§ ' The tenant's right to purchase under section 1 of this Act shall not apply where a dwelling-house is in the area of a district or islands council where the Secretary of State, on the application of the islands or district council concerned certifies that the number of housing starts of that housing authority is twenty-five per cent. less than the number identified as necessary in the housing plan which it has 408 submitted to the Secretary of State.'.—[Mr. Millan.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we may take new clause 24—Exemption Powers of Secretary of State—Government amendment No. 34, and the following amendments :
No. 38, in clause 1, page 4, line 21, at end insert ' or(b) where a dwellinghouse is part of a multistoreyed block except where all tenants have exercised their right to buy.'409 No. 39, in page 4, line 21, at end insert—' (9A) This section shall not apply to dwelling-houses in an area which is designated a reserved area by the islands or district council within whose area it is situated where the Secretary of State, on the application of the islands or district council concerned, makes an order, which shall be made by statutory instrument, to that effect(9B) An order under subsection (9A) above may be applied for where in the opinion of the islands or district council concerned further sales in the reserved area would be unduly detrimental to the interests of applicants on its housing list or of tenants of the council who are seeking transfer to other houses belonging to the council or would upset the balance of housing stock belonging to the council 'No. 251, in page 4, line 21 at end insert—' (9A) This section shall not apply to dwelling houses :
§ Mr. Millan
New clause 20 imposes a restriction on the right to buy in districts with insufficient housing starts. These clauses, and the amendments taken with them, bring us to the heart of the Bill—the sale of council houses in Scotland. I restate briefly our implacable objection to what the Government are doing here. I shall not speak at length, because we had extensive debates on this subject upstairs in Committee and on Second Reading, but I wish to put on the record our objection in principle to the Government's policy.
The Government are imposing a rigidity that is unjustified by the circumstances and that will do tremendous damage to council housing in Scotland. It will prejudice the interests of existing tenants as well as those on waiting lists and those awaiting transfer to better accommodation. The Government are imposing their will on the local authorities in a completely dictatorial way, regardless of the wishes of those authorities or the circumstances in particular areas. They take no account of the effect that these compulsory sales will have on housing lists and waiting lists in these areas.
The discounts being offered are completely unjustified. They are a waste of 410 public money and an extravagant use of public resources. To add insult to injury, the provision in clause 5 compels local authorities, against their wishes, to give loans in certain circumstances where building societies, presumably for good reasons, have turned down applicants for building society loans. We are opposed to these matters in principle.
What is more, we do not believe that the Government have a mandate for this policy in Scotland. They did not have a mandate after the general election in Scotland, and the issue was ventilated again at the district council elections last month. We all know the results of those. It is no use saying that the district elections were about other matters. Of course they were, but they were also about the sale of council houses. In the Daily Record the Conservatives inserted a full-page advertisement exhorting council house tenants to stop paying rents, vote Conservative and buy their own homes, thus investing in a growing asset. That advertisement was inserted on 1 May, the eve of the poll. The Conservatives introduced the matter quite dramatically into the district election campaign and we all know the result—a massive and shattering defeat for the Tories.
There is a legitimate area of interest for the Government in this matter. I took that view when we were in office, and I still maintain it. However, there must be a balance between the rights of central and local government. In the Bill the rights of local government—and after all, local councillors are democratically elected by the people and they have a legitimate right to govern in their own areas—are completely set aside. Local authorities are being compelled to follow policies that they consider politically distasteful and detrimental to the interests of the people whom they represent and who voted for them. The next Labour Government will repeal these provisions.
We are well aware that there is not the slightest prospect—in view of their arrogant mood—of the Government's accepting any proposition to remove these provisions from the Bill. That is why our amendments do not go that far. They put forward a number of ways in which the Government, if they are sensible, can grasp the opportunity to avoid a confrontation with district authorities in 411 Scotland that is otherwise inevitable. There are a number of ways in which that can be done, and I shall describe them. Our amendments are directed at reducing the worst effects of the Government's legislation rather than eliminating them altogether. They are designed to offset the worst effects of the Bill in areas where it will do the most damage—areas of acute housing shortage, where there is tremendous demand for council housing.
It is obvious that if the Bill goes through as it stands the most desirable houses in the most desirable areas will sell first and to the greatest extent. The Government once tried to deny that by claiming that if the prices were right houses would sell in all areas, however undesirable and unpopular they might be. That is absolute nonsense. It is against all experience, reasoning and common sense. It is against the knowledge that those of us who represent large council house areas have of the wishes and feelings of the people in those areas. There can be no doubt that if the Bill goes through in its present form the houses in the best areas will sell quickly, to the detriment of other council house tenants and those on the waiting lists.
The new clause would apply a restriction in an area where there was a deficiency in housing starts compared with what had been agreed not just by the local authority but by the Secretary of State in the housing plan submitted by the local authority concerned. Under the new clause the Secretary of State would have a role to play. The new clause would not operate unless he gave his permission. In principle that is undesirable, but this is a modest new clause and in the circumstances we are willing to make that concession. This is one way of eliminating some of the damage that would otherwise be done by the Bill.
When we discussed the problems of rural areas earlier today, we again experienced the arrogance and the dogmatism of the Government. There are other considerations than those of rural areas. We believe that there should not be compulsory sales of council houses where insufficient new housing is being built. The new clause would not prevent local authorities voluntarily selling council houses where they felt it necessary, 412 but it would eliminate compulsion to sell against the wishes of local authorities and the inhabitants of the area.
New clause 24, in the name of the Scottish National Party, deals with the problem in a different way. It provides exemptions for areas or categories where specific housing is in short supply, and again provides a role for the Secretary of State. It is one way to limit the damage that the Bill will do. It will introduce a necessary element of flexibility to enable land authorities to exercise discretion and and judgment in the light of local circumstances. I have no objection to that new clause.
§ Amendment No. 39 tackles the problem in a general way. It is my preferred amendment. I drafted it. It would be the most effective instrument to tackle the problem, but I do not disparage the two new clauses, which are perfectly acceptable. We must introduce an element of flexibility in the Bill, which can be done in different ways. Without that flexibility, the situation will be disastrous for some areas. Our major plea is for the Government to introduce that flexibility. We shall be pleased to consider any effective amendment that they put forward.
§ Under amendment No. 39 the local authority could designate certain areas as reserve areas, where no further sales would be permitted, at least under clause 1. The Secretary of State would again have to give permission, but the amendment would allow the local authority to take the view that further sales in an area would be unduly detrimental to the interests of applicants on the housing list or council tenants seeking transfer to other council houses or would upset the balance of council housing.
§ Local authorities would be able to say that they had applied the provisions of the Bill, whether they liked it or not, but that it had been demonstrated that in certain highly desirable and popular areas large numbers of houses were being sold, which was detrimental to tenants or those on waiting lists. They would be able to apply to the Secretary of State for a ban in those areas where sales had gone too far, and they would hope to persuade even this Secretary of State of that. That is an important element of flexibility. It would allow discretion and judgment to be exercised by local authorities, with the approval of the Secretary of State. If the 413 Government were sincere in wanting to meet, to even a small extent, the wishes of local democracy, they would accept such an amendment. The Government would be wise to accept the flexibility offered in all the options, which is very much in the interests of local authorities and their tenants.
§ There is then a Government amendment, which I shall not deal with. Amendment No. 251 is a Liberal amendment, which deals with the problems of areas of special architectural interest. I have considerable sympathy with it.
§ Amendment No. 38 is in my name. It deals with the problems of multi-storey blocks, and would prevent sales. Another amendment dealing with the problem was tabled in Committee, but was not debated. Some hon. Members have considerable experience of multi-storey blocks in their constituencies. Let me first deal with the background. First, there is the myth that they came about during the Labour Government, because of the enthusiasm of Labour authorities. The opposite is true. Encouragement for multi-storey building in Scotland occurred during a Conservative Government. I do not argue that the Government were completely wrong. Encouragement occurred over only a short period. Many of these blocks cause considerable social and housing problems.
§ Secondly, again contrary to popular myth, not all multi-storey blocks are undesirable. I have some extremely good ones in my constituency. Many of these blocks provide a standard of council accommodation as good as that in other more generally recognised popular areas. They are not slums. Some of these blocks are problematic, but others are extremely desirable.
§ Anyone who knows anything about multi-storey blocks or the old tenement blocks in Scotland knows that multi-ownership will cause immense problems. Maintenance of good accommodation and environmental standards, and keeping the property in good repair, which can sometimes be expensive, depends on having a single owner and a coherent approach to maintenance and repair. In good, popular and well-maintained multi-storey blocks, which will be attractive to buy, it will be disastrous to have multi-ownership. It will cause immense problems with repairs and maintenance, particularly when, as 414 can happen in the best constructed blocks, occupants are faced with major and expensive repairs.8.30 pm
§ It is difficult to get agreement between eight owner-occupiers in a tenement block. The problem will be even worse in a multi-storey block, with 50 or 60 different interests to take into account If the Government want to push ahead with their dogmatic approach to council house sales they will make a profound mistake if they proceed with sales of multi-storey accommodation. I hope that the Minister will not say that there will be missives, leases and understandings. Legally, one can provide for all eventualities, but making agreements work in practice is a different matter. Anybody who knows anything about the problems will be appalled at the prospect of multistorey blocks being sold compulsorily in bits, against the wishes of a local authority.
§ There must be flexibility. With a general flexibility it will be possible to encompass the problems created by multistorey blocks because of the provision to apply for exemption. A general flexibility must be written into the legislation. That is what the two new clauses and amendment No. 39 provide. There must be exclusions, and multi-storey blocks should be excluded.
§ If the Government do not change course or modify their position they will be set on a collision course with many local authorities in Scotland. Let there be no mistake about that. I have never encouraged a local authority to break the law. I shall not do that under any circumstances, because that is not the way in which elected Members should behave. However, the Secretary of State will make a grave mistake if he believes that all that is at issue is a political argument that will blow away in a few months, and that he will then achieve the co-operation of local authorities. That will not happen. This is not a temporary problem. Deep-seated feelings and emotions are aroused by the Government's attitude. The Government do not have the support of the electors in Scotland. They certainly do not have the support of the district councils. Almost without exception, Labour-controlled councils are violently opposed to the Bill.415
§ The Government are experiencing many other confrontations. They forced the highest rate increases for many years. They have problems with local authority manpower and budgets, as well as unemployment problems and other industrial difficulties. Yet the Government are deliberately taking on another series of problems which will lead to critical clashes between central Government and local Government in Scotland. The clashes will do no good to Scotland, or to people living in council houses.
§ There is still time for the Secretary of State to draw back a little. I do not expect him to abandon the provisions, although I wish he would. He should introduce some flexibility into the legislation. That would give it a chance to work and to take into account some of the local interests. That is the argument in favour of the amendments.
§ Mr. Cook
I am pleased to speak in support of new clause 20, standing in my name and that of my right hon. Friend, which my right hon. Friend has moved so ably and so eloquently. The new clause provides that a local authority shall be exempt from the provisions of this section of the Act if it is unable to build the houses that it has estimated are necessary in the course of the preparation of its housing plan.
I believe firmly that if a local authority is unable to build the houses that it believes are necessary to meet housing need in the area, because the Government have not made the necessary capital allocation, it would be grotesque if the authority was also obliged by the Government to sell off those houses it already possesses which would otherwise become available for re-letting to meet a portion of the housing it has identified.
One of the most severe challenges that will be posed to responsible housing authorities as a result of the Bill is the arbitrary element that will be injected into their forward planning. As the result of an initiative by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), when he was in charge of housing policy at the SDD, there is now an obligation on local authorities to prepare an annual statement of the need in their area for the next five years and an annual statement of how they propose to match 416 that need. There is no point in expecting a local authority to go through a sensitive and sophisticated calculation of how many houses it will need during the next five years, or how many houses it proposes to build, if the unknown quantity of how many tenants will choose to exercise their rights is suddenly injected into the calculation.
A local authority will have no discretion and cannot possibly plan for that event. It will have no control over the rate at which its housing stock diminishes, although it will be held responsible for the rate at which the housing stock increases. Faced with the challenge that will be posed to housing authorities, the logical response by Government would be to scrap the housing plan system so that they are not faced with the embarrassing details of the housing need that remains to be satisfied after five years.
I was intrigued to notice that the Government wrote to COSLA in January saying that they would like to streamline the housing plan system. That apparently consisted of reducing the housing plans from an annual event to an event that occurred every four years. The next housing plan would not be required for another four years, which would conveniently take the calculation of housing need in a local auhority area beyond the span of the public expenditure White Paper, which makes plain that no local authority will get the capital allocation it needs to match the housing need that it identifies in its housing plan at present.
I ask the Secretary of State to take note of the reply sent by COSLA before the May election at a time when those in charge of the housing committee of COSLA were not dominated by the colour of the Opposition side of this Chamber. The reply was that the local authorities were satisfied with the housing plan system and that they did not want to give it up. They wished, however, that the Secretary of State would pay more attention to the capital allocation consequences of the estimate of housing need that they were preparing on his behalf.
There is scant sign that the Secretary of State will pay much attention to the estimate of housing need being prepared. What he proposes can be seen from the public expenditure White Paper. A 417 study of the table of figures shows that, in the four years covered by the White Paper, expenditure on housing in Scotland will fall from £702 million to £410 million, a drop of 42 per cent.—nearly half. That is by far the largest cut in any of the budget programmes contained in the White Paper.
It is a clear and deliberate attempt to pile the maximum amout of public expenditure cuts on to housing provision. The White Paper is different from previous White Papers. It does not set out how money in future years shall be spent. We do not know how much of the saving will come out of rent subsidy. The Secretary of State intends, perhaps, that all the saving should come from rent subsidy. In that case, it will be necessary for rents to be increased three times in real terms over the next five years. It is difficult to believe that is what the Secretary of State intends.
Some of the cuts presumably will come from capital expenditure on housing. They cannot come entirely from capital expenditure because the amount the right hon. Gentleman proposes to save is greater than capital expenditure on housing in Scotland. Even if he stopped building or modernising all houses, he would not achieve the saving that he proposes.
Plainly, a large element of the saving will come out of the capital allocation, at a time when we cannot afford to be complacent about the present level of housing provision in Scotland. One in 10 of the householders in Scotland still lives at an overcrowded level, by the bedroom standard. That is three times the average for England and Wales. One in 15 of householders in Scotland still lives in houses that are identified as being below a tolerable standard. If we add those figures together, we are talking about ½ million householders in Scotland who are living in conditions that are, by any definition, inadequate and which will be remedied only if there is additional building.
It is already clear from the evidence that hon. Members are getting from their constituencies and local councillors that there is unlikely to be much additional building. Some major housing authorities are in great difficulty over their house building programmes. I understand that 418 Aberdeen is having to choose between continuing with the houses under construction, and running out of land next year, and abandoning the houses under construction in order to have some capital to purchase land on which to build next year. Either way, there may well be an annual hiatus in the building programmes.
It is not just the large, urban, Labour-controlled authorities which are in difficulty. There are also considerable protests from the rural areas, where the councillors in charge are concerned not for doctrinaire or dogmatic reasons, but because they see the consequences for their areas and the people whom they represent.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) referred earlier to the case of Badenock and Strathspey. That authority has had a bid for 300 houses in its programme cut to 130 houses and has written to the Secretary of State to point out that more than 130 of the families for which it was building live in caravans and will have to continue to do so, because the council is not being given the money with which to build the houses that those people need.
Badenock and Strathspey councillors are not, as far as I am aware, paid-up members of the Tribune group or subscribers to Militant, but they were so outraged that they sent a circular to every housing authority in Scotland containing thoughts that I offer to the Secretary of State to take to the Cabinet, since they are couched in a way that may carry some influence even there. The circular said :Councillors here take the view that the provision of housing is paramount and an essential source of stability in the country, equivalent in importance to "—I ask my hon. Friends who have taken time off from considering the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill in Committee to note this passage—and of assistance to the maintenance of law and order.That is correct. If councils are left with inadequate, unsatisfactory housing conditions, we shall store up not only housing problems, but other social problems that will flow from that housing stress.
Another dimension of the effects of the cuts in capital expenditure came to my attention only recently. Documents are
419 coming out from the SSHA about the effect on its forward programme of the cuts in its capital allocation. Those documents were successfully concealed from hon. Members until after our recent debate on the SSHA order. It is clear from those documents that the consequence of the sharp reduction in the capital allocation to the SSHA is that there will be virtually no building by the SSHA outside Glasgow before 1984–85.
One of the many ironies in this situation is that the local authority that will be most affected by the postponement of its building programme is the authority that includes the constituency of the Minister responsible for housing. Edinburgh will suffer most as the result of the postponement of its capital allocation by one of the city's Members of Parliament. The main reason why Edinburgh will suffer most is that for the past six years we have had in charge of housing policy in the city Conservative councillors who have deliberately run down the building programme to a level at which in the past year the authority started a mere 30 houses in a city of ½ million. Those Tory councillors justify the reduction in local authority house building on the basis that they have a bold and expanding SSHA programme which will take up the slack.
Unfortunately, as a result of the capital cuts introduced by the Government there will be no SSHA building in Edinburgh before 1985. Some sites that have been standing empty for a decade will continue to grow weeds and have scrap and other objects dumped on to them. That will happen in my constituency over the next five years without a sod being turned to provide the houses so desperately needed in that housing stress area.
Looking ahead, even beyond 1985 it is plain also that even after that period, in which there will be a virtual cessation of new building by the SSHA outside Glasgow, any future programme may be modest. We are seeking a choking off of an agency which has provided an essential source of local authority housing in many areas of Scotland. We shall now be unable even to help it fulfil its role in support of economic expansion.
420 As hon. Members are aware, I am no great supporter of the proposal to build a nuclear power station at Torness. I think that I can claim to speak with complete impartiality when I say that a matter which should concern the House is the fact that among the projects specifically named as requiring postponement is the provision of houses in support of the construction of the Torness nuclear power station.
We have the absurd situation in which the Government are pressing ahead with the construction of that power station when their policy is to refuse to make available the necessary expenditure to meet the housing consequences that go with economic expansion.
I was horrified at the weekend—and I hope that hon. Members will share my shock—to discover that a young couple in Dumbarton setting up home together for the first time, are being obliged to set up that home in a single furnished room for which they are paying £30 per week. That is the result of the competition from construction workers in the area for whom no additional housing is being provided. There will be many more such cases in future as a result of the squeeze that will be applied to our housing stock by simultaneously selling off houses com-pulsorily, and imposing cuts in the capital allocation of the order and magnitude that I have described.
The Government cannot have it both ways. They can either say that the sale of council houses is all right and that they will make the money available to replace them. That would be an extremely expensive way of proceeding, though it would avoid the social consequences arising from present policies. Or, alternatively, they can say that it is unnecessary to replace council houses because there is already such a large stock in the public sector, and that that stock will survive for a considerable time to come.
The Government cannot say that they will not replace council houses and deny local authorities the money to build additional new houses while they oblige those same local authorities to sell off houses to whichever tenant takes it into his head to buy irrespective of the need for additional houses for letting in that local authority area. That is downright 421 irresponsible and will undoubtedly give rise to much pain and suffering in our country over the next five to 10 years as young couples find it much more difficult to obtain the housing to let that they require.
They may not see that coming now. There may be very few people in Scotland at present who perceive how the Bill will affect them and reduce their chances of a decent home. But I assure the Secretary of State that as they become more numerous and as they ask why they cannot have the chance of a decent home we will lose no opportunity to tell them who is to blame for that situation.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
In opening the debate the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) used quite strong language. He is not given to the use of excessive rhetoric, but on this occasion he was entirely justified in what he said. The way in which he condemned the Government for setting aside the rights of local government to determine local issues was valid. I cannot accept that previous Labour Governments have always been blameless, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Government rightly stand condemned for a policy that is far too rigid and inflexible. It is the intention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the clause if and when a Division takes place.
In some respects the clause is not different from amendment No. 255, the Liberal amendment. As the right hon. Member for Craigton said, various hon. Members from the Opposition Benches have been considering a variety of ways by which to introduce into the Bill the degree of flexibility that we consider it lacks.
My principal purpose is not to repeat all the arguments, but to draw attention to amendment No. 251, which confines itself to a fairly narrow issue. I understand that we are not to have a separate vote on that amendment. Nevertheless, I hope that a brief rehearsal of the arguments will influence the Government and that they will consider the possibility of tabling amendments in another place in due time.
The amendment seeks to widen the exemptions in the Bill that are presently confined to sheltered housing. The issue is concisely summarised in a letter that 422 my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) received from the director of administrative and legal services of the Roxburgh district council in January. My righ hon. Friend is fulfilling a longstanding engagement, but he will return to the Chamber for the vote.
The letter states :Roxburgh District Council has recently been considering various provisions of the … Bill "—that is the Tenants Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill—and in particular the likely exclusions from those types of properties that it will become a local authority tenants' right to purchase. At the present time, no reference is made in the Bill to houses in listed buildings and conservation areas, many of which are being or have been reconstructed with great care and in most cases at extremely high cost. Such is the case with the houses which have already been provided in the central area of Jedburgh. This development has now received a Civic Trust Award, a Saltire Award and more recently a Europa Nostra Award, the only scheme of reconstruction in Britain to do so, and one of only five in Europe … A town centre reconstruction, such as has been done in Jedburgh, is primarily in the interests of the national heritage and the District Council is extremely concerned that deterioration in its appearance and structural condition may occur should any of the property be sold to individuals ".Incidentally, I am told that in April the district valuer estimated that the housing units in Jedburgh would sell at between £11,000 and £14,500, although they cost between £23,000 and £27,000 to construct. That is an argument of some substance. There are reconstructions of a similar character in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. I have in mind the Wallace Tower development in Aberdeen. I have no doubt that many hon. Members could refer to other examples elsewhere. There is a case, on grounds of public expenditure and the protection of historic buildings, for the Government to reconsider their position.
I conclude by referring to the general issue. In all district authority areas in my constituency there are considerable housing waiting lists. That is not the case in all constituencies in the kingdom. However, it is certainly the case in Inver-nesshire and in other parts of the Highlands. Whenever I make myself available for constituency clinics, as Members of Parliament do, I find long lists of people coming to me to ask for houses. 423 That is true in Inverness burgh, in Aviemore, which is in the district council area of Badenoch and Strathspey, to which reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). It is interesting to observe that in Aviemore there is a residential caravan site that houses above 100 people. It is currently under threat from the Earl of Seafield. These people are staying there for the simple reason that they have nowhere else to stay. They have no houses to go to. They live in this caravan site in a place called Edenkillie. They do not do so from choice. They do it because they just do not have any alternative. It is shameful that the Earl of Seafield, who owns vast acres, should cause distress and worry in this little patch in a great land holding. I am glad to have had an assurance that if there is any question of eviction, the Highland region will compulsorily purchase the land.
However, that is not the answer. There is a lack of local government housing. As was explained, in the case of this local authority, in the first place many units of its existing stock are highly attractive to people wanting to buy. In the second place, the cutbacks in public expenditure mean that the local authority can in no way meet the demand that is laid upon it. Therefore, it is caught from two sides. The Government should most carefully re-examine the situation.
I make one final quotation, referring to the fact that even where the Government have made exemptions and allowed the possibility of pre-emption, the Skye and Lochalsh district council, again within my constituency, has also been highly critical of this legislation and its inflexibility.
The chief executive remarks to me in a letter dated 14 March :The effectiveness of a right of pre-emption depends on the District Council having available sufficient consent to incur capital expenses under section 94 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. In a situation where the capital allocation for a year is largely taken up by liabilities on contracts incurred before the beginning of the financial year, exercise of the right of pre-emption co "Id well be ruled out.424 Even where the Government have accepted amendments to their legislation, it may well be that that kind of amendment will be futile and ineffective.
I plead with the Government to take seriously what was said by the right hon. Member for Craigtown and others and to insert into the legislation a great deal more flexibility than they have so far allowed.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I was not one of those who were fortunate enough—I use the term loosely—to be members of the Committee that debated the Bill. I have not had an opportunity prior to this to pass comment on the general principles that we are debating in these amendments. I echo the words used by my right hon. Friend the Shadow Secretary of State in terms of the spirit of deep anxiety that exists among local authority representatives at the moment. The point has been well and truly made that we find this feeling in unexpected places. It is not just the unique sign of a Labour-controlled council. If I may say so about West-Central Scotland, which is the area in which I have most of my contacts, I have no doubt that, unless we can build an element of flexibility into the system—and the Government may be grateful for that element in the months, and perhaps the years, ahead—we shall head for a situation of the utmost seriousness in terms of relationships between central and local government. That is bad for the system. It is bad not just for the Government, but for all in politics, whether in district councils or in central Government.
It is perhaps now a vain hope, but there is a strong case for urging the Government, even at this last minute, to accept one of the various models that have been presented to them to allow them not necessarily to give concessions immediately but the option of giving concessions within the established statutory framework. They might wish to use such a model if some of the more unfortunate consequences of the selling of council houses were to take place, as we certainly expect Such flexibility would mitigate some of the worst effects and might allow the proper management of 425 the housing stock by individual district authorities.
My interest is simple. I represent a constituency in which about 96 per cent. of the electorate live in public sector housing. It is an area with extremes of council housing. We have some of the most popular residential areas in Glasgow. Unfortunately, there are some areas, where people voted largely with their feet, where there is a public perception that they are not good places in which to live, where there is the gravest difficulty in letting property on any terms and where the prospect that it may one day sell is a mad illusion.
In the less fortunate, less favoured, areas in my constituency there is a great deal of anxiety about the impact of this Bill. For example, Drumchapel is receiving about 25 per cent. of all people rehoused in the city of Glasgow under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. Enormous numbers of people in that area are just waiting to move out. Conversely, anyone who wishes to move to Knightswood on a transfer will need to have had a local authority tenancy dating back to the early 1940s. Therefore, I have in my constituency a desired area and an area from which 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of tenants are actively seeking a move.
I readily concede to the Secretary of State, who is nodding, that in areas such as Knightswood he can do all sorts of clever things. In Knightswood, there is a tendency for tenants to sit still, so there is a small turnover. I concede that movement into the area from the less favoured parts of my constituency is a slow and gradual process.
The point is self-evident and it is perhaps a cliche, but if at the end of the day we allow desirable houses to be sold out of the public sector stock, we destroy hope. When hope goes, in its wake comes a great deal of bitterness, confusion and division. I am genuinely scared that there will be significant numbers of sales—not as many as the Government visualise—in very small localised areas which are particularly important in terms of the public's perception of housing prospects and aspirations. That will create social tensions and bitterness of a kind that we have not seen for a very long time.
426 This is not a suitable arena for confesssions. However, I was a good deal more open minded three or four years ago about the prospect of selling council house than I am now. The reason was that at that stage I did not represent a constituency made up almost entirely of council house tenants. I hope that it will not be misinterpreted if I say that I have recanted to some extent. I deal daily with the problems of the Glasgow transfer list, and my view is that these provisions are a disastrous recipe for distress and social confusion. The Government must try to build in the element of flexibility that is represented in the various new clauses under discussion.
Both in my constituency and in the peripheral schemes throughout Western Scotland, the vast majority of those in less fortunate areas will see themselves as doubly disadvantaged. They were not fortunate in the initial allocation, and because of that they are being given no chance to benefit to some extent—and I use the words "to some extent" in inverted commas—from the opportunity to buy their council houses. I say it in inverted commas because I accept that many people, when they do their arithmetic and consider the cost of a mortgage and house maintenance, may find that it is a bargain that they cannot take, cannot afford, and that it is beyond their reach.
A double fraud is involved. The system will create the tensions to which I have referred. Even those who should benefit from the opportunity will find that it is snatched away from them. One reason for that is that in the areas that I have been discussing, such as Knightswood in my constituency, Moss Park in Glasgow, a large number of tenants are of pensionable age. They would find it extremely difficult to obtain a mortgage, even if they wished to do so. But that is a subsidiary plot, although a serious one. The main point is that those who have been unfortunate in the queue will see themselves as being doubly victimised in the way that I have described. They will resent it very deeply.
We should have an element of flexibility, even if it is in terms of a reserve area. I accept that if there is a reserved area within a city, or a district council geographical area, where the right to buy has been withdrawn, the Secretary of State 427 and his cohorts will argue that that in itself is unfair, and creates two different tenancies. I do not think that that is absolutely right. I have always thought that the Conservative Government stand for a free market. No doubt they would like to see a free market in the area of housing. The essential characteristic of a free market is that not only is there a willing buyer but there is a willing seller.
It is right that we should have some sort of mechanism that will allow the Government and district councils to come together and say that the whole management of the housing stock has been distorted, is out of synchronisation, and is being tilted in a way that is socially damaging. The options that are being taken up are being taken up on an unsatisfactory, localised basis. That is common sense.
We have a position of compulsory purchase in reverse. That should be anathema to those who preach about free market economies. There may be a willing buyer, but there is not a willing seller. He is selling under duress and compulsion. An escape clause from that position, if the distortions become obvious, is something for which the Government may be grateful in the months that lie ahead.
Many Labour Members have expressed their reservations and their considerable anxiety about the future in the area of housing. I do not wish to speak at great length on that point. I regard the whole matter as a deeply misconceived and misguided exercise, and one that we shall rue as time goes on. It is clearly an attempt to move away from housing policy dictated by social needs to a position where housing allocation will be dictated by the ability to pay. That is an inevitable concomitant, and an essential characteristic of the scheme that the Government are foisting on the people of Scotland.
If—I console myself with the thought that the "if" is a substantial one—we get council house sales in the way that I have described in the areas of high demand, on the scale which Conservative Members expect, I very much fear that we shall damage for ever the public's perception of public sector housing. Inevitably, 428 more and more public sector housing will be seen as a safety net provision. It will be a sort of supplementary benefit in housing terms, where people who are suffering misfortune or who have been unable to get a more advantageous holding in the housing market are taken on by the public sector. Naturally, in such situations, they will be given treatment which will be seen—perhaps wrongly—as second best.
I do not believe that anyone who operates in public sector housing, or who represents a council house constituency, is blind to the appalling dangers, even now, of the ghetto which builds itself within the public sector. The great fear among Labour Members is that the policies which are now being presented to us as a shining opportunity for social advance will turn a situation under which we get an occasional ghetto developing into one in which the public will see all public sector housing as one large ghetto or area of social failure.
I hope that those fears are exaggerated. However, in essence I believe that they are real. We are pleading with the Government to recognise how real those fears are, not just among politicians, who perhaps have a vested interest, but also among those who live in those areas. They should recognise that at this stage it is only simple common sense to build in the escape routes so that if at some future date those fears are justified, we can put our heads together and try to undo the damage which may well be done over the next three or four years.
It is all very well for Labour Members to say that we shall take steps when we return to power. But Parliaments can seem to last a long time when the social distortions which flow from this kind of policy are allowed to go unchecked. I very much hope that even now the Government will be prepared to listen.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said a great deal of what Opposition Members wish to say in relation to this matter. However, at the outset, I put it to the Minister that in the new clauses and amendments under discussion there is no frontal assault on the question of home ownership or, indeed, the sale of council houses. That battle was fought in Committee. What we are 429 now dealing with are ways by which some kind of discretion will be given to either the local authorities or the Secretary of State, or will be available to both the local authorities and the Secretary of State, to prevent some of the difficulties that have been mentioned.
I do not know what is the most difficult to criticise—the damage that the Government's plans will do to local democracy or the damage that will be done to the balance in the public housing stock. It is difficult to pick the one to which one might take the strongest opposition, but in relation to local democracy it undoubtedly means that the district councils, which have been given the function of dealing with council housing, will have no say in what will happen to the stock that has been built up over the years.
They have a duty to house the people living in their locality. They have a duty, which has been reinforced in recent years by the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, to take care of those who have no home at all, but we are now finding that the stock of houses available to them may not be sufficient to deal with their statutory functions and their moral reponsibility.
Most hon. Members accept that local government should have the maximum amount of control over the functions given to it. Of course, financial restrictions have prevented local authorities from having complete freedom. On occasion, there have been pressures and policies to build certain types of houses—pressures that perhaps are now bitterly regretted by both central Government and local authorities. Here, the Government have made substantial inroads into local democracy, and I do not think that their excuse that they are giving back rights to individuals will wash, compared with the difficulty, distortion and damage that they will do.
Hon. Members who represent urban constituencies are aware that in many areas the balance in housing is not good at present. There are differences between one area and another. Areas such as Drumchapel, to which the hon. Member for Garscadden referred, are not popular. People go there largely because they have no option. Houses are available there, 430 and if people do not take them they do not have a house, but once they move into such areas they find it extremely difficult to get out again. Some areas are good and popular, and there is a tremendous pressure to move from areas that are not perceived to be good into those that are.
One of the faults in our housing policy over the last 20 years has been that we have failed to build the sort of houses that make life easier for people. There are too few semi-detached and terraced houses, and too little housing with sensible living space. Instead, we have built battery-type housing, where people have to live close together, and if there are one or two anti-social families in a neighbourhood, life can be made hell for the other families there. Against that background, the Government's proposals will lead us into considerable difficulty.
I have mentioned the difference between areas, the fact that certain houses are more popular than others, and the fact that walk-ups are probably the least popular of all houses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan) said that in his constituency there were multi-storey blocks of flats which provided a high quality of housing.
If there is a disparity between area and between class of house, there is also a disparity in respect of the size of houses. Often, families wish to move from three rooms to five rooms, or, in cases where families have grown up, the parents—or a widow or widower—wish to move from five rooms to three rooms. But they run into the problem of lack of availability of housing stock. There are too few smaller houses. Our population is getting older, and family sizes are smaller than they used to be. There is now an imbalance that has developed through birth trends or through the natural ageing process of the population, and it is causing trouble.
There is also the problem of houses that are in high demand—for example, ground-floor flats. That type of accommodation is wanted by older people who do not want sheltered accommodation but also do not want to have to climb stairs. Those houses are competed for by people with medical priorities, because they cannot climb stairs. Because of the cutback in housing finance—the grim background 431 against which all these discussions are taking place—houses may be sold which will not then be available for people who otherwise want them.
My main criticism of the Bill is that it will cause anarchy—if I may use that term—in the public housing sector. It will cause trouble, pain and anxiety for individuals. We should state clearly that although there are many good reasons why people should own their own homes, there is nothing wrong with people living in rented accommodation. That system has operated in Scotland for many years. It is perfectly respectable, and it has not been classified as social housing. There is a danger that if we begin to distort the situation—as may happen under this Bill—without the precautions that we wish to provide through the new clauses and amendments, we shall end up with welfare housing that is available only for those in the poorest circumstances and that has led to the creation of ghettos in countries such as the United States.
Last Friday I received a delegation from the Midcraigie and Liniathen housing estate community association. It is an estate that does not have a community council, but now, thankfully, it has an active and growing community association. The delegation handed me the massive petition that I am holding, which is addressed to the city of Dundee district council. It contains a very impressive list of names, on about 150 sheets of paper, from a wide range of addresses. The significant thing about this petition, which comes from people who hope to move from those areas into areas that they deem to be better, and who wish to have a choice in the rented sector, is that in the preface to the petition the signatories are not opposing the sale of council houses. But what they say—and this is very valid—is this :We the undersigned object to the local authority selling off the best of the city's housing stock. We believe that whilst people in this city are living in low standard houses, the local authority's obligation is not to sell off the best stock, but to keep the best stock and improve the standard of the rest of the housing stock.Those who are perhaps seeing the possibilities of a move disappear under this legislation have taken the line that it is the best stock that will be sold, and in that they are perfectly right.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Does the hon. Member concede that his rhetoric might sound a lot less empty if those of us who have had experience of Scottish nationalist-controlled local authorities did not know that they have been prepared to sell any kind of house—good, bad or indifferent—to anyone who was prepared to buy it, without qualification?
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not accept that as a general rule. There was one local authority that was prepared to sell. Many others were willing to sell, but only under protections that they considered necessary. The hon. Gentleman's point comes from a rather poisoned source, he holding—temporarily, I hope—a seat that was taken from the SNP. I have always noticed that those who are most sensitive are those who are rather worried about their future—otherwise they would never rise to the bait.
I have quoted the terms of the petition which was brought to me from the Midcraigie and Liniathen community association. That association has put before the House the problem that will arise under the Bill. The Government have failed to recognise that one man's right to buy can lead to a loss for other tenants under the system.
§ Mr. Wilson
I have been patronised by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) in the past, and I presume that I shall be patronised again.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Midcraigie and Liniathen community association. Is he suggesting that no one in that area will buy any of the houses there? If he is suggesting that, I can assure him that he has got the matter wrong. I grew up in that area. I still have friends living there. There are some who are interested in buying their homes in that area. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Wilson
Some individuals may well buy. I am not sure whether it is the hon. Gentleman's parents who are willing to buy and whether he is contributing to the funds in the way suggested by others or whether he wants to make a quick profit or a quick killing. I do not know. I know that professional advisers 433 might well tell their clients to be very careful about buying houses that might not easily resell.
I support the new clause and the amendments. However, I want to make some comments on new clause 24, standing in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), which reads as follows :' Any landlord affected by Section I hereof may apply to the Secretary of State for exemption from sale to tenants of any dwelling house or dwelling houses or any size or class of dwelling house on the grounds of shortage and on receipt of such application, the Secretary of State shall conduct such enquiry as shall be necessary and if it appears to him reasonable so to do, he shall have powers to grant the application in whole or in part.'.The new clause gives local authorities the right to make representations to the Secretary of State if they experience housing shortages. If the Secretary of State agrees that there is a shortage of such houses, and that to sell them would cause serious problems, he will have the power to grant that application, wholly or in part. He will have discretion and will also have the final say. A local authority could put forward a case. If the Secretary of State agreed that it was valid, he could grant the application. That would take away some of the frustrations and dangers that may result from the Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will indicate whether that proposal is acceptable.
An obstinate refusal to make a small concession to local authorities will cause confrontation. That confrontation will undoubtedly build up. If the Secretary of State is wise, he will accept that some form of flexibility should be built into the Bill in order to avoid confrontation and hard feelings. Above all, he should allow for the provision of justice and fairness within the public housing sector.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)
I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). He made an illuminating and far-reaching speech. He was prepared to confess that although he had never been blind to the problems of council tenants, he represents a constituency in which 92 per cent. of the population live in council houses. Week after week he has attended constituency surgeries, and council tenants have enlightened 434 him about the problems facing them. When Government's legislate, they legislate across the board, irrespective of conditions in different districts. Such legislation can hurt many people. At least my hon. Friend showed that he was aware of that.
I am opposed to the sale of council houses. Housing deficiencies still exist in Scotland. We still suffer from an acute housing crisis. If the Government are concerned about council houses and about looking after those who dwell in them, or wish to do so, they should inject a massive amount of cash into house building. I noticed that the Secretary of State nodded when the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said that not enough proper houses had been built. We should build hundreds of thousands more houses. In Scotland, 150,000 houses are below standard. I am sure that not one of those houses will be sold. About 160,000 families are living in overcrowded conditions. They desire a better way of life and better housing. There are 100,000 people waiting to live in council houses. Perhaps there are districts in which houses are so plentiful that they can be sold, but I have not heard of any.
My experience is not limited to a constituency or group of constituencies. I have had the privilege—and it is a privilege in Scotland—of having been a council tenant for all my life, with the exception of a brief period when I was first married. I then went into the private sector and lived in a virtual warren. I paid an excessive rent for a small room, with a box room attached.
I have known the advantages and privileges of being a council house tenant, but I understand why people—when given bargains—wish to buy their houses. They are told that it is an opportunity that should be grasped, but the details are not pointed out. When they are, potential buyers are ashamed that the plum houses will be taken from Scotland's housing stock.
The Opposition and the Secretary of State may argue that houses do not disappear. Of course they do not disappear. Houses do not collapse because they are bought. However, I warn potential tenants that some houses might collapse. Scottish council houses are rapidly deteriorating because of a lack of funds with which to do the necessary repairs.
435 9.30 pm
The Bill removes from the pool of houses the desirable residences that people who are encapsulated in multi-storey blocks would like to have. I have had experience of multi-storey blocks as a councillor representing a ward consisting entirely of six multi-storey blocks, and there is not one problem relating to such blocks with which I am not familiar. The main concern of people with young families living in such blocks is to get out as quickly as possible. Desirable as a multi-storey block may be—and certainly it is high living to some people with a 130 ft. drop below them—it is not the best place for young children. Families with young children living in tower blocks want to transfer to semidetached areas. My constituency clinics are packed with people who plead for the opportunity to move into these areas. Young people are unable to buy houses. They certainly do not have the tenancy qualifications to buy a house of that kind, and if those houses are taken out of the pool the hopes of these people will be destroyed.
While such conditions prevail I am totally and utterly opposed to the sale of council houses, and I shall push against the idea as hard as I can in my area. My local council has already taken the decision to freeze any movement towards the sale of council houses, and I applaud it for doing so.
The trade union and Labour movement throughout the length and breadth of Scotland should be mobilised to resist, at whatever cost, the Government's policy on council houses. I say that in the knowledge that on the occasion that we pursued a similar course at Clay Cross, those who so valiantly stood out against that type of of legislation were betrayed by the trade union and Labour movement.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)
Given the thinness of the numbers on the Labour Benches tonight, how does the hon. Member hope to mobilise Labour opinion?
§ Mr. McKelvey
Considering the thinness of numbers on the Government Benches, I can confidently state that we are in a three to one majority at present. If we can mobilise our forces in Scotland 436 to the same degree, we shall march right over the Tories and their legislation.
The fact that the provision of houses has to be determined by market forces will rule out all those young people living in conditions from which they wish to escape. Their only hope of escape is a massive cash injection into house building, so that the proper type of houses can be built. Council house sales will diminish the number of council houses available for families on the waiting list, despite the protestations to the contrary by the Secretary of State.
Only the best houses will be sold. As I said, I was a councillor for an area with six multi-storey blocks, and no one ever came to me and said that he wished to purchase a flat in a multi-storey block. I should not wish to do so either. The share of the lift maintenance alone would put me off. I should like to see the figures of all those in multi-storey blocks, high rise flats or tenements who have applied to buy their own homes. I have looked at the list in Kilmarnock, but I could have picked the houses that would go up for sale before I saw it. Those up for sale were the most desirable. Every week in my constituency I deal with people with housing problems who want to move from the "walk-ups" and maisonettes to more desirable properties. They are aware of the dangers.
§ Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley)
Last night the Government attempted to draw a red herring across the trail by suggesting that the problems of the Health Service in Scotland could be solved by administrative tampering. They are suggesting tonight that Scotland's housing problems can be solved by selling council houses, plus a wee bit of administrative tampering. The problem tonight is similar to that of last night. We need more money for the Health Service and for public sector building in Scotland. Conservative local authorities have a poor record over the past five years. In my area only three houses have been started, which illustrates the need for a massive house building programme. In some districts there are as many as 4,000 people on the waiting list. The need is for more houses and not administrative tampering.
§ Mr. McKelvey
437 The vast majority of working people in Scotland see council house sales not as further tampering, but, much more dangerously, as part of the Tory master plan to devastate Scotland's social services. The Tory Government want to put the boot in, especially in Scotland, because of the election results.
It is disgraceful not to see more Scottish Conservative Members in the Chamber, and none of them appears to have anything to say in support of the Bill. If they had, I suspect that they say it tongue in cheek.
Unless the Government leave themselves a loophole in the legislation, the people and authorities in Scotland will unite to attempt to destroy the legislation by force. The next Labour Government will repeal the provision to sell council houses. I hope that they will also introduce legislation to repurchase the houses that have been sold.
§ Mr. Maxton
I have a sense of déjà vu. Almost exactly 13 months ago I raised this topic in my maiden speech, when I opposed the sale of council houses. I spoke on the matter again on Second Reading, and spent many weeks in Committee. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing. They know that in Committee I participated at length. In Committee and tonight we have won the arguments. Unfortunately, we are likely to lose the votes.
The new clauses and amendments are an attempt—possibly not a sufficiently large attempt—to alleviate the worst effects of the disastrous policy of selling council houses. For the bulk of my constituents the Government's policy is disastrous. Many of them live in large housing estates, built to alleviate the disastrous housing schemes erected during the Industrial Revolution. Mistakes were made. Most people who live in such circumstances have no wish to buy property there.
Two of my constituents wrote recently to the Secretary of State to the effect that they did not wish to buy their homes in Castlemilk but that they were seeking a transfer to a better area in Glasgow. They fear that if council houses are sold in the better areas they will lose the opportunity to move. Their objection to the Bill is that it is socially divisive and that it will create ghettos. As my hon. 438 Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, such people will lose their homes.
One of my constituents, an elderly lady, has lived at Castlemilk since it was built 25 years ago. She wants a house in a more pleasant part of Glasgow. She received a letter from the housing department saying that she would have to have had a tenancy in Glasgow since 1938 to obtain a transfer. That is wrong. There are few houses in Glasgow to which such people can go.
However, people have hope. If we destroy that hope we shall create a social condition which can only cause trouble. People will be forced to use undemocratic means to oppose policies at local and national level. We must be worried about that, but that is what can happen if we create such social divisiveness.
The Government's policies will lead to a destruction of local democracy. Housing, which is the major function of local councils, will be taken away from them. Local authorities will not be able to plan for housing needs. Glasgow is a large district with a large council house population. The local authority must be able to plan for the needs of its existing citizens and to attract employment to the city. At present local authorities can build and offer local authority housing to people who move in to work.
The right to buy is not limited to sitting tenants. If a person is attracted to Glasgow because there is work there and he has had a council house tenancy in any other part of Great Britain for more than five years he can walk into a council house in Glasgow one day and make an application to buy it the following day. That destroys the ability of a local authority to plan its housing in a proper manner. It also makes the job of local authority planning at a micro level difficult.
There is the problem of repairs in multi-storey properties. How does a local authority ensure that the outside of the property is painted if 10 out of 100 flats in a multi-storey block have been sold? The same problem applies to tenement blocks in Glasgow. The local authority may decide that the outside of seven out of 10 properties, the other three having been 439 sold, require painting. Are the three that have been sold to be left unpainted? Does the local authority insist that the three owners pay for the work? Is the painting left until the three private owners have paid their share of the cost? If the work is carried out before payment is received, there is a chance that the local authority will never see the money. Or does the authority arrange for seven properties to be painted and for three to be left unpainted?
For these reasons, I oppose the legislation. I am left with a slight doubt, however, about whether the exercise is part of a massive political fraud. We have spent months debating the legislation. At the end of the day, the number of council houses sold could be so small that the exercise will not be worthwhile. Many people, when they examine carefully the cost of buying a house in a tenement block, will have reservations. A house costing £20,000, with 50 per cent relief, will be available for £10,000. Those qualifying for full relief will probably be aged 47 or 48 and will probably have to pay off the mortgage by the age of 65. They will not, therefore, be granted the normal 25 years in which to make repayments.
It is unusual for a mortgage company to allow a person to extend the mortgage beyond the age of 65. A loan of £10,000, at present interest rates, will cost, with tax relief, £100 or more a month. If the amount has to be repaid in less than 25 years, the cost will be more than £100 a month. In addition, there will be the cost of rates, which are at present included in rents, repair bills and insurance. The cost will amount to £130 or £140 a month, as opposed to present levels of £35 to £40 including rent, rates, insurance and repairs.
When people are confronted by that prospect, they may decide not to buy. At the same time, however, the Government are applying pressure for rents to rise so fast that it will become economic for people to buy. This measure is either one of the most divisive ever introduced in Scotland or it is such a gigantic fraud that it will never be worthwhile. The Government are merely appeasing their own political consciences by introducing the Bill.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not often speak in housing debates. I have not spoken on this Bill previously, for a variety of reasons. I consider that there is sufficient expertise on the Opposition Benches. I am compelled to speak, however, because the social concepts inherent in this part of the Bill are among the nastiest and most divisive introduced into Scotland for a long time. They represent an attempt to express the dogmatism of the Tory Party, and their subsidiary purpose is to help with the financing of that party. Their effect will be to create a ghetto society even among working people.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said that a group of tenants had complained to him that only the good houses were being sold. I hope that he said to them "But of course. It is certainly not the fault of the local authority."
The third aspect that I find unpleasant and distasteful is the way in which the Government have produced policies affecting local authorities and have then attempted to shift the blame for the consequences on to the authorities. A group of tenants have complained to their local Member about the local authority selling only the better houses, but, given the nature of the Government's legislation, that is all that an authority can do.
If it is exceptional for me to speak on housing, it is equally exceptional for the borough of Kingussie to be the seat of revolution, yet it is from Badenock and Strathspey that the call has gone out to all other local authorities in Scotland to combine to object to the Government's behaviour.
The Government have succeeded in uniting Tory, Liberal, SNP and Labour councillors in opposition to their policies. They have a remarkable record—divisiveness among working people and among local authorities and the turning of people against local authorities because of the actions of the Government.
If the Government's policy is dogmatic, it is also mean and vindictive. It is mean because it will stretch to the crack of doom the housing lists that we are already facing. The sale of council houses is an attempt to save on the public sector borrowing requirement. It is not done in the interests of a housing policy, because 441 it is done in combination with a cutback on housing. The problem arises because of the unfairness involved in the sale of council houses, the financial background to the proposal and the cuts in building programmes.
We see in the Government's economic policies massive destructive long-term effects caused by a short-term dogmatism, and we see the same results in the housing schemes of our cities. The Government are causing great damage by their policies of cutting back on house building and reducing public expenditure. They are also producing divisiveness and tensions because of their short-term dogmatism. All that will have long-term, massive and unhappy effects on the social fabric of Scotland.
The Leader of the House has told Tory Members to realise that they are not involved in a dogmatic crusade. He could have fooled me. I see little other justification for their policy, although they do not seem to be getting anywhere near the Holy Land.
The most interesting speech in the debate was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). He referred to his conversion on the subject. I am an inveterate opponent of the sale of council houses, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey). There is no justification for the policy in Scotland, where we are still short of 150,000 houses. There might be a remote case for the policy where a ghost town had been built and laid waste, though even there I could see little reason for it. There is certainly no justification for such a policy in the boroughs, towns and cities of Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden has changed his view because of his own experience and not because of any doctrinaire view. He used to be a moderate on the subject. He and I have argued about it and he has said that he saw no massive matter of principle involved. Now, on the precise basis of his own experience, my hon. Friend recognises-as Conservative Members do not—the problems in constituencies such as his own, where perhaps 90 per cent. of constituents are council house tenants. He recognises the divisiveness of Government policy
442 Those of us who have large clinics know the problem as well. People come to see us, and when asked if they have seen their local councillor they say "No". As Members of Parliament we tell them that we have no authority, but that if they will state their case we will do what we can—but there is litttle we can do unless we see that things are going badly wrong.
What emerges from almost every other case is not simply that our constituents are without a house when they need one but that they nurse a sense of grievance if they think that others are jumping the queue. Time after time a constituent will say that he knows of people who have lived in an area for six months and have obtained a house. When the case is examined, that allegation is usually found to be true, but there is still a burning sense of grievance. If a situation is just, people on housing lists are willing to take their time, but if they believe it to be unjust they have a sense of grievance.
That is precisely what will happen as a result of Government policy. That policy will create a "them and us" situation. There will no longer be simply grievance suspicions ; there will be grievance realities, because those people—all of them living in houses that they did not choose—have always hoped to reach their particular Holy Land of obtaining a house with a little bit for garden. Those tenants wish to make that kind of change, but the Government have frozen the situation and created total immobility among our council tenants. The worst areas will be hit and the best houses will be sold. In every possible way the Government are running down what should be a marvellous asset for our people.
Various attempts have been made to deal with the situation. I think it was suggested in new clause 24 that where a case was made an inquiry should take place. The suggestion was made that we should create reserve areas in order to prevent the rapid rundown of other districts, and different solutions have been advanced in ameliorative clauses.
I believe that if the local authorities get together to use their strength to defeat and thwart the will of the Government they will be serving the cause of 443 democracy and will prevent the causes of social tension in their areas. Democracy itself is being attacked by the Government. There is an element of fair play and equality within democracy. There is also the other element—that people who, by statute, have been democratically elected to look after the needs 444 of their communities find that democracy is being thwarted by the dogmatism of this Government. They are entitled to mobilise their strength and get the support of the trade unions and the working people of this country behind them in order to turn this Government off their tracks. The sooner that happens the better.
§ Mr. Lambie
I support the new clauses and amendments under discussion, for the reasons put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan). They allow the Government to draw back a little from the full implications of the Bill for Scotland.
The Government may have the right to introduce such a measure in England, where they have a majority of Members of Parliament and where they won the last election without fear of contradiction, but they have no right to introduce such a Bill for Scotland where, at the last election, they obtained the votes of fewer than one in four people and where 44 Opposition Members were elected out of a total of 71 Members representing Scottish constituencies. [Interruption.] It is well seen that when one succeeds in hitting the Government on a sore spot by saying that they do not represent Scotland, Conservative Members forget their public school upbringing. They begin to roar and shout and bray, because they cannot justify their arguments.
I ask Conservative Members to remember their English public school upbringing. If they want to intervene, let them stand up and do so. They should not roar from a sedentary position from the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway) rose——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.