I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I must confess that I am a little surprised that the figure for the earlier period was quite so high. What has been the average annual spend on housing grants under the two Administrations?
I am not surprised by my hon. Friend's surprise. Of the applications made between January 1974 and March 1979, one half were paid in 1974, which means that they were submitted and approved during our period in office. This Government have been spending about £80 million per annum on renovation grants, compared with £29 million per annum under the last Labour Government.
Have the Government postponed the idea of abolishing grants and moving towards improvement loans, or are they about to abandon them too? Before the Government consider abandoning either of those policies, will they at least meet the guarantee that they gave 50,000 Welsh home owners that they will pay the grants to which they are entitled under the existing system?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that we have published a Green Paper and that consultations upon it will take place until 30 September. The Green Paper makes it quite clear that anybody who applied for grant during the relevant period will continue to receive it, irrespective of what happens as a result of the Green Paper.
The time taken to deal with grant applications depends entirely upon the priority given to them by local authorities. As I said earlier, local authorities are currently spending three quarters of their total housing resources upon renovation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that improvement grants have been a means of extending capital ownership and capital wealth throughout society and that in many ways they are comparable with the sale of council houses?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have extended home ownership by the sale of council houses. I am glad to be able to tell him that 42,262 council house sales have been accomplished under this Government. We have also spent a considerable amount on the renovation of both private and public sector housing, about £275 million having been spent upon the public sector.
When will the Government recognise that in all Welsh towns there are huge waiting lists for improvement grants because so many of our people are living in substandard accomodation? The Green Paper's proposals are not the answer to the problem. Why do not the Government at last decide to engage in a major housing drive instead of persistently waffling about tax cuts, which never materialise anyway?
We are pursuing a very active housing policy and have achieved record figures of council house sales to sitting tenants. The Government are undoubtedly meeting the wishes of people in Wales by selling council houses to sitting tenants, and I am delighted that at long last the Opposition have embraced this policy. The Government are also pursuing a very active renovation policy. We have spent about £500 million on renovating the housing stock of the public and private sectors.