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House Purchase (First-Time Buyers)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress he has made in his discussions with the building society representatives concerning new initiatives to help young people to buy their first homes.

My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement very shortly about the discussions he has had with building societies and builders about the present unsatisfactory situation in private house building, including the position of first-time buyers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in place of that statement it might be better to produce a White Paper so that the House may have an opportunity for a debate? Will the statement or a White Paper include reference to the provision of timber-frame buildings—about which I made representations to my hon. Friend a little while ago—because there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who, having seen such houses, appreciate that they have many advantages, not least the cost advantage?

The point my hon. Friend raises will not fall to be dealt with in the statement to which I have referred, but I hope that soon afterwards we shall be sending out circular advice which would cover that particular point about building construction. I shall consider with my right hon. Friend the suggestion about incorporating any ideas we have on these matters in a White Paper, though I think that it would be better to await the contents of the statement before we pursue that idea further.

Will the statement include any reference to policies to help the homeless, the figures for which have doubled under the present Government's housing legislation?

I find myself at a loss for words to deal with the last point in that question. I had better ignore it because it was so ridiculously inaccurate. The question of tackling aspects of homelessness is being studied very vigorously. I suspect that it is being studied a good deal more vigorously than was the case under the previous administration.

Will the Minister, in any further discussions, urge building society representatives to explain to young couples that, whichever of them takes the mortgage, it is perfectly in order for the ownership to be in the joint names of both husband and wife?

I should hope that it would not be necessary for me or my right hon. Friend to have to explain that to the building societies. I believe that a growing number of building society mortgages are issued on the basis of joint ownership. This is an increasing practice, which is certainly to be welcomed.

Does the Minister recognise that his astonishment is not good enough? He must know that the Rent Act 1974 has made the situation in many of our big cities very much worse, increased the number of homeless and dried up the supply of furnished accommodation. Will the statement deal with this?

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, it would be far better if instead of making general statements of that kind, either in the House or elsewhere, he would submit actual material to the Department—for which I have certainly called—in order that we may monitor the position and take appropriate action. We have not received evidence to suggest that the Rent Act 1974 has produced the effects to which reference has been made. It was only a matter of days from the enactment of that legislation that propaganda was being put out to this effect, before anyone could possibly have been able to establish evidence. I suggest that all those now making noises on the Opposition side of the House should submit evidence to the Department so that we can take appropriate action. So far, not one of them has done so.

May I agree with the earlier remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and say that it is the factor of uncertainty that dissuades a number of first-time buyers from entering the market? Believing as I do that they have more confidence in borrowing from local authorities, may I ask whether my hon. Friend will increase the limit in respect of reference to his Department for local authority purchases of houses from £250,000 to £500,000? Will he also review the whole procedure of the purchase of houses by local authorities so that it may be streamlined and quickened and so that vacant properties may be made available to first-time buyers from local authorities?

It will be the position shortly that we shall have to review the operation of Circular 70/74 under which there has been this encouragement and provision for local authorities to expand their house purchase practices. It is certainly true that there are many empty properties in stress areas that remain un-purchased by local authorities or houseing associations, and there is considerable scope in that direction to bring them into housing use. I shall take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should increase the ceiling limit on particular purchases, though I must say that under the circular there has been a considerable expansion of capital expenditure in this field, to a level which I believe will be sustained during the coming financial year.