Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a great contribution to the liberation of the working man? What hope does he have that this liberation will be extended to those who live in hard-to-sell flats?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the greatest distribution of capital to working people that any hon. Member could have imagined. It was unimaginable by the Labour party, which purports to represent working people. My hon. Friend will be aware of the extra discount for flats that has recently been made available to encourage such sales.
We note with interest the Minister's answer, but hon. Members with Welsh constituencies will want to know how many people in Wales were registered as homeless in 1979, compared with the present figure. When will the receipts from the sales of council houses in Wales be applied to resolving the problem of homelessness amongst our people?
I think that my hon. Friend may not have noticed the additional impetus of the higher discount that has recently been allowed. Nevertheless, he is quite right. We are looking at further ways of spreading home ownership.
Is the Minister aware that one of the causes of tension in rural Wales, in areas such as Gwynedd, is the inability of local people to compete on the open market to buy houses and the reduction in the stock of council houses for letting to them? In these circumstances, will he consider whether it is possible to make a much greater financial allocation that would allow district councils to buy houses from the private sector to let to those who cannot afford to buy them? Will he also look at the possibility of giving to those who want to buy council houses, but who are uncertain as to their job prospects in areas of high unemployment, some guarantee that they will be able to revert to renting accommodation from the local council if they have to foreclose on their mortgages?
I take note of the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. On the first part of his question, he may be interested to know that we shall be introducing such a measure in the current Housing Bill, which I think he will find helpful.
When will the Government recognise that millions of pounds are lying dormant from the sale of council properties? Is it not a fact that under this Government public expenditure on housing has shown a marked decline compared with that under the previous Labour Government? What about our Valley communities, where thousands of houses are now just about beyond repair? Is it not a fact that homelessness is at record levels in Wales? Mortgage repossessions are seven times higher now than they were in 1979. The hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) represents an English constituency, so perhaps he is not too conversant with our problems in Wales. Is it not time that the Government realised that Welsh housing has reached crisis point?
It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman should talk about the decline of housing in Wales when the Labour party saw that decline but did not lift a finger to do anything about it. I shall remind him of the figures. During the time that the Labour Government were in office expenditure on private housing renovation was £54 million a year. Under this Government it is £414 million. Expenditure on public housing renovation under the Labour Government was £86 million a year. Under this Government it is £339 million a year. We have saved the housing stock, including houses owned in many cases by those who elect Opposition Members.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that Cynon valley council has just produced its housing strategy. In paragraph 29 it encapsulates its new policy, and the first point that it makes is that:
New Council houses be built only in exceptional circumstances.
That is the change.