I am glad to say that there is evidence that although, unfortunately, we control a considerably smaller number of councils than the Conservative Party controls, they account for a disproportionate percentage of starts.
I have been concerned about evidence of acceleration of house prices earlier this year. Therefore, with the agreement of the Building Societies Association the exceptionally high volume of mortgage lending was cut back from April of this year. There is now evidence that the acceleration of prices is decreasing. I do not believe we shall see the house price explosion feared by many people a few months ago. However, we shall continue to monitor the situation closely with the building societies and be prepared to adjust the volume of lending as events demand. I do not intend to sit on my hands, as my Conservative predecessors did, while house prices rocket beyond the reach of so many would-be purchasers.
Taking the longer period of the past four years—and I have spoken so far of all that has happened since we last debated this matter a year ago—we have undoubtedly made real progress in housing policy. One of our major national concerns throughout the whole of this period has been the defeat of hyperinflation. It is noteworthy that since March 1974 rents in both private and public sectors, mortgage repayments and house prices have all increased at a substantially lower rate than has the cost of living generally, and well below the increase in average earnings.
Let me give the House one vivid example. House prices have risen by an average of 8 per cent. per year—32 per cent. in four years from the spring of 1974 to the spring of this year. What a contrast that is with the experience of the four preceding years of Conservative Government when house prices more than doubled. If we are accused of not making adequate provision in our measures to assist first-time purchase, I must point out that if the country were to experience again the house price explosion of the kind that occurred when the Conservatives were last in power, no measure to assist first-time purchasers could stand the strain.
That is by no means all. During this four-year period over 1,200,000 new homes have been completed and a further 800,000 have been substantially improved. There are now 750,000 more owner-occupiers than there were four years ago and, with the co-operation of the building societies, we have during a period of general money instability avoided the feasts and famines of mortgage supply which characterised the period of office of the Conservative Administration.
At the same time we have eased the shortage of rented housing by a substantially increased supply of local authority and Housing Corporation houses. More than 600,000 have been completed in our four-year period. By extending security of tenure in the private rented sector through the 1974 Rent Act—which the Opposition did not vote against either on Second or Third Reading, despite all their carping since—we have substantially cut back on the number of people rendered homeless by eviction from furnished premises.
Last but not least, we have halted the dangerous and damaging land price boom. I do not know whether these figures have been quoted before, but I would point out that private sector housing land prices rose by over 200 per cent. between March 1970 and March 1974. Between March 1974 and March 1978 they fell by over 20 per cent. That is the measure of the difference between the attitudes of the two parties.
All this adds up to a formidable achievement. When I add, as I should, the provisions of the Housing Act 1974, which gave a new impetus to housing association activity, the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975, which repealed the Housing Act 1972 and restored to local authorities the right to determine reasonable but non-profit rents, the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976, which remedied a long-standing injustice suffered by farm workers, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, on which the Government gave full support to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), and our Homes Insulation Bill, which is now under discussion in Parliament, it will be seen that our legislative record is most impressive.