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Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2013

Q4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on levels of construction output. (153851)

Q11. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on fiscal incentives for the construction of affordable housing. (153858)

The Government are committed to supporting new housing supply while maximising value for money. The Government committed £4.5 billion to support 170,000 affordable homes over the spending review period, and we have added a further 30,000 to that figure through the guarantee programme that was announced last year and extended in the Budget a few weeks ago.

In my constituency, that would ring hollow. I note that all three insolvency industry associations stated this week that nearly one third of construction companies in the north-west of England were at risk of financial collapse, which is a higher rate than in the non-construction sector of the north-west’s economy. Is not that an indictment of the Government’s record in the north and their failure to get growth going in the regions?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that—while the previous Government presided over a decline of more than 400,000 in the number of affordable properties—the Government’s action to increase the numbers by 200,000 is a welcome support to the construction sector, as is the Help to Buy scheme that we announced in the Budget, which will produce a significant additional demand for properties to help the companies to which he refers.

Does the Minister not recognise that the Help to Buy scheme will not produce a single new affordable home? It will simply enable people to buy other people’s homes. In my constituency, it costs eight times the average annual income to purchase a house in the city, so does the Minister not accept that action to improve affordable house building should have been taken in the Budget?

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme is available for the purchase of new build properties only. It is a multi-billion pound scheme that will help to fund an extra 75,000 or so construction sites in the next couple of years—a welcome boost to the construction sector. In the Budget, we announced funding to extend the guarantee scheme for housing associations to build new affordable properties, doubling its extent to ensure that 30,000 affordable homes are built over and above the 170,000 already announced. The hon. Gentleman is a close observer of these matters, and it will not have escaped his attention that the net number of affordable homes during Labour’s time in office fell by 421,000. That is not a record for him to be proud of.

Does the Minister accept that a tax on transactions reduces the number of transactions? Does he therefore agree that the current level of stamp duty is reducing the number of housing transactions, and as a result is disadvantaging the construction sector?

I have to say that I do not really accept that. The evidence of previous attempts to support housing transactions through stamp duty cuts is not all that positive. The Government have sought to make the stamp duty system more progressive, asking those with the largest properties to pay more. Indeed, I hope my hon. Friend welcomes the introduction, from the beginning of April, of a new annual charge for homes owned by offshore companies—a mansion tax for tax dodgers, as it were.

New housing requires land for building, so it is good news that the Government are making significant sites available for new housing, such as the surplus Ministry of Defence land in Bicester. We intend to take advantage of that by building a new garden city in Bicester, because people need decent homes for the 21st century.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I particularly welcome his comments on the potential for garden cities to add substantially to the housing supply, a matter on which the Government will make further statements in the next few months.

The Government have presided over a massive collapse of our construction sector. How can they maintain the pretence that they support the economy when just seven projects out of the 576 that were set out in their infrastructure plan are completed or operational? The director general of the CBI says:

“I have a queue of businesses at my door telling me the Government’s Infrastructure Plan needs speeding up.”

Will the Chief Secretary confirm that, so far, they have managed to deliver only two projects—less than one quarter of 1% of the underwriting guarantees authorised by his emergency legislation last summer?

The hon. Gentleman is stretching somewhat beyond the area of housing, Mr Speaker, but with your permission I would like to address his question. Some £10 billion worth of infrastructure projects prequalified for the guarantee scheme, bringing forward substantial investment in infrastructure. We are investing more in transport infrastructure in this Parliament than his Government managed during the economic good times. We are investing more in the railways than has been done since Victorian times. He should compliment the Government on our approach to infrastructure, because, whether in transport or communications and broadband, more is happening than his Government ever managed.