Online exclusive: Mike's blog - Unintended consequences
The Minister for Community Safety used an old trick in the Local Government committee this morning. Fergus Ewing MSP was defending Part 2 of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Bill. A bill of good intention, but so poorly drafted it would actually remove protection for homeowners facing repossession in Scotland.
In responding to concerns from the Insolvency Practitioners Association, Fergus said insolvency practitioners in Scotland made £37.5m per annum from trust deed work. So their evidence on the bill’s proposed changes to trust deeds and sequestration should be taken with a pinch of salt.
That was a little unfair given that yesterday the committee heard from Shelter Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and Money Advice Scotland. Not only did these organisations stand to gain a lot of money if the bill was passed, by way of extra funding, but they were actually asked yesterday how much would they like! No-one tarnished their evidence and I think Fergus may regret taking such a unfair shot at practitioners who might know what they are talking about.
For example, I've heard 'experts' give evidence this week that by requiring all residential repossessions to proceed by way of summary application procedure the process will be more simple. That is simply ill-informed. A summary application proceeds by way of a initial writ - just like an orindary cause action for repossession. It isn't simple at all, and in fact it can be more complex than ordinary cause procedure if you get tangled up with preliminary points of law that have to be disposed of in limine.
The Housing Minister clamed this morning that I was emotionally attached to the Mortgage Rights Act as I was involved in drafting it. So a little salt was sprinkled in Govan Law Centre’s (GLC) direction. Actually, I had nothing to do with the drafting of that Act, although along with other law centre colleagues I was heavily involved in campaigning for it. In fact, I helped the SNP quite a lot on this, as Fiona Hyslop will recall.
What I do get emotionally attached to is the prospect of people in Scotland being made homeless unnecessarily. That’s why early last year GLC started campaigning for additional legal protection for Scottish homeowners. Oddly, none of the campaigning charities who gave evidence on the bill yesterday were prepared to join that campaign or criticise the Scottish Government’s refusal to act. Thankfully, almost all of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament backed our calls, and the Scottish Government set up the Repossessions Sub-Group in response to their constant pressure on this issue.
It might be helpful to remind ourselves that just a few months ago, the Scottish Government’s firm policy stance was that there was absolutely no need for any extra homeowner protection in Scotland. Housing Minister Alex Neil said ‘we’re ahead of the game in Scotland with the Mortgage Rights Act’.
One policy change later, and we now have the bill. No one wants additional legal protection for homeowners more than GLC, but the bill as drafted will not deliver that. And as this bill is being rushed through the Parliament there is a real danger that unless it is substantially re-written it will make things worse for Scottish homeowners. That would clearly be an unintended consequence. The Housing Minister said today it was too late to start again from the drawing board, and on reflection I think he’s right. But there’s nothing to stop the Scottish Government gutting this Bill and putting it right. Scotland deserves better.