Patrick Harvie, Nicola Sturgeon, Housing in Vale of Leven. Picture by Craig Jump of UTR Media in Alexandria
By Bill Heaney
Green Party leader Patrick Harvie took up the case of people who rent their homes but may now face eviction because they will no longer be able to keep up with their rent.
He said: “First, I echo the comments of others: all our thoughts are with those who have been directly affected by the virus, having lost a loved one or, indeed, being unwell at the moment.
“We wish them a speedy recovery. Our thoughts are also with the very many dedicated professionals who are helping people through the crisis in every way possible in our public services and elsewhere.
“None of us in Parliament expected to be here to deal with a situation like this, or to pass the kind of emergency powers that are being contemplated, and I am sure that no one in the Government wants to be in a position of issuing the kind of instructions to the public that were given last night.
“However, this response is clearly necessary, so the Government will have the support of the Scottish Green Party in ensuring that the advice is heard and heeded so that we all stay at home and save lives.”
He added: “In order to do that, of course, we need to have a home. I am sure that I am not alone in hearing, on a daily basis, from people in the private rented sector who are being given notice to quit by landlords for a range of grounds that are not always connected with rent arrears, or being given demands for on-going rent payments, sometimes from landlords who are enjoying a mortgage holiday.
“I know that there are good landlords out there who are being as responsible and as flexible as they can be in supporting their tenants, but sadly, that is not always the case. We need to ensure that there is a more robust response to protect private rented tenants.
“How does the First Minister respond to the proposals from the National Union of Students, which come in five parts: clear public health advice for landlords and tenants; every landlord offering a no-penalty release from tenancy contracts; Government banning evictions for all tenants for the duration of the crisis; ensuring that tenants who are financially impacted by the crisis have their rent subsidised, reduced or waived for the next three months, with the option to renew; and finally, a universal restriction on rent increases for the next 12 months.
“Surely we need to take the opportunity afforded by the emergency legislation that is being brought forward by the Scottish Government later this week to ensure that we give the maximum possible protection so that no one loses their home as a result of this crisis in what are in deeply dangerous circumstances.”
The First Minister replied: “I am very clear that the emergency powers are necessary, but that they should be used only if and when we deem it necessary and they should exist only for as long as they are needed. I go back to the point that I made earlier: at a time when we are taking emergency powers and we are asking the public to do things that restrict the liberty of all of us, scrutiny is absolutely essential and we should all reflect on that in how we operate in the weeks to come.
“On the private rented sector, I am very happy to look closely at the NUS plan. I will ask Michael Russell, who is overseeing the emergency legislation, to look quickly at whether there is material from that, or suggestions in that, that we can include in the legislation, or even whether there are aspects of that that we could undertake without emergency legislation. Aileen Campbell will be involved in that process.
“I am clear—I was clear last week at First Minister’s question time and I will be clear again today—that nobody should be evicted from their home as a result of this crisis.”
Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie, left, said: “I welcome this proposed change in legislation. Removing the possibility of eviction will help in reducing the stress levels of many people in my constituency and across Scotland.
“For many living in private-rented accommodation, especially those on zero-hour contracts, ensuring that they will not be evicted within the next six months will be a huge relief.
“I will continue to work with my colleagues across the Scottish Parliament to ensure that everyone has the support and protection that they need during this uncertain and worrying time.”