I will keep my contribution short to give the Minister and shadow Minister time to have their say. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Brine on securing this incredibly timely debate, given the announcements made by the Government this week. I recognise his comments about having a young family who climb into the bed—normally my side—at 4 o’clock in the morning to warm their cold feet. I look forward to the day when they will move away—not too far, but far enough.
If there is any such thing as a British dream, it definitely involves owning one’s own home. I was born and bred in a council house on a council estate. During the 1971 Macclesfield by-election, I remember a parliamentary candidate knocking on our door. I went to the door with my mother and a man was there with his blue rosette. It was Nicholas Winterton saying, “Good evening Mrs Evans are you aware of the Government’s right-to-buy policy?” She was not, but we were after that and, in 1972, we bought our council house.
Most people think that that was a Thatcherite policy, but it was, in fact, the Ted Heath Government of 1970-74 who introduced it. As my hon. Friend Paul Maynard said, it is in the Conservative party’s DNA to give people the right to buy. However, for millions of people, achieving that dream seems further away than ever. One of the most important things that any generation can do is build enough good new homes for the next generation. However, the previous Government presided over a fall in house building to its lowest peacetime level since 1974. Inevitably, that led to a sustained decline in home ownership and soaring housing waiting lists.
The figures are most depressing. The number of first-time buyers fell from around 501,000 in 1997 to 185,000 in 2009. That is the lowest figure since records began. The average age of a first-time buyer without financial assistance from the bank of mum and dad is, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, 37. Admittedly, that age is somewhat exaggerated by the recording of divorcees buying a home on their own rather than jointly for the first time. However, it still highlights the current gloomy outlook for many young people in my constituency who hope to get on to the property ladder for the first time.
Luckily for those striving to own their own home, the coalition Government are pursuing an unashamedly ambitious housing strategy to help boost opportunity in our society. The Government are supporting an innovative new build indemnity scheme led by the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Home Builders Federation that will allow home buyers to secure 95% loan-to-value mortgages for new build properties. That will help people in two simple ways: it will increase access to affordable mortgages, and it will encourage more homes to be built, driving down the long-term price of houses.
The Government are also investing £500 million in a new Firstbuy scheme that will help thousands of people longing to be home owners to get a foot on the housing ladder by contributing to their deposit on new build homes. Crucially, as announced on Monday, the coalition is also breathing new life into the hugely successful right-to-buy policy. That policy was so popular because it gave millions of people the chance to own their home when they had previously thought it impossible—families such as mine.
Labour disgracefully made repeated cuts to right to buy and deliberately reduced discounts and restricted eligibility. The new proposals to increase discounts dramatically will make it considerably easier for people living in social housing to buy their home. Under the new plans, for every home purchased under right to buy, a new affordable home will be built in its place. That should allow for a further 100,000 extra affordable homes to be built and help create a significant number of new jobs.
Finally, the Government have also created the new homes bonus. That multi-million pound programme rewards communities when they accept more house building in their area, creating a huge incentive to build the new homes we desperately need. Critically, the programme also applies to empty properties brought back into use, which will help end the scandal of thousands of good quality homes lying empty while people are left in limbo for years stuck on housing waiting lists.
It is very clear that there are many exciting developments that will help bring the dream of home ownership much closer to realisation for so many of our constituents. I am very proud to support the Government, who are absolutely committed to making that happen.