I am very much in favour of council tenants being able to become owner-occupiers, and I am glad to say that between 40,000 and 60,000 a year become owner-occupiers. The issue is not whether they should become owner-occupiers. We are to extend the provisions of our Home Purchase Bill so that council tenants can also make use of it. The issue is whether they should become owner-occupiers and take their houses out of the pool of rented properties. The hon. Member for Henley said that this is what he wants to do.
I have said that the major belief of the Opposition was that the taxpayer and the ratepayer contribute too much and the council tenant too little to the cost of council housing. So strongly was this view held in the last Conservative Administration that they took the extraordinary legislative powers in the Housing Finance Act 1972 to remove the right of local authorities to determine their own rent levels.
The same attitude is there today. No statement of Conservative economic policy is complete without a reference to the inordinate cost of council housing and the inclusion of housing subsidies in any short list of retrenchment measures to savage public expenditure. It is time that the country knew what the Conservative Party has in mind. I have heard a figure of £500 million mentioned. No doubt the hon. Member for Henley can confirm whether this is the order of magnitude of saving that they wish to make. Let me tell him that such a drop in housing subsidies would be equivalent to an increase of £2 a week in unrebated rents.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman this too: it is simply not on for him to contemplate major reductions in subsidies to council tenants while, at the same time, the Conservatives pledge themselves to new and still more costly subsidies to owner-occupiers. I do not know whether the 91 per cent. building society mortgage rate ceiling which the Leader of the Opposition offered the nation at the last General Election is still Tory policy. Is it?