My major local authority, Bracknell district council, has about 12,000 local authority houses on its books. I am pleased to say that it has sold nearly 2,500 of them. With the proceeds, it is building more new local authority houses, particularly for first-time buyers.
To return to the point, the great majority of those who buy their council houses are unable to buy in the private sector, either because they cannot raise the funds for a mortgage or because their age is such that they cannot venture into the private housing sector. If a Labour Government deprived them of the chance to buy their council houses, only very few of than would be able to quit their tenancies and move into the private sector. The argument of the hon. Member for Bootle is utterly spurious.
I was delighted with the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and, in particular, that he has increased the maximum discount to 60 per cent. for tenants of more than 30 years standing.
Two late-middle-aged people came to my advice bureau last Saturday morning. They had been offered a 50 per cent. discount because they were tenants of mom than 30 years' standing, but they still could not quite raise the difference to purchase their house. They had heard that there might be a possibility of obtaining a 60 ter cent. discount. They were getting on in years, and asked me whether I could offer them any hope. I am delighted to say that I will be able to ring those people tomorrow morning to tell them that, because Bracknell district council is Conservative-controlled and every ward in Bracknell was, for the first time won by Conservative candidates at the last local government election, the excellent council will, as promised today, allow people who have been tenants for more than 30 years to obtain their 60 per cent. discount. The Minister will have made a late-middle-aged couple extremely happy today and have given them an opportunity to buy their own homes—an opportunity which they would never have had if the Bill had not been brought forward and if the country had had the misfortune to elect a Labour Government on 9 June.
There is a particular difficulty for the older tenants. First, in most cases they have paid rent for years—this is completely dead money. Secondly, they are of such mature years that they can only get a mortgage that will take them to retiring age—normally five or 10 years. Therefore, the repayments are excessively high. We are giving those people an opportunity today to become owner-occupiers, and they will be most grateful. Does the Minister agree that we could extend the process a stage further? My hon. Friend will agree that someone over 55 years of age has great difficulty in obtaining a reasonably sized mortgage. Those who have been tenants for more than 30 years are more than adequately covered by the 60 per cent. discount, but there are others who, for various reasons, do not become tenants until a little later in life. They might be 55 or 60 but have only 15 or 20 years of tenancy behind them and, therefore, are eligible for only a small discount, which precludes them from buying. By the time they reach a 60 per cent. discount they will be at or past retiring age and will never be able to purchase their home.
I am the first to admit that that is only a fairly small group. However, if we agree with the principle of encouraging older people, who could not otherwise buy, to buy their houses, we should look at the problem in Committee.
I also commend the decision to reduce the enfranchisement period from three years to two years. Another characteristic of the election campaign that will silence the Opposition was that many young council house tenants, with children, who had been tenants for only a year or two were desperately anxious to buy their council houses. The Labour party conspicuously failed to win any converts in this age group and, in fact, lost many loyal supporters.
Many of those young couples will be delighted that, instead of having to wait for three years to buy their houses, they will be able to buy after two years of tenancy. Unlike the hon. Member for Bootle, I hope that in due course the enfranchisement period will be reduced to 12 months of tenancy. That might be possible through an amendment in Committee, but we shall have to wait and see.
Many of my younger constituents will be delighted and grateful that they have been enfranchised one year earlier and that they can get on the great property-owning ladder a year sooner.
The third announcement that gave me great pleasure was that the benefits of the discount and the reduced enfranchisement period will be immediate where it is not a forced sale. That means straight away when there is a Conservative-controlled local authority that wants to offer houses for sale and believes in a property-owning democracy. Unfortunately, there will be Labour-controlled councils that will want to wait until the Bill is enacted—in other words, to hold on to the last possible moment. I see that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) is nodding his head in agreement.