HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1738-43
Mr. Clegg

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 17, line 10, at end insert: 'or, alternatively (whether or not the works specified in the application have been begun) if the application has been approved, shall upon request by the applicant vary the terms of approval of the application so that the approval shall be such as the local authority would have granted, had the application been made after the commencement of this Act'. This is an echo of an Amendment moved in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), and a very wise Amendment it was. Unfortunately, the Government rejected it.

Clause 28 deals with the situation when an application has been made under the old law, and it provides that, if work has not begun—this is where we part company with the Government—the application may be withdrawn and a new one under the old law resubmitted in its place. Although that is a useful provision, it does not go far enough. Our Amendment would provide that, alternatively, whether or not the works specified in the application have been begun, if the application has been approved and if the applicant requests it, the authority shall vary the terms of the approval so that it will be what the authority would have granted had the application been made under the new legislation to start with.

In Committee, the Minister said that he had some sympathy with the similar Amendment which we then moved, but he also said that it would be difficult for a local authority to decide whether work had been started or started and finished. He was worried about reopening old cases and said that it would be difficult if the local authority had to inspect each job. We do not accept that any administrative difficulty is involved and we ask the House to adopt the Amendment.

I note one favourable change. It is recorded in HANSARD that on that day the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was wearing a purple shirt. Today, he is wearing a blue shirt. That gives us hope that he will agree with the Amendment.

Mr. Skeffington

I am sure that the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) realises that there is much more substance in the reason for accepting or rejecting the Amendment than the colour of certain habits of individuals, but I am glad that he takes so much interest in these matters.

As he said, we had a fairly long discussion on this subject in Committee and I promised to look at the matter again to see whether it were feasible to mix up, as undoubtedly it would, applications under the two systems for grants. We have also had consultations with those who would have to administer the scheme. The practical advice which we have had, however much the hon. Member may think otherwise, is that it would cause a good deal of confusion.

Let me illustrate the problem. There is a scheme for which grant has been given. It may have been in operation for some time, perhaps a year or more before the new Act comes into operation. The Act may come into operation this year and the grant may have been given last year. A good deal of work on the scheme has already been done in the offices of the engineer's department. If, in the light of the new Act, it becomes necessary to look at all these responsibilities again, the marrying up of the various sets of papers will demand extra work and time, with the possibility of mistakes. No doubt, in the overall interest of the applicant, that might be overcome, and authorities would not stick too hard on that objection if there were a strong desire for this to be done.

But the technical objections to the Amendment is the fact that the authority is likely to be drawn into disputes in relation to old houses which are extremely difficult to settle—disputes whether the repairs or some of the repairs on old property were completed before the Act came into force. Hon. Members with experience of dealing with old properties to which various repairs have been carried out will recognise that some repairs may be done in the spring and that the builder, for various reasons, may then leave the property and return later in the summer to complete the repairs. The advice which we have had from those who have to do the job is that the Amendment would involve them in disputes which it would be extremely difficult for them to settle satisfactorily either to themselves or to the applicant.

May I state the position under the Bill? If an application for grant has been made but the work has not been started, it is easy to switch to the new system. But once the work has been started, there is a difficulty, for the reasons which I have given. Consequently, on practical grounds, and certainly not only on doctrinal grounds, I ask the Opposition not to press the Amendment.

Further, under the new system of grants we have what is regarded as a comprehensive and in many ways a package deal. There are benefits but there are also new responsibilities. The system will operate satisfactorily if it is considered as a whole. But if we attach to it another system which is already in operation, we shall have administrative problems, apart from the practical problems to which I have referred. It is, therefore, very much in the interests of the authorities who have to work the grant system that the Amendment should not be pressed.

I remind the House that the Amendment would involve an additional obligation at a time when we want local authorities to get ahead with the new system, under which they may be dealing with a number of improvement areas and in some cases with hundreds of applications. If we place this additional administrative burden on them for no very great advantage, it would be unfair and possibly unworkable.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker

We find the Minister's reply disappointing. The subject was debated thoroughly in Committee,

and therefore, I will not prolong the debate, except to say that all of us who have supported the Bill have as our main fear the fact that not enough advantage will be taken of its provisions and that even if these grants are available, there will not be as many applications as we should all like to see. This Amendment would to some extent assist in increasing the number of applications.

In his reply the Minister outlined the bureaucratic difficulties which might emerge. I felt that he had not his heart in his answer for, after spending two or three minutes on the first objection, he said that even if that objection were put aside in the interests of the applicants, there were further bureaucratic difficulties. The failure to have a provision such as this in earlier Acts resulted in many people not obtaining grants who would otherwise have applied for them.

This is a very useful Amendment, and I ask my hon. Friends to divide the House on it.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:

The Committee divided: Ayes 126, Noes 168.

Division No. 292.] AYES [4.47 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Gibson-Watt, David Montgomery, Fergus
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) More, Jasper
Astor, John Goodhart, Philip Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Grant, Anthony Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Awdry, Daniel Gresham Cooke, R. Murton, Oscar
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Bell, Ronald Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Page, Graham (Crosby)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Peel, John
Black, Sir Cyril Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Pounder, Rafton
Body, Richard Hawkins, Paul Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Prior, J. M. L.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Pym, Francis
Brewis, John Hill, J. E. B. Quennell, Miss J. M.
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hirst, Geoffrey Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hunt, John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bryan, Paul Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridsdale, Julian
Bullus, Sir Eric Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Royle, Anthony
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jopling, Michael Russell, Sir Ronald
Channon, H. P. G. Kaberry, Sir Donald St. John-Stevas, Norman
Chataway, Christopher Kershaw, Anthony Scott, Nicholas
Clark, Henry Kimball, Marcus Sharples, Richard
Clegg, Walter King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Cooke, Robert Knight, Mrs. Jill Silvester, Frederick
Corfield, F. V. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Sinclair, Sir George
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Lane, David Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Crouch, David Langford-Holt, Sir John Speed, Keith
Dance, James Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stainton, Keith
Doughty, Charles Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Longden, Gilbert Tapsell, Peter
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Lubbock, Eric Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Errington, Sir Eric McAdden, Sir Stephen Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Eyre, Reginald McNair-Wilson, Michael Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Fortescue, Tim McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Foster, Sir John Maddan, Martin Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
van Straubenzee, W. R. Walters, Dennis Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John Weatherill, Bernard Worsley, Marcus
Vickers, Dame Joan Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Waddington, David Wiggin, A. W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley) Williams, Donald (Dudley) Mr. Timothy Kitson and
Walker, Peter (Worcester) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) Mr. Hector Monro.
Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Orbach, Maurice
Anderson, Donald Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Orme, Stanley
Archer, Peter Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Oswald, Thomas
Armstrong, Ernest Harper, Joseph Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Paget, R. T.
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Hattersley, Roy Palmer, Arthur
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hilton, W. S. Park, Trevor
Beaney, Alan Hooley, Frank Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bidwell, Sydney Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Bishop, E. S. Hoy, Rt. Hn. James Pavitt, Laurence
Boston, Terence Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Hughes, Roy (Newport) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Brooks, Edwin Hunter, Adam Pentland, Norman
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hynd, John Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Buchan, Norman Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Price, William (Rugby)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jenkins, Hug&h (Putney) Rankin, John
Cant, R. B. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rees, Merlyn
Carmichael, Neil Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Richard, Ivor
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Chapman, Donald Judd, Frank Robertson, John (Paisley)
Coleman, Donald Kelley, Richard Roebuck, Roy
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Kenyon, Clifford Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rowlands, E.
Crawshaw, Richard Lawson, George Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Leadbitter, Ted Sheldon, Robert
Dalyell, Tam Lee, John (Reading) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Lipton, Marcus Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Luard, Evan Skeffington, Arthur
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Slater, Joseph
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) McCann, John Small, William
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) MacColl, James Snow, Julian
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Macdonald, A. H. Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Dobson, Ray McGuire, Michael Symonds, J. B.
Doig, Peter McKay, Mrs. Margaret Taverne, Dick
Driberg, Tom Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Dunn, James A. Mackintosh, John P. Tinn, James
Dunnett, Jack Maclennan, Robert Urwin, T. W.
Eadie, Alex McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McNamara, J. Kevin Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) MacPherson, Malcolm Wallace, George
Ellis, John Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Watkins, David (Consett)
English, Michael Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Weitzman, David
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Wellbeloved, James
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Marks, Kenneth Whitlock, William
Faulds, Andrew Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. Mendelson, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Moonman, Eric Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Forrester, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Morris, John (Aberavon) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Gardner, Tony Murray, Albert
Ginsburg, David Newens, Stan TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Gregory, Arnold Ogden, Eric Mr. Neil McBride.
Grey, Charles (Durham)
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