I am stimulated to intervene at this late stage in the debate by the fine quality of the contributions made by my hon. Friends in this Third Reading debate.
The limitations of the Bill clearly illustrate that the central criticism of the Government is not that, in the full range of their economic and fiscal policies, they look to individual firms and companies to provide the main engine of enterprise in our economy. That view is shared on both sides of the House. The main criticism of the Government is that they expect firms to undertake that task in isolation and are prepared to give so little support to enable companies to be more successful engines of growth and enterprise in our economy. Firms do not look to the Government to do everything for them—far from it—but they do not expect a responsible Government like ours to do so little, especially when Governments of all colours in every other European country are doing so much more for their companies.
No debate during the lengthy course of the Bill's proceedings has better illustrated the paucity of the Government's strategy for dealing with the country's problems than that on the housing crisis and the collapse of the Government's measures to deal with it. The lesson of that crisis goes to the heart of the Government's failing and reveals the tragic contrast between the promises that they made before the election on 9 April and the collapse in hope and confidence in their policies that has taken place since the election. Time has shown the housing measures announced by the Government in December last year to be ill thought through gimmicks, packaged and hyped to people who need not empty gestures but real help to alleviate their housing and personal finance crises.
To take the mounting mortgage arrears crisis off newspaper front pages, the Government struck a rather crude bargain with mortgage lenders: in return for building societies devising a range of mortgage rescue packages and negotiating a variety of arrangements with housing associations, the Government agreed to pay the mortgage interest element of income support direct to lenders and conceded to building society demands for a freeze on stamp duty to kick-start the slumbering property market. In return for a mortgage rescue lifeboat, building societies persuaded the Government to throw in a stick of dynamite to break the logjam in the housing market. Unfortunately, the lifeboat has turned out to be a threadbare raft and the dynamite a disappointingly damp firework.
In February, a Shelter report speculated that some 40,000 families might be saved as a result of the Government's package. That prediction was dismissed at the time, notably by Government spokesmen, as "miserably pessimistic". Instead, the predictions made by Shelter earlier this year have proved, lamentably and tragically—no one derives enjoyment or satisfaction from the failure of the Government's policies to deal with the housing crisis—to be not miserably pessimistic but wildly optimistic. One report, if it is to be believed, calculates that the Government's measures have saved no more than 12 homes and a handful of families.
Across the country, the package has been a sad failure. In my constituency of Hartlepool, there was a 24 per cent. increase in repossession orders last year. Already, in the first quarter of 1992, 102 mortgage possession actions have been entered in the county court of Cleveland. Some 66 suspended orders have been agreed, and a further 15 have been made by the courts.
In rehearsing those figures, I do not need to point out that they represent considerable human misery and tragedy for the families involved. They have suffered considerably during the past two years in the course of the second recession that was manufactured in Downing street and brought about as a failure of the Government's economic policies. It has been a financial blight on their lives, and they have had to find any penny they could lay their hands on.