HC Deb 03 February 1970 vol 795 cc187-9
2. Mr. Christopher Ward

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government upon what general criteria he decided to make grants of 40 per cent. to local authorities to assist in strengthening tall flats as a result of the accident at Ronan Point, Canning Town; and whether he will now reconsider his decision.

17. Mr. Silvester

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what further consideration he has now given to raising the percentage grant that he is providing towards the strengthening of tower blocks following the collapse of Ronan Point.

60. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why, on 21st October, 1969, he informed the hon. Member for West Ham, North that he would soon be able to make an announcement concerning discussions relative to the 40 per cent. grant towards the costs involved to local authorities in strengthening tower blocks resultant upon the Ronan Point disaster; why by 1st January, 1970, no such state- ment had been made; and when he now expects to make his statement.

Mr. Greenwood

I refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Members to the statement which I made on 19th January in reply to the Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). I was impressed by the cost evidence produced by the local authorities that a case could be made for a higher contribution towards the costs of measures taken on my recommendation, and I have announced an increase from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. in the rate of grant.—[Vol. 794, c. 57–8.]

Mr. Ward

Does the Minister realise that, welcome though this increase is, the local housing authorities are having to spend millions of pounds on strengthening blocks, thus making it more difficult for them to provide the new homes which are so desperately needed? Will he look at the matter again as a national emergency, which it surely is?

Mr. Greenwood

We shall be having further discussions with the local authority associations on this subject, but I can hold out no hope of increasing the 50 per cent. That very much represents the division of responsibility which the tribunal said existed between central Government, local government, the professions and the industry.

Mr. Silvester

Is not the Minister's obstinacy in not meeting the full cost in direct contradiction of what he was urging previously, namely, that the local authorities, particularly in the sorely pressed areas, should get on with a higher housing programme? The Minister is burdening them unnecessarily.

Mr. Greenwood

We are awaiting the results of some appraisals that local authorities are still undertaking.

Mr. Lewis

Can the Minister tell us what facts and figures were available in January this year that were not readily available to him 20 months go? Is it right to saddle the poorer boroughs with a total debt of £12½ million? Will my right hon. Friend do something about it?

Mr. Greenwood

The new fact which emerged was that the generous subsidy that the Government are paying to local authorities for new house building has, over that period, gone up from about 40 to nearer 50 per cent. It therefore seemed fair to reallocate the grant for Ronan Point in the same ratio. My hon. Friend is wrong to assume that it is only poor local authorities that are affected in this way. A number of more prosperous boroughs are affected. We have discussed with local authorities how the grant shall be made available between them.

Mr. Graham Page

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, relative to work being carried out, when the grant will be paid? Will it be before, after or during the work?

Mr. Greenwood

The grant will be made available as expenses are incurred by local authorities on the provisional basis that they do not exceed the 50 per cent.

Mr. Conlan

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that some local authorities have a far greater burden than other authorities? Therefore, will he apply a differential grant scheme to assist those authorities with the greatest burdens?

Mr. Greenwood

We have discussed this with the local authorities, but their reaction has not been enthusiastic. However, I propose to discuss further with them the possibility of helping a number of very small local authorities—it would be wrong to identify them now—where the burden is disproportionately heavy.