My hon. Friend will know of the importance of the housing industry in pulling Britain out of the recession. Can he offer any hope and further assistance to that sector? Does he agree that the stamp duty has some basic flaws? Can he forecast its total demise?
I must point out that stamp duty on property alone raises about £1 billion, which is a considerable sum to the Exchequer. On the problems of the housing and property industry, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced a significant package last December which included payments to building societies for those in receipt of income support. In the longer term, it is the reduction in interest rates, brought about by the economic policies to which the Government are committed, that will bring about the firmest and surest revival of the property market.
Will the Minister confirm that the stamp duty holiday, which gave some limited help to home buyers and the building industry, was sabotaged this week when a group of Conservative Members did not have the guts to vote in the Lobby in accordance with their declared beliefs?
I do not accept that for a moment. My right hon. and hon. Friends voted clearly, firmly and unanimously for the reintroduction of stamp duty because they recognised that that was an essential part of the public expenditure programme and the resources that must be raised through it to meet that balance.
I wish to offer my support to my hon. Friend for his suggestion that interest rates are the most important thing in reviving the housing market. May I suggest, as a matter of convenience, that he arrange for the Bundesbank to communicate direct to the House, because it seems sad that he should have to second-guess what it says and go through the humiliation of being a mere messenger for that foreign body.
I am not sure that my hon. Friend's point arises out of this question, but no doubt his comments will be heard as clearly by the Bundesbank as they have been by the House.
The Economic Secretary is more or less admitting that his initiative on stamp duty has failed, but we are still in recession, we still have a huge balance of payments deficit and an astronomic public sector borrowing requirement and the Budget forecast of growth is so much pie in the sky. If the Chancellor says that we must be more competitive and more productive, how exactly will that be achieved by Treasury Ministers?
I do not accept that the stamp duty moratorium was of no help, because 540,000 property transactions took place during that time and the benefit gained was equivalent to £400 million. That real benefit has been left with home purchasers. To extend the moratorium, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, would cost another £430 million, which would be a significant burden on the PSBR this year.