Housing (Scotland) Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This afternoon, we had a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are becoming used to these statements because the Government in Scotland are struggling I do not understand why a massive number of civil servants from the Scottish Office seem to be necessary to assist with such statements. Is there some way in which the House can regulate who attends in an official capacity? This is an important point because some Opposition Members have no confidence in the Scottish Civil Service since—
Order. The hon. Member knows that no breach of order has been committed and that this is not a point of order for the Chair.
Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Is it a fresh point of order?
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely, Members of the House regulate, through their Standing Orders, who attends the House. Is it appropriate for a Member to object to the presence of so many civil servants, brought here at great cost to the Scottish people, for little purpose?
That is not a point of order. There is no Standing Order that governs the attendance of such staff.
Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker—
Order. The hon. Member is delaying very important business concerned with housing in Scotland. Does he seek to make a fresh point of order —one with which I call deal?
The point that I seek to make is that there must be some means of raising this matter. Let me leave it at that and I shall find some means of raising the matter on another occasion.
The hon. Member is a frequent attender in the Chamber. He could seek to raise the matter through an early-day motion or the Procedure Committee. I am sure that it is not beyond his wit to deal with this matter by other means.
New Clause 7
Cost Floor Limit On Discount On Price Of House Purchased By Secure Tenant
".—(1) In subsection (1) of section 62 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (purchase price of house being purchased in pursuance of tenant's right) for the words 'subsections (7) and (8)' there shall be substituted the words 'subsection (6A)'.
(2) For subsections (7) to (9) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsections—
`(6A) Except where the Secretary of State so determines, the discount for the purpose of subsection (1) shall not reduce the price below the amount which, in accordance with a determination made by him, is to be taken as representing so much of the costs incurred in respect of the house as, in accordance with the determination, is to be treated as—
(a) incurred in the period commencing with the beginning of the financial year of the landlord which was current 5 years prior to the date of service of the application to purchase the house or such other period as the Secretary of State may by order provide; and (b) relevant for the purposes of this subsection, and, if the price before discount is below that amount, there shall be no discount.
(6B) An order under subsection (6A) shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament and may make different different provision in relation to different cases or circumstances or different areas.'.
(3) In subsection (10) of that section, for '(9)' there shall be substituted '(6A)'.
(4) Subsections (11) to (13) of that section shall cease to have effect.
(5) In section 76 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (duty of landlords to provide information to secure tenants) in subsection (1), for paragraph (c) there shall be substitued the following paragraph
"(c) section 62(6A) may affect any price fixed as regards the house under section 62(1),".'.
(6) The said sections 62 and 76 shall, however, continue to apply as originally enacted in relation to the price of a house in respect of which the offer to sell (within the meaning of section 63 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987) was served on the tenant prior to the commencement of this section; but nothing in this subsection restricts the power of the tenant to withdraw his application to purchase or prejudices the effect of such withdrawal."—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 102 and 103.
I would not wish to shrink from responsibility for the fact— indeed, I very much welcome the fact — that housing is regarded as such a supreme priority in Scotland that a considerable number of civil servants do, indeed, attend housing debates. It is a measure of the importance that we attribute to the matter.
The Under-Secretary raises an important point in referring to the fact that so many civil servants have been brought to the House to support him on this important matter. Can he tell the House how many civil servants have been brought from Scotland today to support him at the Dispatch Box?
I cannot give the exact number. However, we regard future housing provision in Scotland as of supreme importance. Some of the amendments that we shall be debating are very complex, and it is vital to get them right and ensure that they are in a form that stands the test of time.
The hon. Gentleman will have his chance later.The amendments seek to give effect to the Government's decision, as announced on 1 March, and as I explained in Committee, on the right-to-buy cost floor rule. The new clause and the two amendments seek to repeal the present arrangement under which the discount available to tenants wishing to exercise their right to buy can be restricted, if the sale would otherwise take place at a price less than the debt outstanding on the house. We suggest instead that discount should not bring the price of the house in terms of the right-to-buy provisions below the historic costs incurred by the landlord in providing or improving the house since the relevant date, or the undiscounted market value if that is lower. The relevant date will be the beginning of the financial year five years before the right-to-buy application is made. So if a local authority tenant applies to buy his house in November 1988, the cost floor will be the total costs incurred by the authority on that house since 1 April 1983. The price that the tenant has to pay for his house will fall below that figure only if the market value, as determined by the district value, is less than those costs. We propose that the relevant date should roll forward each year. So if a tenant applies in November 1989, the cost floor will be the costs incurred on the house since April 1984. Hon. Members will recall that our White Paper last November suggested that the discount restrictions involved in the outstanding debt test should be abolished completely. We have, however, taken note of the many representations received from local authorities and other interested parties that difficulties could arise — on building and modernisation programmes and on house allocation—if we were not to keep in place some kind of discount restriction on new or newly modernised houses. The proposals we are bringing forward in these amendments reflect the care with which we considered these representations.
I was not a member of the Standing Committee, so my colleagues on both sides of the House who worked hard in that Committee will forgive me if I ask a question. In the areas that the Minister and I represent — Queensferry and Linlithgow — there have been problems with the definition of "newly modernised". What is the definition of "newly modernised"?
I cannot give a technical definition, but I can give a general off-the-cuff definition. Houses that have been modernised by the district council will be taken into account in the five-year period. If the house has been modernised in the five-year period, the costs will be added to the historic cost of the House and it will be taken into account.
In the five-year period?
In the five-year period; that is absolutely right. I think that this is a matter of common sense. I do not think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would disagree about what constitutes a modernisation programme or what a local authority might define as a modernisation programme.
Will the Minister confirm that the price must not fall below the historic cost involved in the previous five years but that if the tenant waited six years, the price could fall as low as that tenant's discount enabled it to fall? The tenant can get the full discount after six years even though the council may have spent £20,000 on modernising the house six years before. Is that right?
The hon. Gentleman is right, but I should make it clear, as I did in Committee, that housing support grant would be increased if there was an adverse impact on the figures for the authority concerned, given that that authority was receiving housing support grant; some authorities just outside housing support grant might be brought back into it as a result.
There is a problem here. I have some sympathy with the Minister when he says that the question whether a house is newly modernised is a matter of common sense, but I am clear that in two cases the matter has gone to lawyers. There needs to be some kind of legal definition. What the Minister and I might think is common sense might not be accepted by people's solicitors.
I shall be delighted to look into the hon. Gentleman's constituency cases. Indeed, I should be grateful if he would send me the details because it is very important that these matters should be properly resolved.I believe that the proposals will meet the general points of concern raised—for example, by local authorities—while at the same time allowing more tenants to purchase their houses without a restriction of the discount to which they are entitled on the strength of their public sector tenancy records. The new clause refers to a determination which the Secretary of State will make on the costs that should be taken into account in calculating the new cost floor. We intend that the determination applying in Scotland should be broadly similar to that which applies at present in England and Wales under section 131 of the Housing Act 1985.
Is the Minister saying that under his proposal it is still possible to sell a council house below its outstanding debt? Will he clarify that point?
In certain circumstances, yes, but we have to bear in mind that a house increases in value considerably in the five-year period—perhaps by as much as 10 per cent. a year. The new clause represents a compromise that will meet the aspirations of tenants who wish to purchase with a discount while not disadvantaging local authorities. That is why, after careful thought, we proposed the new clause in this form.The provisions in the new clause and the consequential technical amendments represent a fair compromise between the interests of tenants and the interests of public sector landlords. Authorities will be able to adopt sensible building, modernisation and allocation policies without the distorting effect that the absence of any cost floor might have introduced, and more tenants will be able to exercise their right to buy without having their discount entitlement reduced. I commend the new clause and the amendments to the House.
The civil servants referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) were not much help to the Minister when he was bowled a difficult one by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I understand why he brought those civil servants here; he has no Scottish Back Benchers, although I see the seventh cavalry arriving in the form of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker).What we need in housing in Scotland is not civil servants but brickies. We seek from the Government some indication that they will ensure that houses are built and improved to cater for the needs of people in Scotland. The Government are simply trying to redistribute existing housing stock in an ill-considered manner. I stress that the Labour party strongly supports the development of home ownership in Scotland, but we should be encouraging home owners and private developers to invest in housebuilding and in the improvement of housing stock rather than simply raiding the public sector housing stock as has happened in recent years. We object to the way in which the Government approach this question, which is reckless in a number of ways. Sadly, we are already discovering that it is reckless from the point of view of some home buyers, because people who have bought their council houses are finding that they cannot afford the real costs of home ownership, and a disturbingly large number are becoming homeless as their homes are repossessed by building societies. In my constituency, 5 per cent. of the allocation for council houses last year went to people whose homes were repossessed because of mortgage default. Therefore, owner-occupation is not the best answer for everybody, and the policy of encouraging owner-occupation regardless of the consequences does not always make sense. That policy is also tragically harmful to the prospects of homeless people and for those who are stuck on housing waiting lists. Every time another council house is sold—although that may be very nice for the people who buy it— it means that there is less council housing stock, a slower turnover of that housing stock and a longer wait for those who are waiting for housing. Obviously, the policy represents reckless interference in the finances of local housing authorities. We are all increasingly weary of reading Scottish Office press statements that give the impression that the Government are giving local authorities money to spend on housing. The Minister issued another only yesterday. The fact is that the Government are allowing Scottish district councils to borrow £58 million less than they were allowed to borrow last year, while the Government cheerfully anticipate a massive increase of £93 million in the profits from council house sales. That projected figure is 60 per cent. more than the figure for last year. Whether all that will come to pass, goodness knows, but it seems a particularly haphazard way of budgeting for capital expenditure on housing in Scotland. This "policy" of cut-price council house sales is not a housing policy; it is simply a device for redistributing the ownership of some houses from the community to individuals who may be fortunate enough to qualify for the discounts on offer. There is no question but that that is popular among those who are in a position to take advantage of it. I fully acknowledge that. However, equally, there is no doubt that it has made life more difficult, for the reasons that I have already given, for people who are waiting to rent homes. There is increasing and distressing evidence that owner-occupation is not always the best form of tenure. I have given an example of the situation that is developing in my constituency which, I suspect, will be mirrored elsewhere in Scotland, where people are getting into difficulties after having bought their council houses. The new clause seriously undermines the cost floor which at least ensured that district councils were not required to sell houses for less than the outstanding debt on those properties. Under the new clause, the cost floor will cave in after only five years. Incidentally, there is an interesting difference and disparity between that figure and the figure for England and Wales, where there will be an eight-year holding period for the cost floor. Perhaps the Minister will explain that difference. Under the new clause, it will be possible for a district council to build a house for, say, £35,000 and if a tenant transfers into the house and qualifies for the full 60 per cent. discount, he might be able to buy the house for as little as £15,000 only five years after it has been built. Therefore, the district council would sustain a loss of £20,000 on that property. Only a small fraction of the 50-year loan charges will have been paid off during that period. Therefore, the district council's remaining tenants will have to pay the cost of that compulsory sale for, perhaps, another 40 years. It is the other tenants who have to pay the costs that the Government are building up for local housing authorities under this scheme. There might be a case for that practice if the Government were to make up the shortfall that the district councils will sustain as a result of such sales, but, of course, the Government are not prepared to do that. The Government are saddling district councils with yet another serious financial hardship. We know, that the district council house building programme in Scotland has seldom been smaller than at present. In the second quarter of 1987, only 316 houses were started by district councils in Scotland. That figure is only one quarter of the number that were built when the Government came to power nine years ago. Therefore, there has been a disturbing tail-off in the amount of council house building in Scotland. The Bill will make matters substantially worse. District councils will still have to cope with the growing needs of homeless people, but with a diminishing stock of houses to let because of the increasing rate of sales. That is generating particular problems in rural areas in Scotland, but the problem is reflected in other parts of Scotland also. I seek one particular assurance from the Minister on new clause 7. Will the Government ensure that no district council runs into trouble with the district auditors for investing in new building while under the threat of compulsory cut-price sales after only five years, as would be possible under the new clause? District councils could be criticised for investing in urgently needed new housing if there is a prospect of those houses being sold within as little as five years for a fraction of what they have actually cost. If the Government cannot give an assurance on that, they will have to accept responsibility for halting the building of homes to let by local authorities in Scotland. Finally, I repeat this question to the Minister. Why is the cut-off period for the cost floor being set at five years in Scotland, when the equivalent figure in England is eight years?
Although I am supposed to be reassured by the Minister, I have certainly not been reassured by his comments on the new clause which, in its potential effects on local authorities and therefore on the provision of housing in Scotland, is one of the most serious parts of the Bill.By tinkering with time limits, the Government's proposal makes only a slight modification and in no way meets the problems that it will create for local authorities throughout Scotland. I regret that amendment No. 165, which I tabled, was not selected, because it would have reversed the present proposed financial unfairness and given local authorities, and the public purse, a greater chance to survive and contribute to Scotland's housing. District councils should never be asked, unless as a major exception, to sell houses at less than the outstanding debt on them. The outstanding debt must be the minimum acceptable or the remaining tenants will carry debt for a lost public asset. If less than the outstanding debt is taken, the consequence must be that the poorer tenants will simply carry that loss, due to the Government's council house sales policy. District councils will carry out considerable administrative and legal inquiries on receipt of an application. Those costs also will be unfairly borne, at no benefit, by the remaining council house tenants. The new clause merely tinkers with the time limit and fails to address the real and dangerous problems that the Bill poses for local authorities. In one local authority, a house built in a prize-winning council estate at a cost of £34,000 is now likely to be sold for £23,000—in other words, at an immediate loss of £11,000, which is almost equivalent to taking £1 from every council tenant. If that happens due to the sale of only one house, the consequences of a housing sales drive are potentially catastrophic to that district council. The new clause will not change that situation. Without any protection for existing local authorities and existing public authority tenants, such sales will be a massive burden on rent payers and will virtually stop all new public sector house building. Is that really what the Government want? The problem strikes at the heart of the public housing system and will lead to the poorest tenants directly subsidising the wealthiest ex-tenants and the best houses. Such catastrophic financial losses would also stop modernisations, because the value of a house does not rise proportionately to the money that is invested in modernising it. A £10,000 modernisation, for example, might hardly affect the price arrived at by the district valuers. It would certainly be nothing like the public money that had been invested. Therefore, local authorities would have a disincentive to modernise and to create a capital debt for no return. I fear that, unless it is amended, this part of the Bill will lead to the downgrading of public housing to such an extent that it will cease to be a dynamic, progressive and innovative system, due purely to the kind of financial penalties that have been created by legally enforced sales of assets at massive subsidies. That would be bad news for Scotland's homeless people and for those in damp or overcrowded housing, and it would be major blunder by the Government. Under the new clause, housing sales can take place at prices below the outstanding debt but without added discount—but going back for only five years on new properties or modernisations. Councils should never be forced to sell houses at vastly less than the outstanding debt. The Government are failing adequately to address this core problem.
It is always wise to approach any initiative taken by the Government with considerable circumspection.I was recently visited by two constituents who looked to benefit from the provision, and were pleased to find that, if they put off buying their house for another couple of years, they would he able to gain substantially. The Government's intention, of course, has been to direct their legislation towards particular groups of tenants, hoping to win them across politically — but to do so at the expense of other tenants who are bound to lose from such measures. It is important to place the new clause in the context of the existing housing position in Scotland. The position outlined in the glossy document, "New Life for Urban Scotland", is entirely fictitious. In reality, 30,000 families in Scotland are homeless, and that number is continuing to rise. More than 1·25 million Scots live in overcrowded conditions, and millions of pounds need to be spent to eradicate the damp and condensation that make far too many lives a misery. I am especially concerned about the effect of the new clause on the public sector housing authorities, the district councils and the Scottish Special Housing Association—shortly to be replaced by the new agency Scottish Homes. Those are the very authorities many of whose houses badly need modernisation programmes, but their capital budgets make it impossible for them to carry out modernisation and rehabilitation to meet the needs of the tenants to whom they are responsible. The district councils and the SSHA must therefore be selective about which houses they pick for modernisation — so many in the current financial year, and so many in the next. But for the majority of houses in need, there is no prospect of modernisation or rehabilitation in the short or medium term. My constituents in the Craigiebank area draw my attention again and again to the state of their windows. As the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) knows, the housing scheme is one of the most desirable under the control of Dundee district council.
Does the hon. Gentleman remember the capital costs of building the Craigiebank houses? If he does not know the answer, I do, and I shall be delighted to give it to him.
I am a much younger man than the hon. Member for Tayside, North, so I do not remember. The houses were built pre-war, when the hon. Gentleman assures me that he was fighting the Japs—although, as he is only 50, I doubt that very much. I am making a serious point. My constituents come to me complaining that their windows need replacing. No one would deny that, but the sad reality is that, owing to the restrictions placed on Dundee district council's capital spend programme, the houses are not included in the five-year programme for that council, and there is no immediate prospect of their being accepted for modernisation.
My intervention was meant to be helpful rather than disruptive. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have understood that. The very desirable Craigiebank houses were built for a few hundred pounds, which is interesting in the light of the impression given by the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), that all houses will be valued at less than their historic costs.
That point is not really relevant to my concern. I am talking about modernisation programmes, and the district council's responsibility for selecting groups of houses for those programmes. Many of the tenants have been there for a very long time, and therefore qualify for the maximum discounts—up to 60 or 70 per cent. of the market price. As each house can cost the district council up to £20,000 to modernise, the new clause will add a new factor to local authorities' considerations when they decide which houses and flats to include in modernisation programmes: they will now have to take into account how long tenants have been in the houses.Surely it is better to decide to spend up to £20,000 on a house in the knowledge that the tenant has not been in the house for long, and that when, after six years —under the new clause—he applies to buy the house, it will represent a much smaller loss than the council would incur if he had been there for 25 or 30 years, and qualified for the maximum discount. When tenants of houses such as those in Craigiebank, who have been in their houses for a considerable time and qualify for the maximum discount, apply to buy their houses under the new clause, the council—which spent £20,000 only six years earlier—will experience a much more serious loss than if it had modernised a house whose tenants have been there for only a short period. The new clause contains an in-built bias against two groups of tenants: those who have been in their houses for a long time, and those who are in a position—and the council knows it — to buy their council houses The council will have other considerations. It must consider the important group of tenants who live in damp houses, houses with condensation, overcrowded houses —properties that are unsuitable for one reason or another. Tenants on low incomes or social security benefit will never be in a position to buy their houses. Surely the council will say to itself, "Is it not better to spend what money we have for modernisation programmes on those who we know will be our tenants for the next 20 or 25 years, so that the money is spent for the benefit of our tenants, rather than for those who will buy their houses from us in five or six years?" To spend the money on houses that will be transferred from council stock will represent a loss not only to the council but to all the tenants who live in unsuitable housing, and who will never be able to buy their houses and take advantage of new clause 5. The Minister has given an incentive to district councils to choose for their modernisation programmes only the houses that they know will remain in the housing stock for a long time, and on which it will therefore be in their financial interests to spend money. Why should they spend £20,000 on a house that they know they will lose in six years' time? District councils are not fools, and they will act accordingly. The Minister assured me that there would be a readjustment of housing support grant for authorities that are still in housing support grant, or just out of it. Dundee district council lost all housing support grant in 1983. It has been many years since it received any such grant, and there will be no readjustment or compensation for it. Every time that it spends money, it will take into consideration how long the house is likely to remain in its ownership. The new clause contains a bias against tenants in a position to buy their houses, as opposed to those who have been in their houses for a long time.
On one matter I do not share the views expressed by some of my colleagues. I happen to think that extremely good advice from civil servants in the Scottish Office has been available to Scottish Ministers for a long time. I can speak only for myself, but whenever I have had occasion to approach civil servants I have always received courteous and helpful responses. I do not go along with what too many politicians are doing—casting a slur on the Civil Service. That, I feel, is quite unacceptable. To be able to criticise civil servants, it is necessary to be very specific with dates and facts.In the light of that, I think that the Minister has probably received good advice on two matters, on which I should like to ask questions. Some of my hon. Friends, including Front Benchers, raised the issue of slow turnover. Necessarily, evidence is anecdotal, and I do not believe that any of us, without statistics, can form a very good idea of how bad the position has become. In parts of my constituency, however, it seems to have reached very sad proportions. In areas such as Queensferry, where there is a high demand for housing, it is extremely difficult for those who were born and bred there to obtain it. That is also true in other parts of the Linlithgow constituency. My first question is: has any statistical work been done recently in the Scottish Office to try to give an overall impression of whether turnover is markedly slower than it was before? My second question is about modernisation. I think that my constituent, Robert Lee, of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and chairman of the West Lothian housing committee, is well known to Ministers. He prompts questions about the rate of modernisation that is possible even for authorities about which the Scottish Office cannot, in all conscience, complain. The anecdotal evidence is that, because of the financial inability to carry out modernisation that is desperately necessary, great injury is being done to the housing stock. From the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) talked about windows. We all see windows rotting away in our constituencies. The excuse of "no money" is used far more often than it ever was before. Of course, there were always problems, but my anecdotal view is that the problems are becoming greater. What statistical evidence on modernisation problems and the stitch in time saving nine is available to the Minister?
I rise belatedly just to ask one or two questions which are more technical than anything else. I preface my remarks by saying that the list of amendments that the Government have tabled on Report, after the long and arduous Committee stage, will make it difficult for the House properly to digest what the Government are bringing forward.Of course I understand that some of the amendments are concessions and, in so far as they are concessions, they are welcome. Some are for the purposes of clarification, but this highlights the claims that were made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that the consultation procedure that preceded this piece of legislation was inadequate in time and depth. We are seeing the fruits of that. It makes it difficult for hon. Members on both sides of the House to follow the implications of some parts of the Bill. I am referring particularly to new clause 7 and the two related amendments. It is the first time that I have seen the Government amend the long title of a Bill on Report. Surely some standards must be sacred. If the Government are tackling new areas of legislation that are not envisaged in the original Long Title of the Bill, surely it is incumbent upon them to think again and bring forward a new measure. There will be further housing measures. The procedure of consultation on this aspect of the Bill, which was intimated to the Committee only in the latter stages, suggests that the local authorities, which will be left to pick up the pieces of this sort of change, have not been properly consulted. Against that background, the first question that I want to ask the Minister is what consultations he has had recently with local authorities about the problems that moving to the new historic cost floor system of limiting discounts will have for them It is incumbent upon the House to consider carefully the Minister's answer to that question when forming its judgment on the new clause. I assume that there is a typographical error in subsection (6B), because the word "different" is used twice in the phrase:
Even I do not think that the parliamentary draftsmen would seek to pass that off as anything other than a typographical error. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that. An earlier part of the clause uses the phrase:"may make different different provision in relation to different cases".
I have not had time to check this in its entirety, but I do not think that the equivalent provision in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, dealing with restriction of discounts, puts that phrase into operation. If that is the case, I shall be happy to be so reassured. However, if that is a new phrase that has crept into the legislation, what does it mean, and in what circumstances will it be used? What exceptions will the Secretary of State consider before he determines the content in the rest of the clause? When looking at the new clause 7 provisions side by side with the provisions that they replace, the definition of the word "costs" is important, and we have heard little about that. I am not satisfied that there is legal clarity in terms of what is meant by "costs". Tenants were able to find out quite easily what the discount was, and the formula and calculation could be made and checked by tenants who were prospective purchasers. Using words such as "costs" in the body of the new clause will lead to many difficulties, not just for tenants who are prospective purchasers, but for the local authorities. What does "costs" mean, and where is the definition of it? How will that be decided by individual prospective purchasers when they try to take advantage of the new clause? I keep making this point, and I risk being boring on the subject. In the new clause it seems that we are again using the negative procedure. When the Secretary of State brings forward statutory instruments that are subject to annulment, it is sensible on every possible occasion to have them subject to the affirmative procedure, not the negative procedure. The Minister may simply be slavishly following the provisions in the 1987 Act and he may be hiding behind that measure as a precedent. I have heard all that before, but I make the point again. If we are considering the provisions afresh, and if we are starting to introduce words such as "costs" that have no legal definition, the orders should be subject to statutory scrutiny under the affirmative procedure. I ask for clarification of the phrase—I referred to it earlier when I mentioned the typographical error —which states, inter alia:"Except where the Secretary of State so determines".
From memory, I think that the 1987 Act provisions talk about varying cases and varying circumstances in different areas. However, what exactly does that mean? Have there been any cases under the 1987 Act where different provisions have been made in different areas? What is that phrase intended to embrace in terms of the position on the ground? Those are important questions. I would risk being boring and incurring the wrath of the House if I went on in a legal vein such as this. However, I simply make the point that I have given four examples of vagueness and difficulties that can be created and can creep into pieces of legislation that are as ill-digested as this clause. The Government are wrong to seek to impose this sort of legislation on local authorities, and it makes it difficult for them to work out exactly what provisions they are to make for new and modernised housing stock. If the Minister wants to be even-handed to prospective purchasers, he should make sure that local authorities are indemnified financially for the costs that they will lose over a long period by having to pay the loan charges, and so on. I am opposed to the clause, and if Opposition Front Bench Members seek to press it to a Division, I shall have great pleasure in supporting them."may make different provision in relation to different cases or circumstances or different areas."
I want to deal with some of the detailed points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is a highly qualified lawyer and he raised many technical problems. He worked hard in Committee on behalf of Age Concern and other bodies.The hon. Gentleman raised the question about the clarification of the phrase relating to different provisions in different areas. That allows for the different time periods to be set for the cost floor in different parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the repetition of the word "different" was a printing error. It is, but that will be cleared up later. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Bill's long title. It is not unusual for a Bill's long title to be amended. I cannot readily give a precedent, but I am sure that there are many precedents I could cite if I had time to look them up. The White Paper clearly stated that the outstanding debt was to be abolished. We considered a considerable number of representations very thoroughly. As I said earlier, we changed our policy as a result of those representations and that represents a compromise between the interests of local authorities and those of tenants. Historic costs are total costs and therefore easy to calculate. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire also referred to the negative statutory instrument procedure. That is a regular procedure and is used quite often. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a number of points on behalf of his constituents. He was correct to state that the Scottish Office has carried out research which has revealed that in the vast majority of cases where tenants purchase their homes, they stay in the same houses that they purchased. There is no evidence of a marked change in the turnover. Obviously, research has taken place over many years. The hon. Member for Linlithgow also referred to the rate of possible modernisation. West Lothian's allocation is £8 million on the housing revenue account. That is 6 per cent. higher than last year's allocation. The council must determine its own priorities within the framework of the available resources.
Does the Scottish Office research reveal that there has been no marked increase in the rate of turnover? If so, that is a very odd conclusion.
I will have to check upon that. The information that I gave a moment ago was correct: there has been no marked increase. However, I will check that. I said that there has been no evidence of marked change in the turnover. I will check that, and if there is any additional evidence I will reassure the hon. Gentleman.
Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if there has been a reduction in the Scottish local authorities' housing stock of more than 100,000 since the scheme was initiated, there has been no change in the rate of turnover of re-lets in housing? The Minister must accept that in due course there will be a significant change.
I said that in the vast majority of cases, once the tenants became owners, they stayed in the same houses.The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) referred to public expenditure in Scotland. Taking account of the increased allocations to local authorities announced yesterday, total capital provision for housing through public sector agencies in 1988–89 now amounts to £825 million. That is £44 million, or 5·6 per cent., up on the equivalent figure for 1987–88. I stress to Opposition Members including the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that the amount to be spent on housing next year will increase. I am glad to say that yesterday Dundee, like the other authorities, received a substantial additional allocation. Dundee received an extra allocation of £3,550,000.
Will the Minister acknowledge that the money which he refers to as allocations is not grant from the Government to local authorities, but authority for local authorities to spend their own money?
The bulk of the money came from extra receipts. Estimates are made by the Scottish Office in co-operation with local authorities, and we take a cautious view of the receipts. The authorities can keep the additional receipts.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that not all the receipts received from the sale of council houses go to the authority which sold the houses? The Scottish Office determines the priorities and gives the money to the area where it judges the priority is greatest. For example, Perth and Kinross district, which has a fine record of selling houses, has not had all the money which it has made from the sales.
Yes, I can confirm that allocations are made strictly on the basis of need throughout Scotland, in terms of the authorities with the most pressing housing problems.With regard to resources, this year the Housing Corporation will receive about £158 million. That is a record figure, and well up on last year's allocation.
The Minister said that more than an extra £3 million will be allocated to Dundee district council this year. Will he confirm that all that money comes from the receipts from the sale of council houses? Will he also confirm that it comes from the sale of council houses in Dundee?
I would not be able to confirm the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question without looking carefully at the figures. However, I can confirm that the money comes from receipts.The hon. Member for East Lothian referred to the auditors. There will be no problem with the auditors, because the requirement to sell is a legal requirement. He also asked why the position is different in England. There always was a difference in this area, even before we introduced new clause 7. The cost floor in England refers back to 1974, and in Scotland the outstanding debt floor relates back to 1978. The difference has always existed. The system of housing finance is not the same in Scotland as the system prevailing in England.
I want to revert to a reply which the Minister gave me earlier. I think that he said that the phrase
could mean that the time limit could be changed in different areas at the discretion of the Secretary of State. Is that correct?"different provision in relation to different cases or circumstances or different areas"
If the hon. Gentleman studies what I said in Hansard tomorrow he will see exactly what I said. I will check what I said. I am reasonably certain that it was absolutely accurate.The hon. Member for East Lothian referred to the £35,000 house which was sold for £15,000 five years later, with a loss of £20,000. The chances are that the value of the house will have increased at the rate of 10 per cent. each year. It is reasonable to assume that that rate of increase would take the value of the house after five years to more than £55,000. The discounted price would be £22,000, not the £15,000 which was suggested. Therefore, the loss would be restricted.
Is the Minister suggesting that it is Government policy that the value should increase by 10 per cent. a year?
That is obviously a matter for the market and depends entirely on market circumstances. I cannot determine house prices. However, as a matter of practical realities, house prices tend to rise considerably, and it is fair to take that into account.The constituency of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) offers a different example of housing problems. I understand that Angus district council is having to sell houses in Montrose at less than the construction price. However, that has little connection with the rules applying now or in future in the new clause to the right-to-buy sales. The situation is a direct consequence of house prices in the area generally. At the beginning of the month, Angus district council wrote to the Scottish Office seeking guidance on whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State might be prepared to make an order under section 62(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. The council suggested that that should require the selling price of houses on the Caledonian Station development in Montrose to be sold at not less than the debt outstanding on those houses, even though the market price of the houses had fallen below the debt level. At my request, the Department replied in a letter informing the council that my right hon. and learned Friend is unlikely to be willing to make such an order because we do not believe that it would be equitable to expect any tenant exercising the right to buy to pay more than the current market value of the property in question. I should emphasise that under the current rules, and those which will apply if the new clause is agreed, the tenant will have to pay the full market value without discount.
I believe that I have covered that point, and I want to get on.
I want to refer to the general problem of councils paying out less than the outstanding debt and bearing that burden. If that happens, as I fear it will in general, the Minister said that the Government would recompense through the housing support grant system. As the Minister is aware, the minority of councils receive housing support grant now. If the Government's policy continues, no council will receive that grant. Will he give an undertaking that if this becomes a problem for councils, the Government will restore housing support grant to meet that problem?
I am not going that far. I am making it clear that in the context of this case it would not be fair or proper not to set a figure at the market value, which is what has been arranged. We have arrived at a compromise between the interests of local authorities and tenants. I commend the new clause to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 8
Abolition And Capitalisation Of Certain Subsidies And Contributions
'.—(1) No subsidy or contribution shall be made under the following provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (the "superseded provisions")—
in respect of any expense or expenditure incurred by a local authority on or after 1st april 1989.
(2) No claim for subsidy or contribution under any superseded provision in respect of or towards any expense or expenditure incurred by a local authority before 1st April 1989 shall be entertained by the Secretary of State unless—
(3) Where two or more periodic payments of a subsidy or contribution under a superseded provision would, apart from this subsection, fall to be made on or after 1st April 1989, these payments shall be capitalised and made as follows—
(4) In subsection (3) above—
"the appropriate percentage", in relation to a relevant capital amount means the percentage specified in or under the superseded provision in relation to the subsidy or contribution to which the capital amount relates and, in relation to a subsidy or contribution, means the percentage specified in or under the superseded provision in relation to that subsidy or contribution;
"the relevant capital amount", in relation to a subsidy or contribution, means the sum of—
(a) such amount as the Secretary of State considers would, on the date of his payment under subsection (3)(a) above, be payable by the local authority were they then to repay a loan, repayable over twenty years, taken out by them from the Public Works Loan Board to meet their expense or, as the case may be, expenditure in respect of or towards which the subsidy or contribution was made; and (b) any other amount which he considers would be then payable on such repayment of that loan;"relevant expenditure", in relation to a subsidy or contribution, means the expense or expenditure in respect of which the subsidy or contribution was made.
(5) Payment made under subsection (3) above shall be—
(6) Payments made to a local authority under subsection (5) above shall be applied by them in the repayment of such debt and in such a manner as the Secretary of State directs.
(7) Notwithstanding the repeal by this Act of section 254 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, subsection (4) of that section (obligation upon local authority to pay to the Secretary of State sums recovered by them in consequence of breach of conditions of improvement grant or by way of voluntary repayment of such grant) shall continue to have effect in relation to expense incurred under that section by a local authority prior to 1st April 1989, being expense in respect of which contributions were made under that section.
(8) After paragraph 1 of Schedule 16 to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (which, amongst other things, requires a local authority to carry to the credit of its slum clearance revenue account any slum clearance subsidy payable to them for that year) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
"1A. — Paragraph 1(b) above is subject to section [Abolition and capitalisation of certain subsidies and grants] of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 (abolition and capitalisation of, amongst others, slum clearance subsidy).".'.— [Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 103.
The new clause will abolish a number of specific Exchequer subsidies and contributions with effect from 1 April 1989, which will be replaced by Exchequer support through the revenue support grant system. The principle of the clause has been agreed with and is accepted by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.First, the clause terminates specific Exchequer contributions to expenditure incurred by local authorities on housing improvement and other grants with effect from 1 April 1989. The clause also deals with what is to happen to the future payments to which we are committed for up to 20 years and which result from past awards of these grants and the debt repayments to which they have given rise. Finally, it deals with what is to happen to expenditure incurred by a local authority before 1 April 1989, in respect of which no periodic payment has been made by that date. To meet the wishes of COSLA, the clause is drafted in such a way as to enable the Secretary of State to buy out the Government's obligations by capitalising the amount of future payments which would be due to a local authority. The amount payable is to be paid by the Secretary of State to redeem outstanding debt with the Public Works Loan Board, where that exists. But the clause is sufficiently flexible to enable special arrangements to be made for Orkney islands council and Ross and Cromarty district council, which have a total debt to the PWLB of less than the expected capitalised sum. It also enables the amount to be paid by the Secretary of State to include any sum which a local authority might be obliged to pay for the early repayment of loans. I should make it clear that the new clause will not at all affect the present arrangements for local authorities giving improvement and other grants to indviduals. Only the way in which the Government fund these grants will be changed under this clause.
I can confirm that the local authorities have no objection to the new clause. They only express the rather optimistic hope that the Secretary of State will exercise his discretion under the new clause reasonably.
Let me raise as part of the principle of capitalisation some of the issues that we discussed in Committee. I refer, in particular, to the capitalisation of the amenity charges that are levied by the Scottish Special Housing Association on tenants who are owner-occupiers of former SSHA-tenanted stock. I sought to raise the matter in Committee and it is relevant to the abolition of capitalisation of certain subsidies and contributions contained in new clause 8.I hope that the Minister will not rule out the fact that capitalisation can take place on the amenity charges, which would allow Scottish Homes—as it will become—to enter into an agreement with local authorities to capitalise the charges so that the local authority receives a sensible amount of money which will enable it to maintain the amenity of the common grounds that are currently maintained by the SSHA by levying charges on the residents who were former tenants and are now owner-occupiers. The matter was raised directly in new clause 15. Unfortunately, it was not selected, but I am sure that the Minister will see its relevance to new clause 8.
With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly to the hon. Gentleman. He raised the matter in Committee and he is aware that there have been discussions with Midlothian district council and the SSHA, and that we have found a way forward. Obviously, we shall be glad if a similar way forward can be found for his council in the discussions that it is now having with the SSHA. We hope that they come to fruition in due course.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 1
Scottish House Condition Survey
'The Secretary of State shall, upon coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a Scottish house condition survey in order to establish the current condition of the fabric of local authority, housing association and privately owned housing stock in Scotland; to identify property which is below the tolerable standard; and to assess the likely future requirement to repair and refurbish those homes.
(2) The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey within six months of completion of each survey.
(3) In consultation with local authorities the Secretary of State shall calculate and provide such funds as are necessary to effect all repairs to public sector houses as have been identified as necessary by any Scottish house condition survey.
(4) The Secretary of State shall have regard to the house condition survey in determining the provision of incentives for the improvement or repair of private sector housing:.— [Mr Home Robertson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2 — Scottish housing needs survey—
New clause 14—Homeless persons annual return—`The Secretary of State shall, upon the coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a survey of Scottish housing needs in order to establish the number of individuals and or families in Scotland who are homeless or who are housed in inadequate or inappropriate homes and he shall take steps to house them adequately and appropriately.'.
'The Secretary of State shall, after consultation with local authorities, Scottish Homes and any other relevant housing agencies, make an annual return to Parliament showing:
(a) the number of applicants under the Homeless Persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987; (b) the number of successful applicants under the above-mentioned provisions (c) the number of successful applicants under the above-mentioned provisions who were subsequently found suitable accommodation.'.
Amendment No. 126, in clause 1, page 2, line 12, at end insert—
'(h) establishing a programme with local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the Homeless Persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.'
New clause 1 would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a house condition survey and provide for remedial action to deal with any problems identified in that survey for the public and private housing sectors in Scotland.New clause 2, which we are also debating, would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to conduct a survey of housing needs, with particular reference to homelessness, every five years. It would also impose on the Secretary of State a duty to take steps to deal with the problems that would be identified. We are also debating new clause 14 and amendment No. 126 in the name of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), which also deal with homelessness. The Bill is described as a housing Bill, but it makes no reference to or provision for the most serious underlying problems of housing in Scotland. It is simply a doctrinaire measure to undermine the functions of elected local authorities in Scotland, to destroy the rights of tenants and to promote the interests of private landlords. The new clauses are a serious attempt by the Labour party to persuade the House of Commons to incorporate in the Bill a recognition of the condition of Scotland's housing stock and housing needs. At present, the Bill includes a list of seven general functions and 19 specific powers for the new quango that the Government propose to set up in part I—Scottish Homes—but there is no reference to a duty to survey the condition of Scottish housing or the housing needs of the Scottish people. The Minister should be aware of the problem, because I remember being a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs at the same time as he was. That was in the good old days when there was a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. We looked at the problems of dampness and other conditions of housing in Scotland, and the consensus was that there was a case for establishing a house condition survey in Scotland. However, we are still waiting for something like that to be carried out. Let me start with housing needs. Surely the right to decent, secure housing must be one of the most fundamental human rights to be recognised in any civilised nation. However, as we know to our cost, an intolerable number of Scots are being denied that basic human right today. The number of Scots who are becoming homeless each year has risen by over 50 per cent. since the Government came to power. The official Scottish Office figure for homelessness for 1987 is 24,196. That was the number of applications accepted by local authorities. However, we understand from Shelter that the real figure may be in excess of 30,000 because a number of local authorities allocate houses to people who may become homeless before they fulfil all the criteria provided for by the Act. In addition, we know from statistics furnished by COSLA that 200,000 Scots are stuck on waiting lists waiting for rented housing in Scotland. Scottish Members come face to face with that problem every time we open our mail and conduct surgeries in our constituencies. I fear that, because the Government have so few elected Members from constituencies in Scotland, they may not be genuinely aware of the depth of human misery being experienced by so many people in our nation. There are 1,250,000 Scots living in overcrowded accommodation—one quarter of Scotland's population. That is significantly worse than the comparable figures for England and Wales. Indeed, overcrowding is such an inherent problem that the Government have seen fit to devise a tax on overcrowding. Because so many people cannot obtain homes of their own, they cannot become ratepayers. They have to stay in shared accommodation. The Government are evidently so appalled by the fact that those unfortunate people cannot pay their local taxes directly because they are denied the opportunity to become householders, that they have devised a poll tax, which is a tax on overcrowding and bad housing conditions. That is the depth to which the Government are prepared to descend. The Government's failure or refusal to tackle or recognise the housing crisis that is afflicting people in Scotland is nothing less than a national scandal. The Bill is designed to make things worse by promoting high rents and insecurity for tenants, and it is a cruel insult to thousands of Scots who do not want or comprehend the policies of this minority Government in Scotland. The Minister tells us that under the legislation there will be an upsurge in the building of new houses to let by the private sector. He should listen to the private sector. He should read the evidence of the Grieve report in Glasgow, which makes it abundantly clear that it is unlikely that the private sector will be able to respond to the Government's challenge. 6.30 pm The Government should be encouraging local authorities to provide for housing need in the way that they best understand. It would be helpful if the Bill contained some reference to a housing needs survey, which would at least recognise the existence of the mounting tragedy of housing need in Scotland. I shall move on to the case for a house condition survey. It is important to put it on record that the Scottish Office is alone among Government Departments responsible for housing in the United Kingdom in refusing to conduct a proper house condition survey. There is a house condition survey in England and Wales, but the Government steadfastly and resolutely refuse to conduct such a survey in Scotland. The Scottish Office administration evidently prefers to remain in ignorance of housing conditions in Scotland. It is rather like the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. However, Ministers in the Scottish Office appear to be evil in regard to people in Scotland. On the basis of incomplete returns from local authorities, based on information given to councils rather than on any active survey, the Government are sticking to the fatuous assertion that there are only 55,000 houses in Scotland below the tolerable standard. We know that that figure is inaccurate. We had a long debate on the subject in Committee, but the Minister is determined to continue the daft pretence that there are only 55,000 homes below the tolerable standard in Scotland. We are indebted to Glasgow district council, which conducted a scientific survey of housing standards in that city. It identified 44,500 homes as being below the tolerable standard in the city of Glasgow alone. That leaves only 10,500 in the rest of Scotland. If we then look at the figures that the Government like to quote from the returns from local authorities, we discover that a further 4,180 of the houses below the tolerable standard are in the district of Argyll and Bute. If we take that district out of the calculation, it appears that in the rest of the nation of Scotland there are only 6,320 homes below the tolerable standard. That is obviously nonsense. The Minister simply wants to conceal the fact that there are many more sub-standard houses in Scotland. During an interesting debate on the subject in Committee, it became all too clear that the Minister preferred not to know about the grim picture of housing conditions in Scotland. Not only is ignorance bliss for the Scottish Office; it appears to be official Government policy. If there was time, I could offer the House a long and disturbing list of estimated figures produced by COSLA and by voluntary agencies such as Shelter, indicating that there are probably 500,000 damp houses in Scotland and that there are probably 250,000 council houses in need of major repairs or refurbishment. I invite the Government to face their responsibilities and conduct a survey so that we can evolve proper policies to deal with the underlying problems of housing in Scotland. The Minister saw the evidence with his own eyes when he was a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in 1983. The Grieve report put before the Government more devastating evidence about the situation in Glasgow. There is a serious problem affecting housing in Scotland. There is a desperate need for investment to improve the standard of housing in Scotland and provide for the needs of people who are homeless or living in overcrowded conditions. Why do the Government not get on with the job of identifying the facts so that we can have a practical debate about housing to deal with the problems?
It is important that we should understand the difference between activity and action. I cannot say whether the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is right in saying that there are 500,000 damp houses in Scotland, because I do not know. I was a member of the Select Committee that conducted the inquiry into dampness and it was clear that at the beginning of the inquiry local authorities were claiming that there was no problem. It was only as the inquiry developed that local authorities began to accept that there was a problem. At the beginning of the inquiry, local authorities were not prepared to accept that there was a problem, and in some instances it seem that they were oblivious to any problem. Local authorities have been responsible for housing problems for a long time.I am not convinced about going through the motions of activity rather than action. I believe that the Opposition's response to the statement earlier this afternoon showed that they are still more interested in activity than action. This afternoon represented action; the proposal represents activity.
The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that local authorities would not admit there was a problem at the beginning of the Select Committee inquiry. Will he substantiate that claim and name the authorities that would not admit that there was a problem?
The hon. Member may be interested to know that one of those local authorities is Glasgow. It is all clear in the Select Committee report. I know that other members of the Select Committee are present. Indeed, some of the Labour Members on the Select Committee were horrified at what it found. Officials to whom we spoke during the initial stages of the inquiry were trying to tell us that the problem was not of the scale that we discovered it to be. I make that observation only because it seemed that the local authorities, which have had responsibility for many decades, were unaware of the condition of their properties.The survey that the hon. Member for East Lothian proposes in the new clause would not change anything. That is why it would be activity rather than action. The problem requires the kind of action that was taken earlier this afternoon—selecting specific areas and dealing with them in a way that will resolve the problem. We should be united about how we deal with that. I find it offensive that the hon. Member for East Lothian should think that he knows more about the problems of council housing than Conservative Members. I find it equally offensive that he should talk about overcrowding when some Conservative Members have first-hand experience of overcrowding and know what it means to be one of eight children living in a two-roomed house. That is overcrowding. I could give him more details, but we do not solve these problems by hurling insults at each other. However, I found that abusive tonight and during the debate in Committee. We should be concerned about finding solutions to real problems.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way in a moment.The Government acknowledge that there are real problems. They are changing what was done in the past because it did not work. That is why new ways of tackling the problem were announced in the statement this afternoon. The Opposition should be welcoming such proposals, but, again, they were girning and greeting in a way to which we have grown accustomed. The solution to the problems will be found in using resources in the most effective way and by involving local people. That is what the Government are doing. I suggest that one of the reasons why county councils' coffers are so devoid of funds is that many decades of artificially low rents have deprived them of millions of pounds which they would have got from the public purse. Housing support in all its various forms, including housing benefit, has been available for many decades, but a low-rents policy artificially depresses the rent value and stops a council receiving public support in the form of housing benefit and the other forms of housing support that existed before housing benefit came into being. That deprives the housing coffers. It is a deliberate policy, followed largely by Labour-controlled authorities, which starve themselves of funds that could be used to maintain their stock in a much more habitable condition. That is another indictment of housing management. The Bill will create much better management for national housing resources. The Government should reject the clauses. They are activity, not action.
I rise to speak to new clause 14 and amendment No. 126 that stand in my name. I subscribe entirely to the argument deployed by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) about the housing needs survey and the house condition survey, both of which are extremely important. However, I shall confine my remarks to homelessness.There is no consensus about the scale of homelessness, largely due to disagreement about how the problem should be measured. New clause 14 is a very neutral and anodyne attempt to remedy that problem. The Government regard as homeless only those people who satisfy official statutory criteria that are established by the homeless persons provisions in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. The Government argue that there was a decrease last year in the number of homeless people, but the figures are still one third higher than they were when they came into office. The Government figures available to me show that in 1985–86 the number of officially homeless persons was 10,906 and that in 1986–87 that number fell to 9,868. Pressure groups and local authorities have criticised those criteria; they are suspect and far too restrictive. They exclude many genuinely homeless people from the official statistics, such as married couples living with parents or parents-in-law. Shelter's regular survey of people who apply to be considered as homeless and who are therefore granted priority status for housing allocation purposes shows a steeply worsening trend. Shelter's figures show that, in 1985–86, 26,329 people applied to be classed as homeless and that in 1986–87 there were 31,218 applications. That controverts the figures that were given to me in a written answer on Monday 14 March. The Government gave information about those who had applied to be classed as homeless in each local authority from 1978–79, and it is set out in a table in the Official Report. The purpose of new clause 14 is to establish a formal mechanism to allow the true extent of homelessness to become known. Under new clause 14, the number of people who consider themselves homeless and who apply to be granted homeless status by the local authority—such figures are now collected by Shelter but are not kept centrally by the Scottish Office — would be set out. Furthermore, those who succeeded in being classed as homeless—those are the only figures that are now acknowledged by the Scottish Office—would be set out. Finally, those who were found accommodation after having been classed as homeless would be set out and would thereby become known to Parliament. The nature of the success or otherwise of the Government's housing policy for the homeless would then be much clearer. At the moment, the homelessness problem is substantially understated, whether deliberately or otherwise. Poor statistics hamper attempts to assess the extent of the problem in Scotland. I ask, therefore, that new clause 14 should be considered in that light. 6.45 pm Amendment No. 126 seeks to establish a programme with local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the homeless persons provisions of the 1987 Act. There is no obligation on the new housing agency, Scottish Homes, to concern itself with homelessness. The amendment seeks to remedy that omission. Scottish Homes will probably be the largest landlord in Scotland. The amendment seeks to oblige the new agency to share the responsibility for homelessness. Local authorities have an exclusive statutory duty to attend to that problem under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. Scottish Homes will be the largest landlord in Scotland and local authorities will be deprived of both resources and stock to tackle the problem of homelessness if many of their tenants transfer their homes to other landlords, as the Government clearly hope and intend. In those circumstances, it would be ludicrous if Scottish Homes did not share the responsibility for housing the homeless.
I intervene, I hope briefly, to support new clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) made an excellent case for it. Although the case is overwhelming, the Government still resist it.
I remember a debate when the Conservative party were in opposition. On that occasion, the Minister was on the same side as me. He called for more action from the then Labour Government to establish a house condition survey. The Minister has the power to do that now, but he sits on his backside and does nothing.
I accepted my hon. Friend's intervention because I knew that the Minister was listening carefully. He is a very good-natured Minister. He can show great courtesy, which puts to shame most of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench. Therefore, I live in great hope that on this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) will not be disappointed. The argument is extremely powerful.The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has been consistent on each occasion when he has spoken on this matter. The Select Committee on which my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian, the hon. Member for Tayside, North and I served took evidence that suggested that Scotland should adopt the practice that has been followed in England and Wales for some time. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North believes that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and many other organisations that gave evidence to the Select Committee were wrong on that point, I should like him to put forward an argument that would persuade me that the money that has been spent in England and Wales has been spent unwisely. The hon. Member for Tayside, North made a splendid point in support of the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian when he said that, as he recalled the evidence that was given to the Select Committee, some of the councils were "oblivious" of their conditions. If that is so, it is all the more reason for having a national survey.
The point that I was making was that what the Select Committee achieved by having its inquiry was to make councils aware of the situation. That was one of the really positive effects of that inquiry, which I believe was the Select Committee functioning and operating as it should, which sadly was not always the case. It was a very good inquiry, which did a lot of good and made councils aware of a situation which before the inquiry they were at least suggesting did not exist.
I find myself again with the hon. Gentleman, in that I agree that it was a good inquiry. It was so good that it made a recommendation to the Government, and the Government tossed it out. Had they accepted even the proposal that we should have a pilot scheme, as recommended by the Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for East Lothian might not have found it necessary to move this new clause today.If there are so many variations in the approach of one local authority as against another—I submit that there are — clearly we ought to be trying to establish a national standard in an attempt to identify the national problems that exist in Scotland and the local implications of those problems. I will give an indication of the absolute confusion that reigns on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), on 8 July 1987, as recorded in Hansard, column 184, put a question about dwellings requiring major repair in 1986 and received a reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland. I will not go into great detail, because an enormous table was provided, but it only adds to the confusion. For example, taking districts neighbouring Monklands district, I find that in Falkirk ther are 14,708 such houses; in Motherwell there are 4,600 and in Strathkelvin there are 1,119. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on very important problems that Strathkelvin experiences in terms of capital, where it was found that the sale of council houses was not the prize that it was offered as being. The same table suggests that in Monklands the score is nil. I thought that I was reading about Albion Rovers! I cannot accept, based on my own local knowledge and on the number of constituents who come to me, that the situation in Monklands can be represented by nil. I do not believe it. I do not necessarily criticise the Secretary of State, or the council, because Monklands district council's officials, in responding to the request from the Scottish Office to give this information, may have found their own method of making the calculation, but I believe that, given the problems of dampness which the Committee identified and of which we are all aware, given the problems of overcrowding, which we are discussing today, and given the problem of homelessness, it really is quite unacceptable that we should have information which is nowhere near that available to our hon. Friends who represent English and Welsh constituencies. This was the plea even of the Institute of Environmental Health Officers. They did not want, within given local authorities, to take it upon themselves to say what standards should be set and that they therefore should make a judgment in terms of inspection and the efficiency of their own authority. They were hoping that there would be national standards and national provision of information. The small amount of money that the English and Welsh experience has cost—over £1 million, as I understand it, in each case—is a great deal less than the £800 million that COSLA quite rightly demands as necessary to invest in our housing stock. But in the absence of a survey, we shall keep getting the kind of confused reply to which I have referred. I end as I began, by explaining that I find it quite astonishing that the Government are being so stubborn. The Secretary of State referred to COSLA, which clearly would support the new clause suggested by my hon. Friend, but the Secretary of State is very selective. Last night, during the exchange on the poll tax, it was said that there was not a single question at COSLA, and that somehow or other left the Secretary of State feeling that he had COSLA's support. Whether or not the right hon. and learned Gentleman is selective, the fact is that COSLA, based on the kind of experience for which there is no substitute—that of its own councillors and housing committees dealing day after day with the problems that we are addressing—strongly takes the view that we are making a meal of this in Parliament by not taking our positive decision. When we do so, I hope that we shall do so in terms of my hon. Friend's new clause.
These new clauses seek information about and clarification of the reality of Scottish housing conditions and Scottish housing needs and to find out the truth about homelessness nationwide. I should have thought that they would be welcomed by all Members. The solution to any major problem must be preceded by an analysis if it is to be made effectively and efficiently. Housing is no different. It is important to delineate the problem, identify the exact extent and nature of it, and then to gather the necessary resources and apply them in a sensitive way in meeting the needs of people.
Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that Angus district council does not already know how many dark houses it has, how many people it has on its waiting list and what the problems are in Angus?
I should be happy to tell the House what a good housing authority Angus is, with a zero rent increase this year and record spending on repairs, maintenance and the modernisation of houses. Angus district council would do exactly what I am suggesting — find out the extent of the problem and apply the resources sensitively to meet the needs of the people—but I am talking about housing survey for the whole of Scotland.In Scottish housing we have not even reached that simple first base, and it has taken quite a deal of time for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to figure that out. There is no accurate statement of the extent of Scottish rural and urban housing problems. The reality is not known. The remaining problems can be guessed at from the statistics applied by COSLA and organisations such as Shelter, but enough is known to encourage further and more detailed study of the reality of Scottish housing needs and Scotland's housing stock. Carry out that study and a very important first step will have been taken towards providing a solution to our major national housing problems. The Government maintain that local housing authorities already have sufficient information about the condition of housing stock and, in particular, public housing stock. The local authorities disagree, and I am inclined to believe them. Even the Government do not claim that there is enough accurate information about the condition of privately owned houses. The estimates that exist cannot easily be reconciled. For example, the 1981 census recorded 23,400 houses as lacking an indoor toilet, while local authority returns for the same year suggested that the figure might be as high as 70,000. With such huge disparities between existing sources of information, surely it is essential that an objective assessment of housing conditions be carried out. A crucial feeling about all existing information is that it fails to provide any assessment of the general level of disrepair in either the public or the private sector. In July 1985 an inquiry into British housing, chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh, published a report making considerable use of the English and Welsh house condition surveys. It stated:
With an attitude like that, would that the Duke of Edinburgh, rather than a lord, was the Scottish Housing Minister. In November 1985, the Department of the Environment conducted an inquiry into the condition of local authority housing stock in England, which produced an assessment of the structural condition of English council houses and of factors such as poor heating systems, condensation and insulation, asbestos, security, vandalism and environmental problems, and window and door replacement, so that information is available for England. Why should it not be available and put to use in Scotland? Surely such information is the only basis for any sensible housing policy. 7 pm The means of conducting such a housing survey exists through Scottish local organisations such as COSLA. It has produced a housing information survey kit, adaptable to the needs of local authorities. The means of delivering such a survey are already in place, thanks to local authority initiatives, so it would be easy for the Government to carry out this necessary housing survey if they had the will. It must be national, giving the national picture of what faces the Scottish population. I am under no illusion that such a survey would be the be-all and end-all, but it would give us a snapshot of the reality, and as such it would be an important first step towards examining the problems and getting in the resources to solve them. Parliamentary answers tell me that England has had four such surveys and that yet another is planned for 1991. If the Minister's English colleagues believe that such a survey is essential and invested more than £1·5 million on the last house condition survey, why is it not possible for Scotland to have one, given our much worse housing? Three housing surveys have been conducted in Northern Ireland, along with a mini-survey last year — why nothing for Scotland? It cannot be for financial reasons, because the Government have told me that it would cost only about £5 million for a Scottish survey. Surely such a small amount is a worthy investment, given that it will form the basis from which to tackle Scotland's housing problem. Where better to use a unified Scottish housing agency than as a basis for such a survey? Would the Minister allow Scottish Homes to carry out the survey, given the small amount involved? If not, why not? I know the answer to my questions : such a survey would give an exact picture of the atrocious conditions in which so many of our fellow Scots live, and the Government have no intention of meeting the Scottish housing needs or supplying the resources with which to tackle them. A housing needs and conditions survey should be undertaken, along with a survey of homelessness, as a first step in seriously dealing with Scottish housing problems, but I guess that the Government will once again duck their responsibility and Scotland will be left out on a limb—with no survey, no basic information, and no resources with which to tackle our housing problems."No comparable information is available for Scotland; we think it should be."
Nothing bears better testimony to the utter cynicism of the Conservative party about Scottish housing than the vast expanses of green on the Conservative benches. I thought for a moment that they were about to grow vaster, but I see that the hon. Membr for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is not leaving us. We see precisely two Scottish Conservative Members, yet when the Division Bell rings no doubt their English compatriots will flood in to vote through this attack on Scottish housing, just as they did—
There are only 11 Scottish Labour Members present.
The hon. Gentleman has proved that he has at least 10 fingers, but there are, as I say, only two Scottish Conservative Members present to deal with this vital issue. The Minister gets paid to sit where he is and would lose his job if he did not, and the hon. Member for Tayside, North is the only Conservative Member not much in demand as a dining companion, so he can sit here at 7.3 pm.My point was a serious one. When the Division Bells ring, English Conservatives will flood through the doors, never having seen a Scottish home or a damp house in Scotland, to vote through the legislation which has nothing to do with an attempt to make the critical problems of Scottish housing better and everything to do with lining the pockets of their friends, who they hope they will be able to conjure into the private rented sector when the legislation is passed. The Government's cynicism is almost Orwellian. The title of the Bill, Housing (Scotland), and Scottish Homes, which has nothing to do with Scotland and was never voted for by the Scottish people, are evidence of that. Indeed, the concept was decisively rejected by them at the general election. So the Bill's title is an abuse of language and its contents are utterly alien to the Scottish housing scene and have nothing to do with houses, as the next 48 hours will show — and as the 80 hours in Committee showed. Nothing shows the Government's cynicism more than their refusal to accept the new clause, which would oblige Scottish Homes to have a national house condition survey. How could anyone go into an enterprise as vast as tackling the problems of Scottish housing without a survey to show how serious the problem was? Much was made in Committee, in the White paper and on Second Reading, of the similarity between Scottish Homes and the Scottish Development Agency. Does anyone seriously believe that the SDA would undertake a vast and important strategic enterprise such as running Scottish housing without first conducting a survey to see what the problems were? Scottish Homes wil be whistling in the dark —deliberately and wilfully so—if it sets about its business without ascertaining the extent of the problem. In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) attempted to flatter the Minister into giving way on this issue, but I could have saved him his breath. We tried that many times in Committee, by reminding the Minister of his previous support for the demand for a national survey. We flattered him by telling him he was the most civilised and gentlemanly of the Tory Ministers—but to no avail. Many Conservative Members have given their reasons for resisting our demand. Some of them care about Scottish housing—I include the Minister in this category —but are afraid of such a survey because of the results it would yield. After being studied, the survey would lead to a demand by people of all political persuasions in Scotland for resources, money and energy, which the Thatcherite Government in Scotland are not prepared to put into Scottish housing, the Scottish economy or any other aspect of Scottish life. Other Conservative Members do not want the survey because they do not give a damn. Some Members on the Committee were not even Scottish; others were Scottish but lived in castles; others were so dry in their Thatcherite philosophy that they almost thought it was a crime that people should depend on the public sector for housing in the first place. So if their houses were damp, their roofs leaked or the close in which they lived had not been decorated for goodness knows how many years, that was their own fault. If they would only pull themselves up by their boot straps, their problems, according to these Conservative Members, could be solved. A house condition survey would illustrate the fact that Governments and local authorities of all political colours labour under misconceptions about the critical problems of Scottish housing. Certainly the Government seriously underestimate the scale of those problems. Let us examine the issue of sub-tolerable conditions. We had great fun discussing that in Committee. The Secretary of State thought that there was a different number of sub-tolerable houses in Scotland from the number given by his junior Minister. The Minister gave two different figures within 20 minutes about the number of such houses in Scotland. It all depends on one's definition of tolerable. What is being forced on Scottish tenants as tolerable would certainly not be tolerable for many of us. If there was such a survey, we would find that the number of houses involved was dramatically different. It has been said that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. I shall use the example of Glasgow, because of the shortage of time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. According to the Government, there are only 11,000 houses in the city of Glasgow that are below tolerable standards. That would be a joke if it were not so tragic. Glasgow district council, which has, I dare say, every reason to know better than the Government—shame though that may be on the Government — estimates that 44,000 houses are below tolerable standards. That figure is reached after applying a moderate definition of "tolerable". My experience of just 10 months as a Glasgow Member of Parliament is that a hell of a lot of the sub-tolerable houses in Glasgow must be in my constituency, but, when I look around at the constituencies of some of my hon. Friends in Glasgow, I know that that cannot be true. Such a survey might also throw light on an issue that is perhaps not so politically contentious, but it is one that I raised in Committee and want to raise again on Report. It relates to obsolete and sub-tolerable wiring and electrical equipment. Members on both sides have correctly made all sorts of noises of concern and consolation when fire tragedies have occurred in many parts of the country. Yet how many of those fires were caused because innumerable houses, perhaps millions of them, in Britain as a whole have ineffective, inefficient or obsolete wiring? I shall give, if I may, only the Glasgow statistics. According to Glasgow district council, 45,000 houses in Scotland have obsolete or inadequate electrical wiring, or equipment, and heating. That is a scandal which Scottish Homes would do well to address, but the organisation cannot address the problem unless it knows it exists, and it cannot know that it exists until it carries out a survey to ascertain it. The great problem of dampness in Scottish housing is even greater than homelessness, in my opinion. The Scottish Opposition, which is 50 strong, happen to know this because many, if not all, of us represent areas where dampness is endemic. Because there are so few Conservative Members, who in many cases represent constituencies where dampness is much less of a problem, I do them the credit of saying that they may not appreciate its seriousness. Every week people come to my surgery with children's toys, with coats, or with photographs that demonstrate dampness on an obscene scale. Children are living in houses and sleeping in bedrooms that are giving them bronchial problems and asthma and making them ill. The Government do not even care enought to conduct a national survey of dampness in housing so that they at least know the extent of the problem, even if they do not make any attempt seriously to redress it. I hope that the Minister will obey his instincts and agree to set up a national house condition survey. I know that he will not, for he would be sacked if he did.
I shall be brief, but I wish to speak on the important issue of a house condition survey. I put it to the Minister that the lack of a survey points to the Government's indifference to the value of the public debate on the issue during the past nine months.The Government had several objectives in the White Paper. They wanted increased home ownership, diversification of choice and tenureship and a major revamping of the peripheral housing estates. The word that was missing from those objectives was "quality". I suggest that quality of housing was absent because the Government are not interested in the quality of homes in Scotland. If the Government were the least bit interested, they would have included a house condition survey in the White Paper, as the new clause demands. What are we asking for? Hon. Members have said that Scotland wants the same as England and Wales. How could the Minister possibly undertake a major revamping of Scottish housing, which was mentioned in the White Paper and the consultative document, without thoroughly knowing the problem and having detailed statistics? The least that the Government could do is to set a target, and set it in concrete, so that we know where we are going. The Government have failed to do that because they are not interested in housing in Scotland. That is the only message that could go out from the House. The statistics have been gone over in the past few months and I will not repeat them. Experts have estimated that more than £6 billion is required for modernisation and repairs. It is up to the Government to knock down that figure and to come back and prove that that money is not needed. I contend that they cannot do it because they have not investigated the matter sufficiently. Homelessness has been mentioned. In my surgeries, like those of other hon. Members, the majority of cases concern housing, notwithstanding the fact that local district councils do their best. Indeed, my district council has undertaken its own housing condition survey and submitted it to the Scottish Office. It requires £110 million over five years. The Scottish Office says that the council can have £20 million over five years. The Scottish Office did not request details about what was wrong with the housing in my constituency. Every utterance of the Government must be rejected because they will not undertake any basic analysis of the problem. Until they do that, we cannot accept their word.
I rise to support my hon. Friends briefly and, first, to congratulate them on tabling the new clause.It is a poor reflection on Conservative Members that only one Scottish Tory Back Bencher is in the Chamber to listen to this very important debate. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that Opposition Members have put forward a very strong case for a survey of housing conditions and needs. I hope that the Minister might remember his days as a humble Back Bencher when he made radical statements supporting the needs for the type of survey that is outlined in new clause 1. I remember the hon. Gentleman making great emotional speeches about the sufferings of his council house tenants in West Pilton — the Minister agrees with me—which was in his constituency at that time, although it is no longer. West Pilton is an area of Edinburgh which the Minister claimed at that time was suffering from multiple deprivation. He rightly fought a good fight on behalf of the council house tenants of West Pilton, in the House, in the Scottish Grand Committee and in Scottish Standing Committees dealing with housing legislation. The Minister was in opposition then and he could afford to stand up against the then Government and promise the earth to his constituents once he got into office. The hon. Gentleman now has responsibility for housing in Scotland. I know that the appointment was subject to criticism and that unkind remarks were made about him. People talked about his lack of experience in such matters as council housing and spoke about his being one of the last remnants of the Scottish aristocracy. I do not want to repeat those unkind remarks because I know that, despite his aristocratic background, he is a sincere and honest man. The Minister is one of the more honourable or at least one of the least dishonourable of the rascals in the Scottish Office ministerial team. Certainly when we compare him with Ministers who have responsibility for such matters as health, education, sport and the arts, we see that, despite his obvious faults and failings, he is a man of some integrity. I am sure that when he replies to the debate he will bear in mind the valid points made by my hon. Friends. I know that he will not be so partisan as to say that merely because one of his own Back Benchers made a contribution, he will, out of party political prejudice, ignore the needs of Scottish council tenants and other tenants. The new clause refers not just to public sector tenants but to those in the private sector. New clause 1 says:
The five-year period is very important. Some people may think that such a survey should be conducted every 10 years while others may think that housing is such a fast-moving, dynamic matter that there should be a survey every two or three years. My hon. Friends have struck a good balance, because five years is the maximum lifetime of a Parliament so that we could expect a housing survey in the lifetime of each Parliament. Five years is just one year longer than the maximum lifetime of a housing authority, if we confine the meaning of housing authority to directly elected district councils. That means that, within the lifetime of each Parliament and probably within the lifetime of each local authority, between elections, we can expect a housing survey to take place. My hon. Friends have got the timing just about right. What is the purpose of the survey? The new clause says that it is"The Secretary of State shall, upon coming into force of this Act and every five years thereafter, conduct a Scottish house condition survey".
Not only the fabric of houses should be surveyed; we should also survey the social conditions that arise because of the state of the fabric. However, I do not want to quibble over that. If the fabric is faulty, that usually leads to miserable social conditions, and action must be taken to remedy such faults. Obviously the problem must first be identified and that is why the need for a survey of the fabric is absolutely essential. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), spoke about the problem of dampness in houses in his constituency. He spoke in moving and graphic terms about the poor people who come to his surgery week after week, month after month. I certainly sympathise with my hon. Friend. I am sure that all hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies, and particularly Labour Members who represent deprived inner-city areas and other areas in which poor housing conditions still exist, can testify to the great need to eradicate the problems of dampness. Less than a decade ago the Minister was speaking in the House and in Committee about the problems of dampness in houses in his constituency. I supported him at that time and all that I want him to do now is to support me. There is no point in saying that local authorities, the Scottish Special Housing Association, the future Scottish Homes and private landlords should each deal with the problems of dampness in their own houses. The Minister knows that local authorities often lack the resources even for a comprehensive survey, never mind the remedial action necessary to deal with the problems once they have been diagnosed. Dampness can be a severe problem, causing not just social but severe medical problems. As my hon. Friends have said, mothers sometimes come along with children to our surgeries. They become almost like doctors' surgeries when children are coughing and spluttering because of dampness in the house. We can hear the child wheezing. It is impossible to visit every home in one's constituency and to conduct some kind of personal survey, but I have visited many homes because some parents have pleaded with me to come and see the conditions in which they and their families have to live. Sometimes I have had the time to go to view these conditions and it is a heart-rending experience to see such problems in a house that may be less than a decade old. There is something wrong with the architecture or the building or the heating of such houses, or possibly all three factors come into it, when severe problems of dampness or condensation arise. Houses of that age could not by any stretch of the imagination be called old. If we had a national survey such as the one outlined in the new clause, at least we would be able to identify the scope of the problem. I hope that we could also identify the root causes and deal with them. I hope that, if the Minister accepts the need for a statutory survey of the sort that my hon. Friends have in mind, he will bear in mind that it is not good enough simply to look at the fabric of the houses and carry out a superficial diagnosis. It is essential to ask the tenants about the heating system, for example. Local authorities often say that a tenant is using the wrong kind of heating system for his house and that it is contrary to the advice that he has been given by the council. Such tenants often come to me and ask, "How can I possibly heat my house using gas, electricity or whatever system is recommended by the council? Here is my weekly income. I simply cannot afford anything other than a paraffin heater." As we all know, a paraffin heater is disastrous not just in terms of the fire risk, especially when there are young children around who might coup the heater, but because it causes severe condensation. If a survey such as that outlined in the new clause were conducted throughout Scotland, we should find that many poor people who are eking out a living on supplementary benefit are being forced, because of economic circumstances, to use paraffin heaters. In view of the Minister's experience in West Pilton, perhaps he will tell us whether there are still areas in his constituency in which such problems prevail. Perhaps he will tell us what he intends to do to alleviate the situation for his constituents and for other people. If he says that he does not have as many council house tenants as he used to have, as a result of the boundary changes, I remind him that the new clause also refers to privately owned housing stock in Scotland. Tory Members are very good at pointing the finger at the inadequacies of the council housing stock. Ironically, those inadequacies are often caused by the Government's failure to give housing authorities sufficient resources to improve or expand their housing stock. However, the problem is not confined to local authority, Scottish Special Housing Association or other housing association property. The problem cuts across the divide between the public and private sectors. 7.30 pm Unfortunately, even in relatively new houses in the private sector, we find problems of dampness. That may be due to the economic circumstances of the owner-occupiers. They may take on a mortgage to buy a house when both the husband and wife are earning. Then perhaps a family comes along and the woman stops working. The man is then made redundant, so the family finds itself struggling to keep up the mortgage payments. There may be a tendency in such circumstances to cut down on heating costs, so a cycle of dampness and damage to the fabric of the house is established. Perhaps the problem does not exist to the same extent in the private sector, but it certainly exists in much of the older private sector housing stock and in some newer private sector housing. New clause 1 states that one of the objects of the survey is"to establish the current condition of the fabric of local authority, housing association and privately owned housing stock".
That is an excellent idea. It is about time that the Government started to look at houses in Scotland that still fall below the tolerable standard and to consider ways of improving the standard. What may have been considered tolerable 10 or 20 years ago may now be considered intolerable. We should never be complacent about housing standards. We should always be considering ways of improving them. Perhaps the Minister will give us the most up-to-date figures of the number of houses in both the public and private sectors which fall below the tolerable standard. I refer to the statutory definition of the tolerable standard which appears in the Scottish Development Department's circulars and in statutory instruments. It is a terrible indictment of the Government that they have contributed in some respects to a lowering rather than a raising of standards. For example, the building company Barratt indulged in some disgraceful lobbying to try to influence hon. Members in an attempt to lower the building regulations standards. As a result, some people in Scotland live in what has been described as hen-hut accommodation and do not have sufficient room to move around in the house. The Tory Government connived with Barratt to lower those standards, despite the fact that building control officers, representing local authorities throughout Scotland and with no political axe to grind, were adamantly opposed to the lowering of those standards. I should be interested to know whether the financial link between Barratt and the Tory party had anything to do with the Government's lowering of those standards. Some people in Barratt accommodation are living in property that would previously have been described as intolerable or at least below the standards set down by the building regulations. That is a bad record for the Government. They have flouted professional advice. I do not know what advice they received from their officials at the Scottish Development Department. I have always believed that most civil servants, with a few exceptions, are incorruptible, and I am sure that they would not be over-influenced by Barratt. The lobbying appears to have been done at the highest levels of the Conservative party. Barratt obtained the ministerial ear and had the regulations changed. That was a disgraceful episode in the history of housing in Scotland. I shall be interested to know which Tory party members, Tory Members of Parliament and, possibly, Ministers have received hospitality from Barratt and invitations to their time-sharing flats in the Highlands. It is a shoddy business when a private sector company is able to influence the Government unduly in the formulation of Government regulations. I did not originally intend to raise that matter, but it came to mind when I saw the statement in new clause 1 about tolerable standards. Part of the object of new clause 1 is"to identify property which is below the tolerable standard".
In other words, it is not sufficient to conduct a survey and find out what is wrong. We must also obtain an estimate of the resources required to carry out the necessary repairs, refurbishment, modernisation and, in some cases, demolition and rebuilding. Many mistakes have been made by architects and builders. Sometimes it is not old houses that need to be demolished. I remember canvassing at a by-election in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart). We visited a high block of flats which, I believe, was opened by the Queen not very long ago. I have no doubt that those flats would come within the scope of new clause 1. Only a few people were living in them even at that time. Those flats should be demolished and, as I understand it, that is in the process of being done. Perhaps the Minister will tell me what, if anything, has been done about a booklet that I came across in the Library and which was produced by the last Labour Government when Hugh Brown was Minister with responsibility for housing at the Scottish Office. An excellent Green Paper was produced in about 1976 and, whether or not one agreed with some of its tentative proposals, it certainly contained a wealth of statistics on housing conditions in Scotland. It was obvious that at least elements of a survey had been carried out. Will the Minister consider upgrading the good factual information which was contained in that excellent Green Paper? In 1977 the Scottish Development Department published "Guidance for Local Authorities—Assessing Housing Needs". I do not recall the Tory Government saying when they won the 1979 general election that that document's approach was no longer Government policy or that it was null and void just because there had been a change of Government. In case the Minister does not have that report, its reference number is ISBN 0114914826. The report was the result of much hard work by a committee chaired by Mr. C. J. Watson, BA in geography from the centre for urban and regional studies of the university of Birmingham. Most of the others on the committee seemed to have a Scottish background. The report contained more than 100 pages. Can the Minister tell us what has happened in the decade since it was published? Do the Government still hold by the report, or have they updated it? What are the Government's criteria for conducting a survey along the lines set out in new clause 1? Subsection (2) of new clause 1 states:"to assess the likely future requirement to repair and refurbish those homes."
That should go without saying. Unfortunately, with this Government, who do not believe in open democracy, we must spell out the details for them. I congratulate my hon. Friends on doing so in the new clause. We do not want such a survey to lie on the shelves collecting dust in New St. Andrew's house. It should be presented to Parliament and be accessible to all Members. I suggest that the Minister should consider breaking down such surveys, not just by local authority area but by constituency, so that we can all see the state of housing in our areas. I am sure that that would equip us better to ask constructive and well-researched questions in Scottish Question Time. I am sure that the Minister would welcome such questions based on these surveys rather than have hon. Members ask him to provide the information that should be available in them. Obviously, house condition surveys must be open to parliamentary inspection. I go further and say that such surveys should be debated. Members from down south have been invading debates on Scottish affairs on the Floor of the House and if some hon. Members take exception to too much time being taken up on Scottish affairs, I suggest that we debate the house condition surveys in the Scottish Grand Committee. Of course, that Committee has its limitations because it normally meets for only two and a half hours and, by the time the Front Benchers have had their shilling's worth, there is only enough time for Back Benchers to have a pennyworth each. That means that only two or three Opposition Back Benchers can speak. There should be open-ended debate, without a guillotine, either on the Floor of the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee."The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey".
Order. I doubt whether this is the appropriate moment to discuss that matter. The hon. Member should address his remarks more directly to the new clause.
I am referring to subsection (2) of the new clause, which states:
There are various ways of submitting measures to Parliament. They can be submitted to Parliament as a whole or can be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the great respect I have for the occupants of the Chair and, if it is your wish, I shall proceed to subsection (3) of the new clause — it is important as I am sure you will agree—which states:"The Secretary of State shall present to Parliament the results of each Scottish house condition survey within six months of completion of each survey."
We should not let the Government off the hook. It is a matter not only of identifying the problem but of attempting to solve it. Some local authorities have put great efforts into carrying out a local survey of housing needs and conditions, but they are not able to do all that they would like to remedy the problem, because the Government will not give them the funds to do so. My local authority has had a drastic cut in its capital allocation since the Government came to power and has received not a penny in housing support grant in recent years. If Falkirk district council has not had a penny of housing support grant and has suffered a capital allocation cut as well, what hope do council tenants have that repairs will be carried out? Under the new clause, a survey will have to be conducted and local authorities will have to be given enough money to do something about the problems that would be discovered by such a survey. My hon. Friends have restricted subsection (3) to cover public sector houses, but in subsection (4) they extend the new clause to cover"the Secretary of State shall calculate and provide such funds as are necessary to effect all repairs to public sector houses as have been identified as necessary by any Scottish house condition survey."
Certain statutory minimum requirements have been laid down in terms of private sector housing improvement grants. I should like the Minister to clarify a point. If a house falls below the "tolerable standard", the person who lives in it—whether as an owner-occupier or as a tenant — or the owner is entitled to an improvement grant. This is a mandatory grant, but there are other types of improvement grant that are discretionary. It is up to the local authority to decide what percentage of grant to give. My former constituency contained not only part of Falkirk district housing athority but several other housing authorities. As I recall, the practice seemed to vary from one local authority to another. I wonder whether there is perhaps a case for increasing the amount of statutory grant—provided, that is, that local authorities are given adequate resources to implement a raising of the standards. I have no doubt that some of my constituents' problems would be identified in a national survey as outlined in new clause 1. At present, they go along to the local housing authority to ask for an improvement grant. They are told, "All right. We have to give you an improvement grant to bring your house up to tolerable standards. But you want standards slightly above tolerable standards and we shall not give you a grant for that element." That is a pity. Surely we should not think simply in terms of the minimum standard. I have always said that there should be nothing but the best for the working classes. I am sure that the Minister, as a good aristrocrat, will agree with me that we should be bettering standards all the time rather than contenting ourselves with minimum standards. Is not there a case for tightening the definition of tolerable standards and giving local authorities more money to make home improvement grants to bring houses up to those improved tolerable standards, as well as allowing them to exercise more discretion in making grants to people who want to improve above tolerable standards? New clause 2 would also provide for a survey, but it refers to needs as well as housing conditions. That is very important, too. Perhaps the Minister does not hold centrally the figures for the number of people on waiting lists. In the past when we have tabled questions — for example, asking the Minister whether he will give us the number of people on housing waiting lists in each local authority area — we have received one of those word-processor replies saying, "Ha, ha. This information is not held centrally." Frankly, that is not good enough. If we had a survey as outlined in new clause 2, we should have access to the information required. New clause 2 deals with the identification of housing needs. I suppose that we would need some kind of questionnaire; it would be no use writing to a local authority and asking, "What are the housing needs in your area?" A lot of groundwork would have to be done and people would need to be asked what their needs and wishes were. Like the Minister, I recognise that many people want to buy rather than rent their houses. Unlike the Minister, however, I do not think that the Government are entitled to cut to a minimum—perhaps even reduce to zero —the assistance that they give local authorities to replace the housing stock that they are forcing them to sell off. Perhaps the Government think that they will get cheap popularity by opening a bargain basement to sell council houses at huge discounts, but future generations may be very hostile to them if, as a result of their one-off decision in the late 1970s and 1980s, there is a vast reduction in the amount of public sector housing at a reasonable rent. I have always believed that the Government should try to get the balance right. If in a survey under new clause 2 someone expresses a preference for buying a house rather than renting, in the public or private sector, that is fair enough; let us give that person help. We should help first-time home buyers such as young couples, in particular. However, we should never try to minimise the importance of the job that local authorities have to do in continuing and expanding public sector letting. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind. New clause 14 is a Liberal proposal and, as usual, the Liberals are not here. I shall speak in support of the new clause because it seems very reasonable. I do not want to be sectarian and say that just because it is a Liberal proposal Labour Members should not support it. It refers to the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. The House will recall that the original homeless persons' legislation emerged from the Lib-Lab pact. I was not a supporter of the Lib-Lab pact, but I was certainly a supporter of better provision for homeless persons. What has happened since the Act was passed? This Tory Government have refused to give local authorities adequate resources to fulfil their obligations under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. I am sure that many other hon. Members have heard constituents who have been on the waiting list for a considerable time—perhaps for years — complain not only that they cannot get a house but that someone else has been jumping the queue under the homeless persons provisions. That has caused a lot of aggro and the resulting antipathy has been misdirected against local councillors, although the fault lies fairly and squarely with the Government and their lack of an effective housing policy. Let us examine the alleged queue-jumping. Often, the local authority is looking at a particular case and judging it under the terms of the homeless persons legislation which obliges it to give priority to a homeless person or family. Almost inevitably, those who are already on the waiting list—perhaps initially with more points than the homeless person—feel that they are being penalised and that they will therefore have to wait much longer for the house that should be theirs as of right. This Government do not consider housing to be a basic human right, and the operation of the homeless persons legislation therefore presents increasing difficulties. There may be nothing wrong with the legislation itself. I am sure that most hon. Members agree that those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness should be given statutory protection. However, that statutory protection will cause difficulties unless local authorities are given adequate resources to deal more effectively with those on the ordinary waiting list rather than what is sometimes referred to as the homeless persons' list. 8 pm I see a need for new clause 14. Indeed, as I said earlier, the Liberal, Stephen Ross who used to represent the Isle of Man—[Interruption]—no, the Isle of Wight—was instrumental in getting the homeless persons legislation onto the statute book. I believe that the Isle of Wight is now represented by a Tory. This is a Liberal new clause, but I support it and I am sure that if he were here, Stephen Ross would support it too, although like many things about the Liberal party the clause is a bit pussy-footed. It states:"the improvement or repair of private sector housing."
but that does not mean anything. Where are the Liberal Members? They are not even here to answer the point. If the Secretary of State makes an annual return, we can guess what will happen to it. It will gather dust on the shelves of New St. Andrew's house. It is important that some action is taken on that annual return. If we had formulated the new clause—if it had been formulated by the Labour party rather than being a damp squib of a Liberal amendment—we would have beefed it up and stated that more resources should be provided. Of course, the reason why we did not bother to do that is because it can be adequately covered in new clause 1. To get back to where I started, new clause 1(3) is very important as it relates to the provision of funds, as is new clause 2, the other Labour new clause, which states:"The Secretary of State shall … make an annual return"
individuals or families—"The Secretary of State shall … take steps to house the"—
Although I am not a lawyer, I understand that in a Bill "shall" means "must". I understand that lawyers, like Liberals, are different people and say "shall" as if it was something futuristic and predetermined, but we know that that is not always so. Instead of saying "must", it states "shall". It is a bit of an abuse of the English language, and it is legal jargon, but so be it. Finally, amendment No. 126 is also a Liberal amendment and establishes a programme for local authorities to share responsibility for dealing with applications received under the homeless persons provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. I am not sure what "sharing responsibility" means, because a local authority has that statutory responsibility at present. I am sure that that means that most of them are not trying to shirk that statutory responsibility, despite the difficulties in taking it on. All that is required is not so much a sharing of responsibility as the Government giving the local authorities sufficient resources to fulfil that responsibility. We have had an interesting debate on the three new clauses and one amendment. I apologise to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) because, as a result of urgent commitments and problems in my constituency, I missed his speech, but I do not need to read Hansard tomorrow because I could virtually repeat his speech verbatim, as I have heard his housing speech on many previous occasions. With the exception of the hon. Member, every hon. Member who has spoken has been constructively critical of Government policy. I repeat that the Under-Secretary has at least some integrity left, unlike some of the other Ministers in the Scottish Office. Therefore, I hope that he will respond constructively, in the same constructive spirit with which the Government policy has been criticised during the debate. I very much look forward to what he has to say."adequately and appropriately".
I am very glad to respond to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and to tell him that yesterday I was able to make an additional allocation to Falkirk of £2 million under the housing revenue account of which he was perhaps —[Interruption.] Well, although the hon. Gentleman is questioning it, that is certainly in the documents before me.On the hon. Gentleman's question about below tolerable standards— —[Interruption.] I am speaking to the hon. Gentleman. I wish to answer his speech, which lasted for an hour. The number of below tolerable houses in Scotland has been reduced from 121,000 in 1979 to 55,000. Those are the most recent figures that I can give. They come from the local authorities themselves. The handbook to which the hon. Gentleman referred, "Guidance for Local Authorities — Assessing Housing Needs", was published nearly 10 years ago. It shows that even the previous Labour Government acknowledged the need for housing surveys, which I believe are very necessary. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is not in his place, but I would advise him that it is our commitment, in the White Paper, to improve the supply and quality of housing. As I have said, the statistics that we use come from the local authorities. There is a dilemma, because a worthwhile survey would cost at least £5 million—probably slightly more—and, quite frankly, that sum would modernise 1,500 council houses or provide over 2,000 repair grants. Therefore, I did not feel that it could be justified, for a variety of reasons. New clause 1 seeks to impose on central Government responsibilities that are properly those of local authorities. The front-line responsibility for considering the requirements of an area rests with the district or islands council. The authorities have ample powers to carry out surveys of their areas to establish housing conditions. With this in mind, my Department is undertaking a research project on the conduct of local surveys with support from the Institute of housing, the Rowntree Trust, the Scottish Special Housing Association and a number of local authorities. The pilot survey in Nithsdale district has now been completed and we hope to issue guidance to local authorities this summer which will assist them to derive the maximum benefit from any survey work which they may comtemplate. As I said during the Standing Committee's consideration of the Bill, we are keeping the possibility of a national house condition survey under review. We are not, as yet, however, convinced of its merits. In particular, it is unlikely that a national survey would yield useful results at below district level unless the sample size was large, and consequently the survey would he expensive. As I have already said, the cost of a national survey—which we estimate to be just over £5 million—would have to come out of the total resources available for housing. Frankly, I did not feel that I would be justified in reducing the increase that has just been made in the allocations to local authorities in Scotland in order to spend more than £5 million for a housing condition survey. Incidentally, I advise the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that Glasgow's housing revenue capital allocation for next year, 1988–89, is now £88 million, which is 6 per cent. on the equivalent allocation for 1987–88. It received an additional £19·5 million yesterday. My brief response to new clause 2 is that the Scottish Development Department gathers information about the level of homelessness from local authorities throughout the year on a case return basis. In any event, I cannot agree that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to take action to provide housing directly. This is properly the responsibility of local authorities. For much the same reasons, I do not believe that new clause 14 is acceptable. I can, of course, appreciate the difficulties and anxieties that occur when people are made homeless or are threatened with homelessness. Indeed, my Department is at present undertaking research into how authorities discharge their duties under the homelessness legislation. The aim of this research is to draw out, to document and in due course to disseminate examples of good practice. The more effectively and sensitively the legislation is applied, the more we can ensure that the distress that people face if they become homeless is kept to a minimum. In addition to that research, the Scottish Development Department already collects statistical information from authorities through the year on a case-return basis to determine the extent of the homelessness problem. My Department also monitors the numbers of applications under the homeless persons legislation and the working of the Act generally. I do not believe that a formal requirement to consult relevant housing agencies and to make an annual return to Parliament on the level of homelessness would in any way ease the very difficult problems that can arise. We need to build on the existing links between all the agencies involved and to promote improved housing management. Finally, let me say a little about amendment No. 126. The current legislation places responsibility for helping homeless people, in my view correctly, on district and islands councils. It is right that councils must consider whether changes are required to their housing allocation policies, and whether they can make better use of their existing stock, in the light of their exercise of that responsibility. The problem of homelessness is not simply one of the total accommodation available. Indeed, as I often argued in Committee, there are some 130,000 more houses than households in Scotland. Homelessness is also to an increasing extent a problem of mismatch — with, for example, much accommodation being in the form of family houses, but the trend now being the formation of smaller households. If these difficult problems are to be solved, we need good housing management and close co-operation between local authorities and the agencies involved. I do not believe that it is sensible to impose on local authorities a statutory requirement to act in tandem with Scottish Homes and to share responsibility in dealing with homelessness applications. In my view, one body in each area should have a clear duty to take the lead in ensuring that the homeless are found accommodation. The Government will certainly look to Scottish Homes to co-operate to the full with local authorities on all matters of mutual interest. In areas where Scottish Homes acts as a landlord, local authorities will of course consider whether houses owned by Scottish Homes are available to house those whom the local authority determines to be in need of accommodation under the homeless persons legislation. There is therefore room for sensible and constructive co-operation between local authorities and Scottish Homes in dealing with people who require that necessary assistance, but I do not believe that this cooperation would be encouraged or enhanced by the teens of the amendment. I do not believe that the new clauses and the amendment are acceptable, and I ask the House to reject them.
I wish that the Minister would stop spinning this yarn about housing capital allocations and suggesting that the Government are giving local authorities money to do the job. That sort of remark simply aggravates people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). The Minister should come clean about what is going on.As for all the mealy-mouthed stuff about homelessness, statistics and a mismatch between available and overcrowded houses, homelessness is not a matter of statistics or of mismatch. It is a personal disaster to those who are affected by it. It has been made abundantly clear in the debate that there is an overwhelming case for proper surveys of housing needs and conditions in Scotland. How can there possibly be a proper investment planning process in Scotland, let alone a proper assessment of housing needs, in the absence of accurate information? We do not have adequate housing for our people in Scotland. The Minister knows it, and the House knows it. What we need is a proper, planned programme of investment, and the basis of such a plan must be accurate information. The Minister keeps saying that they are thinking about it, that they might carry out a survey at some time, that they are still thinking about it. The legislation provides the opportunity to lay a duty on the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the Scottish housing crisis, and he cannot begin to do that without accurate information. We are about to move to a vote. Let me remind English Members, who form the overwhelming majority in the House, that in their country there is a house condition survey so that there can be proper planning of housing investment. All that we are asking is for the same facility to be available to the people of Scotland. I urge my hon. Friends and, indeed, the whole House to support the new clause.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 243.
Division No. 237]
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Allen, Graham||Eadie, Alexander|
|Alton, David||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Fearn, Ronald|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Barron, Kevin||Fisher, Mark|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Flannery, Martin|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Flynn, Paul|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Foster, Derek|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Foulkes, George|
|Blair, Tony||Fraser, John|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Galbraith, Sam|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Galloway, George|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||George, Bruce|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Buchan, Norman||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Buckley, George J.||Gordon, Mildred|
|Caborn, Richard||Graham, Thomas|
|Callaghan, Jim||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Hardy, Peter|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Henderson, Doug|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clay, Bob||Holland, Stuart|
|Clelland, David||Home Robertson, John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hood, Jimmy|
|Cohen, Harry||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Coleman, Donald||Howells, Geraint|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Cousins, Jim||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Cox, Tom||Illsley, Eric|
|Crowther, Stan||Ingram, Adam|
|Cryer, Bob||Janner, Greville|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||John, Brynmor|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Darling, Alistair||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Kilfedder, James|
|Dewar, Donald||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Dixon, Don||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Doran, Frank||Lamond, James|
|Douglas, Dick||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Lewis, Terry||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Litherland, Robert||Randall, Stuart|
|Livingstone, Ken||Redmond, Martin|
|Livsey, Richard||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Reid, Dr John|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Richardson, Jo|
|Loyden, Eddie||Robertson, George|
|McAllion, John||Rogers, Allan|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Rowlands, Ted|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Ruddock, Joan|
|McFall, John||Salmond, Alex|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McLeish, Henry||Sheerman, Barry|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McTaggart, Bob||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McWilliam, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Madden, Max||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Marek, Dr John||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Stott, Roger|
|Maxton, John||Strang, Gavin|
|Meacher, Michael||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Meale, Alan||Turner, Dennis|
|Michael, Alun||Vaz, Keith|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Wall, Pat|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Wallace, James|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Mullin, Chris||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Murphy, Paul||Winnick, David|
|O'Brien, William||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|O'Neill, Martin||Wray, Jimmy|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Pike, Peter L.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Mrs, Llin Golding and|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Mr. Frank Cook.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Burns, Simon|
|Alexander, Richard||Burt, Alistair|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Butler, Chris|
|Allason, Rupert||Butterfill, John|
|Amos, Alan||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Carrington, Matthew|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Carttiss, Michael|
|Ashby, David||Cash, William|
|Atkins, Robert||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Atkinson, David||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Baldry, Tony||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Dunn, Bob|
|Bellingham, Henry||Durant, Tony|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Fallon, Michael|
|Benyon, W.||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Gale, Roger|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gill, Christopher|
|Bottomley, Peter||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gow, Ian|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bowis, John||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Gregory, Conal|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Brazier, Julian||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Bright, Graham||Grist, Ian|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Grylls, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hannam, John||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Morrison, Hon Sir Charles|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Morrison, Hon P (Chester)|
|Harris, David||Moss, Malcolm|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hayes, Jerry||Neubert, Michael|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hayward, Robert||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Heddle, John||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hill, James||Page, Richard|
|Hind, Kenneth||Patten, John (Oxford W)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Holt, Richard||Pawsey, James|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howard, Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Price, Sir David|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Raffan, Keith|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Redwood, John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Riddick, Graham|
|Hunt, John (Ravensboume)||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hunter, Andrew||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Irvine, Michael||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Irving, Charles||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Jack, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Janman, Tim||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Rost, Peter|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Ryder, Richard|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Knapman, Roger||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Knox, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lang, Ian||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Latham, Michael||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Speller, Tony|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Squire, Robin|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lilley, Peter||Steen, Anthony|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stern, Michael|
|Lord, Michael||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Sumberg, David|
|Maclean, David||Summerson, Hugo|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Madel, David||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Tracey, Richard|
|Mans, Keith||Tredinnick, David|
|Maples, John||Trippier, David|
|Marland, Paul||Trotter, Neville|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Mates, Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Mellor, David||Walden, George|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Walker, Bill (T'slde North)|
|Miller, Hal||Waller, Gary|
|Mills, Iain||Ward, John|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Warren, Kenneth|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Watts, John|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Wells, Bowen|
|Moate, Roger||Wheeler, John|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Whitney, Ray|
|Widdecombe, Ann||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Wilshire, David||Tellers for the Noes|
|Wood, Timothy||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Woodcock, Mike||Mr. Stephen Dorrell.|
Question accordingly negatived.
New Clause 5
Determining A Rent By Rent Assessment Committee
'— (1) A tenant may, at any time, irrespective of any existing rent agreement between himself and the landlord refer the rent of his home for assessment by a rent assessment committee and the committee shall determine the rent at which the committee consider that the house might reasonably be let to the individual tenant concerned.
(2) In making a determination under this section the committee shall have regard to:
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 6—
Prohibition of premiums for assured tenancies—
'It shall be unlawful for any premium to be charged to a tenant for the creation of an assured tenancy, except that a deposit not exceeding one month's rent may be charged.'.
New clause 16— Application to rent officer by local authority—
In Part V of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, after section 46 there shall be inserted the following section:
"Application to Rent Officer by Local Authority.
Amendment No. 1, in page 15, line 16, leave out clause 25.
This new clause enables the House to move on from its consideration of the needs for housing and the condition of housing in Scotland to the question of the likely spectacular increase in rent levels that will be generated if the Government are successful in imposing the new system of so-called assured tenancies in a supposedly increasing private rented sector in Scotland. Frankly, we doubt whether there will be the spectacular increase in private renting on which the Government are evidently pinning their hopes. However, tenants who are enticed into that form of tenure could find themselves in serious difficulties, and the House should dwell on that for a moment.The assured tenancy system is designed to promote the interests of private landlords and to undermine the rights of tenants in Scotland. Nowhere is that more evident than in rents. The concept of fair rents is being jettisoned by the Government in favour of the law of the jungle and a free market approach to rents in the private sector in Scotland. In that context, it is important to emphasise the fact that for the foreseeable future housing in Scotland is likely to be a seller's market, certainly in connection with rented housing. The drastic cutback in local authority new building and the continuing erosion of existing local authority stock is contributing to a slow-down in the turnover of local authority housing in Scotland, whatever the Minister may try to say on the subject. That means that waiting lists are getting longer and things are bound to get worse. We know that there are already as many as 200,000 people stuck on housing waiting lists in Scotland. There may be some duplication in that figure, but that is the number of outstanding applications for houses being held by local authorities in Scotland at present. Another connected figure is the depressing and distressing statistic that 1·25 million people in Scotland are living in overcrowded accommodation. In circumstances such as those, people are obviously desperate to obtain homes. Anybody is bound to be desperate for a house for himself and his family, and it is not surprising that some people take serious risks in order to secure a house. In that connection, I have noticed a disturbing increase in the number of mortgage defaults, and that is a symptom of the problem. There must be a significant number of people who, finding themselves stuck for years on end on waiting lists for district council houses, recognise that one way out of that problem is to get a mortgage and buy a house. They look at the Barratt show houses and are taken in by the soft sell. They manage to secure a mortgage and move into a house. So far, so good. However, it takes only a minor change in circumstances, such as someone losing his job or becoming ill or any other change in a family, to mean that the household can no longer afford to keep up the mortgage repayments. People face the prospect of having their homes repossessed and as a result finding themselves homeless. That is happening in Scotland today as a result of the Government's obsession with the promotion of owner-occupation. A significant number of people being allocated local authority houses under the homeless persons procedure at present come from the private sector because they are mortgage defaulters. Other people stuck on the local authority housing waiting lists see that as queue-jumping and that is causing considerable ill-feeling. 8.30 pm Any landlord who can offer a house to let in most areas in Scotland will be able to depend on fierce competition to rent it. There will be a buoyant market for rents as prospective tenants try to outbid each other in the hope of obtaining a home for themselves and their families. That is the kind of market that the Government are trying to stoke up. One does not need to be terribly clever to understand the pressures that that will cause as people who cannot afford high rents find themselves facing high rents and other inducements as they try to secure housing for their families. That situation is wide open to abuse by unscrupulous landlords. It is shamefully irresponsible of the Government to undermine rent controls to the extent proposed in the legislation. In passing, it is relevant to refer to the new restrictions on housing benefit which will come into effect next month. They will cause severe difficulties for people who depend on them as a source of cash to pay their rents. I am indebted to Edinburgh city council for making available the results of a survey that it carried out in the city of Edinburgh into the effects of the social security changes on housing benefit. I understand that nearly 2,000 claimants who currently receive housing benefit in Edinburgh will lose that completely. They will receive no housing benefit after the changes come into effect. In addition, another 17,000 claimants will see a significant reduction in the amount of benefit that they receive under the housing benefit system. In total there will be 19,000 losers under the new regime of housing benefit in Edinburgh alone. On average, each claimant will lose £6·42 a week. That gives us an idea of the kind of squeeze that will be imposed on people claiming housing benefit. The city of Edinburgh will lose £6·8 million in housing benefit. No doubt there will be similar figures of loss in other cities of Scotland. People must be protected in those circumstances, and there is no sign of that protection in the housing benefit system or in this legislation. On the contrary, the Government are deliberately seeking to stoke up rents in Scotland. New clause 5 would enable a tenant to refer the rent to the rent assessment committee, which would be able to consider all relevant circumstances in determining and enforcing a reasonable and affordable rent for the sake of the household and tenant concerned. New clause 6 would deal with the likely abuse of the principle of key money or premiums whereby a landlord might require a payment from a prospective tenant to secure a lease. That is a fundamentally corrupt and unjust practice, which most of us hoped had been stamped out of the Scottish housing scene a long time ago. Inevitably, that practice would be encouraged under this pernicious new regime of so-called assured tenancies which the Government are heralding in the legislation. That practice should be outlawed, and we have tabled new clause 6 to give effect to that. I am not surprised that the Minister is totally isolated and all alone on the Conservative Benches tonight. We have the spectacle of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland without a single Conservative Back Bencher in sight. The only other Member on the Government Bench is the indefatigable hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean), an Assistant Government Whip, who does not even represent a Scottish constituency. The Minister alone is facing the music for what he is doing to Scottish tenants. I am not surprised that the Minister's hon. Friends are embarrassed by the legislation. I invite the Minister to put something on the record about the extent to which he envisages that rents in Scotland will rise as a result of the legislation. Is he prepared to do anything about that, or is he not in the least bit concerned about the hardship that the legislation will inevitably create for many tenants in Scotland?
I fully support all that my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has said about new clauses 5 and 6. I want principally to refer to new clause 16, which is being considered with the other new clauses. New clause 16 stands in my name.New clause 16 deals with a long-standing scandal of outrageous rents being levied by landlords on slum properties, many of which are in Glasgow. However, the problem is not restricted to Glasgow. The rents are typically imposed on tenants who are unemployed or otherwise receiving DHSS benefits. The scandalously high rents have therefore been paid straight from the public purse by the DHSS, sometimes direct to the slum landlord. The scandal was exposed some years ago by the Glasgow Evening Times in relation to particular landlords in Glasgow, one of whom I shall refer to shortly. At that time some of my colleagues from Glasgow constituencies and I pressed the Government to take action to stop this outrageous behaviour, which was an imposition and hardship on the tenants because they were often subjected to harassment and intimidation. It was also an imposition on the public purse. As I have said, the money to pay for the rents came from the Government through the DHSS. At the same time the Government refused to take any action, although the scandal was well documented. There was no excuse on the Government's part for saying that they did not realise the problem. Mr. Michael Ancram dealt with the problem from the Scottish Office at the time. The Government refused to take action. They said that the tenants could always apply to the rent officers for a reduction in rents, but that was completely unrealistic, for several reasons. First, there was no financial incentive on the tenants to apply through the fair rent procedure, because they were not paying the rents. The rents were being paid by the DHSS. Incidentally, the rents charged for unemployed tenants were several times higher than those applied by the same landlords to tenants in similar slum properties who were not unemployed. The people receiving the worst rents had no financial incentive to apply to the rent officer for a fair rent, because, I repeat, they were not paying the rent. They were also vulnerable in other ways, and in many cases they were subjected to harassment and intimidation. I produced a private Member's Bill in 1985 to do what new clause 16 would do if it was accepted by the House, as I hope it will be. My Bill would have given power to the local authority in those circumstances to apply to the rent officer. It did not take power out of the hands of the tenant, because none of his powers would be reduced. It gave additional power to the local authorities in those cases to apply to the rent officer for the establishment of a fair rent. The local authorities supported that. It granted to Scotland a provision that existed, and as far as I know still exists, in the corresponding rents legislation in England. However, the Government blocked the Bill, despite the fact that there was a scandal that was costing the public purse considerable sums of money. That situation has been maintained to the present day. I am glad to say that the most notorious landlord involved, a Mr. Barry Solomons, who was responsible for a company called Norman Properties, was eventually caught by the police. He had to be extradited from Florida, where he was living in considerable style on the backs of my unfortunate tenants and at the expense of the DHSS. He was prosecuted, and I am glad to say that just a fortnight or so ago he was convicted and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. The verdict and trial vindicated everything that we had been saying right back to 1985, and, indeed, before. This was an outrageous abuse of the system. Reporting the sentence, the Glasgow Herald said:
He did not only make that money by defrauding the tenants; he was also involved in false claims for mortgages and a number of other criminal activities, for all of which he has now been convicted and sentenced. In sentencing Mr. Solomons, Lord Weir said:"Landlord Barry Solomons made a killing from needy tenants. He rented out slum flats to the penniless and jobless, and made thousands of pounds by fraud."
That is precisely the point that we have made all along and was dealt with in the private Member's Bill that I introduced in 1985 that was blocked by the Government. Belatedly, the Government have now noticed that such abuses are going on. However, they seek to deal with them by giving a new power to rent officers in clause 64. I am glad to see that a later amendment seeks to leave out clause 64. This clause gives rent officers powers to determine a rent lower than that being charged where housing benefit or rent allowance is being paid. It does not give powers to reduce the rent; it simply gives powers to reduce the amount of money that goes to the tenant to pay the rent. In other words, the abuse has been dealt with, not by getting at the landlords who are responsible for the abuse and are making vast sums of money out of the public purse, but by penalising the tenants even further. Those tenants are either unemployed or on benefit, they are vulnerable and, I repeat, often subject to harassment and intimidation. It is scandalous that the Government should be tackling the problem in that way when public money is involved. The Government are constantly lecturing local authorities about not squandering public funds. New clause 16 is, with adjustments, a copy of the equivalent English legislation and would give local authorities the power to step in in those circumstances and have a fair rent determined. This would mean that rents in such cases would be reduced to only a fraction of what they are at the moment. The position will get even worse with assured tenancies. The clause would protect the tenants and the public purse. I repeat that it is a scandal that we do not already have such a provision in our legislation. It will be a scandal if the Bill is enacted with the powers contained in clause 64 and the Government fail to tackle the problem at its roots— the problem of unscrupulous and, in some cases, positively crooked landlords abusing and milking the system."I hope that lessons have been learned by those who disburse public funds for the benefit of people who cannot support themselves. This case has revealed remarkable gaps in the safeguarding of these funds."
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on these new clauses because they go to the heart of the Government's philosophy in producing the Bill— that is, not just to seek an expansion of private landlords, but to back up the worst type of exploitative aspects of private landlords that we have seen in our history in Scotland. The Bill is an extension of landlords' rights as against tenants' rights.I should like to cite a number of examples to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) has said. It is clear that the use of the rent assessment committees is a retrograde step. There is no doubt, from the evidence of Edinburgh, Glasgow and other towns and cities in Scotland that the rent assessment committees are far more harsh and impose far higher rents than the rent officers or, indeed, the local authorities or any objective observer would think to be fair. 8.45 pm In Edinburgh, the advice of housing advice agencies, which are non-political, is that a tenant should not go to the rent assessment committee because it is likely that the rent will be increased to an even higher level than it was thought it would be set originally. Therefore, to use the rent assessment committee is a retrograde step, and it is better to stick with the present rent officer system. That would be consolidated by the Government's acceptance of the new clause this evening. The crucial point is the ability of people on low incomes, or without independent incomes, to have their rent met via housing benefit. Another terrible aspect of the Bill is the fact that people who have brought up their children in houses with more than one bedroom—perhaps two or three bedrooms—will suddenly be faced, if the Government get their way this evening, with someone coming along and saying that their housing benefit will not cover that size of house because it is too large or, in the words of the Secretary of State, "too luxurious" for them. That is a retrograde step and will penalise many people in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. The net impact will be to force people on modest and low incomes, who have their housing benefit restricted by the Government's agents, to dip further into their low incomes to preserve the homes that they have. It is outrageous that the Bill should seek to impose and implement that. The Government know that the reason why housing benefit, and, indeed, the DHSS social security budget, has rocketed is nothing to do with the fact that the Government have increased the incomes of people on supplementary or housing benefit, but everything to do with the fact that the Government have driven millions of people into poverty and made them dependent on housing and social security benefits. The way to address that problem is to provide a climate for getting people back to work, not to throw them on the dole and then penalise them for that—[Interruption.] I will happily give way to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who is making comments from a sedentary position, but I do not think that they are worth paying attention to. It is vital that we drive out the worst type of exploitative landlords, and that is what our new clause seeks to do. It is vital that we do not encourage them, but that is what the Bill does. We must make sure that we do not go back to the Rachmanism of the 1960s, or, indeed, do anything to consolidate the position which my right hon. Friend the Member for Govan said exists today in Scotland and the United Kingdom where private landlords, who have thrived under the Government for eight years, can not only exploit their tenants, but, in many cases, get away with it. There is no doubt that the sort of prosecutions about which we have been hearing are rare and too few and far between. What we need to do, and what we can do by accepting new clause 16, is to ensure that the powers of local authorities to control landlords and drive out the bad ones are consolidated. The Government need to back up local authorities in driving out private landlords of the worst type, but to protect good and responsible landlords of whom there are a fair number. The problem is that good landlords find it hard to compete with bad landlords. They find it hard to provide good conditions for tenants, to carry out repairs and to levy fair rents when they know that bad landlords can exploit the system to make sure that the weakest and most vulnerable groups in our society are exploited to the full. We need the Government to provide some determination to ensure that bad landlords are driven out and that local authorities are provided with the resources, the funds and the staff to monitor landlords so that those who provide good services are consolidated. Sadly, the Bill contains precious little to achieve that aim.
I support the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). In Committee, it became evident that the Government had not put a lot of thought into the Bill. Their guiding philosophy was that, by freeing private landlords and thereby removing various benefits which tenants presently enjoy under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, more housing would come on to the market and the Scottish housing problem, including homelessness and damp houses, would thereby be resolved. As the Committee progressed, it became clear that that was a fallacy.The new clauses deal with rent control and the removal from tenants of their present right of access to the rent assessment committee. In Committee, I managed to enumerate a large number of rights that tenants will lose. Tenants will lose the right to a written lease; they will lose the right to attend meetings of local authorities or to send a delegation to that local authority if they are local authority tenants; local authority tenants will lose the right to buy if the Government have their way; they will lose the right to the phasing of rent and to protected or secure tenancies. Tacit relocation, an ancient legal document, was virtually written off in Committee. Tenants will lose protection against eviction; and the right of succession. In regard to rent control, a tenant has the right to go to the rent assessment committee, if he or she regards the rent as unfair. If the Bill is enacted, the process of determination of rent will be in the hands of the landlord. The landlord will be able to send a notice to a tenant on one occasion only that he requires an increase in rent. There will be no question of a fair rent; it will simply be an increase in rent. It has to be stated as loudly as possible that the Bill is a considerable diminution in the rights of tenants. What incentive will there be for a tenant to move from an existing landlord if all those rights are removed? On the question of rent, my hon. Friends have already made the point about the housing benefit system and its impact on housing. In Scotland, we are reaching a crazy position. In Committee, I put it firmly to the Minister that the rent assessment officer would be required to do two distinct jobs for the same tenant. In column 1191, I asked the Minister a straight question:
The Minister's reply was blunt and stark. He simply replied:"It could be read from what the Minister has said that a rent officer may, by applying the criteria in section 48 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 determine a rent for a particular property, but that he could, thereafter, for the purposes of the housing benefit regulations, be required to determine a different rent. Is it possible that two different rental figures could be provided by the same person? From what the Minister says, the criteria will be different."
That is a crazy situation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian) pointed out, it will impact more seriously on the most vulnerable and poorest sections of society—on those who depend on housing benefit to pay their rent. There is a prospect of a gap opening between what the rent officer, wearing one hat, thinks is a fair rent for the property, and, wearing another hat as the agent of the Government in determining a fair rent for housing benefit purposes, determining another rent. In the middle will be tenants living on unemployment benefit, invalid benefit, pensions and supplementary benefit who will have to find the difference. Tenants will find not only that their social security supplementary benefit payments are being reduced in real terms, but that more of that benefit will be clawed away through measures such as those in the Bill. It is important to bear in mind just how substantial are the payments from the public purse to the private sector. A huge subsidy of something like £5·4 billion a year is paid in housing benefit. Not all of that goes to the private sector, but £600 million a year is paid in Scotland. Those are huge figures. Not only do we subsidise private landlords to a huge extent, but there is no real benefit to the tenant because the majority of houses in the private sector are at the lower end of the market. They are the least modernised houses in the worst areas, and the tenants are the most exploited. Finally, the Secretary of State made a statement today on urban Scotland. The document is entitled "New Life for Urban Scotland." He repeated some of the specious claims that he had made during the debate on Second Reading and in Committee. He said that the housing objectives are encouraging greater individual responsibility for and control over the conditions in which people live. I do not see how the Government can live up to that claim given the number of rights being taken away from tenants, the impositions being placed on tenants and the whole philosophy in which the power base is shifted to the private landlord and the further exploitation of the most vulnerable people in society."The answer is yes." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 1 March 1988; c. 1191.]
I strongly agree with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan). It is a pity that the private Member's legislation to which he referred did not reach the statute book.I wish to ask the Minister one question. In east Scotland, house prices have rocketed in the past 12 months. Clearly this is either the reason, the excuse, or both, for raising rents. My question is rather simple. What work has gone on in the Scottish Office about the likely rise in rents? Before introducing the Bill, the Scottish Office must surely have made some rough estimate about the likely effects. Can the House of Commons have the results of any work that has been done?
The Under-Secretary of State knows that there are some Ministry of Defence houses in my constituency and that there is a great deal of pressure to push up the rents of those houses. The local authority ought to be able to acquire those houses, which it cannot do now, or they ought to come under a new form of Scottish housing authority. The Under-Secretary has some Ministry of Defence houses in his constituency and he knows that there is a problem.These homes are occupied by old people, many of whom are on supplementary benefit or other forms of social security. It is unfair that the rents of a large number of people who have served their nation well should be pushed up. I speak in particular of the village of Crombie. I hope that the Minister will refer to that problem.
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home-Robertson) asked by how much rents will rise. It is impossible to say. The present system has distorted the market, to the detriment, we believe, of tenants' interests. The rent increase will be different in different areas. I expect that in some areas property rents will not rise. Because of the drop in the oil price, market levels in the north-east will be very different from elsewhere in Scotland.The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked what studies the Government had made of rent levels. I shall have to inquire, but what I have just said correctly states the position. We cannot estimate exactly how different areas will respond, because it will depend on market levels. If our policy works, and we strongly believe that it will, more accommodation in the private rented sector will become available. That will have a favourable impact on rent levels. A prospective tenant will choose the best available accommodation. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian) said that it is unrealistic to expect tenants on housing benefit to seek an unregistered rent. That is correct. Consequently, we have inserted clause 64, which provides a new power to control such abuses of housing benefit. It will ensure that excessive rents will not be charged.
That is being done at the expense of the tenant. If a rent officer determines that the rent is excessive and fixes a lower rent, why should that not be the rent that is registered and paid to the landlord? Why should the landlord get a scandalously high rent?
It will operate as a deterrent. It will deter landlords from fixing excessive rents. We are not in favour of controlling rent levels because that would militate against freely negotiated agreements. We are putting forward plans to increase the private rented sector. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) said that good landlords cannot compete with bad landlords. That is because good landlords have been prevented from earning a proper return on their property. The assured tenancy system w11 create more choice in the private rented sector, which will make life much harder for bad landlords.I should like to explain the purpose of clause 25 which the Opposition seek to delete from the Bill. It deals with the situation where, at the end of a contractual assured tenancy or during a statutory assured tenancy, the tenant receives from his landlord a notice of a proposed rent increase and refers that notice to the rent assessment committee for adjudication. When a tenant refers such a notice to the rent assessment committee, the committee will determine the rent which should apply. The rent so determined will be the rent which, in the committee's opinion, the house could fetch on the open market. The rent determined by the committee will be the rent payable, unless the landlord and tenant agree a different rent—either a higher or a lower one. There may be circumstances in which the two parties will want to settle on a different rent. But the tenant will have the protection that he need not pay any rent above the figure determined by the committee. The determined rent will be payable from the date specified in the landlord's notice, unless the committee specifies a later date, which it will do if it considers that starting the new rent on the landlord's proposed date would cause the tenant undue hardship. The Opposition's new clause 5 would introduce a completely different system, although the defective drafting makes it difficult to know exactly how the system would operate in all respects. The two main elements of this are that all tenants, whether assured, protected, secure, or otherwise, would be able to apply for a determination of rent at any time, not only at the end of a contractual tenancy or during a statutory assured tenancy and that rents would be determined according to the tenant's means and the "suitability" of the house, rather than by reference to market rent levels. I cannot accept either of those propositions. One of the underlying principles of the assured tenancy regime is that rents will be freely negotiable between landlord and tenant and it follows that whenever a landlord and tenant enter an agreement both parties should be bound by that agreement. When a tenancy agreement comes to its end, it is appropriate that the tenant should then have the right of recourse to the rent assessment committee. The existing clause 25 provides precisely that right. But it would be contrary to the whole purpose of the assured tenancy regime if tenants were to be given an open-ended right to challenge their contracts, and to give the right to all tenants, whether assured or not, would be entirely unacceptable. Turning to the question of the criteria for the determination of rents, I quite understand that Opposition Members do not like the idea that a tenant should pay a market rent. That is because they oppose anything that would lead to a regeneration of the private rented sector, which has shrunk enormously in the years since the second world war and is now just over 6 per cent. New clause 5 would be an invitation to tenants deliberately to seek unsuitable accommodation, negotiate a reasonable rent with a landlord and then apply to the rent assessment committee for a determination of a lower rent. That would be unfair on landlords who had negotiated a tenancy agreement in good faith. The essence of the Bill is to get an appropriate balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of landlords. We believe that the proposals are most certainly not a charter for Rachmanism. They strengthen the protection of all tenants against harassment and illegal eviction. Tenants will have security of tenure very similar to that under existing legislation and there are safeguards built in to prevent the charging of excessive rents above market levels. I have listened carefully to the case put forward for new clause 16, but I am convinced that the power that it would give local authorities is unnecessary. The main purpose of part II of the Bill is to introduce the new assured tenancies which will steadily replace the regulated tenancies, which are subject to the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. The provisions in that Act will therefore become transitional, although the period of transition is likely to cover many years. It is therefore right that regulated tenants and their landlords should retain the right to have a rent registered. I do not see a strong argument for extending that power to local authorities. Hon. Members argued in Committee that tenants on housing benefit had no incentive to have a rent registered for fear that their rent would be reduced, and it was argued that local authorities would be seen as being neutral and therefore not likely to be affected by these considerations. I have to say that the evidence from England and Wales, where local authorities have this power, is that very little use of it is made in practice. And in Scotland, where local authorities can refer rents of part VII contracts to the rent assessment committee for registration, the number of such referrals is very small indeed. I see no point in legislating to give local authorities a power that will be used little if at all and will become useless as regulated tenancies are phased out. New clause 6 seeks to prohibit premiums on short assured tenancies. The arguments in favour of prohibiting premiums on assured tenancies have been fully expounded in Committee and I accept that there is no place for premiums in the present tenancy regime. If landords had been allowed to charge premiums for granting protected tenancies, that would have been used as a device for effectively avoiding the system of rent control. That argument does not apply to the new regime, because landlords who grant assured tenancies will not be subject to any statutory rent control and will be able to charge a market rent. So landlords will have no incentive to charge a premium. Indeed, any landlord who did attempt to charge one would probably not succeed in letting his property. I expect that some landlords will want to charge a moderate deposit on letting; that practice is fair enough. I said during the Standing Committee's consideration of a similar proposal that the Government would give particular thought to the case for prohibiting premiums on short assured tenancies. It is true that there will be a form of rent control for short assured tenancies, in that anyone with this type of tenancy will be able to seek a determination of rent from the rent assessment committee at any time during the tenancy. However, as the rent assessment committee will make its determinations on the basis of market rents, we believe, on reflection, that landlords will have no greater incentive to charge premiums for this type of tenancy than for assured tenancies. Our current view, therefore, is that there is no need to prohibit premiums under the new regime.
The Minister is an innocent abroad. He is suggesting that there would be no incentive for landlords to try to secure premiums—key money—to enable a tenant to take up a tenancy. There will be considerable incentives to do so because they will be able to get away with it. Given that there is a severe shortage of housing to let in Scotland and that there will be fierce competition to take up tenancies whenever they occur, it will be all too easy for landlords to abuse the system in this way.It is appalling that the Government are not prepared to take any steps to outlaw this sort of abuse. The Minister implicitly acknowledged that it was an abuse, but he is not prepared to do anything about it. He chides us on the grounds that we are hostile to his proposed redevelopment of the private rented sector, but he is wrong to do so. The Opposition would be happy about any development of the rented sector in Scotland that would meet the need, but the difference between the Minister and us is that we are not prepared to accept that tenants should have to pay any price for that development in the private rented sector. We have already established that there is a severe shortage of housing to let in Scotland. We know that there are many desperate people who would be prepared to make serious sacrifices, which they probably cannot really afford, to secure homes for their families. They are likely to be prepared to pay premiums under these desperate circumstances and may be prepared to offer inflated rents. Yet the Minister has the gall to describe them as freely negotiated rents. There is no freedom for people facing the threat of homelessness; that is the point that the Government refuse to tackle. We are discussing a distorted and unfair market, and it is deplorable that the Government are introducing legislation that will deprive tenants of any protection from unfair practices by landlords. The reference to freely negotiated rents is absurd. My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian) mentioned experience in his constituency, where there has been palpably criminal conduct on the part of one private landlord. I have no doubt that there are perfectly reasonable private sector landlords in Scotland. No one wants to inhibit them, but the Minister has acknowledged on another occasion that there is a criminal element, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Govan made it clear that there has recently been a serious abuse in his constituency. In spite of that, the Government are apparently prepared to open the floodgates and allow rents to go sky high, with no recourse to tribunals or controls of any kind. We want to ensure that there is a proper regime of fair rents, as there is now. We are not prepared to see tenants in Scotland making the sacrifices that the Minister seems prepared to impose on them. We are extremely alarmed about the difficulties that will confront people claiming housing benefit in these circumstances. I shall quote from the Scottish Development Department's consultation paper on the private rented sector and the implications for housing benefit. Paragraph 13 states:
How on earth can someone on housing benefit make up the difference? That is a formula for forcing these people out of their homes, and the Government are apparently prepared to accept it. The formula means more evictions, more insecurity and more homelessness, and the Minister should he ashamed of himself. I urge my hon. Friends to vote for the new clause."The rent set by the rent officer will not be a maximum rent chargeable for the dwelling. It will be open to the landlord to set the rent at the maximum eligible level, or to charge a higher rent and seek a tenant willing to pay that rent. It will be open to the existing tenant, should he have the means to do so, to make up the difference."
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 230.
Division No. 238]
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Gordon, Mildred|
|Allen, Graham||Graham, Thomas|
|Alton, David||Hardy, Peter|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Henderson, Doug|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Barron, Kevin||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Battle, John||Home Robertson, John|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Hood, Jimmy|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Blair, Tony||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Illsley, Eric|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Ingram, Adam|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Janner, Greville|
|Buchan, Norman||John, Brynmor|
|Buckley, George J.||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Caborn, Richard||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Callaghan, Jim||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Lamond, James|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lewis, Terry|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Litherland, Robert|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Clay, Bob||Livsey, Richard|
|Clelland, David||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Cohen, Harry||Loyden, Eddie|
|Coleman, Donald||McAllion, John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Corbett, Robin||McFall, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Cox, Tom||McLeish, Henry|
|Crowther, Stan||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cryer, Bob||McTaggart, Bob|
|Cummings, John||McWilliam, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Madden, Max|
|Dalyell, Tam||Marek, Dr John|
|Darling, Alistair||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)||Maxton, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Don||Meale, Alan|
|Doran, Frank||Michael, Alun|
|Douglas, Dick||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Eadie, Alexander||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Eastham, Ken||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Mullin, Chris|
|Fearn, Ronald||Murphy, Paul|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Nellist, Dave|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||O'Brien, William|
|Fisher, Mark||O'Neill, Martin|
|Flannery, Martin||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Flynn, Paul||Patchett, Terry|
|Foster, Derek||Pike, Peter L.|
|Foulkes, George||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Galbraith, Sam||Prescott, John|
|Galloway, George||Primarolo, Dawn|
|George, Bruce||Randall, Stuart|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Redmond, Martin|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Reid, Dr John||Turner, Dennis|
|Richardson, Jo||Vaz, Keith|
|Robertson, George||Wall, Pat|
|Robinson, Geoffrey||Wallace, James|
|Rogers, Allan||Walley, Joan|
|Rooker, Jeff||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Ruddock, Joan||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Salmond, Alex||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Winnick, David|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wray, Jimmy|
|Soley, Clive||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Mrs. Llin Golding and|
|Stott, Roger||Mr. Nigel Griffiths.|
|Adley, Robert||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Alexander, Richard||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Forman, Nigel|
|Allason, Rupert||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Amess, David||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Amos, Alan||Gale, Roger|
|Arbuthnot, James||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Gill, Christopher|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Ashby, David||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Atkins, Robert||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Atkinson, David||Green way, John (Ryedale)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Gregory, Conal|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Baldry, Tony||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Grist, Ian|
|Bellingham, Henry||Grylls, Michael|
|Bendall, Vivian||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Benyon, W.||Hannam, John|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr'|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Hayes, Jerry|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hayward, Robert|
|Bottomley, Peter||Heddle, John|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Hill, James|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Bowis, John||Holt, Richard|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Howard, Michael|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Brazier, Julian||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Bright, Graham||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Burns, Simon||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Burt, Alistair||Hunter, Andrew|
|Butler, Chris||Irvine, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Irving, Charles|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Jack, Michael|
|Carrington, Matthew||Janman, Tim|
|Carttiss, Michael||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Cash, William||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Couchman, James||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Kilfedder, James|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Knapman, Roger|
|Dunn, Bob||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Durant, Tony||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Knowles, Michael|
|Fallon, Michael||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Lang, Ian||Rowe, Andrew|
|Latham, Michael||Ryder, Richard|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lightbown, David||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lord, Michael||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Shersby, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Mans, Keith||Speller, Tony|
|Maples, John||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Marland, Paul||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Steen, Anthony|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stern, Michael|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Miller, Hal||Sumberg, David|
|Mills, Iain||Summerson, Hugo|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Moate, Roger||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Tracey, Richard|
|Morrison, Hon P (Chester)||Tredinnick, David|
|Moss, Malcolm||Trippier, David|
|Neale, Gerrard||Trotter, Neville|
|Nelson, Anthony||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Neubert, Michael||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Walden, George|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Waller, Gary|
|Page, Richard||Ward, John|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Warren, Kenneth|
|Pawsey, James||Watts, John|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Wells, Bowen|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Wheeler, John|
|Price, Sir David||Whitney, Ray|
|Raffan, Keith||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Wilkinson, John|
|Rathbone, Tim||Wilshire, David|
|Redwood, John||Wood, Timothy|
|Riddick, Graham||Woodcock, Mike|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Yeo, Tim|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Mr. David Maclean and|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.|
Question accordingly negatived.
New Clause 9
Rights Of Scottish Special Housing Association Tenants
'It shall be the right of any tenant of the Scottish Special Housing Association whose home is transferred to Scottish Homes under section 3(1) above to decide whether his home shall continue to be vested in Scottish Homes or whether it shall be transferred to
(a) the district or islands council in whose area it stands; or (b) any approved landlord.'.—[Mr. Home Robertson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this, it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 18—Rights of SSHA tenants—
New clause 19—Transfer of ownership of Scottish Homes houses`Nothing in this Act shall affect the security of tenure or the conditions of tenancy agreed between the Scottish Special Housing Association and a tenant unless the tenant agrees to any such change and, in the event of disagreement between the tenant and the landlord or future landlord, the tenant shall have the right of appeal to the appropriate rent officer or rent assessment committee.'.
`The transfer to a private landlord or landlords of ownership of any house owned or administered by Scottish Homes shall not take place without the written consent of the tenant of that house, in cases where the tenant had the tenancy of the house at the time of the establishment of Scottish Homes.'.
New clause 9 deals with the rights and prospects of tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association. The SSHA still has 83,000 houses throughout Scotland and the tenants in those houses are understandably anxious about the Government's plans for them. I should like at the outset to pay tribute to the powerful and effective response that has been brought to bear by SSHA tenants to the threat posed by the Scottish Homes consultation document, which was published by the previous Minister for Housing in Scotland before he lost his seat of Edinburgh, South in May 1987.That consultation document referred to the establishment of a landlord division of Scottish Homes as
to administer SSHA housing stock until it can be transferred into the private sector or somewhere else, out of sight and out of mind so far as the Government are concerned. The consultation paper went on to say that Scottish Homes"an essentially transitional … holding operation"
Therefore, the Government clearly had it in mind at that stage to phase out the SSHA, or its successor organisation, Scottish Homes, as a provider of public sector rented housing in Scotland. In other words, in the Government's view, the SSHA was an undesirable phenomenon, to be run down and disposed of, regardless of the opinions of the tenants in those 83,000 SSHA houses. The tenants concerned were not going to put up with such treatment. We have seen an impressive campaign over the past year on behalf of the SSHA tenants' organisations. There have been media rallies in different parts of Scotland. I was present at a rally in Edinburgh on 27 February and was impressed by the number of tenants and their families who turned out to take part in a march in Prince's street and to fill the Usher hall to make it abundantly clear that they did want to be pushed around by the Government or by anybody else. They wanted to retain their existing tenants' rights and security. I suppose that we should acknowledge the fact that the Government have moved slightly on this question since the original consultation document was published. They recognise the overwhelming weight of opinion and, as a result, both the White Paper and the Bill made no specific reference to the Government's objective of disposing of SSHA houses when they are transferred to Scottish Homes. Nevertheless, the implied threat is still there. The Government have made it clear that they do not like the concept of public sector rented housing and that they would rather farm out that housing stock in other directions. There was an interesting development in the Shetland Islands in recent months, and no doubt the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will want to refer to it, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. The Scottish Special Housing Association is attempting to unload its housing stock in the Shetland Islands on to a housing association in the area, despite the fact that a significant number of the tenants have made it clear that they would prefer either to remain with the SSHA or to have the option of transferring to the Shetland islands council. Those tenants should have been consulted about that proposed transfer of public sector housing stock. 9.30 pm This experience underlines the fears that many of the tenants inevitably feel after the questions that have been raised about their homes in various Government publications during the past year. They are entitled to be suspicious of the Government's motives and of the nominees whom the Government will appoint to the hoard of Scottish Homes. There is no proposal for any direct representation for tenants of Scottish Homes on the boa rd of Scottish Homes. That is a serious shortcoming in the constitution for Scottish Homes as laid down in the Bill. The absence of tenant representation underlines the fears that tenants have expressed. Obviously, SSHA tenants do not want to be pushed out of their secure tenancies and the fair rents which they enjoy into new-style, insecure tenancies with sky-high rents under the assured tenancy system which the Government propose. The Government have clearly rejected the case for a ballot for SSHA tenants which we put in Standing Committee—so much for all the Government's slogans about tenants' choice. There is not much sign of tenants' choice for these people. They will not even be represented, let alone given an opportunity to choose whether to stay with the SSHA. The new clause will establish a clear-cut right for SSHA tenants to choose whether to stay with Scottish Homes, whether to transfer to their local authority, whether to transfer, if possible, with continuing secure tenants' rights to a housing association or other approved landlord or whether to take the big risk of abandoning all their rights and becoming assured tenants in the private sector. These tenants should have an opportunity to decide what happens to their houses, where they may have been tenants for a long time. I cannot believe that many SSHA tenants would take the option of transferring to assured tenancies. My conversations with my constituents who are tenants of the SSHA in various parts of East Lothian reveal that it is likely that a substantial number would like to take the option of transferring to the local authority. Who can blame them? Local authorities in many parts of Scotland have a good record as landlords, whatever the Government may like to say about them. I urge the House positively to consider the suggestion that 83,000 SSHA households should be given a genuine and fair choice about the future of their tenancies and their homes."would not need any programme of new housebuilding".
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State realises that many Conservative Members and my supporters believe that there are already sufficient tenants in the public sector in Scotland. Consequently, we believe that the imbalance that exists should be redressed. The only way to do that is to ensure that there is an increase in the private sector, which we are making possible in the Bill, and that those who transfer from the SSHA to Scottish Homes either remain with Scottish Homes or take the other options open to them.I should oppose those people becoming tenants of local authority landlords because, contrary to what the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, local authorities have not been the world's best landlords. Frequently, they have been very poor landlords. Many of my constituents' complaints have arisen from the fact that the local authority has not behaved as well as it should. I know a number of tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association, and I would not wish them to be moved into the care of the local authorities in whose areas they live.
What SSHA houses are there in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?
They are not in my constituency. Unlike the hon. Member for East Lothian, I know a lot of people who live in council houses and SSHA houses. Many of them grew up with me and I know their children. That is a fact of life. The hon. Gentleman probably knows far more people who live in castles than I do. I am not being nasty, but it would not surprise me, given his background. He ought not to be surprised, therefore, that I know many more people who live in SSHA houses than he does, and I would be totally opposed to their having a landlord like the local authority inflicted upon them.
I welcome the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). As I understood the thinking behind the Bill and the White Paper that preceded it, the intention was to extend the scope of choice for tenants. As it now seems likely that Scottish Homes will be created, the new clause would seem admirably suited to allowing an increase in tenants' choice.As I understand it, under the new clause an SSHA tenant would be able to opt to transfer to Scottish Homes, to the local housing authority, or to any approved landlord. He cannot, of course, choose the status quo. Once Scottish Homes—a centralising quango—has been created, the tenant will not be able to decide to continue with his landlord of many years' standing, however satisfactory. Nevertheless, as Scottish Homes is to be created, the new clause is useful because it will enable the tenant to have a wider choice than would otherwise be the case. It was often said in Committee that the theme of the Bill was "pick a landlord". As my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) pointed out, the phrase "choose a tenant" was more appropriate in some respects. The new clause would make the concept of picking a landlord more apt. I wonder why the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is so opposed to that. He seems to accept that tenants should be allowed to choose Scottish Homes or a private landlord. If so, why should tenants be denied the freedom to choose a municipal landlord? The hon. Gentleman seems to advocate a denial of choice. The Tory party tells us that it is the party of freedom and of individual choice. I cannot understand why Conservative Members are so ready to deny tenants a choice open to them at present—a choice that some of my constituents have welcomed. As the hon. Member for East Lothian said, the issue has been highlighted sharply in Shetland in recent months. If events in Shetland are a forerunner of what will happen under Scottish Homes, they are worth studying. The matter was debated in Committee, and I do not propose to go into the history in detail. There has been a background of dispute between Shetland islands council and the SSHA over factoring by the council. Over a number of years it became clear that the SSHA took the view that its tenants in Shetland were isolated from tenants in the rest of its housing stock. The association felt that the tenants were not getting the service that it would have liked. Latterly, the SSHA proposed that tenants should be offered the option of becoming tenants of the Hjaltland housing association. The option of transfer to a housing association had been put forward in March 1984, when the tenants were consulted at a public meeting, but the SSHA itself accepted that that option was not particularly well developed at that time. When approached in the latter part of 1986, the Hjaltland housing association did not object in principle to the transfer of tenants, but made it plain to the SSHA that if tenants were to be given that option, it was important that sufficient time be given for them to be properly consulted. The sorry episode that subsequently developed does not give one any confidence in the consultation methods that were adopted by the SSHA. One fears that such a lack of consultation would also be the case with its successor body. That episode does not give us any encouragement that the new legislation will be a marker on the road to greater tenant choice. A public meeting was arranged in November last year to explain the situation to tenants. It was explained that there would be full consultation with them, which would start immediately. Unfortunately, only three days were set aside by the SSHA, when only 50 of the 142 SSHA tenants in Shetland were visited. The SSHA then published comments that were highly critical of the local authority. Following that, the local authority took steps to meet the SSHA to see whether it could resolve the differences. At the meeting some important agreements were reached, including, first, that in any subsequent transfer of a tenancy, an independent source of advice would be available to the tenants; secondly, that all options were to be discussed, including the possibility of transfer to the local authority. However, only a week after that a letter was sent out by the SSHA to all tenants. They were not given the option of transferring to the local authority; they were set a deadline. The letter was sent out on 18 December—a week before Christmas and two week before new year. The deadline was 31 January, by which time they had to make up their minds. The letter stated:
It is not acceptable that tenants should be put in the position of making a positive reply or else finding that their rights as tenants and their legal status are transferred. That seems wholly inequitable, but it was the manner in which the SSHA went about its business that should be noted. The time given was far too short. It did not allow an adequate opportunity for full and independent advice to be taken. In the short time available, Tenants' Participatory Advisory Services came to Shetland and efforts were made by the local authority to consult the tenants. Along with others, I approached the SSHA to ask it to extend the period of time within which the tenants were to reply. That was not agreed, although subseqently it has been in practice. There has been some doubt about what response there had been. When the Minister addressed the Committee on 25 February, he suggested that the results had been submitted to his Department, but in a written answer to me last week he refused to disclose what the results were. Through correspondence between the chairman of the SSHA and my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire I have some indication of the result. Of the 88 tenants who replied, an analysis has shown that 40 per cent. of all SSHA tenants wished to transfer to the Shetland islands council, 12 per cent. wished to remain with the SSHA and 6 per cent. requested more time. The letter continued:"I would ask you to indicate your views on the transfer of your tenancy to Hjaltland by January 31st 1988 and unlees I hear from you before that date, it will be assumed that you are prepared to support the Association's recommendation that you should become a Hjaltland tenant."
I have no doubt that the figures are accurate, but it seems a distortion of the truth because 57 per cent. responded, of whom 70 per cent. — I draw that figure to the attention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North—wanted to be transferred to the local authority, 20 per cent. to remain with the SSHA, and 10 per cent. wanted more time for consideration. Clearly, no one positively sought a transfer to the Hjaltland housing association. It is unfortunate that the Hjaltland housing association has been dragged into this by the less than satisfactory means used by the SSHA. The Hjaltland housing association is a reputable housing association, with a good record in Shetland, not least in providing housing for single people. It is regrettable that the local image of the association has been tarnished to some extent by an incident for which it can carry no blame whatever. 9.45 pm Why, if the Government are anxious to promote the idea of choice for tenants, is that choice not open to tenants who have said that they wish their tenancies to be transferred to Shetland Islands council? In Committee the Minister said that, under section 12(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, the transfers were possible. If they are possible, why should tenants be denied the choice? We want a clear and direct answer to that question. It is now being said that tenants can still transfer to the local housing association if they do so before 30 September this year—indeed, before the implementation of the Bill, if it is implemented. What happens if there is a transfer to the housing association before that date, and there is a subsequent transfer within housing stock belonging to the association? Will tenants' rights be subsequently lost—the rights guaranteed to them under the proposed terms of transfer? It also seems unfair, although at present possibly quite attractive, to offer tenants, until 30 September, terms better than those that would be given after the Bill comes into operation. That is an indication of how tenants' rights will be restricted, rather than increased, by the legislation. Many people would like to know the answers to those questions. Why will tenants not get their first choice, and what will be their rights if they have not exercised their transfer rights by 30 September? If the Government cannot give a satisfactory answer, the legislation will be shown up for what some of us suspect it to be: a manoeuvre, in the guise of individual choice, designed in reality to emasculate the public sector—especially local authority housing—and to limit the choice available to tenants. I hope that the Government will indeed agree with the principle of wider choice and accept the new clause."43 per cent. did not respond and in terms of the Association's letter could be assumed not to object to their tenancies being transferred".
I am pleased to rise to support the new clause. I am sure that it comes as a surprise to many that an hon. Member representing a constituency such as mine should speak on local authority housing.
It is lost on English Members.
It is indeed lost on some hon. Members with constituencies south of the border.I should explain that my constituency has the highest number of owner-occupiers of any Scottish constituency or, indeed, of the top quarter of the United Kingdom. It is often described as "the leafy suburbs of Bearsden and Lennoxtown, nestling under the hills of the Campsie glens." What is not immediately apparent is that it contains some very serious housing problems. The reason for that is that my constituency also contains Strathkelvin, and within that is a district that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). As a direct consequence of the present Government's policy, housing has been poorly funded over the years, although there is an outstanding housing department and outstanding councillors and local officials are running a highly efficient and effective local authority housing service that responds to everyone's needs. It is suspected that that under-funding is not unrelated to Scottish Homes, the SSHA tenants and their right to transfer back to local authority housing. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, to deprive them of that right is a basic negation of their democratic rights and freedom of choice. It is a disgraceful piece of legislation and, in time, it will come to be seen as that. There will be a demand that tenants should have the right to transfer back to a local authority. The Government are trying to run down the local authority stock so that the option will not be available to them. That is what is happening in my constituency. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West is in the Chamber. As I have said, he shares with me a district in the constituency of Strathkelvin. Strathkelvin wanted £15·5 million capital allocation, but it received only £5 million—one third of what it required. Can the Minister say why Strathkelvin received only £5 million this year?
According to my list, Strathkelvin received £2,412,000 in the allocation yesterday.
Yes, and it is made up to £5 million by the money from council house sales.I ask the Minister to go away and consider further the fact that Strathkelvin received only one third of what it required. That is not new. The Government have been running down the finance to Strathkelvin for some time. Housing support grant for 1980–81 was £2·2 million, and it has received nothing in the past four years. The rate fund contribution was £200,000—a cut of £2 million in three years. That is what is happening and it is related to Scottish Homes and SSHA tenants. Within my constituency, 10 per cent. of the housing stock is lived in by SSHA tenants who will be transferred to Scottish Homes. None of those tenants have been consulted, but they are to be pushed over without any right to transfer back. They will be transferred into a quango. At present they have democratic rights under a first-rate district council and a first-rate housing committee. They will lose all those rights when they are transferred. We should look at the quango to which they are being transferred. It has no members, but the Bill says that the Secretary of State shall
When the Minister replies, perhaps he will develop that further and say whether Scottish Homes will ever have members who were private landlords at any time. I would like the Minister to answer that specifically. In relation to Scottish Homes and the loss of SSHA stock, my constituency is particularly concerned about homelessness. A total of 240 people are homeless in my constituency. That is an increase of 12 per cent. since 1985. The local authority has agency arrangements with the SSHA to help deal with that. Will the Minister tell me what will happen after the formation of Scottish Homes? Will the agency arrangements be maintained? Can he be specific about what will happen in my constituency? As a result of this legislation, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, some of my constituents will lose the choice and the ability to opt for a local authority landlord. Will the Minister accept the clause and give my constituents the choice of transferring into first-rate local authority housing, run democratically for the benefit of all people?"satisfy himself, before he appoints a person to be a member, that that person will have no such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially the performance of his functions as a member".
I am probably unique in the House because I happen to be an SSHA tenant and have been for the past 17 years. I have raised my family in an SSHA house and I am proud of the standard of the house in which I live, which was built specifically for the SSHA.I should like to point out to the Minister that for five years I was the chairman of Linwood tenants association and we often went into battle with the SSHA about maintenance, repairs and incredibly high rents. Nevertheless, as a tenant I received an invitation to join in consultations about Scottish Homes. I received the letter in July and was told to have the letter back by August. Everyone is on holiday in Scotland in July. The Minister should have been aware of that, but he did not consider that when consulting the Scottish people on this important point about their homes. I am delighted that the Government have the opportunity tonight hopefully to support the new clause. This is the first opportunity that the Government have given or could give to SSHA tenants. Rather than being represented by a quango or unelected body, SSHA tenants will have the opportunity to go to district councils and shelter under the umbrella of elected, responsible and democratic councillors who will take care of the issues that concern the tenants. This is a golden opportunity for the Government to support the new clause. We are going to create Scottish Homes from the SSHA. The district council will become a wee fly stuck to the wall. I understand what the Government are really pushing for. They want private landlords. I can assure the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that if the Government gave my constituents the opportunity to vote in a ballot, they would support going to two very respectable, decent local authorities—Renfrew district and Inverclyde. If the Government want to take up the challenge, they should, and my constituents will respond to it. I represent the area with the largest number of SSHA tenants. Some of the largest meetings ever held in my constituency were about Scottish Homes. I can assure the House that my constituents are terrified at the thought of private landlords coming in. Some of the older tenants remember the heyday of the private landlords in Glasgow. Worse still, some of the young people are aware of the speculation that is taking place now by some private sector landlords. Statements have appeared recently in the Glasgow Evening Times about one of those private landlords; I will not name him because proceedings are under way. If the Government support the new clause tonight, they will respond to the democratic wishes of my constituents. Clearly the 83,000 tenants would praise you, rather than castigate you. The consultation process was a disgrace. It did not afford the tenants in my area reasonable opportunity to discuss the Government's programme in full. However, I honestly believe that you are not interested, and that all you are interested in—
Order. Not "you".
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. When I said "you", I meant the Government.Clearly, the Government are more interested in dismantling and fragmenting local authority housing—and especially SSHA housing—into the private sector for pure political gain instead of considering the needs of Scottish housing in general. They are not concerned about damp houses or rebuilding for the homeless. What will happen to the sensible arrangement operated between the SSHA and Renfrew district council whereby SSHA families are nominated for Renfrew district council houses and Renfrew council house tenants are nominated to become SSHA tenants? If that stops, we shall have the largest problem of homelessness this century. If the private landlords come in, our children will not be able to afford the exorbitant rents that are charged in London.
I support the new clause. The Bill is supposed to be about freedom of choice, but it is about the very opposite. The Government stopped short when it came to the freedom of tenants to choose the public sector. In other words, the Government are saying that a person is free to choose his landlord as long as it is a private sector landlord. It is like saying that a person can have a car of any colour as long as it is black. That is not freedom of choice—
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting the Housing (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Ryder.]
Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Government should follow through their own philosophy and give tenants real freedom of choice. The new clause starts to do that by giving SSHA tenants a real choice between the public or private sector. It is up to them to choose whether they prefer the public or private sector, but they should be given that opportunity SSHA tenants have been particularly well-organised and eloquent in putting forward their views on the Government's proposals, and they would be well equipped to make a rational and disciplined choice about their preferred type of tenure.The problem with the Bill is that it is all one-way traffic—out of the public into the private sector. The Government are making a mistake in adopting such a lopsided approach to housing tenure. Tenants may only leave the public sector; they may not return to it or join it out of choice. There can be no real freedom of choice for such tenants until a genuine two-way traffic is allowed between the public and private sectors. It may come as a surprise to Conservative Members that tenants may see the public sector as desirable. There has been a long and good working relationship between the SSHA and Angus district council, and many SSHA tenants believed that they were in Angus district council houses until, instead of having no rent increases like the tenants of Angus district council houses, they were faced with the shock of whopping increases within the SSHA system. Such tenants may find it desirable to go into an organised, prudent and progressive authority with a well-established housing department. There would be many advantages in making such a choice. I shall support the new clause because it will give tenants choice. The Government are making a mistake in not following through the concept of freedom of choice, which is not what the Bill offers.
I was pleased to hear my new neighbour, the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), tonight. He will forgive me if I say he is not quite so attractive or elegant as my former neighbour and his predecessor. However, he is certainly making his mark in his constituency and, dare I say it, in my constituency as well.I support new clauses 9, 18 and 19—
My hon. Friend must make a choice. Who does he prefer—Anna McCurley or my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham)?
I am trying to answer. That depends upon the criteria of selection. On some criteria my hon. Friend would win hands down, but not on others.About 45 minutes ago I was informed by 10 Downing street that it is the Prime Minister's intention to visit Greenock tomorrow. In regard to new clause 9, I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister's visit to Greenock, or her stopover in Greenock, is not part of a whistle stop tour of Scotland. I believe that her tour is to include Erskine and Dundee. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will bring some cheer to the people of my constituency with certain announcements that she will make, or announcements that she will hear tomorrow. However, if the right hon. Lady were to meet the SSHA tenants and the district council tenant there would be no cheers for the right hon. Lady. If she were to speak to Helen Pyper and Donald MacDonald, the leading lights of the Inverclyde SSHA tenants association, they would not miss her and hit the wall with their views about the Bill. Along with many other SSHA tenants, they have expressed real fears and deep anxieties about the Bill. I believe that the Prime Minister would get a thorough dressing down about the Bill if she were to speak to my constituents who live in SSHA houses. New clause 9 widens the choice for SSHA tenants in a way that would be perfectly reasonable even to Conservative Members. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, it provides a degree of freedom of choice which surely must be perfectly acceptable to all SSHA tenants irrespective of political perspective. I believe that the legislation as amended by new clause 9 and new clauses 18 and 19 might diminish the deep anxieties of many SSHA tenants in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland. The evidence which I have to present to the House is anecdotal. It is not based on some rigorous statistical analysis, but I can tell the Secretary of State— not that he will take any notice—that I have been assured by many SSHA tenants that they would prefer their homes to be transferred to the Inverclyde district council. In response to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) it is readily acknowledged by some Opposition Members that there are black spots in the history of the management of local housing. Many of those black spots were painted by central Government rather than local government, especially in terms of the architecture of housing and the council planning that went into the creation of many schemes in Scotland and elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde was close to the heart of the matter when he said that Inverclyde district council is a reasonable manager of public housing in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and in Kilmacoln, Wemyss Bay and elsewhere in my hon. Friend's constituency. He was also right to speak about the fears of SSHA tenants about the Bill, especially about the formidable prospect of becoming private tenants. All the SSHA tenants with whom I have spoken—I have two more meetings later this week with SSHA tenants associations—have said that they never want to become private tenants. The legislation, as amended by this clause and by new clauses 18 and 19, would help to meet some of the anxieties of those fine, decent and honourable people. That is what they are. They should be treated in a fine, decent and honourable way by this Government, but that is wishing for the moon. This Government, especially as represented by the present incumbents of the Scottish Office, give not a damn for the interests of ordinary people. The leader of this Government is to visit Greenock tomorrow. For many of my constituents she must surely be, because of this legislation, the social fund and the other changes that are being made to the social security legislation, the most hated, feared and reviled Prime Minister of the 20th century.
I support new clause 9. I shall also refer to new clauses 18 and 19. I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on his proposals. Sometimes he rightly castigates hon. Members for adopting frozen attitudes. All hon. Members have some frozen attitudes; sometimes they are frozen in the 1960s and sometimes they are frozen in the 1970s. We have to consider the challenges to Scotland and to Scottish housing towards the year 2000. I do not know what will happen in the medium term, but it is unlikely that major changes will be made to this legislation. An incoming Labour Government or a Scottish Assembly would want to alter it, but what will not alter dramatically is the pattern of our communities.The Secretary of State proposes to allow communities, both large and small, such as Valleyfield, Oakleigh and Blairhall in my constituency, where there is a mixture of local authority, private and SSHA housing, to have a choice. The Secretary of State says that the SSHA houses are to go into Scottish Homes and that local authority houses can also go into Scottish Homes but that houses cannot come out of Scottish Homes. Whose attitude is frozen? The Secretary of State accuses the Opposition of having frozen attitudes, but his attitude is frozen because of his Government's and his personal repugnance of local authority housing ownership and local authority housing stock. That is not a fair assessment of people's needs. The Secretary of State argues for a mix of ownership, which I support. There is a remarkable mixture of ownership in Dunfermline; a larger proportion of local authority and SSHA houses than in any other constituency have gone from the public into the private domain. If Scottish Homes is to be created, the Secretary of State should provide flexibility so that tenants are able to choose whether to live in Scottish Homes houses or whether it would be practicable and enhance a sense of community for them to move from Scottish Homes into the local authority sector. The other new clauses also refer to the democratic element of choice. There is an implication in the new clauses that these things should not be done unless the tenants' consent is absolutely clear and I think that is fair. I know the difficulties of drafting, and the Secretary of State and those in his Department, with their legal minds, might say that the drafting is wrong, but I would ask him to accept that the intention behind the new clauses is to give some sense that these deals will not be imposed on the tenants. I repeat what I said on Second Reading and referred to earlier in the debate. I have in my constituency a small village with a very deep sense of community. Some of the houses are owned by the MOD and some by the SSHA. Perhaps I am wrong in not trying to devise a new clause to cover the situation because there is nothing in the Bill, but it would have been very difficult to do it and highly unlikely that it would have been accepted. Here is a community where it would have been possible, with both housing sectors in the public domain, to allow the MOD houses to be transferred with the SSHA houses to Scottish Homes to keep the sense of community, but that, for doctrinal reasons, or perhaps Treasury reasons, is not being done. If the Secretary of State points the finger at the Opposition Benches and talks about frozen attitudes, should he not consider whether he is also guilty of being frozen in his attitude by a doctrinal abhorrence of local authority housing? I ask him to act in the interest of what is good for Scottish housing and of keeping the sense of community not just for the 1980s but into the year 2000.
The reason why SSHA tenants are so suspicious about, and indeed hostile to, this legislation is that it was clear that the Goverment's original intention was to hive off houses from the SSHA, presumably to the private sector. The Government have been moved from that position because of the hostile reaction of the SSHA tenants and are now saying that those tenants do not have to worry, because nothing is going to happen without their consent.That assurance is all right as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. I want to ask the Minister how far that assurance goes and how long it lasts, because unless new clause 9 is inserted into the Bill the Opposition will take the view that the assurance will be very short-lived and that the Government will revert as soon as they possibly can to their original intention of hiving off these houses to the private sector. That would be wholly undemocratic and certainly against the wishes of the tenants.
I rise to lend my support, like my hon. Friends, to new clause 9, but first I must say that, like my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I was informed this evening that the Prime Minister would be visiting my constituency. This may come as something of a surprise to Dundonians, who in the past nine years have never been graced by the presence of the Prime Minister. For her to choose this week of all weeks to visit Dundee does not bode well for the city.
Well, what did it do to Churchill?
Churchill was a Liberal in those days.I would expect that the Prime Minister would bring some good news to Dundee in terms of jobs for certain groups of us, anyway. I hope very much that jobs will be announced in Dundee tomorrow. But it is a matter of some concern to hon. Members that the press in Dundee should have been informed five or six hours before the Member of Parliament for Dundee was informed. That, of course, is par for the course for the present Prime Minister, who treats hon. Members with utter contempt, no matter on which side of the House they sit.
My experience is exactly the same as my hon. Friend's. I might say, however, that the Prime Minister declined my invitation to visit Port Glasgow. She is visiting Greenock, not Port Glasgow, and that for me is a matter of deep regret.
I can understand why the Prime Minister picks the places she visits in Scotland carefully; she would not receive a welcoming reception anywhere.New clause 9 deals with extensions of tenants' rights, and I should have thought that all hon. Members would support it for that reason. The Government have long argued that they are in favour of widening choice for everyone in Britain and for tenants in particular. An important element of choice must be the ability to decide who one's landlord should be. The Government have recognised that in other parts of the Bill, with the new pick-a-landlord scheme; if people happen to be Scottish Homes tenants or district council tenants, they have that right. The Minister must tell us why SSHA tenants are not being given the same right in the Bill. It is almost feudal to transfer property from the SSHA to Scottish Homes, given that that involves transferring families who happen to be living in the properties, without giving them any say in the matter. That is to treat them like medieval serfs or chattels, and that is what the Government are doing by failing to support the new clause. I want to take up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan). The new Scottish Homes will be an uncertain type of landlord for the tenants transferred into its ownership. It will have a huge budget at its disposal for spending on housing, but we know from Committee that the Minister has been careful not to give it any sort of housing responsibility. Dampness, condensation, overcrowding and homelessness will not be the responsibility of Scottish Homes; that will remain with the district councils. Scottish Homes will spend its huge budget only on joint projects with the private sector on the sort of schemes that involve two or three pounds of private sector money for every one pound of public sector money. So it will not spend the money looking after its new tenants. The tenants of Scottish Homes must wonder what the priorities of the new agency will he. They will certainly not be the tenants who come under its control. Bearing in mind the consultation document, we remember that this is only to be a transitional stage and that Scottish Homes will quickly dispose of the 83,000 tenants to some other form of tenure. That remains the secret, hidden agenda of Scottish Homes, even though the Government have been forced to back down on it. The people who run Scottish Homes will get rid of those tenants as a priority—some of them into the private sector—and it is that which gives rise to our fears. Tenants earnestly desire the right to choose district councils as their landlords. The Minister came to Whitfield and met Mrs. Sandra Thomson, a leading activist there who has done a tremendous amount of work to organise tenants over the past few years. She has written a paper on the new Housing (Scotland) Bill, setting out her thoughts about it. In one part of the paper she speaks about the role of tenants' organisations and how they have been ignored by the Government:
"It appears that in the new Bill, no provision or thought has been given to Tenants Organisations already established within communities, or new ones wishing to set up into groups. Most organisations depend on local authorities to allocate a house to use as a meeting place and organise activities for children and adults. Primarily, they are set up to help upgrade their areas, but mainly to help alleviate feelings of depression and isolation, especially in areas of multiple deprivation.
Most tenants from all walks of life, have had no say nor has there been any consultation with them concerning the Bill.
If the Private Sector take over streets, this will leave tenants' groups with nothing, they will disintegrate to such an extent, that there will be no more community spirit left. The time it has taken to become involved will have all been wasted.
That is the legitimate and genuine voice of tenants who are concerned that the measures in the Bill will drive them out of the public sector and away from local authorities. They make provision for their tenants and give them the right to come together and make demands on the landlord for the provision that they want. But a landlord's charter is included in the Bill, which will drive tenants into the private sector and denude them of their rights. The Minister should really be supporting new clause 9 to let the tenants decide what they want, rather than have the Government decide for them.If the private sector do allow groups to stay, they would be unable to meet the cost of keeping their lounges open, because landlords will not give the same grant aid that local authorities do. If they are allowed to remain open, they would he accountable every move made, this has very significant implications, thus reduce the rights of the tenants."
May we clarify the position? We must go back to the question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian). Let me put it specifically in another form. Much of the trouble in West Lothian stems from the fact that some senior housing councillors went to a conference and returned to tell us that Derek Mason had made it very clear that within two or three years many of the SSHA houses would he disposed of to the private sector.My questions are simply, first, whether Derek Mason said that—to my satisfaction he undoubtedly did—and secondly, was he speaking with the authority of Ministers? Is that the intention of SSHA as it is now, Scottish Homes as it will be in the 1990s?
The Bill integrates the SSHA into the new agency called Scottish Homes. Commentators in Scotland have not seen any intrinsic merit in that proposal. Nothing that the Government have said has given us any sign that the scheme has any merit. I contend that the future policy should be dealt with separately, in conjunction with tenants, staff and the management of the SSHA.I am at a loss to understand the housing policy that is behind the Government's creation of this super-quango. The Government talk about housing associations leading the way, but they account for only 2 per cent. of the housing stock in Scotland. In no way can one see them leading a major revival in the public sector. In fact, evidence from a study in England and Wales by the Priority Estates Project seems to contradict the appropriateness of divorcing the management of homes from the range of other local authority services. Certainly the tenants are against it. A democratic case has been put time and again. The tenants whom I have met in my constituency have said to me that if one member, one vote is good enough for trade unions, as the Government say, it is good enough for tenants when deciding which landlord they want. The Scottish Homes scheme has no proposals for decentralisation. There are no guarantees for tenants' representation on the board. As my hon. Friends have said, it is up to the Secretary of State alone to decide the composition of the SSHA board. The Government's solution to the problem of the peripheral estates is contrary to the years of evidence that have been built up in Scotland, as indeed is the case in England and Wales in relation to the Priority Estates Project. We are putting the case to the Government tonight through tenants' eyes. That viewpoint has been missing from the Government's approach time and again. We on this side of the House have spoken to tenants in their hundreds and thousands and gone to meetings. This is the message that tenants give us. We are not making up a story. We are putting over the tenants' case and their fears. Tenants tell me and my hon. Friends that deregulation in the housing market will not create a new and stable investment for them in the private rented sector. Elderly tenants in my constituency have told me that the private sector in Dumbarton 50 years ago meant that two thirds of the population of the town lived in two or three narrow streets. The average number of people in homes in the town—room and kitchens, as they were called—was six, seven or eight. The infant mortality rate was 15 to 20 times what it is today. That was when the private sector reigned supreme in Dumbarton, and that is why we speak against the Government's reintroduction of the private sector without any consideration whatever for tenants. Time and again the Government tell us that the Bill is about consumer choice. The message that I have for the Government is that they are knocking consumer confidence on the head and consumers have no faith in the Government. They say that the Government are introducing this legislation for the sake of short-term speculation and that it will result in high-cost, low-quality housing.
What about jobs?
What about jobs? This debate is about Scottish housing and we do not need an ignorant comment from an hon. Gentleman who came in a few seconds ago. His comments have got nothing to do with the general debate.Scottish Homes has no statutory duty to house the homeless, and homelessness in Scotland is a blot on the Scottish landscape. My constituents say to me that private finance can be attracted only on the basis of profit. For every pound that goes into the landlord's pocket, they say that there will be a pound less for repairs, for modernisation and for the provision of new housing stock. The Government talk about
In uncoded language, that means rent increases. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) said, no assurances are offered to tenants by the Government. Is the assurance for SSHA tenants the same as the assurance for people in assured tenancies? The Government say that the minimum period for assured tenancies is six months. That is the case the first time round, but thereafter they can be for two or three months. That means that under the legislation a person in an assured tenancy for 10 years may have no more than two or three months' notice to get out. Will that help tenants and stabilise housing in Scotland? Opposition to the Government is widespread, and the Government have heard it not only from us but from tenants all over Scotland. The strength of dissatisfaction among local authority and SSHA tenants has been made known. I shall put my interpretation on what the Government are doing. They are paying no regard to Scottish housing, to Scotland or to the future need of the nation. In one fell swoop the Government are dismantling communities. That is at the core of this legislation and that is why it should be wholeheartedly opposed."meeting the housing needs through a variety of rent regimes."
I am rather bemused by all the talk by hon. Members about prime ministerial visits to constituencies. I have not been informed about any intended visit to my constituency, although perhaps the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are keeping it a big secret. In the Prime Minister's interests a visit to my constituency would have to be very secretive. She would be assured of a very hot reception.
One of the most disturbing things that I have heard in the debate was the announcement about what the Prime Minister is doing tomorrow. Do the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends not realise that one of the reasons for such information being kept a tight secret is the danger that its publication would impose on the Prime Minister and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity?
If what the hon. Gentleman says is true, it is a sad reflection on the type of society that the Prime Minister has helped to create in Britain. If Ministers, including the Prime Minister, cannot go on to the streets of this country in relative safety, they must take some of the responsibility for the hellish society that they have created.When I say that the Prime Minister would be assured of a hot reception if she ever set foot in my constituency, I do not mean that in an intimidating and physical sense. I simply mean that her policies on housing and everything else are utterly despised by the vast majority of my constituents because she has foisted them on people against their wishes and with no mandate from the people of Scotland.
I have tonight received a letter informing me, as a matter of courtesy, that the Prime Minister will undertake an engagement in my constituency tomorrow. I was told by the local newspapers over a week ago that the Prime Minister was coming to my constituency and would be visiting Erskine, Port Glasgow and Greenock. I find it strange that I am told this tonight. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) mentioned security reasons, but why tell other people and not me, as I was elected to represent my constituents?
Order. I cannot find anything in the new clauses about the Prime Minister's visits to anywhere. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will now address himself to the new clauses.
If or when the Prime Minister comes to my constituency, perhaps she could visit some Scottish Special Housing Association tenants who are affected by the Bill.New clauses 9, 18 and 19 refer to SSHA tenants. I am informed by the association that, in my constituency, there are 217 such tenants in Camelon, 258 in Hall Glen, 539 in Denny and 85 in Stenhousemuir, giving a total of 1,099. When the Government published their consultation document prior to the publication of the White Paper and the Bill, I could not find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who was in favour of the proposals in the consultative paper. I could not find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who was in favour of the proposals in the White Paper. I still cannot find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who is in favour of the proposals in the Bill. I have never maintained, and I do not think that any SSHA tenant would maintain, that the association is perfect. I and other Opposition Members have been critical of some aspects of the SSHA. The fact that it is an unelected quango means that there is less accountability to the people and particularly to tenants than there is in council schemes. For example, if council tenants have a complaint about housing policy in general or about how it applies to their housing association, they can go along to their local councillor and he can take the matter up with his colleagues, the other elected members of the council. Some of us have argued a very strong case for tranferring all SSHA stock to local authorities. I am not for disbanding the SSHA completely. The SSHA, or Scottish Homes as it will become, should have a continuing role in building houses in areas of high growth or high need where the local authority cannot be expected to have the necessary resources to cope. The Bill will make the SSHA's position worse instead of better. The SSHA is the second biggest landlord in Scotland, with Glasgow district council having a slightly larger housing stock. Scottish Homes will become the biggest landlord in Scotland. One quango will have been taken over by an even bigger quango. Again, there will be a lack of accountability to members, with a subsequent lack of accountability to tenants. It boils down to a lack of democracy. Basically, the patronage of the Secretary of State will decide the policy of Scottish Homes and those who will implement it. When the consultative document was issued last year, there was almost 100 per cent. opposition to the proposals affecting SSHA tenants. I do not speak just on behalf of the SSHA tenants in my constituency. I have received letters from many housing associations all over Scotland which were trying to make a co-ordinated national effort to oppose the Bill. My correspondence and meetings led me to believe that there was almost 100 per cent. opposition by all SSHA tenants to the proposals, yet the Government have been determined to go ahead. In Committee the Minister dealt with a matter on which he could perhaps now enlighten the House. A big meeting was held in a Glasgow hotel attended by delegates of many tenants' associations representing SSHA tenants throughout Scotland, including a delegation from the Ochiltree tenants association in my constituency. I had previously met those tenants, who were angry about the Minister's proposals. They came away from the meeting with some hope because they found that not only they but virtually everyone at the meeting opposed the Government's proposals, with the exception of the Minister. Perhaps the Under-Secretary could tell us what transpired at that meeting and whether he or his officials could give any assurances to the people who had travelled to it from all over Scotland. I believe from my correspondence and the representations made to us that there is still great dissatisfaction. That is why we have tabled the new clauses. 10.45 pm New clause 9 gives SSHA tenants the right to have the ownership of their home transferred to the district or islands council in whose area it stands or to any approved landlord. We simply ask the Government to give tenants the right to choose. The Government claim to be great supporters of the individual's rights and freedoms, of tenants' rights and so on. Indeed, in the original consultation document, they seemed to be saying that what they are about is extending choice between and within the public and private sectors. But if the Government oppose the excellent new clause, as I suspect they will, they will be arguing against an extension of choice. All that we ask is that an SSHA tenant who wants to become a council tenant should have the right to do so. The Minister and his buddies on the Front Bench are always praising the private landlord, who they say will come to the rescue and help to solve Scotland's housing crisis. According to the Government, large numbers of potential Tory landlords are skulking away, waiting for the Bill to reach the statute book, at which time they will come out of their hidey-holes and start to build houses and take them over to let to the homeless. That is codswallop. Anyone who has read the history of private landlords in Scotland will know that it is nothing to be proud of; as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said, it is an absolute disgrace. We certainly do not want to turn the clock back to the exploitation of tenants, rotten housing conditions, high rents and evictions. Having said that, I concede that there may be one or two decent, law-abiding, humane, good private landlords, or potential private landlords, around. If there are, and if an SSHA tenant wants to put his or her trust in such a private landlord, so be it. If the private landlord is approved — I understand that the definition of "approved" appears elsewhere in the Bill — the SSHA tenant has the right under the new clause to opt for the ownership of the house, and for his or her rights of tenancy to be transferred from Scottish Homes to that private landlord. I should have thought that any reasonable Government and any reasonable Minister would realise that there is a straightforward tenants' rights argument at stake. I remember a previous piece of legislation that the Government had the audacity to call the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) (Amendment) Act, so they are at least paying lip service to tenants' rights. If they genuinely believe in the rights of the individual tenant, let them support new clause 9. In making absurd claims that there is no demand for genuine political devolution in Scotland, the Government sometimes say, "But we are a Government of devolvers, because we devolve power from the state and from big organisations to individuals." If they really believe that absurd claim, let them act on it. A typical example of that concept of devolution would be to take power away from a big bureaucracy, such as Scottish Homes will become. If the tenant wanted the ownership to be transferred to a local authority of more manageable size and with more local democratic accountability, the tenant would have that right. Similarly, in the event—in my constituency, it would be an unlikely event—of people wanting their house to be transferred to a private landlord, then, provided that that private landlord is approved under the Bill, the tenant would have that right. Therefore, if, as the Government claim, they are a Government of genuine devolution, they should support new clause 9. New clauses 18 and 19 were tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who also has a considerable number of SSHA tenants in his constituency. As I said, I have more than 1,000 such tenants. I do not think that he has as many, but we will not quibble about that. The fact is that every SSHA tenant has certain fears about the Bill. When the consultation was complete, the Government produced a White Paper, which was the precursor to the Bill, the relevant section of which is headed "Tenants' rights". Paragraph 2.6 states:
It is an understatement to say that it has caused concern—I would say that it has caused fear and alarm. The White Paper then states:"The position of tenants is the other aspect of the absorption of the SSHA within Scottish Homes which has caused concern."
I should be grateful if the Minister would enlighten us about that alleged misrepresentation of the Government's proposals because the White Paper refers to"There has been considerable misrepresentation of the Government's proposals in this respect".
There is certainly anxiety among SSHA tenants, but I would not have the complacency to describe that anxiety as unnecessary. I await the Minister's reassurances on that point. The White Paper also states:"unnecessary anxiety among SSHA tenants".
I do not know what the Minister means by a "model landlord" because, despite the good work that the SSHA has done since its inception over a century ago, very few SSHA tenants would say that it is a "model landlord" in every respect. There are genuine grievances against the SSHA as a landlord and fears that under the Bill tenants will become worse off rather than better off. The kernel of my argument in favour of new clauses 18 and 19 is that in paragraph 2.8 of the White Paper, the Government state:"Scottish Homes will continue the existing role of the SSHA as a model landlord in relation to its own stock".
If that is true, and if the Minister is absolutely confident of its truth, he should not speak against new clause 18. All that the new clause does is enshrine in statute what the White Paper states in paragraph 2.8. I have looked through the Bill—"Tenants will continue to enjoy the same rights with Scottish Homes as their landlord as they would have possessed as tenants of the SSHA".
Is my hon. Friend aware of just how intensely the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) is listening to his speech, and how interested she is?
I have heard every word of it, and I am bored stiff.
I am very sorry for the hon. Lady, but she has my permission to go home to bed if she wishes. If she would like to intervene, I shall gladly give way, but if she continues to make rude seated interventions during this important debate—
I did not raise the point; it was the facetious hon. Member opposite.
I do not think that the hon. Lady is referring to me, so I shall ignore her remarks.Now I have lost my train of thought—because of the Lancastrian interventions. I do not want to be sidetracked. I remember now. I was saying to the Minister that if the commitment in the White Paper is genuine, he should support new clause 18. I cannot claim, like the Minister, to be legally trained—although, to be honest, that lack of training is sometimes an advantage rather than a disadvantage—but I have looked through the Bill, and cannot find in any of its clauses a categorical statement that SSHA tenants will not suffer from a deprivation or diminution of their rights. If I am wrong, I shall gladly withdraw what I have said; I stand to be corrected by the Minister. But my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West and I tabled the new clause because of the fears of our constituents, which are shared by the constituents of many other hon. Members. I do not think that the SSHA has any houses in Lancaster, but it certainly has houses in many Scottish constituencies, and new clause 18 would help to alleviate many of the present anxieties. Under new clause 18, the tenant would have to agree to any change in conditions of tenancy. In the event of a disagreement about those conditions, or about security of tenure—and I suggest that rent levels be included as well—the tenant would have the right to appeal to the appropriate rent officer, or to the rent assessment committee. At present, some SSHA tenants would argue that their rents are a bit too high. What I suppose was one of the SSHA's last circulars before it is wound up under the legislation was put out to tenants in my area — and presumably throughout Scotland — saying that rents would be increased by up to £150 a year. Under new clause 18, the SSHA or its successor organisation, Scottish Homes, would not be able to do that unilaterally. It would have to come up with proposals for rent increases and, if an individual tenant or group of tenants disagreed and thought that they had a fair case about a proposed rent increase or any other change in the tenancy agreement, they would have the right of appeal to the appropriate rent officer or the rent assessment committee. Perhaps the Minister could advise us what he thinks would be the best procedure—whether it should be an individual decision by the rent officer or a collective decision by the rent assessment committee. 11 pm New clause 19 also stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West. It refers to transfers
We are saying that the transfer of ownership to a private landlord should not take place unless written consent has been obtained from the tenant of the house in question. I have confined the drafting of the new clause to cases where, at the time of the establishment of Scottish Homes, the person or persons were SSHA tenants. In other words, it would not apply to future tenancies but would apply only to tenancies in existence prior to the setting up of Scottish Homes. I should have thought that that would narrow the scope a little and make it easier for the Government to accept the new clause. It comes down to the basic question of tenants' choice and tenants' rights. The Government claim that they are in favour of the rights of individual tenants, so surely it is not asking too much that the consent of the tenant ought to be obtained before the ownership of his or her house is transferred. I tabled another new clause about having a ballot of all SSHA tenants, but that was not called, so I do not want to dwell on it. I believe that the matter was raised in Committee and was adequately dealt with then. I certainly do not want to go over ground that was raised in Committee. The effect of new clause 19 is that, rather than the decision being made collectively by means of a ballot, it would, in the spirit of the concept of devolution proposed by the Government, devolve the decision to the individual tenant. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give it sympathetic consideration."to a private landlord or landlords of ownership of any house owned or administered by Scottish Homes."
I am glad to respond. Like the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) I too represent SSHA tenants and am glad to have the opportunity to do so. I am well aware of their views. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that we do not want to turn the clock back. In fact, we want to turn the clock forward.The hon. Member for Falkirk, West asked how rents will be set for SSHA tenants. They will be set on the same basis as at present and the rent assessment committee does not and will not play any part. They will be secured tenants as tenants of Scottish Homes. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) asked whether agency arrangements would transfer. The answer is that all contractual agreements and formal liabilities that the SSHA has with local authorities or anybody else will transfer to Scottish Homes under the terms of clause 3 The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked about Shetland tenants and the extent of consultation. Tenants have been fully consulted in the Shetlands and it is in the light of their response that the SSHA has decided not to cease being their landlord. The SSHA held public meetings to which tenants were free to come and offered to visit tenants individually in their homes. The fact that it was unable to make contact with some tenants cannot reasonably be held to be a criticism of its attempts at consultation. I should make it quite dear that the SSHA is not withdrawing from Shetland as a landlord. The essence of new clause 9 is the Opposition's belief that local authorities should be encouraged to grow ever larger as landlords. That is in spite of the fact that they already own more than two out of every three rented houses in Scotland. It also ignores the fact that in some local authorities the council owns almost eight out of every 10 houses. Allowing for the fact that the other two houses include those which are owner-occupied, the local authority is virtually the only landlord available to anyone wishing to rent in those areas. However, the Opposition's response to that horrifying lack of choice and opportunity is to seek ways of making local authorities even greater monopoly landlords than they are now. There is no point in the Opposition including a reference in this new clause to other types of landlord. That is a smokescreen. The tenants of Scottish Homes will have the rights available under tenants' choice provision as the Bill stands without any need for the relevant part of the new clause. It is well known that we are not opposed to Scottish Homes tenants having the choice of moving to another landlord. One of Scottish Homes' main tasks will be to offer its own tenants wider choice in relation to the way in which their houses are managed and by whom. We have always made that clear. I am glad that the Opposition now share our view that Scottish Homes tenants should be offered the option of transferring to approved landlords.
The Minister has seen the response of the SSHA tenants in Shetland; 70 per cent. of those who responded wanted to be transferred to the local authority. Why should they be denied that choice?
The possibility of the transfer of the houses to Shetland islands council was suggested as a fallback for those SSHA tenants who under the original proposals were not willing to transfer to the local housing association. The transfer of those tenants' houses to the council would still have allowed the SSHA to withdraw completely from the Shetlands. I want to make it clear that there is no question of the SSHA withdrawing from the Shetlands in the present circumstances. Therefore, the situation described by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) does not arise.
I have listened to the Minister refer to a letter sent to Shetland islands council. Will he answer this simple point? The tenants were asked which option they wanted to exercise and 70 per cent. said that they wished to become council tenants. Why are the Government denying them the right to exercise that choice?
Quite simply, because the SSHA is not withdrawing from the Shetlands. That situation would have arisen if the SSHA had withdrawn from the Shetlands. However, as I have made absolutely clear to the hon. Member for Orkney, and Shetland, the SSHA is not withdrawing—
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of his views. The SSHA is not withdrawing.
If the Bill becomes an Act and Scottish Homes is created, the SSHA will no longer exist. Why at that point should 70 per cent. of SSHA tenants who replied that they wanted to become SIC tenants, not be allowed to do so?
The only difference is that Scottish Homes will take over all the rights and obligations. The tenants will have the same rights of tenure, the same people will be looking after their houses and they will have the same way of setting their rents. There is no reason for them to withdraw in those circumstances because the SSHA—like its successor, Scottish Homes—is not withdrawing from the scene.
The Opposition seek to dress up their opposition to choice as it that was their own idea. The hon. Member for East Lothian made a speech recently at a housing conference, in which he said that the Opposition's alternative to the Government's policy would be to encourage co-operatives and housing associations. I find that a wonderfully novel twist, as those are the Government's policies. The Opposition are exchanging bankruptcy for theft.The Opposition would have us believe that there can be no happier state imaginable than to be a local authority tenant and that local authorities cannot possibly dominate the lives of too many people. We suggest that the evidence is somewhat different. Alongside the well-built, well-maintained and well-managed houses which show the best of what local authorities can achieve, there are large numbers of rundown and poorly managed houses, in which tenants are subjected to an impoverished quality of life which is a travesty of the standards which public services should represent. Some local authorities are too large and remote and some of them have been regrettably complacent about their tenants, secure in the knowledge that those tenants have no other practical alternative to renting from them as things stand.
Notwithstanding the flood of subjective opinions which the Minister offers about local authorities, and bearing in mind that he answered the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) purely in terms of the specific Shetland situation, does he accept that there is an absolute contradiction between the use of the words "freedom of choice", a principle that I can go a long way towards agreeing with, and the refusal of freedom of choice to anyone who dares to offend the Government by wanting to choose a local authority?
There is certainly an extension of choice and opportunity for tenants throughout Scotland. My view of local authorities is shared by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) who, writing in The Guardian last Wednesday, said:
Nothing in the Bill prevents Scottish Homes from disposing of its houses to a local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland, if that makes sense in a particular set of local circumstances. It certainly does not in the case of the Shetlands, for the reasons that I have given. Let me deal now with new clauses 18 and 19. I continue to be amazed at the capacity of Opposition Members to ignore the facts about SSHA tenants and Scottish Homes. Clause 3(2) preserves the position of SSHA tenants as secure tenants, with all the attendant rights, once they become tenants of Scottish Homes. We made our intentions absolutely clear even before the Bill was published. New clause 18 is therefore entirely unnecessary. The Government gave public sector tenants rights, against deep opposition from the Labour party, including the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), in the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. Those rights included the right to buy, which over 107,000 tenants have now done, and also a wider range of other rights, including security of tenure, the right to a written lease and the right of succession. Those rights, so widely welcomed, will not be taken away by the Bill. The Bill adds to them. When SSHA tenants become tenants of Scottish Homes, they will be secure tenants. We have discussed a new clause to ease restriction on the discount applying in the right to buy. The Bill gives public sector tenants the right to invite another landlord to take over their houses."In the field of public services, particularly those provided by local authorities, the evidence does not suggest that efficiency ranks high in their reputation."
The Minister said that new clause 18 was unnecessary, and I think that he is implying that new clause 19 is also unnecessary. But would he care to tell us which part of the Bill, or any legislation on the statute book, says precisely what new clause 18 says or gives tenants security of rights equivalent to those proposed in new clause 18? Can he give us chapter and verse?
It is absolutely clear that there will be no compulsion against any SSHA tenants. No solution will be forced on anyone against his or her will. There is not a word of compulsion for public sector tenants. For SSHA tenants who are satisfied with the management arrangements for their homes, little will change on the advent of Scottish Homes. The same staff and offices will be there to deal with them, and Scottish Homes will maintain the same high standards of management.
The Minister mentioned three or four different rights which he claimed the Government had given tenants under the provisions of the Bill. Why, if a tenant uses the pick-a-landlord scheme to move into an assured tenancy, will each of those rights be taken away by the Government?
The hon. Gentleman is quite inaccurate. Under various Acts of Parliament, there are grounds for the eviction of council house tenants, just as there are for anyone else. The grounds may be slightly different, but the hon. Gentleman is quite incorrect.The new organisation will of course develop a variety of alternative management arrangements for the houses it owns. These will be offered to tenants to take up if they wish, and tenants' views will be fully respected. New clause 19 is therefore entirely unnecessary. Clause 2(3)(b) of the Bill already prevents Scottish Homes from disposing of houses except in accordance with arrangements made by the Secetary of State. I must therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw new clause 19 or I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against it.
The Minister was not terribly convincing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, the Government may claim credit for creating certain rights for tenants, but the Bill takes away those rights. There is no way in which the Minister can wriggle out of that aspect of the Bill.The only choice that will be available to people moving out of Scottish Homes tenure will be to move into any tenure other than local authority tenure. It has been made abundantly clear that a substantial number—probably the majority—of SSHA tenants, given the option, would prefer to transfer to the local authority. Who would be surprised at that? The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that even if they want to, they should not be allowed to do so. We have smoked out what the Government and the Tory party mean when they talk about tenants' choice. They are prepared to let tenants choose, so long as the tenants exercise the choice that the Government want them to make. If tenants have the temerity to want to transfer into local authority tenure, the Government will prevent them from doing so. The Minister has pleaded guilty to that charge. Opposition Members want to establish genuine choice for tenants. We recognise the demands of SSHA tenants to be able to transfer to the local authority, but we would not stand in their way if they wanted to transfer to another sector. We believe in genuine choice. New clause 9 provides for that, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 252.
Division No. 239]
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Henderson, Doug|
|Allen, Graham||Hinchliffe, David|
|Alton, David||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Holland, Stuart|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Home Robertson, John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Hood, Jimmy|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Barron, Kevin||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Battle, John||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Illsley, Eric|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Ingram, Adam|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Janner, Greville|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Buchan, Norman||Kennedy, Charles|
|Buckley, George J.||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Callaghan, Jim||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Lamond, James|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Lewis, Terry|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Litherland, Robert|
|Clay, Bob||Livingstone, Ken|
|Clelland, David||Livsey, Richard|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cohen, Harry||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Coleman, Donald||Loyden, Eddie|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||McAllion, John|
|Corbett, Robin||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Cousins, Jim||McFall, John|
|Cox, Tom||McLeish, Henry|
|Crowther, Stan||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cryer, Bob||McTaggart, Bob|
|Cummings, John||McWilliam, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Madden, Max|
|Dalyell, Tam||Marek, Dr John|
|Darling, Alistair||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)||Maxton, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Don||Meale, Alan|
|Dobson, Frank||Michael, Alun|
|Doran, Frank||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Douglas, Dick||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Mitchell, Austin (G'f Grimsby)|
|Eadie, Alexander||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Eastham, Ken||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Mullin, Chris|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Murphy, Paul|
|Faulds, Andrew||Nellist, Dave|
|Fearn, Ronald||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||O'Brien, William|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Fisher, Mark||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Flannery, Martin||Patchett, Terry|
|Flynn, Paul||Pike, Peter L.|
|Foster, Derek||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Foulkes, George||Prescott, John|
|Fraser, John||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Galbraith, Sam||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Galloway, George||Radice, Giles|
|George, Bruce||Randall, Stuart|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Redmond, Martin|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Richardson, Jo|
|Gordon, Mildred||Robertson, George|
|Graham, Thomas||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Rogers, Allan|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Hardy, Peter||Rowlands, Ted|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Salmond, Alex|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wallace, James|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Walley, Joan|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Soley, Clive||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Wilson, Brian|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Winnick, David|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Stott, Roger||Worthington, Tony|
|Strang, Gavin||Wray, Jimmy|
|Straw, Jack||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Turner, Dennis||Mr. Allen McKay and|
|Vaz, Keith||Mr. Allen Adams.|
|Adley, Robert||Durant, Tony|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Eggar, Tim|
|Alexander, Richard||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Fallon, Michael|
|Allason, Rupert||Forman, Nigel|
|Amess, David||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Amos, Alan||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Arbuthnot, James||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Freeman, Roger|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Gale, Roger|
|Ashby, David||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Atkinson, David||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Baldry, Tony||Gow, Ian|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Batiste, Spencer||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Gregory, Conal|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Benyon, W.||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Grist, Ian|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Grylls, Michael|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hannam, John|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Bowis, John||Harris, David|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hayes, Jerry|
|Brazier, Julian||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Bright, Graham||Hayward, Robert|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Heddle, John|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hill, James|
|Burns, Simon||Hind, Kenneth|
|Burt, Alistair||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Butcher, John||Holt, Richard|
|Butler, Chris||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Butterfill, John||Howard, Michael|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Cash, William||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Cope, John||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Cormack, Patrick||Irvine, Michael|
|Couchman, James||Jack, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Jackson, Robert|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Janman, Tim|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Redwood, John|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Renton, Tim|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Riddick, Graham|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knapman, Roger||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Knowles, Michael||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Knox, David||Rost, Peter|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lang, Ian||Ryder, Richard|
|Latham, Michael||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lightbown, David||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lilley, Peter||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Lord, Michael||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Shersby, Michael|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Sims, Roger|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Madel, David||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Speed, Keith|
|Malins, Humfrey||Speller, Tony|
|Mans, Keith||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Maples, John||Squire, Robin|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Steen, Anthony|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Stern, Michael|
|Mates, Michael||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|May hew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Mellor, David||Sumberg, David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Summerson, Hugo|
|Miller, Hal||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mills, Iain||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Tracey, Richard|
|Moate, Roger||Tredinnick, David|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Trippier, David|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Trotter, Neville|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Morrison, Hon Sir Charles||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Morrison, Hon P (Chester)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Moss, Malcolm||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Neale, Gerrard||Walden, George|
|Nelson, Anthony||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Neubert, Michael||Waller, Gary|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Ward, John|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Watts, John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Wells, Bowen|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Wheeler, John|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Whitney, Ray|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Page, Richard||Wilkinson, John|
|Patten, Chris (Bath)||Wilshire, David|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wood, Timothy|
|Pawsey, James||Woodcock, Mike|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Yeo, Tim|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Price, Sir David|
|Raffan, Keith||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and|
|Rathbone, Tim||Mr. David Maclean.|
Question accordingly negatived.
New Clause 11
Applications Served On New Town Development Corporations
'Where an application is served under this Part of this Act (Change of Landlord: Secure Tenants) by a local authority on a new town development corporation in the circumstances provided for under section 54(2)(d) above, the provisions of sections 55(5) to (10), 56, 57, 58(1)(b) to (3), 59, 60 and 61 shall not apply and the conditions of sale shall be as directed by the Secretary of State.'.—[Mr. Ingram.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to take the following : New clause 12—Capital expenditure on houses acquired by district councils—
'In so far as a District Council in terms of section 53(1)(b) above acquire houses from a Development Corporation the Secretary of State shall grant an additional amount of capital expenditure consent in the financial year in question, such additional amount to be not less than a sum equivalent to the aggregate amount payable by the District Council to the Development Corporation in respect of houses so acquired by the District Council under the powers conferred on them in terms of this Part of this Act.'.
New clause 13 — Assets of new town development corporation—
'Where the Secretary of State for Scotland makes an Order under section 36(1) of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 providing for the winding up and dissolution of a New Town Development Corporation—
(a) The New Town Development Corporation shall transfer to the Local Authority (being a local authority in whose administrative area the New Town or any part thereof is situated) the following assets:
- All housing stock owned in whole or part by the New Town Development Corporation together with any property associated therewith or relating thereto (excluding housing held temporarily on land acquired by the development corporation for commercial or industrial development) together also with all rights, liabilities and obligations relating thereto, as defined in Schedule (new town property to be automatically transferred to local authorities) to this Act.'
(b) The new town development corporation may transfer to the local authority:
- housing depots, office accommodation and nurseries and such other property as is defined in Schedule (new town property to be transferred subject to negotiation) to this Act.
Amendment No. 108, in clause 53, page 30, line 8, after `effect', insert '(a)'.
Amendment No. 109, in page 30, line 14, at end insert
(b) for the purpose of conferring on a District Council the right to acquire from a Development Corporation any house within the area of that District Council which on the relevant date is occupied by a qualifying tenant.'
Amendment No. 110, in page 30, line 31, leave out 'this Part of this Act' and insert 'subsection (1)(a) above'.
Amendment No. 111, in clause 54, page 31, line 39, leave out 'this Part' and insert
`subsection (1)(a) of section 53'.
Amendment No. 105, in page 31, line 43, after 'homes' insert
`and subject to subsection (2)(e) below'.
Amendment No. 112, in page 31, line 45, at end insert
'in terms of subsection (1)(a) of section 53.'.
Amendment No. 106, in page 32, line 7, at end insert—
'(e) in respect of any house owned by a new town development corporation, shall be deemed to be granted to the local authority, which is the public sector housing authority within whose administrative area the house is situated upon the winding-up and dissolution of the new town development corporation as provided for under section 36(1) of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968'.
Amendment No. 107, in page 32, line 8, after '(3)', Insert—
`With the exception of a deemed approval under subsection (2)(e) above.'.
Amendment No. 113, in clause 55, page 32, line 11, leave out
`or, as the case may be, Scottish Homes'
'Scottish Homes, or, as the case may be, the district council'.
Amendment No. 114, in page 32, line 30, after 'served', insert `by an approved person.'
Amendment No. 115, in page 33, line 22, at end insert—
'(11) Where an application is served under this section by a district council on a development corporation the provisions of subsections (5) to (10) above shall apply subject to the following amendments, namely-(a) the offer to sell notice shall state the lesser of the market value of the house determined in accordance with said provisions on the date of service of the application and determined by the District Valuer and the outstanding debt in the development corporation's accounts in respect of the house; and (b) the offer to sell served under this subsection shall be subject only to such conditions as are accepted to be reasonable by the district council.'.
Amendment No. 116, in page 33, line 23, after `applicant', insert
`who is an approved person or as the case may be, Scottish Homes'.
Amendment No. 117, in page 34, line 1, after `applicant,' insert
`being an approved person or Scottish Homes as the case may be.'.
Amendment No. 118, in clause 58, page 34, line 49, at end insert—
'(4) Where a landlord is a development corporation and the application has been served by a district council the development corporation may not dispute the applicant's right.'.
Amendment No. 119, in clause 60, page 35, line 20, after 'Homes', insert 'or a district council'.
Amendment No. 120, new schedule — New town property to he automatically transferred to local authorities—
The following facilities shall be transferred to the local authority where they are situated in local or corner developments in housing areas, as opposed to neighbourhood centres:
Amendment No. 121, new schedule — New town property to be transferred subject to negotiation—
The following properties where they are situated in neighbourhood centres—
There are two purposes behind the new clauses. They are designed to create the circumstances in which tenants may choose, on the dissolution of a new town development corporation, to have a local authority as a landlord. They also attempt to lay down the principles and basis of such a transfer, and they are consistent with the previously agreed position between local housing authorities and the Scottish Office. The Bill, as explained by the Minister in Committee, is a repudiation of previous Government assurances on new towns and destroys many months of work undertaken by Scottish Office officials in consultation with the five district councils within whose boundaries the new towns lie.The present law on new town development corporations in Scotland, under section 36 of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968, provides for the transfer of new town district council housing stock to the relevant local authority. It is on that basis that assumptions have been made and assurances given by Ministers over recent years. In July 1982, the Secretary of State made clear his intention to wind up the new town development corporations in Scotland. At that time he said that the rented housing stock owned by those bodies would be transferred to the relevant district councils. In early 1983 a working party was set up to examine the means by which that would be achieved. It comprised Scottish Office officials and representatives of district councils. In August 1984 the working party reported. It set out the basis of the transfer on a no-profit, no-loss basis. More than a year's work went into arriving at that conclusion. The Minister took on board the working party's conclusions at the time, and in a ministerial statement confirmed yet again the Government's intention to transfer new town housing stock to local authorities. Therefore, the picture was clear to the 45,000 families who lived in new town corporation housing rented stock. Those families were secure in the knowledge that at some stage they would be transferred to responsible public sector landlords. That is no longer the case. New town tenants face a most uncertain future because of the Bill and the way in which it has been changed by Government amendments in Committee. One thing that we shall be able to tell those 45,000 families with certainty is that they have been deliberately misled by a Minister who neither cares nor listens to their views. In Committee the Minister said that new town tenants would be consulted before they were compulsorily transferred to landlords other than district councils. Those 45,000 families know what that means. Views will be ignored, just as the views of the SSHA tenants have been ignored. We have heard more on that tonight from the Minister. If the Minister intends to consult those tenants, I should place on record some consultation that has already taken place. That may save the Government time and money. Two councils with new towns within their boundaries have consulted their tenants in recent months in relation to this legislation. Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council undertook a survey that was published on 29 February 1988. In an 11 per cent. sample of all new town tenants in Cumbernauld, 91·3 per cent. stated that they wished the district council to be one of the landlords from which they could choose on dissolution. Cunninghame district council, which is responsible for Irvine new town, took an even larger sample of new town tenants, and achieved an 88 per cent. success rate amongst those tenants, who also stated that they wished the district council to be one of their options on dissolution. I am sure that the Minister has been supplied with those findings. I shall be interested to hear what further consultation the Minister intends to offer in the immediate months for new town tenants which is relevant to those conclusions. In Committee, the Opposition were accused of being premature in raising the very issues that are before us tonight in these new clauses. I must say that we were neither premature nor wrong in doing so. It is scandalous to treat the 45,000 families who live in new town district council houses in the way that they are being treated in the Bill. They have the right to know now whether they will be allowed the real choice that they clearly want—the district council. They have the right to know whether they will have a secure tenancy, with democratic control over rent levels in the future. Those are the choices on which they want to be consulted. They do not want to be told that the choice is limited and that the district council is no longer an option for them. That clear message is coming not from Members of Parliament or district councils representing those areas, but from tenants. The Bill has provoked the tenants in new town areas to form tenants' associations. They are aware that they have a fight on their hands. They are going to fight to retain the very rights that were laid down in previous legislation—rights that they thought Ministers from 1982 onwards were declaring in terms of the choice open to them. The Government have said that the new town tenants will have to wait until 1989–90 to find out what is going to happen to them. We have tabled these new clauses to reflect the wishes of each and every family living in a new town development corporation rented house. This provision also represents the views of many people who live in their own property. They want local authority houses and local development corporation houses to be retained for the families which are being brought up in those new towns.
I am glad of this opportunity to change places with my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), so enabling him to speak from the Opposition Front Bench and me to support the new clause from the Back Benches. At the outset, I wish to place on record, as the representative of a new town, my appreciation of the work that my hon. Friend did in Committee in exploring this issue and exposing the position of the Government.It is regrettable that yet again such an important debate is to be answered by the Under-Secretary, who is not primarily responsible for housing in the new towns, and that the Minister of State who has that responsibility is absent. When my hon. Friend raised this issue in Committee, he was told that in the next parliamentary Session the Government would introduce legislation to put into effect the proposals in their White Paper. Tenants in new towns are thereby left in a state of uncertainty and insecurity for the next year. We should resolve the issue tonight and we should do so in defence of tenants' rights. This is a debate not about local authority rights but about tenants' rights. Local authorities have every reason to feel disgruntled about the Government's proposals. They have for long been encouraged to believe that the housing stock of the new towns would be transferred to them when the new towns were wound up. Indeed, they were encouraged to plan on that basis. Only a few years ago, officials from those local authorities, as part of a working party, spent much time and effort planning how best to handle the transfer of that housing stock. Indeed, new clause 13 contains the overall view of that working party, which was organised, and at the time accepted, by the Scottish Office. It is par for the course under the present Government that all that work should now be thrown out without even the pretence of consultation with the local authorities which contributed to it. Local authorities with new towns in their areas are now faced with the unpalatable prospect of being left with housing duties without the housing assets. In the context of Livingston, that will mean, for instance, a serious homelessness problem, because, although the local authority has few houses in the Livingston area, it will have to accept statutory responsibility for homeless families in the new town area. At present, the new town as a landlord co-operates voluntarily in discharging that duty. I see scant prospect of private landlords approved by Scottish Homes giving the same co-operation to the local authority in that important statutory function. Although, for all those reasons, local authorities have every right to be dissatisfied with the Government's proposals, the really serious issue is the reduction in tenants' rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride said, nothing has so electrified opinion among tenants in Livingston new town as these proposals of the Government. In the last five years, we have not had a federation of tenants' associations, yet within two months of these proposals surfacing, we have an active federation, formed mainly around the determination of tenants to fight for the right to choose a landlord for themselves. I stress that this is an issue of choosing the landlord. Once the Bill has become law, every public sector tenant with a local authority as the landlord will have the right to decide whether to remain in the public sector, and in particular whether to remain a local authority tenant. That choice apparently is to be denied new town tenants. They will not have the right to remain with their present landlord and will be denied the right to opt to become local authority tenants. 11.45 pm We are not demanding that those tenants necessarily must become tenants of the local authority. The clause is framed so as to provide to those tenants the right to choose whether to become tenants of local authorities. They should be allowed that right and not denied it. I am confident that if the tenants of the new town and the tenants of Livingston are given that right to choose, most of them will choose to become local authority tenants. They will do that because as such tenants they will have greater security and a wider choice of transfers and will he likely to find their rents lower than the rents proposed by private landlords looking for an element of profit. I may be wrong. It may well turn out that the majority of tenants in my constituency will prefer to have private landlords. That will at least establish that the Minister, in putting the Bill before the House and in floating the idea of Scottish Homes and registered private landlords, was right to expect that many tenants would opt for that form of tenure. I ask the Minister to at least have confidence in his own proposals and give tenants the choice. He should allow them to decide whether they want private landlords or wish to be tenants of a local authority. The Government are fond of talking about choice. They commend the Bill by saying that it will give the tenant choice. Very well, let us give the new town tenants a choice as well. Let them decide whose tenants they wish to be, but let us make sure that all choices are made available to those tenants, including the opportunity and the right to become tenants of the local authority.