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Part of Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 30th March 1988.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 7:26 pm, 30th March 1988

I feel as though I have just been savaged by a pet lamb. The Minister's harangue would have been more convincing if he had been able to deliver it with a straight face, but I suspect that he found it no more convincing than the rest of the House did. He claimed to have listened to representations made in Committee and on the Floor of the House. He claimed to have listened to Shelter, to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to the housing associations, to the Scottish Council for Single Homeless and all the rest, but there is precious little evidence that he understood or responded in any way to the positive representations made to him about housing in Scotland.

The Bill has been exposed as an irrelevant, dangerous and doctrinaire measure. In particular, it has highlighted the glaring deficiences in parliamentary scrutiny of Scottish legislation. Yesterday and today, the House has been voting through a measure which will have drastic effects on housing in Scotland, but without paying any attention to the arguments. Repeatedly, both yesterday and today, the Minister found himself in solitary splendour on the Conservative side with only a Whip from an English constituency to keep him company. Yet hundreds of English Conservatives poured into the Lobbies to vote on a measure which has no bearing on their constituents but which will have a far-reaching effect in Scotland.

As for the Committee stage, it is worth putting it on record that the people of Scotland elected 50 Labour Members of Parliament, 12 Members representing the so-called minority parties and only 10 Members from the real minority — the Conservative party. The Standing Committee, however, consisted of 11 Conservatives, six Labour Members and just one alliance Member. It is interesting to consider how the Tories managed to get 11 Members on the Committee when they have only 10 Scottish Members, two of whom are members of the Cabinet. To get their work through, they had to add two English Members—[Interruption.] I will not be lectured by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), about insults to the House. The hon. Gentleman represents a minority Administration in Scotland. He constantly treats the people of Scotland with abuse. He was not elected to do that, and I am not taking any nonsense from him. The Government managed to get their business through Committee only by adding two English Tories to its membership. That is just within Standing Orders, but it is an affront to the principles of democracy in Scotland.

The House and the Government should be warned about the strains that result from such provocative conduct by the minority Administration in the Scottish Office. The nation of Scotland does not have to put up with such abuse. Ministers are always quick to criticise the Opposition for any mention of civil disobedience in Scotland. The time is long overdue for Ministers to show some obedience to the electorate of Scotland — something that is lacking in this Bill and in other policies.

The Bill began life with a travesty of a consultation process. Ministers paid no heed to those who know and care about Scottish housing. Parliament has failed to carry out its duty to prevent the passage of bad legislation for Scotland. Part I creates a monstrous housing quango, Scottish Homes, whose board will be personally nominated by a Secretary of State who does not represent any more than a tiny rump of a minority in Scotland. That quango will have the full range of powers over housing in Scotland, but there will be no representation on its board from the tenants of Scotland. The powers of locally elected authorities are being savagely curtailed and SSHA tenants are being cynically manoeuvred into an uncertain future under Scottish Homes.

Part II provides for a new framework of so-called assured tenancies, which will be anything but assured. They are specifically designed to undermine tenants' rights and security and to force up rents to encourage the redevelopment of private landlordism in Scotland. The Government are running a terrible risk of encouraging the worst features of Rachmanism in Scotland. Clause 33 provides for damages for unlawful eviction, but it is clearly little more than a fig leaf. What is the point of protection against unlawful eviction when it will be all too easy to evict lawfully under schedule 5?

The Opposition, who are the majority in Scotland, want to put on record a clear warning to speculators that we will introduce a new framework of security and rent control as soon as possible, either in this Parliament or in a directly elected Scottish assembly. The Government are pinning their hopes on an upsurge in the provision of private rented accommodation by a sector that has been in decline since the beginning of the century and that now holds only 6 per cent. of the rented housing stock in Scotland.

The Government are establishing a mechanism under Part III which will allow private speculators to acquire public sector housing stock at a cut price. That demonstrates the Government's lack of confidence that the private sector will invest in building or in improving rented accommodation. The private sector cannot and will not rise to the challenge, and the Minister knows it. Even if it did, tenants could not afford the increased rents.

If the Minister will not take that from me, perhaps he will take it from the chief executive of the Nationwide Anglia Building Society, Mr. Tim Melville-Ross. The Scotsman states that during a speech at the Institute of Housing conference in Aviemore recently, he called for a significantly more generous housing benefit system to help people on modest incomes meet the higher rents likely under the Government's policy. The article stated : The head of one of Britain's biggest building societies gave warning yesterday that the Government's planned housing reform would fail unless more financial help were given to both tenants and the providers of private rented houses. We keep hearing about Nationwide Anglia, but that is what its chief executive said about the Government's proposals. Of course he wants more concessions, but, to his credit, he is also calling for better support for tenants.

The Minister has rejected an appeal to reconsider the impact of the legislation on housing benefit. The Government are not interested in that. They may not want to recognise it, but there is a mounting housing crisis in Scotland. Those of us elected to serve Scottish constituencies come face to face with it every day of the week. More than 30,000 people in Scotland become homeless every year, and their number has increased relentlessly during recent years. More than 200,000 people are on waiting lists and more then one quarter of the population is living in overcrowded accommodation.

Scotland probably has about 500,000 damp houses, but it is difficult to establish the facts and figures because the Government refuse to conduct a house condition survey similar to those carried out in England and Wales. The position is deteriorating because of the Government's refusal to invest in housing in Scotland. The Bill offers no hope to Scots who face homelessness or who are stuck in bad or overcrowded accommodation. It is simply a threat of unaffordable rents and eviction as the Government sacrifice tenants' right in their reckless endeavour to encourage private landlordism in Scotland.

The Government are sacrificing everything — fair rents, security, local control, and even the precious right to buy that Ministers keep praising. That right would be lost to tenants who transferred to the assured tenancy system. The Government are unleashing born-again Rachmanism in Scotland because there is no provision for effective regulation of the private sector.

We welcome the spectacular new motivation during recent months among tenants' organisations in Scotland which have been provoked by the Government's proposals. The Labour party strongly supports the rebirth of the tenants' association movement, which is a welcome development. I will not take any chiding from the Minister or from anyone else about the Labour party's housing policies. It has had positive achievements in housing in Scotland. We are happy to stand by the record of Labour-controlled authorities which, in all parts of Scotland, have made remarkable achievements, despite the interference and hostility of the Government.

Glasgow city district council, in particular, has made spectacular progress in difficult circumstances by developing and diversifying both public and private sector housing in partnership with housing associations, housing co-operatives and the private sector. It is a similar picture in many other areas. There is a stark contrast between the practical achievements of Labour-controlled authorities which want to provide for the needs of people in their localities and the negative approach of the minority Conservative Administration in the Scottish Office, who are interested only in encouraging their friends, the private property speculators. We stand for investment, for development and for tenants' rights. We reject the Bill.