§ 3. Mr. David Martin
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what estimate has been made of the effect of the housing measures announced by the Chancellor in his autumn statement on the housing market since then.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard)
The Housing Corporation now estimates that these measures will allow housing associations to buy about 17,000 properties in England by the end of March. A further 3,500 purchases will be made possible through cash grants to tenants. Taken together with the recent substantial fall in interest rates, this package should certainly have a very positive impact on the housing market.
§ Mr. Martin
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider further measures to encourage rented family housing? Will he examine again the Rent Acts and Housing Acts, which, over many generations, have kept for shelter the rationing and queues which, for food and clothing, were swept away years ago by private enterprise?
§ Mr. Howard
We have made substantial progress in sweeping away those restrictions that have so long impeded progress in improving and increasing the rented sector in the housing market. I confirm to my hon. Friend that I am always anxious to consider further measures.
§ Mr. George Howarth
When the Secretary of State reconsiders the package, will he pay attention to the plight of people who bought former council houses, such as the "no fines" houses. Such people often now live in totally unsatisfactory, damp and inadequate properties, and have no means whereby they could afford to bring those properties up to proper standards. Will the Secretary of State consider extending the programme, perhaps to include mandatory grants?
§ Mr. Howard
Of course, in certain circumstances grants are available and people in those circumstances can apply for those grants, which will help them to improve the conditions in which they live.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that welcome as the measures in the Chancellor's autumn statement are, they tend to give the greatest benefits to major contractors and large-volume house builders? What help can he offer small and medium-sized building businesses facing not only the ravages of recession but unequal competition from the legal activities of those who operate below the VAT ceiling and can charge 17.5 per cent. less on bills, and the illegal activities of the black economy where it is a case of "cash down and no questions asked"?
§ Mr. Howard
I am, of course, anxious that any illegal activities such as those referred to by my hon. Friend should be brought to an end. Any information that my hon. Friend and those to whose complaints he referred possess will be carefully considered by the appropriate authorities.
The purpose of the autumn statement package was to improve the condition of the housing market in general, and I believe that it is having a positive impact on the market.
§ Mr. Battle
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a bit premature to talk about a housing market recovery on the day we learn that mortgage arrears have shot up by 28 per cent. and more than 147,000 families with arrears of more than 12 months are staring eviction in the face? Will he confirm that the Prime Minister is to introduce cash handouts for mortgage deposits to get the housing market going? Would it not be better for him to address the real problem? People fear that they are a pay check away from redundancy, so they dare not risk long-term commitments. Rising unemployment is undermining the housing market. Will the Secretary of State confirm that every working day since 1989 more than 600 building workers have lost their jobs? Without tackling unemployment by investment, the Government have no hope of tackling the housing crisis.
§ Mr. Howard
I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's question. He began by referring to the increasing numbers of people who are in arrears on their mortgages. Does he not understand that if we persuade the building societies not to evict people and not to go for repossession orders, the inevitable consequence is that the number of people in their properties but in arrears will increase?
Why does the hon. Gentleman not refer to the news out today that the number of repossessions has fallen by 9 per cent. over the past year? Why does he not refer to the views of the director-general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, who has said that the worst is now over? When will the Labour party stop its deliberate campaign of obstructing recovery and driving our recovery into recession?