Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:47 pm, 25th March 2013

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I wish to make a little more progress.

I will now turn to the Budget. I have some questions to put to the Secretary of State. We know that the Government have a soft spot for people who earn a lot of money, but why is he proposing that his new deposit and mortgage scheme should be made available to anyone earning any amount, including millionaires, so that they can buy a house worth up to £600,000? Why is he changing the rules in that way, given that Firstbuy is currently only for those with family incomes below £60,000, and given that the Treasury document published last Wednesday states that the scheme is meant to help

“households struggling to save for the high mortgage deposits required by lenders”?

How many struggling top rate taxpayers does he expect to take advantage of the new scheme? No doubt they will be very grateful to him for his generosity.

In respect of the mortgage guarantee element of the help-to-buy scheme, can the Secretary of State clarify once and for all whether people who already own a property will be able to use it to buy a second home? He did not quite answer that earlier—[Interruption.] No, he did not. On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Secretary could not answer the question. When asked, he simply said:

“The scheme has not yet been designed in detail.”—[Hansard, 21 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1102.]

At the same time, the Minister for Housing the told “The World at One” that second-home purchases would not be allowed. The BBC then reported that No. 10 had had to clarify the position. It seemed that the Housing Minister had been referring to another part of the help-to-buy scheme relating to equity loans. So yesterday we all turned on “The Andrew Marr Show” to watch the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and far from ruling it out categorically, he said, in a formulation that the Secretary of State has repeated today:

“Our intention is not to help people to buy second homes”.

If the Government do not want it to happen, why do Ministers not simply make it clear that it is not going to happen? Otherwise, reminiscent of last year’s Budget, we will have fanfare followed by farce.

In the event that these schemes are over-subscribed, what criteria will be used to determine which applicants are going to get assistance? I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State when he said that foreign nationals would not be eligible for assistance from the scheme, but where in the Government’s scheme description does it say that foreign nationals will not be eligible? I have looked at the mortgage eligibility criteria, and they do not say that. Has he taken any advice on whether EU nationals who are resident in the UK will be barred by law from taking part in the scheme?

What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the impact that “help to buy” will have on the housing market, given that we know that it is the lack of supply that has led to high house prices? The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has warned that the Government must be careful not to create “another housing bubble”. It seems that the scheme is not even a done deal with the lenders, because the Council of Mortgage Lenders has set out certain conditions that it wants to be met, or else, it warns, the scheme could be made “uneconomical”. How many additional homes, in total, does the Secretary of State think will be built as a result of the scheme?