HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1365-7
Mr. Stallard

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 43, line 26, leave out '£50' and insert '£200'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Amendment No. 15, in page 43, line 34, leave out '£50' and insert '£200'.

Mr. Stallard

I should have thought that the purpose of this amendment was self-evident.

If the Minister's assurance means what he says it means, then he should be able to accept this small amendment. If the Minister accepts that "environmental" includes social amenities, in the way which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) and I suggested, he will agree that £50 is not sufficient for the kind of social amenities we envisage. Therefore lie ought to be able to accept my modest suggestion that that £50 be increased to a sum similar to the figure of £200 which was included in a previous Act. I hope the Minister will accept this small adjustment to carry out the kind of social improvements we envisage.

Mr. Emery

I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on having his amendment called, because we debated an amendment of this nature during the Committee stage and had it thrown out. We see considerable force in the argument he has put forward.

I would have hoped that the Minister would give very serious consideration to this point because a sum of £50 is inadequate today. A move to £200—although I believe the Minister has the power to alter this at any time—would be desirable. I hope that the Minister will be willing to accept the figure of £200 now and to go forward from there.

Mr. Kaufman

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) is a noted spendthrift. Therefore, I accept what he says. But I do not accept what is said by an Opposition who last week were telling us to spend tens of millions of pounds subsidising people who use night storage heaters and are now asking us to spend millions more on general improvement areas and housing action areas, at a time when we face a grave economic crisis. We are being told by the City columns to cut Government expenditure because of that crisis—one that we inherited from the previous Government after their spendthrift and lackadaisical—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and I are, as always, in agreement. The House could get on very well if he and I could conduct its business jointly.

I say to my hon. Friend more or less what I said in Committee. Let us see how we go. The sum of £50 may well not be satisfactory, and we may well have to reconsider it. In any case, we took the power in Committee for the Secretary of State to vary the sum, not just generally, as in the previous Government's short-sighted and skinflint Housing and Planning Bill, but by reference—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) wishes to provoke me, he had better see me outside. I shall contain myself in the interests of making progress.

We have made this change in Committee, which will enable my right hon. Friend to vary the sum of £50 not just generally but by reference to housing action areas declared by particular authorities or description of authority and to particular housing action areas or description of housing action areas. That gives us an initial flexibility which I am sure will appeal to my hon. Friend.

Let us get the country right, after the terrible mess we inherited, and see how we go from there.

Mr. Stallard

My hon. Friend the Minister knew that he would touch my weak spot when he appealed to me to get the country right first, after the shocking mess in which it was left by the previous Government. He knew that that must be my top priority. Torn by my desire to see social improvements in the areas concerned and my desire to put the country right, I must on balance accept my hon. Friend's assurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use his discretion to increase the sum to up to £200 for the kind of improvement in question.

On the basis of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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