Mortgage Repossessions

First Minister's Question Time — scottish executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 6th July 2000.

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Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 2:30 pm, 6th July 2000

To ask the First Minister what plans the Scottish Executive has to offer further protection to those threatened with mortgage repossession. (S1F-494)

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

The Executive fully supports the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill, which Cathie Craigie introduced to Parliament on Monday 3 July. We have worked closely with her on the detail. The bill proposes to allow the courts to consider the individual circumstances of a debtor who faces repossession action. It would allow them to decide whether the debtor can get back on track and repay their mortgage or whether they should be given more time to arrange alternative accommodation, if that is a better solution for the debtor.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

I thank the acting First Minister for that reply. I welcome the Executive's support for Cathie Craigie's bill, which should allow approximately 2,000 families in Scotland a year the right to legal protection when they most need it. Does he also agree that the bill would allow the courts to consider all aspects of a family's financial situation while they remain in their home, so that rather than being put out on to the street, many of them will be able to remain permanently in their homes?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

It is important that debtors' financial circumstances will be examined. Much of that will be left to the discretion of the court. The bill's purpose is to avoid the drastic step of putting people out on the streets by allowing them an opportunity for debt management or the possibility of arranging alternative accommodation, when that is a feasible option.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I thank the Deputy First Minister for offering the Executive's support for my bill. Does he agree that it will be a practical way of ensuring that we reduce the number of people who apply every year to local authorities under homelessness legislation and that it will thereby reduce the burden that is placed on local authority waiting lists?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I agree with Cathie Craigie and I wish her well as she pilots the bill through Parliament. It is a good example of a practical way in which Parliament can work for the benefit of ordinary people in Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I speak as someone who, in private practice, was required to act for building societies in repossession work. That is an area of work that is never pleasant, but is unfortunately necessary at times. Does the acting First Minister accept that many of our major lending institutions in Scotland have effective and worthy schemes for consultation with borrowers when difficulties are first detected? When any legislation is considered it is extremely important that the understandable commercial risk that a lending institution may contemplate will not be prejudiced because of apparent difficulties in the enforcement of repossession cases. In other words, we do not want borrowers ultimately to be badly served by undue restriction in the protection of the security subjects.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Annabel Goldie makes the important point that some lenders try to engage positively with borrowers. I understand that Cathie Craigie, in preparing her bill, has also been taking into account the need to strike the right balance so that lenders will not be more reluctant to lend. That would not serve a useful purpose.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will the acting First Minister accept that it is important to make available effective and proactive advice to those who suffer financial difficulties in the context of mortgage or rent eviction? Does he agree that the courts should be routinely directed towards making use of such a facility?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

It is important to direct people, whether through the courts or otherwise. That could, perhaps, be done through citizens advice bureaux. People must get better advice when they are approaching serious debt or are in debt. We should accept and acknowledge that as an important part of the provision of legal services and as a way in which people who are in real difficulties can be helped.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The minister might be aware that three members from three different parties have tried to address mortgage repossession. Does he think it is appropriate that a member's bill will be used to plug a gap in Executive provisions, especially bearing it in mind that there will not be a housing bill before Parliament until November? Will not he provide Executive time and resources to examine the issue, especially experiences relating to section 40 of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985?

Why is the Executive backing Cathie Craigie's bill rather than Robert Brown's bill, which was the first to be published?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Fiona Hyslop almost answered her own question. She pointed out that the housing bill, which will incorporate many of the provisions that Robert Brown has pursued in his bill, will not be introduced until later. Cathie Craigie has prepared a bill. She has been working co-operatively with the Executive, which has given her its support in the preparation of the bill. The bill has been presented to the Parliament and is therefore more likely to get on track.

As far as I am aware, most of those who are interested in housing in Scotland are delighted that a housing bill that will be much larger than Cathie Craigie's bill will be introduced. It was important to take the matter out of the housing bill and to address it through a member's bill, because it is an immediate problem. I hope that Parliament will not regard members' bills as second rate. Cathie Craigie's bill is important and the Executive is happy to support it.