§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I beg to move,That the Scottish Special Housing Association (Vesting of City of Glasgow District Council Land) (Scotland) Order 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved.It must be unusual if not unprecedented for the affairs of the Scottish Special Housing Association to be debated on the Floor of the House on two consecutive evenings. I suspect that on this occasion the order will not receive the same uncritical and unqualified support as the measure debated yesterday. That fact is not due to any lack of merit in the order—quite the opposite. The order is simply to allow 9,000 tenants of the SSHA to exercise the right to buy their homes that was given to them in the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980.
As the House may be aware, the 9,000 tenants live in homes owned by the SSHA, but the land on which they are situated is owned by the Glasgow district council. Because the council owns the land, its consent is required to enable the tenants to exercise their right to buy. The council has declined to give its consent. It is an extraordinary position where both the owner of the house and the owner of the land are public sector landlords who are obliged to offer their houses to their tenants under the right-to-buy provisions. Because the owners are separate persons and separate legal personalities, the district council can, for the time being, frustrate the wishes of the tenant. Because Parliament recognised that that was an undesirable position to perpetuate, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981 provided powers for the Secretary of State, through such an order, to ask for approval for the land in question to be vested in the SSHA so that the tenants could purchase their homes if they so wished.
The circumstances in which such an order is appropriate are properly limited and specific. First, both the owner of the house and the owner of the land must be public sector landlords on whom the right-to-buy provision is an obligation that they must observe. Clearly, in this case, both the district council and the SSHA are bodies which, under the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, are obliged to sell houses to tenants who wish to purchase. Secondly, an order can be introduced only when the only fact preventing a tenant from exercising the right to buy is that the heritable proprietor of the land is unwilling to sell and where there is no other bar to the tenant exercising his right. That is undoubtedly the circumstance in the case under discussion. There is no suggestion that there is any reason other than the unwillingness of the council that prevents the tenants from exercising their rights under the Act. The third condition that must exist before such an order is appropriate is that it is clearly necessary and that there is no other way in which the statutory rights of the tenant can be properly enjoyed and fulfilled.
The Secretary of State has sought to persuade the two authorities that have land in this position—Glasgow district council and Dundee district council—voluntarily to agree to the disposal of the land to enable the tenants of the SSHA to purchase their homes. Dundee district council eventually agreed to make the land available and that is an issue that is no longer a problem. Glasgow 236 district council made it clear that it was not prepared, short of an order of the sort that is before the House, to allow the authority to offer for sale its tenants homes in Glasgow.
Glasgow district council has made it clear that the only consideration that it has in mind in refusing to enter a voluntary arrangement was its political hostility to tenants' rights legislation and to the rights of tenants to purchase their homes. That was the limited approach that the district council brought to the attention of the Secretary of State. It is in those circumstances that the order is before the house.
No one should be in doubt about the substantial interest among authority tenants in Glasgow in the right to buy. The 9,000 tenants have no right that they can exercise because they are aware that their right is being frustrated by the district council. However, almost 500 of the 9,000 have already contacted the authority to express interest in purchasing their homes. I have not the slightest doubt that when the order comes into effect and tenants throughout Glasgow who occupy authority houses are aware for the first time that they can enjoy the right given to them by Parliament, the number will be significantly greater. It is without qualification that I commend the order to the House and invite the House to approve it.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
The Minister, in all innocence has presented what on the face of it is a simple proposition. He says beguilingly that the order is designed to correct an anomaly and to put SSHA tenants in Glasgow on the same footing as district council tenants. I suppose that in a way it is a simple proposition, but the Opposition contend that it is simply wrong. That should be stated at the outset.
It is not surprising that the Minister and myself should end up in different positions. That is because we start from different positions. The Opposition consider that the sale of council houses is a mistake, and certainly as it is engineered in tenants rights' legislation. If it is assumed that it is socially divisive—I think that no one who has experience of representing a constituency with a majority of council tenants in the electorate would deny that—it is clear that the order should not have the approval of the House.
We object to the scheme because it involves selling off public assets in a way that is without plan or strategy. It makes it almost impossible for district councils in Scotland to control their housing stock in the interests of the majority of tenants. If it is assumed that the sale of council housing is doing damage generally in Scotland, there is no case for making that damage universal by extending it to authority tenants in Glasgow.
The Minister claims that about 9,000 tenants are affected by the order. He said that there are about 7,000 in Glasgow and, I think, 120 in Dundee. There is clearly a gap.
§ Mr. Rifkind
We are aware of about 9,000 tenants in Glasgow and there were 120 in Dundee. The problem is no longer before us in Dundee because the authority has agreed voluntarily to the disposal of land.
§ Mr. Dewar
It is perhaps a matter of detail. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the Scottish Office press notice of 4 August 1981, a copy of which I have before me. It states clearly that there are 7,000 authority tenants in Glasgow 237 and 120 in Dundee. That leaves us well short of 9,000. I am, however, prepared to accept the sotto voce correction that it is the press notice which was wrong and not I. It was perhaps innocent and naive of me to take at face value a figure given in a Scottish Office press information handout, but I still have that kind of childlike faith in human nature. Nevertheless, I am happy to accept the Minister's assurance that for "7,000" one should read "9,000". That disposes of that. I thought that he was a little less than gracious to Dundee, but no doubt it will be grateful for that.
I come to the reasons for the present situation. I speak here in terms of technicalities, not in terms of principle.
§ Mr. Dewar
The Minister merely encourages me to return later and ad longum to the matters of principle at stake. He may regret my weakness in the face of such temptation.
It is evident from the list of properties and land in the schedule that most of these arrangements were concluded in the early 1970s. I understand that this was because under section 8 of the Land Tenure Reform (Scotland) Act 1974 any long lease for domestic housing purposes would have to be for less than 20 years. There was therefore some haste at that time to conclude a number of leasehold arrangements with the SSHA running for about 60 years, As a substantial number of tenants and a considerable amount of land are involved, perhaps the Minister will say something about the financial arrangements, of which I am sure he is aware.
I understand that a considerable rental income is at stake, which will clearly be lost by Glasgow district council. I am told that it is £23,028 per annum, which is paid to the district council by the SSHA. Will the Minister confirm that compensation will be paid for that? I understand that there will be negotiations with the district valuer and that the district council feels that a fair capital value would be just over £1 million. That may be a negotiating position and there may be a good deal of coming and going on it. Nevertheless, it is a fairly substantial sum. I hope that the Minister will say something about the financial implications.
It is not just a matter of loss of rental income to the district council. There will be a considerable short-term impact on SSHA finances, which, as the Minister has said, we have had the opportunity to discuss more than once recently in the Scottish Grand Committee and in the Chamber. I presume that the SSHA will be expected to find the money fairly promptly. If this arrangement is forced through, there will be great pressure from Glasgow district council for it to be concluded by the end of the financial year. If about £1 million has to be paid to the district council, that will have some impact on the SSHA's finances. I accept that it is not a massive sum in the context of the SSHA's total outgoings, but it is still a significant sum. Can the Minister say how it will be expected to find that money? Will it receive compensation from the Government for that amount?
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Or will tenants have to pay more rent to compensate for the loss?
§ Mr. Dewar
That is an interesting point.
The Under-Secretary of State has never hidden his personal view—in a way, that is to his credit—that rents 238 should rise not as a matter of financial necessity but as a matter of social judgment. He believes in high rents because he thinks that people in Scotland are paying too little for their housing. I sympathise with the fear that this may provide another excuse for placing an impost on tenants and forcing up the rents of those who remain SSHA tenants despite the blandishments of the Conservatives' sales policy. The impact on the arithmetic of selling may also be significant, as many SSHA tenants—perhaps in these very houses—as a result of previous SSHA or district council tenancies, will qualify for discounts of up to 50 per cent. Presumably that money will have to be set off in terms of the SSHA's profit and loss balance against the outstanding debt on those houses. I think that almost all of them, by definition, are comparatively modern and newly-built and therefore have substantial outstanding debt.
On the debit side will be the site value figure—the SSHA's proportion of the £1 million compensation that it must pay as a result of all these Government manoeuvres. Perhaps the Minister will say a little more about that, because it appears to be more complicated than the simple proposition that he meekly advanced to the House a few minutes ago.
The Minister suggested that we were rather short of principles on this matter. I do not want to delay the House with a broad statement of our opposition to the principle of the sale of council houses—[Hon. Members: "Why not?"]—because I know that many hon. Members who will speak after me will do so admirably. Yesterday, when discussing the SSHA, the Under-Secretary started with the simple proposition that sales would benefit an authority, but hurriedly went on, in a smashing non sequitur, to say that there would not be greater benefit to the authority that sold most. I believe that that is a mistaken view. I accept that the SSHA will have a particularly attractive set of wares in terms of housing stock, but, in local authority terms, the area that sells most will benefit most, although that may be the area of lowest priority housing need.
More important, the sales policy will do incalculable damage to the prospect of those waiting for housing or seeking a transfer in Scotland. The Minister talked about the district council in Glasgow frustrating the wishes of the tenants who want to buy. I accept that in a strict sense that may be true, because if someone wants to buy and cannot his wishes are abviously frustrated. If we weigh the frustration, bitterness and division created by selling off the best housing stock, I think it will be seen that the balance falls on our side of the argument.
§ Mr. Dewar
Let me answer that question before the Minister jumps to his feet in his usual angular fashion. The evidence is available to any hon. Member in Glasgow who represents a constituency with a substantial number of council houses. It is an incontrovertible fact that the best properties will be sold. The kind of properties that people have a lifetime ambition to rent are being removed from the public sector stock by the Government's activities.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman seems to believe that incontrovertible facts are the statements that he proclaims from the Dispatch Box. Does he appreciate that every opinion poll taken on the subject shows that 80 per cent. of council tenants, including 80 per cent. of Labour voters, believe that council tenants should have the right 239 to buy? If he has one iota of hard evidence to show that the sales policy is causing bitterness, perhaps he will give it to the House.
§ Mr. Dewar
The Minister was not listening with his usual careful attention. The incontrovertible fact to which I was referring was that the best properties are being sold. Secondly, the bitterness to which I referred can be found almost every week in any surgery of an hon. Member representing a West of Scotland constituency.
I shall not invite the hon. Gentleman to come to my surgery, because that would be artificial, but I invite him to come and meet some of the residents' associations in Drumchapel, Easterhouse or any of the other large housing estates in Scotland. The Minister indicates dissent, but he should listen to the genuine voice of the people affected. There is no doubt that there is anger about the operation of the sales policy in Scotland, and its extension will be equally unpopular.
The reason why the Minister should pause and think is that his party at present represents a small rump of opinion in Scotland. If he is happy about the standing of his party in the opinion polls, he has very modest ambitions. He has shown no sign of that in any other way. The Conservative Party has no broad-based support and in the areas that are affected by council house sales it has negligible support, and the Minister knows it. The best properties will be sold. I took the trouble today to check on my constituency with the Glasgow district council. In the Anniesland area, a popular area of the city, there are 168 valuations under way. For the two wards in Drumchapel the figures are two in one ward and four in the other. That picture is repeated throughout the area. It is in the good desirable areas, or areas that are perceived as being good and desirable, that the sales are taking place. Semi-detached houses, terraced houses and a few four-in-a-block houses are on the list, but there are precious few tenements and no multi-storey buildings. There is a geographical distinction and a distiction between types of property.
240 When the Minister boasts about the impact of sales in Glasgow, he should remember the figures. On 11 December—the latest figure that I have—there were 3,438 applications, which in a vacuum sounds a large number, but out of 185,000 public sector houses in Glasgow it is comparatively modest. Although those houses that are now under threat are small in number, we do not disguise from the House that they are important in terms of the mix of the housing stock. They are a necessary part of the housing stock because they represent a particularly popular type of housing in a particularly popular area.
I believe—it may come as a surprise to Conservative Members—in choice within the public sector. We should be providing as wide a range of choice as possible. The great tragedy is that because of the financial cuts that have been inflicted on local government by this Administration the choice has been very much restricted. For the many thousands who are waiting for housing in Glasgow or waiting for a transfer within the housing stock, the removal of those houses is a serious and embittering matter. It is doubly annoying because they cannot buy because they are not sitting tenants and their chances of ever renting a house of that type are being sharply reduced as every house is removed from the public sector and sold to the private sector.
This is a recipe for bitterness and frustration. The Government are doing enormous damage and the extension of the system into the Scottish Special Housing Association housing stock in Glasgow is misconceived and deeply mistaken. The Minister suggested that Glasgow district council was hostile to the wishes of its tenants. It is not a matter of hostility. It took its stand on principle. It has a duty to look at the overall balance for all tenants in Glasgow, not simply those few who have been lucky enough to be in attractive housing or lucky enough to be able to buy.
If we take that more global view of the city and its housing problems, there can be no reason for voting for a measure that will only exacerbate an already serious position.
§ 10.4 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
It is important that individuals living in rented property that is owned by the State should have equal rights. It was correct that we should make it possible for those individuals living in Scottish Special Housing Association properties to have the same rights as those living in properties that are owned, rented or leased by the council.
This is probably the first opportunity that I have had to say something kind about Dundee district council—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are discussing land in Glasgow, not in Dundee?
§ Mr. Walker
It is relevant to consider what one authority has done in similar circumstances, particularly when I have a unique opportunity to say something kind about Dundee district council. I should have thought that Opposition Members would want me to take this opportunity. If Glasgow district council had followed the example of Dundee district council, there would have been no need for this order.
§ Mr. Dewar
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are interested not in Dundee but in Glasgow? Perhaps he will address his remarks to claims about the popularity of the Conservative Party in Glasgow and explain why, out of 13 Members of Parliament for the Glasgow area, there is only one Conservative Member.
§ Mr. Walker
I am never sure which Labour Party is asking me what and why. I wonder what the situation in Glasgow will be after the next general election. There will probably be changes. I shall not suggest what those changes will be, because, fortunately, I am not concerned. The situation does not affect me personally. The housing situation does not affect me personally. The housing association wishes to make houses available for sale and it has done so in Dundee. It is only right that it should be given the same opportunity in Glasgow. It is wrong for Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to suggest that there is frustration, bitterness and division. That is how he described the feelings of those living in properties rented from Glasgow district council and, I understand, from authorities throughout Scotland.
Dundee and Perth and Kinross district councils fall within my constituency, but I have not found any bitterness, frustration or division as a result of the policy to sell council properties to sitting tenants. The reason is clear. The majority of those living in council properties know that a family allocated a council property will probably live in it for many years. Indeed, many families live in their properties for 30 or 40 years. They are fully aware of the situation and that properties do not become available as readily as has often been suggested by Opposition Members. The council property that I grew up in some years ago is still rented by a member of my family. That means that there is no prospect that it will be made available to anyone on the waiting list.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) often chides us about our lack of experience, sympathy and understanding. This is where 242 the position becomes false, because in this area it is fair for me to suggest that I know a good deal more about the subject than the hon. Member does.
§ Mr. Craigen
I know that there are few human experiences of which the hon. Member has no knowledge, but has he been the tenant of an SSHA house?
§ Mr. Walker
I regret to say that there are many human experiences that I have not enjoyed. I have certainly never been guilty of being found drunk or of any of the other delightful things which appear to be qualifications for understanding the problems faced by people living in council properties.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I remind the House that we are debating the desirability or otherwise of vesting land in the housing association.
§ Mr. Walker
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I have strayed out of order, but I hope that you will agree that, if I have strayed, it has been due to the interventions.
I believe that it is wrong to suggest that there will be—
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, will he agree that a real problem, which causes great frustration to many council tenants., is that thousands of council properties in Scotland are left vacant because no one will go into them, but that when they are put on the market they are often bought?
§ Mr. Walker
I agree that one of the great tragedies in Scotland is that so many properties which are the result of investment by the State have stood empty for a long time. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is not here. It is sad that there are many such empty properties in his constituency.
It is interesting that in the case of other State-owned properties, such as those owned by the prison authorities, prison officers are very keen to buy. That is the kind of choice that everyone should have in a free society. People should have the right to buy the home they live in and to have a stake in it. I have never been able to understand the logic of the Opposition's arguments—
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
If that is the case and the hon. Member sincerely believes that everyone should have the right to buy the house in which he lives, does he agree to his Government introducing legislation to give the tenants of private landlords the right to purchase their houses at a discounted price?
§ Mr. Walker
If it is in order for me to answer that question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman, as always, has shown his ignorance of the true position. The Government can pass legislation to sell these properties because they are State properties. What the Government cannot do—
§ Mr. Walker
They are State properties, and I use the word "State" in its widest context. An authority can sell only assets which it owns or controls. One cannot force a person to sell his own asset, any more than Labour Members would expect the houses they own to be sold deliberately as a result of a Government measure.
Although the order is being debated for only an hour and a half, it is a very important one, because it gives the 243 people living in these houses in Glasgow the same rights as everyone else living in State-owned property in Scotland.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
Due to the noise in the House, I am afraid that I did not hear everything said by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). I am not complaining about that—I think that I have heard it all before—but I do not understand the reason for the jollity on the Government Front Bench. I regard the subject as a serious one. I am well aware that, as I have said on mamy occasions, the Government have not a housing policy.
The only reason why the Government are superficially happy and able to laugh is that they think they are on to something that might get them a few more votes—my goodness, they will certainly need them. The Government are wrong. I do not think that the Minister did justice to the House in his explanation of the reason we need the order.
As I understand it, Glasgow district council has repeatedly said that it opposes the Government within the law. If I am right about that—I see the Minister nodding in affirmation—we can consider the matter more objectively. The Minister has not told me why only Glasgow has the problem. Does it have something to do—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is listening—with the land tenure Act? Why are only certain SSHA houses in Glasgow affected? Is it because of the time when they were completed?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thought that I had explained that point, but I am happy to repeat it. Only in Glasgow and Dundee are there houses owned by the Scottish Special Housing Association but on land owned by the local authority. In all other cases the SSHA owns the land and the houses. Dundee has voluntarily agreed to dispose of the land to the SSHA. Glasgow district council has declined to do that, and is the only local authority in that position.
§ Mr. Brown
It is possible that I did not put my question in the right way. When the SSHA wanted to build on council-owned land, why was the land not transferred? Presumably that was done by other suthorities when they transferred land to the SSHA. It is not clear to me why the problem has emerged only in Glasgow, but perhaps the Minister has given the proper explanation.
When the Minister seeks approval for an order he must take on board the fact that we need more information than merely the fact that 9,000 houses are involved and that interest has already been expressed in 500. How many of the 9,000 SSHA houses are in multi-storey or tenement blocks, and how many are terraced or semi-detached? Only by breaking the figures down in that way can we make sense out of whether interest in 500 houses is a lot. We are entitled to information.
Is any compensation involved? The Minister must also take on board the fact that, if I were a Labour councillor in Glasgow, I would argue as strongly as I could to screw every penny out of a central Government institution as part of the deal. There is nothing unreasonable about that, and the Minister has not said whether the negotiations have foundered. There may not be large sums involved, but 244 does the Minister expect to get goodwill from any council, considering the Government's present attitude, their reduction of the rate support grant and other measures?
It is wrong for the Minister to pretend that a wicked Labour-controlled council is trying to thwart the legitimate aims of tenants in its own or SSHA houses.
§ Mr. Craigen
Assuming that the district council were to hand over the land or nothing to the SSHA, would the auditors not be on to the local authority like a shot to ask why it was doing that?
§ Mr. Brown
I do not know the answer to that question. The House is entitled to more information from the Minister. It is a matter of public interest, because we will hear much in the next weeks and months about the powers of Government in relation to local authorities and ideas for rates. Hon. Members are asked to approve an order without hearing a word from the Government about the financial consequences to a local authority. That is outrageous.
I make no apology for taking up a few minutes to express my view. Opposition Members have argued that if this right were to be given to every council tenant it should, as a matter of justice, be given to SSHA tenants, those living in new towns, prison officers and those employed by other public bodies. I give full marks to Glasgow for taking a while to get round to this issue. Opposition Members are united in opposing this indiscriminate sale. I welcome the fact that Glasgow has found a loophole.
I did not realise that the 1980 Act gave powers to produce orders. It is doubtless the case that the legality has been checked, but I hope that the Minister will give more information about the financial consequences. If some money is to be paid to the district council, my guess is that the Government will take this into account in the allocation of resources to Glasgow in the future. Is that one of the factors that has been responsible for delaying the negotiations? I hope that the Minister will come clean about the financial terms.
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, must have a certain sense of deja vu in relation to this debate. When a matter, debated last night, reappears again tonight, you must be wondering what the SSHA is. It is not something that is found in this part of the world. I should like to start by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker).
§ Mr. Maxton
There is one point in the hon. Gentleman's speech to which a response must be made. In the main his speech was his usual terse combination of personal credo and reminiscence about where he has lived and what he has done. However, following my intervention about the right of private tenants in privately owned properties to purchase their property, his remarkable reply was that the difference was that one could not appropriate from private individuals but one could appropriate State property. At long last, even if from the Back Benches, hon. Members have heard the true voice of Conservatism in its relationship to local government.
245 The Government are engaged in the destruction of the difference between local authorities and the Government and the difference between the ownership of property by a local authority and the view of the hon. Gentleman—I noticed that many of his hon. Friends on the Front Bench nodded in agreement—that all property owned by a public body is State property. To my mind, that means property owned by central Government.
Our discussion tonight centres on land that does not belong to the State. We are talking about land that belongs to the citizens of Glasgow, vested through the Glasgow district council. If the citizens of Glasgow were asked whether this land should be sold, vested, or whatever the term is, to the SSHA, those citizens, as they have shown in their voting record for the Labour Party, would probably not go along with it—certainly not unless there were sufficient compensation to make the exercise worth while to them.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
From what the hon. Gentleman is saying, am Ito understand that he believes that in the event of a sale of this or any other kind, compensation should be and must be proper and adequate?
§ Mr. Maxton
That would depend very much on the circumstances. In this circumstance, where it is appropriation—the hon. Member sneers, but normally it is Conservative Members who are attacking us when we talk about taking over and appropriating things. Now we suddenly find that that is what they are doing. They are taking over the land of the citizens of Glasgow and handing it over to the SSHA.
My hon. Friends the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) and for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) have been concerned about the level of commpensation that will be payable to Glasgow district council. I, too, am concerned about that. What amount will be payable, and how will that be reckoned, as compensation to Glasgow? By whom will it be paid?
This land is being vested not in the Government but in the SSHA. The Government may be considering that compensation to Glasgow for that land should come out of any allocation to the SSHA. That may well mean that the cost will be passed on to the SSHA tenants in Glasgow, who will have to pay higher rents in order that the land on which their house is situated can be purchased.
The Minister has remarkable powers of being able to talk and listen at the same time. However, I am raising an important point. Who will pay this compensation? Will it be the SSHA? If not, will the Government deduct it from the allocation to the SSHA in terms of money outstanding? Will the Government ensure that if the SSHA has to pay, that will not be passed on to the tenants? That would be grossly unfair.
The Minister made great play of saying that in Glasgow 500 people out of 9,000 had expressed a desire to purchase. On the figures, we all know that the expression of a desire is normally much higher than the number of those who end by purchasing. I think that we are talking of about 250 people. That is the sort of figure that is likely to result in terms of purchases out of the 9,000. On my reckoning, 500 is only 5½ per cent. of the total number of tenants of SSHA houses in Glasgow where there is even a suggestion that they might wish to purchase their houses. So I hope that the 94.5 per cent. will in no way bear the 246 burden of purchasing this land from Glasgow. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that they will not bear that burden.
As I said last night, our concern is with that 94.5 per cent. who will not be purchasing their houses and who are already suffering large increases in their rents and cuts in their repair and rehabilitation programmes in SSHA housing. We want to make sure that they have no extra burden imposed on them.
We are opposed to the sale of council houses in the blanket manner of every tenant having the right to buy My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden is correct when he says that it is the better housing that is being sold in Glasgow and that the poorer housing is not being sold. In my constituency I have the large Castlemilk scheme. Very few houses are being sold in that area. Not only are the houses not being sold; as a result of the present Government's policies, the living standards of tenants in that area are suffering immensely because of the lack of repairs and the damage being done to the environment simply because repairs and improvements are not taking place. The tenants do not wish to purchase their houses.
We are interested in that 94.5 per cent. of SSHA. tenants in Glasgow. Glasgow district council was right to oppose the measure and to force the Government to take the order throught the house and give hon. Members an opportunity to show our opposition to it.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Mr. Forty Per Cent.—the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham)—to conduct a blethering conversation with strangers while the debate is going on, or is this renegade from Scotland and from the Labour Party explaining to those people why the debate is taking place at this unearthly hour instead of in a more civilised forum in Scotland?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Anything that goes on beyond the Bar is not a matter for me and is not a matter for the House.
§ Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)
I oppose the motion because it transfers land from Glasgow district council to the Scottish Special Housing Association. If the order had been to transfer SSHA housing to Glasgow district council I would have supported it, because I believe that instead of wasting time on transferring land from a district council to the SSHA we should be considering the policy of the Labour Party in Scotland, which is that the SSHA should be a building authority alone and that once it has built houses they should be transferred to the local authority to be factored in the same way as any other council house at rents equivalent to those paid by the tenants of normal district council houses. This is an irrelevant motion at a time when SSHA tenants are complaining about its bureaucracy.
I wish to take up a point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) about compensation. My hon. Friends were worried about the fact that the Minister has not told us what finance was involved in the transfer. They implied that that might mean that other tenants of the SSHA in Glasgow must pay for the land.
I wish to widen that by suggesting that not only must the SSHA tenants in Glasgow finance the buying of land 247 from Glasgow district council; it will involve SSHA tenants in my area of Cunninghame. There are many SSHA houses in areas such as the Garnock valley, Dalry, Kilbirnie and Beith, as well as in Irvine new town and Kilwinning. Therefore, I speak on behalf of those tenants who must finance the purchase of the land by the SSHA from Glasgow district council.
I have said before that those of my constituents who are SSHA tenants believe that they are financing house building by the SSHA in the oil-rich areas of Aberdeenshire, the North of Scotland, and in the Borders. They believe that because of Government cutbacks in finance, the SSHA must obtain extra money from its tenants in Scotland. Therefore, those tenants in Cunninghame are paying to build houses in the oil-rich areas of the north of Scotland. I worry whether there will be a further burden. Will the rents of those houses be increased in order to buy the land from Glasgow district council?
The matter is serious. We know from leaks in the press, that the Treasury wished to have rent increases in public sector housing of about £4.50 a week. Luckily, there was a revolt in the Cabinet and luckily for SSHA tenants the wets in the Cabinet won. Rather than rent increases of £4.50 a week, we think that in England and Wales they will be £2.50 a week. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as an English Member, might be satisfied with that, but Members representing Scottish constituencies do not know at what level the Secretary of State for Scotland will set the rent increases for houses in Scotland.
We have heard statements from the the Secretary of State for the Environment about Government policy for England and Wales, but we have not heard what the Secretary of State for Scotland proposes for rent increases for Scottish new town houses, district council houses and SSHA houses. Is the Secretary of State waiting for the result of the order tonight? Will the amount of money to be paid to Glasgow district council for the land have an important effect on the level of rent increases for Scotland? Will there be a report from the right hon. Gentleman next week, when Parliament is in recess, saying that he is not satisfied with rent increases of £2.50 a week but wants £3.50 a week to allow the SSHA to buy land from Glasgow district council?
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, knowing only English conditions, do not know that in my constituency the rents of SSHA properties are already much higher than the rents charged by Cunninghame district council, the local authority that owns most of the housing. Because the SSHA is a bureaucratic, dictatorial organisation, which voices the opinions of the Government, it fixes whatever rent it wants without any repercussions from the tenants or the local population. The local district council—a democratic organisation—must listen to the local people and tenants, and cannot be vicious towards them. It must fix a rent that local people are willing to pay.
In my area the SSHA, because it is the voice of Government and a dictatorial organisation that does not have to face the consequences of its actions, fixes rent levels much higher than those charged by the local district council. If the order is passed, the SSHA tenants will be hard hit. I put the case to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As an English Member, you do not know Scottish conditions and—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a great interest in Scottish conditions. He need not address his remarks to me in that manner.
§ Mr. Lambie
I am giving details of the Scottish housing scene that you cannot be expected to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In Scotland, more than 60 per cent. of people live in public sector housing, whereas in England and Wales the figure is 30 per cent. Therefore, the Government's policy of drastically increasing rents for public housing in Scotland affects nearly two-thirds of the population, whereas in England and Wales the Government get away with attacking council tenants because it affects only one-third of the population.
The Government are attacking Glasgow district council, which speaks for the overwhelming majority of people in Glasgow. The Glasgow Labour Members represent the people of Glasgow. There is only one Tory Member left in Glasgow. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is not present tonight. We are discussing Glasgow and the only Tory representative for part of Glasgow is absent. Where is he?
§ Mr. Lambie
If that is so, I will give the hon. Gentleman that excuse tonight, but that does not excuse the other occasions when he has been absent.
All the Labour Members who represent Glasgow constituencies will vote against the order. We represent the people of Scotland. That shambles on the Government Front Bench do not represent them. They do not even speak like Scotsmen. They are all educated at English public schools and they carry on the traditions of the English in the House. That is why we are speaking for the tenants of Scotland. We are speaking for the tenants of the housing association.
We are saying to the Government "You will get away with this now because you are English Members." I see only one hon. Member representing an English consituency on the Government Benches, but once the Division Bell rings the other English Members will come in in their droves. They will come from all their hiding places and they will vote down the majority opinion of the Scottish Members. They will inflict English Tory policy on Scottish conditions about which they know nothing. The Government will win tonight because of the English Tory hordes, but after the next election we will change that. We shall transfer the housing owned by the housing association to the district council and the council will have sole control.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
I enjoyed the spirited rendering of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie), but I fear that I have heard it before. I listened to it previously when the former right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, Mr. William Ross, as he then was, occupied the Labour Government's Front Bench and the Labour Opposition's Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman attacked him as strongly as he attacks us today. At least the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is strictly consistent.
It has emerged from the debate that Labour Members are not saying "We oppose the order because the people do not want it." They are saying "We oppose it 249 passionately, because the people want it and we feel that they should not want it." We are not ashamed to stand up for a property-owning democracy. What is more, we are determined to do everything within our power to bring it within the reach of everyone. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) laughs. In a previous debate he read out a list of landowners in Scotland. His facts were unfortunately 100 years out of date. I hope that he will be a little more up to date if he contributes to this debate.
The evidence of demand is overwhelming. When houses were put on sale in Glasgow, Easterhouse, as a form of homesteading, everyone was astonished at the number of houses that were sold. That answers conclusively the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who argued that only the nicer houses would be sold. That is not so. The houses in Easterhouse were snapped up at once. Martello Court, in my constituency, was referred to as a terror tower in which no one would choose to live. It was seriously suggested by the council that the entire tower should be demolished, but it was renovated and painted from top to bottom. It was made secure with a wall that was built round the perimeter. Virtually every flat has been sold and it has been a complete success. There is a market. Of course, every house must have its value.
The order is competent in terms of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, which enables my right hon. Friend to transfer the ownership of houses from heritable proprietors to landlords. It is clear that Glasgow district council has refused to comply with legislation. It has opposed the compulsory sale of public housing to sitting tenants at discounted prices. I strongly hope that the Minister will stick to his case, because the demand is there. The tenants wish to buy and they should have the opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Canavan
Would the hon. Gentleman support a Bill to force his big brother, the Duke of Hamilton, to sell off houses to any of his tenants who wished to buy?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I think that many of the houses have been bought anyway, and others are occupied. I am very much against houses remaining unoccupied needlessly when people wish to buy them. I do not know of all the circumstances applying to those houses, but I shall certainly find out. I should have thought that such legislation would be quite unnecessary, but I certainly accept that houses should be filled and not left vacant. That is why we wish houses to be sold which at present cannot be filled by district councils.
§ Mr. Dewar
The hon. Gentleman says that he is worried about houses lying vacant, but those are the very houses that cannot be sold under the tenants' rights legislation, because only sitting tenants have the right to buy. It is therefore the exact opposite of the situation to which he refers. Homesteading is an example of a district council responding flexibly to a local need and using its discretion wisely, but the tenants' rights legislation leaves no discretion to the local authority in housing management and destroys the rights of local democracy.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The essence of homesteading is that houses that cannot normally be filled may be sold to people willing to buy them at a knock-down price. Every house has its market value. Clearly, a house in what might be described 250 as a less desirable area has a considerably lower value than one in a more popular area. It is simply a matter of ensuring that houses are sold at the appropriate price in the appropriate circumstances.
§ Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
I do not wish to give the impression that I am in any way critical of the SSHA, as it is a first-class landlord. The houses with which we are concerned include many in my constituency. They are very high demand houses. This worries me because, as many of my hon. Friends have said, it is to such high demand houses that many council tenants wish to transfer.
Hon. Members have said that people may spend as long as 40 years in their council houses. That is not the case in many parts of my constituency. Many tenants who have spent 10 or 12 years in council houses want to get out of them because the property has deteriorated. When one asks where they wish to go, often they say that they want to stay in the area but that they wish to move into SSHA housing. One of the reasons for that is that SSHA property is very well managed. There is a first-class maintenance programme. The area housing managers tend to ensure that anyone behaving anti-socially is properly supervised in such a way as to work in harmony with the rest of the tenants. It is not a good idea to sell those houses when people who have served their apprenticeship in the hard-to-let areas want the opportunity to go into them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) asked what compensation Glasgow would receive for the land. Does the Minister realise that a great deal of land in the city was given by landowners as a gift to the citizens of Glasgow?
The minutes of the old Glasgow corporation are fascinating, because they show that landowners, including the aristocracy, gave land to the citizens of Glasgow. They did so for the benefit of the people. Therefore, if we allow the SSHA to sell it to private individuals, we shall be going against the wishes of those who bequeathed the land in the first place. I am sure that in the area in which I live, landowners handed over land to the old Glasgow corporation for the benefit of all the people, not some.
Not far from the land that we are now discussing, 600 acres in Robroyston were sold to fly-by-night salesmen who made a killing as a result. That caused a scandal. Last year the Secretary of State said that we had learnt from the mistakes of Robroyston and would ensure that it did not happen again. Only a few weeks ago, I discovered that one of those salesmen is now going through the bankruptcy court. That might be just a coincidence, but I wonder whether it was planned that way.
Many of the houses affected by the order are nontraditional. If they are not repaired or modernised within a reasonably short time, some of them will have to be demolished. Let us not kid ouselves. Some of the SSHA houses in my area, and SSHA properties in others, are fire traps simply because they are not properly wired, yet we are handing them over to people who may not be able to keep up with the mortgage payments that the Government and the SSHA are inviting them to take on.
If those houses are demolished, there will be large tracts of land in Glasgow upon which the public sector will not build because of the Government's financial cuts. I want an assurance from the Minister that in that event we shall 251 not have a repeat of the Robroyston saga. I want an assurance that at the very least the local authority will have an opportunity to take over that land.
In the Scottish Grand Committee I said that the SSHA wrote to the Glasgow district council about the acquisition of property and land. It made the point that as a Government agency it would reflect the policy of the local authority. In other words, if the local authority was opposed to the sale of council houses, it would also be opposed to such sales. The Glasgow district council has adopted a certain line and is working within the law. I feel that the SSHA is morally bound to reflect the council's policy when operating within its boundaries.
As a Government agency, the SSHA is obliged to carry out Government policy. If we had a Labour Government, I would insist that the SSHA carried out their policy. Having said that, I believe that the Government are forcing the SSHA into a conflict with Glasgow district council. That is a pity, because in all the years that I was a member of the district council we had nothing but good relations with the SSHA. The relationship could be destroyed because the Government are forcing the SSHA into that position.
§ Mr. Lambie
Is not my hon. Friend being a little unfair to the Government? Does he not recognise that the chairman of the Scottish Special Housing Association is a Glasgow Tory councillor? Most of the councillors on the SSHA were appointed by the Government because they are Tories. They are not asking for protection against the Government. They are the spearhead of the Government against the local authorities.
§ Mr. Martin
I believe that I was being a little fairer to the Government than my hon. Friend was a few moments ago. I take his point. When the next Labour Government are returned—[HON. MEMBERS: "If".]—I hope that they will take a leaf out of the Tory Party's book. I hope that we shall put Labour Party supporters into organisations such as the SSHA. The first criterion is that they should be elected people who are capable of doing the job—and the second is to get rid of the Tories. Conservative Members know their first priority. As soon as they get into power they put all their friends into key positions. There is no point in having power if we do not use it.
There are many under-occupied SSHA houses. It is said that people—many of them widows—are living on their own in four-apartment and five-apartment houses. On the other side of the coin, my consulting surgeries are full of young couples who are desperate for housing. They would dearly like to move into the houses that are under-occupied. If the Government are to sell these houses through the SSHA, they will close the door on those young couples. A few years ago we could have told them to go to the home loan section and obtain a home loan. We cannot do that now because the Government have made sure that there is no finance available, even though home loans will be provided to council tenants buying their homes. With the present high rate of unemployment it is a tragedy that we should be telling the unemployed that they will not be considered for SSHA houses because the houses will be sold to sitting tenants. Many tenants will be denied the opportunity of buying a house because the Government believe in high unemployment.
252 I urge hon. Members to oppose the order tooth and nail.
§ 11 pm
§ Mr. Rifkind
We were assured by Labour Members that tonight was an opportunity for Glasgow's Labour Members to show their complete opposition to the order. It is significant that half of Glasgow's Labour Members have not bothered to attend the debate. That is a measure of their disagreement with what is proposed.
I was interested in the synopsis given by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) of the priorities of the next Labour Government. He suggested—as did the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie)—that it was absolutely wicked for the Conservative Government to display all their prejudices by appointing a Conservative chairman of the SSHA. They may like to know that at the same time we appointed a Labour deputy chairman of the SSHA, no doubt also sharing our prejudices.
The hon. Member for Springburn gave us his vintage definition of Socialism. It may have been news to some of his hon. Friends, but it was not news to the rest of us. It has been known in Scotland—certainly in the West of Scotland—for at least the last 30 years that that is what Socialism is about. I am sure that it will be true in the future as it has been in the past.
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
Has the Minister noticed that the Social Democrat and Liberal Members have been absent from the debate? Does not that show the degree of their interest in housing matters in Scotland?
§ Mr. Rifkind
On several occasions Scottish debates have taken place without one representative of the Liberal or Social Democratic Parties being present. It shows their almost complete lack of interest in Scottish matters in the House.
§ Mr. Dewar
Will the Minister accept that there is a limit to the numbers game that can be usefully played in these affairs? For his information, of the 13 Glasgow Labour Members, 10 have been present at some stage during the debate. It is fair to say—as can be said of the one Glasgow Conservative Member—that the others are ill. Indeed, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) has left for that reason.
§ Mr. Rifkind
One accepts that there are legitimate reasons why some hon. Members are absent, but one is entitled to comment on the fact that some Labour Members have come into the Chamber for a very short time and then departed. I am interested in those who take the trouble to sit through the debate. It is surely reasonable to make that comment.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, as is usual on these occasions, managed to commit the next Labour Government to a series of new policies. When the hon. Gentleman embarks on his proposals for the next Labour Government his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench—whom he is unable to see when he is speaking—always go from a dark to a lighter shade and are progressively more concerned as one commitment is piled on another. I assure the hon. Member that the commitment he has given on behalf of his party to disband the SSHA, and to transfer all its houses to the local authorities, is not a policy which has attracted any Labour Government in previous years. There was not the slightest indication, from the comments of the hon. Member for 253 Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that if he had responsibility for these matters he would be any more attracted by the proposals of his hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire than the previous Labour Government were.
§ Mr. Lambie
The policy of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party—reaffirmed at various conferences—is not to disband the SSHA but to retain the SSHA as a building agency. Once the houses have been completed, they should be handed over to the local authority. That is a fair policy to adopt, and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are committed to it.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Member for Garscadden was obviously enlightened to hear that he was committed to that policy. I should be delighted to give way so that he might confirm that fact. Apparently it is one of the commitments that he does not feel committed to, as is the case with many other aspects of Labour Party policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) was correct to say that the order is necessary only because Glasgow district council declined to adopt the constructive and sensible attitude of Dundee district council which realised that the interests of SSHA tenants would not be served by fruitless, politically inspired opposition and agreed to the proposal.
Glasgow district council, faced with the same situation, took up a doctrinaire position. I should tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) that the council's refusal to agree to a voluntary transfer of land had nothing to do with questions of compensation. A letter from the council dated 4 November makes it clear that it opposes the transfer because it is opposed to the sale of council houses to sitting tenants. There are not technical, financial, compensation or other such reasons.
The hon. Member for Garscadden and a number of his hon. Friends referred to compensation. Of course compensation is due to the council. There is no discretion for the Secretary of State. The legislation under which the order is proposed specifically provides for compensation and the Government accepted that from the beginning.
The proper sum of compensation will be decided by the district valuer when the conveyancing between the council and the Secretary of State has been completed. Once the district valuer has determined the figure it will be accepted by my right hon. Friend. I give a categorical assurance that there is not the slightest danger of any of the compensation costs falling on SSHA tenants in Glasgow or elsewhere of compensation affecting the SSHA's ability to carry out its present programmes.
Compensation paid by the SSHA to the Glasgow district council will not involve a net increase in public expenditure, because it will be a transfer from one public body to another. There will be no net increase in public expenditure and, therefore, no problem in providing for such a payment when the time comes.
§ Mr. Dewar
We know that the capital ceiling for the SSHA in the current year is about £45 million. Presumably it expects to spend all that before the end of March next year. Will the £1 million come out of that, will the £45 million become an effective £46 million, or will the money be provided by a revenue payment from the Government? If the money is not to be found from increased rents—I accept the Under-Secretary's categorical assurance on 254 that—we want to be satisfied that it will not mean, say, a cut in the already hard-pressed modernisation programmes.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I give the hon. Gentleman that categorical assurance. The sum involved will be for the district valuer to decide, and it is not clear whether the money will fall due in the current financial year or next year, but either my right hon. Friend will consider an adjustment in the borrowing powers of the SSHA for the current year or it will be taken into account in the determination of its allocation for next year.
No net increase in public expenditure is involved and there is no serious problem. It is merely a technical adjustment which will not cause difficulty to SSHA tenants or the association's building and modernisation programmes.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown
It is not good enough to say that it has nothing to do with adding to public expenditure. A cheque will be written by the SSHA. Will it be for £1 million? What sums are we talking about? There is no point in telling us that it is a matter for the district valuer. We all know that. Surely in the discussions there must have been a stab made at what sort of sums we are talking about.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman will have heard his hon. Friend mention Glasgow district council's own estimate of about £1 million. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact figure. A factor to be taken into account is that the SSHA at the moment pays an annual rent to the district council of about £23,000 to £25,000. That will have to be capitalised because the rent will no longer be paid. The district valuer will also have to take into account the value of the land itself.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Member for Provan will appreciate that once the district valuer has fixed the figure we shall be bound by his assessment. That w ill be the amount to be paid by the SSHA to the Glasgow district council. I have explained that there will be no significant problem in adjusting the overall finances of the SSHA to enable the payment to be made. There will he no net increase in public expenditure. It will transfer one public housing agency to another public housing body. It is a technical problem rather than one of real resources.
The hon. Member for Garscadden suggested that Glasgow district council was entitled, even from the point of view of the principles that are involved, to adopt a stance of basic opposition to the proposals because it did not believe in the sale of houses. We are talking about houses owned by the SSHA which always follows the policy of the party in office at any given time. The SSHA 255 has been selling houses to its sitting tenants not only since the passing of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act but since the Government came into office. The policy of the owner of the houses happens to coincide with the wishes of the tenant. There is a willingness to sell and a willingness to buy. Glasgow district council's interest arises as a result of a historical anomaly whereby, back in the early 1960s, not the 1970s, the majority of these houses were constructed by the SSHA on behalf of Glasgow purely in the interests of speed and the avoidance of delay that the conveyancing of the land would have involved. An arrangement was made that has persisted to the present day.
§ Mr. Dewar
This is perhaps an arid argument. The Minister will surely accept that it was not a coincidence that this ground was let leasehold and not sold. It may also have been a matter of convenience, but a point of principle is involved. Glasgow district council, rightly or wrongly, wishes to retain an interest in the land and an element of control, believing that this is right in the interests of the city of Glasgow and its citizens. That is the legal view, legally executed. The Minister must at least accept that Glasgow district council is given a right in the matter, even though he does not like the way in which it has exercised that right.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If that was the reason, one would have assumed that Glasgow district council, in its communications with the Secretary of State, would have stated it. The council has not done so. It has not claimed that its interest in the land was the basis of the original transaction with the SSHA and that it therefore does not wish to revoke the right. The chief executive of the city of Glasgow has stated:My Council remains firmly opposed to the compulsory sale of public housing to sitting tenants".It has nothing to do with interest in the land or the original basis on which the land was provided. The view taken is that if the Secretary of State wants to enforce the sale he has no alternative but to use his powers under the Act. This is the issue with which the order is concerned. The city of Glasgow does not agree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of its motives. It is not what the chief executive states in his official correspondence with the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Rifkind
This is all the correspondence. The letter from the city of Glasgow is not a confidential document.
§ Mr. Douglas
I do not distrust the Under-Secretary, but is he willing to put the letter on the official record?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I would not only be willing to show it to whomsoever wishes to see it; I would be willing to show it to the hon. Gentleman. That shows my entire trust and faith in the contents of the letter in question.
The order has the effect that I indicated earlier. We simply wish to ensure that the 9,000 tenants of the SSHA in Glasgow are able to exercise the right that Parliament provided for them. That is not an unfair or unworthy desire. Therefore, I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
I had no intention of taking part in the debate until I heard the Minister's useless reply. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has the reputation of being one of the least unintelligent members of the Front Bench team from the Scottish Office, yet tonight his contribution has been an insult to the intelligence of the House of Commons. He has repeatedly refused to answer the 64 million dollar question—how much money will be involved in this financial transaction between the SSHA and Glasgow district council? I think that we are entitled to hear from him again—with the permission of the House.
After the debate last night on the SSHA and after this debate, it is clear that the present over-centralised, dictatorial Government are now hell-bent on using the SSHA as an instrument to try to impose their will on public sector housing in Scotland in order to reduce and dismantle public sector housing and to make it less accountable to the elected representatives of the Scottish people.
The Minister ought now to rise to give us a more satisfactory explanation. If he does not do so, some of the more enlightened Conservative Members might join Opposition Members in the Lobby.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Aves 140. Noes 84.258
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Scottish Special Housing Association (Vesting of City of Glasgow District Council Land) (Scotland) Order 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved.