After section 38

Housing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:15 pm on 13th June 2001.

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Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 3:15 pm, 13th June 2001

Amendment 81 is grouped with amendments 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168 and 169. I invite Bill Aitken to move amendment 81 and to speak to all the amendments in the group.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Amendment 81 seeks to provide additional protection to RSLs. The Executive has made some movement in that respect, although it has apparently been dragged reluctantly in some directions. There have been helpful changes to time limitations, the discount, pressured areas and, of course, the pre-1989 exemptions.

Amendment 81 seeks to do something different. For example, if a housing association has based its budgeting on a 25-year rental stream and on having houses in its stock during that period, but it suffers serious haemorrhage of stock, there would be a financial consequence. A situation could develop in which the housing association at best was unable to fulfil its obligations to its tenants to the extent to which it would wish. In the final analysis, it could find itself in a financially parlous situation. Amendment 81 seeks not to allow anyone to get off the hook, but to enable housing associations that find themselves under that form of financial pressure to apply to the Scottish Executive, which—on cause shown—could exempt them.

We seek additional protection because a number of housing associations could be particularly vulnerable. Housing associations in the rural and island communities would find themselves in difficulty were they to lose a significant percentage of their housing stock. It should be borne in mind that some of the smaller associations control only two or three houses. If some associations were to lose even 20 or 30 houses, there could be a difficulty.

I commend amendment 81 to the chamber, confident in the knowledge that John McAllion and Tommy Sheridan, on the basis of their previous contributions, will support it.

The amendments in the name of Brian Adam should not be supported. It is clear what he is trying to do and, from his perspective, that is perfectly acceptable—to a greater or lesser extent, he seeks to put a block on the right to buy. However, that argument has been dealt with and the outcome was not to the SNP's advantage.

I move amendment 81.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I hope that the tone of the debate on the amendments in this group will be more even than the debate on the previous group.

I am a little disappointed with Bill Aitken's response. Amendments 157 to 169 stand on their own merit; they do not reflect directly on the right to buy. I shall be a little more generous to him than he was to me. The SNP will support amendment 81, which is along the lines that we want.

My string of amendments tries to achieve several objectives. Local authorities will have a key strategic function in determining housing policy, so it seems only logical that they should determine which areas are designated as pressured areas. That ought to be dealt with locally.

As local authorities will continue to be housing providers, there is a potential clash of interests between local authorities and other RSLs. There must be a mechanism to allow aggrieved housing providers to appeal. The bill does not allow for that; it provides that ministers will make the final decision on everything and provides for no appeal. Amendment 164 provides that organisations that are not satisfied with a local authority's decision can appeal. That is a better way of dealing with the matter. Ministers should not be involved in every request for a designated area—that function belongs to the local authorities—but it is important that we get the balance between the different providers right. I give credit to the Executive, which has tried to achieve that balance, but I take a different view on where the balance lies. If we are genuine about the need for local authorities to have a strategic function, getting the balance right should be key.

I am concerned that, despite the evidence that we received from witnesses in the Social Justice Committee and despite the debate at stage 2, the Executive has not conceded any ground on providing for house types to be designated as under pressure. There are a variety of circumstances in which designating certain house types as under pressure might be appropriate. Amendment 158 would deal with that.

Amendment 81 recognises that there may be circumstances in which individual RSLs feel it appropriate to seek relief from the right to buy. Although my series of amendments would accommodate what amendment 81 intends, I am happy to support it. It is also important that we have an appeal mechanism.

On reviewing the length of time for which a designation is in place, I cannot foresee any circumstances under the present Executive proposals in which an area that has been designated is likely to be undesignated because the balance between private housing and public sector rented provision has shifted sufficiently in favour of public sector rented provision. Again, that should be addressed locally—it is a local, strategic decision. The role of ministers will be to approve local plans, so that local authorities cannot make decisions that go against them—ensuring that the plans take the relevant things into consideration—and to oversee the right to appeal. In cases where other providers, having been consulted about designations, are still aggrieved, there would be a right of appeal to ministers.

I commend my amendments to the Parliament and I am happy to accept amendment 81.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I speak to oppose amendment 81, in the name of Bill Aitken, and amendments 157 to 169, in the name of Brian Adam.

I think of new section 61B of the 1987 act as the Partick section. Members who are familiar with that area of my constituency will know that it has an extraordinarily high level of private housing. I wanted to intervene when Linda Fabiani talked about the west end of Glasgow, because she misunderstands fundamentally what is going on in the area. There is such a high level of private accommodation in the west end that, even if we reversed the right to buy of anyone who had ever had it, there would still not be enough social rented accommodation.

I welcome the Executive's response to the problem by including the new section on pressured areas. It is right that the test is quite strict. The Executive's inclusion of pressured areas under new section 61B is entirely consistent with the view that it is the strategic role of the local authority to examine the social mix of an area and that it is the right of Scottish ministers to take away the right to buy, given that they confer it through the Scottish secure tenancy.

I am particularly interested in this subject because I am concerned that if there is no protection in areas such as Partick, what little social rented accommodation we have will decline even further, because of the high market values of accommodation in places such as the west end of Glasgow. Members will know if they read the pages of The Herald that it is not unusual for a two-bedroom flat in Partick to go for more than £100,000.

I would like assurances from the ministers that they will impress on local authorities the need to assess the social mix when considering whether pressured area status is appropriate. I am concerned that in the west end of Glasgow we do not provide enough accommodation of any description to allow families to move around. That is not just an issue for social rented housing; it is about affordable rented accommodation and the high market value of property in the west end.

I am pleased that section 39 is in the bill. Pressured area status exists to address unique situations. The situation in the west end of Glasgow is unique. It would be useful if we could have assurances from the minister that the Executive will impress upon local authorities the fact that they should use the designation mechanism to create the right social mix.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I speak in support of amendment 158.

At stage 2, the Minister for Social Justice rejected the idea behind amendment 158 because

"the causes of pressure—are essentially area based. We have considered carefully house-type shortages and have found that they are reflected in area pressures, because house types do not necessarily have their own geography ... Critical difficulties exist in identifying house-type based shortages. People have strong preferences in housing, and many prefer houses with gardens, for example."—[Official Report, Social Justice Committee, 9 May 2001; c 2261.]

However, our argument is not about preferences; it is about need. The minister is wrong to talk of critical difficulties. A council can identify supply and demand for given house types at the touch of a button.

As the minister is aware, I outlined the situation in some detail at stage 2. She will be pleased that I am not about to go into the same detail now. Glasgow has such a chronic shortage of five-apartment housing and larger that at present rates of turnover, it will take 87 years and five months to house all the people who are on waiting lists in medium or high-demand areas. Even taking low-demand housing into account—houses that no one wants—it would still take 12 years and nine months, which is four times the average waiting time.

I remember when I was a city councillor that I was able to assist a family who were moving from Nitshill to Mosspark and were surrendering a five-apartment house. The council was so desperate to get a five-apartment house in Nitshill that it offered the family a four-apartment house in Mosspark, even though the family had only 20 points, when usually 300 were needed. That shows how desperate the council was to get its hands on five-apartment properties.

Surely there must be flexibility if that situation is not to be exacerbated. We must be able to fine-tune to ensure that pressured status can be applied to certain types of housing. At present, the bill is too crude in that respect and too inclusive. For example, in areas of Glasgow, there is a huge surplus of four-apartment housing—indeed, 2,000 or 3,000 council houses are demolished every year—but almost everywhere there is a chronic shortage of five-apartment housing.

If we are to preserve five-apartment housing and other high-demand stock, local authorities must be able to give them pressured status, rather than use a geographical definition of pressure. That view is supported by Glasgow City Council, which is of the same political persuasion as the minister, so I hope that she will consider the matter not from a party political viewpoint, but based on the needs of people in Glasgow.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 3:30 pm, 13th June 2001

When we announced our proposals for a modernised right to buy linked to the Scottish secure tenancy, there was concern—as has been expressed in the chamber—that it would create financial problems for some RSLs. Section 38 is our response to that. It seeks to protect RSLs from the retrospective application of the right to buy and provides for a 10-year exemption for relevant tenancies, during which time RSLs should be able to identify and implement any changes that are necessary to take account of the full implementation of the right to buy. In many cases, we expect RSLs to be able to grow and expand during that period, as a result of further development or of the acquisition of houses through our community ownership programme. RSLs will adjust their business plans accordingly. Section 38 also allows RSLs to apply to extend the 10-year period if that proves necessary.

That is a more balanced and considered approach to the problem than the approach that Bill Aitken proposes in amendment 81. I was surprised by his proposals for designating pressured social landlords, as the proposals would require a significant bureaucratic effort by RSLs and the Executive, because they would require consideration of individual applications. Rather than focus on houses that are being brought into the right-to-buy system for the first time, the proposals would suspend the right to buy for all tenants of the RSL involved, including those who already had the right to buy. We do not support that approach.

Our proposals for pressured areas are based on an approach that takes account of the interests of all parties. It is right that local authorities can produce proposals for pressured areas following appropriate consultation, but tenants can be reassured by the fact that the decision will be taken by Scottish ministers, who will check carefully that the statutory criteria have been met and that sufficient information has been provided in support of the proposals. Tenants should also be reassured by the fact that the designation will be limited to five years. If it were extended, the local authority would again have to show good cause.

I recognise much of what Pauline McNeill said, as she has raised and actively pursued such issues with Margaret Curran and me, particularly the point about social mix. At stage 2, we gave her a commitment that consideration would be given to including a reference to social mix in guidance. I am happy to confirm that.

Similar amendments to those that Brian Adam has lodged were well debated and rejected at stage 2. His amendments would sweep away all the checks and balances that exist and replace them with designations that local authorities could simply impose for an indefinite period. The only bodies that would be allowed to object would be RSLs. What about the tenants? I fear that the SNP has forgotten them once again.

Brian Adam lodged amendment 158 to allow the designation of houses of particular sizes and types. Although we understand the benefits of seeking to protect some types and sizes of houses, it is right that we should seek to deny rights only in areas where there are acute shortages. We need to be careful not to create loopholes. The main difficulty with designating houses of certain types and sizes is in distinguishing need from simple preference. Many tenants and potential tenants would no doubt prefer some types and sizes of houses to others. For example, most tenants would no doubt prefer cottage-type houses to flats. It is more difficult to be clear about needs in that context.

Another concern is the complexity of different rights that such proposals might create locally. It would be quite complex to administer variations in the right to buy from one house to another, particularly in a given area, and that could create resentment among tenants.

Given such difficulties, it would be sensible not to legislate for pressured house types until we have considerably more experience of operating the pressured area designation. I urge members to reach the same conclusion as the Social Justice Committee did and to reject the amendments.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am surprised that the minister should complain that amendment 81 would impose an unacceptable level of bureaucracy on the Executive, bearing in mind the way in which Executive resources are used time and again for blatantly political purposes, but I will put that matter aside for the moment.

Pauline McNeill gave an interesting and factually accurate speech, but it seemed more a basis for supporting than opposing amendment 81. A problem exists in Partick. There is a problem with the overheated housing market in the west end of Glasgow. Amendment 81 would surely provide the solution.

I did not wish to imply that Brian Adam was making anything other than a constructive contribution to the debate, as he did during stage 2, but I fear that his amendments are too restrictive. Amendment 81 is more targeted and I suggest to members that it is the way forward.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The question is, that amendment 81 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 25

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: MacDonald, Ms Margo

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The result of the division is: For 50, Against 68, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 81 disagreed to.