HC Deb 10 July 1964 vol 698 cc801-4

Lords Amendment: In page 48, line 22, column 2, leave out from "and" to "satisfied" in line 23 and insert: before the time when the local authority approve the application they have been".

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that we might perhaps deal at the same time with the remainder of the Lords Amendments to this Clause.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, if that is convenient.

Sir K. Joseph

The Bill provides for an enlarged, higher contribution from the taxpayer to the cost of providing standard improvements to a house should it be necessary, in order to carry out the standard improvements, that a bathroom should be added in a building at the back of the house or if cold water has to be introduced for the first time into the dwelling. But the Bill did not provide certain consequent arrangements which this group of Amendments seeks to introduce.

The Amendments cover three separate items. The first is where the upper limit shall apply, and that is that a maximum of up to £350 as opposed to £155 shall be paid by the taxpayer in virtue of the standard improvement, and that in such a case it shall be necessary for the local authority to make up its mind as to what upper limit it will contribute on behalf of the taxpayer and itself towards the improvement of the house. That is the effect of the first five Amendments.

The others are consequential and provide that the local authority, having so decided, shall inform the would-be improver of what the upper limit will be which the improver shall receive if he carries out the improvement. There is a slight consequential change, that at the moment, as drafted, the Bill authorises the local authority to pay up to the total cost, not being more than £350, but does not bind it to pay £350 if that should be half of the total approved cost. The Amendments, rectify that.

Mr. M. Stewart

I hope I have it right that one of the effects of the group of Amendments is that the local authority will have to decide in advance what upper limit it will go up to and tell the improver. What happens if after it has made up its mind and told the improver and the work goes on, it appears, for reasons no one foresaw, that the works will cost more? The local authority might feel that if it had had all the facts before it, some of which possibly could not have been before it, when it made its first decision, it might have made a different decision. Has the local authority in the light of that any power to vary the decision? If not, it seems to me that we are putting a rather inflexible provision into the Bill.

1.0 p.m.

The other point arises from the fact that the Amendments are so complicated that it is a little difficult to tell for certain just what they do and do not cover. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell me whether there is anything in them which deals with the matter of modified improvement grants which we discussed at some length in Committee—the principle that, if a building has not a life before it of 15 years but only 10, the local authority should be allowed to make, in these circumstances, a modified grant.

The point was argued in this House and again in Committee in another place, and my reason for thinking that there might, somewhere in these Amendments, be something dealing with the point is a remark made by Lord Hastings, speaking for the Government when this matter was discussed in the House of Lords. He said at the conclusion of a discussion on a proposed new Clause to provide for such modified Amendments: I will consider it and discuss it again with the Department, and see whether there is anything that can be done in an extremely limited number of cases. It certainly would not take in a great many people. I assume that "take in" in that context means include and not deceive. He added: That is all I can say at the moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 2nd June 1964; Vol. 258, cc. 456 and 457.] In the light of that undertaking, I studied the Amendments to see whether the fact that the noble Lord was to consider it again and discuss it with the Department had produced any result. Quite frankly, I cannot see that any of the Amendments in this group do cover it. Nor can I see, if they do not cover it, any others that do. Was there further consideration and discussion with the Department? If so, has this produced any result in Amendments from another place?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) is right on the first point. When it comes to putting in cold water into what may well be an old house it is often not easy to decide what the cost will be. However, I think that local authorities, clients and builders are used to including in estimates a provisional sum sufficient to cover the cost, and the grant will apply to whatever is actually spent within that provisional estimate. If they go wildly wrong in the estimate—getting the maximum wrong—I fear that there is no provision here for that. But they are all used to this situation.

The hon. Gentleman is also quite right to search for pearls in this group of Amendments. But again I fear that there are only the three to which I referred. The answer to this question about Lord Hastings' undertaking to consult and think again is that no further Amendment has been suggested.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Special entries.]