Housing Market

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 13th June 1995.

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Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South 7:28 pm, 13th June 1995

I wish to draw the House's attention to another aspect of housing. The housing market in my area is in crisis. I represent an Ayrshire constituency which has been subjected to a three-pronged attack by the Government through the early wind-up of the development corporation, the stock transfer of Scottish Homes properties and the continuing attacks on local government housing. The Government's involvement in all three aspects will force massive changes in the tenancy rights of tenants the length and breadth of Ayrshire. Nothing less than an attack on the principle of public sector housing is the charge.

As a Member of Parliament representing a Scottish new town constituency, I am very concerned about the plans to dispose of the development corporation's housing stock before the end of next year. Just two weeks ago, the development corporation authorised the sale of 160 general purpose properties to an association known as the Irvine Housing Association in advance of wind-up at a total cost of some £1.6 million—that works out at an average of some £9,000 per property—despite assurances given by the Scottish Office that all tenants of the new town would be balloted before the wind-up and would have the option to transfer to the local authority landlord. The sale seems to fly in the face of those assurances.

Irvine development corporation is only one of Scotland's five corporations to be transferring major parts of its general needs housing stock to other landlords in advance of wind-up and apparently without there being any bidding to protect the interests of the taxpayer. By next year, nearly one quarter of all the development corporation's tenancies could be under the control of Irvine Housing Association without the tenants having any choice about who their landlord will be.

I understand that the Scottish Office has a policy of diversification. Surely part of that diversification should be that tenants are given choice, but what choice have development corporation tenants in getting any rationale into housing policy if the new tenancy is forced on them? Perhaps the Scottish Office is obsessed with taking housing out of local authority control and putting it in the hands of housing associations. Polls taken in Scotland in development corporation areas suggest that more than 95 per cent. of tenants would, given the option, transfer from Scottish Homes to the local authority. The sale, at about £9,000 a property, is becoming known as the sale of the century.

Despite the apparent modification of the guarantees to development corporation tenants, at least some of those tenants have the choice of the local authority as their landlord. However, that choice is being denied to the tenants of Scottish Homes properties in my constituency and across Scotland. Scottish Homes is disposing of its stock just as Irvine development corporation did, but its tenants are being denied the opportunity to transfer to the local authority landlord.

One has to ask why there is such an anomaly. Scottish Homes tenants cannot understand why they are being denied choice. The only reason why the Scottish Office and Scottish Homes can come up with is that it affords Scottish Homes the opportunity to gain a capital receipt which can then be used to build more homes and pay for investment in housing.

Some two months ago, I obtained figures from James Mellon, the chairman of Scottish Homes, which showed how much Scottish Homes had raised through stock transfer. Until the end of March this year, Scottish Homes sold off nearly 10,500 properties at a combined price of about £65 million. That works out at an average of just over £6,000 for each property. I do not think that that represents a very good deal for the taxpayer. Indeed, it proves that Government dogma is ensuring that public sector housing is sold at knock-down prices, and another sell-off is becoming known as the sale of the century.

Tenants of Scottish Homes have a right to be angered by the way in which their homes are being sold. Scottish Homes has spent more than £3 million establishing and bankrolling housing associations, while only £25,000 has been allocated by Scottish Homes to tell tenants what their rights will be under the new stock transfer.

Tory attacks on the development corporation and Scottish Homes tenants have been the more obvious methods adopted by the Scottish Office to undermine public sector housing, but the systematic underfunding of local authority housing has done the most damage. In 1979, nearly 5,000 homes were built by Scottish councils. By 1982, the number had dropped to just over 2,000 and, last year, fewer than 500 new council houses were built for rent. Those figures speak volumes about the Government's view of Scottish housing. More people than ever before are being made homeless because of mortgage arrears and family breakdown, but the number of council houses being built for rent has been literally decimated in the 16 years of this Government's rule.

The Government's housing policies are wholly out of step with the needs of modern society, especially in Scotland. I see that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), is now in his seat. Perhaps he can suggest to his colleagues that the Government's housing policies ignore the massive housing crisis and causes cardboard cities and people living rough to move out of the cities and into towns like those in my constituency. They ignore the contradiction in denying Scottish Homes tenants the choice of a local authority landlord while people living in the property next door have that choice because they have a different public sector landlord.

Something is wrong with Government policy—it is fundamentally flawed and requires to be examined. In Ayrshire, public sector housing is under a three-pronged attack which has been masterminded—if that is the right word—by the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Ministers bunkered in new St. Andrew's house. They are out of touch with what the public want from public housing and out of touch with the reality with what it means to spend 12 years on a council waiting list for a house that there is virtually no chance of getting.

The Government's housing policies have failed. The more constituents I have met in the past three years, the more I have become convinced that that is true. The Government's crazy policies have failed my constituents in particular, but they have also failed Scotland and the whole of Britain. It is time that the electorate were given a chance to implement a repossession order on every Government Ministry occupied by the current Administration. That would be the best policy for housing in this country and one that I would commend to the House.