Such complacency will bring no comfort to the 250,000 home owners who continue to be more than six months in arrears with their mortgages, the 1.2 million home owners trapped in negative equity in a declining housing market or, importantly, those sick, disabled and unemployed home owners who are under threat of losing their homes—12,000 is the calculation of the Council of Mortgage Lenders—as a result of the proposal to cut their income support when they get into difficulties.
How can the Minister be so complacent, when the Government of which he is a member have collectively and comprehensively made such an unholy mess of private and public housing provision?
The first thing is that no Conservative Member is complacent about that, but equally, no one who suffers from that problem will be comforted by a political rant on the subject. [Interruption.] We are conscious of the difficulties—[Interruption.] It would be easy for anyone to stand at the Dispatch Box and exude all sorts of phoney rhetoric.
This is a serious matter. The people in those circumstances are unfortunate and I am anxious that they should recover. That is done by taking that into account in the fixing of interest rates—trying to maintain low interest rates. The level of interest rates is the single most important factor.
One must try to ensure that one has sensible relationships with mortgage lenders so that they are understanding and, when people make an honest attempt to make repayments, they make, and continue, arrangements to accommodate them. One must try to ensure that the economy is managed so that we continue to bring people out of unemployment and into employment and so that we can offer hope to people who now find themselves in difficulties. I am as worried about that as anyone in the House.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that people's desire to own their own properties remains as buoyant as ever, notwithstanding the difficulties over repossessions, and that Labour Members' consistent attempts over the years to talk out home ownership have failed again and again? Nearly all the British public want to own their own home.
About 230 people a day in Great Britain are entering into home ownership thanks to the various schemes that help them to do so. That can be only because a large number of people believe that that form of tenure suits them. The Government will continue to assist them to acquire such tenure.
Will the Minister confirm that approximately 1,000 people a week are losing their homes as a result of repossession, and that his Department has received a report from Dr. Janet Ford of Loughborough university, which, I understand, will be published shortly and which demonstrates that private insurance will not provide an adequate safeguard for many home owners in financial difficulty? Will he therefore press his colleague, the Secretary of State for Social Security, to withdraw his ill-conceived and damaging proposals to limit income support, which are already damaging the market and will lead to an increase in repossessions?
The report will be published tomorrow, so the hon. Gentleman will have the satisfaction of being able to read it. It is reasonable, however, to ask that private provision should take some of the strain from public provision. The increase in the number of households and the demands on the public purse are such that we must reconsider the frontier that divides the two. My right hon. Friend will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I would be interested to know whether it is Labour party policy to reverse the changes—that is not clear—and how that sits with the new financial probity that, we are told, has fallen on the Labour party.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to minimise the number of repossessions is to ensure that we have, as we do at present, the proper conditions for economic growth? That is shown again by today's announcement that unemployment has fallen for the 20th successive time. Does he further agree that we must ensure that we have not only low interest rates but low inflation levels, and that we must encourage inward investment in this country so that we shall be one million miles away from the social chapter and the minimum wage?
It is certainly true that low inflation levels, which can be reflected in low interest rates, are one of the prime factors in helping people to resume their payments. Keeping unemployment falling and people finding employment is equally important in enabling people to resume their payments. Many people manage to recover their arrears. That is to be welcomed and is an essential way forward.