– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:57 pm on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:57 pm, 21st June 2007

The next item of business is a subject debate on housing.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 3:42 pm, 21st June 2007

I begin by welcoming the Deputy First Minister, who rushed back from London today to attend this debate on housing. Despite what Johann Lamont said earlier, the Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and I regard housing as a top priority.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The minister says that housing is a priority, but how does he intend to build consensus in the chamber when he deliberately and wilfully ensured that we would not have access to a document that the journalists knew about?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I am afraid that the member's information is incorrect. I do not know what her view is based on. I presume that the document she is talking about is the research paper on housing supply, copies of which have been available at the back of the chamber since half past 2. The paper was also sent to business managers at half past 2. Nobody else saw it before that time.

The prosperity of our nation rests on having a good supply of houses—whether for owner occupation, social renting or private sector renting—where people want to live and on terms that they can afford. A healthy housing supply forms the bedrock of fairer, stronger and safer communities.

The new Scottish Government is acutely aware of the difficulties that many people face in achieving their basic housing aspirations. The challenges that lie ahead are immense, but the Government intends to tackle them.

First, the sobering reality is that simply not enough new houses are being built. There are more than 8,500 homeless households in temporary accommodation and there are unacceptably long waiting lists for affordable rented housing throughout Scotland. That is set against a backdrop of property prices that continue to rise at an alarming rate, which makes the problem worse. The consequences are serious not only for individuals and families but for the Scottish economy as a whole. High rates of house price inflation limit labour mobility and reduce our economy's competitiveness.

Secondly, the present arrangements for subsidising social housing are unsustainable. If we do not reform them, it will be impossible to satisfy the projected demand for social housing in future years.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Will the reforms address one of the problems in the Borders, which was recognised by one of the minister's predecessors as an area where the housing market is under particular pressure, so that the Scottish Borders Housing Association can retain receipts from right-to-buy purchases?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

If the member waits, he will hear what I have to say during this debate, as well as the further discussions that will take place throughout the summer and the year to come.

Satisfying the demand for social housing will require an astronomical injection of funding from the public purse—an increase on current spending levels of £750 million over the next three years.

In 2002, the average subsidy paid for each house built for social renting was £52,000. This year, it is £79,000, which is an increase of 35 per cent above inflation. A lot more money has been spent, but it is not necessarily the case that a lot more houses have been delivered. We need to find ways to get much better value for the large sums of money we spend on new housing, and ways to ensure that tenants get a fair deal for the rent they pay.

This Government has inherited from the previous Administration real problems in housing that have built up over many years. It is time to act and I want to work with those in the social housing sector to identify solutions that we can afford, that will work, and that will focus on delivering what tenants want. More than that, I want to enable the sector to adapt to the challenges that it faces in a rapidly changing society.

Working with stakeholders in the coming weeks, we will develop proposals to get better value and improve the deal for existing tenants and those in housing need. We will consult on those ideas in the autumn and I hope that the consultation will enable people throughout Scotland to join the debate and offer their own ideas about how the sector should adapt and contribute to meeting our strategic objectives for Scotland. This is not just about bricks and mortar, but about making informed decisions that chime with our wider goals to create a Scotland that is wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, smarter and greener.

One of the burning questions in my mind is whether we are getting value for the huge sums of taxpayers' money that is being ploughed into housing provision. The increasing cost of subsidy per house that I mentioned a moment ago suggests that we are not. We must get more housing for the public money we spend.

I began by stating my view that, overall, housing supply in Scotland is insufficient. I have therefore published today the Government's initial analysis of the Scottish housing market, which highlights the recent unprecedented growth in Scottish house prices. Copies have been at the back of the chamber since the report was published at 2.30.

Higher house prices act as a serious barrier to the aspirations of people who are trying to get on the housing ladder for the first time and those who are trying to move up. The study finds that such problems are especially acute in parts of rural Scotland and in Edinburgh and the Lothians, where up to 30 per cent of working households are unable to afford the cheapest accommodation. It is particularly concerning that the study shows that higher demand for housing is not being matched by an adequate supply response. Average house prices rose by 72 per cent between 2002 and 2006, but only 2 per cent more homes were built in 2006 than in 2002. Not enough homes are being built to meet our needs. Increasing housing supply overall in a way that creates vibrant, mixed and environmentally sustainable communities will be a major challenge for the Government and for local authorities, housing providers and the construction industry.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I am interested to know how the minister will build those houses. He will be aware that some of his back benchers believe that the housing association movement is privatisation. On the other hand, in a debate in February 2007, Roseanna Cunningham said:

"I do not care who builds affordable houses as long as they are built. They must be built both for rent and for sale".—[Official Report, 22 February 2007; c 32465.]

Can I assume that the minister is not rejecting the use of transfer to housing associations, or indeed the use of the private sector, which I understand the cabinet secretary ruled out in relation to the health service this morning?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Unfortunately, and as usual, Ms Lamont misinterprets our policies and where we stand on the issue. We have never ruled out small-scale stock transfer, and we do not view housing associations as privatisation.

Because of the entrenched and long-standing problems with housing supply, I have decided to establish and lead a housing supply task force to tackle obstacles such as land supply and the planning issues that have been hampering the delivery of more housing. It will challenge the way in which things are done so that the homes we need can be built where we need them. The task force will have a wide membership drawn from members of local authorities, house builders, the housing association movement and housing interest groups—all people who are in a position to bring about change. It will work to a clear remit and drive forward a focused plan of action.

I am pleased to say that we intend to work to create a Scottish housing support fund to provide additional help for the many people who struggle to afford a first home of their own.

We have begun to explore options with the private sector, which we know is keen to invest more in housing and regeneration in Scotland. We need to find new ways to make that happen. We are committed to supporting first-time buyers through the new fund, but we are also looking at providing direct grants, which will be considered in the context of the wider spending review.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

How does the Government respond to the suggestion that the housing support fund for first-time buyers and other policies such as the removal of any element of property tax are inflationary measures that will make life worse for people who aspire to be first-time buyers?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I do not necessarily accept what the member says but, as I said, we will consider all such issues as part of the wider review.

It has been acknowledged that the right to buy has been a popular route into home ownership for thousands of people over the years. We do not want to remove the rights of existing tenants, but as we set out in our manifesto, we will explore ways of achieving greater local flexibility in the operation of the scheme. That is only right when many areas face particular supply pressures.

I turn briefly to Communities Scotland. We want to consider how we can deliver our housing and regeneration commitments through a simpler public sector landscape that supports local delivery. I confirm that we will arrive at firm conclusions over the next few months. As a result, there will be no major changes in the meantime. I also confirm to Parliament that I have written to staff today to explain my thinking about the agency.

It is clear that change is needed if we are to respond to the housing needs of 21st century Scotland. This Parliament has shown its ability to work together to tackle important housing issues, not least the ambitious goal to provide homes for all unintentionally homeless people by 2012.

The adequacy of our housing supply and the sustainability of the way we fund our social housing are issues that are bigger than party politics. It is in all our interests, indeed it is our duty, to work together in a spirit of co-operation to end long waiting lists and bad housing. The people of Scotland deserve no less.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:52 pm, 21st June 2007

I welcome Stewart Maxwell to his position. However, I am genuinely disappointed that this first opportunity to debate housing should be so abridged. That, of course, is a matter for the Executive, which decided to include a statement and another debate as part of business earlier on. I am delighted by the presence of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and trust that she will respond to my point of order and ensure that, in the Cabinet, she is a strong advocate for housing.

Although I will speak about Stewart Maxwell's statement when the Presiding Officer responds, I say to Stewart Maxwell that he ought to recognise that Government by wizard wheezes and sleight of hand is demeaning to his office and insulting to this chamber. It will not do. I am not clear why the availability of what now appears to be an economic discussion paper was not indicated before, but I will pursue the matter later.

What consensus can achieve in Parliament when people work together, particularly in housing policy, has been a significant mark of the Scottish Parliament over the past eight years: the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 was passed by 114 votes to one; the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 was passed by 98 votes to none; and the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 was passed by 116 votes to one. The SNP will have to learn to do more than just spell the word "consensus" to achieve it in future.

There was clear agreement across the chamber on those policies. It was the significant work to build and achieve that consensus that was the new politics of Scotland—it built on the work of the housing improvement and homelessness task forces, it was shaped by the concerns and interests of MSPs in this Parliament and the communities that they represent, and critically, it understood that if we are going to build communities and good housing, we work with the communities to understand what the problems are and how they have to be solved. That approach is in stark contrast to the current one, which is represented by the SNP flagship policy of pledging £2,000 to first-time buyers. Remarkably, Mr Maxwell both departs from his policy and holds on to it at the same time.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Why was second-stage transfer never taken forward when the member was in charge of housing? Will she confirm that she was told by the Glasgow Housing Association in 2004 that there was not enough money for second-stage transfer to go ahead?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

First, the previous Executive was committed to second-stage transfer whereas the member's party opposed making a £700 million investment in Glasgow's housing. Therefore, we will take no lectures from those who had no confidence in the people of Glasgow.

The fact is that the first-time buyers policy has a recklessness cost of perhaps £50 million or £70 million and an opportunity cost.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Our minister says that the SNP does not know whether it will definitely implement that policy—that will depend on the comprehensive spending review.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The comprehensive spending review is not a process that happens to ministers. I want to know what the Minister for Communities and Sport will argue in the comprehensive spending review. Will he argue for his flagship policy, which everyone who works in housing has rubbished and which will not deliver the change that they want? Will he hold on to that policy or will he accept the inevitable fact that it will not work?

It is essential to address some of the significant tensions in housing. One issue with which we can all wrestle is how much affordable housing will be social rented housing and how much will be for low-cost ownership. What will we do for people whose stock has been transferred? What support will the Administration give people who voted for stock transfer? What will the SNP do for people who voted no because members of that party scaremongered them into voting against their own interest?

Nothing has been said about a capital programme in housing.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I thank the member for giving way. I remember well the debate on housing stock transfer in Glasgow. Some members feared that Glasgow Housing Association might become an entrenched provider of social housing and would be like a large company.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You are supposed to be asking a question, Mr Doris.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I will ask the question. Does the member agree that the best way in which to build confidence in social rented housing is for the Opposition to work with the Government to achieve second-stage transfer in Glasgow?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I know that Bob Doris has been a member only a short while, but I tell him that trying to rewrite history is a bad idea. Opponents of stock transfer said that it represented privatisation. The SNP actively encouraged people to vote against their own interests and against investment, but now it has nothing to say to the people of Renfrewshire, the Highlands or Edinburgh.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I want people to think about some of the hard issues. When the minister invests money, will he address need in rural areas or in economic hot spots or will he recognise the challenge in regeneration areas, where the pressure on housing costs does not exist, but a huge challenge exists nevertheless? Will the minister focus on the challenge of homelessness? We are proud of the priority that we gave to tackling homelessness, but the minister's dismal response—

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I just want the member to answer a simple question. If, now that she is in opposition, she is full of good ideas about how to face up to the challenge, why did she implement none of them when she had the chance in government?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

When ministers finally meet the housing organisations that they conceded this afternoon they would meet, they might want to reflect on the fact that those organisations supported everything that the previous Executive did on housing, saw that as the direction of travel and are calling on the current Administration to follow that.

There has been consensus. Members cannot rubbish what they first supported. They cannot say, "This is a new broom," without producing proposals to address the situation.

On homelessness, we must think about the challenge of mixed communities. We need to understand how we spend on homeless people. We need to consider not just bricks and mortar, but the serious question of what makes people homeless.

I do not think that the minister said anything about the right to buy.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should finish now, Ms Lamont.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We need to talk about pressured area status and so on.

The debate is important. We have had a bad start to it but, when there is productive and constructive work to do, Labour stands ready. We look forward to the challenge of developing housing strategy for the next period.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 3:58 pm, 21st June 2007

I share Johann Lamont's concerns about "Scottish Housing Market Review—Evidence and Analysis 2007", which is an excellent discussion paper. I am just sorry that I did not have the time to absorb it in order to discuss it, so that I could contribute in a more informed way to the debate.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Yes, but I have only four minutes for my speech.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The document is a research paper on the background statistics on housing supply in Scotland. The debate is not about that document.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

The document is a research paper on the background to housing supply and demand, which informs the debate enormously. I know that because, after I had written my speech, I found that the statistics and analysis in the document were far better than what was in my speech. If the Administration expects to co-operate with other parties, I suggest that it start treating us with some respect.

While I am talking to you, Mr Maxwell, I say that I did not think that your rhetoric this morning—categorising anyone who was opposed to your amendments as anti-Scottish—was helpful. I hope that the cabinet secretary will bring you into line because we are here to work positively.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. With the greatest respect, I ask that members address one another through the chair.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Thank you for bringing that to the attention of the chamber, Ms MacDonald. The Presiding Officers are bearing that in mind.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I welcome the Scottish housing support fund. I hope that we can enter into more constructive discussions about it in the future, because it sounds not unlike the Conservative version of the affordable housing trust—but that is for another day. Like others, I am delighted to have a debate on housing, especially affordable housing. As I am already halfway through my time, I will be brief.

I ask the minister to ensure that, when we discuss housing, we also discuss planning. I say that as a result of personal experience. Around Inverness, not hundreds but thousands of new houses are being built. That is an example of building houses but not building communities. A new school that is opening not far from my house is already almost full, although there are still hundreds of houses to be built. When houses are being built, councils should plan for communities, not simply for isolated housing estates.

I was just saying to my colleague Jackson Carlaw that I am not sure where the SNP stands on housing stock transfer. I thought that it was against it; now, I think that it may be in favour of it. We are certainly in favour of it. I hope that council tenants, especially in the Highland region, will get an opportunity to vote again, whether on a small scale or a larger scale. There is no doubt that, with the housing debt in the Highland region, the council is unable to invest in the properties.

I understand that the £2,000 for first-time buyers will be given to all, from the needy, who are struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder, to those who are well off. I share the view that has been expressed that the grant could be inflationary and could benefit both the landowners and the sellers, while making house prices even higher for first-time buyers.

I ask the minister to look again at the single-seller survey.

Finally, I ask the minister to reconsider the national registration scheme for private landlords, which was put into the wrong bill. The scheme should have been included in housing management legislation, not antisocial behaviour legislation.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat 4:03 pm, 21st June 2007

For many years, I have been concerned, and at times shocked, by the realities that are faced by many people throughout Scotland, from empty flats that have been stripped of their fixtures and fittings—including central heating systems—to young single mothers with two or three children, some of whom have chronic health problems, seeking new housing. Yet, in the vast majority of cases, there is no prospect of the residents being willing or able to buy their own council homes; therefore, affordable housing to rent is the only option that will enable them to have a decent standard of living.

Despite massive private housing developments in my constituency, as well as in others, the greatest need is in the affordable housing sector. Over the past 20-plus years, Thatcher's right to buy and the break-up of families have been just two of the problems that have contributed significantly to massive pressures on our housing market. With more demand comes the need to cater for all sectors in the housing market.

Affordable housing is broadly defined as housing of reasonable quality that is affordable to people on modest incomes. In some places, the market can provide some or all of the affordable housing that is needed; in other places, it is necessary to make housing available at a cost below market value to meet housing needs.

However, no matter the affordability of housing, it must be available in sufficient numbers and size and in the right locations to meet modern needs. Nothing can be worse than not having a home at all. That is why the previous Government's groundbreaking legislation to end homelessness by 2012 is so important. The programme to tackle homelessness has received international acclaim, and Scotland has rightly been recognised as having the best legislation on homelessness in western Europe.

The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 ended a bias in the law that left single people or childless couples sidelined in temporary accommodation. Housing organisations such as Shelter and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations say that 30,000 more homes need to be built by 2011 if we are to handle the pressures that the 2012 target will put on the social housing market. I certainly hope that the Government will not let that extremely tough challenge slip by; there was no mention of it in the SNP's manifesto.

Finally, I turn to the often thorny issue of housing stock transfer. No local authority in Scotland could have claimed that all its stock met the Scottish housing quality standard. Indeed, a vast amount of the housing stock of some local authorities was in very poor condition. I do not blame particular local authorities for that but, for the authorities concerned, stock transfer offered a lifeline, in that it enabled them to wipe out their massive housing debt and to get the stock improved or replaced. Other local authorities, including mine in Fife, made a good case to Communities Scotland on how they could retain their housing stock and invest in improving it to meet the 2015 SHQS.

One size certainly did not fit all but, fortunately, the previous Government gave local authorities and communities a say in the future of their housing stock. Yet again, the SNP opposed stock transfer. I hope that the Government will admit that thousands of people in Scotland are now benefiting from new or refurbished homes because their local authority chose to transfer its stock.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:06 pm, 21st June 2007

I am delighted to welcome my friend Stewart Maxwell to his first debate as the minister responsible for housing. He has a difficult brief because he has inherited a mess from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who neglected housing in Scotland for the eight years for which they were in government. I acknowledge fully that the previous Administration put through the Parliament a raft of homelessness and housing legislation that had the SNP's support but, by and large, that legislation was underfunded and those chickens are coming home to roost.

Let us examine the state of housing in Scotland. We face record waiting lists, record levels of homelessness and the lowest number of first-time buyers on record. We did not need the research document that has been issued today to tell us that; the trends have been apparent for a number of years.

Given the importance of housing, I am delighted that the SNP Government has decided to hold a parliamentary debate on the subject in its first month in office. In the second session of Parliament, the previous Executive, in contrast, did not hold a single debate on housing in 2003. It was not until 4 February 2004 that it held a debate on the subject. In the first parliamentary session, the first such debate was not held until 10 November 1999, when the topic was homelessness rather than housing. The SNP Government should take no lectures from the Labour members who complain about a lack of commitment to housing.

The housing organisations claim that 30,000 houses are needed in Scotland. I have no doubt that they are right, but that is simply recognition of the backlog in house building that the previous Executive allowed to build up. The previous Executive's record is quite shameful. Every year between 1999 and 2004, the Executive built fewer houses than the Tories did in 1995. That is why we have a backlog.

I am delighted that the housing minister will progress the proposal to create a Scottish housing support fund, which was in our manifesto. That will make an enormous difference to first-time buyers. As Mary Scanlon mentioned, it is not dissimilar to the Tories' policy, but it is a great deal better. I invite Mary Scanlon to engage with us.

Patrick Harvie said that our proposal could be inflationary, but I am sure that he attended the meeting of the Communities Committee in session 2 at which the previous Executive's expert, Professor Bramley, said that a properly targeted Scottish housing support fund—which is what the SNP proposes—would not produce inflationary pressures in the housing market. Patrick Harvie should have another look at what Professor Bramley said.

There are many things that the Government must do. I urge the minister to examine, at the earliest opportunity, the situation of the GHA and to ensure that those housing associations that are in a position to receive houses receive them as quickly as possible. We must not allow the GHA to prevent that, and we look forward enormously to its happening, because the previous Executive failed to deliver for the people of Glasgow.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 4:10 pm, 21st June 2007

I am glad that we are debating housing, but I echo Johann Lamont's disappointment at the length of the debate, which has prevented many of my colleagues who wished to participate from doing so. We need to look at that issue in the future.

I represent the Highlands and Islands, where there are a range of housing issues. We have urban problems in Inverness, Thurso, parts of Argyll and some of the smaller towns, where houses were built to cope with incoming workers during the oil boom. That estate needs to be updated and cared for. In more remote areas, we have problems with the availability of land for rented and affordable housing. Throughout the area we have a problem with housing prices, which is most extreme on the west coast and in the Cairngorms national park. Many houses are sold as second homes, and local people cannot afford to compete with people coming from cities, who can outbid them on each occasion.

We need to protect the affordable and social rented housing sector in rural areas. The previous Executive instigated pressured area status, and the current Executive must work with local authorities to ensure that they use that power to protect housing stock, where necessary.

We need to consider solutions from other areas. In the Yorkshire Dales national park and on Guernsey, the housing market is restricted to those who have family ties with, have lived in or require to work in the area. Guernsey has another market for those who want to buy second and holiday homes. It recognises that that brings benefits, but ensures that such buyers do not compete with local people and price essential workers out of the market.

In the Highlands, people need to do several jobs, some of them seasonal, to make a living. Those diverse incomes are not recognised by banks and building societies as a stable basis for a mortgage. If we restricted the markets in such areas, local house prices would reflect the income of those who live and work there, which would mean that there was a level playing field.

The homestake scheme has been particularly successful in giving people on low incomes the opportunity to own their homes. By using shared equity schemes, people can get on to the property ladder and build up equity in their property. The scheme that operates in Edinburgh and the Lothians, which allows homestake to be used to buy houses on the open market, should be extended to other areas. It would be particularly useful in rural areas, where it is difficult for social landlords and developers to build. I ask the Scottish Executive to commit itself to continuing and extending the scheme.

The cost of land in both rural and urban areas also prohibits house buying and building, which adds to difficulties with the availability of housing stock. We need to consider ways of providing services that are both affordable and sustainable in those areas.

Johann Lamont made the point that the council housing estate in areas such as Highland needs modernisation. The nationalist Executive has a moral duty to provide the funding for that, given that it campaigned against stock transfer, misleading people into believing that it meant privatisation. The Executive has a duty to ensure that money is available for investment in Highland housing stock.

I urge the nationalists to look again at their policy of giving £2,000 grants to first-time buyers. That will lead to an increase of £2,000 in house prices for those who can already afford to buy and will do nothing for those who are in genuine need. The money needs to be more targeted, to allow those who need to buy a first home to do so. It must also be targeted at families who own a small home, have had children and need, but cannot afford to move to, a bigger house. A successful housing policy must be multifaceted and geared to meeting the needs of the whole population. It should not be just a populist gimmick.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:14 pm, 21st June 2007

I welcome this opportunity to debate housing policy. Like many members who campaigned in the recent election, I found that affordable housing was a key issue that was raised with me time and again. It is a massive subject across Scotland, particularly in my region of the Highlands and Islands and especially in the more remote areas and on the islands.

In Argyll and Bute, which has 27 inhabited islands, the average salary is £17,758, which is a good deal less than the Scottish average of £21,149. It is interesting to work out what an average person who buys an average house at £151,000 is left to live on once the cost of their housing is taken out. After income tax at 22 per cent, that average person would receive £1,143 a month, while their total monthly outgoings for mortgage, council tax and water charges would amount to £1,157.80. That would leave them minus £15 to pay for everything else. Such a situation is clearly unsustainable, and our proposal for affordable housing trusts would make a difference by helping to shoulder the burden, particularly for first-time buyers.

Since the election, I have continued to receive numerous letters and e-mails from young people in the Highlands and elsewhere who are desperately trying to find a place on the housing ladder. Indeed, I received a typical letter just this week from a Mrs Lucy Pond, who lives on Tiree. She and her husband, who are committed to staying on the island and have full employment, have been desperately trying to find permanent accommodation for more than four years. Sadly, their frustration and anger are shared by far too many young couple across Scotland. We must find ways of increasing the amount of affordable rented property, given that the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased by 150 per cent since 1999. That dreadful record was, I am afraid to say, achieved by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

As other members have pointed out, infrastructure is critical to the provision of affordable housing, and I support the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland's call for Scottish Water to engage positively and constructively with Communities Scotland—for as long as it remains—local authority housing departments and registered social landlords to ensure that future water and sewerage investment ties in with strategic housing investment plans. It is crucial to get that kind of joined-up thinking and planning.

Although communities throughout Scotland are in real need of new affordable housing, they are told repeatedly that they cannot get it because of development constraints. That is simply not good enough: development constraints need to be tackled in our villages and small towns as well as in our larger towns and cities. In that respect, the SNP has promised action to remove the barriers that impede investment in water and sewerage.

However, the SNP has also pledged to create a Scottish housing support fund to provide loans to first-time buyers. We do not know whether such a move will provide value for money, and I ask the minister to consider the Scottish Conservatives' suggestion for affordable homes trusts. Indeed, the Council of Mortgage Lenders has been positive about that proposal, which goes further than the Government's proposals. It is vital that the Executive engages with the private sector, which has a key role in helping to tackle the lack of affordable housing.

As it is—regrettably—unrealistic to expect everyone to own their own home, we want to ensure that social housing works better for those who need it. Transferring housing allocation powers to local government would help in that respect. After all, the present centralised control leads to families being matched with homes that are unsuitable both for their needs and for the community. Local authorities that make a local judgment based on local circumstances have a far greater chance of getting things right than remote politicians who try to micromanage the housing situation.

Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Scottish National Party 4:19 pm, 21st June 2007

I congratulate the minister on his appointment to a new—and, in the coming years, no doubt challenging—role.

In my experience, many organisations pay lip service to active participation by communities in areas where public sector housing need is the greatest and, in some cases, the most problematic. I had the privilege of working with tenants and residents groups in Castlemilk after its designation in 1988 by the then Conservative Government at Westminster as one of the new life for urban Scotland partnership areas.

The United Kingdom Government policies of right to buy and large-scale voluntary transfer have produced many changes in the housing market in the past 25 years. Moreover, there was a push in recent times by the two previous Scottish Executive Administrations towards large-scale voluntary stock transfers of public sector housing, which was marketed as community ownership. Some people might say that that was pushing the concept a touch too far.

That was typified by Glasgow City Council's stock transfer in 2001, which led to the creation of the Glasgow Housing Association. It is clearly a great misnomer to call the GHA a "housing association"—that term was used to build on the perception of local housing associations as successful agents for local change. That policy thrust took place not only in an urban context, but in rural areas—for example, the housing stock transfer from Argyll and Bute Council.

The Social Housing Journal of May 2007 highlighted the fact that Argyll Community Housing Association received gap funding from the public purse to the extent that the UK Exchequer and Communities Scotland wrote off its housing debt of £48 million. In addition, Communities Scotland provided early action funding of £15 million.

The gap funding in the GHA's finances has been well documented, but it is significant that the stock condition survey—commissioned by the GHA, funded by the public purse and undertaken by Savills—has not, to my knowledge, been made public. The survey is cloaked in secrecy and I urge the minister and the Scottish Government to make public the survey document, which I believe goes to the heart of the issue of the GHA's financial viability.

That brings me to the issue of corporate governance and the role of Communities Scotland. I note what the minister said about that agency, but I seek assurances about the timetable for implementing the SNP manifesto commitments on Communities Scotland. All too often, there has been a revolving-door situation in that Government agency. A culture exists in which an officer leaves his or her post, joins a consultancy or becomes a consultant to advise housing bodies on, for example, regulation and inspection, then further down the line is re-employed by Communities Scotland. It could be argued that there are conflicts of interests in the roles and remits of that organisation's staff.

On the corporate governance issues that relate particularly to registered social landlords and housing associations, some larger associations have a small shareholding membership. Peter Malpass and Alan Murie, who are well-respected housing professors, used the phrase "self-perpetuating oligarchies" to describe housing association committees.

Homelessness and social inclusion are key issues that the Government must tackle, and a holistic approach to health and housing is crucial. However, only with independence can that agenda be taken forward to make a sustained contribution towards creating a healthier Scotland.

The term "affordability" has entered the language of housing in Scotland in the past few years. However, the issue of what people can afford to pay to meet their housing needs has always been paramount in the context of household budgets.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 4:23 pm, 21st June 2007

Many of our housing availability problems rest firmly at the Tories' door. They sold off 2.1 million houses that were public accommodation.

I was interested to hear Patricia Marwick quote Glen Bramley in support. Interestingly, I have another quotation of his that is not quite so supportive. Referring to the proposed £2,000 that we have heard the SNP talk about, he said that

"It would help a small number of extra people," and that 98 per cent would not be helped. Others have said that the £2,000 grant could potentially be inflationary. In any case, it does not deal with the fundamental issue of public housing stock.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I thank the member for using my Sunday name.

My comments about Glen Bramley related not to the £2,000 grant, but to the shared equity scheme—the Scottish housing support fund—that the SNP proposes.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

I thank the member for her clarification, but my point holds good. The £2,000 grant will not make much difference. Although it might pull some extra people into ownership, it is not targeted and it is expected to cost between £40 million and £70 million. We could build an extra 1,000 houses for that money—that is what the director of Shelter Scotland said, and who knows more about the urgent need for housing in Scotland than the people at Shelter and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations? There is general discontent in the field about the SNP's proposals.

I supported the principle of housing stock transfer, as did the Liberal Democrats in general. The main attraction for me was the potential for local community ownership, which would enable people to own houses and have a say in their management. We all know stories about the mismanagement of housing stock by large local authorities, which in many ways created and contributed to the current crisis.

However, I am seriously worried about a trend in housing stock transfer—I leave aside the nonsense about the GHA stock transfer, to which members referred. I am concerned that super housing associations are scooping up small, community-based, local housing associations. In Cumbernauld, which is my home town, the Cumbernauld Housing Partnership is about to be subsumed into the Sanctuary Housing Association. I understand that there is a similar situation in East Kilbride, and there have been other such instances throughout the country. We are transferring stock from democratic, although clearly not competent, organisations to non-democratic organisations whose competence is equally questionable. The minister must make it a priority to address that. We were encouraged to support non-democratic organisations simply to satisfy Treasury rules. In one case, such an organisation controls 56,000 houses. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Thank you, but I am worried that you might break your microphone.

I seek the minister's assurance that he will include federations of tenants associations in all consultation on the way forward. Thus far, Communities Scotland has failed to do so.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 4:28 pm, 21st June 2007

I will concentrate on the supply of affordable homes, first considering Scotland as a whole, and then concentrating on Edinburgh and Leith.

The previous Administration was planning to build 8,000 affordable homes Scotland-wide this year. The annual total build has increased steadily, and 8,000 is the highest number for many years. The figure was based on analysis done by Professor Glen Bramley for the most recent spending review, which he updated last year for the forthcoming spending review. In his most recent, detailed and complex piece of work, "Local housing need and affordability model for Scotland: Update", Professor Bramley emphasised that need has increased substantially since his previous report, as a result of market changes. That is why the number of new affordable homes built each year must continue to increase. Like Stewart Maxwell, I signed the Shelter-inspired motion that was lodged before the election, which called for 10,000 affordable homes for rent to be built in each of the next three years. Patrick Harvie lodged the same motion this week.

As well as the market changes that Bramley emphasised, I flag up our ambitious 2012 homelessness target, which has been widely admired internationally. We should all be proud of the target. The forthcoming spending review will be critical in the successful delivery of the target. The Government needs to consider capital spend throughout the Executive and must give the utmost priority to our flagship homelessness commitment.

One of the most striking tables in Bramley's authoritative report appears on page 8. It shows the positive net need for new affordable homes in each local authority in Scotland.

The positive net need in Edinburgh is shown to be five times that in any other local authority in Scotland. Despite the budget allocation for affordable homes in Edinburgh being twice what it was three years ago, it is still well below the per capita Scottish average. That historic imbalance has begun to be corrected, but there is a long way to go. According to Professor Bramley, Edinburgh has a shortage of 2,500 affordable lets each year—and that is before we consider new homelessness rights and a projected 11 per cent population increase and 22 per cent household increase over the next 15 years.

This is an urgent social issue. A large number of individuals and families are excluded from the social rented sector and are unable to buy because the average house price in Edinburgh is around eight times the average full-time wage in Edinburgh. It is also a pressing economic issue. Employers in both the public and private sectors feel the impact of people's inability to access housing. The minister will have noticed that the Edinburgh problem is highlighted in the report issued today.

Some have argued that the problem in Edinburgh is not resources but land. Land is certainly an issue, and more has to be released for housing, both market and subsidised. We also need to find out urgently why the affordable housing contributions in private developments have been slow to come on stream in Edinburgh. However, the key land issue is cost. Land in Edinburgh costs three and a half times the Scottish average and therefore takes up a higher proportion of housing grant than anywhere else in Scotland.

In Edinburgh and elsewhere, the bulk of resources has to go into affordable rented housing. However, we also have to continue the very successful shared equity homestake scheme, which has helped hundreds of first-time buyers and others in Edinburgh, Leith and elsewhere in Scotland. That will be a much more effective way of subsidising first-time buyers than a blanket £2,000 subsidy, which has been condemned by all the well-known housing organisations.

I look forward to the autumn consultation on better value that Stewart Maxwell announced. I hope that a way will be found to spread housing subsidy over a longer period, without going down the private finance initiative route.

Will Stewart Maxwell follow through the logic of the Bramley report and of the report issued today? Will he ensure that, in the distribution of resources for new affordable homes, the particular circumstances of Edinburgh are taken into account?

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 4:32 pm, 21st June 2007

As this is my first speech to the Parliament, I want to start by paying tribute to my predecessor Margaret Jamieson. Margaret served her constituents over eight years with great diligence and commitment, and I wish her well for the future.

Although I come here with a sense of delight and honour in being elected to serve Kilmarnock and Loudoun, I also come with great sadness and heartbreak. My brother, Councillor Danny Coffey, died suddenly only a few short weeks after being selected to contest the seat. The honour that I feel in standing here among you all—despite the earlier exchanges—is a tribute to Danny's life and work for our beloved Scotland. Many of my local party colleagues will be forever in his debt.

As a local councillor, I have many years' experience in dealing with housing matters. In my view, many of the housing problems that we face today fall broadly into three main areas: the lack of affordable housing and the consequent huge waiting lists; the requirement for capital programme investment to maintain and improve the remaining stock; and the overall standards of service that people receive, including services in repairs and estate management.

Housing services are at a crossroads. Although investment in capital programmes has been good in my authority area in East Ayrshire, there remain many concerns about the lack of supply and the overall standards of service. Those concerns will have to be addressed.

The challenges faced by my authority are probably no different from the challenges faced by other housing authorities across Scotland. Annual stock losses due to sales are around 350 a year; more than 5,000 applicants are on our waiting list, but we manage to make only an average of 1,200 allocations a year; and the impact of trying to meet homelessness targets through the general needs waiting lists is causing us serious problems. Furthermore, there are problems of dissatisfaction with repairs and in dealing with antisocial behaviour. All those points indicate the scale of our problems.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. I was pleased to hear that the minister has committed to examining the supply issue—at least via the task force—and I also welcome his plans for consultation on the overall future direction for housing. I hope that I will be able to influence his thinking a little and that I might ask him to consider at least a few of the following points over the coming months.

We should certainly plan to build communities, not just houses, as Mary Scanlon mentioned. We should encourage local authorities to promote vigorously their rented housing stock and spell out the advantages of renting as opposed to buying. We should also consider providing incentives for those with long-standing tenancies. Other businesses seem be innovative in doing that, so why can we not do it in the housing sector? We should be more flexible about offering upgrades that tenants want, rather than giving them what the housing authorities decide that they should have. We have to work constantly on customer satisfaction and on making improvements if people are to stay with the social rented sector. We have to get smarter about working with our partners to deal with those who make life a misery for the residents of many of our housing estates.

I am delighted to support the minister in his address to the Parliament on the future of housing in Scotland. If we make good progress on that, we will have taken vital steps towards delivering housing services that are fit for 21st century Scotland.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 4:36 pm, 21st June 2007

I congratulate Willie Coffey on his maiden speech; I think that he will fit in very well here. I agree with Hugh O'Donnell's concluding remarks that tenants should be consulted—they are the one group that we had not heard about.

I was the director of Shelter about 30 years ago. When the Conservatives introduced the right to buy, we warned them that, 25 or 30 years down the road, we would have a housing crisis in Scotland. It gives me no pleasure to say that we were right. The Conservatives, perhaps more than most, have a duty to help the Government put things right.

The right to buy should be suspended in areas such as Edinburgh where it is perfectly obvious that the loss of housing stock cannot be made up in the required time. We should consider that suspension not as a national measure, but a local one, because the situation in other areas is different. However, I speak for Edinburgh and it would be a good idea to suspend the right to buy there for some time. As Malcolm Chisholm said, people cannot afford to live in Edinburgh—the sort of people we need if the city is to remain vibrant and feasible. They are not poor people—they are holding down well-paid jobs—but they cannot afford to buy houses, given that the average house price in Edinburgh is £220,000, which is eight times the average annual salary.

Of the 10,400 new homes built in the city since 2001, only 18 were affordable homes. We need 12,000 affordable homes to be built over 10 years if we are to keep the people I referred to living in the city.

The tenants in Edinburgh, who are the sort of people I am concerned about, used their democratic right to vote against the stock transfer. I will not go into the reasons, but simply acknowledge that they did so as intelligent people who considered what had happened with stock transfer elsewhere and made their decision. The debt should be written off for them, as it was written off for the people in other local authorities who voted for stock transfer. I appreciate that the issue concerns lots of other housing authorities too, but the minister should make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—whoever that is after next week—that we should be fair and even-handed in our treatment of tenants.

I will finish with another plea for capital city funding. Edinburgh gets much less money from the Executive for public investment in affordable houses and other things than does any other place in Scotland. If we want a capital city that will showcase the country and if we acknowledge the part that Edinburgh plays in the economy of the country, we need capital city funding.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 4:39 pm, 21st June 2007

It is unfortunate that we have had, for various reasons, a somewhat truncated debate, as housing is an important subject. I welcome the new minister to his position, but he has not helped the tone and tenor of the debate by suggesting that the previous Administration did absolutely nothing about housing. Perhaps he got a little carried away in his enthusiasm in his new post.

Of course we understand that there have been huge changes in the housing market in the past five to 10 years. Nobody could have predicted the housing need in Scotland as a result of the total change in the composition of houses at a time when our population has, at best, been stable; it has actually declined in some areas. Economists, and even certain housing associations, could not have predicted that. General inflation rates have been fairly stable for the past 10 years, but housing inflation has not, I regret to say. Governments of all countries have not readily been able to cope with those two factors.

The minister suggested that the previous Administration did nothing, but it would be unfortunate not to recognise the then record investment in new housing. Malcolm Chisholm mentioned the 8,000 new affordable homes that it was planned to build, which would have represented a 34 per cent increase on previous levels. We should recognise that the empty homes initiative brought another 1,400 houses back into use in Scotland; that the previous Executive set a target of 25 per cent of new housing developments to be affordable; that we reduced the council tax discount on second homes, which released £20 million for affordable housing; and that we promoted the homestake shared equity scheme, which has been widely recognised as having made a singular contribution to dealing with the problem, as has the setting of a homelessness target for 2012—many members have mentioned that. Recognising those facts would have helped. I am not suggesting for one minute that there is not much to be done, but if we are to have a constructive debate on this all-important subject, it would be helpful to acknowledge first, the genuine economic circumstances against which the problem is set, and secondly, that the incremental changes that have been brought about suggest that much needs still to be done.

Such acknowledgement would certainly have made it easier for members to judge the minister's statement against what has happened. The minister mentioned the key areas, and it would be difficult to suggest that there is substantial disagreement about what the major issues are in respect of affordable housing, or homelessness, or his stock transfer proposals. He told us that he will set up a housing supply task force and he referred to a housing support fund. It was unclear, however, whether he is still stuck with the SNP's manifesto commitment, which has been widely criticised not only by housing experts here; we understand that he lifted the idea from Australia, where it has also been severely criticised. It was difficult to get a handle on what specific measures the minister proposes and, as the SNP is now the Government, we must judge and test it on its proposals.

I hope that, in the weeks and months that follow, the minister will flesh out his ideas on how to deal with the key issues of homelessness and affordable housing, and that he will tell us what the Government thinks is the level of new building that should be achieved—the Liberal Democrats certainly addressed that during the election campaign—and what is meant by supporting small stock transfers. Of course, he may have issues with elements of the Glasgow transfer, but his party appears to oppose that throughout the country.

The debate has not been as constructive and helpful as it could have been, but I hope that the new minister will flesh out the issues that I have mentioned and that he will make available Executive time—many members have suggested that—in which we can have a more substantive debate on an issue so crucial to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative 4:44 pm, 21st June 2007

The Scottish National Party's fountain of charm, which Mary Scanlon mentioned only a week ago, has suddenly dried up. In that spirit, I begin by repeating the objections that other members have made to the SNP's proposed flagship grant of £2,000 to first-time buyers. The proposal would be expensive; in 2005, such a grant would have cost some £272 million if it had been taken up by the 34,000 first-time buyers. We cannot see how such a grant would be meaningful. We share the view that has been expressed inside and outside the chamber that it might simply be taken for granted and incorporated into property price inflation.

However, there is a more fundamental inconsistency. In recent weeks, both the First Minister and John Swinney have said that they object strongly to the Scottish Conservatives' proposal to extend a council tax discount of 50 per cent to pensioners as the discount would be universal to all pensioners, which would mean that it would assist better-off pensioners. However, does not the SNP's grant do exactly the same thing? Will not all first-time buyers benefit, irrespective of income? Alex Salmond said that the Queen would benefit from our proposal, as she would get a 50 per cent council tax rebate on Balmoral. However, surely, if Prince William or Prince Harry choose to set up home in Scotland, they will benefit from the first-time buyer grant. That is where the minister and the First Minister stand—they are sometime republicans who are set to launch an initiative, the unintended consequence of which might be to encourage a series of young royals to come to Scotland, tempted by the prospect of a bung from the Scottish Executive for a deposit on their first country estate. How very egalitarian.

Not only is the SNP's policy hugely expensive, it is the wrong response and represents a monumental inconsistency in the principles at the heart of the Government. Why should taxpayers subsidise those who can, ultimately, afford to buy their own home? In any event, if concern for first-time buyers is sincerely held by all the other parties, why did they support Gordon Brown's abolition of the mortgage interest relief at source scheme, which hit first-time buyers especially hard? I well remember the Liberal Democrats in Westminster salivating at the prospect of the abolition of MIRAS.

However, we share the ambition of the SNP to release more public land for housing and will support initiatives to bring that about. We support action on Communities Scotland and look forward with anticipation to the minister's bold thinking in that regard. As Mary Scanlon and Jamie McGrigor have said, there are clear parallels between the SNP's Scottish housing trust fund and the Conservatives' affordable homes trust. We have urged the SNP to overcome its serial objection to the involvement of the private sector, particularly in this area, in which such involvement would have a profound effect, and I am glad to note that the SNP appears to have done so. The involvement of the private sector would make a great difference to first-time buyers and people who undertake essential community roles in nursing, teaching, the police and fire brigades and who are urgently in need of affordable homes in the places where today's report says that, in just three years, the percentage of homes deemed to be unaffordable has increased alarmingly.

I hope that the Executive will listen to us and work with us—whether or not Tricia Marwick thinks that our scheme is preferable—to give effect to a policy that will make a real difference.

The Executive's proposals do nothing about the depressing 46 per cent rise since 1997 in the number of homeless people and the 123 per cent rise since 1999 in the number of families living in temporary accommodation. That is a grim legacy. I pay tribute to Willie Coffey's thoughtful remarks in that regard.

There is no single solution. However, we believe that housing stock transfer offered meaningful progress and we will continue to urge an area-by-area transfer, which, it seems, the minister has agreed to this afternoon—an even bigger U-turn than hitherto, and the antithesis of the blistering rhetoric employed by the SNP in relation to local referenda. The obvious financial and vital investment benefit is too great to allow us to walk away from the recent difficulty. The option might not strike everyone as being ideal, but it is the only big-bucks show in town and it will make a real difference.

Poor-quality housing is one of the issues that is at the heart of our poor public health record and, frankly, hope is not a strategy.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 4:48 pm, 21st June 2007

I start by acknowledging the words of Willie Coffey. Margaret Jamieson was a good friend to those of us on this side of the chamber and we appreciate the comments that he made. We recognise the significant personal challenge that it must have been to make that contribution. If any other members made a maiden speech this afternoon, I congratulate them as well.

On the issue of planning, I refer the minister to the planning advice note on affordable housing, which states that developments are expected to meet a benchmark for affordable housing of 25 per cent. We hope that he will ensure that that is pursued.

I have some respect for Tricia Marwick on housing matters. I say to her that there was a consensus in the previous session on the direction of travel and that housing organisations are not saying that the situation was shameful. No one could credibly suggest that there was not discussion, debate, deliberation and consideration of housing policy at a significant and detailed level over the past eight years. It is misrepresentation to say that the ideas were good but the investment was not there. We know that there were record levels of investment and we all recognise the challenges that are involved in this area. In that regard, however, I ask the minister what investment he is committed to, at this stage, in relation to his proposals.

I am a fan of locally based housing associations. I ask the minister to reflect in particular on the role of Communities Scotland in relation to tenant participation and engagement with communities. I trust that his decisions on Communities Scotland will not be brought about by pressure from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth but be based on sound reasoning on communities and housing.

Is the minister committed to increased support for homestake? It is a policy that is popular, targeted and effective. Will he continue to support the policy for 8,000 new homes this year, and will he indicate his targets and the capital programme behind that as well?

Will the minister also clarify the proposal for a £2,000 grant to first-time buyers? It is evident that there are serious questions about that policy. It will be the Labour position that he should simply accept the arguments and move on. If, however, he still wishes to test the policy, I ask him not to use the comprehensive spending review as an alibi. That is a process in which he should be engaged. If he does not reject the £2,000 proposal, will he commit to testing the policy through the parliamentary process? We could take evidence and consider whether it is a credible option, although we would be hard pushed to discover, on current trends, whether it is.

What is the minister doing to ensure the progress of private landlord registration? That was a critical issue in the previous session in relation to safe houses being placed in safe communities. How is he working with the private landlord sector on providing affordable homes and on the question of the voluntary accreditation scheme?

When will the minister provide us with an analysis of the consultation on the purchaser's information pack, and what will his position be on that? Will he tell us what the Government's position is on a single seller survey? Understandably, as home ownership has grown, challenging issues have developed on that, and I would like clarification.

I would reflect on the point that Margo MacDonald made about Edinburgh. It encapsulates one of the challenges for anyone who wants to address the question of housing: where do we invest? Do we invest in prosperous areas, where people are pushed out of the market? We must also recognise the challenge of regeneration. Indeed, one challenge for the Government is that it has separated off community regeneration from community planning. Will the minister commit himself to addressing that problem?

In his summation, I hope that the minister will commit to working with the Parliament and the committees, as well as housing organisations, tenants and communities, in order to ensure success.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I am sure that the member will not want to give the impression that she is unmindful of those people who work in the public sector, in many cases earning public sector low wages, who try to live in Edinburgh but find that increasingly difficult and without whom this would be much less of a city.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I certainly would not want people to have that impression. The challenge that I was posing is that, although we have to address the question in Edinburgh, we also have to recognise that, if we use the test of economic hot spots where people are driven out of the housing market as the means of directing funding, we will also have to address the question of the Scottish housing quality standard in houses that are maintained and to make a commitment to regenerate communities where there is no demand.

That point also relates to the right to buy. I hope that the minister will commit at least to considering flexibility in his approach, because the right to buy has secured mixed communities in some places but done the opposite in others.

I hope that the minister will be able to respond to my comments.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 4:53 pm, 21st June 2007

I welcome Johann Lamont's comments in her summing up, which reflected much more the tenor of the debate that we want to engage in. I will run through as many of the questions that I took note of as possible.

On the single seller survey and the purchaser's information pack—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. There are too many conversations going on. Will members take their seats, please?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Members will be aware that the consultation on that issue has just finished. We are currently reviewing the submissions and will reach a conclusion in the not-too-distant future.

We see the first-time buyer grant as part of an overall package of measures. Many members have criticised the policy, and it is valid for people to have different points of view. We want them to bring their views and get involved in the discussion on whether it is the right way forward. I am happy to engage with members from throughout the chamber on that basis.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Tricia Marwick said that the housing support fund would not be inflationary if it is properly targeted. If that argument holds for that policy, why does it not also hold for the £2,000 grant? How many first-time buyers will receive the full £2,000 grant, and how many sellers will happily put £2,000 of taxpayers' money into their bank accounts?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I said to the member earlier that I disagreed with his comments about inflation in relation to the housing support fund. The support fund that we are considering will be an opportunity to spread low-cost house ownership. It is a shared equity scheme, which builds on the success of the homestake programme. I accept that that has been a good programme, but we can go further and do more. That is the basis of the measure.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

The minister will be aware that Glasgow Housing Association is insisting that owner-occupiers repay moneys for repair within one year. Many people are left in dire financial circumstances as a result. Will he consider that situation, with a view to increasing the time for repayment?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

We have put in place a pilot project in Glasgow through the scheme of assistance, which offers a broad range of financial support to those who are unable to access mainstream lending. I sympathise with the member's comments, but I am sure that she would agree that we want the work to improve properties to go ahead. We must focus on that, as it is the most important issue. As 93 per cent of bills are being paid by owners, it is a relatively small issue, albeit an important one for those who are affected by it.

Moving to speeches from other members, I think that Mary Scanlon's contribution was generally positive. It is entirely legitimate to discuss planning as part of housing. We will be doing so as part of the housing supply task force, as planning is part of its remit. As other members mentioned, community planning is extremely important.

Johann Lamont and Mary Scanlon mentioned the registration of landlords. Unfortunately, progress on that proposal has not been as fast as I am sure many of us would have liked. Some local authorities have made slower progress than others. I will take that up with those local authorities so that—hopefully—we can conclude the process of landlord registration much more quickly than has been the case.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

No. I really have to get through some detail.

I welcome Tricia Marwick's remarks on GHA and other points that she raised. The criticism that we have received for bringing a housing debate to the Parliament in the first month of government reflects, interestingly, on the fact that the previous Administration took almost a year to bring a housing debate to Parliament.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am sorry to interrupt, minister. I remind members that there is a coffee lounge at the back of the chamber. If that is where they would like to have conversations, they would be very welcome.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

It is interesting to compare the two Administrations.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

No. I do not have time.

I admire Jamie McGrigor's arithmetic, but it illuminated a particularly prevalent problem, which I accept is faced by many people in rural Scotland. I also accept his point about water and sewerage and the joined-up thinking that we must have if we are going to make progress.

Hugh O'Donnell spent an awful lot of his time on the first-time buyer grant. It would have been better if he had spent more time focusing on the bigger issues of housing in general, such as the overall lack of housing in Scotland, than on a small part of the issue. However, it was entirely his decision to raise that issue.

Malcolm Chisholm made an interesting and welcome contribution on the need to build more affordable housing. I could not agree more. We support the 2012 target. We cannot carry on in the way that we have been over the past few years. We must have change, because if we do not, we will not meet the 2012 target and we will not satisfy tenants and people throughout rural and urban Scotland.

Willie Coffey made an excellent maiden speech. I particularly welcome his comments on his predecessor, Margaret Jamieson. I echo his comments on Danny Coffey. His tribute to Danny was heartfelt and reflected the view of many members, particularly those in the Scottish National Party. It was an excellent first contribution.

Margo MacDonald mentioned that tenants are a priority. I accept that—it is the core point. The outcome that we are trying to achieve is what is best for tenants. That is the fundamental point that I was trying to put across. I agree with her comments on the right to buy and pressured areas. Edinburgh certainly might have that problem. I am happy to look sympathetically at any applications from areas that are under pressure. If they bring the matter to me, we can have a look and consider whether it is reasonable to give them an exemption.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I finish by noting that many members mentioned the Shelter-led campaign for 30,000 new social rented homes during the next three years. Members cannot expect me to anticipate the outcome of the forthcoming spending review, which will determine investment levels in housing after 2008, but we are determined to make the housing system as a whole work better to deliver more houses, including all forms of affordable housing.

I hope that I made it clear in opening the debate that increasing the overall supply of homes is a key objective for the Government and is important for the prosperity of our nation. I conclude by repeating that we are determined to make the housing system meet the needs and aspirations of all our people. I stress our desire to work with everyone who can contribute towards that end.