Scottish Homes Tenants

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 12:00 am, 9th June 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the choice of alternative landlords which is available for Scottish Homes tenants.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

It is for Scottish Homes, in consultation with its tenants, and within the scope of the guidance issued by my right hon. Friend, to make decisions on the choice of alternative landlords. Any proposals that secure the agreement of tenants are subject to his approval.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Can the Minister think of a suitable name for a Government who legislate to allow tenants to choose new landlords but then refuse to allow the tenants to choose their preferred alternative landlord? Will he acknowledge the fact that three quarters of Scottish Homes' tenants in East Lothian have made it clear that they would prefer to choose East Lothian district council'? Is he aware that that district council urgently needs more housing stock, and that the only obstacle to those tenants achieving their choice is a thrawn Tory in the Scottish Office who is not prepared to allow them what they want'?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I am aware that East lothian has a growing population—a factor which we will take into account. The current arrangements do not prevent a local authority from proposing to acquire Scottish Homes stock. It will be for Scottish Homes to decide whether there are special circumstances that would enable the local authority to become a suitable landlord.

Scottish Homes has considered one local authority in this connection. Its tenants in Berwickshire were given the opportunity to vote to transfer to the local authority, but a majority voted against. As I say, if Scottish Homes judges that special circumstances arise, then the local authority will have this opportunity.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Is the Minister aware that the Government's unrelenting hostility to public sector housing is creating a kind of housing apartheid in Scotland? Council housing is reduced to the status of a safety net for those who cannot afford anything else, and there is a real danger of creating in Scotland the sort of demoralised ghettos which have for so long scarred the American urban experience.

Why cannot the hon. Gentleman understand that the continued existence of tens of thousands of damp-ridden and decaying public sector houses is the responsibility of the Government; and that the situation will improve only when he and other Ministers get off their backsides and start to assist public sector housing in Scotland?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

About £1 billion is spent on public sector housing each year. When the hon. Gentleman speaks about ghettos, he should bear in mind the fact that huge sums have been poured into Whitfield in his constituency, which both he and I have visited. The scheme is strongly supported by his constituents. The whole drift of our policy is to prevent what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I read a few days ago that the Labour candidate had a good chance of being re-elected against a Militant candidate because of the success of Conservative party policies.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

The Minister's original answer is totally misleading. Does he not know that the number of tenants in Berwickshire that he referred to is six? We are not talking about special cases made to Scottish Homes but about the right of tenants generally to be able to choose either a private landlord or a local authority. Why cannot they be given that choice?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

They can be given that choice in special circumstances. I anticipate that Scottish Homes would examine such considerations as the number of properties involved, their location and the percentage of houses already held by the local authority. Obviously, in some areas the local authority may be virtually the monopoly provider of housing. Scottish Homes is justified in its approach. For operational, practical reasons it has decided that the ballot paper will contain two options—the status quo and a move to a specified landlord. The tenant's independent adviser should be able effectively to feed to Scottish Homes the tenants' views about who the preferred bidder should be.