HC Deb 12 April 1978 vol 947 cc1376-8
7. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the operation of the home improvement scheme.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I should like to see better progress generally, accompanied by a greater switch of resources to deal with the worst of the improvable houses. The alterations in the grants structure proposed in the housing Green Paper are designed to help in achieving these objectives.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my hon. Friend agree that, welcome though the extension of the scheme has been, it has not helped the large number of people who live in the most inadequate of housing, such as those of my constituents in Ormskirk and Lathom, who do not have main drainage or main sewerage and are not able to take advantage of the home improvement scheme?

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a need to extend the scheme to cover these basic amenities, or, indeed, to provide resources from the Government so that people can get drainage and sewerage mains fitted before they go on to make improvements with the aid of the home improvement scheme?

Mr. Armstrong

I am most anxious to help those who live in houses in conditions which most of us would find completely unacceptable, and to see that resources are directed to the houses in most desperate need, in order to rescue them. I take on board what my hon. Friend says and will certainly have a look at the position.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is the Minister satisfied that the public expenditure White Paper envisages a decline in expenditure on home improvement in the next two years? Would it not be more sensible to divert expenditure from programmes such as municipalisation in order to help with rehabilitation and home improvement?

Mr. Armstrong

If the hon. Gentleman will look carefully at the White Paper on cash limits, and so on, which was issued yesterday, he will find that that is not correct. I would regard as a very worthwhile exercise in public expenditure the diversion of resources to the houses that are really in most desperate need of the basic amenities from a social point of view, giving families a chance to live in decent conditions, as well as rescuing old houses and preventing them from becoming slums.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will my hon. Friend, in spite of what the Government have done for the first-time home buyer, do something about the young couple who buy very old property and find that they have great difficulty in getting a second option mortgage when they want to improve that property? Will he do more for them than he is doing at the present time?

Mr. Armstrong

This, indeed, is one of the aims that we had in our proposals for repairs, and so on. These are the very people who would be helped most.

Mr. Rossi

Will the Minister consider complaints that are now being received that the qualifying rateable value levels are far too low and exclude many people who would like to improve their own homes? Does he agree that the conditions and restrictions imposed by some local authorities—in particular, in respect of additional works to be done to houses—while they may be a counsel of perfection are nevertheless unrealistic and deter many people who have not the extra money?

Mr. Armstrong

The cost limits and rateable value limits have been raised recently, but we are anxious to make sure that resources go where they are most desperately needed. We continually review these matters, as we do the attitudes of local authorities, but it is not for us to dictate. We make suggestions from time to time that more flexibility should be accepted.