The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3778, in the name of Margaret Curran, that the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill be passed. [ Interruption. ] Order. There is too much chattering. If members want to chatter, they should please do so outside. I call the minister to speak to and move the motion.
This is an historic day for housing in Scotland. Not only have we a bill before us that, in the words of Shelter, represents the most progressive piece of homelessness legislation in western Europe, but earlier this morning the First Minister gave his approval for the transfer of housing stock from Glasgow City Council to the Glasgow Housing Association. That is the delivery of the most radical package of investment in tenant control ever proposed for housing in Scotland. The package will deliver for Glasgow tenants a £4 billion programme of investment over 30 years. It will lift £900 million of housing debts off the shoulders of Glasgow's tenants. It is a comprehensive programme of tenant influence and control.
I believe that our work in housing will go down as among the most significant achievements of the first session of Parliament. Prioritising those most in need has been the hallmark of the Executive's approach to housing and is reflected in our profound commitment to social justice. That is evident not only in our commitment to stock transfer or in the £47 million that we have committed to the decommissioning of the Glasgow hostels that deal with the most vulnerable of our citizens, but in the bill before us this afternoon.
I am grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate the clear blue water that exists between the Executive and the Conservative party. The Conservatives never offered to lift Glasgow's housing debt. That is why the transfer is such a radical move for Scottish housing.
The bill is the final component of a significant package of rights and resources for homeless people in Scotland. In commending the bill to the Parliament, it is proper that I recognise that we have reached this point due to the efforts of many
We should be proud of how far we have come since 1997. At that point, it was beginning to be recognised that homelessness was about more than simply housing. However, we had little information about the full extent of the problem and no strategic approach was in place to tackle it. No one can deny that things have moved on significantly since then. The Executive has funded a network of accommodation and support services to meet the complex needs of rough sleepers—we continue to provide funding to maintain those services. We have also moved forward on a range of other fronts, not least of which is the collection of appropriate statistics. Perhaps most important, local authorities are now required to develop and deliver homelessness strategies that are based on local assessments, which are to be regulated by Communities Scotland. Now at last we have a strategic framework in place, which is vital if we are to address the complex problems in a co-ordinated way.
Just as the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 raised the minimum rights for homeless people so that all were entitled to at least temporary accommodation and advice and assistance, the bill progresses further the rights of people who find themselves homeless. The three hurdles over which applicants had to jump have been changed. Priority need is extended, with a commitment that it should be phased out over the next decade. A local authority can choose, at its discretion, to investigate intentionality in cases that it thinks warrant that, but its responsibility for an intentionally homeless person is increased. Local connection will be suspended for all applicants across Scotland and the emphasis will be put on sustainable choices instead of limited and unsustainable options.
Those changes will not be rushed or undertaken lightly and they will happen with full consultation over the coming months and years. If the changes are to succeed, partnership working with local authorities and other landlords will be essential. However, the changes will enable a shift of emphasis away from the barriers between a homeless person and a home and towards
Inevitably, consultation and scrutiny of the legislative proposals highlighted areas of concern and areas where improvements could be made. I pay tribute to the work that the Social Justice Committee put into the bill. The committee's report emphasised two areas: resources to support the bill and the general housing supply, and the need to balance rights and responsibilities.
On the latter point, we lodged stage 2 amendments making it clear that the small minority of people who have a proven history of anti-social behaviour will not have an automatic right to access a short Scottish secure tenancy with support. Instead, they will be able to access only non-tenancy accommodation as a matter of course. The bill as amended strikes a proper balance between the rights of homeless applicants to access housing and the responsibilities that go with a public sector tenancy.
No one underestimates the fact that a significant commitment of resources will be required. We are making record funding available. Over the period of the spending review, £127 million is specifically allocated to prevent and tackle homelessness. Separate funding for the supply of social housing has also been made available with an average of £350 million a year over the next three years through the Communities Scotland development programme and through support to enable local authorities to transfer their houses to the not-for-profit social rented sector, which will lever in extra investment. That is a significant amount of money—17 per cent up on the current year—which will enable us to address the priorities of improving and replacing existing stock while meeting the needs of homeless people and others who have been squeezed out of housing markets.
I hope we will be able to look back with pride at the work of the Parliament and the commitment that it has given to considering some of the most significant and challenging social issues of our time. We cannot easily wipe away every social ill, but our determination—in partnership with local authorities, key service providers and the voluntary organisations that represent the interests of homeless people—has allowed us to tackle the fundamental causes of homelessness, to recognise and address the complexities of the issue, to engage all those who are required to be part of the solution and to put in place at last the necessary resources to tackle the problem. The bill has allowed the Executive to put Scotland at the front of the queue as one of the leading European nations in tackling homelessness.
That the Parliament agrees that the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Bill be passed.
On behalf of the Scottish National Party group, I thank the clerking staff, the convener of the Social Justice Committee and all those who gave evidence to help to produce this important piece of legislation. Although we are disappointed that amendments 6 and 16 were agreed to, we genuinely welcome the bill.
The bill covers important issues, including homelessness tests, priority need, anti-social behaviour, local connection and the support that homeless and vulnerable people will be able to obtain. All those issues were thoroughly discussed and debated in committee. The paucity of amendments reflects the genuine consensus among all parties on homelessness.
The number of homelessness applications has been at a record level. The key to delivery for Scotland's homeless people and those who might become homeless is resources, by which I mean money, adequately trained and deployed staff and new homes being built the length and breadth of the country. I know that those issues are exercising the private sector and the Executive.
The committee discussed hidden homelessness. There are concerns that there might be an upsurge in the number of homelessness applications as people benefit from the legislation. However, that is obviously a suck-it-and-see issue for the Executive. There are also concerns that the level of resources that will be required has not yet been assessed. We look forward to that happening.
The minister touched on housing stock transfer, which I did not think was part of the issue that we are discussing. However, I am happy to mention it. Now that stock transfer has been approved, I hope that there will be genuine community ownership. I hope that we do not see a situation in which big, national housing associations effectively take over what should be community-run housing associations. Those community-run associations genuinely deliver to people—small is beautiful, as my colleague Linda Fabiani has said. The SNP certainly wants secondary transfers at the earliest feasible opportunity.
The minister is right in saying that we cannot rush into implementing legislation. However, in our view, there have been delays in implementing some important aspects of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, as I mentioned in our discussions on the amendments. Although we do not want legislation, guidelines or implementation to be rushed, we do not want procrastination either. It is important to introduce the measures as soon as possible.
Despite the minister's comments about the Executive's work in tackling housing issues and
In conclusion, I believe that the bill is excellent. We must all ensure that it works for the most vulnerable in our society.
I take this opportunity to thank the clerks of the Social Justice Committee for all their hard work on the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill—as ever, they have been invaluable. I also thank all the organisations and individuals who took the time to aid us in our scrutiny of the bill.
It has been two and a half months since the stage 1 debate on the bill. During that debate, my Conservative colleagues and I indicated that we would support the bill at stage 1, albeit with grave reservations because of the Executive's failure to provide a proper cost analysis. We asked the Executive to provide at stage 2 a financial analysis of the costs associated with the bill's proposals, but we were disappointed. I ask members to note that we cannot vote for the bill to become law, although I do not say that we do not support the bill's intent, because we do. We support the proposals that endeavour to improve the system for dealing with homelessness. After all, it was the Conservatives who introduced the rough sleepers initiative in 1996.
I said that we would not vote for the bill. However, we will not vote against it either—we intend to abstain. If we have indicated that we intend neither to vote for nor to vote against the bill, the conclusion must be that we intend to abstain on it.
Not on that issue. I want to
We do not want to be party to an empty promise in which the Executive has failed to make an identified funding commitment. That would not be true blue.
The legislative changes proposed in the bill will result in increased demand for social housing. Some local authorities will have neither the stock nor the funds to cope with that demand. The extension of priority need and the fact that from 31 December 2012 the definition will include everyone who is classed as homeless are bound to result in more households applying to local authorities for accommodation.
The accompanying suspension of the local connection criteria—which will remove the ability of a local authority to refer an applicant to another authority to which the applicant has a connection—is bound to result in an influx of applicants to certain areas that may outstrip the supply of social housing that is available there. That was pointed out in evidence to the Social Justice Committee, when concerns were expressed about the amount of available housing in our less populated areas and in rural areas particularly. Highland Council said that the quality of life in the Highlands can be attractive to many, but that just one or two families can deplete the council's housing stock. Major cities fear an unsustainable increase in the number of people applying for social housing, especially youngsters who might now go to the cities to seek fame or fortune. Local authorities need extra funding from the Executive to provide the solutions that the bill promises. I accept that the Executive has that in mind.
The bill has been welcomed by organisations and individuals who work with and for homeless people in our society and whom we hold in high regard. Homelessness is a major problem in Scotland. In 2001-02, 46,500 households applied to local authorities as homeless, which represents a rise of 13 per cent on the figure when Labour took power in 1997. The real figure is estimated to be higher. Many more people who sleep rough do not appear in the official statistics. For them, establishing a tenancy would be like the answer to a prayer.
Labour promised to remove the need for anyone to sleep rough by 2003, but its policies have led to many youngsters going through the system on a revolving-door basis and moving from one form of temporary accommodation to another. Placing homeless people in temporary accommodation must be a temporary solution. Most people aspire to have their own home as a sanctuary.
The number of households that live in temporary
I was moved by what Jackie Baillie said at stage 2 about her amendment 35 on temporary accommodation, which prohibited the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for families with dependent children, except in emergencies. The key word is "emergency". Such accommodation is a last resort. Murray Tosh said it all in his remarks.
People need support if they are to make a smooth transition from homelessness to tenancy. Short-term support, help with furniture—because we are material girls and boys, after all—and long-term advice are required if we are to end the misery of homelessness. We must ensure that access to health advice, money advice and other community support is in place. I regret that the minister did not accept the argument behind my amendment 5 as a first step towards ensuring that support is available for the most vulnerable in our society. That would have been a big step forward.
The member says that the Conservatives cannot vote for the bill because of costs and some issues that cannot be resolved, but we rejected the one amendment that the Conservatives lodged because its effect was uncosted and because it would have added costs. The member's position is somewhat contradictory.
As I said, I appreciate that the proposed measure would have meant a bigger cost in the short term, but it would have created a long-term benefit.
I support the bill's aims but, without the proper financial backing, local authorities will not meet the high expectations of the bill. That is a bit like free personal care—we have the high expectation and then all the dither and delay about whether the policy will be achieved, yet the issue still remains a problem for some people.
I confess that I listened with perplexity to what I can only describe as a rather schizophrenic speech from Lyndsay McIntosh. I am bewildered by the Conservative party's position on homelessness and its solutions to the difficulties. Having sat through the Social Justice Committee's consideration of the bill with Lyndsay McIntosh, I thought that she was broadly sympathetic to what we were trying to do. I do not know where we stand now.
I think that there are only three survivors from the original members of what is now the Social Justice Committee, but Cathie Craigie can confirm that. Those of us who have served all that time feel that the passage of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill today means that three significant pieces of housing legislation will have been placed on the statute book. That will fulfil one of the pledges that I gave on behalf of the Liberal Democrats at the election—it was also made by Jim Wallace—that housing would be higher up the agenda than had recently been the case.
The legislative progress has been matched by the groundbreaking central heating investment scheme, the linked warm deal and the somewhat thorny but vital progress that has been made towards community empowerment and regeneration and long-term investment planning, which culminated in Margaret Curran's welcome announcement today that the Glasgow housing stock transfer project has been approved. I say to the critics of the Scottish Parliament that that housing agenda alone would justify the existence of the Parliament even if the Parliament had done nothing else.
The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill is primarily framework legislation, as in many respects was the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. It sets the framework for tackling the tragic curse of homelessness in Scotland. I hope that members will forgive me for mentioning that the bill builds on the pioneering work that was done at the time of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which was introduced by my Liberal Democrat colleague Stephen Ross MP and given Government support under the Lib-Lab pact of the time. Times move on and the demands of homelessness have got worse, not least as a result of some of the activities of Lyndsay McIntosh's party when it was in government. The time has come to widen the strategy in the way that the bill does.
It is important that the homelessness strategy should fit into the general fabric of housing provision in such a way as to strengthen the stability of local communities and not to undermine them. Most homeless people lack a house as a result of marital or relationship break-ups, natural disasters such as fires or flood or inability to pay
I entirely accept the ethos behind the measures to set in place a programme to assess need through local homelessness strategies, to widen the categories of need and to eliminate the concept of priority need over a period of time. Central to the success of the strategy, however, is the need greatly to improve support facilities, to put in resources and to encourage best practice in the identification and assessment of those with support needs. I am thinking of the provision that has been set up successfully at the Hamish Allen Centre in Glasgow.
I am glad that the minister gave such a helpful response to my amendments on support needs. I am also glad that the Parliament will be able to look at the issue again once local strategies are in place and reviewed. By then, we will know the scale of the requirement rather more precisely than we do at present.
I rather think that the Parliament will need to legislate again at that point. Members will recall the dissatisfaction with the advisory nature of the earlier homelessness guidance and the constant calls to make the guidance statutory. All the bureaucracies—whether the Department for Work and Pensions, social work services or the council—struggle to deliver speedy, good-quality and personal responses to need and to recognise individual rights in the process. Although I entirely accept the need to work in partnership with local authorities, sometimes a statutory framework is necessary to stimulate the process and to encourage councils through it.
During the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, I was struck by the fact that we were able to include a reference to the needs of children, which found its way into the relevant subordinate legislation. I want to thank the clerks—
I want to thank the minister, Margaret Curran, in particular, as she has played a significant part in developing the homelessness agenda. I also thank my colleagues on the Social Justice Committee for their input.
In conclusion, I do not know whether the bill will become known in American style as the Curran-McNulty Bill, but it marks a significant advance for homeless people. I am very glad to have played my part in its passage.
Like other speakers this afternoon, I would like to place on record my thanks to all those who have been involved in the bill. It has truly been a team effort that has involved many individuals and groups that represent the wide interests of homeless people and the local authorities that are to deliver the implementation of the legislation.
During the 1980s and 1990s, I campaigned to raise the profile of housing by highlighting the chronic underinvestment in our housing stock and the plight of the homeless. I share the view held by many that there was an ever-increasing need to place housing higher on the political agenda. At that time, we recognised that having a warm, secure and affordable home, together with a package of rights and responsibilities, was a key element in progress towards a more just society.
It has taken a long time for the issue to receive the attention that it deserves. During the years when the Tories were in power, it was hard to watch Scotland's housing stock decline through a lack of investment and homelessness increase, with people being blamed for bringing their homelessness on themselves. There was a lack of political direction in addressing the issue. As we have seen this afternoon, the Tories have not learned anything—they still do not have the political direction to take the issue forward.
However, as Robert Brown mentioned earlier, housing has now firmly taken its rightful place on the agenda. I am proud that, under a Labour-led Executive in the first session of the Parliament, we have placed housing at the heart of the political agenda with the enactment of legislation that makes, and will continue to make, a real difference to tenants and to people who do not have a home.
The Scottish Labour party is committed to tackling social exclusion and poverty in all its forms. Indeed, the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 has already demonstrated that Labour is tackling the problems of homelessness head on. The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill represents an addition to the important measures that have already been put in place.
We recognise that dealing with homelessness is not just about providing a roof over the head of an individual or a family. As we have heard, the vast majority of people who find themselves homeless are ordinary people like us. Thankfully, they will have to deal with that situation only once in their lives. The bill seeks to introduce measures to deal with people who find themselves in a less
Through this legislation, action will be taken to ensure that people's needs are met, that they are not just given the keys of a house without the proper resources and back-up and that they are not turned away after one interview with the claim that no one can help them. The bill will help people who have serious problems as well as those who experience temporary difficulties in their lives.
Everyone involved in the wide-ranging debate on homelessness has recognised that the problem will not be eliminated overnight and that a sensible and achievable time frame has been put in place. It is also recognised that considerable resources will be required if we are to deliver the improvements that are intended by the legislation. I know that the Executive has taken seriously the points that the Social Justice Committee and the Finance Committee made about resources, and that it will work with COSLA and everyone involved to ensure that we work towards eradicating homelessness.
I simply want to add my congratulations to the Executive, the Social Justice Committee and all the partners who helped to prepare the bill and to put it before the Parliament. Indeed, I hope that the Parliament will pass it very soon.
I was absolutely astonished by the Conservatives' response. They could have made their criticisms of the legislation and either left themselves unwhipped to respond as they saw fit or—much better—supported what is, after all, a real piece of legislation that addresses a real problem that affects far too many people in Scotland. The bill will make a difference and is fit for purpose.
I hope that, in the weeks to come, this piece of legislation will number among the many acts of the Parliament that will inspire the people of Scotland to become reconnected with local and national politics.
I am grateful to Mr Harper for leaving me some additional time, Presiding Officer. [ Interruption. ] It is all right—I am joking.
I came to the Parliament with a considerable background of action in the housing field and to progress issues that were important to me and to the people that I represented. I congratulate the minister on her bill and on the progress of her agenda.
However, the point about the level of resources, which the minister raised in her speech, concerns me. Clearly, resources for building are an important part of the strategy of providing supply to deal with homelessness.
I am concerned that, over and above what Kenny Gibson said about the strategic level of resource available to support new housing for social rent, my experience of a housing association is that resources taper downwards in much of Scotland, even where there is substantial demand.
I am also concerned that there appears to be a genuine problem with land supply in many parts of the south of Scotland. There are deficiencies in planning guidance, but guidance is necessary to encourage local authorities to find mechanisms to release the land to cater for the resources that I hope will become available.
I am concerned that the resource level assumed in the minister's thinking, in the speeches she makes and in the research that comes through her department means that the Executive is aiming its building programme at meeting the needs of emergent households. I am also concerned that there is no realisation of the need to cater for and to meet the needs of significant suppressed demand.
Lots of people in our communities do not feature as homeless, such as adults who live with their parents and people in temporary accommodation or shared tenancies. The quantification of housing need that I have seen does not adequately reflect those circumstances. There is considerable unmet need in Scotland and I hope that the bill will lead to the introduction of more resources to deal with it.
In politics, we must do what the Parliament did about free personal care: we resolved to pursue free personal care and we asserted the principle that the resources should follow the policy. The resources have followed that policy and the debate continues about whether the resources are sufficient. In the context of the bill, the policy should be asserted that there shall be enough resources to provide that every family in this country of ours will be adequately and decently housed by 2012. If the bill is passed, the consequence will be that the Executive must provide the resources. I hope that that will happen. The responsible thing to do is to support the bill and to demand that the resources will follow.
In politics, there is nothing without honour. I cannot agree to abstain from the vote on the bill or to oppose it because that would damn everything that I believe in and that I have worked for in public life for a decade and a half. I will support the bill this evening.
The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill sets the legislative framework for delivering ambitious targets for accommodation for all homeless people by 2012. That is an acceptable, moral and praiseworthy goal towards which we should all set ourselves.
In practical terms, the bill streamlines the current system. It confers additional rights for homeless people, it creates additional obligations for local authorities and it puts homeless people on an equal footing with others, which was not always the case in the past. Above all, the bill provides more effective solutions for those most in need of assistance.
The bill allows a phased approach to full implementation that takes account of the need to proceed on the basis of sound evidence, at a pace that is not only achievable but sustainable.
Following the spending review, the necessary resources have been set aside to implement the first phase over the next three years. The bill comes as a legislative culmination of a long process of improved responses to homelessness, but in many ways it is truly the beginning of the delivery phase of a policy that has been developed carefully in a consultative and inclusive way.
I will not repeat the list of the organisations that Margaret Curran read out, but many organisations and individuals have played significant roles in the development of the bill. I pay particular tribute to the roles of the Social Justice Committee and the Finance Committee, which asked searching questions that helped us to improve various aspects of the bill.
Legislation is an important part of that improved response, but it is only one part. It provides the foundation on which service delivery will be based. Local authorities are currently finalising their homelessness strategies, which will provide the framework for tackling homelessness in the future. Those strategies will respond to the legislative changes in the bill, but they will also look beyond it to focus on what is required locally to prevent homelessness where possible and to find effective solutions where homelessness occurs.
The first step is to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the causes and nature of homelessness in the area. The second is to plan and develop policies and services that will address the problem. The final step is to ensure the delivery of quality services to address
The strategies will incorporate the wider recommendations of the homelessness task force. For example, in developing those strategies, councils should consider concentrated support programmes for people facing eviction. They should review their arrears management and anti-social behaviour policies to ensure that those policies do not contribute to homelessness and should establish crisis-response systems to deal with the immediate aftermath of a household becoming homeless. The strategies will also incorporate health and homelessness action plans, developed jointly with health boards, and will include specific outcome agreements to continue the immense effort that has been made locally to tackle the very serious problems faced by people who sleep rough.
Implementation of the local authority strategies will require the participation and genuine commitment of a wide range of partners—that is a crucial point. Voluntary organisations, health boards, employers, private landlords, the Benefits Agency and homeless people are some of the local partners with whom authorities will need to work co-operatively. The commitment shown by organisations to date demonstrates that the system we propose is workable. We expect councils to act in a co-ordinated and coherent manner and to work in partnership from a sound evidence base. We will monitor the situation closely to make sure that that happens.
It is the Executive's intention to ensure that the bill's implementation will be based on objective evidence of homelessness numbers, resource requirements and availability and local authorities' ability to meet the demands of the bill. Flexibility is important, which is why we have ensured a phased implementation of the requirements. Communities Scotland's regulatory function will also provide an important monitor of our progress.
This Executive and the partnership parties are committed to working in partnership with key stakeholders to ensure that we have real agreement on the way forward and that progress will be sustainable. We will consult on and publish statements on the phasing out of priority need and on the modified operation of local connection.
I believe that this is a landmark bill for the Scottish Parliament. It shows that our parliamentary processes can deliver on the expectations of the Scottish people, that devolution is working and that we are listening and acting on the concerns of people in Scotland.
I look forward to the task that lies ahead for everyone in making sure that the bill does what it says on the tin.