Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 17th January 2001.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:30 pm, 17th January 2001

We now move to motion S1M-1534, in the name of Cathie Craigie, on the general principles of the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 2:39 pm, 17th January 2001

I am pleased to move the motion at stage 1 of the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill. I thank all those who have assisted me to prepare and lodge the bill. In particular, I thank those who have supported the measure, many of whom are here this afternoon and without whom the bill would not have reached this stage.

I also acknowledge the work of the clerks and the members of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. Their examination of the bill and their questions and comments have helped me to clarify my thoughts on the matter. I also want to put on record the help that I have received from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, Shelter Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Association of Law Centres in the development of my bill. They pointed out difficulties with the proposals that might otherwise have been missed. I also thank Ian Smart, who is a solicitor practising in my constituency. He gave me some very good advice on the legalities of repossession.

The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill seeks to give people in mortgage default the opportunity to get back on their feet while letting them stay in their home. At present, when a mortgage debtor gets into difficulties, in the majority of cases the lender will make significant efforts to resolve the situation with the debtor, in line with the mortgage code. However, where those efforts fail to resolve the situation, and the debtor who is burdened with worries simply buries their head in the sand and hopes that the problem will go away, the lender will most likely start an action to take possession of the house. Other than the lender's good will, there is no protection afforded to the debtor in the current legislation to stop that process, which leads inevitably to the debtor and their household losing their home.

There may be good reasons for the payment default. For example, the debtor may have been temporarily unemployed. I have long held the view that many such people and their families could have been spared the indignity of repossession had the courts been able to take their circumstances into account, as they are able to do in England. Quite simply, it does not make sense to allow those debtors and their families to become another homelessness statistic.

However, I am not proposing to tie a tartan ribbon around English legislation. There are clear differences between Scots and English property law and we require legislation that addresses the specific circumstances in Scotland. My bill amends the provisions of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970, which created the standard security that is known to most of us as a mortgage, and I hope to give the courts power to consider the particular circumstances of the debtor in default.

The 1970 act provides three distinct processes that lenders may follow when a debtor defaults on their mortgage. The explanatory notes to the bill contain clear guidance on and illustrations of those processes, and it may assist members if I outline them briefly.

The lender can issue a calling-up notice, which requires the debtor to repay within two months the whole sum borrowed and any interest due. Alternatively, the lender can issue a notice of default, requiring the debtor to remedy the default within one month. Both notices expire five years after the date of the notice. Under section 24 of the 1970 act, the creditor can apply to the court for a warrant to obtain the right to exercise any of the remedies that are available to the lender when the debtor is in default. In addition to the provisions of the 1970 act, section 5 of the Heritable Securities (Scotland) Act 1894 provides that when a debtor is in arrears, the lender can apply to the court for permission to eject the debtor from the property. The court does not have the discretion to consider the debtor's personal or financial circumstances under any of those processes when deciding whether to grant the possession order requested by the lender.

The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill seeks to introduce a legislative provision that will allow the sheriff to take the debtor's circumstances into account and to suspend enforcement of the lender's rights—in crude terms, to suspend the repossession, if the sheriff views it appropriate to do so. The bill will require the court to consider whether the applicant may be able to repay the debt in arrears or to fulfil the obligations under the standard security within a reasonable time. Where possible, it will allow the debtor and their family to remain in their home and to avoid the pain of repossession. If that is not possible, the bill will delay the enforcement process in order to give the applicant and their household a reasonable amount of time to find alternative accommodation.

I do not wish to give the impression or allow people to think that the bill is a debtors charter or that they will not have to bother paying their mortgage because the building society will not be able to repossess their house. That is not my intention.

I want to prevent avoidable homelessness. For example, someone might get into mortgage arrears because they are in financial difficulties and then might find that their financial position will allow them to address the situation. However, a repossession order could have been served already and there is no legal opportunity to halt that process at present. If the debtor does not face up to their difficulties or seek help by the time the case gets to court, it is far too late and the repossession order is granted.

Members of the Council of Mortgage Lenders follow the council's code of practice for dealing with mortgage arrears. Lenders who follow those procedures have nothing to fear from the bill. In fact, I suspect that one of the circumstances that the court takes into account is whether the debtor has tried to come to an arrangement to sort out the arrears with the lender. I have taken note of the CML's views and of the points made by the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee on that matter and I am happy to lodge an appropriate amendment at stage 2.

Another concern that has been raised over the years about possession actions is that those who occupy the property may not know anything about the action until the sheriff officer arrives on their doorstep to evict them. The bill proposes amendments to the form of the calling-up notice and to the form of default so that notices are sent not only to the debtor but to other people who may be living in the property, such as tenants whose landlord is the debtor.

The new form of notice would explain that the action had been raised, and would advise the person to seek advice on their legal rights. In its evidence, the Law Society of Scotland suggested that the spouse of a debtor, who may be estranged but still carry on living in the matrimonial home—therefore having occupancy rights to that matrimonial home—should also be entitled to receive notice of the action. I will be happy to introduce an amendment at stage 2 to take account of that.

The Law Society also raised the issue of whether the provisions of my bill should apply only to the debtor's sole or main residence. My colleague John McAllion pointed out that not all second homes are holiday homes and that the repossession of a second home might well interfere with a person's employment. The example that John used in the committee caused quite a bit of hilarity, but he was right to bring the issue to the attention of the committee. It is right that the courts should be allowed to decide whether a home is or is not a holiday home. I am pleased that the committee shares my view on that.

Some people do not take on board the implications of borrowing money, and some people who take out a second mortgage on their home do not realise that they run the risk of losing their home if they default on their payments. I am sure that we all understand the difficult financial choices that people have to make—especially people with children. Sometimes they fall on hard times and have to make really difficult choices about their priorities and about what they have to pay. I believe that those debtors need a chance to draw a line under their problems and come to an arrangement with their creditors. I believe that my bill would give debtors that chance.

The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee went into some detail in considering the principles of the bill. I am pleased that the committee's report has supported those principles. I welcome that very much. I hope that Parliament will think along the same lines.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I call the minister, it might help members if I indicate that the debate should finish by 4 pm. It could, of course, finish earlier. The following debate should finish by 4.30 pm, although that, too, could finish earlier. The convenership debate should start at 5 pm or earlier. I hope that that helps members.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 2:47 pm, 17th January 2001

I take the Presiding Officer's comment as a clear hint to be brief.

I congratulate Cathie Craigie, who is evidently a very wise woman, on the introduction of her member's bill. The Executive is pleased to support the bill, which will assist those in mortgage arrears who might otherwise become homeless when their homes are repossessed. As members are aware, homelessness is one of the Executive's key challenges during the next few years. It may interest members to know that applications to local authorities for assistance due to homelessness resulting specifically from mortgage default have increased during the past few years, and that 600 of all those applying have been identified as being in priority need.

Let us consider for a minute the very real cost of repossession. Repossession is, without doubt, a personal tragedy for the individuals and families involved. It has a cost that goes far beyond people simply losing their homes or the resources that local authorities need to use to rehouse a family.

The disruption to family life, the disruption to the education of children, and the very real health impacts due to worry and distress are costs not only to the individuals concerned but to society as a whole.

Repossession costs the lenders, too. The lenders tell us that repossession is a last resort because they inevitably lose money. In many cases of repossession, the lenders are not able to recoup the full value of their loan.

We recognise the significant role that the code of practice of the Council of Mortgage Lenders plays when lenders are dealing with cases of mortgage arrears. But some mortgage lenders—albeit a small proportion—are not members of the CML and in some cases they, or the lenders of secondary loans secured on a home, do not try to resolve the problem with debtors.

Even where the lender has made a genuine attempt to help the debtor, there may be cases where a neutral third party is better able to get agreement on a way forward. The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill gives people a safety net in legislation to ensure that proper steps are taken in every case.

As Cathie Craigie reminded the Parliament, similar provisions have been in existence in England and Wales for many years. Research there has shown that courts suspend about 60 per cent of the repossession orders applied for by creditors. Of that 60 per cent of debtors, three quarters subsequently maintain their payments. That means that almost half—45 per cent—of debtors in default could get back on their feet and stay in their homes; that is a worthwhile objective.

I recognise that the bill will not help everyone who gets into mortgage default to keep their home. There are many reasons why people get into default and home ownership is not appropriate for everyone at all life stages. Some people are unable to cope with the responsibility that home ownership brings; for others, irregular employment patterns may make sustaining a mortgage difficult. For those reasons, the Executive will continue to look for ways to help people in mortgage difficulties.

That does not detract from the importance of what we are debating today. For those who can be helped in this way, the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill will make a real difference. It gives people the breathing space that they need to sort themselves out. It stops the steamroller and gives a third party the opportunity to look at all the circumstances. If it looks unlikely that the debtor can get back on track, the court can give them enough time to secure alternative accommodation, while ensuring that the minimum of further arrears is accrued. That will help directly to minimise homelessness as a result of repossession.

In evidence to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, a number of people expressed concern about the risk of inconsistency in the application of the law. There are different views on consistency. There is the "one size fits all" kind of consistency in the current legislation. I hope that the bill will introduce the sort of consistency where, if a debtor can show a reasonable likelihood of clearing the arrears in a reasonable time scale, the court can give them the opportunity to do that, subject to time limits and conditions that reflect the debtor's particular circumstances.

Taken together, the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill and the lenders' own good practices will give people in mortgage arrears a number of options to resolve their difficulties—crucially, in the way most appropriate for their own circumstances. That will help to avoid the impact that the negative effects of repossession can have on households around Scotland.

I welcome Cathie Craigie's willingness to take on board some of the positive comments and recommendations that have been made during the committee's examination of the bill. I confess that the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 is a fairly technical piece of legislation and care has to be taken in understanding it—never mind amending it. As a result, the bill is fairly technical—however, I would highlight the opportunity that the bill gives to the debtor to apply to the court.

For those reasons, I am happy to confirm the Executive's support for Cathie Craigie's bill. I also congratulate her on being the first woman to introduce a member's bill to Parliament. I commend the bill to members.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 2:54 pm, 17th January 2001

I am also pleased to welcome the debate. The issue has been a long time in gestation in the Parliament—I raised it 18 months ago and sought to change the very complicated Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 during the passage of the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Act 2000. Robert Brown subsequently introduced—in the Family Homes and Homelessness (Scotland) Bill—measures that are similar to those in Cathie Craigie's Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill, which she introduced in July. Even before that bill was published, Cathie had managed to secure cross-party support.

The bill is the latest in the "your sofa is safer than your home" saga—people's sofas can be protected from repossession, but their homes cannot. It is important to note that a member's bill can make a real difference to people's lives—Cathie Craigie's bill is a good example of that. It is estimated that 900 out of the 2,000 repossessions that take place would be prevented if the bill were enacted.

Cathie Craigie talked about "avoidable homelessness", which is an important phrase. The bill is about ensuring that people can make financial arrangements to prevent repossession. It is another example of the way in which the Parliament's committee structure has worked well. There was cross-party support for the bill when it was published, but in the evidence that was heard by the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee—which I served on at that time—several concerns were raised. I expect those issues to be raised in amendments at stage 2, not least because of some very pertinent points that were made by the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

The problem must be addressed. It is common sense that we should help people and try to ensure that they can come to some arrangement for repayment. However, paragraph 12 of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee report highlights the points that were made by the CML. We should recognise the steps that lenders have taken to assist borrowers who have repayment difficulties when we assess whether a suspended order should be granted. We should also recognise the inconsistencies in advice and decisions. The issue of advice to sheriff courts is important and might have a financial implication. I hope that the Executive will provide assistance on that.

The Government said that it was happy to support the bill. It was also happy to provide assistance in the drafting of the bill. That is an issue because, although such co-operation makes for better legislation, we should note that Robert Brown—whose bill was introduced at about the same time—was not provided with such assistance. The minister explained when she gave evidence why that was the case, but there is a problem; members' bills are meant to be equal, but some are more equal than others. That matter must be addressed, especially in relation to the introduction of bills by Executive party members.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

It was made clear at the time that the Executive judges each case on its merits. As Fiona Hyslop knows, the Executive is providing policy assistance to the Justice 1 Committee—in particular to Maureen Macmillan—on the prevention of abuse bill.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I acknowledge that, but I have concerns about the Parliament and the way in which bills are introduced. The issue could have been dealt with by the Executive, which could have introduced an appropriate bill.

Cathie Craigie introduced her member's bill in July. Before that, Wendy Alexander said that there was no problem, but that the Executive would make legislative provision and consult on the matter in "Better Homes for Scotland's Communities". However, the issue was not even mentioned in the consultation document. The Housing (Scotland) Bill—which was published in December—is clearly about the social rented sector. It does not cover the private sector. I do not know whether Cathie Craigie was clairvoyant in anticipating that. Did ministers know in July that the proposed housing bill would cover only the social rented sector? Is that why they were so keen to support Cathie Craigie's bill? That is an important constitutional issue that the Parliament must address.

I support the bill and I congratulate Cathie Craigie and Robert Brown on the work that they have done. We must, however, address the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee report's reservations on reasonableness, advice and implications for the legal aid bill, as well as the points that Cathie raised on expiry dates. Members should support the commendation of the Edinburgh in-court advice service.

I plead that members' bills do not become the playthings of ministers. They must not cover up for deficiencies in legislation or be used as mechanisms to massage away the Government's broken promises.

Wendy Alexander promised to include mortgage rights in the consultation paper, but the matter was not included. I am pleased to support the bill, which is necessary. I congratulate Cathie Craigie on introducing the bill and for the hard work that she has done to ensure its development thus far. However, we must ensure that the Executive takes responsibility and uses its time to address such issues, rather than relying on members to introduce legislation.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:00 pm, 17th January 2001

I also congratulate Cathie Craigie on the progress of the bill to date and on the way in which she has progressed the debate. She has a fairly consensual attitude to life, which has benefited the bill's progress. Conservative members welcome the bill, but we may seek to amend it in one or two areas during later stages. Nevertheless, the bill is a welcome addition to a battle that we would all take part in to ensure that homelessness is minimised.

The bill is successful in that it would, to some extent, prevent homelessness. Although only three out of 1,000 loans result in repossession, 60 per cent of such cases down south have resulted in a favourable outcome, which is a good thing. The most positive aspect of the bill is that it would resolve the clear anomaly between the Scottish and English court positions. It is wrong and unjust that county court judges in England can take action to stay a repossession, whereas Scottish sheriffs cannot. English law is not often better than Scottish law, but it is undoubtedly so in this instance. We should recognise that and change our law accordingly.

There are certain aspects of the bill that concern Conservative members a little. As has been mentioned, the bill fails to recognise the considerable efforts to minimise repossession that are made by reputable lenders. The vast majority of lenders will go to any resort to avoid repossessing a house. Building societies and banks are in the business of acquiring money through lending money to buy houses, not by repossessing them. The main problem appears to arise from bucket shop loan operations, which frequently grant loans on a secondary basis at extortionate interest rates—those sorts of cases go sadly wrong. I wonder whether inquiries may be carried out into the operation of some of those lenders, who are basically loan sharks.

The other aspect that we must appreciate is that to some extent—it might be a fairly minimal extent—the provisions in the bill would increase the cost of borrowing. In addition, building societies and banks might take a tighter line when lending in marginal cases. If they felt that a particular applicant was not likely to be able to sustain a mortgage at the end of the day, they would be less inclined to take a chance, bearing in mind the increased difficulty of repossession.

On legal hearings, a hard-headed approach will be necessary. Despite John McAllion's amusing story about the debate on the matter at the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, there must be some realism. The criteria for homelessness should be based on the house or dwelling that is involved being the sole residence of the person who is party to the action. If we extend the criteria beyond that, we leave the legislation open to abuse and we should not follow that course.

The court must also consider the actions that the debtor has taken to alleviate the debt. We cannot allow the bill to be a charter for people who, when they are confronted with a situation in which they are unable to sustain their mortgage payments, take no action to resolve the situation. That would be irresponsible on their part, and it would be irresponsible on our part if we did not correct the legislation in that respect.

One aspect of the evidence that the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee took—which might be worthy of some further inquiry, not only with regard to this bill but elsewhere—is the experiment on debt awareness that is being carried out at Edinburgh sheriff court. At present, that pilot scheme would not take under its aegis any cases such as those with which we are dealing today, but I wonder whether some thought might be given to extending the pilot to include mortgage repossessions—there could be benefits in that.

Overall, the bill is worth while and worthy of support. When Cathie Craigie approached me, I remember that I commented that I thought that legislation might not do too much good, but that it would certainly do no harm—that was probably to damn the bill with faint praise. I am prepared to go beyond that today and say that the bill's introduction is positive. The Conservatives will support the bill's passage through stage 1, but we might seek to amend it in future.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:05 pm, 17th January 2001

I begin by putting on record my membership of the Law Society of Scotland and of Ross Harper and Murphy, in case any interest considerations arise.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I give the bill a warmer welcome than Bill Aitken did. I will start by making a parallel with the position in family law. A few weeks ago, the Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace, announced proposals to reform family law by reducing the necessary separation periods for divorce to one year and two years. Since then—as other members may have—I have had one or two letters from constituents who are worried about the subsequent break-up of the nation's moral fabric. Perhaps that is an argument for another day. However, it is worth saying that reducing—in the fashion that Cathie Craigie's bill would—the number of families who lose their homes would do more to stabilise family units and increase security for children than any conceivable legal tinkering with the family law arrangements and the grounds for divorce. Most such families do not end up on the street, but the cost to them and to society in family break-up, ill health, stress, rehousing provision and other matters is incalculable.

It is an astonishing indictment of the existing law that no legal redress exists for a defender who is in arrears with mortgage payments, perhaps for temporary reasons such as unemployment, sickness or credit card overruns after Christmas. None of those typical situations gives a sheriff in Scotland the discretion to refuse a repossession order. There is unanimity in the chamber that that situation is grotesque and must be changed.

The debate has already touched on the evidence that the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee heard about the extent of the success of the experience in England, and the analogous situation of rental evictions in the sheriff court. We have heard about the experiences of the Edinburgh and Glasgow advice groups, which have got about three quarters of the people with whom they have dealt back on the track. Such a high rate of success for intervention gives the lie to the claim—which Bill Aitken made in many respects—that the procedures prior to court are all that are needed. They are not.

Anybody who has dealt—as I have—with lending companies or their solicitors, or with councils in rent eviction, knows that however good the procedures are on paper, they are a bit like the Soviet constitution; they are perfect in theory, but not quite so good in practice. The procedures are not always followed on the ground. Sympathy and acceptance of realistic and workable proposals are not always the most prominent characteristics of people's experiences, so a fail-safe power for the court to do justice is necessary.

Detailed issues are involved. I like especially one or two features of Cathie Craigie's bill, such as the possibility of pre-emptive action by a debtor prior to court action being raised, and the provision of a proper style of notice to be served on the defender to outline remedies and sources of help. Anything that we can do to help people who get into financial trouble and then bury their heads in the sand and do nothing is useful. It is extraordinary how often people in such situations do nothing until the last minute.

The bill could have one or two improvements. The central issues ought to be spelled out for the courts. The Scottish Executive's suggestion to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee that all the information could be found in the records of parliamentary debates is not satisfactory. The law must have clarity so that solicitors, practitioners and people who are affected—the intelligent layman—can look up the legislation and find out what the main issues are.

As one or two members have said, the main issues include the history of the debt repayment and, I suggest, the need to prevent homelessness and to consider personal circumstances. Cathie Craigie has accepted that the bill has a fault, in that the ability to repay arrears is not necessarily the only criterion that should be used in deciding on an order. In some situations, people can pay the interest and their house has sufficient equity to make it possible not to require that as a qualifying criterion, as one section of the bill does.

One clear strand during stage 1 consideration has been the need for proper, expanded debt advice facilities. I know that the minister is well aware that that is an inevitable backdrop to a bill such as this, but unless that can be addressed, a lack of such advice will damage the effectiveness of the bill and, more generally, its social purpose.

My final point is that there is a need to have such cases dealt with by sheriffs who have experience and a background in this sphere, perhaps called together in one housing court. That has already been touched on. The bill will improve significantly the rights of the citizen and his or her power to save their home from repossession during hard times. This is a win-win situation for the Scottish Government; agreement to the bill will reduce the potential extent of homelessness without costing the Government much. There would not have been time for consideration of the bill at Westminster. It is worth saying that the Parliament has been able to deal with the bill reasonably speedily. It will be a useful reform when it is implemented in a few weeks' time.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I beg support for the bill.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 3:11 pm, 17th January 2001

I begin by quoting a participant in research that was carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who stated:

"Apart from the death of someone close to us, we found that repossession was the most traumatic experience that we have ever been through. We would not wish this experience on anybody."

The experience of house repossession is devastating for the families who are involved, which is why we must ensure that that method of recovering debt is never needlessly used. For too long, Scottish courts have lacked the power to take a reasoned and responsible approach to repossession orders. Too many people lose their homes needlessly.

In England, where the courts have greater powers, research has shown that about 75 per cent of people who have their repossession orders suspended—about 60 per cent of all repossession orders—subsequently maintain their payments to mortgage lenders. That means that three quarters of suspended repossessions enable people to hold on to their homes successfully.

At the heart of the Scottish Executive's programme for government lies the struggle for social justice. A commitment to social justice also lies behind the bill. Cathie Craigie's Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill is a sensible and caring response to the misery that is caused when—often needlessly—people's homes are repossessed.

I understand some of the lenders' concerns. The Council of Mortgage Lenders pointed out to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee that in Scotland, lenders comply with the mortgage code, which is monitored by the independent Mortgage Code Compliance Board. The CML says that the success of the code is evidenced by the fact that only 0.3 per cent of loans end in repossession. On the face of it, that sounds impressive. I commend the CML for its work in establishing a good code of practice.

However, even the CML's own statistic of 0.3 per cent represents around 3,000 repossessions a year. That means 3,000 families going through the trauma and upheaval of having their home taken away from them; 3,000 families, many of whom—on the basis of experience in England—could have recommenced their mortgage repayments and kept their homes.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into the social consequences of mortgage repossession showed that the experience can have

"distressing and enduring social, psychological and health consequences for both parents and their children."

The research showed that many people who have had their homes repossessed felt ashamed and that their sense of self-worth had been damaged. Depression was common among them and there was often an increase in chronic conditions such as asthma and seizures.

The report showed that women were especially vulnerable to poverty and debt as a result of repossession. It highlighted that women were often unaware that their husband or partner had stopped paying the mortgage until he had left the family home. Often, the departing partner has incurred other debts; many women are then left with the dilemma that is posed by the need to gain employment and pay for child care.

The report concluded that the effects on families of mortgage repossession are so great that repossession should be avoided wherever possible—a conclusion with which I am sure we all agree and one that lies at the heart of Cathie Craigie's bill.

The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill will allow the courts to suspend the enforcement of a repossession order where that is deemed appropriate. It will allow a breath to be taken in the midst of what many experience as a bureaucratic marathon. It will allow a sensible evaluation of a debtor's ability to repay a debt and it will provide some protection to the tenants of owners who have defaulted on their mortgage.

In many respects, it is a simple bill. It is straightforward and has as its motivation a simple concept—the avoidance of the unnecessary repossession of a family's home. I therefore ask all members to support it.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I call the next speaker, I should mention that it looks as if the next debate will start six or seven minutes early. Members who are involved in that debate had better be alerted. I call Sandra White.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 3:16 pm, 17th January 2001

The SNP welcomes the principles of the bill. In fact, we feel that such legislation is long overdue. As Fiona Hyslop said eloquently in her opening speech, the SNP lodged an amendment to the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Bill 18 months ago. That amendment was not agreed to, unfortunately. However, agreement to it would have meant that the provisions in the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill would have been well on their way to implementation by now.

I congratulate Cathie Craigie on her bill's having reached the stage at which its general principles are to be agreed. I am sure that it will meet with the approval of all members.

Fine words are all very well, but the public—the people who would be affected by the legislation—want to know exactly what agreement to the bill will mean, what it would change and what it would deliver. It would certainly mean that repossessions would decrease. As has been mentioned, 3,000 homes were repossessed in 1999. Enactment of the bill would mean that homelessness through mortgage default would decrease. There were 1,200 applicants for housing in such circumstances in 1998-99. As Jackie Baillie said, such homelessness is on the increase, so the bill should help to decrease the number of people who are made homeless in that way.

The bill would give people a better opportunity to rectify defaults on their mortgages. It would change the way in which mortgages were looked at. People would be properly notified and their circumstances considered by a sheriff. For once, people would be heard—the bill would provide for a fair and honourable way to go about that. If a landlord defaulted on a mortgage but did not notify the tenant, that tenant would now be notified, were the bill to be enacted.

I ask Margaret Curran to comment on funding. I know that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has been involved in the bill. Bill Aitken also mentioned the Edinburgh agencies. I ask ministers to consider carefully the funding of those agencies and to ensure that they are adequately resourced. Citizens advice bureaux and other agencies are the first port of call for many people; if we do not fund them properly, we will fail the very people whom we are trying to help with the bill.

Many members have mentioned disruption to families who are made homeless because they are unable to pay their mortgages. We all know that that can happen to anybody. Any one of us could lose our job or fall ill. Anything could happen—every member of society is affected by the problem. The principles and resulting legislation of any bill must be about delivery. I see Margaret Curran laughing, but—

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

That is not what I was laughing at.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I know why Margaret Curran is laughing. Well, I shall certainly contest her seat at the next election—she might then be one of the people I am speaking about.

My sincere wish is that, through the bill, children and families will not have to go through such disruption. Losing their home can make people suffer from depression. Children are moved from their schools. The current system is crazy, when all that is needed is a couple of hours to explain the situation and a couple of months to allow people the opportunity to pay off their debts. As has been proved, they will probably do that.

I welcome the principles of the bill and I look forward to its being brought to fruition.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour 3:19 pm, 17th January 2001

I should apologise for my intermittent but persistent coughing during the debate. I know that it can be disruptive for other members, but my health has never been the same since I was moved to the Health and Community Care Committee and I am not sure whether the two things are linked. I am certainly pleased, Presiding Officer, that you are more understanding about such things than the Emperor Caligula who, when confronted by somebody who coughed persistently in his presence, had the person's head cut off. I am grateful to Dr Richard Simpson for that valuable information. He seems to have a huge databank of such illuminating anecdotes for use in all contexts—and perhaps prescriptions as well.

I, too, congratulate Cathie Craigie, first on getting her member's bill to this stage, but also on being the first woman in the Scottish Parliament to achieve that notable landmark. I am delighted that she has the Executive's support for the bill and that there will be no need for another back-bench rebellion to get this member's bill through—some of us get stressed out by all the confrontation and unpleasantness that is associated with back-bench rebellions and we do not like them. It is nice to have consensus breaking out all over the Parliament and to see everybody being nice to one another. That is the way that it should always be and I wish that it were like that all the time. I see members looking in disbelief at that final remark, but I assure them that I am sincere.

The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill gives rights to home owners in Scotland that are similar to those which are enjoyed by home owners in England and Wales. The provisions in the bill would allow the court to take into consideration the nature of and reasons for mortgage default. In a sense, we are dealing with the reverse of the Sutherland situation. In this case, the Scottish Parliament is catching up, because the UK Parliament has already legislated for this in England and Wales. I must say, however, that I have not noticed a massive flood of Scottish home owners heading south of the border because it is better to default in England and Wales than it is to do so in Scotland. Even if that were the case, however, the bill would put it right, and I am sure that when we implement the Sutherland recommendations in full, the UK Parliament will catch up with us.

Homelessness is a serious problem in Scotland and it is on the increase. The Minister for Social Justice was absolutely right when she said that tackling and reducing homelessness in Scotland is a priority for the Scottish Government. I believe sincerely that Cathie Craigie's bill is a necessary part of the wider strategy that the Scottish Government is pursuing to try to bring down homelessness, and that it will be of important in assisting many people who face homelessness in Scotland.

Cathie Craigie and Bill Aitken referred to the fact that I caused some amusement on the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee—it is nice to know that I was bumped off it for reasons other than being boring. If I remember what happened correctly, they referred to my reaction to the concern that was expressed by the Law Society of Scotland about the wording of the bill in relation to the sole or main-residence criterion.

The Law Society felt that the main criterion on which a sheriff should grant a stay of execution should be whether people would be made homeless, regardless of whether they had one or two residences. I will not say that Robert Brown is the spokesman in the Parliament for the Law Society of Scotland, but he must certainly declare his interest every time he speaks on an issue that affects it. Nevertheless, I recognise the concern that he and others have about people who own holiday homes or rich people who have several homes all over the country who might be able to manipulate the situation to avoid their mortgage-paying responsibilities. However, there is a group of workers who could, for legitimate reasons, have two residences, instead of the one that most people have. I use the example of Scottish members of the UK Parliament, all of whom have a main residence in Scotland and another residence south of the border, in my case in Dolphin Square in London. I may have had a lot of problems trying to convince the TV licensing authority that my licence in Dundee would cover my TV in London—it would not accept that—but I know that my main residence is in Scotland.

Some MPs, however, have their main residence in London and have another residence here in Scotland. I know that, given the wages that they are paid, it is unlikely that they would default on their mortgages, but there are other workers—such as oil workers—who might find that they need two residences because of their work and it is important that they are also covered. That is why the sole or main-residence criterion is an important part of the bill.

Karen Whitefield called this a simple bill. It is also a good bill, which deserves the support of the entire Parliament. I congratulate Cathie Craigie on getting it to this stage.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 3:24 pm, 17th January 2001

The primary impact of this bill will, I hope, be on levels of homelessness. The impact will not be massive, but it will be significant for those who are affected. The bill is certainly good. There may be some technical defects, but I am sure that they will be rectified at stage 2. The bill's impact on homelessness should not be understated: the fact that, each year, several hundred families will have the stability that comes from not having to move home makes it very worth while.

When I was a councillor, a number of families came to me to seek local authority accommodation as a consequence of problems that they had with their mortgage. Not all of them would have been saved by this mechanism, but some of them would have been. That would have made a major difference to the stress experienced by the adults in the family and meant that the children would not have had their education and other aspects of their lives disrupted.

Robert Brown made the valid point that the bill will help families. It will help to keep them together, which is important. The consequence is that there may be some impact on the lender. However, the lender will not bear all the cost; some of it will still be borne by those who have the debt because only part of it will be transferred. Only when the debt cannot be recovered at all will it fall on the lender. The overall level is fairly modest, to say the least, so the impact on mortgage rates—those costs are always passed on to others—is not likely to be great.

The bill will have a major impact on local authorities and other registered social landlords—depending on what make-up we end up with—as they will not have a large number of folk coming along each year seeking to be rehoused as a result of debt.

When some folk find themselves in debt, they will not address the problem until the last possible moment. Currently, the last possible moment means that they are out of the door. The bill will allow the sheriff to intervene. It will allow mortgage holders and tenants of mortgage holders another opportunity to get their finances sorted out. I do not think the disadvantage for the lender is of such significance that we should turn the bill down. Not even lenders are saying that; they say that they have many mechanisms in place to try to retrieve the situation when people are in default. I do not doubt that—I know that that is the case—but this is another mechanism and no argument that we should not introduce this bill holds water when its overall impact is considered.

This is a worthwhile bill and I am delighted to be able to support it.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We now move to closing speeches. I call Euan Robson to close for the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 3:28 pm, 17th January 2001

This is an important bill. I congratulate Cathie Craigie, everyone who has been involved in bringing the bill to stage 1 and my colleague Robert Brown, who has taken a particular interest in this matter. This is a significant and welcome reform. As Robert Brown said, it will attract the support of the Liberal Democrats.

We have heard about the key features of the bill. It is worth recapping them briefly. The most significant is the prevention of homelessness and the reduction of the misery that that state causes so many people. That is an especially important and welcome feature.

In the calculations of the extra expenditure that will be caused by the bill, has account been taken of the fact that some savings should accrue to other parts of the public purse if we can prevent homelessness? We could examine funding some of the parts of the public purse that will be stretched as a result of this bill through the savings that will accrue to other parts of it.

Another important feature of the bill is that it updates Scots law and makes it comparable to that in England. That is not necessarily important in itself, but it is important in this instance because the English experience has been that similar provisions have had the desired effect. It was shown in evidence during the committee stage that such provisions have reduced homelessness.

A further important feature of the bill is the advocacy or increased use of payment arrangements and the good management of personal financial affairs. We have seen the necessity for extra help in that area in other bills. We must encourage creditors to consider a wider range of payment arrangements.

We must also invest substantially in advice services for people in debt. My previous professional experience showed me that this is an extremely underdeveloped area of public work—if I can put it that way. Much advice relies on the efforts of volunteers from voluntary groups. Although I would never wish to discourage that, we can build on the foundations that organisations such as Money Advice Scotland and citizens advice bureaux have worked so hard to establish over many years. Quality advice given early to people whose problems with the payment of mortgages and securities are developing is helpful and appropriate.

Amendments will need to be lodged at stage 2. For example, some of the timetabling might be quite tight for debtors, particularly those who understand their responsibilities late in the day. Although section 1(3) suggests a period of one month, that might be very difficult for certain debtors. Perhaps the issue will be re-examined when the bill returns to committee.

I also note that none of the notices specified in parts 1 and 2 of the schedule suggests to the debtor the time by which they ought to make their response. Perhaps I have misunderstood the act into which the notes will be inserted—amendments might cover the point—but the reforms of the Heritable Securities (Scotland) Act 1894 might not specify time scales. That said, we can consider that issue at stage 2.

This bill is a most welcome reform and I reiterate my congratulations to those who have introduced it. It is further testimony of the benefits of our constitutional settlement that we can very quickly take action on such outstanding matters.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 3:33 pm, 17th January 2001

I am pleased to wind up this debate for the Scottish Conservatives and congratulate Cathie Craigie on introducing her bill.

While I support the bill's principles, I want to point out certain areas that will have to be addressed during the detailed scrutiny at stage 2. First, the bill fails to recognise adequately action that lenders have already taken to assist borrowers in repayment difficulties. In English courts, the suspension of a repossession is subject to conditions on the repayments of the arrears. That power should be considered for Scotland and the courts should be able to take into account any previous action, including the debtor's record on previous voluntary repayment agreements. Otherwise, the bill could be a one-way street for the feckless to avoid repossession, which would ultimately mean an increased cost to all borrowers and reduce lenders' willingness to lend.

As Bill Aitken said, the bill must also define tightly who is considered when homelessness is being dealt with. Doing otherwise might unfairly affect lenders and local authorities might be deterred from providing alternative accommodation under their statutory homelessness duties if they see no urgency in the case. Lenders might also refuse to lend on any property where a tenant is involved, which could limit young people's ability to get on the housing ladder if they rent a room to a friend to assist with the mortgage. Furthermore, it is possible that the bill could increase homelessness by reducing the amount of privately rented accommodation that is available. We must give the matter very careful consideration if we are to reduce and prevent homelessness.

Tighter restrictions on repossessions could hurt the poorest most. Without the ultimate sanction of repossession, lenders may decide not to lend to their less-well-off clients, which would effectively reduce access to mortgages and home ownership for those seeking to get on the bottom rung of the property ladder.

Regularising protection for debtors is welcome, but their rights must be appropriate. The bill needs careful consideration at stage 2 to strike the correct balance between the rights of borrowers and of lenders. That said, we support and welcome the bill and look forward to its speedy and successful passage.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 3:35 pm, 17th January 2001

Like other members, I welcome the introduction of this bill and congratulate Cathie Craigie on it. I was also pleased when the SNP tried to lodge a similar amendment to the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Bill some time ago, although it was not accepted. It should be noted that the proposed change to the law would already have been enacted if that amendment had been accepted and agreed to by the Parliament.

I have some experience, through previous work, of homelessness due to repossessions. It is fairly common for people who work in housing to come across people who, at the last minute, turn up at their door and say, "I am going to be homeless because my house is being repossessed." I regret the fact that Wendy Alexander did not fulfil her statement and invite consultation on this aspect of housing in the consultation for the Housing (Scotland) Bill. It would have been good to have an all-encompassing housing bill rather than one that deals only with social housing—especially because, as the minister said, the numbers for homelessness and repossessions are rising.

In the area in which I worked, there was an especially high take-up of the right to buy, so there was proportionally less social rented housing for homelessness purposes. I find it horrifying that, in housing repossession cases in which people own their homes, local authorities can deem those people to be intentionally homeless—as if they do not pay their mortgage deliberately, rather than in situations in which they find it impossible to pay.

I was pleased to hear that Cathie Craigie is willing to consider and accept amendments at stage 2. She has already noted that some are likely to go ahead. Because I am not a member of the committee that will deal with the bill, I would like to mention a couple of aspects of it for clarification, with the intention of possible future amendment.

My first point seems fairly minor, but people who work in housing would say that it is major. Many members have mentioned that folk bury their heads in the sand when they are faced with the repossession of a rented house or the repossession of an owned house by lenders. The bill says that notices will be served by recorded delivery. Although that sounds good and proof can be obtained of the receipt of that notice, there can be no proof that the person who has received a recorded delivery letter has opened the envelope, let alone read and understood its contents.

I have known cases when notices have simply been ripped up and thrown in the bin without being read—the ostrich syndrome. I wonder whether discussions at stage 2 could focus on how we can ensure that people realise what is likely to happen to them. It should not be about simply ensuring that they receive a letter.

My second point is that I would like consideration to be given to section 24 of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970, whereby people can be taken to court by the lender for refusing to participate in maintenance of their property. That can be a big problem in tenement property, where there is common ownership of some aspects of the accommodation. I would like that part of the bill to be considered in more detail and perhaps expanded. There is a proposal for tenement law to be revised, and the matter could be addressed as part of that revision.

Cathie Craigie and other members mentioned that there should be some form of amendment concerning the Council of Mortgage Lenders, as some lenders have good codes of practice, but we should not forget that lenders also have obligations. The onus is on lenders to be realistic about people's abilities to make payments when they set the level of the loan. That applies particularly when new houses are sold with mortgages covering fixtures, fittings and carpets. In such cases, people can end up paying a mortgage over 25 years for a fridge. That is a bad practice and lenders should take a look at themselves in relation to it.

Government also has a responsibility. I repeat what the minister told us today: repossession and homelessness are increasing. Maybe home ownership is not the answer to everyone's prayers. While many aspire to home ownership, for many people that aspiration can never be a reality. We should recognise that fact and the Government in Scotland should admit it and rethink its strategy of attaining 80 per cent home ownership. It should also reconsider the proposed extension of the right to buy, which will negatively affect the stock of some of the landlords in Scotland who play an active role in rehousing those who have their houses repossessed.

My last comments aside, I warmly welcome the bill and look forward to its next stage in the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We are running ahead of time and the next debate is likely to start a little early.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 3:41 pm, 17th January 2001

It would be remiss of me not to congratulate Cathie Craigie on producing the bill. I, like many others in this chamber, used to be on the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and witnessed the commitment Cathie Craigie gave to this area of work. Producing the bill involved a lot of work on her part and I genuinely want to record the thanks of the Parliament for the kind of effort that members are prepared to give.

I should also pay tribute to the work of all the members of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee who, from varying perspectives, tried to get inside the bill and tease it out. The committee did not undertake a soft exercise, but listened to a substantial amount of evidence before it came to its conclusions. That justifies the case for a member's bill and for using that mechanism as a vehicle in this case.

The committee was able to provide a platform for many organisations to give their point of view, which will ultimately lead to more effective legislation. If we get through this process, Cathie Craigie will experience great satisfaction because she will have made a significant contribution to delivering progress in housing in Scotland. Members' bills are a genuinely effective part of the Scottish parliamentary process.

I hoped to be able to get consensus today, but that has not quite been possible, which is a bit unfortunate. Nevertheless, a consensual approach, without any dumbing down because of people being frightened of consensual politics, has been taken to the bill. The quality of the evidence, the quality of the questioning and the commitment of Cathie Craigie and others have been first class and have done credit to the process.

The range of organisations that support the bill—although they might want to amend it at a later stage—persuades us that legislation is necessary. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the CML and Scottish Homes have said that, at last, we are beginning to appreciate that the system does not always allow reasonable consideration of the plight of certain families. They have welcomed the bill, as has Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless.

On behalf of the Executive, I am pleased to say that we are offering debtors the right to seek a suspension of the lender's rights of enforcement subject to conditions for repayment. The bill gives the debtor the chance to go to court and put their case to the sheriff. The Executive endorses the new notices to occupiers that alert them to mortgage difficulty and advise them to seek advice on their legal rights.

Too many occupiers have first become aware of a court action when the sheriff officer turned up on the doorstep. In some cases, the occupier has panicked and left when there was no need to do so. The bill will ensure that they know well enough in advance that they can seek legal advice. We are happy that Cathie Craigie has accepted and is willing to consider technical amendments that have been suggested and which most people agree will enhance the bill.

We do not take our responsibilities lightly in the Scottish Parliament and we know that technical legislation in particular can have unintended negative effects. We want to ensure that we get the process right. The consultation process and the committee process have been helpful in trying to clarify many matters. We acknowledge that the bill will not help everyone in mortgage difficulties, but it will help many.

I wish to respond to one point that Linda Fabiani made—I want to clarify what Jackie Baillie said in her introduction. We can check the Official Report for this, but I do not think that Jackie Baillie said that homelessness is increasing; she said that the number of repossessions is increasing.

Under the bill, a woman whose husband leaves her with the children and the mortgage arrears can stay in the house; the children can still attend the same school and see the same friends; and she has her own friends and neighbours to help her through the difficult times. Such a situation is much better than becoming homeless and moving into bed and breakfast accommodation, only to be rehoused away from all her established support networks.

Many people have mentioned the social consequences of homelessness and the difficulties that people get in. I take Robert Brown's point about other responses in other contexts: I think that the bill is a measure to support families.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Section 2(2)(b) deals with

"the applicant's ability to fulfil . . . the obligations under the" mortgage "within a reasonable period".

Does Margaret Curran accept that that is perhaps a bit too stringent and that, in a situation such as a family break-up, it might be possible to pay the interest on a mortgage, but not necessarily the full commitment, "within a reasonable period"? Perhaps that point could be examined a wee bit more closely.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

My understanding is that sheriffs will have the opportunity to consider people's particular circumstances. That may help to address some of the points that have been made.

We recognise that the bill makes a contribution to the wider efforts to assist people in mortgage difficulties, and I take the points that have been made about the CML and other organisations.

I am beginning to run out of time, so I will move quickly to deal with some of the points that have been raised in the debate. I saw Bill Aitken at his most enthusiastic today. If other people say that he is not enthusiastic, those of us who know him a bit better know that this afternoon's performance was not bad going for him. He mentioned Edinburgh sheriff court. We are evaluating the project to which he referred and we will come back to him with a response.

I take Sandra White's point about funding. It is important that people get high-quality, free advice. Jackie Baillie and I are committed to ensuring that a network of advice is available. Financial exclusion lies at the centre of what we are doing, and the national debtline, which we are about to establish, should assist. We will keep that at the top of the agenda.

The Executive will provide the judicial studies committee with the relevant sections of the parliamentary reports and a statement of the thinking behind the bill which is to be taken into account in that committee's compilation of guidance for training of sheriffs.

The Executive made it clear that we would support a member's bill on mortgage rights. We never envisaged its being part of our housing bill. This member's bill amends conveyancing legislation. Surprisingly enough, the Housing (Scotland) Bill amends and develops housing legislation.

We must be careful not to do a disservice to Cathie Craigie. She presented herself as someone who is very committed in this field, who is energetic about it and who wants to pursue the bill. We have seen the work that she has done. It is a tribute to her. It is not at all appropriate to use words such as "plaything".

This is how the Parliament should work. Over the next year, we will debate many facets of housing. The coming year will be vigorous, energetic and busy. It is important that we start this year with such a contribution to legislation, which takes the housing debate forward and actually meets people's needs.

The Parliament and its committees have worked well together on this member's bill—by that I include their work with outside people and organisations. It is time to be gracious and recognise the commitment that Cathie Craigie has made. We should give her her due now, and not try to steal some of her thunder.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 3:49 pm, 17th January 2001

I am tempted to use up the remaining time allotted to this debate on the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill, but I will try to contain myself to responding to some of the points that have been raised. It is not often that back benchers get this amount of time to speak in the chamber and I hope that none of my back-bench colleagues will fall out with me if they think that I am not using that time to the full.

We have had a very good debate and I welcome the cross-party support. There has been Executive support for the bill from the word go but, as Margaret Curran suggested, it was very much a case of me chapping at the Executive's doors, vying with Robert Brown—who promoted the Family Homes and Homelessness (Scotland) Bill—to see who would be first to get a bill in this area.

I am interested in this subject. As housing convener and leader of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council, and in the wider North Lanarkshire housing authority area, I saw many families who faced the terrible consequences of repossession. If someone had taken account of all their circumstances when they went to court, and not regarded their cases as black-and-white, right or wrong matters—those people were in arrears, but there were good reasons for it—the shame that many of them felt and the disruption to their lives could have been avoided.

As Brian Adam said, the bill will not just help people who are affected by the problem of repossession; it will help local authorities by easing the strain that they are placed under by having to find housing for those families.

Unaccustomed as I am to having such an opportunity to sum up, I will respond to some of the points that members have raised. I welcome the support of the SNP. I found Fiona Hyslop's description of me as a plaything of the Executive amusing. By raising points that are not relevant to the debate, the only people who played with this serious matter were SNP members. It is like playground politics: who was here first? SNP members claim that they raised this matter first, but if Sandra White and Linda Fabiani check the amendments that they lodged to the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Bill, they will see that the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Bill goes much further, creates a more rounded approach to the issue, and takes into account the tenants of landlords in default, who are often forgotten.

Fiona Hyslop is right: the committee structure is important for the Parliament. That fact is shown today. I assure members that the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee considered the bill in great detail to reach this point. I see that many of its members are here today and want to get involved. The committee structure offers balance and allows members to examine the details, question the evidence, take on board the points that are made, listen to advice and improve the bill.

Fiona Hyslop talked about assistance with drafting. I am grateful for the assistance that the Executive has given me. Certainly I could not have managed to draft the bill on my own—I might have had difficulties paying my debts if I had had to pay for the sort of legal advice that I have received. I am not the first member to receive assistance in drafting a member's bill, either in the Scottish Parliament or at Westminster. At Westminster, if the Government supports a proposed private member's bill, assistance is available. Last week, in the debate on the Leasehold Casualties (Scotland) Bill, Adam Ingram thanked the Executive for its support in drafting and introducing his member's bill.

Fiona Hyslop asked whether ministers knew in July that they would not include anything on this subject in the Housing (Scotland) Bill. We have a joke: it is either my bill or the Housing (Scotland) Bill. Today, it is my bill. I cannot say whether ministers knew the answer to Fiona Hyslop's question. As Margaret Curran said, the Housing (Scotland) Bill is about the provision, funding and regulation of social housing, rather than conveyancing.

I thank Bill Aitken for his kind words about the bill. I will consider the points that he and other members raised when we go through stage 2. He was right to point out that the bill will resolve differences between provision in Scotland and in England.

It has been suggested that some lenders may fear additional costs—for example an increase in the cost of borrowing. I do not think that that will be a major problem. Repossessions impose a cost on lenders, but I am sure that the cost to the borrower is greater. The cost to both lender and borrower will be seen to be minimal as the years go by. It may even be that savings can be made in the costly business of auctioning off properties, given that a borrower is left with little money or a bill—which is more likely at the end of the process.

The Social Justice Committee will have another opportunity to debate the argument about sole residences, which Bill Aitken raised. The right decision has been arrived at—it will be for the courts to establish whether a property is the sole or main residence of a debtor and whether that person would suffer great hardship if they were to lose that property.

Bill Aitken mentioned the level of awareness of the pilot scheme in Edinburgh. I share his view that it is important to take the advice of that scheme and I hope that the Executive will seriously consider doing so. I also hope that the Executive will consider expanding the advice that is available to people who are in difficulty with debt repayment, irrespective of their situation. That point was made to the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee by many organisations, and other members have raised it again today. The sooner people can get advice, the better. People should be able to go to friendly advice centres that do not put people off and where workers speak their language and understand them.

I am pleased by the support for the bill given by Robert Brown and the Liberal party, although I wonder whether he shrank a little when Fiona Hyslop defended his position. I welcome his support and the advice and knowledge that he was able to share when the bill was discussed at the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. Lawyers take a lot of stick, but they can be useful when taking us through the legal minefield. He was right to say—

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

Am I to wind up? I cannot believe it.

It is true that we must deal with the procedures that are followed before people get to court. Karen Whitefield and Robert Brown both said that the bill makes changes to conveyancing, but we must all remember that the bill is about people: it is about allowing people to be spared the indignity of repossession and the problems that go with it.

I thank members for their kind words. I wanted to make one point—

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

Paul Brown, who works for the Scottish Association of Law Centres, gave me some help and advice in the bill's early days. He reckoned that the bill will probably have a greater effect on many more people in Scotland than will the Abolition of Poindings and Warrant Sales Act 2000. I take that comment on board, given that he has worked in the debt field for a long time, and I hope that the Parliament will also do so.