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I am very proud of the record of the previous Labour Government: 2 million new homes, including 500,000 affordable homes, and a huge number of social homes that were brought up to decency standard. One thing that the previous Conservative Government bequeathed the previous Labour Government was a lot of council houses that were in poor condition because they had not invested any money in improving them. When the Secretary of State is next having a conversation with the Prime Minister, he might point out that the next time he walks down that famous staircase in No. 10 past the photographs of his predecessors, he will have to get all the way to Stanley Baldwin to find a Prime Minister with a worse record of building houses than the current occupant of that office.
In his 2011 speech, the Chancellor told us that he would deliver an economy
“carried aloft by the march of the makers.”—[Hansard, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
Although, as the Secretary of State says, housing starts are now finally up, what has happened to construction output overall? It has fallen by 4.2%. I do not know how many marches the Chancellor has been on, but the general idea of a march is that one goes forwards rather than backwards.
Although the Government’s record of building houses has been poor, they have intervened in the mortgage market through Help to Buy and last Wednesday the Chancellor made an announcement about extending the equity loan scheme to 2020. As I have said before from this Dispatch Box, we support help for people, especially first-time buyers, to realise their dream of home ownership, but if the Government simply increase demand and do not do enough to increase supply all that will happen is that house prices will rise further out of reach of the very people we are seeking to help. That is why the Treasury Committee and the International Monetary Fund express concerns about Help to Buy. I presume that the Chancellor has now finally acknowledged that, as he told the House last week that he has asked the Bank of England
“to be particularly vigilant against the emergence of potential risks in the housing market.”—[Hansard, 19 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 783-4.]
That is progress, but could the Minister tell us when he replies exactly what that means in practice and how we and the public will be kept informed of how that vigilance is operating?