§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson)
I beg to move,That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.As the House knows, this is the annual opportunity for us to debate the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Orders. Traditionally, the debate provides an opportunity to consider, not only the detail of the orders, but wider issues relating to housing and housing finance. I propose to speak briefly to the orders and make some general comments on matters relevant to them. In that way, I hope that the debate can move forward.
I start with the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1996. As was the case last year, a variation order is necessary because of a reduction in the pool rate of interest used to estimate local authorities' loan charges. It is accepted practice for Ministers to propose a variation order in those circumstances. That will reduce slightly the total housing support grant payable in 1995–96, from £23.3 million to £23 million.
For most authorities, the reduction in grant will be marginal. The reduction should not cause too many difficulties for authorities, as the lower level of interest charges should be reflected in lower loan charge expenditure within authorities' housing revenue accounts.
The draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1996 provides that the total level of housing support grant payable to Scottish local authorities in 1996–97 will be £19.4 million. Grant for mainstream council housing will be paid to four authorities—Aberdeenshire, Highland, Shetland and Western Isles. Broadly speaking, the grant represents the amount that the authorities need to avoid a deficit on their housing revenue accounts. The assumptions used in calculating the amount of grant are explained in detail in the report that accompanies the order.
As in previous years, the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order includes an element—the hostels portion—that helps meet part of the running costs of local authority hostels for the homeless. Hostels grant of £3.1 million will be paid to 21 authorities throughout Scotland and will help to support more than 2,300 places for homeless persons, particularly those who are roofless.
The general portion of housing support grant has declined steadily since the early 1980s, in line with the Government's policy of moving away from indiscriminate subsidies, such as HSG, and targeting resources towards tenants most in need, through the housing benefit system. Very few Scottish authorities now need the financial support of HSG to balance their housing accounts.
Individual tenants have not been forgotten, however. Help for them is made available through housing benefit. In 1994–95, council house tenants in Scotland who were unable to afford the full cost of their housing received 948 rent rebates totalling almost £620 million. Housing benefit is better able to help those in real need than an indiscriminate subsidy such as HSG.
In 1996–97, the housing element of HSG will reduce to £16.4 million, from £19.3 million in 1995–96. There are two main reasons for the reduction. First, as interest rates continue to fall, housing loan charges are expected to increase only marginally in 1995–96. Secondly, local government reorganisation, with the merger of a number of smaller councils, has the effect of reducing the need for grant.
On the assumptions used in the 1996–97 grant calculations, the estimate of management and maintenance expenditure is based on an assumed average spending level of £771 per house, which represents a 3 per cent. increase on the current year—an increase that is more than the current rate of inflation.
If some local authorities want to provide a higher level of service and spend more on management and maintenance, that is their decision. For the purpose of HSG formula, the assumed average standard rent for next year has also been increased by 3 per cent., to £38.60 per week. That is not a forecast, a guideline or a recommendation; it is an assumption used for the grant calculation. Over the years, the actual rents charged by councils have varied from that sum according to decisions made locally about planned levels of housing income and expenditure. In the current year, the average local authority rent in Scotland is £28.78, well below levels in England, where the average is £38.31. How much to charge in rent is a matter for local decision, but once again the taxpayer cannot be expected to fund an increase in HSG to compensate.
At this point, I should draw the attention of the House to the question of contributions from the general fund. Such contributions represent a subsidy from council tax payers to council house tenants. Such a subsidy, like HSG itself, is indiscriminate, in that it benefits all tenants regardless of personal circumstances. It is also unnecessary because tenants who are unable to meet the cost of their housing receive assistance through housing benefit. As has been the case in recent years, therefore, the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1996, which was laid on 31 January, prevents authorities from budgeting to make general fund contributions to the housing revenue account next year.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
The Minister seems not to apply the logic that is implied in the ability to apply for tenancies in the public sector. Anyone from the private sector—who may have lived in private sector housing all his life—can make an application to a housing authority, regardless of where he lives. The Minister seems to be saying that there is no contribution from the local council tax-paying population towards that service. He is saying on the one hand—and I agree with him—that everyone can apply for housing in the public sector should they need it, but on the other hand that there is no need to make a contribution locally. People whom I have spoken to are willing to make a contribution, but the Government seem to be restricting people's wishes to contribute to general housing from their council tax.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman seems to forget, however, that, since we prevented transfers from taking 949 place, local authority rents in Scotland have risen, on average, by only 3.5 per cent. Therefore, the problem that he identified—if we do not allow transfers, rents will somehow rise way above the rate of inflation—has not happened. Perhaps I have missed his point.
§ Mr. Connarty
I was talking about the people in the non-rent paying sector who pay council tax. They wish to contribute—and have never objected to contributing—to local authority housing because they and their children have the right to apply for it, should they wish to do so. The Government appear to be ghettoising public housing by cutting off general support given by people who do not currently live in council housing.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that method of achieving his aim is totally indiscriminate and does not target money on those most in need.
§ Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)
I seek clarification from the Minister. He said that rents have increased by only 3.5 per cent. Although the average rent is £28.80 a week, the assumed standard rent is evaluated at £38.80 a week.
§ Mr. Robertson
We assumed a 3 per cent. increase in rents. That is not a guideline or a recommendation; it is an assumption on which we have based the grant formula. In practice last year, rents in Scotland rose by only 3.5 per cent.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
The Minister will be aware that, last year, Glasgow's rents went up by 6.2 per cent.—well above the rate of inflation—yet the associated services have decreased over the years.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Lady should take that up with her local council. If she is concerned about rent increases of 6.5 per cent., which is 3 per cent. more than the rate of inflation, does she agree that a rent deal of a maximum of 1.5 per cent. more than the retail prices index for five years is a good one? Does she also agree that a rent deal of a maximum of 1 per cent. more than the RPI for the next 30 years is even better? Those are examples of the deals that have been done by tenants who have been transferred from public sector housing—local authority housing or Scottish Homes—to housing associations. If the hon. Lady wants such a deal for her constituents, will she help me to persuade the new Glasgow council to seek the necessary finance and mechanism for a large-scale transfer, with rent deals such as the ones that I have just described? Will she join me to obtain such a deal for her constituents?
§ Mrs. Fyfe
Glasgow tenants now pay almost the entire cost of public sector housing, because it has been years since there was any contribution from the general fund. The increase in rents in Scotland, since 1979, is 483 per cent. Is that fair to tenants? Instead of the Minister talking about deals on stock that cannot be let, it would be much more relevant for him to talk about people's real housing needs.
§ Mr. Robertson
I repeat: does the hon. Lady want the sort of deal that I have described for her 950 constituents? Will she join me in seeking to persuade the new city council to make such a deal? I shall gladly try to persuade the council to make such a deal, so that we do not have to have debates about rent rises that are twice or three times the rate of inflation. The hon. Lady seems to forget that we have funded investment in Glasgow's housing next year by almost 22 per cent. more per house than the Scottish average. If she wishes to complain about what the new Glasgow council does with the money, she probably has more influence over that than I have.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I seek information about the level of housing benefit support for tenants in Glasgow. Has my hon. Friend any idea of what proportion of tenants in Glasgow public housing are on housing benefit? How much is the taxpayer paying for that?
§ Mr. Robertson
I shall come to that subject later, but I can tell my hon. Friend that, of all Scottish council tenants, some 72 per cent. are on housing benefit and are therefore protected—if not wholly, at least in part—from many of the indiscriminate rent rises that we have seen. I understand that the figure for Glasgow is higher than 72 per cent.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)
Specifically on the point about the number of people who are exempt from paying full rent, does not the Minister realise that the 20 per cent. or so who pay full rent include widows and people with small occupational pensions? Many of those people have been loyal council tenants for many years, and they were promised by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 that she would not penalise them for having widows' pensions or occupational pensions. But they have been penalised, and housing support can go some way to keeping rents at reasonable levels for those people and preventing general resentment from building up against Government policy.
§ Mr. Robertson
I take it from the hon. Gentleman's comments that he is supportive of our move away, over the past decade, from the indiscriminate subsidy of housing support to the targeting of assistance through the housing benefit system.
I remind the House that the grant decisions reflected in the order will have only a minimal effect on local authority rent levels. Only Aberdeenshire, Highland, Shetland and Western Isles will receive housing support grant for their mainstream council housing. The impact will be outweighed by each authority's decisions on such matters as management and maintenance spending. For the other 28 councils, the rent levels are entirely a matter for local decision. Decisions on HSG, in that respect, are irrelevant. Each council must decide for itself what level of rent is appropriate in the light of local circumstances and defend that decision to its tenants.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
Angus council has the second lowest rents in Scotland and a good record of low rents. How can the Minister justify a rent increase for every Angus rent payer of £2.75 a week to pay for his capital receipts policy?
§ Mr. Robertson
The decision taken by Angus council is a amatter for the council itself. How can the hon. 951 Gentleman, as someone who has been a provost of a housing authority, justify the spiralling debts of local authorities for housing? An extra £1 billion since 1987 has increased the figure to £3.9 billion. The Government have brought in receipt rules with a request for 25 per cent. this year and 50 per cent. next year, because—given the increase in council house sales—it is surely unacceptable that fewer council tenants are paying greater debt charges. That cannot be allowed to continue.
§ Mr. Robertson
I must make progress. The hon. Gentleman will get a chance to make his speech.
Predicting the overall average rent increase across Scotland for 1996–97 is difficult, especially as some of the new councils may wish to rationalise the different rent structures that they have inherited. However, I understand that a number of councils have proposed rent increases well above inflation. I remind the House that, last year, councils were able to hold rent increases to an average of 3.5 per cent. This year, they seem to be taking a different course, which they will have to justify to their tenants. I note, for example, that the new Highland council has decided to increase rents by about 9 per cent., or £2.96 a week on average. One press report suggested that the council blamed the Government for the increase. However, the report went on to point out that only one third of the increase was due to a reduction in HSG. I calculate that only 67p of the increase can be attributed to that cause. By far the largest part of the increase was due to decisions taken by the new council.
Where an authority does not receive HSG, it is even more the case that the decisions on rents have nothing to do with the Government and everything to do with decisions of local councillors. I have no quarrel with the idea that local authorities should decide rent levels in the light of local circumstances, but I believe that they should accept responsibility for the decisions and not seek to pass the blame elsewhere.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
Perhaps the Minister can satisfy my curiosity. In annex C, where the apportionment is given for each authority, Orkney islands council has been omitted. One would have thought that even if the balance was nil, it should have been there. Is there a special reason why Orkney, of all the councils in Scotland, is not mentioned?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that I am sure that during the debate I shall receive inspiration on that matter.
Interestingly, former public sector tenants whose homes have been transferred to new landlords often find themselves protected from such annual fluctuations in their rent, because they have received guarantees about future rent rises as part of the transfer process.
The Government's proposals for housing support grant next year are fair and reasonable. It is a package that balances the interests of tenants, council tax payers and national taxpayers, and I have no hesitation in commending the orders to the House.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
The debate is, uniquely, about council housing since housing support grant payments go only to councils. That means that it is not to the Minister's liking, which was obvious from the way in which he read the brief from his civil servants. The Minister is on record as expressing his distaste for council housing. I have a photocopy of a recent magazine article which is headed by an unattractive picture of the Minister. However, to be fair to the magazine, it is difficult to get an attractive picture of this Minister. In the article, the Minister makes clear his attitude to council housing, for which he is responsible. He says:I want to see them"—that is councils—get out of the business of being landlords, out of the day to day management of the housing stock".He wants councils in Scotland out of the housing picture completely.
Even the Minister, with all his arrogance, realises that that is a tall order. The magazine article points out thathe will have to break the bonds which tie 35 per cent. of the population to public sector housing.In the article, the Minister says:We are quite a bit away from what I am describing. We have a major cultural problem and a major exercise to persuade local authorities and tenants that this is the way forward.I fear that the Minister is using the word "persuade" in the same way as the Mafia. In other words, councils and council tenants will be made an offer that they cannot refuse and, in part, that is what we are seeing in the order.
We have it straight from the horse's mouth. It does not matter what elected local councils, or council tenants, might think or want, the Minister and the Government have already made up their minds about what those council tenants will get, and they will not get council housing because it will not be on offer. That comes poorly from a Minister who, in the article to which I have already referred, talks about his vision for the future of housing in Scotland and says that he wants greater diversity and choice. It seems that people can have greater diversity and choice as long as they do not choose the tenure of which the Minister does not approve. There is no future for council housing as long as he is the Minister.
Tragically, the Minister's prejudice will impact upon hundreds of thousands of ordinary families in Scotland, partly because of the order. Council housing is by far the largest part of the social rented sector in Scotland. We hear a great deal from Ministers about the 300,000 council tenants who chose to buy their council house under the right-to-buy legislation. We never hear anything about the 600,000 council tenants who have remained in the council sector as council tenants. They are the forgotten Scots under the Government's housing regime. They will be let down by the order and will suffer because of the Government's and the Minister's prejudice and their dislike for council housing.
I shall explain some of the ways in which those 600,000 Scots will suffer. The order sets housing support grant for Scotland next year at £19.4 million. That is just under £3 million or 13 per cent. lower than the planned level for the current year. It is just under £5 million or 20 per cent. lower than the level that the Government gave last year. It represents yet another cut, another twist in an 953 on-going downward spiral—the steady withdrawal of Government support for council housing in Scotland over the past 15 years.
Fifteen years ago, £228 million was given to Scottish councils in housing support grant. Next year, it will be just £19.4 million and, as the Minister said, only four out of 32 local authorities will qualify for it. In cash terms, councils are now receiving 8.5 per cent. of what they were receiving from the Government 15 years ago. In real terms, they are receiving significantly less than that.
The Minister and his hon. Friends will no doubt say that that is a good thing and that, as a matter of policy, the Government are deliberately withdrawing housing support grant from tenants in Scotland. Well, okay, but what about those who have to pay council rents? The Minister made many statements about council rents, but he did not tell the House that average council rents in Scotland have increased by six times since the early 1980s. That is way above the rate of inflation and way above the increases in incomes of the people who live in those houses. In 1979–80, the average council rent in Scotland was £4.92 a week. Today the average is £28.68 a week. Next year, because of the order, it will increase by up to another 5 per cent., again way above the rate of inflation.
The Minister said that the order will have no significant impact on council rents in Scotland next year. The absence of housing support grant in the order will have a significant impact on council rents next year. Because the Government and the Minister are withdrawing housing support grant from councils, council rents will increase next year, and the Minister should accept his responsibility directly.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
I have asked the House to approve a housing support grant order of over £19 million. If the hon. Gentleman were in my position, what would be the housing support grant level that he would be asking the House to approve?
§ Mr. McAllion
We are dealing with what the Minister is proposing. If he wants to find out how much the order would be under a Labour Government, let him and his hon. Friends call a general election now, and they will find out in a short time.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman suggested that it would take a general election to find out what a Labour Government would do. The Labour party has said that it will not increase taxation or take more out of the pockets of the taxpayer. So a Labour Government could not increase housing support.
§ Mr. McAllion
There was a rumour about two weeks ago—I was contacted by the press—that the Secretary of State was thinking of inviting me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) to look at all the books to see what resources are available. The Secretary of State has never made good that offer. They know that if we were allowed to see where all the money is tucked away for the tax cuts that the Government hope to use to get re-elected, the cat would be out of the bag. If we could see where the money was, we could perhaps say what we would do with it.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)
The phrase "a look at the books" is absurd. The 954 Scottish Office block is published and is available to the hon. Gentleman. It sets out where the expenditure will come from. Surely it is fair to ask the hon. Gentleman whether, if he were in government, he would increase the level of support provided for council tenants and from where the money would come. Why can he not answer?
§ Mr. McAllion
The Secretary of State knows very well that the size of the Scottish Office budget is determined by Cabinet decisions on public spending generally. The Cabinet, of which the Secretary of State is a member, has found £1.5 billion to waste on rail privatisation and billions of pounds over the past few years to waste on council tax and other schemes. Where did that money come from? It came from Government decisions taken by the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends. If they cannot stand up and take responsibility for those decisions, they should not be there, and most of Scotland agrees with me that it is time that they were not there.
The Minister said that there need not be rent increases in Scotland next year, but we know for a fact that, across Scotland, in Renfrew, Dundee, Edinburgh and Highland, rents will increase significantly as a result of the Government's policies. As always, the Minister blames the councils, and, as always, he is wrong, because the blame lies fairly and squarely with him and his Government, who, over the past 15 years, have waged ideological warfare against the council sector. It was not the councils but the Government who slashed capital allocations to councils in Scotland. It was not the councils but the Government who abolished general fund contributions. It was not the councils but the Government who all but abolished housing support grant and forced councils to put rents up year on year, thereby forcing council tenants to rely on housing benefit and forcing them into a poverty trap, from which thousands of ordinary Scots can no longer escape.
This is the Government who rail against the social chapter and the national minimum wage, who are evangelical about workers pricing themselves into low-paid jobs, who force rent increases on hundreds of thousands of low-paid Scots who cannot possibly afford to pay. Yet the Minister has the effrontery to boast this evening about £650 million of housing benefit being allocated to Scottish tenants. He is creating a poverty trap from which low-paid Scots cannot escape. He is making council tenants in Scotland dependent on handouts, because he is forcing on them rent levels that are well beyond the means of ordinary people to pay.
We should not be surprised by any of that, because the Minister has already made clear his intention to finish with council housing for good in the longer term. It is now official that the final solution has been fixed by the Government, and that, in a Tory future, there will be no more council housing. All the signs are there, because as well as the slow strangulation of housing support grant in the order, we now have the ruling on capital receipts. Next year, 25 per cent. is to be used to redeem debt that councils have accumulated on their housing revenue account. The following year, 50 per cent. is to be used for the same purpose.
In those two years, some £300 million will be cut from investment in council housing in Scotland. All of that will happen at the same time as Scottish Homes, the Government's national agency, begins its second national house condition survey. God knows, the first one painted 955 a bleak enough picture for Scottish housing: 95,000 houses in Scotland were below the tolerable standard; 267,000 houses were affected by dampness; 580,000 required urgent repairs; and an outstanding repairs bill of £3.7 billion.
Most decent observers would have expected that a Government who commissioned such a survey and received such a devastating analysis of the crisis facing Scottish housing would have made housing one of their top political priorities—not this Government. They did exactly the opposite. They launched a holy war against housing in Scotland, particularly public sector housing. In all the talk of Government priorities recently, not one Scottish Office Minister can be found who will say that housing is a priority for the Government, because even these Ministers balk at something so blatantly untrue. So they cut the housing budget. They cut the budget for Scottish Homes. They steal the capital receipts from councils' investment programmes. They force rent rises on council tenants. They make the people pay. All of that at a time of crisis in Scottish housing.
Most hon. Members present will have received a briefing from Shelter, which says:Few can remember a more damaging round of cutsthan that introduced by the Minister. In cash terms, it is a cut of 17 per cent. this year. In real terms, it is a cut of 19 per cent. The figure that Shelter uses is £148 million, which, by happy coincidence, is the figure that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), quoted in our first debate as the increase for council spending in Scotland. I hope that those figures are not linked.
The Government will have to account for their record on housing when they face the people of Scotland, who will not forget the Government's callous, indifferent and cold attitude to the homeless in Scotland and to the people who are trapped on waiting lists. Ministers might say, "Let the homeless suffer, because they do not have a vote." They might say, "Let those who are trapped on council waiting lists wait." That is the import of their policies. Ministers might judge that those people do not vote for them or the Conservative party, but I warn Ministers that there are others in Scotland who can vote, who detest their callousness, their lack of concern and their reneging on any commitment to the most vulnerable in Scottish society. When they vote, they will remember the Minister's track record on housing. I am sure that the people of Aberdeen, South will lead the rest of the people in Scotland in ensuring that neither the Minister nor any of his colleagues will be in government after the election.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
It is always a great pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who has the merit of being an honest socialist—a fairly unusual position for a Member on the Opposition Benches these days. What was most interesting about his speech was that he completely failed to answer the perfectly reasonable questions that were put to him by my hon. Friend the Minister, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie).
Of course, nobody suggests that an Opposition are able to put precise figures on their policies to the last million pounds, but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State 956 told the hon. Gentleman, the Scottish block figures are perfectly well known. They are published. The hon. Gentleman refused to deny that a Labour Government would abolish all support to council housing in Scotland.
§ Mr. McAllion
I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman can think that I refused to answer that question when it was never asked of me in the first place. I can tell him that a Labour Government will ensure that all tenures in Scotland are treated fairly and that the resources are distributed fairly across all tenures. It is for people, not Governments, to choose the tenure that they want. Labour will go back to the old system, which was far preferable to the way in which the zealots on the Government Front Bench operate.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will give me the figure within £50 million.
§ Mr. McAllion
If the Secretary of State for Scotland were to invite me into the Scottish Office and to the Cabinet Office to see all the Government's books, I would be glad to give the hon. Gentleman the exact figure.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman is wriggling now. All the Scottish Office block figures are published. They are on the record. The hon. Gentleman's problem is that he is subject to the Dunfermline doctrine: that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen are entitled to say anything that they want but must never quote a figure. That means that there is never a real commitment to anything at all.
§ Mr. Stewart
The speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East was completely meaningless, unless he can say, within a margin, how the Labour party would back its objectives with taxpayers' money. That is what every council tenant in Scotland should learn from the hon. Gentleman's speech tonight.
My hon. Friend the Minister talked about the variation order, which is, of course, a technical matter, and about the hostel element in housing support grant. The House would accept the justification for general taxpayer support to local authority expenditure on hostels, because people move across boundaries. I thought that my hon. Friend made an extremely good case for voting against the order, because he said that it is a random and indiscriminate subsidy, which it is. He said that money out of the general portion is received by Aberdeenshire, Shetland, Western Isles and Highland. Why should I vote for a transfer of resources from the good people of Eastwood to those authorities? I cannot think of any good reason for doing so. I hope that the Labour party will divide the House. If they win the vote, the grant will be abolished. So much the better.
957 Government policies on housing should be developed by moving faster from using taxpayers' money for current expenditure—that is what the grant does—to concentrating on capital expenditure. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to be dismayed if the Labour party divides the House and he loses the vote, thus abolishing the Scottish housing support grant. He will then have a lot of money in hand, which he will be able to spend on capital projects.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am about to finish, and I know that other hon. Members want to join in the debate.
Apart from the hostel element, there are serious reasons for asking why the grant exists at all, and why the money should not be removed from the recipient councils and put towards capital expenditure, to improve the standard of the housing stock in which Scottish council tenants live.
§ Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)
It is some time since we started our debates today, and I have been in the Chamber since we discussed the revenue account. I am sorry that I was not called in that debate, because a lot of political chicanery concerning facts and figures was going on. It was also hard to understand all the positions that various Ministers took up in the newspapers beforehand.
However, in this debate I can speak with some authority, because I was brought up in the Gorbals. There were 10 in our family, and several of them died from tuberculosis at early ages—at four, at 20 and at 33. Other people in the family died early because of the later effects of such conditions. So we know all about bad housing.
I can answer the question that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) asked, because I am not a member of new Labour. I am still old Labour. I am red-blooded and I fight for the people when I see an injustice. I spent 30 years dealing with housing complaints every Saturday, and I have probably found houses for more people than has anyone on the Government Benches. People used to say that they had prayed to St. Anthony and he had got them a house—but actually it was me.
I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) would not give a figure, because obviously he does not know the figure. I can give the Government a figure. I can tell them that if we wiped out the Scottish housing debt, that would improve things.
One of the reasons why we introduced the housing support grant was to clear out bad housing in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East is right about the money, because 15 years ago we had £228 million, plus £100 million from the general fund contribution, whereas in 1996 all we have is £19.4 million, including the general fund contribution. Every year, the Minister says that any local authority in Scotland can apply if it is finding difficulty, but several have done so and every one was rejected. The Government should wind up the GFC, because they are not really interested in it.
The only way in which the people of Scotland will get any justice is by getting rid of that lot. They are the last of the Mohicans; they have drained the boxes of every 958 penny that they could find and they all, to a man and to a woman, obey the Secretary of State for Scotland. But he will be off the card when the general election comes, along with the rest of the Scottish Ministers. Possibly the only one to survive will be Lord James himself—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will remember the tradition here that we address other Members by using their constituencies.
§ Mr. Wray
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I must remind the Government that 25 years ago we were clearing out the slums of Glasgow—the worst slums in Europe, where people were living 600 and 700 to the acre, in rat-infested houses owned by private landlords. Tuberculosis was rampant, and people were dying of poverty. Past Tory Governments acknowledged that poverty but allowed it to continue, because their support came from the private landlords who were charging the poor people in Glasgow, in the rest of Scotland and throughout Britain extortionate rents.
Today we are in the same position. We have a golden opportunity to look after the people of Glasgow and the rest of Scotland. In Glasgow, there are 23,297 dwellings below a tolerable standard, and 7,000 houses lying empty. In 1992, Glasgow city council received 5,673 applications from homeless people; in 1993–94, the figure rose to 13,200. That shows the extent of the problem and the Government's failure to tackle it.
We hear a lot about what is happening in Scotland, but those things are certainly not happening in Glasgow. In some of the constituencies with the worst housing, people suffer from high infant mortality rates, rat infestation and decaying housing unfit for human habitation.
The Secretary of State had a golden opportunity to increase the housing support grant and give Glasgow a chance to do something about poverty. Yet what figures has the Scottish Office produced? Since 1991, £22 million has been cut from the housing support grant, which represents a cut of 95 per cent. By 1995–96, there will have been a total cut of 99 per cent.
The Scottish Office works on a national figure calculated on the basis of rents 10 per cent. higher than rents really are. That means a direct cut for local authorities in Scotland. Rents are deemed to be £38.48, although the average is only £28.68. That is a damned disgrace, a fraud and a lie to the Scottish people, and it should not be tolerated.
The Secretary of State said that he was expecting rent increases of more than 5 per cent. Why would he expect that when increases are really running at only 3 per cent? When the Secretary of State put the cap on and Glasgow council asked for its inflation rate of 3 per cent., according to the right hon. Gentleman the gross domestic product deflator showed an increase of 2.75 per cent., yet he allowed it only a 1 per cent. increase. Now he wonders why the council is in its present state. He will draw upon himself the wrath of the Glasgow people with that increase, and the wrath of the people of Dundee will be turned on him too. Those are the two councils that will suffer the most.
I thought that housing support grant was intended to get rid of bad housing in Glasgow and to keep rents down, but Government policy is to ring-fence housing so that it is 959 funded by the people who pay the rent. Housing usually represents the largest single expenditure for individuals and families on low incomes. Earlier this century, Governments realised that, and adopted policies to provide decent housing for everyone, regardless of their income.
Those policies were successful, and, in 1977, the National Consumer Council found that people on low incomes often received better value for money than others, mostly because of good-quality subsidised housing run by councils. People in private rented accommodation suffered to some extent because Rachman-type landlords were exploiting tenants and not spending any money on their houses. As councillors we were running about trying to get the sanitary inspectors to issue disrepair notices against them.
Now we come to the sad story of when the Government took over in 1979. The election of the Tories changed the situation completely. Their policies totally altered the role of public sector rented housing. The changes involved minimising public involvement and, as in other sectors, giving way to market forces.
The main thrust of the Government's proposals was as follows. Ownership was to be extended and Government expenditure reduced and targeted more effectively. Local authority responsibility was to be decreased by increasing private ownership and transferring homes to housing associations, such as Scottish Homes, with the support of a majority of the tenants. The Government were taking housing out of local authority control, even though local authorities could probably have done something about the problem of slum dwellings.
As well as those United Kingdom-wide plans, specific legislation for Scotland was introduced. Scotland, with its history of low ownership and a large number of council houses, was seen as having plenty of potential. Legislation included the Housing Act 1980 and the Housing and Planning Act 1986. Those Acts were supposed to benefit the poor. They introduced the right-to-buy scheme. We all know about negative equity and that thousands of houses have been repossessed after the Government's Thatcherite policy failed and exploited the poor. With interest rates of 6 per cent. they bought houses with possibly 70 per cent. discounts and ended up two years later paying 18 per cent. interest charges.
That is the sort of Government that we have. They do not care about what happens and then they run around telling us what they are doing for the people. Every Labour Member knows the problems because every Saturday we see such people coming into our surgery, poverty-stricken and in ill health because the Government do not care. Compassion comes only from Labour Members.
Those Acts were supposed to benefit the poor. They introduced the right-to-buy scheme, which allowed tenants to buy their houses at market value minus a discount, based on the length of occupancy. They moved subsidies from buildings to households to help people most in need and to shield the poor. The decline in council housing and the increase in private sector dwellings and housing associations was meant to increase the choice of accommodation available.
What happened? The policy of increasing home ownership has been a success in terms of numbers, with an increase of 450,000 in new owners, but the prospect of 960 home ownership has been unrealistic for people on low incomes; even with discounts of up to 70 per cent. on the market value, the prices were beyond their means.
The Government then committed the cardinal sin—this bright Cabinet introduced deregulation. In 1989, the Tories deregulated private rents. Since then, housing benefits for private tenants have increased from £1 billion to £5.5 billion—an increase of 300 per cent. The planned total in 1997–98 is £7.4 billion. That shows exactly what the Government are about, how they have changed the policy around, how they are putting the burden on the taxpayer, how they are getting at the poor and how housing benefits are clearing up debts. That is the only way in which they are working. The increase in such housing, benefits, is due mostly, to massively, increased rents—public money going straight into private landlords' pockets.
I have taken many hours in the Chamber to express my constituents' views. They are the same as the views that they expressed in 1987 when I was first elected to the House. The problems are the same in housing, in education and in any other service that is being provided. The minute that Labour Members see something worth while being done that helps the poor, the Government start to cut. They are cutting and cutting and continue to cut.
I do not want to talk for much longer because other hon. Members want to do so. The people of Scotland and of Glasgow are not kidded by the Government. After the general election, they will be out on their ear because of the way in which they have treated the people of Scotland for 16 years.
§ Mr. Wallace
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point that I raised with the Minister in his speech probably has more significance than I thought at the time. We are debating the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order. It states that, under the terms of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, the order shall not be made until a draft has been laid before the House, with a report of the considerations leading to the order's provisions, and until that has been approved by a resolution of the House.
The definition of a report is found in section 192(3) of that Act, which states that the report shouldcontain a table showing in respect of each local authority, for the year in question—This purported report is informative, but does not meet the statutory requirement because Orkney islands council is omitted from it. It is an interesting document, but has no legal status. Even if approved by the House, the draft order will not therefore satisfy statute in giving the Secretary of State the power to make housing support grant payments.
- (a) the estimated amount of grant payable to that local authority; or
- (b) if no amount of grant is so payable, that fact."
I am concerned because the other half of my constituency—covered by the Shetland islands council—is due to receive about £3.9 million. I would hate to find that the Secretary of State could not legally pay that money. Can you rule, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether we are debating a competent order, and whether, if we proceed to make a resolution, it will carry no legal weight? Does the Minister intend to introduce a draft order with a report that meets the statutory requirement?
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that I can rule on this matter now. There may be a flaw, but that is not for the occupants of the Chair to determine. The only matter for them is whether the motion is in order, and it is. The Minister must answer any points about flaws in the order that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) detects.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can confirm that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is right that Orkney islands council has been omitted from the order. It is a printing error that does not affect the order's validity.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
It is short, but important. When we consider the parent legislation under which the order and the report are being discussed, the case that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is incontrovertibly true. The exchanges that are taking place are able to be considered by the courts. Some people would have a locus in taking out an interdict if the order went through in this clearly defective state.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I have made the point clearly that it is not a matter on which the occupant of the Chair can rule. It may be a matter for debate and for answer by the Minister, but that is as far as it can be taken by the occupant of the Chair tonight.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for that ruling. I understand that it is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair—that is clear—but it is a matter for people who might suffer as a result of the House passing a defective order.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am aware of that. I have already said that I can deal only with points of order that are relevant to the occupant of the Chair.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The order that has been laid before the House is correct and we are voting on the amounts of housing support grant to be paid.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has made it clear that he is concerned not with that point, but with the report. Again, that is not a matter for me. The debate is short and it should now continue.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
Having listened with great interest to the points of order, I should like to return to the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray). After his speech, there cannot be a dry eye in the House. I respect his views. He is totally honest. Unlike perhaps many of the people who purport to support the Labour party these days, he sticks to his traditional beliefs. He has forgotten many things that have happened in Glasgow in recent years. In the 1950s and 1960s, when Conservative Governments were in power, money was poured into local government and housing in Glasgow. That raised standards considerably. Since Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister, massive improvements have taken place in Glasgow through repairs and improvement grants. Money went into Glasgow and uplifted it in a way that could never have been dreamt of by the people with whom the hon. Member for Provan served on councils in years gone by.
The hon. Gentleman said that if the Labour party were in power, it could provide £4 billion to write off the council housing debt. That is nine times the annual amount of the tartan tax that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) would impose on us should he ever get his hands on the reins of power. At least the hon. Member for Provan has been honest about the figure.
I never fail to be impressed by the honesty that flows from the tongue of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). However, I do not go along with his opinions and occasionally his facts are wrong, but he always believes in what he says. Perhaps some Opposition Members should take note of that.
In one or two areas, there have been massive changes in recent times. The greatest of those changes has been the way in which people are given the means for adequate housing through housing benefit. That benefit currently injects some £620 million a year into local authority housing.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)
While my hon. Friend is addressing the issue of housing benefit, will he remind the House that if councils had put up their rents to economic levels to allow for maintenance, much if not all of the rents would have been paid through housing benefit to those who were eligible and money could have gone straight into the housing coffers? Mismanagement by socialist or nationalist authorities has led to this situation.
§ Mr. Gallie
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall give him a good example of that. Kyle and Carrick district council has put up its rents, but at the same time it has invested massively in its housing stock, upgrading it to such an extent that I defy any hon. Member to say that in his constituency he has better local authority housing.
The predecessor of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) was David Lambie, a guy for whom I have every respect. He was a tremendous constituency Member, but he was totally misguided on this issue. Through their council links over the years, he and his family depressed rents in the Saltcoats area and other parts of north Ayrshire and reduced the quality of housing. At the same time, he had the audacity to come to the House and earn a good salary while living in one of the council 963 houses that he was attempting to protect. Nowadays that would not be allowed, because housing benefit recognises the ability to pay. That is fair.
§ Mr. Gallie
Yes, I have no difficulty in agreeing to that, provided that there is a means to back tenants who need support, and housing benefit does just that. It is provided by central taxpayers and does not place the burden on other council house residents. It simply spreads the burden and that is fair and right.
§ Mr. Donohoe
The hon. Gentleman lives in an unreal world. He has lived all his days in the leafy suburbs of either West Kilbride or Ayr: he has never lived in the middle of a slum area. That is part of the problem that he faces in debating housing allocation. I do not represent Saltcoats, but I know that the housing stock there is among the best in Cunninghame and always has been. That is all down to the good management of the old Saltcoats town council.
§ Mr. Gallie
For a start, the hon. Gentleman's facts are all wrong. I came from an area in Fife that was not known for its leafy suburbs. I lived in a public sector house: my family certainly did not own it. As usual, the hon. Gentleman is way off beam. He is also wrong about housing stock in Saltcoats. I was on Cunninghame district council from 1980 to 1984 and at that time the worst housing stock in Cunninghame was in Saltcoats. He should retract every word that he has said about that, and when he speaks in future he should make sure that he has the facts and not a load of rubbish, which is what he has just spoken.
I should like to deal with some other issues. I welcome the extra injection of cash into council hostel facilities. That is important, particularly for young homeless people. It is not right to put them out into the housing estates and leave them unattended. Hostel facilities are ideal and I commend the Minister for finding the extra cash for them. The Government have also found additional cash for Scottish Homes, but I have a complaint because I learnt recently that Scottish Homes plans to inject into Glasgow some £8 million for so-called ethnic housing. I am not a racist. Housing must be available as and when it is needed and it must be allocated by fair means and be available to all our citizens irrespective of creed or culture or anything else. I question the Government about the correctness of Scottish Homes taking that line and ask whether it is right under the terms of the Race Relations Act 1976.
§ Mr. Gallie
No. I have already given way and other hon. Members wish to speak.
964 I will leave the matter with the Government. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West said that his council tenants were prepared to provide additional funding for housing. Perhaps that is right, but all my constituents are prepared to do that through the general taxation system. That brings us back to the housing benefit system, which I think is correct but which the hon. Gentleman does not seem to accept.
§ Mr. Connarty
I am the hon. Member for Falkirk, East, not Falkirk, West. I did not say that council tenants were willing to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests: I said the opposite. I said that people such as the hon. Gentleman and I who live in the private sector were quite willing until they were stopped by the Government, to contribute some of their council tax, which at that time was rates, to the housing account for bricks and mortar. That was because they and their children, should they ever need it, had the right to apply for council housing. The Government have excluded that and I accuse them of trying to ghettoise council housing, because that is their ideology.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman is totally off beam. Many of my constituents and many of the people whom I represented when I was a councillor greatly resented having to pay through the rating system for the provision of housing for others. Many of those people found it difficult to meet their own housing needs, but that was not recognised through the rating system. Now through the general taxation system, through income tax—perhaps a tax that recognises the ability to pay—everyone shares the burden for the provision of such housing. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) would have applauded and welcomed that. I do not understand the issue that he raised.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Will my hon. Friend comment on the Scottish Homes rural initiative, under which the scheme in Spittalfield in my constituency was opened by my hon. Friend the Minister? The initiative is giving people houses at a price that they can afford and creating schemes of which people will be proud because they will own their houses. Those who cannot afford to buy houses rent the others available. It is a superb scheme.
§ Mr. Gallie
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
I should like to refer to the benefits that the right-to-buy policy has brought. Not only have individuals become owners and taken pride in their ownership, but they have injected cash into the properties that they have purchased. They have upgraded properties and areas and made life better for themselves and those around them. Surely everyone should commend that.
The Government's policy on housing is all about devolution—to people who want to buy and people who want to manage their own housing affairs through housing associations. That, too, is a commendable policy and I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Dundee, East seemed to condemn it.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) did not manage to have the 965 order withdrawn, because it would have been nice to see Scottish Office Ministers being sent back to the drawing board.
The annual debate on the housing support grant never seems to change. Once again the level of support is down. This year the total in real terms spent on housing will be 19 per cent. less than last year. In 1979, if we can think back to then, £164 million was spent. In 1995–96, the grant dropped to £22 million, and in the next financial year it will be £19.4 million. Only the four councils that we have heard about will receive money out of the general portion. Others will receive it from the hostel portion. Under the latter category, my constituency will receive about £80,000. Will the Minister confirm what the City of Glasgow receives in hostel provision?
With the principal source of new council housing investment—capital receipts—being reduced by 25 per cent. this year and 50 per cent. next year to go towards debt repayment, there is no doubt that rents will have to go up. In Argyll and Bute that is certainly the case as it tries to keep up with ever-growing repair and maintenance work in an area where incomes are low, job losses have been announced in each of the past three weeks, and the costs of living and transport are high.
The number of dwellings below tolerable standard will not be reduced either. In 1995, according to Scottish Office figures—I think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) also mentioned the fact—90,000 homes in Scotland were below tolerable standard. In a rural area such as Argyll and Bute, more than 7,000 homes are below tolerable standard—a mere reduction of 204 houses since last year. That is a disgrace in a country such as ours.
Shelter has called for a rough sleepers initiative in Scotland similar to the one introduced to tackle the problem in London, on which the Government spent £182 million. Will the Minister consider it? The number of homeless people continues to shame our civilised country.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
May I explain that we have not taken forward a rough sleepers initiative because we are in the process of undertaking research into the prevalence of rooflessness in Scotland? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I expect to consider the results in the middle of the year. We will be looking at four urban areas plus other areas throughout Scotland. We will be bringing policies forward based on fact and not speculation once we have the results of the research that we have commissioned.
§ Mrs. Michie
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and pleased to hear that policies will be brought forward. I hope that those policies will be matched by the requisite resources.
Council house sales are always expected to raise more money than is realistically possible. Of course the sum will be reduced because of the new rules on the repayment of debt. Certainly in my area most of the saleable council houses have already gone and people do not want to buy those that are left. The Government want to sell council housing stock to housing associations regardless of tenants' views simply so that they can enter agreements with the private sector.
Councils should be able to approach the private sector and form partnerships. That fact that they are not doing that is surely an indication of how much the Government 966 dislike local government. It is sad because local authorities and their agencies can do so much more in building stable communities. They can encourage tenants associations to take an interest in planning and management of their housing and the environment.
The funding crisis is going to pose huge difficulties for frail elderly people, those with special needs and children of 16, 17 and 18 years old who come out of care homes and need to be housed in the community. They will need help and often continued support, which councils will have to face under the present funding constraints.
I understand from Scottish Office statements that there are not only plans for a real terms cut of 20 per cent. in council housing budgets, but plans to cut the Scottish Homes budget next year by about £50 million. Will the Minister confirm that? Indeed, there have been continuous cuts in the Scottish Homes budget, which was the great white hope when it was established. The budget has been cut from £135.2 million in 1991 to £107 million.
I want to bring to the attention of the Minister the recent severe cold weather and ask for his support. Much damage was done to housing in Scotland in that period. According to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, at least 119,000 houses were adversely affected. In Argyll and Bute more than 1,000 houses suffered—many from loss of heating, not least because people dare not switch on the heating due to the extra cost.
I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister how in my constituency the present system of cold weather payments has been shown to be a complete nonsense. Over the area as a whole, temperatures fell below zero for seven consecutive days. Daytime temperatures varied from as low as minus 15 deg C to minus 18 deg C during the day and fell even lower at night.
Areas north of Taynuilt and up into Wester Ross suffered similar drops in temperature, yet because they are linked by their postcode to the trigger station on Tiree, they received no assistance. As the Minister knows, Tiree sits out in the Gulf stream. Perhaps that is why the Government chose it. It recorded temperature swings of between minus 5 per cent. and plus 4 per cent. over the same seven-day period. However, there was a wind chill factor of minus 11 per cent., so it suffered severe disadvantage—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I am not clear how the point she is making relates to the order under consideration.
§ Mrs. Michie
My point relates to housing and the order deals with housing and resources for housing. In particular, I am referring to those houses damaged during the severe weather in Scotland. I asked the Secretary of State for Social Security if he would consider—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Lady is not dealing with the main issue of the order. I must ask her to deal with that and also to bear it in mind that this is a short debate and several other hon. Members are waiting to speak on the order.
§ Mrs. Michie
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall adhere to what you say. Perhaps the Minister has got the message. I hope that he will carefully consider the matters that I have raised tonight.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
In the housing support grant order, as in the revenue support grant order, the city of Glasgow seems to have been singled out for vindictive treatment. How else can the Government explain a settlement that gives the least resources to the city with the greatest need? The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) referred to Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the highly selective policy of overspill of people and jobs to other parts of Scotland that caused many of the problems that the city faces today. Any money being spent in the city is a way of society repaying its debts.
I had hoped to speak in our earlier debate on the revenue support grant. Unfortunately, what should have been a debate lasting more than three hours became a debate that lasted just one hour and 20 minutes—wholly inadequate for such an important subject. Several of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members were unable to participate.
There is to be a massive cut of almost £30 million in capital funding for housing in Glasgow. That is an extremely serious blow to the city—even more so when taken with the revenue grant figure, because the capping level means that Glasgow has to make cuts of £68 million. If we deduct the £25 million that the city finds from various sources, that leaves £43 million to be found from cuts in services and increased charges—a cut of almost £1 million a week or £117,808.21 every day of the year. How can Glasgow tackle the evils of unemployment, poverty and poor housing with such a settlement?
Because of the housing capital cuts, 300 people could lose their jobs in the city's housing department. Already, 700 council employees have taken redundancy. With enforced compulsory redundancies, the figure for job losses could rise to 2,000. That shows the scale of the problem that the city faces.
The proposed council tax increase of 36 per cent. means that band D council tax payers will face an increase of £243—from £676 to £919. In addition, council house rents have had to be increased by an average of £3.94 a week. The combined rent and council tax increases will mean more and more misery for many citizens, especially those caught in the poverty trap whose income is just above the qualifying level to obtain any benefits.
As if the housing support grant order were not bad enough, Glasgow had the misfortune to suffer horrendous damage to its housing stock in the severe weather over the new year. I dealt with that matter fully in an Adjournment debate on 17 January. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), for meeting Glasgow Members of Parliament recently to discuss the severe weather problems and capital allocations. It was a much more constructive meeting than we had expected. Nevertheless, Glasgow is still faced with the same problem.
The latest figures for the cost of the winter emergency are £9.1 million for the reinstatement work in respect of the housing revenue account. To fund that, the council will have to delay capital expenditure of £2.3 million on heating, windows and roofing projects. Day-to-day repairs, at an estimated cost of £2.8 million, will be displaced by frost emergency work, resulting in an increase in outstanding repairs of 10,000. There will also 968 be a potential deficit in the housing revenue account for 1996–97 of £2.9 million. I understand that the Minister has now received the relevant information from Glasgow city council. I hope that he will soon be in a position to respond positively.
On the vexed question of housing support grant, has the Minister yet reconsidered the differences between the Government's capital receipts targets and the council's predicted outturn figures? I want to put the figures to him again. On right-to-buy sales, the Government expectation is an income of £20.872 million. The council prediction is £13.5 million. On stock transfers, the figures are £3.871 million and nothing, and on land sales they are £3 million and £500,000 respectively. That is a total Government expectation of £27.918 million against a council prediction of £14 million—a shortfall of almost £14 million.
As has already been said, the Government's receipts targets are based on a pattern of house sales and Scottish Homes stock transfer activity in 1994–95 rather than 1995–96, when there was a drop in the number of house sales inquiries and take-up and acceptance rates of 35 and 58 per cent. respectively. Most of the houses that people want to buy have already been bought, so the sales of council houses will slump in the coming year. Indeed, to be quite frank, in many cases the stock that is left is not worth buying. Scottish Homes in Glasgow does not expect to have any funding to effect further acquisitions.
A much more realistic target for the council would be a reduction of the receipts targets to £500,000 for land sales and stock transfers combined and to £13.5 million for the right to buy. In addition, there should be a commensurate increase in borrowing consent to ensure that the council is able to meet its legal commitments. Finally, by reducing borrowing consent there will be a serious risk to public-private partnerships such as the Glasgow energy and urban regeneration initiatives.
The Minister is insisting that the target for voluntary transfers—which are really compulsory transfers—of 1 per cent. of the total remaining housing stock must be reached in the next financial year. For Glasgow, that means that almost 1,100 houses must be transferred to new landlords—but who? Is there to be a return to Rachmanism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) asked? Scottish Homes cannot fund housing associations to take on those houses, so who will be the landlords? The same applies to land sales. Will speculators move in and buy up land so that when the Glasgow Development Agency, Scottish Homes, Greater Glasgow health board or Glasgow city council want to buy the land back to develop it, they will have to pay extortionately high prices? That is not sense; it is nonsense and it is also counter-productive.
I appeal to the Secretary of State not simply to abandon local government but to show some compassion and concern for those who most need the essential services that local government provides. If the Secretary of State for Wales can find an additional £15 million to ensure that no council has to increase its council tax by more than 25 per cent., why cannot the Secretary of State for Scotland do the same?
§ Mr. Connarty
I am interested in the points that my hon. Friend is developing. Glasgow will have a problem similar to that of other authorities that have built large 969 multi-storey blocks of flats, with perhaps 85 flats in each block. The cost of refurbishment can be up to £1.6 million per block. It appears that the Government are not taking into account in their calculations the costs of allowing the blocks to deteriorate further. Surely Glasgow will have a massive problem. I know that 11 blocks in Falkirk district require massive investment. Will the Government tell us where the money will come from to refurbish those blocks?
§ Mr. Marshall
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The money is there; what is not there is the will to make it available. If the Government can find £30 million for HCI, £69 million to cap water bills, £600 million to write off water quango debts and more than £1 billion for the waste of the rail privatisation shambles, they can find some money to help local authorities and to help the people of Scotland.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
We have had a useful debate and in the short time that is left, I will try to respond to as many points as possible. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) questioned the validity of the report. The legal advice we have received is that the omission of Orkney is a technical error in the draft report which will be corrected when the report is finalised after the debate. The error does not affect the validity of the order.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) asked about hostel grants to Glasgow. The hostel grant covers the deficit between the cost of operating hostels and the income received. It can, and does, vary from year to year. In 1995–96, Glasgow received £125,000 and in 1996–97, it would have received £92,000, but the figure was reduced because of an overpayment in an earlier year. The subsidy system is based on making an estimate for the year ahead. If the deficit turns out to be less than estimated, the payment is adjusted in a later year's order. That is why the Glasgow grant is less next year; that is purely a technical effect of the system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) asked about housing benefit in Glasgow. I understand that around 82 per cent. of Glasgow tenants are in receipt of housing benefit. Last year, £156 million was paid to Glasgow tenants in rent rebates. My hon. Friend also referred to Scottish Homes and the £8 million grant for ethnic housing in Glasgow. I understand what my hon. Friend was saying, but I point out that it is a matter for Scottish Homes and he should take it up with the chairman or the chief executive.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) talked about housing support grant levels and the general fund contributions. I estimate that the cost of implementing an HSG subsidy regime using actual average rents and actual expenditure, as proposed in the brief to which the hon. Gentleman referred, would be £93 million, which is £73 million more than planned. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would allow council tax levels to rise to accommodate that figure? He is not willing to catch my eye, which makes me think that he was saying one thing when he was standing and another once he was sitting. Is he saying that he would allow council tax levels to rise to meet that £93 million?
§ Mr. McAllion
If the hon. Gentleman could find the money that has been wasted on assisted places, on the nursery voucher scheme and on rail privatisation, I could certainly find money to support council housing.
§ Mr. Robertson
That is £6 million. What happens to the other £87 million? Throughout the hon. Gentleman's speech, he called for more money to be spent and for more resources to be ploughed in. He says that the Government are waging a holy war against council housing. That is a strange accusation to level at a Minister who was brought up in a council house and whose parents still live in a council house. The hon. Gentleman would not say how many more resources he would be willing to commit. Will he do the decent and honourable thing by informing the House how much more, if he were standing in my place tonight, the order would give? Until he tells us how much, he can have no credibility.
§ Mr. McAllion
The Minister will have no credibility as long as he wastes money on nursery voucher schemes that nobody in Scotland wants, as long as he wastes money on assisted places schemes, as long as he wastes money on rail privatisation and as long as he wastes money in many other areas of public expenditure. He should get his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to argue in the Cabinet for more public investment. Everyone in Scotland and the United Kingdom knows that the Government are planning tax cuts as an election bribe. That is where we would get the money to fund public services.
§ Mr. Robertson
So parents all over Scotland are to take it that nursery vouchers are a waste of money and that increasing nursery provision is a waste of money. I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question. How much more would he ask the House to approve tonight? He cannot bleat and rant about a lack of resources if he will not say by how much he believes we are underfunding. The hon. Gentleman must answer the question.
§ Mr. McAllion
I have told the Minister about billions of pounds of public expenditure that he has wasted. We would redirect that money towards public resources. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to find out the figure, I repeat my challenge to him and his right hon. and hon. Friends. If they want to know—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [22 February].
§ The House divided: Ayes 244, Noes 190.973
|Division No. 64]||[8.45 pm|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)|
|Alexander, Richard||Baldry, Tony|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Banks, Matthew (Southport)|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Banks, Robert (Harrogate)|
|Amess, David||Banks, Tony (Newham NW)|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Batiste, Spencer|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bellingham, Henry|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Booth, Hartley||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Boswell, Tim||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Bowis, John||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald|
|Brazier, Julian||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Hannam, Sir John|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Harris, David|
|Bruce, Ian (South Dorset)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Burns, Simon||Hayes, Jerry|
|Burt, Alistair||Heald, Oliver|
|Butcher, John||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Butler, Peter||Hendry, Charles|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Hill, James (Southampton Test)|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Horam, John|
|Cash, William||Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Churchill, Mr||Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Clappison, James||Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensboume)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hunter, Andrew|
|Congdon, David||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Conway, Derek||Jack, Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Jessel, Toby|
|Couchman, James||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Cran, James||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Knapman, Roger|
|Day, Stephen||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Devlin, Tim||Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)|
|Dicks, Terry||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Knox, Sir David|
|Dover, Den||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Dunn, Bob||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Legg, Barry|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark|
|Elletson, Harold||Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe)|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Lidington, David|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Lord, Michael|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Luff, Peter|
|Evennett, David||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Faber, David||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fabricant, Michael||MacKay, Andrew|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Fishburn, Dudley||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Forman, Nigel||Madel, Sir David|
|Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Forth, Eric||Malone, Gerald|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Mans, Keith|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Marland, Paul|
|Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Marlow, Tony|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|French, Douglas||Mates, Michael|
|Gale, Roger||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Gallie, Phil||Merchant, Piers|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Mills, Iain|
|Garnier, Edward||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Gill, Christopher||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Gorst, Sir John||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Stephen, Michael|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Stem, Michael|
|Norris, Steve||Stewart, Allan|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Streeter, Gary|
|Page, Richard||Sweeney, Walter|
|Paice, James||Sykes, John|
|Patnick, Sir Irvine||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Thomason, Roy|
|Pawsey, James||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Pickles, Eric||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Trend, Michael|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Richards, Rod||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Riddick, Graham||Viggers, Peter|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Walden, George|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Waller, Gary|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Watts, John|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Whittingdale, John|
|Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Shersby, Sir Michael||Willetts, David|
|Sims, Roger||Wilshire, David|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)||Wood, Timothy|
|Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)||Yeo, Tim|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Sproat, Iain||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Mr. Michael Bates and Mr. Richard Ottaway.|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Coffey, Ann|
|Ainger, Nick||Cohen, Harry|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Connarty, Michael|
|Allen, Graham||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Corston, Jean|
|Ashton, Joe||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Austin-Walker, John||Dafis, Cynog|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dalyell, Tarn|
|Barnes, Harry||Davidson, Ian|
|Battle, John||Darling, Alistair|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Denham, John|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Dewar, Donald|
|Benton, Joe||Dobson, Frank|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Betts, Clive||Dowd, Jim|
|Bradley, Keith||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Eastham, Ken|
|Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Burden, Richard||Fatchett, Derek|
|Byers, Stephen||Faulds, Andrew|
|Callaghan, Jim||Flynn, Paul|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Foulkes, George|
|Campbell-Savours, D N||Fyfe, Maria|
|Canavan, Dennis||Galbraith, Sam|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Galloway, George|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Gapes, Mike|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||George, Bruce|
|Clelland, David||Gerrard, Neil|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Godsiff, Roger||Mullin, Chris|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Murphy, Paul|
|Gordon, Mildred||O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||O'Hara, Edward|
|Grocott, Bruce||Olner, Bill|
|Hall, Mike||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hanson, David||Pearson, Ian|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Pike, Peter L|
|Heppell, John||Pope, Greg|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hodge, Margaret||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbemauld)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Home Robertson, John||Radice, Giles|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Raynsford, Nick|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Reid, Dr John|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley North)||Rendel, David|
|Hoyle, Doug||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rooney, Terry|
|Hutton, John||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Illsley, Eric||Rowlands, Ted|
|Ingram, Adam||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Salmond, Alex|
|Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Jamieson, David||Short, Clare|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)||Simpson, Alan|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Jowell, Tessa||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)||Snape, Peter|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Soley, Clive|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Spearing, Nigel|
|Liddell, Mrs Helen||Spellar, John|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Stott, Roger|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|McAllion, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Macdonald, Calum||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|McFall, John||Timms, Stephen|
|McKelvey, William||Tipping, Paddy|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Touhig, Don|
|McLeish, Henry||Turner, Dennis|
|McMaster, Gordon||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|McWilliam, John||Wallace, James|
|Madden, Max||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Mahon, Alice||Wareing, Robert N|
|Marek, Dr John||Watson, Mike|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Martin, Michael J (Springburn)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Martlew, Eric||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Maxton, John||Winnick, David|
|Meale, Alan||Wise, Audrey|
|Michael, Alun||Worthington, Tony|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Milburn, Alan||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Mr. Malcolm Chisholm and Ms Janet Anderson.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.
§ MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the remaining Question required to be put at that hour.
That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.—[Dr. Liam Fox.]