HC Deb 17 January 1983 vol 35 cc121-40 10.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

I beg to move, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 17 December, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion: That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 17 December, be approved.

Mr. Younger

The details of the settlements are already widely known and are contained in the documents before the House. Therefore, I do not propose to take up the time of the House by reiterating all the explanatory material, but to concentrate my remarks on the issues that I know are of major concern to the House. They are the aggregate of grant and the broader issues related to it. In relation to the detailed contents of the draft notes I stress that, as usual, both drafts are the product of detailed discussion and consultation between officers of my Department and of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The House will wish to know that this year, in fulfilment of an undertaking that I gave to the convention last April, the consultations have involved the provision of fuller information to the convention's representatives than ever before, including advance notice of my income and expenditure assumptions. There has been agreement on all but one of the technical formula assumptions relating to distribution on which the draft orders are based.

The main order includes one important innovation that relates to the way in which loan interest is to be calculated. The change, which I know the House will welcome, has been introduced in response to the express wish of the convention.

I wish to deal first with the straightforward question of the draft variation order. Last February the House approved an order providing for housing support grant totalling £134.4 million in 1982–83. That was based on an assumed interest rate of 13–09 per cent., but interest rates have moved downwards since then and district and islands councils average pool interest rate for 1982–83 is now estimated at 11.99 per cent. Consequently, grant falls to be reduced by £29.8 million because authorities will be spending that much less on loan charges than was allowed for in grant settlement. Authorities are not losing anything. They are not spending the money on loan charges and, therefore, they will not receive the grant that they would have received had they spent it.

In the main order for 1983–84 the aggregate amount of grant is £72.1 million compared with the revised aggregate of £104.6 million in the current year. That is not an arbitrary reduction. It reflects the fact that, on reasonable assumptions, income will rise by more than expenditure, leaving a smaller balance to be met by grant.

The income assumptions are likely to be the main focus of debate, so I shall deal with them first. Apart from housing support grant, local authorities meet their expenditure mainly from rent and rates. For rate fund contributions, I have assumed a small increase over the level assumed last year to allow for inflation. I shall deal later with the fact that several authorities budget for rate fund contributions higher than we consider reasonable and the serious consequences of that.

I have taken the view that rents should be assumed to increase by £1 a week. That will not affect all authorities. My assumptions for grant lead to no increase in rents for the 11 authorities that have no grant entitlement this year, and the effect on the nine other authorities that will not be entitled to grant in 1983–84 will be less than £1 per house per week. However, even for those authorities that remain in grant and for which the £1 figure is relevant, that is a very modest figure. I am aware that Opposition Members will have much to say about percentages, but I think it is more sensible to keep talking in terms of cash. The bare facts are that tenants in Scotland currently pay £9 per week on average in rent while their counterparts in England pay half as much again, about £13.50 per week.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)


Mr. Younger

Perhaps I might be allowed to finish this part of my argument. In the past there was always a differential of this kind, but one always took into account the fact that, by and large, average earnings south of the border were much higher than those in Scotland. However, a comparison of manual worker's incomes shows that whereas in England the average manual worker's income is £133.50 per week, the equivalent Scottish figure is £136.90 per week—that is, £3 higher than the figure for England and Wales. Moreover, I should have thought that, on any calculation, £9 per week for rent is not much against an income of over £135 per week.

Mr. Dewar

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He said a few moments ago that the average rent increase that he was looking for was about £1 a week. He also said—and I think that we agree—that the average rent at present is £9 per week. The notional rent that he is asking local authorities to reach on average over Scotland is £550—or £10.59. It is therefore dishonest to talk about a £1 increase. It should be £1.60.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. In any case, I want to make it perfectly clear that, when I assume an increase of £1 per week, it does not mean that everyone will have that amount. Some will have more, some will have less, and some will probably have no increase at all.

Perhaps I should anticipate the usual objections—they have already come from the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) from a sedentary position—about pensioners, the low-paid, and the unemployed. I remind him and the House that the rent rebate scheme means that such people pay either no rent or only a proportion of the rent. No pensioner with only the basic state pension would pay any rent at all, either at the present level of £9 per week or at £10 per week. The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that it is just as well, but two minutes ago he was shouting "What about the pensioners?" I have told him about the pensioners, and he should be happy about that.

Let us consider the case of a married man, with two children, who is in employment and earning up to £85 per week. He would pay no rent, whether rents were £9 per week or £10 per week. He would have to earn more than £105 per week before he paid even half of the rent.

Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Is the Secretary of State prepared to look into the difficulty which many pensioners experience because they are refused rent rebates as a result of the savings that they have been able to make during their working years? Will the right hon. Gentleman examine the amount that a pensioner is entitled to have in the bank and see whether it can be increased?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate that point. It is a problem which I have frequently met in my constituency, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman has. It is right that we should consider such matters from time to time, but it is unlikely that we could entirely eliminate the consideration of people's savings. It would not be right for the public to pay part of the rent of those who have large savings. However, I take the point and we shall consider it in revising the level of rent rebate schemes.

The only people who would pay a full rent of £10 per week would be those who have good incomes. The married man with two children, whom I have been using as an example, would need to earn about £130 per week and close to the Scottish manual worker's average of £136.90, which I mentioned just now, before he would pay all of a rent of £10 per week. About half of all tenants pay less than the full rent. So it is only the other half, those with relatively high incomes, to whom a rent increase of £1 per week would mean an extra £1 out of their pockets.

Before leaving rents, I must make the point that my assumption for the purposes of housing support grant does not determine rent levels. Local decisions are important. Efficiency and economy in management and maintenance expenditure can keep rents down, and profligacy can force them up. Actual rent increases in individual authorities depend very much on authorities' decisions.

Another factor is the level of rate fund contributions. We have consistently urged local authorities to reduce these to the reasonable level assumed for the purposes of housing support grant, because we believe that the public expenditure resources involved are more urgently needed for capital spending and because we are concerned about the burden on ratepayers.

I am glad to say that we are managing to increase the proportion of public expenditure on housing which goes into capital spending rather than subsidies. [Interruption.] Let me say that again. The right hon. Member for Craigton has not listened. We are managing to increase—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is not likely to hear it even the second time if he chatters away like a boiling kettle. He really should take a lesson in listening. I shall say it for the third time. I am glad to say that we are managing to increase the proportion of public expenditure on housing which goes into capital spending rather than subsidies. We plan for 74 per cent. of resources to go to capital spending next year as opposed to 71 per cent. this year. [Interruption.] I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's ability to chatter away and not hear a word of what is being said while keeping up a running commentary on it. The right hon. Gentleman's speeches from a sedentary position are very much better than the ones he makes when he is standing up. Perhaps he will be glad about that.

We plan for 74 per cent. of resources to go to capital spending next year as opposed to 71 per cent. this year. That proportion would be about 80 per cent. if all local authorities would co-operate with us in giving priority to capital spending rather than across the board rent subsidies to benefit those with incomes too high to receive rent rebates. Unfortunately, a minority will not so co-operate. They continue to budget for very high levels of rate fund contributions.

There are four large authorities which are responsible for most of the problem. They account for almost half of rate fund contribution spending on the basis of about a quarter of the council housing stock. The average rate fund contribution per house in Scotland of £ 138 is more than 1½ times the £91 in England and Wales. If one were to leave out these four authorities the Scotland figure would come down to £101.69, only £10 more than in England. Those four authorities are a huge drain both in capital spending in Scotland as a whole and on their own ratepayers. Glasgow's ratepayers pay 21p in the pound because of the burden of rate fund contribution on the rates. This is more than the total rate in some local authorities, such as their neighbours Eastwood.

I have told those four high spending large authorities that it will require reductions in rate fund contributions expenditure of about £9 million from them if their capital allocations are to be at the level I have said that I wish them to be. This should not be difficult. They all spend more than one and a half times the Scottish average and I have said that this needs to come down to 40 per cent. above that average. I believe that much of this could be achieved by economies in management and maintenance expenditure, but if the four authorities concerned choose to put it all onto rents it will add 20p per week to the Scottish average and between about 40p per week and about 90p per week to rents in those specific authorities. I have allowed the other 52 authorities rate fund contribution limits at the same level for which each of them has budgeted this year, so that the effect on rents is neutral.

I have already touched on expenditure considerations, through the effect that high rate fund contributions have on pushing down the level of capital allocations. I wish to say more about capital allocations in relation to the expenditure side of housing support grant. The figure for loan charges in the order is a straightforward reflection of the volume of capital spending for which the provisional capital allocations allow. The real point is that I wish to pay more grant, because I want capital spending to be higher.

The fact that rate fund contributions are taking up a sum of money that is between 40 and 50 per cent. of the amount left over for capital is the main constraint. I have tried to change that through the housing expenditure limits system, but the decision is in local authorities' hands. I have managed to keep capital allocations for HRA block spending at last year's level, while ensuring a large volume of resources for the non-HRA block allocations to allow authorities to follow through the huge increase in take-up of repair and improvement grants in the private sector following the changes that we have made to the grant system. Authorities can also help themselves. We have made it possible for them to add to their capital spending on the basis of their capital receipts, mainly from council house sales. Unfortunately, there is evidence that this year some authorities have not tried to bring in the full amount of receipts available. They have allowed a backlog of sales to remain and so ruled out the capital spending that receipts would allow. However, they can redeem the situation next year by clearing those backlogs. My Department has written to 32 authorities suggesting that the backlog is equivalent to about £28 million in lost receipts. Bringing in those receipts will be of substantial value to the capital programme and I hope that authorities will take the steps necessary to achieve that benefit as soon as possible.

The other main element of the expenditure side of the grant assumptions is management and maintenance expenditure. I have allowed a 7 per cent. increase over the level assumed last year, which allows a small increase in real terms. The assumed expenditure levels to which !the increase is added are above the actual expenditure levels of the majority of authorities.

The level of expenditure and income assumptions put together is, as I have shown in discussing rents, that 20 authorities are estimated to have an excess income over expenditure and thus do not feature in the grant settlement. Their excess income does not reduce the grant payable to the other 36 authorities.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

I apologise for not hearing the Secretary of State's earlier remarks. If we consider the trend in the 20 local authorities in relation to the housing support grant, how many authorities in the coming years will be excluded? How many authorities will receive the same proportion of grant in 1984–85 if we continue the trend?

Mr. Younger

That depends entirely on the trends in expenditure and income following authorities' decisicns. Is is quite possible, and I hope desirable, that as many authorities as possible will leave the grant system as their housing accounts become more balanced. I cannot guarantee that any particular number will do so, because it depends upon their decisions.

The settlement tries to give an incentive to housing authorities to achieve as much capital spending as possible, to be fair to their tenants by allowing them to buy their houses if they wish to do so, and have a rent that is thoroughly reasonable in relation to people's incomes and way of life, while keeping the rent rebate scheme, which has now been subsumed by the unified housing benefit, to cope with all those who find difficulty in paying their rent through lack of income, unemployment, pensionable age and so on.

It is a reasonable settlement, and I hope that the House will approve both orders.

10.49 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

The Secretary of State has made two speeches today, and the second was certainly better than the first. It was intermittently—and largely unintentionally—funny, but it is to be preferred to his first effort on the rate support grant. We witnessed the extraordinary and shameless sight of the Secretary of State advancing the basic failure of his policy in defence of his actions. He said that despite everything he had done, and despite his guidelines and his disapproval, local authority spending had not varied much in the past two or three years in real terms. If that is right, it debunks what he has recently tried to achieve.

Whatever the argument about spending on the rate support grant, the figures for the housing support grant are dramatic and stark, and tell their own tale without any ambiguity. In 1979–80 the housing support grant in Scotland was £213 million. The order for 1983–84 produces a figure of £72 million. That represents a catastrophic collapse in the contribution made by Government towards the fight against inadequate housing standards. In real terms the value of the housing support grant has been almost halved compared with the current year. Whatever may be said in partial mitigation—and something may be said, because interest rates have at least temporarily declined—there is no hiding the fact that much less money will be available to local authorities to improve or even maintain present standards in the housing stock.

As we all know, 20 authorities have fallen out of the housing support grant altogether. They represent about 40 per cent. of the total Scottish public sector housing stock. For 40 per cent. of council houses in Scotland there will not be any sort of grant. That can give no cause for satisfaction or pride, even among Conservative Ministers. We are talking not only about the Tweeddales, the Nithsdales, or about West Perthshire and Kinross, but Edinburgh, Dundee, Dunbarton, Kilmarnock, Dunfermline and Renfrew, which are victims of the manipulation of a hopelessly artificial formula by insensitive Ministers.

Anyone who believes that there is no longer housing need in such authorities will believe anything. We are in a world of make-believe. The Secretary of State spoke about the realism of this year's order. Of course, the housing support grant calculation has nothing to do with the real financial world of local government. It has been dreamt up at St. Andrew's House and is based on a series of false premises. Of course, it can be said that an authority with a surplus on its housing account should not get housing support grant. That might be a fair and arguable statement if one was dealing with a genuine surplus. However, the Secretary of State is going in for simple sleight of hand and for accountancy practices which, if applied to any private sector firm, would result in the directors going to gaol for fraud.

Anyone who argues that there must be a surplus to drop an authority out of housing support grant, must do what the Secretary of State has done—underestimate the authority's real expenditure and overstate its real income. In that way one can produce a nominal surplus, but it will have no meaning to anyone with an iota of common sense or any grasp of reality. The figures used in the order show what has been happening. I am obliged to COSLA, and I do not think that the Secretary of State will dispute its figures. If a figure of 7 per cent. for inflation is added to the 1982–83 budget figures for supervision and management in Scottish local authorities, the final figure is far higher. It works out at about £75 per house, compared with the figure in the order of just over £60 per house.

At one stroke, by using that highly artificial concept, about £13 million of what ought to be the proper expenditure figure in the national equation for calculating the housing support grant is being taken away. Similarly, with regard to the repairs and maintenance figure, about £11 million is being taken off. If, at the same time, the Government cheerfully say that they will assume a rent income, which we know will not be gathered in by Scottish local authorities, of about £44 million above what is actually being gathered in, of course it is then possible to create surpluses all over the place, but in doing so the credibility of the system is being destroyed and the confidence of the people who are struggling to keep the housing programme in Scotland afloat is being wrecked. No doubt it is a splendid scheme from the point of view of the Treasury, but it is, I repeat, fraud on a grand scale.

It is fraud that degenerates into black farce when we come to the subject of rents. I find it breathtaking to listen to the Secretary of State—he was at it again this evening—saying in his bland and rather pedantic way that all the Government are asking—of course, across the board—is an increase of about £1 per week in rents. He does of course make the qualification that there are four particularly wicked groups about—those who inhabit the city chambers in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and Hamilton. However he still says that the increase is £1 across the board. He has reached that figure by taking the notional rent figure of what he expected to be collected or what he said he expected to be collected last year and what he is putting in for an additional figure this year. Last year, the difference between the two figures was £498 per annum per house. This year he is expecting £550. Therefore he says the difference is just under £1 per week. But we did not have a rent income of £498 last year. It was £467. Therefore, as the Secretary of State said himself a few minutes ago, the actual average rent that was being paid in Scotland was £9 per week. His new notional rent is £10.59. It is as plain as a pikestaff that he is looking for £1.59. It is bordering on the dishonest—that is as kind and as charitable as I can be—to go around pretending that it is only £1 and then to say to me when challenged that I was not comparing like with like. That is quite extraordinary. I do not accept that merely because in England there is a tradition of higher rents we in Scotland should have automatically to fall in line. If that is the argument, it is a remarkably dangerous one for someone who is supposed to be the custodian of our separate traditions in housing in Scotland. I cannot for a moment see that that makes sense in the context of the present debate.

In 1979–80, when the Secretary of State began his stewardship in Scotland, the average rent was £4.72 per week. Since then, in successive years, we have had increases of 20 per cent., 30 per cent., and 17 per cent. The Secretary of State is now looking for 18 per cent. as the figure jumps to £10.59. It is not good enough for him to say that there are rebates. The difficulty with rebates is that the take-up of them is not 100 per cent. We all know that. Shelter suggests a 75 or 80 per cent. take-up. Many people will be struggling in difficult circumstances if this type of imposition is placed on local authority housing committees in the coming year. As for the four authorities that have been picked out—Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and Hamilton—it is an artificial nonsense to say that they have to crush their rate fund contribution down to £193 per house. It is nonsense to say that my area of Glasgow will have to find 25 per cent. in order to meet the Secretary of State's targets and to save from threat their capital allowances.

The capital side was the most brazen effrontery of all from the Secretary of State. He said that he was proud that there had been a switch and that a higher percentage of the total of housing finance was now going on to the capital spend. Of course that is true, because the Secretary of State has cut the grant. It is not surprising that capital has become a larger proportion of an inadequate and declining total.

Perhaps in a couple of years the Secretary of State will say proudly "We have made a tremendous achievement in Scottish housing. We have eliminated the grant and therefore the miserable capital spend that I am able to afford will be infinitely bigger than the grant paid to Scottish local authorities." That is the logic of the madhouse. The Secretary of State should be ashamed to argue in such a monstrous fashion.

I give credit to the Secretary of State for carefully choosing to say that the percentage has risen because the capital allowance for Scotland this year is down by more than 16 per cent. in real terms compared with last year. In 1982–83 the initial capital allocation, before the sanctions and penalties were imposed, was £297 million. The equivalent for 1982–83 is £249 million. If that is an increase and a cause for congratulation, God help us, because the Conservative Government will not.

The starting point, the needs allocation, is down from £297 million to £249 million and that figure can be related to almost every local authority. The Glasgow figure is down from £75 million to £60 million. Local authorities unanimously condemn the obnoxious system under which, having decided what can be allocated on the basis of need, the Government introduce a back door sanction to try to force up rents.

I believe that I carry with me almost every right hon. and hon. Member when I say that the Government should allocate according to need. They should not try to impose a fief because a local authority has not met some arbitrary figure plucked from the Secretary of State's prejudices. That puts an insupportable strain on the system.

Last year I talked about an opening shot—a needs allocation of £297 million—but about £55 million was lost, not because the need had been met or because there was less need, but merely because the Government wanted to beat local authorities with rent policies that the Secretary of State disapproved of. The year before the sum was £35 million. I have no doubt that some additional penalty will be imposed this year to take away from the reduced £249 million figure.

The Secretary of State may sound plausible to someone who has not examined the starting points, but the edifice so carefully constructed by civil servants is based upon totally misplaced fallacies and is an enormous blow to the chances of decent housing standards in the next year or two.

Inevitably we shall have to face cuts in services, deteriorating housing stock and reduced choice for tenants almost certainly cruelly linked to ever increasing rents. I do not wish to overstate the case, but any hon. Member who has represented a constituency with a high content of public sector housing knows how near to breaking point is morale in many areas. In many parts of my constituency are houses which were wired in the 1920s and have not been touched since. Many houses have only one 13 amp plug and tenants are genuinely worried about the safety of their electrical systems. They have been promised rewiring—perhaps last year, this year or in three or four years. The date retreats because of the Secretary of State's attack on the housing support grant.

Mr. Younger

Since Glasgow has been under almost unbroken Socialist control for the last 50 years, is not that a condemnation of the edifice that Glasgow has built up?

Mr. Dewar

I know that the Secretary of State has difficulty grasping time scales, but for a large part of that 50 years the system in many of those houses was reasonably satisfactory. In the past few years it has been suffering under appalling strain. It is a simple fact that the Secretary of State and his colleagues have been starving Glasgow district council and every other district council of basic finance. The Minister is pulling faces at me but that is an incontestable fact.

We are facing a radical change under the present Government. I do not contest that. There has been radical change but it has been change for the worse in almost everything. If, for example, one examines the total housing budget that has been met by housing support grant, one finds that when the right hon. Gentleman took office it was 38 per cent. and that it is now not much more than 10 per cent. When the right hon. Gentleman took office, rents were financing 44 per cent. of the housing budget. They are now being asked to finance more than 70 per cent. of it. If one examines how other sectors of the housing market are being treated, one sees a sharp and unfair contrast.

The best defence for much of what has been said by Conservative Members to day is that they know not what they do. It has become patently obvious that that is so, having listened to some of their speeches on the rate support grant, but we cannot rely on such frailties when we are dealing with matters of such importance as the basic services that affect the lifestyles of our constituents.

The policies that are being followed, especially in housing, are misguided, mistaken and pernicious. They are an obtuse combination of financial incompetence and a divisive and irrelevant social policy. When we examine what is being done, what is happening and the drear and dreich prospects that lie ahead, we are absolutely right to protest as vigorously as we can tonight.

11.6 pm

Mrs. Helen McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)

There is a certain irony that I should make my maiden speech on housing. It is, after all, the same subject as my late husband, Frank, spoke on in his maiden speech 13 years ago. It was also the topic that Alice Cullen selected when she began her parliamentary representation of what was known as the Gorbals constituency 35 years ago.

The years and Governments go by, but many of the problems remain the same for the people of Queen's Park. After the second world war, my constituency gained the unenviable title of the area with the worst slums in Europe. I regret to say that that was no exaggeration. Having been born and brought up in that area, and having raised my family there, I am only too well aware that generations of electors in my part of Glasgow have lived in houses which many people further south would not dignify by calling homes. They have lived in houses without adequate sanitation, without adequate insulation, in badly overcrowded housing and in housing where conditions have ensured that children grow up less fit, less healthy and less confident than their more fortunate contemporaries. But, as they say in my constituency, the darkest hour comes before another cloudburst.

Queen's Park is a constituency where even some of the solutions have proved to be a new source of distress. In the sixties, it was decided to replace some of the demolished slum properties with what came to be known as system-built housing. It was comparatively cheap to acquire, comparatively easy to erect and had been used to some effect in southern Europe around the Mediterranean.

But Glasgow, as hon. Members who have visited my home town will readily verify, is not exactly comparable with Nice. More specifically, it does not have a Mediterranean-style climate. It requires solid housing that is properly insulated against the possibility of damp. In that respect, system-built housing proved a disastrous error.

The tenants of those houses soon found that they were living in conditions that might conceivably have suppported a reasonable mushroom-growing industry, but the houses were no place in which to raise a family. Walls became covered with unsightly fungus. The smell of dankness and dampness pervaded everything. Huge families were often reduced to living, eating and sleeping in the one room that was comparatively habitable. Imagine the surprise of those tenants when a succession of experts told them that it was all their own fault. Apparently they were breathing too heavily.

The proposed solutions were often just as breathtaking. There were frequent injunctions to keep the windows open and turn up the heating—just what a family needed to know when it was already living on unemployment benefit.

Finally, the experts had to admit defeat. Now that housing scheme, less than 15 years old, lies empty in the middle of Queen's park. Almost 800 brave new homes lie silently mocking the architect who dreamt them up—not that we in the Gorbals have not had our fair share of eminent architects. There are other high rise blocks just a stone's throw from the empty ones that were designed by Sir Basil Spence, who won a major award for his trouble. I wonder what sort of award they would qualify for now. Those flats have become the new slums—so much so that the tenants have already threatened to withhold their rents.

There is a very good reason why those houses are crumbling. It is a vital part of what the debate is all about. Like so many areas all over Britain, in my area there has not been the money available for essential small repairs and renovation work. The trouble with small repair jobs is that it takes a very few months for the small repairs to become major problems. The trouble with renovation work is that it takes very few years to become demolition work.

This is the great false economy practised by the Government. They cut down on their support to already hard-pressed local authorities such as Glasgow. There is little doubt in my mind that houses that could be made sound today will need to be pulled down tomorrow at far greater expense. Meanwhile, new house building is at a virtual standstill and the more desirable local authority homes are being sold, thus cutting down the available housing stock still further.

Those are matters of special concern in an area such as Queen's Park. While over half the homes in Britain are privately owned, the figure is less than one quarter in Queen's Park. One fifth more are rented from private landlords who seem to lack both the money and the inclination to keep their properties in reasonable order.

There is another section of the electors there, not a very vocal one, that causes me particular concern. One third of the households in Queen's Park have one person living alone, usually a pensioner. Few pensioners live in any form of sheltered housing where they can count on emergency back-up when they become ill or fear violence. With the population in Britian generally showing an increasingly older age profile, money for custom-built sheltered housing is not a social work frill any longer. It has to form a priority section of the housing budget.

There is much more that I could tell the House about the area that I am proud to represent, not much of it cause for celebration either, I regret. It is alarming but true that almost twice as many people in Queen's Park still lack a private bath, compared with the rest of the country. It is also alarming but true that there are parts of my constituency where one adult in two is out of work. Even over the area as a whole the unemployment rate is one in four. My children's friends are spending their twentieth and even twenty-first birthdays without having had a sniff of a real job and without any hope of a real future.

All in Queen's Park is not negative. The qualities of the constituency which have struck me more than any others are the resilience and patience of its constituents. Patience may be described as a minor form of despair described as a virtue. I remind the Government, however, that abused patience turns to fury.

I know that it is not customary to be party political in a maiden speech, but I cannot help remembering that at the very beginning of the Government's work the Prime Minister quoted from the prayer of St. Francis Where there is despair let me sow hope … Where there is darkness let me sow light … Where there is sadness let me sow joy. I remind the right right hon. Lady that St. Francis further prayed: Grant that I may seek … To understand rather than be understood. I ask the Prime Minister to use that understanding in the appreciation of the misery of many of the constituents of my area. Such misery, alas, can be combated only with money and resources and the resources that we have in Glasgow have been cut pitifully in the past three years. As St. Francis further said: it is in giving that we receive. Apart from the morality of that statement, it is shortsighted on the part of any Government not to realise the truth of it and to act on it. The Government are certainly not giving, as once again they are cutting the housing support grant, and I for one shall vote against this measure.

I know that it is customary for a new Member to pay tribute to his or her predecessor and the House will forgive me for leaving this until the end. I am sure that hon. Members will bear with me in this as I find it difficult to speak of my dear husband Frank in the House of Commons where he was so active and which he loved so much. His was a life of service to people. Frank led a cheerfully dedicated life—no less dedicated because of his inherent cheerfulness. It is my ardent hope that I may in some small degree continue the work of my late husband and that I may achieve a small part of the love, respect and esteem in which he was held both by the Members of this House and by the constituents of Queen's Park.

11.17 pm
Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

Any maiden speech is a special occasion in the House, but I think that it is fair to say that that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mrs. McElhone) was an extra special occasion—as witness the fact that even at this late hour the House gradually filled as the hon. Lady addressed it.

The hon. Lady mentioned in her very interesting speech that she would not say a great deal about her predecessor, who was also her late husband. We understand that very well. In that circumstance, however, perhaps I may be permitted to put a tribute on record. I knew Frank McElhone even before he was elected, as I happened to be the Tory "candidate's friend" in the by-election in which he was elected—and in the old constituency of Glasgow, Gorbals a Tory candidate needed all the friends he could get. It was thus my privilege to know Frank McElhone then and during his long and distinguished period of service in the House. Many of us remember him with affection as well as with respect. We were delighted to hear the hon. Lady's maiden speech, which was a particularly difficult one for anyone to make, and I am sure that the House looks forward to hearing her speak on many other occasions on the subject with which she and her predecessors in the constituency have been particularly familiar—the problem of housing.

I only wish that the rational, responsible and well-informed comments of the hon. Lady about housing had been matched by those of her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. His speech, by contrast, was very fast moving and slick, but not very well informed. In particular, the hon. Gentleman sought to make something of the housing position in Glasgow following this order.

The problems of Glasgow's housing have a serious effect on the rest of Scotland. The average annual cost of repairs and maintenance for a house in Scotland, excluding Glasgow, is £230. The cost in Glasgow is no less than £390 per year—a difference of £160. That is a serious state of affairs for the people of Glasgow, who have to pay for these expensive repairs and maintenance, and for those in the rest of Scotland.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Glasgow has a higher proportion of high-rise flats, with much higher maintenance levels, than any other area in Scotland. Glasgow also has many older council houses because it started to build council houses far earlier than any other Scottish authority.

Mr. Henderson

I have not suggested what might be an appropriate level of repair and maintenance costs in Glasgow.

I accept that for a number of reasons the Glasgow average is not as good as the Scottish average, but I think that it would be not unreasonable—I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees with me—to compare the situation in Glasgow with that in Manchester. Although the cost in Glasgow per house is more than £160 above the average in Scotland, it is very nearly £100 more than the average cost of repairs and maintenance for a house in Manchester. That is a difference that cannot be explained by the sort of reasoning that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has produced, but it might be explained by the almost continuous Socialist control of Glasgow. That is a different matter. If Glasgow repaired and maintained its council houses on the same basis as Manchester repairs and maintains its housing stock, it would save the ratepayers and taxpayers about £19 million per year. That would help substantially to solve some of the real problems of Glasgow housing to which the hon. Member for Queen's Park referred.

Another very important matter for Scottish housing which emerges from this order is the contribution to the future of council housing which can arise from the sale of council houses to those sitting tenants who wish to buy them.

One of the curiosities of the Labour Party, as the hon. Member for Garscadden mentioned, is that it feels that it is frightful if subsidies are not required. It is as though subsidies, by definition, are good. The hon. Gentleman seems to think of the houses and not of those who have to live in them.

Mr. Dewar

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should end the subsidy on mortgage interest relief for taxpayers?

Mr. Henderson

That is not a subsidy as such. There is no money paid out to owner-occupiers. Money is paid out in the form of rate fund contributions and housing support grants in subsidies to council house tenants. Even if we allow for that, the Scottish average includes the cost of repairs and maintenance in the rent to the council house tenant. The owner-occupier has to pay for his repairs and maintenance over and above the costs of his housing.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

What about the value of the house?

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that under this Government a previously unheard of opportunity is being provided for council house tenants to have the opportunity to own the houses in which they live. They can take all the advantages of being owner-occupiers, to which I assume the hon. Gentleman refers. There are real benefits in owner occupation, not only for the people, but for the society in which they live. The choice has been given to the tenants and the tenants of Scotland are voting with their feet. They are asking to buy their houses. In doing so they are helping themselves and the ratepayers and taxpayers. They are increasing the opportunity for new housing development, either public or private, as a result.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Henderson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman wishes me to continue my speech and to provide a fuller explanation.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

It is fascinating.

Mr. Henderson

How does the opportunity to buy help the tenant? Labour Members have been implying that there are special advantages in being an owner-occupier with a mortgage. A tenant would not take on the owner occupation of a house for which he had been paying rent for many years if he did not feel that there were reasons for so doing. The Conservative party happens to be happy to leave the judgment of whether a person wants to be a tenant or an owner-occupier to the people themselves. The Labour Party would deny them the choice.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Henderson

The Conservative Party has given it to them and tens of thousands are taking up the choice. Let us assume that the buying of council houses by sitting tenants is something that the tenants themselves welcome. It is also helping the ratepayers.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman is much better in the Chair in Committee.

Mr. Henderson

It helps the ratepayers and the taxpayers, because every council house on the books at the end of the period for which it has been financed will have made a loss. Almost every council house that is sold to the sitting tenant, even at the substantial discounts provided for, will produce a profit. The houses which the councils are selling are making a substantial profit on the books and that is available to reduce the capital indebtedness of the councils. The sales are, therefore, of great benefit to ratepayers.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

In the light of all the outstanding benefits which the hon. Gentleman sees flowing from the sale of council houses, why is it that his right hon. Friend has accused the North-East Fife district council of dragging its feet?

Mr. Henderson

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I know that he is extremely well informed on housing matters. He will recall that in major reports about housing in Scotland in general, and council housing especially, the policies of the North-East Fife district council have been praised on a number of occasions. When I have a little more information surrounding the question that he has posed, I shall pose it to my right hon. Friend. I shall look forward to receiving his answer then.

There have been well over 750 sales or offers to purchase council houses from sitting tenants in North-East Fife. North-East Fife district council offered tenants the opportunity to buy as soon as the Government came to power and allowed it to do so. The policy has worked to the benefit of ratepayers and tenants in North-East Fife and in Scotland as a whole.

The principal question that Opposition Members want me to answer is: why does the sale of council houses to sitting tenants help achieve more houses of the kind that we need? As a result of the substantial investment in public sector housing since the second world war there is now the same number of houses as there are families overall.

Bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) said when he was Minister, I am sure that he would accept that the emphasis has moved from the building of any houses anywhere in order to give people a roof over their heads, towards meeting particular needs in particular areas. I believe that in Scotland that means providing for the special needs of the elderly and for sheltered accommodation. It is an indictment of Scottish local authorities that during the past 10 years much of that need has had to be met by the housing association movement rather than by local authorities. The sale of council houses to sitting tenants reduces councils' outstanding housing debts and makes funds available to build houses where they are most needed.

The purpose of the Government grants for housing is to meet the needs of people, not the needs of bricks and mortar or council bureaucrats. The types of policies that emerge from this housing support grant order are more likely to achieve that than anything that has come from Opposition Members.

11.32 pm
Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland mention rate rebates and their attraction for people earning below a certain income. He failed to tell the House that local authorities have to meet 10 per cent. of all rate rebates in Scotland. For cities such as Glasgow that is a substantial amount of money. I wish that he and other Conservative Members would bear in mind that council house tenants are ratepayers. They contribute towards the city in the same way as owner occupiers do.

It was a pleasure to listen to the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mrs. McElhone). I was pleased that she mentioned the misery experienced by people in developments such as the Hutchieston "E" housing development. There are many such developments throughout Scotland where people are experiencing a great many difficulties.

Last week I was in a part of my constituency known as Balgrayhill. The development is only 15 years old. It is a corridor type of development and yet almost every maisonette has fungus and dampness on the walls. The people who live in the top flats of the maisonettes, which have tar covered roofs, sometimes have tar running down their bedroom walls. This is a problem that cannot be tackled by local authorities alone.

Hon. Members with more experience than I have will know that Glasgow district council came into being only in 1974. Although the houses that we are talking about have been in existence for only 15 years, because of local government re-organisation they were not built by the authority now responsible for them. It is not fair that local authorities such as Glasgow should have to bear the burden and it is not fair that tenants have to pay as much as £80 or £90 a month for the dubious pleasure of living in these deplorable houses.

In the debate on the previous order mention was made of many of the regional council services. I feel that one regional council service that can help elderly council tenants is the home help service. Where tenants live alone home helps give an excellent back-up service and help tenants in need, but the service is under a great deal of pressure because of Government policies.

Although the Secretary of State would probably tell us that there have been no redundancies in the home help service, a policy of non-replacement of staff has been forced on local authorities. Home helps are having to look after more and more people and there is more and more pressure on the service. Because there is also pressure on the Health Service and hospitals are taking elderly patients only when their case is urgent, home helps have to look after people who should be in hospital. The Secretary of State should take that fact on board. It would be a shame if the service were brought to a standstill.

I am worried about another matter which has a direct link to housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) mentioned it. It is the road construction programme in the Glasgow area. Because of the policies of road construction, many excellent houses and first class communities have been torn apart. It is a shame that, if we are looking for more money to spend on repairs and repair grants in the public and private sectors, we should embark on a policy of building roads where they are not welcome.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) said that he would welcome road development. If he wishes to have road development in Ayrshire I would be glad to give some of the developments taking place or being proposed in the city of Glasgow.

Mr. Lambie

Tell Strathclyde that.

Mr. Martin

I have told Strathclyde on numerous occasions that I do not want the Stepps bypass or the Blochairn link road. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not give approval to those projects.

It is easy for hon. Members to attack local government expenditure, but it should be remembered that many construction and repair contracts carried out in authorities like Glasgow go to the private sector. If we cut back on public expenditure, we shall do a great deal of harm to the small business man whom the Tory Party claims that it is supporting. Many businesses which have gone bankrupt in the past three years could have avoided bankruptcy if they had obtained local government contracts—contracts that would have been of benefit to the community.

I do not know why there is so much talk about the sale of council houses. The hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) argued that the sale of council houses is a cure-all for our problems in the housing sector. How can people buy their homes when in 1980 rent arrears in Scotland totalled £7 million and, on the Government's figures, were £12 million in 1982? Those rent arrears are a reflection of the hardship, difficulties and poverty experienced by many people in Scotland. I hope that the Secretary of State will try to support local authorities, which are doing a first-class job despite the circumstances, and those who have devoted their lives to public service and to helping the people of Strathclyde.

11.40 pm
Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

Since entering Parliament in 1970 I have attended, taken part in and voted on most of the debates on the rate support grant and the housing support grant. No matter on which side of the House I sat, I always opposed the orders being put forward by each Government. In that respect I and some of my colleagues have been consistent. If we had more consistency and could stop the practice whereby, if one sits on the Opposition Benches one says one thing, but when one sits on the Government Front Bench one says the opposite, the better it would be for Government and for the good name of Parliament.

As has been said in general terms in the debate, the 20 district councils in Scotland will receive no housing support grant in 1983–84. Unfortunately, the district council in my area, Cunninghame, is one of those 20 authorities. In 1979, that authority received £7⅓ million in housing support grant, at 1982–83 prices. We have been notified by the Secretary of State that for 1983–84 the housing support grant will be reduced to nil. That is a sign that the Government intend to phase out not only the housing support grant but all national and local subsidies for public sector housing.

I was interested to hear some of the points made by the Secretary of State, who opened the debate, and by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson). Both criticised the city of Glasgow, along with the district councils of Aberdeen, Stirling and Hamilton for spending too much money on housing. The Secretary of State has no say in how much money Glasgow district council spends on supervision, management repairs and maintenance. He can take action against them only if the district council does not carry out Government policy in general. But if the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Fife, East are so worried about the cost of maintaining and managing housing in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and Hamilton, where they have no power, why do they not consider the management and maintenance costs for the Government bodies that are directly controlled by the Secretary of State? For example, in Irvine development corporation in my area, the supervision and management figure for last year, according to the rating review, was £85.38 a house. For repairs and maintenance it was £228.10 a house, which makes a total of £313.48 a house for houses that are not the same as the Glasgow stock but that have been built within the past 10 years.

If the Secretary of State is worried about that, why does he not tell the urban development corporation to cut down on the management costs and the fantastic repair figures? If he asked that corporation to carry out the Government's provisions for expenditure per house, there would be a difference of about £67.28, or £1.29 per week. Instead of that, the urban development corporation imposes on its tenants average increases of 85p per house per week. The corporation could reduce its rents by £1.29 per week.

The Scottish special housing association is another Government body which is directly under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland. That association today told all Members of Parliament that there would be an average increase next year of 75p per week, not in June or July—the normal time for a change—but at the beginning of the new local government financial year, in April. The average increase will be 75p, but it goes up to about £1.40. The figure for supervision and management in the Scottish special housing association is £55.25 per house, and for repairs and maintenance the figure is £225.47 per house. If the Secretary of State criticises Glasgow corporation and other local authorities, why does he not tell the Scottish special housing association to reduce the figures for management and maintenance and the Government provision for expenditure on those services per house? If he did that, it would mean an average reduction for all the tenants of the Scottish special housing association of 62p per week, instead of having to pay an increase of 75p per week. If the Government are serious and sincere in their attack on local authorities and make the same attack on the Scottish special housing association, all my constituents who are tenants of that association will get a reduction of 62p per week from May of this year. Then we should have something on which to congratulate the Government, instead of congratulating them on a policy of discrimination against council tenants and in favour of owner-occupiers.

If we draw a line from the Severn to the Wash, we find that male unemployment does not go over 10 per cent. south of that line. In the industrial areas of Scotland, most of which are represented by Opposition Members, male unemployment is over 20 per cent. In my constituency, it is over 28 per cent., and in the constituencies of most of my hon. Friends who represent Glasgow it is anything from 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. up to 50 per cent. It is strange that the industrial heartland of Scotland has this high male unemployment and gets none of the advantages of the so-called Government's economic policy, while male unemployment in the south of England is only up to 10 per cent. In fact, unemployment in the Prime Minister's constituency is 5 per cent.

Apart from male unemployment, the industrial heartland of Scotland, compared with the south-east of England, is a place where the majority of people live in tenanted property—either in the private or public sector.

Over 60 per cent. of the people live in council houses or in rented houses in the private sector. In those areas of England and Wales where there is little unemployment, and where people are still not suffering from Government policy, over 66 per cent. of the people live in owner-occupied houses. They are getting the benefit of Government policy as a result of low unemployment and they are also getting the benefit of the Government's taxation policy. while the Government discriminate against council tenants, the average mortgage holder in those areas of England and Wales benefits from reduced interest rates not by £1 per week but by £5 per week.

I am making the same case tonight as I have often made in the House. The Scottish people have been discriminated against by the Government. The Scottish people have been written off by the Government because the Government know that they do not have their support and that they will have even less support after the next election. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will not have to go into the Lobbies to vote against the next Labour Government's housing policies and that they will remember the policies being carried out by the Conservatives. The Government are looking after their voters—the owner-occupiers in the south-east of England. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to remember our voters in the industrial heartlands of Scotland—the council tenants.

11.51 pm
Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Craigton)

There will not be a reply from the Labour Front Bench, so I hope that the House will allow me to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mrs. McElhone) for a very fine maiden speech. I had a close association over many years with Frank McElhone, and I know that there was no subject about which he felt more deeply than housing conditions, particularly in Glasgow and in his constituency. I know also that that deep feeling is shared by the new Member for Queen's Park. It emerged clearly, not only from the content of her speech this evening but from the way it was delivered. It was a speech that not only revealed a tremendous knowledge of her constituency, the conditions of the people there, but which also revealed a tremendous feeling for the hardships which unfortunately so many people in that constituency still suffer from to this day.

It has given many of my hon. Friends tremendous pleasure that my hon. Friend has been able to succeed her husband as the hon. Member for Queen's Park to carry on his work there, and indeed his work for Scotland and for a wider constituency as well, particularly in the latter years of his life. We know of my hon. Friend's deep involvement in the constituency and we look forward to further speeches from her, not only about Queen's Park but also in the wider Scottish interest. Tonight I join in congratulating my hon. Friend on surmounting so gracefully the first hurdle, that of delivering her maiden speech.

11.53 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

May I first join the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mrs. McElhone) on what I am sure all hon. Members who listened would agree was an outstanding maiden speech.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) told the House, the hon. Lady's late husband held the respect of the entire House for his constituency work and his wide-ranging interests. The hon. Lady has spoken to the House with knowledge and conviction about the problems facing her constituents. I hope that it will not be long before we have the privilege of hearing the hon. Lady speaking again on housing and other matters. We all wish her well in her career in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".]

We have also heard the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) adumbrating his well known consistency. Whenever there is a rate support grant order or a housing support grant order it does not matter who is on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman will be voting against it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East told the House, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made several wild generalisations at the beginning of the debate. He implied that the settlement was in some sense unreasonable. I shall go through the figures again. On expenditure, the figure for management and maintenance is an increase of 7 per cent. over last year. It is higher than the rate of inflation. It is based on a figure for 1982–83 of £233, which is higher than the average for 55 authorities in Scotland.

On income, the settlement implies an increase of £1 per week. The hon. Gentleman was not comparing like with like. He must compare this year's settlement figure with that of last year, or last year's outturn with this year—which we do not know without looking into a crystal ball. He must not confuse the two.

As my right hon. Friend told the House, the present expenditure on rents averages 6.6 per cent. of average earnings in Scotland. That compares with 10.2 per cent. in England and Wales. There is no doubt that that is a low figure. The implication of the settlement is that—

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)


Mr. Stewart

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have many points to answer and only five minutes in which to do so.

The increase implied in the settlement figure will raise the percentage to about 7 per cent., which is a perfectly reasonable figure. People should give priority to housing expenditure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) rightly dealt with the points raised by Opposition Members about the comparison with mortgage payments. He was right to say that there is a clear difference between the reduction in tax paid because someone spends his money in a certain way and an overall general subsidy. I agree with him that mortgage payments do not reflect total housing costs for owner occupiers. They must pay their repair and maintenance costs over and above their mortgage payments. If we take that into account, the average figure for tenants in Scotland is £5.38 per week compared with the average mortgage payment after tax of £23 per week.

The hon. Members for Garscadden and Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) emphasised the importance of Glasgow. It receives £60 million net in capital allocation under the settlement. The Government are reasonable to point out to Glasgow that its rate fund contribution per house is extremely high. It is £235 per house compared with an average for the remainder of Scotland of £138, an average for Scotland minus the four authorities that the Government have identified of slightly more than £100, and an average for England of £91. We are saying to Glasgow that it should bring down that figure to 40 per cent. above the Scottish average—not even to the Scottish average. That is a reasonable proposition.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked about capital spending. The figure in the settlement of £255 million for capital expenditure compares with a figure last year of £282 million. There is a £15 million difference between that figure and the one quoted by the hon. Gentleman, because £15 million was withheld and transferred to the rate fund contribution. The provisional allocation is reduced by £27 million between the two years. However, the Government have enhanced the rate fund contribution by £35 million, which explains the difference between the two figures. It makes it clear that the Government, at a time of great difficulty, have protected capital spending in the settlement, as my right hon. Friend pointed out earlier.

This is a perfectly reasonable settlement of council tenants. Given that 51 per cent. of tenants receive rebates, a £1 rent increase is not unreasonable. It will be accepted as reasonable by council tenants. Indeed, it is a reasonable settlement from the taxpayers' and ratepayers' point of view, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 17 December be approved.