HC Deb 29 June 1988 vol 136 cc395-6
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A statement was made to the House on 29 March by the Minister responsible for housing in Scotland. That statement affected 800,000 tenants in Scotland who fear the forcible transfer of their tenancies to speculative landlords. He said: No solution will be forced on anyone against his or her will."—[Official Report, 29 March 1988; Vol. 130, c. 1003.] Earlier this week, however, he said of tenants: it is possible that a minority might have to transfer against their will."—[Official Report, 27 June 1988; Vol. 136, c. 138–9.] In view of the fear and alarm that that is causing among Scotland's tenants in the council sector, tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association and other public sector tenants, there is an urgent requirement for the Government to make their position crystal clear. I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, will use your influence and permit the Minister to make a statement today.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should genuinely like to answer the hon. Gentleman's point. There has been no reduction in secure tenants' rights and no shift in Government policy on this matter.

The remarks to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I made during the Commons stages of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, related to the transfer of SSHA tenants to Scottish Homes and to the tenants' choice provisions in part III of that Bill. There is absolutely no question of the Government retreating from the commitments that they gave to tenants on this matter. SSHA tenants will not lose any rights on transfer to Scottish Homes and no tenant will be forced to change to another landlord under the tenants' choice provisions against his or her will.

My remarks during the Report stage of the Housing Bill on Monday night related solely to large-scale voluntary disposals by local authorities. It has always been the case that public sector landlords can dispose of stock to another landlord provided that they have the consent of the Secretary of State, and it has always been possible that some tenants might be transferred against their will. That is one reason why we consider it so important that the Secretary of State should have the ability to examine very closely every possible voluntary request from a local authority to dispose of stock. Consequently, we took the opportunity to make absolutely clear the considerations to which the Secretary of State would have regard in examining voluntary applications for disposals, and the protection of tenants will, of course, be a central consideration.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that this will not develop into a debate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) sought clarification.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank the Minister, but find it astonishing that he should have made a statement in this way. Surely it would have been better for the Minister or the Secretary of State—who seems to prefer cavorting round Scotland on photo opportunities to answering Scottish questions—had applied to you to make a statement.

Mr. Speaker

The Minister did not ask to make a statement at all. It was on a point of order.

Mr. Maxton

The Minister has made a statement, which we now cannot question.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order arises directly from Scottish questions. It is your normal practice, quite rightly and fairly, to give preference to hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies before calling those who take an interest in Scottish affairs but who represent constituencies in England and elsewhere. I wonder whether you will be prepared to vary that practice on occasion. This afternoon, no fewer than 21 Scottish Labour Members failed to turn up—a truancy rate of 40 per cent. Alternatively, perhaps Scottish questions could be rearranged for a day on which Scottish Labour Members are more likely to show up.

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for who turns up.