HC Deb 04 June 1980 vol 985 cc1402-4
8. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will raise the level of house improvement grants.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

My right hon. Friend will be making changes to the present eligible expense limits for improvement grants following the enactment of the Housing Bill.

Mr. Alton

Is the Minister aware that, with raging inflation, it is becoming impossible for home owners to contemplate taking up improvement grants? Will the hon. Gentleman consider registering housing associations under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 to enable housing associations to carry out improvement work and tender in competition with private enterprise?

Mr. Finsberg

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is " No." With regard to his second question, if he will write to me I shall look at the matter.

Mr. Heddle

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that, where local authorities take up improvement grants, the work is carried out competitively, not necessarily by direct labour organisations, but by the private contracting industry? What checks can the Government provide to ensure that houses bought by local authities and subsequently sold are not sold at a loss.

Mr. Finsberg

My hon. Friend asks that local authorities should be able to decide the better method of carrying out local authority housing work. If local authorities chose to carry out those works through their own direct labour organisations, we should expect the best of them to anticipate the provisions of the Bill now before the House. When the Bill receives the Royal Assent those local authority direct labour departments that are blatantly inefficient will no longer be able to operate in a way detrimental to their ratepayers.

Mr. Frank Allaun

What is the good of raising improvement grants when the Government are busy slashing improvement and building expenditure? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that today the Environmental Health Officers' Association, formerly the Health Inspectors' Association, after replies from 300 councils, is bitterly protesting to the Secretary of State about the cutting by half of building and housing expenditure over the next three years? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that 43 per cent. of councils have either ended or severely restricted improvement grants?

Mr. Cryer

Hard-faced men of the Government.

Mr. Finsberg

Is the hon. Gentleman surprised that an organisation that was once the sanitary inspector's organisation is unhappy at what some of its local authority members are doing? We have merely told local authorities to decide the order of priority within the amount that we give them.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend agree that our existing stock of houses is a great asset to the country? Does he further agree that it is much cheaper to improve existing property than to build new property, and that the environment is protected by improving existing property? Will he therefore give a little more consideration, especially when the economic climate improves, to increasing improvement grants, which is an economically sound policy?

Mr. Finsberg

I completely agree. That is why we went to the one-block system. Local authorities that blindly decide not to give improvement grants are acting against the interests of their residents.