In the eight or nine years that I have been a Member of the House, I have not heard any Minister make a Second Reading speech as short as that which has just been made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It sounded as though it was being read from a prepared script. Indeed, I seemed to recognise in it large sections of the press release issued on 19 December.
The Financial Secretary gave no explanation of why the Bill is suddenly necessary. He gave no reason for the Government suddenly being able to find £400 million, although the press release said something about where the money has come from. He gave no reasons for why the Government have chosen to spend that money in this way.
It was a pity that the Financial Secretary's speech took such a short time because that means that the Opposition will have to pursue the Bill just that little bit further than normal because we want to ensure that the Government are acting properly and to ascertain their intentions. As I do not know the Government's intentions from the Financial Secretary's speech, I shall have to think of some myself.
I begin by asking whether the Bill will reduce homelessness. This country has a housing crisis and homeless people. I know that several of my hon. Friends will seek to address that topic if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Homelessness will not be affected by the Bill. People will continue to be homeless. I must also ask whether the Bill will stop houses being repossessed. It may help a little if, as a result, the lenders—the building societies and the banks—are a little less keen to repossess. I should have liked the Financial Secretary to comment on that but, unfortunately, he did not. However, I do not think that the Bill will help to alleviate the problem of repossessions. The Bill will not rescue those who are in arrears with their mortgage interest payments—not a bit of it. It will not lower interest rates. Furthermore, it will not extend housing benefit to people in difficulties.
The Government could have addressed all those issues. If they could not make provision for them all in this Bill, at least we might have expected to hear from the Financial Secretary why all those important and serious matters, such as homelessness and people's difficulty in repaying their mortgage at a time of very high interest rates, were not included in the Bill and why the Government did not take action. Of course, it is a question not of a Government who cannot take action, but of a Government who will not take action.
The Bill contains one major provision—that stamp duty will be relieved for about eight months. That means that for eight months those who would normally have paid 1 per cent. stamp duty when buying a property priced between £30,000 and £250,000 will not now have to do so.
The Bill is supposed to kick-start the market. The Government have come up with this solution and are taking up the time of the House to debate kick-starting the market by a Bill that will ease stamp duty payments. It is a great pity that the Government have done that and that they did not seek instead to introduce a Bill to increase manufacturing because that might have increased trade between this country and other European Community member states. The Government could have introduced a Bill to increase employment. All those measures would have given a kick-start to what the Government desire—a better "feel good" factor before they have to face the electorate at the polls. If manufacturing was increased, more people would be in work, paying taxes and have disposable income to spend. More people would "feel good". The same effect would be created if trade or employment were increased. But that is not what the Government have done. That shows the serious difference between the Conservative party and the Opposition. The Conservative party is playing politics. It is not interested in tackling the root causes of our decline during the past 10 years or our economic problems.
The Conservatives have a one-club solution to our economic problems. Interest rates must be high enough to ensure that inflation is low enough. The Opposition take the diametrically opposite view. One club is not enough. Of course, inflation must be low for prosperity. But high interest rates are not good for prosperity. There are ways of increasing manufacturing, trade and employment. The Government could have introduced a Bill to tackle those issues. They have not done so because the Tory philosophy is built on the market.
The Tories believe that the market must not be meddled with but left to its own devices. But unfortunately the market does not make anything. It does not export anything. The market is greedy and does not take account of the well-being of the economy of the United Kingdom. It is not in the interests of the market to do so. That is indisputable.
It has been the Tory philosophy to leave the market entirely alone, yet with this Bill they are interfering in the market. If they were true to their philosophy and left the market strictly alone, the Bill would not be before us tonight. They would have said that the housing market was of no concern to them. It would be of no concern to them if citizens of Britain who bought houses three or four years ago when interest rates were low had a cross to bear when interest rates suddenly and catastrophically doubled.