I beg to move,
That the salary of the Secretary of State for the Environment should be reduced by the sum of £1,000.
Since I shall in the course of my speech be mentioning housing associations, I should like to declare an interest in that I am the totally unpaid chairman of a voluntary housing association.
There are several ways whereby the Opposition can make clear, on the Order Paper, their criticism of Government policy but the way we have chosen today is particularly appropriate in this case, not only because the Secretary of State for the Environment has not thought it right to be present today for this debate, and not only because we on this side of the House have been increasingly impatient at the flippant and irresponsible answers he has given to supplementary questions when he has been at the top of the list, but because of the typical way in which he handled the long-awaited statement on private house building. It had been trailed by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and by himself for many months and was eventually sneaked in as a Written Answer on 27th January, so that the Secretary of State could not be questioned about the adequacy or otherwise of the measures he was putting forward, and he was able quickly to disappear from the House and the country.
I believe that that shows a contempt for this House and for the right hon. Gentleman's responsibilities to this House and that this motion today is, therefore, particularly appropriate. The right hon. Gentleman is fond of describing himself as a democratic Socialist. As every week goes by he seems to be more Socialist and less democratic.
But, above all, we are moving this motion today because of what we see as his ill-founded complacency and optimism in face of the current housing crisis in this country. As I said on Second Reading of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill, no party can really be satisfied with its housing record since the end of the Second World War.
It was the Patronage Secretary who said at the end of the last Labour Government that he was thoroughly ashamed of their housing record. Although the first three years of Conservative Government compared with the last three years of that Labour Government showed that we had provided no fewer than 30 per cent. more new and modernised homes in those three years than did the Labour Party in their last three years, still we were not satisfied with that record, and we believed that more needed to be done. Nevertheless, that period of Conservative Government was one of real and substantial achievement in the housing field, a great deal of which is now a permanent feature of the housing scene in this country.
It was a Conservative Government who introduced the long-overdue system of national rent rebates and allowances which has brought benefit to many tens of thousands of our less-well-off citizens so that no person should now be in fear of losing his home because of his inability to pay the rent for that property. It was a Conservative Government who produced the idea of the housing action areas, which I believe has a tremendously important rôle to play in the future development of housing in our inner cities. I hope that this idea can be developed as time goes on, for there is a danger that—just as when any development area was created there grew up alongside it an area which eventually became known as a "grey" area, so that on the one side powers and resources were available while on the other side none was available—we may need flexible intermediate powers to go arm-in-arm with housing action areas if eventually they are to be fully effective. Again, it was in a period of Conservative Government that we saw improvement grants increase from 124,000 in 1969 until they were running at the level of 453,000 per annum in 1973.
It is sad that it is the collapse in the improvement grant scheme as much as the collapse in house building which has featured in the 12 months of the Government's record. The Conservative period of Government also saw a tremendous boost to the voluntary housing movement, which I hope will be continued. It was in October 1973 that the announcement was made about a low-start mortgage scheme, which would have been introduced rapidly had we been returned to power last February. It has taken almost 12 months for the Government to take action. They attacked the idea when it was introduced. Now, belatedly, they have been converted to it. We hope that it will not be too long before they are converted to other aspects of our housing policy as well.