HC Deb 14 February 1973 vol 850 cc1273-5
21. Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the provisions in the statute which give authority for local authorities to impose conditions of their own in allowing discretionary improvement grants.

Mr. Channon

The only provision is that contained in Section 4(4) of the Housing Act 1969 which empowers a local authority to require, as a condition of paying the grant, that the works are carried out within such time, not being less than 12 months, as the local authority may specify.

Mr. Finsberg

Is my hon. Friend aware that an Under-Secretary of State in his Department told the Environment and Home Office Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee on 24th and 31st January that in general these conditions are illegal? What does the Minister propose to do to stop the London Borough of Camden from imposing illegal conditions, forcing my constituents to refuse grants or run the risk of testing this in the courts? Why will he not take action?

Mr. Channon

It is not for me to interpret the law. That is for the courts. I am advised that the discretion given to local authorities under Part I of the 1969 Act gives them no power to impose any further conditions than the ones I outlined to the House a few moments ago. We are engaged in reviewing the whole question of older houses and improvements and I hope to report in due course.

Mr. Stallard

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Camden has probably had more than its fair share of abuses with the improvement grant system? Many of us feel that the restrictions recently introduced are long overdue. Is he aware that a property in my constituency, in North St. Pancras, changed hands 15 months ago for £7,000, attracted an improvement grant of £9,640, and is currently on sale today for £112,000?

Mr. Channon

I cannot comment on a specific case. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me I shall be most interested to have the details. I must point out to the House that it is in the discretion of local authorities whether to give improvement grants. Presumably Camden, rightly or wrongly, thought that that was a good case.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Local authorities may have discretion whether to give a grant, but should they not carry out the statute as it has been passed by this House? Whilst my hon. Friend cannot be expected to interpret the law, could he issue a circular giving his interpretation of the statute as it was intended?

Mr. Channon

A number of circulars about improvements have been issued from time to time. I would prefer to wait until the review is complete before risking another circular. I cannot interpret the law, but my advice is that local authorities do not have power to impose further conditions.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When will the hon. Gentleman come to a conclusion? Many of us wrote to him about cases six weeks or two months ago and are still awaiting replies. We must ensure that local authorities get on with their job.

Mr. Channon

I am delighted to inform the hon. Gentleman that I had the great pleasure of signing a letter to him this morning.