HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc130-1
5. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

If he will make a statement on the development of new housing partnerships in Scotland. [65829]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Calum Macdonald)

In the next three years, £278 million is being made available to develop and support new housing partnerships. The bids are being assessed by an advisory group that includes representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Scottish Homes, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations Ltd. From 1 July 1999, that will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Connarty

I commend my hon. Friend for the enthusiastic and imaginative way in which he has approached new partnerships in housing. I recognise that the community housing trusts will offer financial benefits to councils with high capital debts outstanding. However, will my hon. Friend ensure that councils which do not want to go down the community housing trust road because they do not have high capital debts outstanding on their housing, will not be penalised in any way because they lack the capital that they need to deal with their housing problems?

In a spirit of partnership, will my hon. Friend ensure that ballots for community housing trusts are not rigged, as Scottish Homes ballots were, and that the housing is transferred only when a majority of those balloted vote for such a transfer?

Mr. Macdonald

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the guarantees that he seeks about ballots and tenants rights. As part of the transfer to community ownership, it is important for tenants to arrange guarantees, for example, on future rent increases and other aspects of the tenancy that they might want to retain. It is important to realise that no transfer is likely to take place in any council for two or three years. Therefore, tenants will have a long time to study any proposals. There is no question of penalising local authorities that do not want to participate.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

Instead of the Minister giving more than £1 million to Glasgow city council for a feasibility study on the part-privatisation of its council housing stock, would it not be better to spend that money on building, maintaining and improving Glasgow council houses? When will we get more than £1 million for council house modernisation and improvement, rather than for one feasibility study?

Mr. Macdonald

Glasgow is pursuing a project which, if it succeeds, will directly empower tenants, contribute to community regeneration and bring additional money into housing to improve it. Every time the hon. Gentleman and the Scottish National party use language such as privatisation or profiteering, they alienate not merely tenants who are thinking about going ahead with such projects, but the many who are already involved in housing associations and tenants co-operatives, who are certainly not privatised or profiteering in the way that he describes. He should also check on SNP party policy on the subject. This weekend, when reading Inside Housing, I noted that the party's housing spokeswoman, Fiona Hyslop, said that, for the SNP, stock transfer is not ruled out. There appears to be quite a lot of confusion on SNP policy. The hon. Gentleman would do best to try to sort that out.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Unlike the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh), I want housing standards in Glasgow to improve. I am grateful to the Minister for having taken the trouble to visit substandard and poor housing in my constituency last year. Does he agree that one legacy of the Tory Government was the large amount of BTS—below tolerable standard—housing, mainly that owned or factored by private landlords? That is unacceptable. Will he consider extending housing partnerships to include BTS housing in areas such as Govan Hill and other parts of my constituency, and to any part of Scotland where such poor quality housing still exists?

Mr. Macdonald

Local authorities are working hard to tackle the level of BTS housing. We will always assist them with such projects. On new housing partnerships, we are primarily targeting the tenanted sector, because much deterioration and neglect occurred there under the previous Government over 18 years.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Will the Minister review the regulations that apply to partnerships? Will he ensure that, in his desire to put tenants first and let them have first say, where they are happy to maintain the local authority as landlord, there will be no distortions in funding or any temptation to go against the wishes of the tenants?

Mr. Macdonald

I repeat that no community transfer is likely until after two or three years of study of the proposals, not only by local authorities but by tenants. They can look hard at the package offered. Only at the end of that process will they be invited to vote on it. That provides a secure guarantee for tenants.