HC Deb 18 June 1969 vol 785 cc632-4
Mr. Hawkins

I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 4, line 13, leave out from '£1,000' to end of line.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment, it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 13, in line 17, leave out from '£1,200' to end of line, and Amendment No. 16, in line 19, at end insert: 'or such other amounts as the Minister may by order prescribe, either generally or by reference to a locality and the amounts so prescribed may differ as between one locality and another'.

Mr. Hawkins

The result that we wish to achieve with these Amendments will give more latitude financially and geographically to the Minister. It was admitted by the Minister in Committee that the cost of improvements in London, for instance, might be 50 per cent. more than in some rural areas. Latitude is also required because building costs are increasing rapidly and will continue to rise.

For many years, I tried to get my right hon. and hon. Friends to put up the grants—indeed, I raised the subject in my very first Adjournment debate—and I am pleased to see that this Bill proposes to improve them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) pointed out in Committee on 25th February, 1969, the limit of £1,000 in rural areas might be sufficient for some length of time, but in London £2,000 on improvements does not go far in bringing the older Victorian houses up to modern standards. I particularly asked the Minister to give an assurance that he has in mind a review of the improvement grant figures and not just that somebody will think about them every so often. There must be a directive given in the Ministry that information will be collected. I emphasised some time ago that this information should be available and that there should be a review of the figures.

We should give the Minister the latitude which these Amendments propose so that we shall not go for such a long time again as we did before when the grants were not sufficient to tempt people to undertake improvements. Improvements were not carried out as they should have been in big enough numbers and we fell behind, with many older houses falling into disrepair.

Mr. Ifor Davies

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) has emphasised that he wants to give more latitude to the Minister. This latitude is provided for in subsection (3).

The Amendments would alter the terms under which the Minister may prescribe by order changes in the maximum amount of improvement grants. He could prescribe different limits for different localities as well as one for general application. As the Clause stands, the Minister's power by way of prescribing maximum amounts can be used only to change the general limits. It may be claimed that the Amendment provides a far more flexible system, but subsection (3) already gives the Minister power to approve a higher limit either in individual cases or with respect to a class of case which could be related to a locality.

Although the Amendments do not affect the Minister's discretion in subsection (3), the existence of the subsection renders the Amendments unnecessary. They would permit a range of limits from below to above the theoretical figure, which could lose all significance. This would be more confusing than helpful.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 4, line 18, at the end to insert 'or other building'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps it would be convenient to take at the same time Amendment No. 17.

Mr. Skeffington

The Amendment honours an undertaking I gave in reply to an argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) to the effect that there might be doubt about whether grants could apply when a building was being converted into more than a certain number of storeys. The Government were satisfied about it, but we wish to make it clear beyond peradventure that the Clause applies to buildings as well as the house.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 17, page 4, line 29, leave out 'house' and insert 'building'.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

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