HC Deb 12 April 1978 vol 947 cc1373-6
6. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he is taking to increase the opportunities for home ownership.

12. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he is taking to increase the opportunities for home ownership.

18. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to increase house ownership.

23. Mr. MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he is taking to increase house ownership.

Mr. Shore

The Bill to provide loans and savings bonuses for first time purchasers completed its Committee stage yesterday. In 1977 more mortgages were committed than in any previous year and I expect that in the first half of this year there will be a substantial increase over the equivalent period of 1977. The many other constructive steps we have taken and are proposing to take are set out in Chapter 7 of the Green Paper on housing policy. The many other constructive steps we have taken, and are proposing to take, are set out in Chapter 7 of the Green Paper on housing (policy) (Cmnd. 6851).

Mr. Smith

Although the news about mortgages is obviously welcome, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we can now increase home ownership substantially and meet the aspirations of many council tenants only by selling to those tenants who wish to buy their homes?

Mr. Shore

No, Sir, I do not think that at all. Most certainly I do not think so in respect of those areas where there is an obvious shortage of rented housing. I do not see how that will help anyone. Nor do I think that it will be impossible for people who wish to buy houses in those areas to do so.

Mr. Speaker

I propose to call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered with No. 6.

Mr. Miller

In connection with the opportunity for tenants of council houses to buy their homes, will the right hon. Gentleman look again at the restriction that those houses should not be sold below cost? Houses built since I have been in the House, at a cost of £16,000, now have a market value of £10,000. It is effectively impossible for the people concerned to buy their own homes, although they are being subsidised at the rate of £40 a week. Will he look again at this matter to see whether a time limit can be introduced to allow these people to buy at a different rate after that time?

Mr. Shore

I see great difficulties in any proposal that public sector property should be sold below cost. There may be exceptional circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but, in general, that would break all the rules of audit and public accounting responsibility.

Mr. Montgomery

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it has taken the Government about three years to bring forward a measure to help home buyers? Does this explain the rather inadequate proposals in the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill? Will he take note that every opinion poll shows that the overwhelming majority of people want to own their homes, not to rent them? Will he look again at the question of allowing sitting tenants to buy their council houses, as that would give a tremendous boost to home ownership?

Mr. Shore

No, Sir. The matter is perfectly well established. But I must tell the hon. Gentleman that in the post-war period there have been at least 16 or 17 years of Conservative rule, and people had to wait until the Labour Government introduced a specific measure to help first-time purchasers only a few months ago.

Mr. MacKay

Is the Secretary of State aware that, due to his Government's artificial control of mortgages, many potential first-time house buyers will not now be able to buy their homes? Is he further aware that his earlier statement that this would control prices is barking completely up the wrong tree, and that we shall have a position where first-time buyers will not be able to buy, and prices will continue to rise?

Mr. Shore

I really think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the whole strategy that not only I pursue but that the Conservative Government also pursued in their last days. The greatest damage would be done to first-time house purchasers if we were to have an uncontrolled take-off of house prices. I said earlier that last year we had a record number of mortgage transactions—over 780,000. The nearest we ever came to that figure before was in 1972, at a time when house prices were going up by 35 per cent. Last year we achieved the figure of over 780,000 at a time when prices were going up, overall, by 8 per cent. We believe that we can get a satisfactory take-up of mortgage transactions without a great upsurge of house prices.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Stockport area one estate agent is allowing several would-be purchasers of a house to believe that they have purchased the house and to start drawing up contracts and incurring expenditure in regard to solicitors? Does he not deplore this practice, and will he refer it to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection? Does he not agree that it should be made absolutely clear that it is disgraceful for an estate agent to raise the hopes of several would-be purchasers that they have bought a particular house?

Mr. Shore

That does not sound to me to be the kind of behaviour that anyone would wish to condone. If my hon. Friend will give me the particulars of the case that he has in mind, I will consider them, perhaps in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

Mr. Greville Janner

Reverting to the question that my right hon. Friend was asked about the sale of public sector housing at below cost, is he aware that many of us are against the sale of public sector housing al any cost when there is a waiting list for houses? Does he agree that the public sector housing represents the main hope of homes for those who need them most?

Mr. Shore

Of course, that is the general view that we have, that where there is a substantial shortage of rented housing it really is imprudent—indeed, silly—to embark upon programmes of substantial council house sales. We have made that view clear from the beginning.

Mr. Michael Morris

Why does not the Secretary of State understand that it is the young married people who will be affected by the cut-back in building society mortgages? Would it not be more politically honest if he were to seek legislation to control mortgages? Then we would all know where we are.

Mr. Shore

Enemies of the first-time house purchasers, the young couples, are those who would simply leave increases in house prices unrestricted, fuelled by an unending supply of building society money. We recall the days of the hon. Gentleman's Government, when secondary banks and other financial interests were involved.

Mr. John Evans

Does my right hon. Friend accept that selling council houses will not add one brick to the housing stock? Does he further accept that this has more to do with Tory mythology than with good housing practice?

Mr. Shore

Yes, Sir. I very much regret that so much ideology has gone from the Conservative side into the whole question of houses to rent and the sale of them to their tenants.