My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have discussed measures to support people in the economic downturn with both ministerial colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers.
I thank my hon. Friend for that response, but what discussions has she had with Scottish Parliament Ministers about the Scottish repossessions working group and what, if any, progress it has made? What discussions has she had about whether the pre-court protocol that exists in England and Wales could be better utilised in Scotland as well?
The important point is that Scottish house owners should not have any less protection than house owners south of the border enjoy. The pre-court protocol in England and Wales has been successful in helping to stem the number of repossessions cases that pass through the court system. In addition, I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the new home owner mortgage support scheme introduced last month, which covers about 80 per cent. of all lending and will offer relief on mortgage interest payments for up to two years for those who suffer a substantial but temporary loss of income. I very much hope that the work of the repossessions working group in Scotland will lead to further protections so that the trauma of repossession can, as far as possible, be avoided.
The Minister mentioned the home owner mortgage protection scheme; it was announced back in December, but has only just come into being. Likewise, the consultation on the sale and rent back proposals does not even conclude until this May. Would the Minister like to take this opportunity to remind the House that congratulations are due to the Scottish Parliament on having had mortgage protection in place since 2001, on having a mortgage rights Act and on committing more money pro rata to mortgage to rent and mortgage to shared equity schemes than elsewhere in the UK?
I certainly welcome any such measures, and I can advise the hon. Gentleman that the consultation on sale and rent back concluded last week. We hope that there will be a move to bring the regulation of these schemes under the Financial Services Authority, and we are already ensuring that when mortgage lenders write to people who have got into arrears, they advise them of the potential pitfalls and problems of such schemes. It is also important that people who face repossession have the best possible advice when they get to court. In England and Wales, people are offered free advice at court. I know that some courts in Scotland have started along that route, but I very much hope that the number doing so can be increased so that a consistent level of advice and service is available to anyone facing the trauma of repossession at this time.