I entirely agree. As the Government introduce their proposals, I hope that they will discount any chance of the loan guarantee being used to support the purchase of second homes, and that it will go only to families that otherwise would not be able to buy a first home of their own. After I was first elected in 1997, I campaigned against the policy that had been introduced by the Conservative Government of providing a 50% council tax discount for second homes. In that case, hundreds of millions of pounds were being used every year to subsidise the wealthy buying second homes, when thousands of local families could not afford their first. This Government are finishing off the job. I persuaded the previous Labour Government to remove as much as they possibly could of the second home council tax discount, and that was the right step forward.
Before I was elected to this House, I worked with housing associations and others to find a way of constructing a new lower rung on the housing ladder through shared equity and shared ownership schemes. The rural exceptions policy allowed exceptions to be made on the edges of villages and towns, where planning permission would not normally be granted, to meet local housing need. It allowed the schemes to go ahead and meant that the development price of land was significantly lower than would have been the case if they had been given unfettered permission to develop the land and build properties at prices that local people could not afford. The exceptions approach and shared ownership were clearly the way forward. The problem was that in rural areas only two lenders, Nationwide and Halifax, were prepared to put money into shared ownership developments.
A lot of lenders question whether they are prepared to put their money in and support local families who are trying to get on to the housing ladder. Such properties do not result in the level of default—the amount is 0.45% in shared ownership as a whole, which is significantly less than that for rural housing stock—that a lot of lenders pretend. If the Government are looking at ways to tighten the definition and develop their loan guarantee scheme so that it will apply to families who desperately need help, I urge them to look at the shared ownership sector. They should find ways to enable the situation to come to life, but not just on the first, initial purchase; they should try to ensure that on the second and subsequent purchase they can facilitate and work with housing associations so that these families can move on. The lack of confidence that this market can have a life of its own is holding it back.
I hope the Government will look at ways of having, in effect, a rural housing investment bank through this measure, and I hope that they will see this as a constructive contribution to the debate.