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Public Housing (Dampness)

Volume 170: debated on Wednesday 28 March 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received from local authorities and other organisations about the need to direct further investment to tackling dampness in public sector housing.


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received from local authorities and other organisations about the need to direct further investment to tackling dampness in public sector housing.

No such representations have been received. I am pleased to say that I am today announcing the final housing capital allocations to local authorities for 1990–91. The final gross allocations have been increased by £46·5 million compared with the provisional allocations that I announced last December. That will benefit all housing authorities in Scotland. Of the increase, £41·1 million is in respect of expenditure on local authorities' own stock. Full details of the final allocations have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office.

Does the Minister recall that the Scottish Development Department's own house conditions survey showed that more than 500,000 houses in Scotland were suffering from dampness, of which 370,000 were in the public sector, and that that dampness was creating major health problems, particularly for youngsters and children with chest problems such as bronchitis? As last week the Secretary of State reshuffled some £4 million to save his political skin and the skin of his party, will a substantial proportion of the allocation that he has announced be spent specifically on the eradication of dampness?

I visited 39 district councils, none of which pressed me to make specific allocations because they want the discretion to choose their own priorities. What the hon. Lady says about the seriousness of dampness is true. Moray district council has today been given an extra allocation of £676,000, and on the non-housing revenue account an extra allocation of £50,000. Every authority in Scotland will benefit from the extra allocation of £41·1 million to the housing revenue account, except West Lothian, which has been allocated everything that it asked for. It also benefits on the non-HRA.

Given that over 520,000 houses in Scotland suffer from dampness, which affects the lives and health of many Scottish people, the amount of money that has been allocated is inadequate to meet the problem. Even to recycle money within the Scottish Office budget, Ministers must go cap in hand to the Secretary of State, who must go cap in hand to the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister dominates the Scottish Office, she should be answerable, because Ministers certainly are not. When will we get action to solve major health and housing problems, which are nothing less than a national disgrace?

The extra allocation of £46·5 million is being made not as a result of recycling within the Scottish Office but on the basic assumption that it is possible to process council house sales within seven and a half months. Some authorities in Scotland have taken well over a year to do that, but we know that, in two years, processing has been completed within less than eight months. Last Sunday, the Sunday Mail said:

"It's not a shortage of cash that's causing chaos, but massive delays by some district councils' house selling operations."

The Government have created a national housing agency, Scottish Homes, which owns more than 70,000 houses in the public sector. How can it possibly tackle dampness when, according to its strategic investment plan, investment in those 70,000 houses has been placed at the bottom of six different spending priorities? Is not that an obscene order of priorities and does not it represent a sell-out of Scottish Homes' tenants and Scottish Homes' stock?

The Scottish Special Housing Association and Scottish Homes have a good reputation among their tenants for spending sufficient funds on management and maintenance of council house stock. Most of their houses are in relatively good condition. It is for them to choose their priorities, and obviously they will do so. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular problems in his constituency, I should be glad if he drew them to the attention of Scottish Homes and myself.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that 74 per cent. of houses that suffer from dampness are in the public sector is a condemnation of the policies of Scottish local housing authorities?

It is important that housing authorities have the discretion to choose priorities within their areas. These problems are found not only in the public sector but in the private sector, and today we have made an additional allocation to the non-HRA as well.

Is the Minister aware how blindly complacent he sounds when he speaks on the subject of dampness? Does not he understand the enormous human misery caused to thousands of Scots through their having to live in damp houses? Does he accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that dampness in housing causes ill health? If he does, will he stop mouthing meaningless statistics that no one in Scotland believes and invest the massive amount of money necessary to eradicate that unacceptable and unnecessary scourge for ever?

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that £46·5 million is to be sniffed at. His authority in Glasgow has today been allocated more than £9 million extra on the housing revenue account and £2 million on the non-HRA. He should address his comments to his district council which, no doubt, will take them seriously. The average increase throughout Scotland is 9·8 per cent., and that should not be underestimated.