asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the percentage increase in average house prices in (a) Greater London and (b) the south-east of England in each of the three last years for which figures are available.
The rises in house prices in Greater London are estimated to have been 12 per cent. from 1982 to 1983, then 16 per cent. to 1984 and 14 per cent. to 1985. For the rest of the south-east, the estimates are 13 per cent., 13 per cent,. and 10 per cent.
Does the Minister realise that those figures compare with increases in average wages that are considerably below those levels— about 9 per cent., 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. for the same three years in Greater London? Does not that, coupled with unemployment that now puts 14 London constituencies in the top 50 for rising unemployment, mean that very few people can buy first homes in London? What will he do about it, and how soon will he provide the opportunity to purchase for those at the bottom end of the earnings scale or those who are not employed at all?
First, I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me in putting the maximum possible pressure on the boroughs involved to ensure not only that all the derelict land that they have is brought forward for housing but that they do not in any circumstances delay the planning process, which is one of the things that prevents proper new building taking place. I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said about the need to bring about more low-cost housing development. That is why we intend to do all that we possibly can to encourage shared ownership in the capital and the south-east.
Do not current house prices in the south-east make the £30,000 limit on mortgages for tax relief somewhat out of date?
Not at the moment.
Does the Minister recognise that his answer means that his Department should do what it can to encourage local authorities to build so that many people who are not in a position to buy are able to be rehoused by local authorities? Even if we take into consideration the number of empty properties — some of which are not being done up because of lack of cash—there remain hundreds of thousands who stand no chance of buying their own homes and who are in desperate need of local authority accommodation. Does the Minister associate himself with the insulting and offensive remarks that were made last week by the Minister for Information Technology? Are those his views?
I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's first question. The answer is very much in the hands of local authorities. The message of "build, build, build," helped throughout the 1960s and 1970s to bring about the problems that we have today. Build in haste, repair at leisure. There has been under-investment in housing repair. That is why we have so many empty houses in council ownership and why we have homelessness.