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Volume 483: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2008

We are working with a range of stakeholders, including mortgage lenders, local authorities, the courts and third sector advice agencies, to ensure that appropriate support is available for all households in financial difficulty. On 2 September, we announced plans for a mortgage rescue scheme targeted at the most vulnerable households facing repossession.

My right hon. Friend has made an extremely important statement. It is vital that we get the message out through local authorities, building societies, mortgage lenders and in particular the courts. What can she do to work with other Departments to make sure that the message gets through loud and clear and that there are no further unnecessary repossessions?

My hon. Friend is entirely right: is important that we convey the message of where people can seek help—and that they should seek help, rather than waiting until the last minute. Some 340 local authorities, as well as lenders, money advice agencies and officials from the Housing Corporation, have attended briefings, at a regional level and in other ways, to try to get information across. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are working particularly with the Ministry of Justice to improve provision of advice at the courts.

I hope that hon. Members across the House will take on board the fact that it is very important that people in difficulties contact their lenders as early as possible; it will often be possible to make arrangements with which those people can live and which they can readily meet. However, for those who go as far as the door of the court before seeking advice, we, with the Ministry of Justice, have funded court desks in about 90 per cent. of courts across the country, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. They have had an average success rate of 85 per cent. in averting repossessions, even at that late stage.

The pre-action protocol is intended to encourage communication between borrowers and lenders, but will the Minister concede that it does not require lenders to do anything at all and that it offers the courts no sanction for non-compliance? Does the guidance not need to be accompanied by changes in legislation, and will the Government finally agree to support amendments to that effect in the Banking Bill next week? That would give courts the power that they need to make a real difference on repossessions.

The hon. Lady is right to say that the position does not place a requirement on lenders, but it is a heavy encouragement to lenders to know that what they are doing will be scrutinised. I hope she is aware that, quite apart from the encouragement given by the Government and the justice system through the protocol, the Council of Mortgage Lenders itself has issued guidance strongly advising people to take the same kinds of steps. The whole thrust of the approach, whether from the council or the courts, is to make sure that repossession is a last, not a first, resort.

Does the Minister accept that if the Government are genuinely to take a sensitive approach to the growing problem of debt for families, a further step would be to set the issue in the context of the enforcement of other civil debt? They should cancel their current plans to implement proposals to give bailiffs powers of forced entry into family homes to pursue things such as parking tickets and credit card debt.

The hon. Gentleman is rather taking us away from the issue at hand. I completely understand and sympathise with people who feel distressed when they are approached on such grounds. However, the issue is not of the same order as the threat of losing one’s home. The hon. Gentleman should recognise and concede that the Government are doing a great deal to help people in those very worrying circumstances, and they hope to do more.