I am sure that the hon. Lady has not been putting points to me without evidence. I rather hoped that she put her case with evidence to support her assertion. I shall now make progress.
It has become clear that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that we improve the supply and condition of our rented housing stock. Quite apart from the other choices and availability that there may be of different tenures, that has to be a cardinal point. The Government, sometimes in the face of substantial opposition, have given positive support to housing associations, and they deserve congratulations for that. In the course of that work they have had to attempt to deal with a manifest distortion in the rented housing sector. I refer in particular to the way in which the private rented sector, sometimes because of the abuse that is piled on many landlords who have attempted to operate within the private sector, has declined substantially. That has been regarded with some sadness by hon. Members.
It must be recognised that if there are three quarters of a million empty properties, although many are in the public sector, a large proportion of them are in the private sector. One would wish those properties to be brought into better use. One factor that must be borne in mind when we consider the Opposition's figures is that the Government have given substantial support through the housing benefits system.
I note the point that was made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, but, according to figures that I obtained from the Library this morning, in the past year £5·9 billion in support was given. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) is not terribly happy about that because, in seminars and conferences around the country, he has been saying that that is manifestly dreadful and stupid. Taken together with the other amounts of support in terms of the Government's house building programme, there is substantial assistance—up to 18 per cent. of the public sector borrowing requirement, according to the figures that I saw today.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey referred to such evidence and said that mortgage tax relief is a bad thing. The hon. Member for Greenwich shares that view. The proportion of support available under mortgage tax relief has substantially eroded over the years, and that must be recognised. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is shaking his head, but that is absolutely true. Inflation and tax decreases have substantially eroded that benefit, as a result of which it is fairly likely in the current year that the amount of support available through housing benefit will overtake the support that is given under mortgage tax relief. At the moment, 69 per cent. of households in Wales are receiving support through the housing benefit structure initially directly from the Government and then from local authorities.
Hon. Members recognise that there is a housing crisis in this country—I hope that I made that clear at the beginning of my speech. If there were no crisis there would not be a need for all the steps that the Government have taken to address the problem. My hon. Friend the Minister is regarded throughout the country as a person who genuinely recognises the scale of the problem. Many of the initiatives over the past few years are directly as a result of the pressure and influence that he has been able to bring to bear. I am absolutely sure that, with my hon. Friend in charge of our housing programme, we have a policy that all our colleagues can support.