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Housing

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

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11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what initiatives he intends to take with respect to solving Scotland's housing problem.

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what initiatives he intends to take with respect to solving Scotland's housing problem.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I are developing a rural housing strategy for Scotland through Scottish Homes and we have asked Scottish Homes to give priority to the problem of homelessness.

As 100,000 Scots are now on council house waiting lists and homelessness is even higher in Scotland than it is in England and Wales, when will an emergency programme for Scottish housing be set up to match the necessary programme for homelessness in London and the south-east of England? The south of England has 30 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom and obtains 50 per cent. of mortgage tax relief —an additional subsidy to the subsidy junkies of the south-east of £1,000 million. When will that spending be matched by investment in public sector housing in Scotland and elsewhere?

We have increased the net capital allocations at the final stage by about £40 million above the previous year. A huge number of houses—more than 205,000—has been built in the past 10 years. The public sector built almost 60,000. We believe that the housing associations have an important role in catering for people with special needs and that the district councils are taking their statutory responsibilities seriously. Although each year there may be 25,000 or more applications from homeless people, the district councils are finding them places to stay.

The district councils are operating extremely effectively. We believe that Scottish Homes should give priority to assisting them in that purpose.

How can the Minister reconcile his answers at parliamentary questions in October last year, when he made it clear that the Scottish Development Department did not keep estimates of homelessness or overcrowding in Scotland, with a letter circulated in May this year to all Scottish Members in which he attacked Shelter, an organisation which does an effective job combating homelessness, for keeping such records? Will he stop talking about net capital allocations and instead talk about gross capital allocations? Last year the budget in Scotland was slashed by £51 million and in areas such as Moray that meant a reduction of 15 per cent. When will he take action to reduce and eradicate this social injustice?

As for gross capital allocations, if district councils, especially in cities, processed right-to-buy applications more speedily, there would be millions of pounds extra to spend on Government housing this year. A few days ago I visited the hon. Lady's district council and saw the housing there. It is making good progress with the projects before it. The rural housing strategy, on which we hope to reach a decision on the way forward certainly by the autumn, will be of considerable assistance in helping to bring back into use many of the 130,000 empty houses in Scotland. I hope that that will have relevance in many rural areas, including that of the hon. Lady.

How many council houses in Scotland are unfit to live in because of dampness and other problems? When does the Minister expect every family in Scotland to have a house fit to live in at the current rate of financial contributions from the Government?

We think that it is a serious problem that about 48,000 houses have rising damp and condensation, but it is for the district councils concerned, which know their stock best, to choose the priorities for dealing with these matters. Many are completing local house condition surveys, which we welcome.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem in Scotland is that too much housing is in the public sector? Is he aware that Scotland has a lower percentage of owner-occupation than Czechoslovakia? What are the Government doing to speed the privatisation of the housing stock in Scotland?

Approaching 200,000 public sector tenants have purchased their homes in Scotland and we have a rents-to-mortgages trial scheme. As the Prime Minister said, if that scheme proves itself, it will be extended.

If the Minister genuinely believes that local authorities are dealing with the problem of the 28,000 homeless people in Scotland, what is his answer to the leaders of the housing committees of Scotland's four largest housing authorities who yesterday claimed that there was a major housing crisis because the Government had cut £51 million in real terms of capital allocations? When will he recognise the housing crisis, shed his prejudices against council housing and give local authorities the money that they need to stop thousands of our fellow Scots suffering from poor housing conditions?

Cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee, and to a lesser extent Glasgow, are taking almost a year to process council house sales. If that period is reduced to seven and a half months, extra money will be available to those cities to spend on their public sector stock. It is necessary to bring back into use as many as possible of the 128,000 to 130,000 vacant houses in Scotland.