asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will ensure that public funds committed to helping house purchasers are distributed evenly as between prospective or recent purchasers and elderly people without mortgages on the one hand and people who have bought their homes some years ago on the other.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to the latest family expenditure survey, 40 per cent. of owner-occupiers do not have a mortgage and that they mostly have smaller incomes than those with mortgages? About one-third have incomes of less than £35 a week and receive no public help, while 40 per cent. of those with mortgages have incomes of more than £100 a week. Is there not a strong case for redistribution, if only within the owner-occupied sector?
I accept what my hon. Friend has said in principle, and I believe that this area of owner-occupation has been overlooked far too much by both sides of the House. There is a considerable element of poverty and difficulty among poorer owner-occupiers, especially the elderly. I think and hope that we shall be able to do something to assist them in future policy developments.
Would not the greatest assistance to every owner-occupier come from stability in borrowing rates? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore consider, rather than pressing building societies to reduce interest rates now only to have to put them up again later, keeping the rates where they are, on the undertaking that they will not go up unless, for example, the minimum lending rate were to reach 15 per cent.?
I think that I would be wise merely to take note of that unusual suggestion. It is not true to say that any particular policy in this area would assist all owner-occupiers. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) indicated that 40 per cent. of owner-occupiers have no mortgage. It was to that area that he directed his question and I directed my reply.
Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is not considering a reduction in the rates of tax relief on mortgage interest?