HC Deb 10 April 1974 vol 872 cc420-4
20. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representation he has had from private housing agencies for financial assistance to carry out improvement schemes in older houses in the county of Fife; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Millan

None, Sir

Mr. Hunter

Is my hon. Friend aware that we in Fife resent private housing associations taking over housing improvements in certain areas? Is he aware that 93 former National Coal Board houses at Blairhall have been purchased by the North Fife Housing Agency, with the intention of converting and improving them? Is my hon. Friend also aware that this housing association had to rely on Fife County Council giving it a grant to cover the purchase price of those houses and that it also expects loans, subsidies and improvement grants from the Scottish Development Department? Would not this have been far better as an obligation of the county council rather than a matter for a private housing association?

Mr. Millan

I shall certainly look into the various points which my hon. Friend has mentioned. I knew that the North Fife Housing Association had approached the previous Government about this matter and that the statutory position was explained to it. No approach has been made to me, but I shall look into the matters which my hon. Friend has mentioned. The Housing and Planning Bill, which was a casualty of the election, contained provisions about improvements. It is the Government's intention to introduce their own legislation, when many of these matters can be discussed.

Mr. Ancram

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance—following the previous question—that he will listen to representations made to him by charitable private housing associations in Scotland, which have done much to alleviate many of the housing problems in Scotland?

Mr. Millan

Certainly. I agree with that.

Sir John Gilmour

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it shows initiative on the part of the people of North Fife to wish to put right houses that have fallen into decay?

Mr. Millan

I cannot comment on that. As I have already explained, I am not aware of the circumstances. As far as I am aware, there was no direct Government responsibility under the previous administration. Nothing has been put to me since the General Election. But I shall certainly look at the matter.

21. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to make a statement on housing improvement grants.

31. Mr. Gourlay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from local authorities regarding the extension of the 75 per cent. improvement grant for local authority house improvement schemes, where the contracts were signed before 23rd June 1973; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. William Ross

I have received one representation from the Royal Burgh of Burntisland about the question of the 75 per cent. improvement grant for local authority schemes and this is one of the aspects of housing policy that I and my right hon. Friends are considering urgently and hope to make an announcement about soon.

I am today resuming the approval of local authority schemes for housing and environmental improvement. Many proposals have been held in my Department since my predecessor suspended approvals on 10th January. To enable the most urgent of these to be dealt with first, new proposals will not be accepted until the first week in May.

I propose to discuss with representatives of the local authorities the best way of sharing fairly the resources available for house and environmental improvement, so that priority is given to the areas of greatest need and the larger authorities are in a position to plan the systematic improvement of their older housing stock.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer will be greeted with acclamation by local authorities in Scotland and that it is another indication of the present Government's concern for the housing problem in Scotland, which was so much neglected by the previous Government? Will he give an undertaking to make a quick decision on improvement grants available to individual householders, because many of us have had complaints about this, while there has been delay in the supply of materials for reasons which are quite beyond the control of individuals?

Mr. Ross

On the first point, yes. Wherever I have gone recently, local authorities have been very concerned about the hold-up in relation to the schemes which they had already put forward. I am very glad to be able to make this announcement. In relation to the other matter, my hon. Friend will appreciate that this scheme was supposed to last for one year. It was supposed to end last June, and there has already been an extension of one year. As I have said, we are having a look at the matter.

Mr. David Steel

On the last point, the Secretary of State, in answer to a Question from me a couple of weeks ago, said that he hoped to make a statement soon. How soon is "soon"? We recognise that the scheme has been extended once, but there is a particular problem about those who already have schemes in the pipeline and are held up by a shortage of building materials. Surely a short extension for those schemes only would be justified.

Mr. Ross

In looking at the practicalities, the hon. Gentleman will find that this is not an easy matter. Where does one draw the line? The line was laid down a long time ago, and people knew about it. As regards how soon is "soon", I hope to be able to make an announcement this month.

Mr. Gourlay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many authorities will be pleased about his reply today? Despite many representations, the previous Government flatly refused to give any assistance on this matter. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's reply is all the more welcome. But again, how soon is "soon"? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that local authorities are made aware of the new arrangements as early as possible, and at least before the end of this month?

Mr. Ross

The new arrangement that I have announced will go very quickly to the local authorities. I am sure that they will be knocking at St. Andrew's House door before the week is out. On the other matter which my hon. Friend mentioned, it is perfectly true that local authorities were getting to a difficult point. One local authority wrote saying that it was on the point of having to pay off some of its employees because it had reached the limit of what it could do and it required a raising of the moratorium.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does not the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the tremendous rate of uptake of grant is a measure of the success of the scheme introduced by the previous Government to help local authorities to improve their houses? Does not he agree that the small print of his reply, in which he says that the assistance that he now hopes to give is being related to the resources available, is simply a continuation of the previous Government's policy?

Mr. Ross

It is hardly a continuation of the previous Government's policy when that Government's policy ended the matter and said no more. Concerning the scheme, I have already paid tribute to the work that has been done. Most of it was done by local authorities. One finds that by looking at the numbers. That is why it was disastrous when it was stopped in respect of them. In relation to the origins of the scheme, the hon. Gentleman will realise that the scheme started under the Labour Government's Act of 1969.

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