agreement with the council on how best to resolve it. In principle, that idea is worth supporting. I hope that the discussions will result in agreement.

It is worth pointing out that the debt was accumulated because of the huge shortage of public housing in the western isles. As a result of the failure of previous local authorities to tackle the problem, in the 1970s the newly created Western Isles council had to embark on a large house building programme, which has left it with a very large outstanding debt.

On a less positive note, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) mentioned the changes proposed to the 75 per cent. rule. The change is causing much concern to Western Isles council and it will impact on its ability to begin to tackle some of the huge problems that it faces in bringing its housing stock up to the standards that are required—and which should be demanded—of any local authority in this day and age.

I remind the Minister that it was his Government who issued guidelines that led to the housing conditions survey of 1991, which showed that 29 per cent. of council houses in the western isles suffered from serious dampness or disrepair. That is a phenomenal proportion. To repair those houses properly would require about £4 million-worth of improvements in the coming year alone. There is a huge shortfall between those needs and the money that is available to the local authority. Part of that shortfall will be caused by the 75 per cent. rule.

Before last year, Western Isles council was able to raise between £500,000 and £1 million through council house sales to reinvest in improving its housing stock. Last year, the 25 per cent. rule was introduced, but the new 75 per cent. rule could mean that only £140,000 will be available in the coming year.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

I am listening intently to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the 75 per cent. rule, but he will have heard what his hon. Friend said: that if he were Minister, the 75 per cent. rule would stay.

Mr. Macdonald

I listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend said. He gave me some new information and pointed out the way in which the 75 per cent. rule will impact on the public sector borrowing requirement and on taxation, forcing up housing rents and therefore public expenditure to meet the cost of those rents. He pointed out accurately and aptly that the Government simply have not thought the change through. They are hoping to save money, but it is not clear that they will save the amount that they had hoped. I fully accept that my hon. Friend will have to look at the way in which the money seems to be ending up back in the PSBR.

The Government have reduced the amount available to the Western Isles council for capital improvements by £1 million from 1 April. Taken together, the total amount available to the council for capital improvements could be as little as £1.5 million in the coming year. As recently as 1990, £4 million a year was available. In the early 1980s, it was £6 million or £7 million a year. There has been a catastrophic collapse in the amount that the Government are giving local authorities to tackle the severe housing problems that they face, particularly in rural areas.

Mr. Gallie

I listened to the hon. Gentleman the other day on the radio—he is a caring Member—when he expressed his reservations about young ladies who cannot get homes. At the same time, however, he expresses concern about capital investment in housing. I am sure that I heard him say that he did not want people on Department of Social Security benefits on Benbecula and that he wanted to knock down a number of perfectly good homes there. Will he expand on that?

Mr. Macdonald

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Nobody in his right mind would want to knock down perfectly good homes. The houses to which he refers are Ministry of Defence stock. Some are perfectly good, and I would like to see them retained; others are well past any kind of repair and should be cleared away. That would be obvious to anybody who looked at those houses. I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at them if he wants to be convinced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leith made the point that, because of the Government's cuts year on year in the housing budget, we are seeing not just a housing crisis, particularly in rural areas, but a health crisis, as people's health is affected when they live in houses that are damp, draughty and not properly insulated. It is also an economic crisis, because the cuts have a direct impact on local businesses and local employment. Many small businesses, such as builders, rely heavily on the money that used to come their way through the public sector to improve and develop housing stock.

In taking the money away, the Government are hitting not just small businesses but people on low incomes, the health of the nation and the economy of Scotland, particularly the economy of places such as the western isles, where the reduction in expenditure is immediately discernible. That is why I so welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to look at housing partnerships, to release new money to reinvest in the housing programme that is much needed. I am sure that that will be the direction in which we shall go after April.

8.7 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

At least we now know that the solution to the problems of housing in Scotland lies in a windfall tax, which somehow will not affect or have any impact on Scottish Hydro-Electric or, indeed, the other Scottish power company. The truth, of course, is that it is bound to. Then, of course, there will be a "twin-track" approach. What do Labour Members think has been happening over the past few years, where we have seen the development of housing associations and the creation of Scottish Homes?

I suppose that that is—to use the language of modern times—a twin-track approach, because one is making use of the private and public sectors, working in co-operation so that there are public and private sector funds, and the two together provide the answers. The reality, however, is that a group of people sitting in Edinburgh discussing and debating the matter will not provide answers tomorrow to the situation that many people face in Scotland.

We should consider the history of Scottish housing and ask ourselves what lessons can be learnt. The Government's proposals reflect a change of emphasis and priorities. They are applying pressure to make change happen. Sadly, we know from experience that we have to take a carrot-and-stick approach, which gives rewards for change and imposes penalties for not changing. That is what the Government have been trying to achieve in this difficult and complex area against a background of family break-up.

The family structure has changed more in the past 30 years than in the previous 300 years. There was a time not all that long ago when the family took responsibility for all its members. Much as we may like to go back to that, the reality is that we are now living in a world in which many families do not want to take responsibility for their offspring. We must deal with that problem: there is no point in saying that it does not exist, or blaming people. I believe that the blame lies with all of us.

We have created an environment in which young people, for whatever reason, want to leave home, and their parents do not care whether they do so or not. Ask any social work department whether that is a statement of fact: we know that it is. The issue is how we address that problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) provided part of the answer: it is not the entire answer. He suggested that a modern form of hostel accommodation could be provided. There is some merit in that, especially if it is run by people who care. The Salvation Army and the YMCA have a Christian ethos and a caring attitude, and perhaps there is scope for developing that area to deal with some aspects of the problem. I accept that it is not the whole answer.

Hon. Members know my views on housing benefit, which I have expressed down the years. Local authorities have deprived themselves of vast sums of money, which they could have used to carry out maintenance and repair work. The Opposition's view is not shared by Conservative Members, because our view is conditioned by experience, and we believe that if things are not working as well as they should, changes must be made.

In the past 18 years, the Government have tried to shift resources. It is tragic that thousands of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been put into bricks and mortar that turn out to be valueless, because the homes that have been built are unsuitable to live in. If that had been done by private investors and speculators, they would have gone broke. Homes were not built to design standards, and the quality was such that they were not built to last. Worse still, local authorities failed to maintain them.

Those of us who are on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs will remember the first visit that we made to Glasgow. We were told that there was no dampness problem. That was a joke, because we found that it existed on a massive scale. The local authority denied that there was problem.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)


Mr. Walker

It is on the record. What I find so disturbing is that people will not face reality. They should ask themselves what they should do to address the problem. I am not opposed to using public money to resolve social problems, but I object to using public money again and again when that has obviously failed. If we are to spend public money to build houses, there is merit in doing so in partnership, because the other partner has a vested interest in ensuring that the property is built to a reasonable standard. I am not complaining about the twin-track approach: I am merely saying that the Government are already taking that approach.

Local authorities too often supervise themselves. I do not blame the authorities for that; it is a structural weakness. We should have changed that years ago. They should not be the provider and the supervisor or inspector. A separate body should have that task, because Chinese walls do not work, as we know from bitter experience.

The Government have done more than any previous Government to address the problem of special needs housing. I am proud of what we have achieved. The present arrangements, which involve housing associations and the private sector, help to reduce the amount of money for specific grants. However, they do not reduce the amount of public money that needs to be injected into special needs housing.

Housing benefit should be seen for what it is: it is not free money, it is taxpayers' money that comes out of a separate budget. We, quite properly, criticise the Scottish National party for pretending that we can wish away the housing debt. All that we can do is transfer it to another area of public responsibility and accountability. Someone else has to pick up the tab; someone else has to pay the interest: that someone else is the taxpayer, because there is no one else to do it.

It is difficult to find rational answers. Some people see local government as one thing, central Government as another, and the taxpayer as having no direct link with either. The truth is that the taxpayer has a direct link with both, and it is the taxpayer who picks up all the bills. The Government are trying to find a mechanism for reducing local authority housing debt, which I think is a scandal, because it should never have been allowed to reach such a level. They are doing the right thing and creating the right pressure, and their carrot-and-stick approach will help. Housing benefit is the carrot. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) is wrong if he thinks that the Government have not worked that one out, because they have. That is why they are shifting resources to bring about change.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister. We face a difficult problem. I welcome the fact that the Church takes an interest in these matters. I hope that it realises that it has a part to play. In the past, the Church brought and kept people together. If anyone has failed in that area, it is the Church. Churches have not been able to persuade the populace that families should accept some of the responsibility. They have failed in that, not the politicians.

National and local politicians have failed to look at the whole canvass, because they have had vested interests in different areas. That is unfortunate, because the people who suffer are those in need, whatever their background and wherever they come from. If we are to have a caring, balanced society, we must have an appropriate housing policy. That is the Government's aim, and it is interesting that the Labour party in recent years has followed our policies.

8.19 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

In a contribution that may be largely critical of the Government, I start with a note of congratulation, or at least thanks, to the Minister for his statement that there should be continuing negotiation and discussion with Shetland Islands councils, as with the other two councils, on the commutation of the outstanding debt by the end of the forthcoming financial year, 1997–98. That will be welcomed. As I said in the Adjournment debate that I secured last month on rural housing, no matter who occupies the Treasury Bench after the next election, I trust that that will be seen through.

The less complimentary part of my speech follows. As has already been widely mentioned in the debate, we are debating a housing support grant settlement that, combined with the cuts in the funding of Scottish Homes, will lead to a substantial withdrawal of investment in Scottish housing in the year ahead, following a significant cut in investment in the present year. That takes place against a background of homelessness and poor housing conditions.

The visible signs of street homelessness indicate a reduction in housing investment. The Government introduced a Scottish rough sleepers initiative when they made their public expenditure announcement in December. We should be thankful for small mercies, but it is important to recognise what a small mercy this one is. The expenditure totals £15 million over three years and £3 million in the first year. That compares with £92 million spent in London in the first year and £270 million spent in London over the first three years. I accept that the scale of the problem is different, but, proportionately, it is not that different. It puts into context what the Government are doing in terms of the rough sleepers initiative. We welcome the fact that they have been converted to the principle of it in Scotland because it has had some results in London. The regret is that the initiative has not been better funded.

Although there are at least 1,000 young Scots, or Scots of any age, sleeping rough at night, in 1994–95, 41,500 households applied as homeless. That was a small drop on the previous year, but double what it was 10 years ago. Households translates into about 76,000 people, of whom 19,800 are children. At our constituency surgeries, most of us see at first hand the problems that can be caused by homelessness, albeit that people come to us to discuss what are essentially local government responsibilities in terms of housing. They are not necessarily people without a bed to sleep in at night. They may be in overcrowded housing or young married couples with a family still having to share with one set of parents or another. That brings considerable tension and, as I know from my own constituency experience, unhappiness and frustration.

In terms of the state of housing, 30 per cent. of Scotland's housing suffers from dampness, condensation or mould and 85,000 houses are officially below tolerable standard. The hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) gave the impression that all poor housing in Scotland was in the public sector, but 77 per cent. of below tolerable standard houses are in the private sector.

Much of the below tolerable standard and damp housing in the public sector was built by private sector contractors. That does not excuse what happened, but, even if one wants to look back on history, there is a problem today: a problem of dampness, of condensation, of mould and of houses below tolerable standard. Anyone who has seen the video that last month by the Edinburgh Tenants Federation will have been made forcefully aware of the appalling conditions in which some of our fellow citizens have to live.

The reality for many people, particularly for young people, impinges so much on their lifestyle and on their education, the chances are that a child in a homeless family is regularly having to change schools, teachers and syllabuses and is unable to establish good solid friendships, which in time means that he is unlikely to reap the full benefit from his education.

A study of 1,000 primary school children in Edinburgh found that 22 per cent. of those living in damp houses were suffering from colds, compared with 11 per cent. in dry houses, so if children live in substandard housing, the chances are that they are missing more time at school because of illness. If they live in overcrowded conditions, the chances are that they will not have the opportunity of a place of quiet to pursue study.

That puts pressures on family relationships, leads to a lack of motivation and may—one would not wish to generalise because many young people manage to overcome many of these deprivations and handicaps—lead and contribute to disruptive behaviour. The Minister's comments about home-school contracts sound nice and cosy in leafy middle-class suburbs, but for a kid living in overcrowded housing with dampness and condensation, who has little motivation or is having to move around bed-and-breakfast accommodation, home-school contracts are a different thing altogether.

We have that background and a reduction in housing investment. It is estimated that in the present year investment in council housing will be a third lower than the planned level for 1996–97. On top of that, about £70 million has been cut from the Scottish Homes approved development programme. That represents a loss of new build particularly in the housing association sector, but also in the public sector and the council house sector. That means fewer roof repairs and fewer window replacements. I have already had correspondence with the Minister on representations that I received from tenants in the Grieveship scheme in Stromness in Orkney. Central heating and rewiring work was not done. Adaptations for people with disabilities will not be done.

That will impact not only on individual tenants, but many small businesses. For many construction companies, contracts for council house refurbishments are an important source of continuing work. The Minister asks, as those on the Treasury Bench often do: where will the money come from? Sixty-three jobs in the construction industry are said to follow on from £1 million worth of investment. If we reduce investment by £1 million, we are likely to lose 63 jobs, with about £500,000 worth of benefits to be paid out, not to mention the tax forgone.

In London, tuberculosis is 200 times more prevalent among homeless people than among non-homeless people, according to the national average, so today's housing cuts can be tomorrow's health service expenditure. If the Shelter estimate is that the cost of keeping a household in bed and breakfast accommodation is about £7,900 per annum, if the Median housing association rent in Scotland is £1,606, or if the average council house rent is £1,626, there could be a saving of £6,300 per household in finding permanent accommodation. Often the problem in Government is that they consider just one narrow part of the budget, make cuts there and do not consider the consequences in terms of increased expenditure elsewhere.

It is estimated that the policy on capital receipts will have a damaging impact on the scope for investment in public sector housing in the year ahead. I was unconvinced by the proposals by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm), who seemed to be trying to wriggle out of the fact that he was not making any commitment and to find some means of dressing his proposal up. He at no point recognised an important point, which the Minister would certainly disagree with, relating to local discretion.

The Minister made great play of the fact that, if councils are going to put rents up by more than the rate of inflation, that will be a matter for them and they will then have to justify that to their tenants; but surely there is a case for local authorities to make the judgments themselves as to how much should be repaid in terms of outstanding debt from their capital receipts and how much should be invested or reinvested in their housing stock. That is an exercise of local discretion that they should justify to their local electors. If they think that the local authorities have got it wrong, the resolution of that will come at the ballot box.

A substantial amount will go out of investment in housing in Scotland this year as a result of the Government's increased capital receipt repayment requirements. Against a background of homelessness and housing quality in Scotland that leaves so much to be desired, that cannot stack up as a policy for housing in Scotland. That is why the sooner the Government go, the better it will be for housing and for the people who have suffered the consequences of poor housing and homelessness in Scotland.

8.29 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Let me begin by picking up a few points that were raised by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who unfortunately is not in his place. He referred to the Government's generosity in creating housing benefit to pay people's housing costs. If there were not so many millions unemployed, the housing benefit bill would not be so large, so it might be better if people had jobs instead of benefit. The hon. Gentleman alleged that home ownership would remove burdens from the taxpayer as people would no longer be council tenants. He must have forgotten about mortgage interest relief at source, which is certainly a considerable burden on the taxpayer. I do not object to it in principle, but if there is generosity to owner-occupiers, there should also be generosity to tenants.

I was surprised by the attitude of Conservative Members towards single mothers. I should point out that, by virtue of being a mother who is taking care of her child, a single mother carries the same responsibility as any other mother. It might be more appropriate to direct any critical remarks to those who may be dodging responsibility for the same children. Instead of trying to tidy people away into hostels, in might be more appropriate if Conservative Members considered that single mothers have just as great a need for housing as families with two parents. Their children have the same need for decent homes as any other children.

The Minister made no reference to the many families who live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, where it is normal for the children to have gastro enteritis. It is absolutely shocking and must be brought to an end.

Once again, the Government paid no attention to the fact that the provision of refuges for women who suffer domestic abuse is nowhere near adequate. All those deficiencies must be addressed.

Let me refer to housing below tolerable standards. The hon. Member for Ayr referred to steady, unrelenting progress. That is simply not true as COSLA's figures demonstrate. Last year, 84,000 houses in Scotland in the public and private sector were below tolerable standards. Only 6,000 were repaired. At that rate of progress, it will be 2010 before the problem is addressed, but fortunately we shall have a new Government before long and I am certain that faster progress will be made.

The housing support grant was £213 million 18 years ago. Next year it will be only £15 million. In 1979, all authorities were eligible, now it is only a few. In the past decade, £2.4 billion of direct Government support has been removed from housing in Scotland. Local authority money was cut to put money into Scottish Homes and now its budget has been cut and the housing associations do not have the money to carry through agreed and approved projects to timetable.

On rents, I hope that the Minister will answer a particular question. Council tenants in Glasgow are alone in carrying on their rents the capital debts from other properties that they do not inhabit. The properties have been sold off to the housing associations or demolished, but the capital debt still has to be paid. Why do the tenants have to carry the cost of that capital debt? What justice or fairness is there in that? From what he said at the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Hamilton, Michael Hirst, the chairman of the Tory party in Scotland, seemed to believe that the council tax payer paid the debt. It is high time that he caught up with reality and realised that it is carried by council tenants. Will the Minister explain why he considers that to be fair?

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Can the hon. Lady tell the House who she thinks should pay the debt?

Mrs. Fyfe

Does that mean that the Minister thinks that council tenants should have to carry the capital debt for houses that have nothing to do with them, just because they happen to be tenants? Does he think that is fair? If the Government had any sense of responsibility they would look at the matter.

Mr. Robertson

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fyfe

No, time is too short. The Government talk about controlling inflation, but they are not bothered about council tenants' rents. Scottish council rents are sky high. They have increased by 535 per cent. since 1979, compared with a general inflation rate of 162 per cent. Why should that be inflicted on people simply because they are tenants and not owner-occupiers?

The cuts in Glasgow have affected important works such as fuel saving and insulation schemes, window replacements and even help for people with disabilities. As a consequence, people's health is being affected.

I could continue, but I know that others are waiting to speak so I shall make just one last point. Recently National Childrens Home Action for Children launched its programme for homeless youth. I had the honour to represent the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party were also represented. There was no sign of any Conservative Member. Why could not the Tories find one man or woman in the whole of Scotland to express sympathy for homeless youth at that event?

Housing must be higher on the agenda, become a priority and get the attention that it deserves. I look forward to a Labour Government achieving that.

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

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) said that he had evidence that there was no damp housing in Glasgow. He must have spoken to a different council from the ones that I know as I have often raised cases in the House involving damp housing. The hon. Gentleman also said that if private sector companies built damp housing, they would not make money.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Martin

It is ridiculous for the hon. Gentleman to ask me to give way when I have so little time to speak. I have news for him. Mitchell Comus, Crudens and Wimpey all built damp, non-traditional houses in my constituency and throughout the city of Glasgow. The corridor-type houses in my constituency that attract damp were built by the private sector because a Tory Government told local authorities that they would not get housing grant unless they built non-traditional houses. Therefore, the Tory Government must carry some of the blame.

The hon. Gentleman said that the private sector would not do that. I can take him to properties that have been built by the private sector and have made companies massive profits.

Some people enjoy living in multi-storey flats. There are some extremely nice blocks in my constituency and throughout the city of Glasgow. However, those who live in other blocks feel that they have no choice. As a party of law and order, it is important to provide a concierge service in every multi-storey block throughout the country. We cannot expect police officers to take the lift up and down to patrol such dwellings. Police officers stay on the ground floor, so it is important to have a concierge system. I am glad that the Minister visited the Sighthill district in my constituency and encouraged the local authorities to establish concierge systems. It is sensible use of taxpayers' money as there has been a vast improvement in the quality of life in those blocks and the feeling of security among the tenants.

Not all tenants can leave their council houses and buy flats or houses. For domestic and other personal reasons such as short-term contracts at work, some people have to pay rents, which are far too high for those who cannot claim housing benefit. It is a shame that hon. Members do not recognise that many people fall into that category.

I shall conclude as others wish to speak. I do not agree with the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) about setting up hostels for unmarried girls. That is absolute nonsense, but I agree with him about housing improvement grants. In the last financial year, some tenants were able to get housing improvement grants for tenement buildings, but now the grants have run out. I urge the Government to review housing improvement grants.

8.39 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

I realise that time is of the essence, so I shall be as brief as possible. I should tell the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that it is interesting that his local council is talking to the Government about a commutation of debt, as that is something that the Labour party thinks cannot happen but which Governments do whenever it suits them.

The Government have made this debate almost obsolete by reducing housing support grant until it almost does not exist. Given the extent of Scotland's housing problems, I believe that the Government are pursuing the wrong policy and are going in the wrong direction. In recent years, there has been an appalling lack of investment in housing, and the escalating homelessness problem begs urgent action.

The significant aspect of this debate is that the housing support grant itself has been virtually eroded. The fact is that, 18 years ago, the grant was £213 million, with general fund contributions of another £100 million for investment. Next year, the combined total will be only £15 million. In the past decade, therefore, a staggering £2.4 billion in direct Government support has been cut from the housing budget. Between 1989 and 1996, the Government's neglect has inflicted on our budgets a 39 per cent. real-terms cut. Next year, there will be a further real-terms cut of 30 per cent.

The cuts have been aggravated by the senseless rules on debt repayment. The Secretary of State has tried to argue that they do not comprise a cut, but he is fooling no one. The rules mean that Scottish local authorities and Scottish Homes receive £193 million less than they otherwise would have received. Quite simply, given the problems that we face, that is the most severe type of cut.

The Government equally cannot wash their hands of the housing debt problem because they created it. As a direct result of their right-to-buy legislation, the number of council houses has been reduced by 31 per cent. Most of those houses were of the highest standard, but they were sold at prices that were substantially below market value. About £4 billion has been lost on right-to-buy discounts—a sum that is remarkably close to the level of housing debt. While punishing local authorities and council tenants for a debt problem caused by their policy, the Government stand guilty of allowing Scotland's housing to deteriorate further, adding to long-term and short-term problems.

The hypocrisy of the Labour party's leadership never ceases to amaze me. At the conclusion of this debate they will vote against the Government, but they have already admitted that they have nothing to offer those concerned with housing in Scotland. At the Scottish Grand Committee sitting, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) was given several opportunities to declare that Labour would change the debt repayment rules, and his silence spoke a thousand words. Today, all we heard was some waffle about his studying the matter further. While he stalls, however, damage is being done by Tory Government policy, which gnaws away at housing provision.

Labour's defence on the matter—which is as feeble as its opposition—is that the ills of Scottish housing inflicted by 18 years of Tory rule cannot be righted in 18 months. Perhaps Labour Front Benchers would earn more sympathy from the Scottish people and from housing organisations if they had shown themselves willing to do anything. They are using Tory misrule as an excuse to do nothing.

Scotland does not need two more Tory years, and the Scottish people will not accept two more Tory years. I ask the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) to tell us whether Scotland will receive its equivalent share if, as expected, banked capital receipts are released in England. We have seen the housing policy for England. On an equivalent basis, however, will about £500 million—the appropriate sum—be released for Scotland? If not, it is yet another sign that Labour has nothing to contribute.

There must be an absolute war on shortfalls in Scottish housing. The Labour party is failing Scotland. It is giving us only more of what the Government have given us, and that will not do.

8.43 pm
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

We have had a fascinating almost 90-minute debate, and the Government have clearly set out our spending plans and priorities in a crucial sphere which affects everyone in Scotland. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) for their support.

The principal spokesman for the Liberal Democrats spoke in the debate, and once again showed that their answer to everything is to tax, tax and tax. If we added up all their spending pledges, income tax in Scotland would be more than 30 per cent.

The Scottish National party indulged in its usual fantasy figures, pretending that £4 billion of council housing debt can somehow be magicked away in an independent Scotland and be forgotten about and cease to exist.

The spectacle, however, was provided by the principal Opposition party, the Labour party. Today it promised not one extra penny for housing in Scotland and confirmed that 75 per cent. debt repayment would stick. Whereas I had support from my hon. Friends on the Government Back Benches, not one Opposition Back Bencher supported the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)—[Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Hamilton should not sit there chuntering away, because he was not in the Chamber for the debate and did not hear a word that was said in it. He does not know what the hon. Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) or for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) were saying or how they were criticising him—[Interruption.] I do not know where he was, but he cannot sit there and chunter away about what was said in the debate, because he was not here. He may well have had a very valid reason not to be in the House. That is fine, and I understand it. However, he should not pretend to understand that he knew what happened, because he does not.

We have clearly set out our spending priorities in housing across Scotland. I commend the order to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 293, Noes 246.

Division No. 88] [8.44 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alexander, Richard Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Couchman, James
Amess, David Cran, James
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Currie, Mrs Edwina
Arbuthnot, James Curry, Rt Hon David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel G) Davis, Rt Hon David (Boothferry)
Ashby, David Day, Stephen
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Deva, Nirj Joseph
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Devlin, Tim
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baldry, Tony Douglas-Hamilton,
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Rt Hon Lord James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dover, Den
Bates, Michael Duncan, Alan
Batiste, Spencer Duncan Smith, Iain
Beggs, Roy Dunn, Bob
Bellingham, Henry Durant, Sir Anthony
Bendall, Vivian Dykes, Hugh
Beresford, Sir Paul Elletson, Harold
Biffen, Rt Hon John Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Body, Sir Richard Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Boswell, Tim Evennett, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fabricant, Michael
Bowden, Sir Andrew Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bowis, John Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Forman, Nigel
Brandreth, Gyles Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Brazier, Julian Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bright, Sir Graham Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes) Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Browning, Mrs Angela Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) French, Douglas
Budgen, Nicholas Fry, Sir Peter
Burns, Simon Gale, Roger
Burt, Alistair Gallie, Phil
Butcher, John Gardiner, Sir George
Butler, Peter Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Butterfill, John Garnier, Edward
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n) Gill, Christopher
Carttiss, Michael Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Cash, William Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Chapman, Sir Sydney Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Churchill, Mr Gorst, Sir John
Clappison, James Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Greenway, John (Ryedale)
(Rushcliffe) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Grylls, Sir Michael
Coe, Sebastian Gummer, Rt Hon John
Colvin, Michael Hague, Rt Hon William
Congdon, David Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Conway, Derek Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr Keith Moss, Malcolm
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hargreaves, Andrew Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayes, Jerry Norris, Steve
Heald, Oliver Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hendry, Charles Oppenheim, Phillip
Hicks, Sir Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Paice, James
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test) Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (Grantham) Patten, Rt Hon John
Horam, John Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pawsey, James
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildf'd) Pickles, Eric
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Porter, David
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N) Riddick, Graham
Jessel, Toby Robathan, Andrew
Johnson Smith, Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Roe, Mrs Marion
Jones, Robert B (W Herts) Rowe, Andrew
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Key, Robert Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom Sackville, Tom
Knapman, Roger Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Knox, Sir David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kynoch, George Shersby, Sir Michael
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Sims, Sir Roger
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Legg, Barry Soames, Nicholas
Leigh, Edward Spencer, Sir Derek
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spring, Richard
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Sproat, Iain
Lord, Michael Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Luff, Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Steen, Anthony
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stephen, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Stern, Michael
Maclean, Rt Hon David Stewart, Allan
McLoughlin, Patrick Streeter, Gary
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sumberg, David
Madel, Sir David Sweeney, Walter
Maitland, Lady Olga Sykes, John
Malone, Gerald Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mans, Keith Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Marland, Paul Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Marlow, Tony Taylor, Sir Teddy
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thomason, Roy
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Mates, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Townsend, Sir Cyril (Bexl'yh'th)
Merchant, Piers Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Trend, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Trotter, Neville
Moate, Sir Roger Twinn, Dr Ian
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Walden, George Wilkinson, John
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Ward, John Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Waterson, Nigel Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wells, Bowen
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Tellers for the Ayes:
Whitney, Sir Raymond Mr. Richard Ottaway and Mr. Matthew Carrington.
Whittingdale, John
Abbott, Ms Diane Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Adams, Mrs Irene Davies, Chris (Littleborough)
Ainger, Nick Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Allen, Graham Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Alton, David Denham, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dixon, Rt Hon Don
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Donohoe, Brian H
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Dowd, Jim
Ashton, Joseph Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Austin-Walker, John Eastham, Ken
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Ennis, Jeff
Barnes, Harry Etherington, Bill
Barron, Kevin Evans, John (St Helens N)
Battle, John Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bayley, Hugh Fatchett, Derek
Bell, Stuart Faulds, Andrew
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bennett, Andrew F Fisher, Mark
Benton, Joe Flynn, Paul
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Berry, Roger Foster, Don (Bath)
Blunkett, David Fraser, John
Boateng, Paul Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Bradley, Keith Galloway, George
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gapes, Mike
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) George, Bruce
Burden, Richard Gerrard, Neil
Byers, Stephen Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Caborn, Richard Godman, Dr Norman A
Callaghan, Jim Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Graham, Thomas
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell-Savours, D N Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Canavan, Dennis Gunnell, John
Cann, Jamie Hain, Peter
Chapman, James (Wirral S) Hall, Mike
Chidgey, David Hanson, David
Chisholm, Malcolm Harman, Ms Harriet
Clapham, Michael Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Henderson, Doug
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Heppell, John
Clelland, David Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hinchliffe, David
Coffey, Ms Ann Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cohen, Harry Hoey, Kate
Connarty, Michael Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Home Robertson, John
Corbett, Robin Hood, Jimmy
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corston, Ms Jean Howells, Dr Kim
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Doug
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE) Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
(Perth Kinross) Hutton, John
Dafis, Cynog Illsley, Eric
Darling, Alistair Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Davidson, Ian Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Janner, Greville Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs) Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Dr Lynne Radice, Giles
(B'ham Selly Oak) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Reid, Dr John
Jowell, Ms Tessa Rendel, David
Keen, Alan Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Khabra, Piara S Rogers, Allan
Kilfoyle, Peter Rooker, Jeff
Kirkwood, Archy Rooney, Terry
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terry Rowlands, Ted
Liddell, Mrs Helen Ruddock, Ms Joan
Litherland, Robert Salmond, Alex
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd) Sheerman, Barry
Llwyd, Elfyn Simpson, Alan
Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Lynne, Ms Liz Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McAllion, John Smith, Chris (Islington S)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld) Snape, Peter
Macdonald, Calum Soley, Clive
McFall, John Spearing, Nigel
McKelvey, William Spellar, John
Mackinlay, Andrew Squire, Ms Rachel
McNamara, Kevin (Dunfermline W)
MacShane, Denis Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
McWilliam, John Steinberg, Gerry
Maddock, Mrs Diana Stevenson, George
Mahon, Mrs Alice Strang, Dr Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martlew, Eric Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Maxton, John Thurnham, Peter
Meacher, Michael Tipping, Paddy
Meale, Alan Touhig, Don
Michael, Alun Trickett, Jon
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Turner, Dennis
Tyler, Paul
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Vaz, Keith
Milburn, Alan Wallace, James
Miller, Andrew Walley, Ms Joan
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Wardell, Grareth (Gower)
Morgan, Rhodri Wareing, Robert N
Motley, Elliot Welsh, Andrew
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Wicks, Malcolm
Mowlam, Ms Marjorie Wigley, Dafydd
Mudie, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Mullin, Chris (Swansea W)
Murphy, Paul Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Wilson, Brian
O'Hara, Edward Winnick, David
Olner, Bill Wise, Mrs Audrey
O'Neill, Martin Worthington, Tony
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wray, Jimmy
Pickthall, Colin Wright, Dr Tony
Pike, Peter L Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore) Tellers for the Noes:
Prentice, Mrs Bridget Mr. Clive Betts and Ms Angela Eagle.
(Lewisham E)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1997, which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved.