I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. I gave way to enable him to answer a specific question and he refused to answer it. He need not have bothered to intervene.
The cost of the Opposition's proposal for a 9½ per cent. mortgage rate ceiling would have been about £600 million in the last four years and their grant proposals, offered as an alternative to our loans proposal for first-time purchasers, would cost at least an extra £350 million a year.
I can well understand why, as we approach the last Session of this Parliament, the Opposition should wish to say as little as possible about cutting housing subsidies and raising rents and I can see why the idea of mass sales of local authority dwellings appears to be rather more attractive. The hon. Member for Henley gave us his views today and reports of his speech to the annual Conservative Women's conference in London on 22nd May said that the hon. Gentleman told the conference that
people on council estates had to be attracted to the Tory party … Tories had to communicate with people on council estates and in new towns.
That is sage advice.
What are they now proposing? They propose a policy of large-scale and indiscriminate sales of council houses. They intend, they say, to introduce a right to buy which will be available to all council tenants. Indeed, such is their enthusiasm for this policy that we now have the hon. Member for Henley appearing, somewhat improbably, as the defender of the council tenant, solemnly proclaiming not that he is paying too little—the old and familiar cry—but rather that he is paying too much and is getting a raw deal.
I need to say only three things about this. First, I believe that the alleged financial gains to the Exchequer would prove to be illusory. The fact is that over time, the loss of rent income to the local authority and the cost of increased mortgage relief to the Exchequer would more than cancel out any supposed advantages in terms of reduced housing management cost and housing subsidy.
Secondly, I do not believe that, in practice, substantial sales would be achieved—certainly not on the basis of a reasonable selling price including the present discounts. Well over half of the housing authorities are in Conservative hands and yet they managed to sell only just over 12,000 houses in 1977.