It is of obvious importance that we should come back again to the subject of housing on this Adjournment motion, for it it at the centre of the social preoccupation with politics.
Every time that we have debated housing in recent months, we have done so against a deteriorating set of statistics in one way or another, and every time Ministers have sought to explain that there will be an improvement if only we give them a little longer for their policies to work their way through.
But as this Government have now had some four years in which their policies have had time to work through, it is important for us to start at the beginning and to remember that they came to office committed to reversing what they called the serious fall in the housing programme under the previous Conservative Government.
The fact is that there is a glaring distinction between what this Government have achieved and what they implied in their manifestos. Their best year in private sector housing completions is not even as good as the worst year under the last Conservative Government. The overall position of housing under this Government shows a very similar pattern. Last year. in 1977, fewer houses were started than in any Conservative year, including the difficult year of 1973. Last year, completions under this Government exceeded only the worst year under the last Conservative Administration.
Taking the average results of the four years of the last Conservative Government and the four years of this Government in each year this Government have on average seen the completion of 40,000 fewer houses than was achieved under the last Conservative Administration. Far from reversing what they described as the serious fall, the Government have made that serious fall a permanent feature of housing policy.
The housing industry, which was suffering, as all other industries were suffering, from a temporary relapse as a result of the oil crisis, has now turned into a permanent cripple.
Within that continuing and persistent decline, the Labour Government have sought to switch the emphasis of house building away from the private sector, which is in practice what the overwhelming majority of people wish to encourage, in favour of local authority housing. We have now reached the stage where the cost of subsidising local authority housing is so heavy that it has forced the Government to adopt economies in other areas of the housing programme where better value for money unquestionably could have been obtained and also in areas where the real hardship and difficulty is to be found. I am, of course, thinking of the older and unmodernised housing.
Let me give one example. In order to help finance the increased council house programme, improvement grants have fallen from 361 in 1973 to only 113 in 1977. In other words, as part of the price of getting the public sector housing programme up by some 30,000, 250,000 houses in a year go unmodernised.
No one could seriously reckon that that was an economic or a social tradeoff which a responsible Government should pursue.