My right hon. Friend discussed a number of issues, including seeking reassurance that the new industry guidance on mortgage arrears and possessions applied throughout the UK.
I thank the Minister for her reply. The credit crunch continues to affect the lives of many people, in Scotland and all over the world. My constituents welcome the decisions that the British Government have taken to help home owners in Scotland, but unfortunately the Scottish Administration have not given the same guarantees—[Interruption.] I understand, but the problem affects thousands of my constituents in Glasgow. Will the Minister reassure me that she will do everything in her power to ensure that as few people as possible face the nightmare of home repossession?
My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. The UK Government are deeply concerned that as few people as possible should face the threat of repossession, and that is exactly why we have strengthened the level of income support for mortgage interest payments. That support is now available after 13 weeks rather than 39, and will cover mortgages of up to £200,000. In addition, we are working very closely with all major lenders on the new home owners mortgage support scheme, which will apply to people who may face redundancy or a drastic loss of income on a temporary basis and allow them to defer their mortgage payments for up to two years.
As my hon. Friend knows, it is also important that the court protocols are in place to make sure that people unfortunate enough to face repossession get protection and good advice when they enter the court process. I am pleased to note that, following representations in the later part of last year, the Scottish Government have agreed to set up a repossessions advice group to see how the law can be strengthened. I very much hope that it can follow the example introduced last year in England.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders was one of the participants in November’s housing summit in Inverness that was organised by the Highland council. One of the summit’s major conclusions was that much more needed to be done, especially at the Scottish Government level, to free up funding for housing associations. The lack of funding is restricting and slowing down housing associations’ ability to build more affordable housing, whereas what should be happening is that that activity should be accelerating. Did the Council of Mortgage Lenders mention that to the Minister, and what action is being taken to apply pressure on the Scottish Government to release the funds needed to get house building going in the highlands?
It is something that we have discussed and will continue to discuss. It is clearly important to stimulate the housing market, especially social housing, throughout the UK, and that is why we have introduced packages to that effect in England and Wales already. It is important to increase the amount of social housing available in Scotland to meet the very high demand that exists already and to stimulate the housing market in general.
My hon. Friend has mentioned that a working party has been established to look at repossession protocols in Scotland, but that has happened four months after the UK Government took action. The process is much too slow, and home owners in Scotland do not have the same protection in the courts as their counterparts in England and Wales. Will my hon. Friend call in Nicola Sturgeon, the relevant Scottish Minister, and make sure that she addresses the issue as urgently as the UK Government are doing, so that the UK and Scottish Governments can work together in a joined-up manner?
My hon. Friend has a long history of providing support and advice for people with personal debt problems, but the momentum in Scotland for repossessions has been growing. For example, Mike Dailly of the Govan law centre has drawn to our attention the fact that the number of repossession proceedings in Scotland has increased rapidly. It is important appropriate protocols to put in place at the earliest opportunity and without delay, and extend the network of sheriff court advice centres. At present, there are advice centres in only seven of Scotland’s 49 sheriff courts, but it is important for people to be able to get advice as soon as they face the threat of repossession.