Stamp Duty (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:35 pm on 20th January 1992.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 11:35 pm, 20th January 1992

Indeed. I have been arguing for an improvement in council estates. I welcome all such measures. The hon. Gentleman has referred to a particular problem that must be tackled. Overall, the Government have not invested nearly enough to improve council estates. That is why such serious problems have developed over several decades. Indeed, those problems have worsened during the past decade, when investment has been lacking.

However, the collapsed housing market is a different problem. It is a problem for people who want to own their homes. The market has failed to provide the houses that are needed. Only the local authorities can do the job effectively, yet the Government have prevented them from making the necessary investment. The ban on the use, for this purpose, of the receipts from the sale of council houses should be lifted. Indeed, the Government should have done that straight away. What we need is a package of measures to enable local authorities to build homes. While the matter is left to the market, homelessness will increase. Central intervention is required.

The £400 million that this stamp duty relief is costing would be better used to help the victims of repossession to stay in their homes. Those people should be allowed to convert mortgage payments to rent payments. Councils have a duty to house them and, as council accommodation is not available, that is an intolerable burden. The ricochet effect is felt by people in my borough of Waltham Forest —indeed, by people all over London—whose names are on waiting lists. Some families in very poor council accommodation need transfers. There are some, for instance, who need two bedrooms instead of one, but, because councils have a duty to house people whose homes have been repossessed, others have virtually no chance of a transfer. The Government should put this money into helping the victims of repossession to stay in their homes. The fact that one in five of houses for sale is a repossessed home has killed the market. If the Government want to revive the housing market, they should find ways to enable those who face repossession to stay in their own homes.

In my intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), I made the point that, in the current state of the housing market, many people have mortgages that are greater than the value of their properties. If they cannot afford the mortgage repayments and are forced to sell their homes, they will still be saddled with astronomic debts for years to come. In effect, such people will be bankrupt, but the Government have not shown the slightest glimmer of concern; these people have not been given tax assistance.