I want to concentrate on the sale of council houses. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State pay tribute to the importance of home ownership. That is one of the main aspirations of the majority of people in this country. There is at last a majority of home owners. It is to the Government's credit that that majority has become clearly established during their tenure of office.
When I was Minister for Housing and Construction I concentrated largely on the private sector and advanced the proposition, and secured acceptance from my colleagues, that council houses could be sold at a discount of up to 30 per cent. I did so primarily for social reasons. I thought it tremendously important that the individual should be given the opportunity to own his own home. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) pointed out, there is no better way of achieving a major transfer of wealth than the transfer of property owned by local authorities to individuals. I refer to the social reason for the sale of council houses. But they are not the only reasons.
Since my time at the Department of the Environment, we have come into a much deeper economic crisis. We all understand that increased productivity is the key to our economic recovery. We also understand that the one key to increased productivity is mobility. We shall get mobility of labour only if the working man in one part of the country is able to move easily to another area.
At the moment, the tenant of a council house is in a sense, a serf. He cannot lightly abandon the home in which he lives as a tenant, because he has no certainty of securing a home anywhere else. If he had a home to sell and he lived in the South, he could get a home in the North cheaper than he had in the South. If he lived in the North, he could get a home in the South but would probably have to spend a little more. However, he would have complete freedom of movement.
The United Kingdom has one of the highest tenanted populations in Europe, if not in the world—even including the other side of the Iron Curtain. I think that only Czechoslovakia is behind us in this respect.
It is clear from the figures which I have obtained that if there were no council housing at all the saving would be about £500 million to taxpayers and ratepayers.