HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc308-9
13. Mr. Michael

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessment he has made of the impact on the housing market, and on would-be first-time housebuyers in particular, of house price rises during 1988; and what proposals he has to regulate estate agents and others involved in that market as a consequence.

Mr. Forth

I am pleased to see that home ownership in 1988 has continued to increase and that the proportion of homes in owner-occupation is at record levels. However, I am aware that some prospective home buyers experienced difficulties during the very active market conditions in July of this year and that the operation of the property transfer systems remains a matter of some public concern. Therefore, I have been conducting a wide-ranging programme of discussions with the leading estate agency bodies and other interested parties to consider the practices of estate agents in the operation of the property transfer system and the possible scope for self-regulation by estate agents.

The Government's interim conclusions on the relevant issues were outlined in a recent speech given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I have placed copies of the text of his speech in the House Library for reference.

Mr. Michael

Does the Minister accept that his tears are meaningless in the context of inactivity and that those who were hurt in the scramble of house prices earlier this year were new and would-be house buyers? Discussions with estate agents do nothing to bring in regulation of the market, which is what the Minister should do as part of the Government's acceptance of their responsibilities.

Mr. Forth

I am not entirely sure what the operation of estate agencies has to do with any difficulties that first-time buyers might have. It is instructive to note that the ratio of average income of first-time house buyers to the average price of houses has scarcely changed over the past 10 years. We should be careful before we rush to any conclusions about regulating a market which, generally speaking, has operated successfully and brought us to a position in which over two thirds of the people of this country are proud owner-occupiers.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a silver lining to the high increases in house prices in the south-east, namely, that market forces are now working? As employers cannot find labour in the south-east, they are seriously considering moving to areas where house prices are much lower and labour is more plentiful, which will obviously help employment throughout the country.

Mr. Forth

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. He and I know, but I doubt whether Opposition Members will ever learn, that the operation of the market overall and in the longer term is always to the benefit of the people of this country.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that there is not only a record number of home owners but a record number of repossessions? Does he accept also that there is concern that estate agents do not get the best possible prices for repossessed houses? The individual not only loses his home but ends up in debt. As repossession often occurs because of high interest rates and the problems of having to live on benefits, will the Government do something at least to make sure that estate agents get the full market value for repossessed homes?

Mr. Forth

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his elevation to the Back Benches. I hope that his knowledge of estate agency matters will soon match his knowledge of education. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases that he wants to bring to my attention I should be grateful to know about them, because I will then be able to add them to the evidence that I have been gathering about the operation of estate agents over the past few months.