I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for missing his speech. I saw his name on the annunciator in my office and came rushing into the Chamber, but he must have made an uncharacteristically brief contribution. He will be aware, however, of my long-standing interest in housing in Scotland, following our fairly lengthy debates in Committee and in the Chamber on the Housing (Scotland) Bill—now the Housing (Scotland) Act—last Session.
The Opposition have constantly pressed the Government to address the real housing needs and priorities of the people of Scotland. However, there has been no Government response. They have introduced the right to buy and they call that a housing policy. There is a housing crisis in Scotland. About a quarter of the population live in overcrowded accommodation. About 30,000 people become homeless in Scotland each year and have to apply to the local authorities under the homeless persons legislation. There are nearly 200,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists in Scotland. That is a housing crisis, and councillors and Members of Parliament in Scotland come face to face with it in their constituencies, week in, week out. Unfortunately, however, Scotland has a Government who are not elected by the people of Scotland. I suppose, therefore, that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and his colleagues do not realise how important it is to deal with the crisis.
The homeless, those on low incomes and those in overcrowded accommodation might like to buy their houses but the right to buy will not overcome their serious, immediate problem: the right to rented housing, the right to have a decent roof over their heads, the right to security. In many cases, the Government are taking those rights away from them.
The right to buy, which we are extending by means of the amendments to which the Minister referred, will encourage more people who might not particularly want to own their own homes to purchase them. I am thinking in particular of former Scottish Special Housing Association tenants, 80,000 of whom are now Scottish Homes tenants. They are worried that Scottish Homes will hand them over to the private sector. In many parts of Scotland there are bad memories of private landlords. However, they feel that because of the incentives that the Government are offering they would be crazy not to buy their houses. In the coming months and years, though, they may find it very difficult to cope with the costs of home ownership, insurance and repairs. They are almost being trapped into home ownership. In many cases that may prove to be a burden in the long term because of the dynamics of the Government's housing policies.
The right-to-buy policy makes sense for those who can afford to buy their houses, but that is not a housing policy; it is a home ownership policy. The Government refuse to address themselves to the problems of people living in overcrowded and bad accommodation and, above all, to the homeless, who are stuck on local authority waiting lists and have no prospect of obtaining accommodation. The right to buy at a discount, which the Government are pursuing so doggedly, is not a policy but a diversion.
A responsible Government in Scotland should be addressing the need for housing for our people and ensuring that houses are built, improved and made available to those who need them. We are still awaiting such a policy, and I fear that we may have to wait until a Labour Government take office here or in the Scottish Parliament in due course.