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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, October 6, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Greyhound Racing, Portfolio Question Time, Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Contents


Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-06213, in the name of Shona Robison, on the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill at stage 3.

15:31  

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (Shona Robison)

I am very pleased to open today’s stage 3 debate on the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) Bill. The debate over the past three days has been wide ranging, thought provoking and often lively. I thank colleagues from across the chamber for engaging on the vital matters at hand and thank the majority of the Parliament for being supportive of the protective measures that we are introducing.

Presiding Officer, I also thank you and the Parliament clerks who have worked with members on amendments on a bill with an accelerated timetable and thank the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee for its scrutiny yesterday. That has been critical to ensuring that we can introduce the bill’s important protections ahead of winter.

My grateful thanks also go to the bill team for their incredibly hard work and to my colleague the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, who is part of my team. The bill demonstrates what can be done when parties work together, both in the Parliament and in the Government. Our shared values, as expressed in the Bute house agreement, are clear in the bill.

Passing the legislation does not mean that the job is done. The Scottish Government is committed to engaging with Parliament beyond the required reporting, through the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee and with Parliament as a whole.

A common theme in the recent conversations that I have had with stakeholders has been a recognition that the current cost crisis poses a danger not just to livelihoods but literally to lives and that the Government has to act. I am very proud that the Government has brought forward unprecedented legislation to provide tenants with the reassurance and stability we can, with the powers that we have, when many are so exposed to the harsh winds of the cost crisis and are already struggling to heat homes and put food on the table.

That is why we have already allocated almost £3 billion this year to help fight the cost of living crisis and strengthen support for households. That includes £1 billion-worth of support that is available only in Scotland, such as our Scottish child payment, which is another innovation by this Government to support people in need.

We have been right to act and have done so robustly. Although the primary purpose of our legislation is to protect tenants during the cost crisis, our package of measures has been closely considered and well balanced to recognise that some landlords, too, may be facing pressures caused by the cost crisis. That is why we have built in a number of safeguards to ensure that the circumstances of landlords are appropriately reflected.

I have listened carefully to the concerns about private sector landlords seeking to leave the sector as a result of the measures. I reflect that, over the past 15 years, there has been significant overall growth in the sector during a time of substantial change in how it is regulated. Healthy markets, flourishing responsible landlords and public sector intervention can co-exist.

I heard what the cabinet secretary has just told the Parliament. Can she reference where that evidence comes from?

Shona Robison

I think that the evidence of a cost of living crisis is evident to everybody other than the Tories, who have, through the consideration of the bill, shown once again that they are never on the right side of the argument. They have not recognised the cost of living crisis that is engulfing people.

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

We had to act with this temporary intervention to make sure that people have the support that they require—

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

Cabinet secretary, will you resume your seat, please?

Miles Briggs

Presiding Officer, I think that the cabinet secretary is deliberately trying not to answer the question that I asked her. I asked her for the reference for what she has just told Parliament—that the number of private tenancies has increased in Scotland. Where has that come from?

Mr Briggs, as you will well know, that is not a point of order. It is a debating point.

Shona Robison

I can tell Mr Briggs that, over the course of those 15 years, we have seen the private rented sector go from 100,000 to 300,000 private rented properties. I am happy to give him all that information if he would like, but it is on the public record. That figure of 300,000 should be seen against the backdrop of a sector that has been more regulated. If I am not mistaken—I will correct the record if I am wrong—the Tories have probably voted against every single part of that regulation of the private rented sector.

As I said, the Tories have shown themselves through the consideration of the bill not to be on the side of those who are suffering cost of living challenges. They even went to the extent of voting against a stage 3 amendment that will give tenants information that they need in relation to an application by their landlord to raise their rent by more than the cap. Why they would do that is inexplicable.

I return to the point of the bill. The bill firmly sits in the context of providing the right balance between supporting tenants and helping landlords to continue to offer properties for rent. Throughout the discussion this week, there has also been an important focus on the potential challenges of the measures for the social housing sector. The work that social landlords do in meeting our ambitious targets for new affordable homes and improving the quality of existing homes has rightly been praised. The Government works alongside them on our aim to ensure that everyone has a safe, warm, affordable place to live.

It is right that tenants in the social sector are protected during this time and, of course, no social tenant will face a rent rise during the next six months. I recognise that there are distinctive ways in which tenants are engaged in setting rents, in how the sector is funded and in how rental income feeds directly into services and investment. That is why I have welcomed our frequent engagement and discussions with representatives of social landlords, not just over the past two weeks but before that, and particularly on the issues that are covered in the emergency legislation. I have been encouraged by the shared commitment to our common goals and the appetite to continue with our collaborative approach. We will get on with reaching an agreement at pace through the work of the task and finish group that is already under way.

Our social housing sector is one that we can be enormously proud of. The Government’s consistent commitment to delivery of affordable homes over the past 15 years far outstrips anything in other parts of the UK, with delivery of 113,000 affordable homes since 2007, over 79,000 of which are for social rent, and with 62 per cent more affordable homes being delivered per head of population than has been the case in England.

Our ambitions for the next decade show our determination to build on that track record, with £3.6 billion of funding being made available in the current parliamentary session towards that goal. That track record and those commitments give providers and funders the confidence to continue to invest to the benefit of tenants.

I have also welcomed the constructive engagement that we have had with landlords in the private sector. There is a recognition that excessive rents are not acceptable, and that tenants are struggling right now.

As we have developed the bill, engagement with stakeholders has been vital, and it will continue to be so through the coming months. Working in partnership, we can realise our shared aim of stabilising rent costs and keeping people in their homes at what is a really difficult time.

The primary purpose of the bill is to provide the necessary protection for tenants during the current cost of living crisis. It is groundbreaking in the way that it achieves that. The bill also recognises that some landlords can be impacted by the cost of living crisis, and we needed to recognise that in order to create robust and workable legislation.

Members will shortly vote on the bill as amended. Although the timetable was expedited, there has been no shortage of debate and discussion from across the chamber. I welcome that.

The bill provides a choice about whether we support people in need. I challenge all MSPs: are they on the side of those who are most impacted by the cost of living crisis, or are they not? The Government has chosen to use the powers of the Parliament to help many of the people who are hardest hit right now and who face a winter of anxiety. The bill is for those people, who need the Parliament to support them. I urge members to support tenants, to support people in need and to support the bill.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

I call Miles Briggs to speak for around six minutes. I advise Mr Briggs and other MSPs that there is a bit of time in hand, so if they take an intervention, they will get the time back.

15:41  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I start by thanking all the organisations that have provided useful briefings during the passage of the emergency bill, and I thank the Parliament’s bill team for the work that it has done.

As I said during the stage 1 debate, the Scottish housing market is complex, especially here in the capital. We rely on the mixed-housing model to provide the homes that Scotland needs now and in the future.

The Scottish Conservatives continue to be concerned about the impact that the bill will have. I will use my time to speak about those whom the bill will not impact on and whom it will not support, who are already being failed by this Scottish National Party and Scottish Green Party Government. They are the 26,000 homeless households in Scotland.

The cabinet secretary said that everyone should have a safe and warm place to live. I agree. However, under the SNP Government, homelessness applications have increased by 3 per cent. There has been a 4 per cent increase in households in temporary accommodation. In Scotland today, 32,592 adults and 14,372 children are registered as homeless. The number of homeless adults has increased by 6 per cent, and the number of homeless children has increased by 17 per cent.

Households with children spend more time in temporary accommodation. Households with children are 4 per cent more likely to spend seven to 12 months in temporary accommodation than households without children are, and they are 6 per cent more likely to spend more than a year in temporary accommodation.

Homelessness applications are taking longer, on average, to process. It now takes an average of 19 days for a homelessness application to be assessed. That is up by three days on the previous year.

Those are shocking statistics. The people whom they concern are those who are furthest from the housing market—and who are now likely to be even further away, thanks to the impact of the bill.

As Crisis said to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee on Tuesday,

“the homelessness system is bursting at the seams. It has, as I am sure that members see in their constituencies all the time, been pushed to breaking point.”—[Official Report, Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 4 October 2022; c 9.]

Crisis also expressed concern about the knock-on impacts that there might be on the market. It stated:

“From our perspective, when there is a reduction in the supply of private rented housing, those who are most likely to be squeezed out of the market are those at the lowest end of the income distribution and those at the highest risk of homelessness ... There is a worry that it will become more difficult to support people who are experiencing homelessness into tenancies.”—[Official Report, Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 4 October 2022; c 15.]

The loss of significant numbers of private rented properties is likely to be a consequence of the legislation, if it is not lifted as soon as possible. That impact will be even greater in rural communities. There is international evidence that demonstrates the impact of the sort of intervention that we are seeing SNP and Green ministers make in the housing market.

Shona Robison

In his analysis of what is impacting on landlords, will Miles Briggs acknowledge the immediate impact in the here and now—today—of the rise in interest rates? That was the point that John Blackwood made in the meeting that he had with us: in the here and now—we are talking about the here and now, and not what is coming—it is interest rate rises that are putting in jeopardy landlords’ mortgages and tenants’ tenancies. Does the member recognise that?

Miles Briggs

As I said to the cabinet secretary just the other day, this is happening across western Europe—indeed, across the world—at this moment in time. It is not a Scotland-specific problem. What seems to be a Scotland-specific problem, though, is that for 15 years, this SNP and Green Government has not built enough affordable homes. That is a clear problem that we are seeing in Scotland today. Why is that?

Shona Robison

I know that various members have said that interest rates are a global issue and are not particular to the UK. Has the member seen the Bank of England analysis today that directly links the Tory mini-budget with the situation, saying that it caused a

“self-reinforcing spiral ... threatening severe disruption of core funding markets and consequent widespread”

disruption and

“financial instability”?

That happened in the UK—nowhere else. Does the member recognise that that is what is worrying landlords today, tomorrow and next week?

Miles Briggs

I can tell the cabinet secretary that what is worrying landlords, especially those in the social rented sector, is the bill. That sector is worried about where it will find the finance to take forward projects that are so vitally needed across our communities. The rent freezes that have been implemented have failed to make any difference. Instead, they have actually driven up rents for those who have tried to further their tenancies.

Conservative members remain concerned about the bill’s impact. We are concerned about the social rented sector and about students seeking private tenancies in their second year at university. Many universities have outlined concerns about students who come to cities across our country being unable to find accommodation; indeed, they are being told not to come. We are concerned about homeless people finding it even more difficult to find a home. We are concerned about the shattering of the confidence to invest that the bill is driving. We are concerned about the loss of vital homes to live in and we are concerned that the bill could trigger a greater housing crisis in Scotland than we have already seen.

The Scottish Conservatives will continue to hold the Government to account on the impact that the bill could have. Labour members have forced ministers to take this action, and they can congratulate themselves for that, but they, too, will be to blame if we see the sort of crisis that all the international evidence suggests rent controls deliver.

15:47  

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I indicate at the outset that Labour will support the bill at decision time, and I thank the minister for his collegiate work on our amendments on what has been a very short and pressured timescale. I also recognise the work of the minister’s team.

I also want to thank my own staff and the Parliament’s legislation team. Because of the overnight windows for lodging amendments over the past two nights, this might be the first good night’s sleep that they will get since the start of the week.

We have had to consider this emergency legislation on a rapid timescale, but that has been for good reason. We want tenants to be supported to deal with the current cost of living crisis, which is happening right now and is not, as Miles Briggs has suggested, going to be caused by the bill. The crisis is happening right now, and the Tory Government’s economic management is to blame for it.

Given that the Labour Party has developed and pushed the policy, is the member able to say in what other part in the world such an approach has not been removed?

Mark Griffin

The part of the world that I can tell the member about is this part of the world, where people are worried about having to make a choice between feeding their kids and turning on the heating: this country—where people are struggling through the worst cost of living crisis in living memory.

It is only right to propose measures to give people security—security of tenure over the course of the winter and security that their rents will not continue to rise and make them have to choose between paying their rent or putting food in their kids’ mouths.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the Tories would not want to support people at this time of crisis.

As we did on the windfall tax and on freezing energy prices, and as we now do on freezing rents, Scottish Labour is—as Miles Briggs has pointed out—setting the agenda from opposition. We welcome the Government’s change of heart over the summer in introducing the rent freeze, which we think was the right thing to do. For every renter who is struggling to figure out how they will make ends meet, the freeze will serve as a temporary, but badly needed, relief. The moratorium on evictions, too, should give many people enough breathing space to enable them to keep a roof over their heads this winter.

I want to raise yesterday’s spectacle of the Tories’ defence of landlords suffering from rising mortgage interest rates. They somehow expect the public purse to pick up the bill for their colleagues’ complete economic incompetence, which has led to waves of chaos—including rising costs for tenants and home owners alike—that will make this winter much longer and more difficult than we would have expected before what has been described as the mini fiscal event.

We are pleased that we have been able to find common ground with the Government, but there were areas in which we could not find agreement—in particular, on what is meant by “substantial” arrears, the balancing of rights between landlords and tenants, and the implementation date for the bill.

Rents will continue to rise between now and 5 December. We regret that that is the case. It is in black and white—it is in the Official Report—that on 6 September the First Minister announced that the practical effect of her statement was that rents would be frozen from that day. That is not what the bill does, it is not what the policy memorandum states and it is not what the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights has told members in the chamber. The minister has said that he regrets my interpretation of the First Minister’s statement, but that is surely how tenants would interpret her words. I think that as she said that the policy’s practical effect would be that rents would be frozen from that day, that is what tenants would expect.

There has also been overwhelming concern—from Government and Opposition members alike—about the risks to the social house-building programme and the maintaining of the freeze in that sector, particularly if it were to go beyond next March. I lodged amendments that would have at least assessed the impact of the financial effect on business plans and sought to remedy the position. The numbers, and therefore the risk to investment, are substantial. The Scottish Parliament information centre has said that it will be to the tune of £30 million. Housing associations in my region have spoken of suspending entire capital investment plans because of the freeze. The regulator puts the costs to the sector at £50 million next year, growing to £230 million by 2027. That is why we need to think long and hard about any extension beyond 31 March, particularly for the social rented sector, if we want building of affordable houses to continue to increase at pace.

Scottish Labour supports the rent freeze and the ban on evictions, but we also know that they are not long-term solutions to the housing crisis. Investment in vast numbers of sustainable affordable houses is a solution, and that must be protected.

15:54  

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I thank the minister for listening to members who have had concerns about the inclusion of the social housing sector in the scope of the bill. What I like to call the Doris-Mason-Rennie axis is reassured that the sector is likely to be treated differently after March next year. If a co-operative approach is adopted between the Government and the sector, and the uncertainty is removed, the bill could meet the sector’s planning needs and allow it to do what it does best: upgrading existing homes and building excellent new ones. I hope that the minister will include mid-market rentals in that process, as they are affordable homes, too, and we must build more of those for people who are in desperate need.

Emergency legislation is not the best way to make law, but needs must. I thank the Parliament’s staff, organisations such as the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Government officials and my small team for working through all the amendments at break-neck speed. I have to say that they were all brilliant and outstanding in their efforts.

Members know that I like to be fair. I do not blame the Conservative Government for every part of the cost of living crisis—of course, a significant part of it is due to the post-Covid situation and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. However, I absolutely hold it responsible for the reckless and catastrophic decisions on Brexit, the delayed energy package—I stress that it was delayed—and the ideologically cavalier mini-budget, which added fuel to the already raging fire.

Many people were finding it difficult to sleep at night because of their worries about rising energy bills. Now they do not even know whether they will be able to keep up their mortgage payments and pay for their weekly shopping. That is real life for millions of people in this country. The rising cost of fuel, food and energy is hell for many people. That is why we support this temporary rent cap for the private rented sector. We need to do everything that we can to help people who are struggling, so we will support the bill today.

The Conservatives have overcooked their opposition to the bill. However, I want to address a wider point. I have supported various tranches of housing legislation in recent years. Each individual step has had enough merits to enable me to vote for it. However, I am anxious about the cumulative effect. I will give the chamber a practical example of the kind of thing that I am concerned about.

In St Andrews—not the most typical place in Scotland—landlords would previously house students in the winter and tourists in the summer. However, the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 enabled students to stay all year round and to not have to give more than one month’s notice. Members might think that that is fair—of course, it is reasonable that students should have the same rights as everyone else—but it means that landlords cannot guarantee that properties will be available for tourists in the summer, which means that they cannot take bookings and are, therefore, forced to choose between the student market and the tourism market. Many have chosen the tourism market and are no longer letting to students, despite the short-term letting legislation that the Government has passed. That is one reason—only one reason—for the student housing crisis in St Andrews this year. I know of other landlords who are leaving the private rented sector in other areas for other reasons.

My point is not that we should oppose those measures, but we need to mitigate the consequences of legislation, even if it is positive legislation, rather than leave it to others to live with the negative consequences. We also need a rounded strategy, and I am not clear that that has been expressed in this Parliament.

Beyond the specific measures, there is also an issue about the messages from the Government in relation to its view of the private rented sector. I note that the minister is careful with his language and is always balanced when he speaks in the Parliament. However, more often than not, the only references to the private rented sector are in negative terms. Let me be clear: I have seen some rents being paid by my constituents that are far too high and need to come down. However, I draw members’ attention to the housing strategy that is set out in the “Housing to 2040” document. The executive summary is about 3,000 words long and has one reference to the private rented sector. It reads:

“we will tackle high rents and increase stability for those in the private rented sector.”

It makes numerous and, rightly, positive references to the social housing sector and mid-market rentals, but no positive references to the private rented sector.

Shona Robison

I take the member’s point. The only thing that I would say is that one of the things that the housing to 2040 strategy is strong on is the vision that people should have the same quality of accommodation no matter the tenure. That is about raising standards across the board, including in the private rented sector. That is a key element of the strategy.

Willie Rennie should be winding up now.

Willie Rennie

I absolutely accept what the cabinet secretary said, but the impression out there among private landlords—rightly or wrongly—is that the Government is anti-landlord. The Government therefore has a responsibility to go further and ensure that good landlords are seen as being valued in contributing to meeting the overall need for housing in this country. We have a shortage of housing, and we need to ensure that they are valued so that we can stem the decline in their numbers. I accept that the numbers have perhaps increased over a longer period of time, but there is no doubt that there has been a decline more recently, and we need to address that.

I would like to hear ministers talk more positively in the future about good private landlords and the good things that they can do, because we need them to do good things.

16:00  

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I am pleased to support the emergency legislation, which will secure—with limited caveats, of course—a six-month eviction ban and a six-month rent freeze for tenants across all tenures. The case that that is essential was made very well at stage 1.

We heard from the minister that 63 per cent of tenants in the social rented sector and 40 per cent of private tenants did not have enough savings or reserves to cover a month’s basic income and live above the poverty line if they experienced income shock. The figure was 24 per cent for people with mortgages. A tenure-specific approach was therefore appropriate. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that almost a third of all renters were struggling even before the current cost of living crisis. The case has therefore been made.

The approach had to be appropriate, absolutely necessary and proportionate. It had to strike a balance in order to be legal. That is what the bill, which is soon to be an act, seeks to do. It is proportionate, because landlords in the private rented sector can pass on to the property that is being let out some costs for increasing mortgage interest payments. They can pass on some costs in relation to landlord insurance or in-service charges. Those are only 50 per cent of those costs, to a maximum of 3 per cent of the rent levied. Modest safeguards have therefore been put in place for the private sector, which help to make the bill proportionate and legal. We have heard about similar protections in cases of evictions, which I will not go into because of time constraints.

There has been a good range of amendments, some of which have been accepted by the Government. It was very sympathetic to some. It was quite rightly signposted that, with the bill on the new deal for tenants that our Government will bring forward, it will engage directly with Opposition parties to develop amendments for a bill that can be shaped properly by Parliament and is not emergency legislation. That is also appropriate.

I want to use the time that I have left to talk about concerns in the social rented sector that I raised at stage 1 and in various interventions in the stage 2 and stage 3 amendment processes. We should, of course, put on the record that there are concerns about core repairs in the social rented sector, the ability to pay loans in relation to new builds that have already been commissioned and new builds in the pipeline, and in relation to net zero and the wider role that housing associations and social landlords fulfil. We cannot deny that those concerns exist. It is really helpful that we will get an early decision on what will happen from April next year. The Government’s stage 3 amendment says that we will know that by 14 January next year. That is really important, and I warmly welcome it.

Housing associations have said to me that they are keen to get on with their statutory duty to consult on rent increases in the sector. I am glad to hear that the Scottish Government, too, is keen for them to do that. In the consultation process, social landlords quite often offer tenants options. They will say, “Here’s what we would do if there was a rent freeze” or “Here’s what we would do if there was a 1 per cent increase, a 2 per cent increase or a 5 per cent increase.” They outline that. They do modelling work every year anyway to see what would happen if there was a rent freeze. I hope that, in the short-life working group, the Government will suggest to social landlords—this would be for them to decide independently, of course—that they should put the zero per cent option in their rent consultation so that they can say what tenants would get for their money if there was a rent freeze and what the consequences of that would be.

When all the rent consultations have come in, the Government will—rightly—want to analyse them before making an informed decision, on the basis of the engagement that social landlords have had with their tenants about what tenants want in relation to a rent freeze. That is vital.

One final point is that it can be really difficult for social landlords to engage with their tenants. They are very good at that, but getting a high turnout in the engagement process can be difficult. Sometimes, one demographic of a tenant base responds disproportionately. It is important to find out about affordability not just for those who rely on benefits and receive the housing element of universal credit to pay their rent but for many of the working poor, who pay full rent, because they are in the firing line of the Tory cost of living crisis, and the bill is trying to address their concerns.

I support the bill and the on-going engagement with the social rented sector. As I said at stage 1, I would prefer to reach an accommodation and an agreement with that sector rather than to provide for a rent cap come April, but let us wait and see what happens.

16:06  

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I will start on a note of consensus. Over the past few days, Mr Doris has made sensible points about the situation in social housing. It has been good to hear his input, and I do not disagree with some of what he has said.

I have said on more than a few occasions in this place that, inevitably, when we make rushed law, we can make bad law. That is less about the short time for considering proposals, the long days and the workload for chamber staff and more about whether we are actually listening to the people who will be most affected by the law that we pass. If we stopped someone on the street and asked them, “Would you like the Government to freeze your rent?”, as the bill will, or if we asked them, “Would you like the Government to freeze your energy bills?”, as the UK Government will, the response would inevitably be in the affirmative.

Will the member take an intervention?

Jamie Greene

In a second.

However, if we pitched things differently, we might get a different answer. If we told someone that, if the Government capped their rent, that would mean that their housing association paused its kitchen upgrade programme, might not install a new heater or boiler, might not insulate the loft, doors and windows or might not fix the leaky roof, we might get a different answer.

Will the member take an intervention?

Jamie Greene

I have a lot to get through.

If we told someone that their rent might be frozen but that, by this time next year, when they want to move, the market might look completely different—fewer flats might be on the market, rents might be higher because demand outstrips supply and applicants might be fighting hundreds of others for a single property, as is already happening in our cities—we might get a different answer.

We cannot cap rent increases at zero per cent for ever. There will always be an end point if the Government holds true to its word that the cap is temporary, but that creates a cliff edge. There are genuine concerns about that and about a spike beyond affordability at the end of the temporary period. We know about that because international models and the evidence base tell us about that from when such measures have been tried in other places. Such evidence has largely been ignored—for the sake of passing the bill, I guess.

Last week, I wrote to every housing association in Inverclyde and North Ayrshire. The associations jumped at the chance to talk to me; normally, they hear from us only when we have complaints about property. They all said the same thing—that they were blind-sided by the policy. They have genuine concerns and are now scrambling around to rewrite their cash-flow and spending plans.

One housing association told me that if—I accept that it is an “if”,—the rent freeze continues beyond March 2023, it will cost the association £5 million, which it wanted to spend on homes that are specifically designed for people with disabilities. Another housing association said that it was not consulted on the policy, which will—not “may”—significantly reduce the association’s ability to maintain existing homes to a high standard. If that organisation’s assumption is wrong, the Government must say why it is wrong.

People from another housing association who rang my office yesterday after watching the news were aghast—they said that the cost of the rent freeze will equate to their entire kitchen and heating repair bill. That association has squirreled away a huge pot of money for a rainy day, and—my goodness—we are heading into rainy days.

The common themes in all of the responses that I got from the housing associations can be summed up quite simply. They are all frustrated at the abject lack of consultation before the bill came to us; they are furious that the Government was not listening to them; and although, of course, they understand the pressures on people, they are keen to stress that they are already doing their level best to take measures to support people. They want people to live in well-heated, well-looked-after homes, which is better than people having no home at all.

Yesterday, I made the point that not all landlords are lolling around in buckets of cash. Many rely on their single rental income as part of their pension or as their sole income. That does not make that scenario right, but that is a reality that seems to have been missed. Mr Rennie is completely correct, because it is not just the intention of the bill that we are voting on that matters; the perception of it will also matter, specifically to landlords.

I will close by making another plug for amendment 81, about data, which I lodged and which the Government defeated yesterday. Mark Griffin made a point about that yesterday as well. Data is so important to what happens next, if the bill is passed. Without data, we will have no idea whether the legislation is having a positive or negative effect on the housing market. I want to know that, because data cannot be that hard to come by. Surely, civil servants can produce those reports. If we are worried that the warnings from many quarters about the consequences of the bill might ring true, I want to know that when the time comes. Nobody wants a depleted private rental market—that benefits no one.

I end where I started: rushed law, even if the general principle of it was well meaning, which I think it was in this case, will have consequences. As always, we will not know until it is too late.

16:11  

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

It has been an interesting couple of days as we have put the bill through its various stages. I thank the Parliament staff, especially the bill team and the clerks, for their work under extreme time pressure.

This legislation is badly needed in Scotland. I do not think that it is as comprehensive as it could have been, and more could be done to redress the imbalance of power that exists between tenants and landlords. We might have been able to get it to that point if we had not been as constrained in the time that we had to scrutinise and debate the bill, but we are where we are.

We are where we are today because of a number of people. I do not think that any of that work would have been possible without my friend and colleague Mercedes Villalba, who, unfortunately, due to illness, cannot be here. Anyone who knows her knows that she is a fierce and tenacious advocate for the rights of tenants across Scotland, and I am immensely proud of her work in pushing the Government on the need for the rent freeze over the past six months. I also thank our front-bench spokesman, Mark Griffin, and his team for their tireless work to improve the bill since its publication.

Shona Robison

I put on record our recognition of Mercedes Villalba’s contribution to the debate. I hope that she gets better soon and that she has been watching the proceedings and can take some comfort from the role that she played.

Paul Sweeney

I thank the cabinet secretary for that recognition—it is much appreciated. Despite the frustration that Mercedes is, no doubt, feeling, I am sure that she is heartened by the progress that the bill has made in the past few days.

In addition, we would not be here without the campaigning of Living Rent, which has been organising and building power for tenants for years. I pay tribute to Living Rent for that, and I am sure that that is shared across the chamber.

The Government chose to accept the two amendments, 71 and 85, that I lodged yesterday, for which I am thankful. Sadly, it chose not to engage as positively with other amendments that were lodged by colleagues. That is unfortunate, and, on reflection, the Government might regret not accepting the amendments in the names of Alex Rowley and Pauline McNeill. I thought that they were non-contentious, and I am still unsure what legitimate reason there could be for excluding care home residents from the legislation or for not ensuring that inter-tenancy rent increases are not possible.

In the time that I have left, I will make a more general point about the situation that tenants and home owners face this winter, which means that the bill is more necessary than ever.

Yesterday, we were forced to sit and listen while Conservative members claimed that the crisis that we face somehow had nothing to do with the actions of their colleagues who are running the UK Government and that somehow the increase in mortgage costs and the plummeting value of the pound were nothing to do with them. According to Conservative members here, it was pure coincidence that the pound tanked at the exact same time as the chancellor delivered his so-called mini-budget. I am afraid that I have never heard such disingenuous drivel in all my life.

The reality of the situation is that millions of British tenants and home owners face a cost of living crisis with higher bills, mortgage payments and inflation because of the Conservatives’ selfish political choice to give tax cuts to their wealthy donors and recklessly gamble with the future of the entire British economy. Rather than put more money into the pockets of those who need it the most, they tried and failed to give it to millionaires before being shamed into a making a U-turn.

Astoundingly, we heard more yesterday from Tory members about the plight of landlords in this country than we heard about the hardship that tenants are facing. I am afraid that the game is up. The public see the Tories for exactly what they are—they are in it for themselves. I thoroughly look forward to the next general election, when they will be unceremoniously ejected from Downing Street.

16:15  

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Today’s bill shows that the Scottish Greens, by working constructively in Government, are delivering on the promises that we made to the electorate to correct the stark and growing inequalities that take away the life chances of too many.

Today, Scotland is leading the way on protecting tenants. As figures from Shelter Scotland show, the homelessness system is overstretched and underfunded, with a household in Scotland becoming homeless every 18 minutes. It is a social and moral imperative to tackle the crisis head on.

In the short term—this winter—this emergency legislation will make a substantial difference for people who rent their homes; however, we need long-term solutions. Part of that is a culture change in which our approach moves away from seeing housing as an investment to one that prioritises the human right to a home.

A great deal of determined and detailed work by many people has gone into drafting this urgent piece of legislation, and I am immensely proud of the work of my colleague Patrick Harvie MSP, the Green Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, in leading on this legislation.

As the response to the legislation has shown, it is not enough for new laws to be right in principle; they must be right in practice, too. There is no value in legislating in ways that make us feel good if the legislation cannot survive parliamentary scrutiny or be robust against legal challenge. This bill has got that balance right.

This legislation is urgently needed, but the current housing crisis is symptomatic of long-term underinvestment in housing and the choice of successive Governments to leave a vital human need—the right to a home—to the whims of an unregulated market.

There is much that needs to be done. During this session of the Parliament, we will be introducing the biggest expansion of tenants’ rights in more than a generation, including better protections, such as the right to have pets and to redecorate, and rent controls. The bill is the first step towards creating a housing system that makes renting a fair and affordable option.

I have welcomed the thoughtful interventions and discussion around the bill, in particular the constructive approach that has been taken by many members to ensure that the emergency legislation is as robust and impactful as possible.

The scale and urgency of the cost of living crisis must be matched by urgent action. Renting in Scotland is expensive and insecure. Too many tenants pay far too much for inadequate housing. In the Highland and Islands, the need for affordable, accessible and adequate homes continues to be pressing, but protecting people from rising rents and losing their homes is the right thing to do as winter looms.

Although this is emergency legislation, due to the urgent nature of the cost of living crisis, the Bute house agreement sets out why we need to do much more to reform renting and to increase the number of affordable homes across Scotland. That vital work continues and will contribute to the biggest package of housing sector reforms since devolution.

Today, I am proud to be a Green, and I am proud to be part of a Parliament that will pass groundbreaking and progressive legislation to protect tenants during this crisis.

16:18  

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I will put a rural slant on the debate, as tenants in rural and coastal areas, such as those in my constituency, will be reassured by the emergency measures in the bill. A temporary freeze on rents and a moratorium on evictions during the winter period will be welcome, I am sure, especially due to the cost of living crisis, which is hitting people in those areas particularly hard.

The bill will also supply much-needed clarity for stakeholders, including housing charities, which have to deal on the front line with the humanitarian crisis that we face. The term “humanitarian crisis” is not an exaggeration.

A multifaceted crisis in the winter months is something that rural and coastal communities have experienced all too often in the past few years; for example, many communities in my constituency recall last year’s winter storms. The point is that we never know what is round the corner. The measures are timely, proactive and will protect many of the most vulnerable.

Many people in isolated areas, where the weather can be harsh, use oil as their principal source for heating. It is extremely expensive. They can well do without the impact on their health and wellbeing of added stress from spiralling rents and potential eviction.

In my constituency, rent arrears are already spiking. Many people are living with horrendous anxiety over spiralling costs that go way beyond their means. Rural households on low incomes now spend about half their earnings on rent—almost 5 per cent more than low-income households in urban areas. Measures in the bill will help.

Rural households need more than £500 to take them out of fuel poverty, which is twice as much as in urban areas. Data shows that, because of rural households’ greater reliance on cars, they spend an average of about £114 per week on transport, compared with £80 for urban households. That eats into—it is a higher proportion—of their disposable income, if they even have any. The bill will help.

Once again, the Scottish Government has had to act with immediate effect because of the dithering of this UK Government. The months of inaction and chaos at Westminster and the lack of sufficient support in response to the cost crisis mean that it is right that we act within our devolved powers to support the people in Scotland immediately. The UK Government took five weeks to choose a new leader, while the rest of our urgent political debate was placed in a vacuum. Yet here, in our Scottish Parliament, we are making positive, real change within days and with the right outcome.

There have been complaints from some parties about the speed at which we are addressing this challenge, and I accept that using emergency legislation is not ideal. However, as many charities have pointed out, we are in a humanitarian crisis in which dither and delay cost lives. Folk, who are still reeling from the pandemic, are lurching from one crisis to another and seeing a dystopian political farce taking place at Westminster daily. Let us not heed any calls to slow our pace from associates of that.

We wish that we were not in the position of having to introduce emergency legislation to protect people from the impact of rent increases. I note the concerns and arguments from groups that say that more long-term solutions are needed. My view is that long-term solutions and short-term emergency ones are not mutually exclusive.

This bill is inevitable, it is proportionate and it is a humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis.

We move to winding up speeches.

16:23  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I begin by welcoming the emergency legislation. I, too, welcome the work by the legislation team and the clerks to make it happen. Mark Griffin, our spokesperson on housing, was quite right when he said that the law generally does not balance the rights and interests of landlords and tenants. I am pleased that the Government is now committed to doing that.

I also want to put on record—I can say this quite openly because of the work that I did during the previous session of Parliament—that the legislation is not an attack on landlords. The vast majority of landlords are good and decent landlords, and many of them have a few properties, so let us recognise that profile.

The backdrop to today, as Paul Sweeney eloquently talked about, is an acute cost of living crisis. There has been an acute economic shock, there is severe risk to people’s mortgages and pensions and there uncertainty about the future. However, no one has mentioned the impact of that on young people.

Young people today are largely found in the private rented sector, because they have no chance of getting on to the social housing ladder. Most MSPs will know that from their constituency case work. I agree with the Tories that we have not done enough to increase housing supply—we all know that. However, we must recognise that the private rented sector in particular is where most poverty is found; it is where more poor families are found; and it is where there are severe inequalities. Therefore, it is right that this Government puts at the heart of its programme the need to address all that and to reform housing law.

Students in the private rented sector have no rights even to challenge their high rents in the university sector, because it contracted with parties that wrote into the contract that students had no rights and had to endure high rent.

I welcome the bill and the constructive nature of the debate. Let me put on record that I recognise the consistency of the housing minister Patrick Harvie in his dealings on this bill, but I cannot miss the opportunity to say to the SNP that, for all the speeches that I have heard today, not one SNP member supported my member’s bill on fair rents in the previous session of Parliament. They have to recognise that we could have been in a different place today, and I want to talk through why I think that.

I do not know what they were frightened of, and I think that they have to put their hands up to that. I am deeply concerned that the length of time that it will take to make the further housing reforms in this session of Parliament could mean that it will happen at the end of the session. However, let us hope that that does not happen.

In my Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill, there was a requirement to register data, as we talked about in an earlier exchange. However, importantly, there was also a provision in my bill that, although it capped rent increases at the consumer prices index plus 1 per cent, would have given ministers the power to set the cap at any level. If members look at the schedule to the current emergency legislation, they will see that its provision is pretty much the same as mine was.

I hope that SNP members will forgive my frustration around that; I just felt that I could have had a wee bit of support in the previous session of Parliament. Of course, I fully realise that member’s bills do not always make it. However, I hope that that is recognised and that we can get back on track in terms of working together to ensure that, in the wider framework on housing reform, we get it right. We need to recognise that tenants should have the right to challenge their rents and that those rents should not be increased when tenants do so, and there should be data so that landlords and tenants across the country can see what rents look like.

I recognise the emergency nature of the legislation. We need to do something now in relation to evictions and rents. I hope that, going forward, there is a bigger commitment from the Government to ensure that its housing bill does not come at the tail end of 2025. I would like the minister, in his closing speech, to commit to working harder to ensure that we see the housing reforms sooner than that.

I will be supporting the emergency legislation at decision time tonight, and I thank everyone for their hard work on it.

16:27  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I remind members again of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a holder of rental properties in Moray.

So, the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill is to become law. Before I discuss what other people have said during the debate, I want to talk about where we are. The Scottish Government has, without doubt, failed to build enough social housing over the 15 years that it has been in office, which has put pressure on the housing market. The Government also adjusted tenancy legislation through the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which distorted the market. The act reduced by 50 per cent the number of private rental properties and removed them from long-term lets. The result is that we have only about 340,000 let properties in Scotland. Reducing the number of available houses puts up the pressure on people who need to find a house and increases rents.

Over the past two days, we have had what, to me, was an unedifying spectacle of the Parliament being forced into emergency legislation. I question whether it was required, when in fact a tweak to the Rents (Scotland) Act 1984, the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 and the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 would have allowed the Government to say that all rent increases had to go before the First-tier Tribunal, which could then have been given a direction on how to deal with those rent increases.

That approach would have been fair and it would have allowed both sides to put their case. It would also have allowed the Government to take further soundings on the market. It might have distorted the market, but I do not think that it would have destroyed it.

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

I know that the member and his colleagues will be concerned about the resources that are available to the tribunal. What level of resourcing would have been necessary for the entire private rented sector to be pushed through the tribunal, with that being required every time any landlord in Scotland wanted to change the rent?

Edward Mountain

That just proves to me your lack of knowledge of the market, minister, because not all private landlords seek to raise rents every single year—only a small number of landlords do so. If the Government had signalled the way in which it would deal with the matter in its instructions to the First-tier Tribunal, that would have limited the number of cases going there.

Anyway, minister, you well know—

Speak through the chair, please.

Edward Mountain

Sorry, Presiding Officer.

As the minister will be aware, tribunals are not correctly funded at the moment, so part of the approach would have been about funding tribunals correctly.

I have been involved in enough stage 2 debates in Parliament to understand that proposed legislation, when submitted, is never perfect. Frankly, I find it amazing that there was not a single SNP or Green amendment among the 101 amendments that were put before Parliament. My biggest disappointment is that the Government did not listen to the amendments on the reporting of the outcome of the legislation after each period.

I am really confused. Conservative members literally voted for some of Patrick Harvie’s amendments, so to say that no amendments have been brought forward is quite astonishing.

Edward Mountain

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to review what I actually said, which is that I have been involved in enough stage 2 amendment debates. That is what I was talking about—I was not talking about today. I was going to go on to say that I realise that six amendments were taken forward from last night’s debate and that some amendments have been agreed to today. I believe that not amending legislation at stage 2 and not having the whole Parliament take part is not democracy.

I turn to the contributions. The cabinet secretary said that there is a right to act. There is a right to act, but one cannot act if one does not know the full cost of one’s action, which the minister never laid out and which is not in the financial memorandum.

Miles Briggs mentioned the 26,000 homeless households; sadly, we have not addressed that point or worked out how to address it. Mark Griffin was right that tenants should seek security, but we need landlords to have that security, too—knowing that their tenants are capable of paying their rents and of staying in their house. Every landlord looks for a long-term tenant and they will work for it.

I commend Willie Rennie and I am glad to join him on the social housing issue, which is important. I am glad that Bob Doris supported that point in last night’s and today’s debate, when he said that he feared for the social sector. Jamie Greene was spot on—his general point is that there will be a cost for this rent freeze and that it might not be the cost that we want to end up paying.

I agree with Ariane Burgess, who said that there are not enough houses across the region that we both represent, which is why I always push the Government to build more.

The bill will pass today, and I fear that it will be the start of a bigger problem—that fewer houses will be available to rent in the private sector, which will drive up the rents of those houses. The bill does not in any way respect and reward good landlords, of which there are many out there. I fear that fewer repairs will be carried out in private accommodation, because the rents will not facilitate them—that point was mentioned about the social housing sector—which will make it difficult to reach the minister’s target on energy performance certificates for private properties in 2025.

The Government might think that this is the start of its action in the private rented sector, but I hope that the passing of the bill does not signify the destruction of the private rented sector, which I believe has a key part to play in providing housing in Scotland.

I am afraid that we on the Conservative side of the chamber cannot support the bill today.

I call Patrick Harvie to wind up the debate.

16:34  

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

I do not mind admitting that there is a slight lump in my throat as I acknowledge what a privilege it is to be able to close this stage 3 debate on the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill. I know that many people across the country who do not necessarily follow every word that we speak in the chamber or follow politics closely will give a huge welcome to the important protection that the bill will provide.

It is not the first bill that I have taken through the Parliament. I led a member’s bill that, if memory serves me correctly, was one and a half sides of A4 with no amendments at stages 2 or 3 and no votes against from anybody. This bill, by comparison, feels like going in at the deep end.

It would be remiss of me not to observe that it is also the first Government bill led through Parliament by a Green minister in the Scottish Parliament or anywhere else in the UK. I am also pleased to note that it is the new King’s first bill. I am sure that it will be the start of an extremely productive working relationship.

As I have been pressing for reform for tenants for over a decade in the Parliament, the bill is extremely close to my heart. It is a product of working in genuine constructive partnership with the cabinet secretary and colleagues from both our political groups. It is an illustration of how much we can achieve by delivering on the collaborative approach to politics that is at the heart of the Bute house agreement.

We have heard members’ views over the past couple of days. I hope that, during the debates, everybody has kept in mind the close to 2 million people who rent their homes in Scotland, whether in the social sector, the private sector or student accommodation. The bill aims to help them through the challenging months ahead. Those challenges are not of their making and, in many cases, are out of control, as spiralling energy bills and soaring costs hit all households.

There are some members, of course, who fundamentally disagree with the action that we are taking and would, perhaps, take no action to prevent unaffordable rent increases being imposed on people who cannot afford them. There are others who perhaps oppose the need for balance and the safeguards for landlords who are also vulnerable. We have repeatedly restated that not all landlords are in the same financial situation. However, in truth, although the bill is needed, it will work in the real world only if it is balanced. That is what we have achieved. It is both radical and real; not demanding the impossible but delivering what is really needed.

One of the clear areas of concern throughout all three days of debate has been the importance of the social rented sector—not just the housing that it provides but its wider social role. The Government shares that concern. We share that priority, as do members from across the chamber. We are already working closely and collaboratively with the sector.

Bob Doris spoke about the importance of the tenant voice and the role that social landlords have in ensuring that all tenants’ voices are heard. In the longer-term work that we are doing, we seek to bring that approach into the private rented sector, too.

I have gone through some of the statistics that show the need for the bill. Tenants have, on average, lower household incomes and higher levels of poverty and are more vulnerable to economic shocks. That stark reality is why we have introduced the bill.

Members will remember that one of my first announcements on taking up my ministerial role was to commit to the longer-term work on the new deal for tenants. Although it is right that we responded to newly arising challenges by delivering emergency legislation, throughout the past three days of debate, many members have reinforced the arguments that we need to bear in mind as we develop that longer-term groundbreaking work to deliver on the new deal with a new housing bill in 2023, with new rights and protections. We will also establish a new regulator for the private rented sector to enforce standards as well as considering the scope of the existing Scottish Housing Regulator and working towards a national system of rent controls for the private sector by the end of 2025. There is a great deal more work to be done to deliver on all that and I look forward to working as constructively as possible with members across the chamber to do it.

I will finish in the way that I began on Tuesday: with some thanks. Although it is a privilege to stand in the chamber, present the bill and ask members to vote for it, it is never the work of one person; it is the work of a huge team. I thank members from across the Parliament, particularly those who have chosen to work constructively with the Government on some of their amendments to improve the bill. I also thank the Parliament officials, of course, who have worked hard, and external stakeholders who have contributed to the discussions.

I also acknowledge the work that has been done by people across Government: the First Minister, who made the commitment when she announced it in the programme for government; the rest of the ministerial team, including the cabinet secretary; and, in particular, our officials and advisers. Those officials and advisers do not get to stand here and present their work, but their work over the past few weeks has been amazing, and it has been conducted at an extraordinary pace. I have been proud to work with them, and they can have confidence, as can Parliament, that the work that we have done together will give real practical protection to people across Scotland.

The Scottish Government understands that emergency circumstances demand an emergency response, but we also recommit to move ahead with the longer-term reform that is badly needed.

With that, I am delighted to urge members to support the motion that the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill be passed.