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It is a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) on his maiden speech. It is not all that long since I made my own maiden speech and I well recall my feelings on that occasion. No doubt the hon. Gentleman had similar feelings today. He spoke with wit and lucidity and his arguments about the clawing back of some of the advantages of raising the mortgage interest relief threshold were especially appreciated. We look forward to hearing further contributions from the hon. Gentleman. I salute the way in which he accomplished his difficult task today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Shaw), who opened for the Opposition, painted his picture with a broad brush. I shall take a narrower canvas. My starting point is the result of the general election, which throws up a challenge for both Conservative and Opposition Members. Early in this Parliament, the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) said that, in view of the size of the Government's majority, it was the duty of Conservative Back Benchers to be more critical of their Front Bench than they otherwise might be. I hope that Conservative Back Benchers will follow that advice and cast a critical eye on three aspects of the Bill, but especially the mortgage interest relief provision. Specifically, I ask them to apply the ideas, beliefs and rhetoric used by the Conservative party in the election campaign to the arguments on the Bill. If they do that, I believe that they will find it difficult to support the Government when we come to consider the detailed provisions of the Bill.
It is proposed that the subsidy for those who are buying their own homes be increased. That constitutes nothing less than a rigging of the market. Conservative Members, who preach their belief in the workings of a free market, know that if, in the short run, one increases the amount of money that people can spend on something its price will rise. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden is mistaken to believe that this proposal will bring much, if any, relief to his constituents. Indeed, in the short run the real price of housing will increase. That has also been the long-term effect. Although the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) preached about the supply side today, the market has not responded to the increased subsidies for house buyers which we have seen over the past few decades. If it had, the real price of housing would not have risen as it has.
This part of the Bill should also be rejected on the ground that it is paternalistic. The Government are helping people only if they behave as the Government want them to behave. It is a far cry from the rhetoric about people being given money and allowed to make a free choice. If that were the case, the Government would be proposing quite different measures. But just as the Bill throws out a challenge to the Conservative party, it throws out a challenge to Opposition Members.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) three questions.