If the local authority had to start building new houses, it would lose all the advantages of historic cost and pooling and it would be much more expensive. My hon. Friend has made an important point.
I want to make plain that a policy of selling off council houses in areas of housing shortage—and they will inevitably be those most sought after because of their situation, their gardens and their amenities—would be socially irresponsible.
I think the hon. Member for Henley knows this to be true, which is why his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) recently went so far as to suggest that council houses should be sold at a 50 per cent. discount. They have almost caught up with the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) who thought that they should be given away. I do not believe they have seriously reflected on what these proposals involve.
We do not intend to enter into a Dutch auction with the Conservative Party. We have pursued since the beginning of this Parliament a policy that local authorities, which have a duty to provide for the housing needs in their areas, should exercise responsibly the freedom given them to make decisions about the sale of council houses. We expect those in areas of housing stress to use that power with the utmost restraint.