HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1179-80

In section 10A of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 (repairs grant), after subsection (5) there shall be added the following subsection—

"(6) References in this section to a house shall, in relation to an application made under this section for a grant in respect of works which are to rectify defects specified in a notice under section 24(1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1969, be construed as including references to premises other than a house; but where such an application relates to such premises—

  1. (a) the local authority shall not, under subsection (2) above, approve the application unless they are satisfied that the premises form part of a building which contains a house or houses and that house or, as the case may be, all these houses will provide satisfactory housing accommodation as mentioned in that subsection;
  2. (b) subsection (4) above shall be construed as if the reference in it to each house were a reference to each of the premises other than a house; and
  3. (c) subsection (5) above shall be construed as if the enactments excepted by that subsection included sections 3(2) to (5), 9(1), (2), (6), (8) and (9) and 10 of this Act".'.—[Mr. Allan Stewart.]

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I did not really want to speak to amendment No. 187. The only justification for linking the amendments is their relationship to the end of schedule 3.

The Minister has been rather cursory in proposing this important amendment. It is unfair that a matter of such importance should be dragged in at the tail end of the consideration of a Bill withwhich it has no connection. This has been done for convenience only, and it is a shame that the matter should have to be dealt with at this time of the night. It deserves much more study than we shall be prepared to give it tonight.

Am I right in assuming that the amendment extends the provisions that apply to houses to commercial properties, including shops? If that is so, am I right in thinking that discretion lies with the local authority to use the powers that will be provided? What are the amounts of grant that can be paid, and will there be an income test? I want to protect my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), because when he is a Minister he might have to argue against some of the things for which he is arguing now. We should not rush to accept the theory of giving improvement grants to commercial properties without much more study of the matter.

We are going along the road of giving repair grants to commercial interests without providing a definition. Will there be an income test, or will discretion lie entirely with the local authority? Will there be grounds for appeal if the local authority decides in certain circumstances that it will not provide a grant? What is the total cost likely to be for local authorities, bearing in mind the strictures that we have had today about containing public expenditure? Has any attempt been made to cost this scheme, and what will be the burden on the Government? I assume that this has been done with the blessing and consent of COSLA, the SSHA and housing associations.

Am I right in assuming that this proposal has nothing to do with the funds of housing associations? If any expenditure is involved, will it be for the district authority and the Government to meet it? I have recollections of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor)—when he had ministerial responsibilities he was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart—complaining bitterly about the thought of giving public money to commercial undertakings that had not proved need. As we are accepting a rather unusual principle from the Government, who believe in monetarist policies and who do not want to subsidise lame ducks, I think that we should have more information from the Minister than we have had so far.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I am glad to have the opportunity to spell out the provisions in rather more detail. I accept what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said about the importance of the general problem. This is a limited change, which I hope the House will welcome. It is limited to repair grants. A research study has been undertaken and we hope to publish its findings in September. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman said about improvement grants and commercial properties. That is something that has been raised with me by representatives of the housing association movement. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) rightly said, a range of issues will not be affected by the limited change that we have been able to bring forward.

I can confirm to the hon. Member for Provan that these are discretionary grants, except in cases subject to a repairs notice, where the grant will be mandatory. I can also confirm that the grants are subject to a needs test.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about consultation with COSLA. We have not had consultations on this matter, although I believe that they would be welcomed.

Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Queen's Park)

I am interested to hear the Minister talk about a needs test. I was not aware of that in the context of the letter that he wrote concerning small shopkeepers in my area. How will the test work? Is the discretionary factor intended to ensure that banks, betting shops and others do not make use of public money when they do not need it? I shall be interested to hear how the Minister will assess need.

Mr. Stewart

We are talking about an existing system which is being applied to particular owners who do not receive the benefit offered at present. We are talking in the context of tenement property. There is no fundamental change to the system. We are talking of a limited change. I hope that it will be welcomed.

Mr. McElhone


The Deputy Speaker

I think that the Minister has sat down.

Mr. McElhone

May I prevail upon the Minister?

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister has sat down. I must, therefore, put the Question.

Amendment agreed to.

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