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Housing and Homes

Part of Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng Conservative, Spelthorne 5:52 pm, 15th May 2018

I am very pleased to follow Justin Madders, who made some interesting remarks.

We also have to mention in the debate that the housing crisis, such as it is, is a localised crisis; too often in this Chamber we feel that London and the south-east represent the whole country. The housing crisis is particularly acute in the south-east, in constituencies such as mine, and there is huge demand for housing. However, that problem, such as it is, did not come out of a clear blue sky. It has evolved over the last several decades—20 or 30 years—and both of the parties that have shared government over that time have some responsibility for it.

There were two notable features of the period between 1997 and 2010 that have made the problem more acute. First, there was a huge increase in house prices. We only need to look at a place such as Spelthorne, let alone London itself, to see that there was a huge accretion of wealth. Asset prices went through the roof and the Labour Government of the time were relatively happy about that. One of their Ministers said that he was quite happy and relaxed about people being “filthy rich”—I think that that was the phrase used. So there was a boom-time atmosphere that increased asset prices.

The other thing that happened was that we had lots of net immigration. I know that it is not very fashionable to say that but clearly house prices have something to do with demand, and demand for housing has something to do with population increases. That is something that we should be honest about in this House. A Government looking at the problem will try to build more houses, and that is exactly what Her Majesty’s Government are trying to do. There is a commitment to expand the supply so that house prices will not increase in the way that they have done in the recent past, and that is to be welcomed.

The abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers is also a very good thing. It is an excellent policy, yet I remember that, when the Chancellor announced it at the Dispatch Box, there was a howl of protest from Opposition Members. I think that someone rather resourcefully looked at the Red Book and suggested that prices would increase by 0.3%, ignoring the fact that the abolition of the stamp duty represented way more than that in terms of the help it gave. They said that that was a critical point which meant that it was a failing policy.