Speech on Housing and Regeneration Bill Scottish Parliament 19 March 2008

I welcome the opportunity to raise some issues on this legislative consent motion, which Labour members—who consider LCMs on the basis of the practical measures to which they relate and who judge each LCM on its merits—have decided to support.

We think that it is important that we take the opportunity to illuminate some significant issues for the Parliament—members know that my every instinct is philanthropic.

Members of the Local Government and Communities Committee felt that it was important for all members to receive an explanation from the Scottish National Party of why it is no longer opposed, in principle, to LCMs.

On numerous occasions in the past, SNP members voted against entirely rational and logical LCMs on the basis that it was a point of principle for them to do so.

Of course, that was then and this is now.

We can only surmise that the memory banks of SNP back benchers have been entirely wiped and that that point of principle has been forgotten.

The principle on which we operated was that, whenever possible, we would seek an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to legislate and that we would use the LCM process only if the prospect of new Scottish legislation was not imminent.

The problem for the SNP, of course, is that it appears that the prospect of legislation on anything at all is not imminent. That makes it even more bizarre that the minister claimed to the committee that use of the LCM process was

"a proportionate and efficient use of parliamentary time."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 5 March 2008; c 724.]

He might wish to talk to his business manager about that.

Of course, the broader question is why no suitable legislative vehicle is available.

A big decision has been made to abolish Communities Scotland and yet the bill before us relates to regulation in England.

There is no coherence on the issue of savings for Communities Scotland or how housing and regeneration fit into the community planning framework.

What will happen now that individual housing association grant decisions will be micromanaged from the centre?

How will the regulator fit into all of that?

We have had no discussion of those issues.

Given that we are going in an entirely opposite direction to that taken in England, it would have been nice for the Scottish Parliament to have been given an opportunity—whether in relation to legislation or otherwise—to have had that discussion.

We could have dealt with the issues raised in the LCM in that way.

In order to be helpful, I direct the minister to his own words.

In July last year, I asked him whether abolishing of Communities Scotland "would require legislation".

His reply was:

"Ministers are currently considering the most effective organisational structures for the future delivery of Communities Scotland's functions. That process will involve consideration of any legislation that might be necessary to support the transfer of Communities Scotland's functions, although legislation would not of itself be required to abolish Communities Scotland."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 19 July 2007; S3W-1797.]

Given that we do not need legislation to abolish Communities Scotland, it would have been helpful if the Government had looked for legislative opportunities that would have allowed the Parliament to debate what will now happen to Communities Scotland's functions.

The LCM is an indicator that the SNP has abandoned the principles that it used to apply.

It has not even applied the test that we used to apply.

The Government is unable to explain why it has not brought to the chamber a debate on the future of Communities Scotland.

Perhaps the minister will tell the chamber what other legislation might be necessary and what Communities Scotland's future is.

I welcome his interesting response.