HC Deb 23 January 1974 vol 867 cc1629-33
5. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what were the housing completions by local authorities, private developers and other public agencies during 1973.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor)

The figure was 30,033, of which 14,432 houses were completed by local authorities, 3,386 by other public sector agencies, and 12,215 by private developers.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Minister aware that those shattering figures will be received with consternation by the homeless in Scotland? Is he aware that he begins his second incarnation as a Scottish Minister with the lowest figure of house completions for local authorities in any year since 1948, and that the total number of houses built in Scotland is less than the local authority programme completed by the Labour Government in 1970? Is he also aware that there is little hope in terms of new starts and houses in progress, as their number has fallen consistently every year? What priority will the hon. Gentleman give to relieving the housing situation in Scotland?

Mr. Taylor

We shall do everything we can to get the housing situation in Scotland right, but it is for local authorities, not the Government, to initiate house building programmes. We have been encouraging them to build as many houses as they can. I remind the hon. Gentleman, first, that the figure of private building that I announced for last year is an all-time record. Secondly, the houses under construction by local authorities, or approved and awaiting start, total more than 50,000. We do not want to try to solve today's housing problems with yesterday's solutions. Many authorities have now met the numerical shortage of houses and are rightly concentrating on house improvement, of which the figures are a record, and on special needs. There is a great deal to be done, and I believe that we shall get it right.

Mr. MacArthur

What were the approval figures in the same years as have been quoted? Will my hon. Friend remind us of the shattering fall in local authority house building approvals by the Labour Government? How many houses in Scotland are now standing empty because there are no tenants for them in certain areas?

Mr. Taylor

I could quote exciting figures for what the previous Government did, but I do not want to deal with the matter in a controversial way. The Government are not imposing, limitations on new house building, which has been exempted from the cuts. In many areas the numerical shortage has been dealt with, but there are many big problems to be dealt with in meeting specialist needs, such as more houses for the elderly, and house improvement. The figures of approvals for house improvements last year were a staggering all-time record.

Mr. David Steel

We accept, of course, that the hon. Gentleman is always non-controversial in these matters, but as he is the new and fresh face at the Scottish Office, will he undertake to examine the length of time taken in his Department to siphon through approvals for both local authority and Scottish Special Housing Association projects? Will he assure the House that delaying approvals is not being used as a method of cutting back public expenditure on housing?

Mr. Taylor

I can give the hon. Gentleman that categorical assurance. If there are difficulties in approvals, I shall be glad to look into them. I have a great deal still to learn. I repeat that houses under construction by public authorities or approved and awaiting start are more than 50,000, which is no mean figure.

6. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish a table showing the number of public sector houses built in each year from 1959 to 1973, inclusive.

Mr. Edward Taylor

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Sillars

Is the Minister aware that when the figures are published they will clearly show that a Tory Government are the scourge of the homeless in Scotland? Why have his Government deliberately engineered a crisis in public sector house building by cutting the rate of completions by more than 17,000 in 1973 as compared with 1970, especially at a time when the private sector neither by volume of output nor, more important, by price, can meet the needs of the homeless in Scotland? Is it that the Tories have a vendetta against the Scots when it comes to housing policy?

Mr. Taylor

I want to be non-controversial, but the hon. Gentleman is being scandalously unfair and unreasonable. He must know, because he has an interest in these matters, that the Government have not cut new house building. There are no cuts whatsoever in new house building. The hon. Gentleman must be well aware that local authorities are now concentrating on other needs apart from simply providing houses. For example, the approvals last year for improvement of public sector houses were over 70,000. The year before we came to power the figure was 11,000. The increase to 70,000 is a dramatic change. If we are to solve the housing problems we should not use foolish and misleading language, which does not get us anywhere.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I first say to my hon. Friend "Welcome back". Will he confirm that the 1,500-plus council houses standing vacant in Dundee are of no value to the homeless? Is not that situation a scandalous indictment of the housing policies of the previous Labour Government and successive Labour administrations of the city of Dundee?

Mr. Taylor

Houses lying empty, even though there is apparently a substantial number of people wanting houses, are becoming a problem in some areas. The housing needs of the future are different. We must concentrate on ensuring that we do not build a series of concrete jungles, because they do not solve the problem. Instead, they create a problem of vacant houses when there is an apparent demand.

Mr. Ewing

Is the Minister aware that the empty houses in Dundee referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) were built by the 1963 Conservative Government and were not the result of the 1964–70 Labour administration? I ask the Minister, as the new patch on a very old pair of trousers, whether he is satisfied with the public sector record in house building in Scotland. Does he intend to improve on his predecessor's record or to continue in the same inefficient manner, in the hope that he will receive the same promotion?

Mr. Taylor

I very much object to the suggestion that my predecessor was inefficient. One of the problems the hon. Gentleman will perhaps discover in due course, in the unlikely event of his party returning to power, is that it is very difficult to take over a job from someone who did it very well, as my hon. Friend who is now Minister of State for Defence did. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no question of our holding back on public sector house building where it is needed. We shall give every encouragement. But we do not want to make the mistakes of the past. Where there are social problems arising from mistakes by the previous Government or our Government, we want to put them right in community terms.

Following is the information

Public secctor New Houses Completed
1959 23,061
1960 22,063
1961 20,083
1962 18,977
1963 21,595
1964 29,509
1965 27,563
1966 28,159
1967 33,960
1968 33,269
1969 34,302
1970 34,947
1971 29,130
1972 20,155
1973 17,818