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Applications Served on New Town Development Corporations

Part of Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:15 pm on 29th March 1988.

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Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife 11:15 pm, 29th March 1988

The clause is designed to inject some sanity into a Bill that is characterised by all the hallmarks of the Government—indifference, arrogance and contempt. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) spoke about the plight of the new town. I represent the new town of Glerirothes which has excellent housing provision and a quality of environment that is second to none. While the problems of that new town have been exacerbated by the lack of cash resources from the Government, it has done an excellent job for its tenants. To the Government, these considerations seem to be irrelevant.

A few years ago in discussions with the new town corporation, the Government agreed that when they reached the winding-up period in the early 1990s it was anticipated that the housing assets of the new town would be transferred to district councils. At the Dispatch Box and elsewhere the Government offer no compliments to local authorities that are doing a difficult job in the hostile environment created by the Government.

The other appealing feature of the transfer of new town tenants and their assets to the district councils is that at a stroke there would have been democratisation of the new town housing function. That would have been welcomed by many Opposition Members because it would have not only provided a more sensible form of housing management, but built on the good physical policies that new towns have pursued. The Government would have none of that; through blind political prejudice, they have gone out of their way to ensure that the choice they talk about is not effective choice. That is because one of the key options for new town tenants will be removed by the Bill.

It is a tragedy that district councils with major housing responsibilities have at a stroke been taken out of the serious housing debate in Scotland. Many council leaders view with increasing dismay the hostility focused upon them by the Government. The prospect of my tenants being faced with a choice between an approved private landlord or absorption in Scottish Homes fills them with dismay, bitterness and a great deal of anger.

The reason for that is quite simple. A few miles from the new town in my constituency are two areas of British Coal properties that were bought by a private landlord. The landlord's headquarters are in Newcastle. It is a frightening prospect to represent areas in which the landlord is so remote from the tenants that it becomes a nightmare for them to get repairs done and for Members of Parliament to try and make the landlord tackle his responsibilities seriously. It is a return to the 1930s for that group of British Coal tenants.

Why, in my constituency, do we see, on the one hand, the problems of private landlords and, on the other, a Government hell-bent on introducing an alien form of ownership to the new town, under which, by any objective measurement, the tenants will be much worse off?

I return to the question of choice. It is nauseating to listen to the Conservative Front Bench talking about choice day in and day out, when it is choice only on the Government's terms. The Minister must tonight explain why a major option of district council involvement has been removed. Where is the intellectual or practical justification for taking excellent quality housing and tenants, casting them to the four winds and putting them at the mercy of the unscrupulous private landlords or of the new bureaucracy of Scottish Homes, which will be remote from the needs and aspirations of the people whom I represent in Glenrothes?

What is more disappointing about the whole thrust of the Bill, especially in respect of new town policy, is the irrelevance of the proposals to the needs of the new town tenants. According to information supplied by Glenrothes development corporation, which administers the housing function, there are at present 552 families, 555 single persons and 226 senior citizens on the general waiting list of new applications. There are 580 families on the transfer waiting list. Almost 2,000 families are looking for decent accommodation in an environment which is sensitive to housing needs.

The Bill does nothing for those people. I am worried that the proposals will worsen the chances of those people being adequately accommodated in the latter part of the 20th century in a safe and decent home that they can call their own, whether they purchase or rent. Why, at every turn, do we have politics based on dogma rather than on the needs of the people whom the Government purport to serve and to whom they say they are offering extended choice?

The number of people on the waiting list is only one aspect of the challenge facing the Government, who are indifferent to real needs. What about the prospect of reduced cash for modernisation, repairs and maintenance? Is it not part of the Government's thinking to try to ease the burden on housing authorities, whether new towns or local authorities, which have tried to do a reasonable job in difficult circumstances? Is it not right that the Government should be providing in new towns allocation of cash for general needs? There has been a moratorium in Glenrothes since 1983. No housing has been built for general needs, despite a waiting list that now stands at almost 2,000 families.

The Government claim to care about people with special needs. Why, then, are the disabled, the elderly and the handicapped now part of a growing queue for decent housing?

It is heartbreaking to attend a surgery in my constituency — I am sure that this experience is shared by many of my hon. Friends — where elderly and disabled people seek assistance to obtain a property. The development corporation has many similiar families on the waiting lists and can do nothing to assist. I urge the Minister to take his responsibilities seriously, because the Bill is irrelevant to Scotland's housing needs and to the needs of the new town which I represent. Is it not time that the Government addressed the substantive issues that dominate my postbag and surgery and the needs of areas such as Glenrothes?

It is customary for the Opposition in debates with the Government to dwell on the alien philosophies that underpin most of the Government's practical policies, but those philosophies are outrageous and immoral when dealing with such sensitive issues as housing. We are facing another enemy of decent people—the housing benefit changes that have started to bite in the computer printouts that fall through the letterboxes of the people whom I represent.

I have catalogued growing demands for more repairs, more generous needs housing, more special needs housing and a fair deal for the disabled, the elderly and the handicapped. Will the Minister accept that the punitive element of housing benefit will only rub salt into their wounds? Will he accept that it is disgusting that an elderly person with a handicapped wife can have his housing benefit reduced so that he ends up paying perhaps £30 or £40 a month?

On behalf of the tenants whom I represent, I say to the Minister that the Government's policies not only are unwelcome but smack of an arrogance and contempt to which I thought Ministers would not be so low as to stoop.