[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — First-time Buyers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:05 am on 14th March 2012.

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Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall 10:05 am, 14th March 2012

I was going to come to that point a little later. In fact, my hon. Friend is probably psychic. This is not purely an issue that affects young people; the average age of first-time buyers is 35.

The major issue is the fact that house prices are continually rising. Prices on the Nationwide index rose by 0.6% in February, and prices were 0.9% higher in February compared with a year ago. The house price to borrower’s income ratio has been gradually rising since 2007, making it harder predominantly for first-time buyers. Another issue is that the number of mortgage approvals has remained generally flat since early 2010, at below half pre-recession levels. Housing starts have increased since the recession, but still remain below pre-recession levels. The Government have recognised this issue. They have pledged to alleviate the struggle for first-time buyers, and I congratulate the Government on that.

In November, the Conservative-led Government launched a scheme to underwrite mortgages worth hundreds of millions of pounds for new homes. A central part of the new housing strategy is the £400 million get Britain building fund, which pays for the construction of up to 16,000 new homes. The fresh drive could result in a further 100,000 homes being built, so creating 200,000 jobs.

I also congratulate the Government on the two new initiatives that were launched this week, which will be crucial to aid first-time buyers. The NewBuy scheme makes it possible for first-time buyers and existing home owners to get a mortgage on a new build property with only a 5% deposit, as opposed to the 15% or 20% that we are used to. This deal means that where buyers have been typically required to save a deposit of between £30,000 and £40,000, they will now need only £10,000. The other scheme—it has been mentioned by previous speakers—is the right-to-buy scheme, which will enable council tenants to buy their homes at a discount and increases the maximum discount cap for tenants to £75,000. That will provide tenants who have the right to buy or preserved right to buy with a real incentive to buy their home, and that is no bad thing.

The schemes will make a big difference to the lives of constituents such as mine in South East Cornwall, where things are particularly hard for first-time buyers. Cornwall is a popular tourist destination, which attracts more than 5 million visitors each year. That has artificially raised house prices in my constituency, as it has become attractive to affluent people from all over the country buying homes or second homes. The average house price in Cornwall is £216,000, according to the Land Registry for England and Wales. That does not seem too high, but compared with the annual average wage in my constituency, it is very expensive. Average annual earnings in Cornwall are just under £21,000, well below the averages for the south-west and for Britain. That makes it hard for first-time buyers to come up with a deposit for a house or flat, as they are competing with wealthier holidaymakers who can afford properties in South East Cornwall. That is where the NewBuy scheme will have a positive impact.

The story was different 20 years ago. When I moved to my village from Stoke-on-Trent, I could buy a property that needed renovating. Although even then there was a massive difference in property prices, I had the opportunity to buy my own home. Sadly, young people in South East Cornwall do not have that option, as the older properties have already been sold and renovated. The situation is different from when I purchased a property in the 1980s.

As a Government, we are doing what we can to help first-time buyers. I am confident that the figures will become more encouraging after the Government’s introduction of these fantastic incentives.