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I regarded that as a fair offer that we had to win on a vote of the tenants, and I am prepared to go with it. But what is happening at Livingston breaks that promise. Under trickle transfer, any house that becomes vacant is transferred to a housing association. People on the waiting list get the tenancy of the house only if they accept the association as their landlord. That means that they have lost the opportunity of a tenancy with the district council for the future. No applicant on the Livingston development corporation waiting list--the applicants are often second-generation families who have been on the list for two or three years--can obtain a development corporation tenancy.
Mr. Cook : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that point from his own experience in the area that we both represent. The Minister must accept responsibility. The minutes of his meeting with the Livingston development corporation in September confirm that he raised the matter. The
Column 1016problem has arisen because the targets for the sale of houses obliges the Government to go for trickle transfer if the targets are to be met. How can he square the process of denying tenants the opportunity of an LDC tenancy, and therefore a district council tenancy, with his commitment that every tenant would have the opportunity on wind-up of a council tenancy ?
I assure the House that the new towns of Scotland are a success story. I think that Ministers would take more credit for the success story if they did not find it uncomfortable to take credit for a public sector success story. Let the Minister understand that he cannot take credit for the success if he now puts it at risk, and that is what is happening.
For once, I invite the Minister to take pride in what he has helped to create, and to claim the success that has been built in the new towns as one that he partly helped to achieve. Having recognised that success and taken his part of the credit for it, he should think again about holding to a breakneck timetable that is leading to a forced fire sale of the assets of a new town.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for allowing me briefly to take up some of the points that he has made. I agree with all the arguments that my hon. Friend has advanced. The same arguments could apply to all the other four new towns with equal force in terms of housing and the disposal of assets.
The work forces that have been employed by all the new towns over the years have been crucial to the success of the new towns. All of us in Scotland have benefited from their input and from the way in which they have developed the new towns and enhanced the economic structure of the local area and the wider economic area. Yet, for the first time in 47 years since the new town of East Kilbride, which I represent, was established, the work force are now engaged in a policy of non-co-operation with their board. Incidentally, that board is trying to deliver for them in the areas in which they are arguing with the Scottish Office. I understand that that policy is beginning to extend to other new towns ; it will be probably only a matter of time before it arrives on the doorstep of Livingston new town as well.
Why has the policy of non-co-operation suddenly been imposed ? As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said, the reason is that the Government have reneged on a commitment they gave to the staff of East Kilbride new town in 1989, that there would be enhanced redundancy payments to retain the key personnel in that new town in the crucial period leading to the wind-up. Clearly, they are reneging on a promise and a commitment that they made.
Indeed, it is argued that they are reneging on an agreement that was reached with the Scottish Office. Morale among the staff in East Kilbride new town has collapsed, and it is collapsing all over the other new towns. Obviously, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) will comment on that with regard to his area. I shall ask the Secretary of State one question on this matter. Why has the Scottish Office decided to renege on that promise, that commitment and that agreement ? We know that the new towns cannot exist for ever. We know
Column 1017that they must be wound up. We realise that there must be honour in the way in which that is carried out but that is not being delivered by the Scottish Office.
If the Secretary of State does not have the opportunity to respond to that question tonight, he should write to me in detail, because a previous letter that he wrote to me on the matter has been no help whatever.
Mr. Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) : I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for allowing me briefly to contribute to the debate. I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that, like staff in Livingston development corporation, the staff in Irvine development corporation are unhappy. Indeed, the Minister may know that today the staff were balloted to take part in industrial action simply because the Government have welshed on the redundancy package which was on offer, and which had been on offer for a great number of years. That is shameful action by the Government.
I am concerned that the wind-up programme in Irvine, as in Livingston and elsewhere, will lead to lowering of staff morale to such an extent that the work of the development corporation--there is still work to be undertaken by the corporation--will be affected. Outstanding projects that will be undertaken in the remaining two years will be unsatisfactorily dealt with by the staff, simply because they will not be operating as staff committed to their task before the wind-up is due.
In the time that I have, I simply ask the Minister to give the staff a commitment and resolve the situation with regard to the redundancy package. I await his answer with some interest.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr.Cook) on obtaining this Adjournment debate on a subject that is clearly of the greatest importance to him, and to the constituents of the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who is also a new town Member of Parliament, would have been in his place if he had not been injured in a contest with the press earlier today. I am glad that his injuries are purely temporary.
I hope to return to this point, but I am absolutely astonished that the hon. Members for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) did not refer to the findings of the Public Accounts Committee on precisely the matter that they raised. I shall endeavour to reply to all of the points which were raised by the hon. Members. If I am unable to do that in the available time, I give them an absolute assurance that I will write in detail to them on the matters as soon as I can.
The hon. Member for Livingston, in a well-considered speech, made the major criticism that somehow the wind-up of the new towns was being pursued at a great pace. He was reflecting the phrase of some others about the dash for cash in the wind-up of the new towns. I must say that the wind-up was announced when I was the new towns
Column 1018Minister some 10 years ago. That was followed by a Green Paper, by a White Paper and then, of course, by the 1990 legislation. The hon. Member for Livingston was right to point out that the wind-up has been accelerated. That has been done essentially for two major reasons. The first is the rapid emergence of Scottish Enterprise and the local enterprise companies, and the success of Locate in Scotland. Collectively, those bodies will have the prime responsibility for the future economic development of lowland Scotland.
The second is the opportunity of local government reorganisation in Scotland. We want to ensure that the new authorities--in the hon. Gentleman's case, that will be West Lothian--begin life with all their functions essentially on board.
The hon. Gentleman also suggested that this was Treasury-driven. Under the present rules--which have, of course, been changed--the cash received by the Scottish Office from the sale of the assets of the Scottish new towns remains, in effect, within the Scottish budget. It is spent elsewhere in Scotland. [Interruption.] I must say to hon. Members that there are other areas in Scotland where there are economic, industrial and housing problems, and that is where the money is, in effect, going.
The hon. Member for Livingston was right to point to the success of the new towns as part of Scotland's strategic economic and industrial policy. I can assure him that Scottish Enterprise will continue that policy. It purchased some £10.3 million-worth of strategic land and buildings from the new towns in 1993-94, and further acquisitions are planned in this financial year ; those will include Eliburn West and Rosebank in relation to Livingston.
That kind of transfer will enable Scottish Enterprise, together with the local enterprise bodies and Locate in Scotland, to maintain the momentum of economic development in the new towns.
The hon. Member was also right to refer to the fact that what is important is not just the transfer of physical assets but the personnel and expertise of the staff of the development corporations. It is encouraging that, in relation to Fife, the regional council, the development corporation and the local enterprise company have reached an agreement on the transfers for the future of the organisation Invest in Fife.
The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the possibility of establishing a local development company for Livingston was not being pursued. I can tell him that the board is considering the options, and that we look forward to receiving its specific proposals by 31 October.
One of the hon. Gentleman's main points concerned housing. He will know that, in Livingston, the home ownership rate is close to 55 per cent., and that tenants in the new towns have taken substantial advantage of the right -to-buy and rent-to-mortgage schemes ; he will also know that, in the past year, Livingston spent some £3.5 million on repairs and maintenance of stock, and some £6.5 million on modernisation, particularly in Craigshill. I emphasise those figures because they show a continuing commitment to the improvement of housing stock in the development corporations.
As for the future, and the hon. Gentleman's specific point about my commitment on "trickle transfer", I can tell him that it means that those on the waiting list have the option of moving to housing owned by housing associations, and therefore have the rights of housing
Column 1019association tenants. That is in no way incompatible with the policy that I announced. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for praising the policy, if that is not putting it too strongly, of giving existing tenants of corporation housing stock the right to choose the successor at wind-up, which they can do by means of a secret ballot. We want an effective choice between local authorities and housing associations. I think that in the new towns and, more broadly, in Scotland, housing associations represent a genuine choice for those who wish to remain in tenanted accommodation.
Mr. Robin Cook : I do not object to the choice ; indeed, I accept, as a reasonable challenge, that we should persuade tenants to opt for the district council, given the choice between that and a housing association. What I object to is that the fact that people who have been on the waiting list for two years and are on the way to securing a tenancy now do not have that choice ; they have only the option of a housing association tenancy, with no future opportunity of opting for the district council. Why not suspend the trickle transfer, so that those people can also have the choice that the Minister is holding out ?
Mr. Stewart : I am saying what I have always said--that the choice is at the point of wind-up. I am also saying that I think it right to encourage diversification of tenure in the new towns, as elsewhere, in the period leading to wind-up.
Column 1020The hon. Gentleman asked me about the resources available to local authorities in a number of contexts. I hope that I can reassure him on housing : the Government will provide local authorities that are successful in the ballot of tenants with additional borrowing consent up to the level of the purchase price.
Hon. Members also raised the question of staff and the present dispute, which I regret very much. For a long time, I have had the highest respect for the staff of Scotland's new towns.
I remind the House of what the Public Accounts Committee said in its report on the Development Board for Rural Wales. It said that substantial payments in lieu of notice should be avoided. That view was accepted by the Government. The Treasury response said : "Payments in lieu of notice should be made only where it has not been feasible for the employer to give the employee appropriate notice of termination of employment or to allow him or her to work until the end of the period of notice."
That is the background to the present dispute. It follows precisely the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee. We are taking legal advice
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at fifteen minutes past Twelve midnight.
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