HC Deb 18 June 1969 vol 785 cc505-17

The benefit of an approval, by a local authority, of a grant under Part I of this Act may be transferred (subject to the obligations arising therefrom) by the person entitled to that benefit to any person who has such an interest in the land to which the approval relates as is described in sections 2(6), 8(4) and 17(3) of the said Act and the transferor and transferee shall give notice to the local authority of such transfer.—[Mr. Clegg.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This is an absolutely splendid new Clause, a very practical one which would cut out a great deal of red tape and lead to much smoother administration. It would be of great benefit to all concerned. I shall be very surprised and dejected if the Minister does not agree that it should form part of the Bill.

The problem which faces us is due to the fact that under the present law and under the Bill, if a grant is made to an applicant in respect of premises that grant will be in personam to that person and not in rem. It would be impossible for a grant in personam to be transferred and this would lead to great inconvenience. One often sees advertisements in newspapers—I saw one in my constituency over the weekend—in which a country cottage is advertised. The advertisement I saw said clearly that the cottage was in bad repair but grants would be available for it to be repaired. It did not, of course, say what the grants would be or what amount would be available.

It would be much more convenient if, before he sold, the owner could make application to the local authority and have the grants and plans approved so that he could go to the market saying what amount of grant there would be. Then the purchaser would have the advantage of knowing the amount of money concerned. A great deal of time spent in negotiation would be saved. The matter would be certain and it would save a lot of correspondence between solicitors and estate agents if the grants could be transferred with the property in the same way as planning permission is transferred.

At present, if the vendor obtained a grant and before he took advantage of it he sold the house, a new application would be required by the purchaser. That would have to go before a committee and be approved by the local authority, whereas under this Clause the benefit would be transferable. This is analogous to planning permission affecting property having the right of transferability.

It would be different if the applicant's means had to be taken into account, but this is not so. It comes back to the point that these grants are designed to improve property. They are grants in rem. Difficulties may arise because of Clauses which bring in the three-year rule. The grant having been made, under the provisions of Clause 13 the property must be available for letting or be occupied by the applicant or a member of his family, but Clause 13 would not make it too difficult to give effect to the new Clause.

Especially in the case of discretionary and improvement grants, during the course of work, and before the whole grant has been paid, because of death or illness it may be necessary for the work to be stopped and the property to be sold. It would be useful if there were power which there would be if the Clause were accepted to transfer the remainder of the grant to the person who was to do the work.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Allason

It is not very satisfactory to make a case against the Government and then to receive no answer. On the last Clause it was stated that the answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary was inaccurate, but we received no reply. I hope that we shall receive an answer on this occasion.

The process of obtaining a grant is liable to be lengthy. Even when a grant has been obtained it is not always possible for the builder to move in and do the repairs and improvements quickly A long period may elapse between the time of application and the time of payment of grant. Under the present system, during that time the house cannot change hands. This period, which may be as long as a year, is far too long. Death or illness may supervene requiring a change of ownership, but as the Bill is drafted during that time ownership of the house must remain in existing hands.

Then there is the question whether someone who has obtained approval for payment of grant should be able to sell the property. Planning permission follows ownership, but not so the grant. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that it is normal to discuss these matters with officials and for verbal undertakings to be given that the conditions for grant are satisfactory and the purchaser should be so informed. This is not good enough, because the would-be purchaser of a tumble-down property needs to know before he puts his money down that he can get the grant. It is not fair for him to be asked to buy what may well be a pig in a poke.

We want the Bill to work and we want property to be improved. One method of improving property is for an owner who is not able to improve his property to sell it to somebody who is willing to fulfil the conditions of the grant and so improve the property. I hope that the Government will accept the Clause.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

The hon. Member for North' Fylde (Mr. Clegg) knows that if my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could have accepted his Amendment in Committee he, of all people, would have done so, but he was not able to do so. I am in the same position. The hon. Gentleman referred to the three-year limit on sales. That is not a relevant argument, and I shall not use it. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to Amendment No. 24, which may interest him.

This is a discretionary grant. There is no problem with standard grants. The problem arises with discretionary grants. Personal considerations may well arise which influence the local authority in deciding whether to make a discretionary grant. My opposition to the Clause was confirmed by the hon. Gentleman's statement that property advertisements sometimes state that grants are likely to be available. The hon. Gentleman said that owners cannot firmly state that a grant attaches to property.

I welcome that, because it would be unfortunate if a sort of speculation in grants grew up, with people applying for grants and then advertising their property for sale and cashing in on the availability of grant. The applicant for the grant might be living in the area of the local authority; and, because he was a well-established local resident, the local authority might think that it was worth spending money to provide him with a home, perhaps near his work. A person coming in might be looking for a holiday cottage and would be able to buy it on the strength of the grant at a greatly increased price.

Mr. Clegg

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that would be a reason for refusing the grant?

Mr. MacColl

It certainly is a reason for refusing a grant. In some cases local authorities have said, "We do not think that we should use our discretion to provide a home for somebody coming into our area, although we would think it right to do so for someone already living in our area". That might apply in a village where they were trying to restrict the population.

These things can best be sorted out by accepting the principle that the grant goes to the applicant who is responsible for seeing that the work is done. If he cannot live in the house there are ways in which he can get rid of it. I could not advise the House to agree to this general power to pass on the grant.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I do not think that we can accept this argument. I know nothing about grants in personam and in rem. This is a grant for improving houses. This is what the Bill is about. It is something that I have been wanting for a long time. This would speed things up, because it must simplify the work of solicitors. Sometimes they do seem to have inordinate delays in their work. As an estate agent, I know how important it is to be able to be clear to the purchaser about what the exact position is. If he knows that application has been made and is likely to be granted, or refused, then it is a great advantage.

This long delay which can arise as a result of not allowing the transfer, will mean that properties will stand empty and derelict. We will have what is happening in London now—people occupying these empty homes. We cannot blame people for this if they see property standing empty when they are living in horrible conditions with several children. They naturally feel aggrieved for their family and take these steps. This Clause will help solicitors and the local authorities. It will relieve the immense burden of paper work, and I ask the Minister to look at it again and to put forward something which could overcome these immense delays.

Mr. Maddan

The Parliamentary Secretary missed an important point in his reply. Let me accept for the purposes of the argument, although I will contest it later, that because these are discretionary grants a local authority might give a grant in respect of a house to one owner but would not do so to another. Suppose that for some reason the occupier who has been given a grant has to move away. The person who comes into the house could be a rich, retired farmer, and it could be done on a family basis. It might be said, "Look, my house is empty, go and live in it". Alternatively, it could be sold.

In the first instance, although the new resident might have been entirely unacceptable to the local authority, he would benefit from public money, because the grant would still be given. In the second case, all the difficulties to which reference has been made would arise and new occupiers might find themselves without a grant, or a house while the whole thing was renegotiated.

Let us accept that discretionary grants are made at a certain time for a certain set of circumstances and that once they are made they remain. It does not make any difference what happens afterwards. In the case I have mentioned, suppose the person who is given the grant carried out the improvements while in residence and left the next day. What difference does it make? Someone else will enter the house and get the benefit of the grant.

We must accept, regrettably, that in the dispensing of public funds there may be areas to which funds go and there may be a "hit and miss" element about it. Once it has gone through, the anomalies arising from not doing what this new Clause suggests are greater than the anomalies which would arise from adopting the new Clause. I hope that the Government will look at this again. Everyone wants to see an improvement made in the standards of old property.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

This is an important new Clause. I was surprised at the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). There are important applications here, and I would like to ask a few questions, to which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reply. He says that this has an effect only on discretionary grants. I presume that he means by that that under the standard grant the new person could apply in any case and would be entitled to obtain the grant. But it does apply to standard grants, in terms of the reduction of bureaucracy. Under the system advocated by the Government, although a standard grant has been agreed, for, say, a bathroom in a particular house, if that house is sold a great deal of further bureaucracy has to be gone through so that the grant can be used by someone else.

If the Government's case is that it does not matter about standard grants, then they should accept this as it relates to standard grants only. Does the Parliamentary Secretary not think that it would be a good idea, in the interests of the Government, to have such a new Clause and to get rid of this bureaucracy?

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the situation that can arise when a person who has been given a grant dies and work has already started?

Mr. Walker

That is another point. I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

It may be that my next point is already covered by legislation, but what is the situation about dependants? What happens if the husband who has been given the grant dies, leaving a widow? Can the local authority, having granted a discretionary or standard grant, take it away? If the Government are unwilling to accept our overall argument, there is some scope for including provisions for widows, if they are not covered already.

I was surprised when the Minister talked about local authorities as if it was important for them in dealing with discretionary grants, to take into consideration the standing of the individual. This has never come up before. I would refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the pamphlet published by the Government "The Money to Modernise your Home". This sets out ways in which the public can obtain the grants, but nowhere is there any implication that the local authority will give consideration to the status or position of the individual when dealing with discretonary grants.

Recallng previous debates in Committee, I cannot think of a time when anyone said that this would be a criteria. It is a dangerous policy. I had always understood the objects on both sides of the House to be that the Bill should improve old houses as speedily as possible. There is a Labour Party myth about the country cottage being something that they must not do anything for, because it is being used as a second home. I am all in favour of providing second homes, even with grants, rather than allowing houses to become derelict. If there is the option between a cottage becoming derelict or becoming a country home for a family, I would prefer the latter course.

In any case, local authorities are not in a position to judge this. If we worked on this basis the prospective purchaser of a cottage would tell the owner to obtain the grant, carry out the work and then he would buy it. I want to see old houses improved. The transference of the grant, whoever purchases the premises once it has been granted, must be a practical and sensible way of doing that.

The Parliamentary Secretary expressed horror at the possibility of advertisements saying that a building carried a grant. Advertisements appear all the time saying that land carries planning permission. The principle is exactly the same. On the hon. Gentleman's argument, planning permission should not be transferred, but attached to a person rather than the land. We can see the absurdities and horrors of that. The Government have not given enough consideration to this. They have not realised that they will cause hardship. There will be cases when improvements cannot be carried out, due to a sudden change in the fortune in the families which have applied for the grant. The whole operation of the Bill will be motivated against those people.

On standard grants, it is in the Government's interest to cut out bureaucracy. On discretionary grants, if we want to modernise houses as quickly as possible, we need a system of grants applied to improving houses. If houses are improved, Governments of all complexions should rejoice that they have been improved. Finally, on the technical point about widows and dependants of people given grants, what will be their legal position, and what are the Government's comments on the situation?

5.0 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman on the factual points that he has raised.

I deal, first, with the position of a widow. In practice, local authorities arrange that a widow succeeds to the rights of the applicant, as the legal personal representative of the applicant, and I have had no complaints that widows have not had the grants. Nor have I had complaints from local authorities about the bureaucracy involved over the standard grant. I have had no suggestions from local authorities that they are dissatisfied with the present machinery or think that it puts a burden on them.

Mr. Graham Page

It may be that no complaints from local authorities or from individuals about dependants being entitled have reached the hon. Gentleman. However, I gather that the legal position is that, if a person to whom a grant has been given dies, no one is entitled legally to succeed to it, whatever the lack of complaints may have been.

Mr. MacColl

I prefer to put it the other way. I would not want to make a positive assertion that they have legal rights but I can say with confidence that I know of no case where it has raised difficulty. I would be glad to hear of any case where it has, because that would be an important point.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) also raised the question about the standing of the individual. The difficulty is that in many cases a grant could be given reasonably to the successor of the original applicant. If a man goes to a local authority saying that he is thinking of buying a property and he asks what are the chances, quite often the local authority says that it will continue

the grant. However, that is different from presuming a legal right to it. These points often arise in places where there are population restrictions or where a local authority wants to help people in a village who work on the land, for example.

The hon. Gentleman asked, why not adopt the principle applied to planning permissions. Planning permission is sometimes personal for that reason. Much as it is sometimes necessary to make a permission personal, if it was cut and dried, it could be administered mechanically. It could be made part of the standard grant, and not discretionary. Once it becomes necessary to bring in the element of discretion, a local authority should be left with the power, if it chooses, not to renew a grant for the successor.

Mr. Peter Walker

With the permission of the House, I find the Minister's reply—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot speak again if the Minister has sat down.

Mr. MacColl

I have.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I apologise. The hon. Gentleman's name is to the Amendment.

Mr. Peter Walker

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I asked the leave of the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not the practice of the House to concede that right to an hon. Member except with a special explanation as well as the leave of the House.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of the fact that the Minister spoke twice, I wonder—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is well precedented in Erskine May. This right is conceded to the Minister, but not to anyone else.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 142, Noes 184.

Division No. 269.] AYES [5.10 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Bankston Ash) Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Bell, Ronald
Astor, John Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Biffen, John
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Heseltine, Michael Pardoe, John
Black, Sir Cyril Higgins, Terence L. Percival, Ian
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Hill, J. E. B. Pike, Mis Mervyn
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Pink, R. Bonner
Braine, Bernard Holland, Philip Pounder, Rafton
Brewis, John Hordern, Peter Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hornby, Richard Prior, J. M. L.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hunt, John Pym, Francis
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Hutchison, Michael Clark Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bullus, Sir Eric Iremonger, T. L. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Burden, F. A. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Russell, Sir Ronald
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Carlisle, Mark Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Silvester, Frederick
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Jopling, Michael Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Clark, Henry Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Speed, Keith
Clegg, Walter Kaberry, Sir Donald Stainton, Keith
Cooke, Robert King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Corfield, F. V. Knight, Mrs. Jill Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Costain, A. P. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Tapsell, Peter
Crouch, David Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Lubbock, Eric Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Currie, G. B. H. MacArthur, Ian Temple, John M.
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry McMaster, Stanley Tilney, John
Dodds-Parker, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Michael (W'stow, E.)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maddan, Martin Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Errington, Sir Eric Maginnis, John E. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Eyre, Reginald Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Waddington, David
Fisher, Nigel Maude, Angus Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mawby, Ray Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Fortescue, Tim Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Ward, Dame Irene
Foster, Sir John Mills, Peter (Torrington) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Glover, Sir Douglas Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Goodhart, Philip Monro, Hector Wiggin, A. W.
Gower, Raymond Montgomery, Fergus Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Grant, Anthony Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Grieve, Percy Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Hall-Davis, A. C. F. Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wright, Esmond
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Naharro, Sir Gerald Wylie, N. R.
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Younger, Hn. George
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Hastings, Stephen Nott, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hattersley, Roy Onslow, Cranley Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Hawkins, Paul Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. Jasper More.
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Abse, Leo Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Anderson, Donald Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Hannan, William
Archer, Peter Delargy, Hugh Harper, Joseph
Armstrong, Ernest Dell, Edmund Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Dempsey, James Hazell, Bert
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Dewar, Donald Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Hooley, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dickens, James Horner, John
Barnett, Joel Dobson, Ray Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Bidwell, Sydney Doig, Peter Hoy, Rt. Hn. James
Binns, John Dunn, James A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Bishop, E. S. Dunnett, Jack Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Blackburn, F. Edwards, William (Merioneth) Hynd, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Ellis, John Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) English, Michael Janner, Sir Barnett
Booth, Albert Ensor, David Jeger, George (Goole)
Boyden, James Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Bradley, Tom Fernyhough, E. Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Brooks, Edwin Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Judd, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Ford, Ben Kelley, Richard
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Forrester, John Kenyon, Clifford
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Freeson, Reginald Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Gardner, Tony Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Cant, R. B. Garrett, W. E. Lawson, George
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ginsburg, David Leadbitter, Ted
Concannon, J. D. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Gregory, Arnold Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham)
Crawshaw, Richard Grey, Charles (Durham) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Dalyell, Tam Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Lipton, Marcus
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Loughlin, Charles
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson O'Malley, Brian Silverman, Julius
MacColl, James Oram, Albert E. Skeffington, Arthur
Macdonald, A. H. Orbach, Maurice Slater, Joseph
McGuire, Michael Orme, Stanley Small, William
McKay, Mrs. Margaret Oswald, Thomas Spriggs, Leslie
Mackintosh, John P. Owen, Will (Morpeth) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
McNamara, J. Kevin Palmer, Arthur Symonds, J. B.
MacPherson, Malcolm Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Taverne, Dick
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Park, Trevor Tinn, James
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Tuck, Raphael
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Pentland, Norman Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Manuel, Archie Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Wallace, George
Mapp, Charles Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Watkins, David (Consett)
Marks, Kenneth Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Marquand, David Price, William (Rugby) Wellbeloved, James
Mayhew, Christopher Probert, Arthur White, Mrs. Eirene
Mendelson, John Rankin, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Millan, Bruce Rees, Merlyn Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Miller, Dr. M. S. Richard, Ivor Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Rodgers, William (Stockton) Woof, Robert
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Ryan, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Neal, Harold Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Mr. John McCann and
Newens, Stan Sheldon, Robert Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
Ogden, Eric Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
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