HC Deb 31 July 1972 vol 842 cc1-4
1. Mr. Goronwy Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will issue guidance to local housing authorities enabling them to exercise discretion in making any hose improvement grant.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)

Local authorities are already fully aware of the wide discretion they have in administering improvement grants. It is only in relation to standard grants that their discretion is limited by Statute.

Mr. Roberts

Is it not a fact that it is precisely in relation to the mandatory standard grants that an increasing number of local housing authorities in Wales are now questioning the operation of the 1969 Act and the related regu- lations? Is the Secretary of State aware that while there is unanimous anxiety that the beneficial provisions of the Act should continue, there is also anxiety that they should continue so as to sub-vent the rescue of derelict properties for permanent occupancy rather than for use as holiday homes?

Mr. Thomas

I certainly appreciate that the question of the improvements of holiday homes with the aid of grants has been a difficult one from the beginning. It has been the view of this Government and the previous one that an improved house is a gain to the housing pool even if it is temporarily outside the regular pool and, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, it has been found impossible to draw up a satisfactory legal definition of what is a holiday cottage since many people retire to cottages which they have formerly used as holiday homes.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In view of the slight obscurity of that answer, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider setting up a departmental inquiry into the working of the Act in the rural parts of Wales especially to ascertain how many local people who are in need of homes might be helped if the Act was operated in another way within the limitations of the existing law? Will he do this as a matter of urgency in consultation with housing authorities in the Principality?

Mr. Thomas

The Welsh Council is examining this question among other housing topics and I expect to receive a report from it in due course.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

Would it be a helpful suggestion that it should be made clear that the amount given in grant within the discretionary grant is repayable over the course of time in the form of increased rates, so that the local authority is in effect making a loan that appears to be a grant?

Mr. Thomas

It is very much appreciated that local authorities benefit greatly from housing which would otherwise become derelict being put into good condition. We must not ignore the fact that many people from outside Wales who have acquired these houses have made a great contribution to the resources of the area.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that this is the first the House has heard about the Welsh Council making a study of this matter? Why were we not told before? Does he agree that what is essential is publication of the basic facts showing what percentage of the total grants paid annually by housing authorities is spent on holiday cottages? Does not the fact that the Secretary of State refuses to disclose such information either show insensitivity on his part or show that he is deliberately seeking to foment discord?

Mr. Thomas

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is being fair because I certainly do not refuse to disclose any information which is at hand. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, it is the Environment and Cultural Panel of the Welsh Council that is looking into the question of improvement grants for holiday homes among other housing matters. It has met representatives of local authorities in holiday areas.

Mr. Gower

Will my right hon. and learned Friend pay particular attention to holiday houses which are remote from centres of population and which would probably fall into decay if they did not receive grants?

Mr. Thomas

I agree with my hon. Friend. This is one of the points I was trying to make, that many houses in Wales have been saved from dereliction by people buying them and spending a lot of money on them, adding to the housing pool and the rateable resources of an area.

Mr. Roberts

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

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