Tory Members have tried hard to put a brave face on the housing problem that the country faces. They have found excuses and ingenious ways of, shall we say, putting the problem into context.
I agree with many points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle), but people's everyday experience is so different. People know that things are wrong as they cancel their Christmas. They know that housing policy has failed as they see the pictures of cardboard city. After 10 years of Tory government they see housing policy in a shambles. They have begun to wonder whether the Government have any answers to the housing crisis.
Perhaps the most prominent issue is the rise in mortgage rates and repayments, which has been dubbed the Tory tax. The cost of Conservative mismanagement of the economy has been huge: the rise in interest rates from 9·8 per cent. in July 1988 to the present 14·5 per cent.; the increase in the monthly repayments on the average £30,000 mortgage of £75; and the increase in the monthly repayments on the average £60,000 endowment mortgage of more than £200. Those rises dwarf the tax cuts of previous years.
The Government used to talk about creating a stable financial climate—an environment where businesses and individuals could plan their investments. We presumed that they realised that people do not always plan ahead. We thought that they realised that people cannot always see what is round the corner. When people do not see what is coming, that does not make them imprudent. I invite the House to look at the most sophisticated economic forecasters, whose job it is to guess what interest rates will be in a year's time. In July 1988, when the mortgage rate was 9·8 per cent., none of them predicted rates of 14·8 per cent. at Christmas 1989, and they are the specialists. This Government do not apologise for their mistakes; they simply shrug their shoulders as if to say, "You should not have borrowed so much." So much for providing a stable financial climate.
The home owners have been hit and they are bearing the brunt of the Government's interest rate policy. They are being punished for this Government's mistakes. The price for house owners is only too real. The number in arrears is beginning to grow. In December 1988, a total of 326,000 individuals were more than two months in arrears.