asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the present position with regard to the granting of local authority mortgages within Wales.
My right hon. and learned Friend has suspended local authority mortgage lending for the time being. This and the withdrawal of the general consent to acquire dwellings will enable us to reassess expenditure levels in the housing budget and make any necessary adjustments in the light of the overall housing expenditure situation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a continuation of this suspension will have a most devastating effect on housing stress, particularly in our older industrial areas, because authorities like my own in Swansea have directed mortgages at the older terrace-type property which building societies will not touch? Therefore, will my hon. Friend try to make this suspension as brief as possible, relax it early and, more particularly, initiate discussions with building societies in Wales in the hope that some building society funds can be channelled into this sector which currently the building societies will not enter?
I assure my hon. Friend that I appreciate that local authority mortgage lending is a very necessary service in Wales, particularly in older industrial areas like his and the constituency that I represent. We hope that the suspensions need last for only a short while to enable us to know exactly how much money has been committed to this sector The problem facing us is that we do not know how much money has been committed to this sphere.I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the building societies. I am already arranging to have discussions to see whether building societies can advance money in areas which up to now they have sought to avoid.
Did the Minister actually say that the Government were not aware of the amount of money spent in this sector? Is he aware that what his hon. Friend just said makes one wonder why the Government persist in allowing councils to proceed to purchase enormous numbers of privately-built houses?
I said "committed". I followed the pattern followed by the previous Government. On this question of mortgage lending, we are not in a position to know exactly how much local authorities have committed to this purpose. If we intend, as I believe we should, to allocate our finance to the areas of greatest need, it is essential for us to know the individual commitments of each local authority in Wales.
Is the Under-Secretary aware—I am sure that representing Rhondda he is—of the great discrepancy between the percentage of owner-occupiers in many parts of Wales and the pattern that may be prevalent in the London area and most of England? For that reason, will he press that we should have policies that respond to these different circumstances, particularly in this instance, so that money can be available for mortgages through the councils for older houses which cannot get money from building societies rather than that all the money is piled up on new housing projects when there may not be land in many parts of Wales for such projects?
It is because we are aware of that point and of the essential differences between the housing needs of Wales and those of England that the policies for Wales do not follow the pattern in England. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that my right hon. Friend responsible for housing in England transferred one-third of the money available for this sort of purpose from home loan mortgages to improvements. We do not believe that this is necessarily the right thing to do for Wales.