HC Deb 12 January 1999 vol 323 cc92-3
4. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)

What representations have been received as a result of the Government's consultation on reform of the processes of home buying and selling. [63568]

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

"The key to easier home buying and selling" was published on 7 December 1998. Since then, there has been a steady stream of responses on a wide range of issues. The consultation period ends on 31 March 1999.

Dr. Naysmith

In view of the interest that has been shown, is there any possibility of speeding up the process and starting to take action more quickly?

Ms Armstrong

The matter has probably raised more interest among the public than any of the other consultation documents that we have issued. It is, therefore, important that we get it right. There has been considerable concern about the home buying and selling process. The Government decided to improve the situation so that people would know what they were getting into if they sought to buy their home, and so that they would have more confidence in the process. I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to speed up the process of home buying and selling. That is the weakness in the British system. To do that effectively, we need a proper period of consultation. We are committed to introducing proposals for action this year.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Minister accept that we might all wish to speed up the process of house transfer, but that there are great dangers in imposing serious financial obligations on vendors? They might be required to pay for searches and surveys that might then go out of date before a potential purchaser was identified. Will she recognise the great concern, expressed by many professionals in this area, that the Government's thinking on this may be rather skewed?

Ms Armstrong

We had the most extensive consultation ever with the professions in this area before we published the consultation document, and they were very involved in drawing it up. It is a Government document and the professions are now considering it in great detail. Anyone who reads it in full will see that it recognises the down sides of proposals as well as their benefits. Any consultation must take account of views on both sides, and we shall seek to do that. However, we are determined to improve the process, which brings frustration to many.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the slowness at which houses in Britain are sold is a substantial problem, and that if we could speed up the process, it might be unnecessary to build quite so many new houses—the 4.4 million that Conservative and Labour Members alike are keen should not be built on green land? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if house turnover is improved, there will be slightly less need to build new ones?

Ms Armstrong

I do not want to make assumptions that have not been fully researched, but my hon. Friend may have a point. Other countries manage to get through the process much more speedily than we in Britain do, so we must consider what improvements can be made. That may bring the wider benefits of which my hon. Friend speaks; it will certainly bring benefits for consumers and citizens, for so many of whom this is the most important financial decision in their lives. They want the system to work better.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

Will the Minister comment on reports that her Government's urban task force is to recommend that those who own or buy houses on green-field sites should lose the right to mortgage tax relief? Does she accept that, although it is principally country dwellers who object to urban encroachment on green spaces, it would be a bit much even for her Government to expect only country dwellers to pay to prevent that?

Ms Armstrong

I am not sure how that point can be taken into account in the consultation on the home buying and selling process, but the right hon. Lady shows some ingenuity. All I would say is that she should not believe everything that she hears on the radio.