HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc311-2
12. Mr. Penhaligon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether all applications for home repair grants that are made to the relevant local authority by 31 March 1984 and subsequently approved will receive a 90 per cent. grant.

Sir George Young

All repair grant applications made by 31 March 1984 will continue to be eligible for the 90 per cent. maximum rate of grant now in force. The actual rate of any grant approved is at the discretion of the local authority.

Mr. Penhaligon

I assure the Minister that my constituents will be delighted with that reply. However, is he aware that one council in my constituency stopped taking applications in the second week of January this year, that another council has a waiting list of over 600, and that both councils say that they have no money? Is not the Minister's answer misleading my constituents into the belief that help exists when it does not?

Sir George Young

The reason why the councils have stopped giving the grants is not because they have no money, but because they do not know what the allocations will be next year. My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement about the HIP allocations shortly. When the local authorities have that information they will be able to consider how much to spend on home improvement grants next year and, I hope, to start reprocessing applications.

Mr. Cowans

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your assistance? How can the Minister's first reply be correct if his second reply is correct? Is he not guilty of misleading the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Such points of order merely take up the time of the House.

Mr. Hicks

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the HIP allocation for 1984–85 for those local authorities that have had to suspend approving applications during the current financial year will be sufficient to cover those on the waiting lists, 2,000 in my constituency, plus those many applications that will come in between now and 31 March 1984?

Sir George Young

We always take into account the commitments which local authorities have already entered into when deciding what the allocations will be next year. My hon. Friend has made forceful representations on behalf of his local authority and I shall try to ensure that the allocation next year not only covers the commitment but gives some leeway for the other things that local authorities want to do.

There was no inconsistency between my first and second replies. I said that applications were eligible for the 90 per cent. grant, but the local authority had discretion whether to give it. That was not inconsistent with what I subsquently said.

Mr. Concannon

The Minister must take this matter much more seriously. A local authority such as Mansfield allocates the money in the first month of the year, and the people of Mansfield know that it is a waste of time to apply for this year's grant. Will the Minister offer some advice to local authorities?

Sir George Young

It is because we take the matter seriously that last year £430 million was spent on improvement grants, compared with £90 million in the last year of the Labour Government.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend accept that repair and improvement grants are immense value for money and that they preserve our housing stock, which is cheaper and better than building new houses? Will he assure the House that the Government truly appreciate the value of improvement and repair grants, especially to towns and cities that were a part of the industrial revolution, not only because of the improvement to the housing stock, but because of the employment that it provides in the building and construction industry?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no reason why the amount spent on improvement grants next year should not be the same as the amount spent last year—£430 million—which was a record.

Mr. John Fraser

If the Department is to cut housing expenditure next year by 20 per cent., unless the Minister can confirm that all local authorities will have enough money for 90 per cent. repair and improvement grants, without cutting their new building and other programmes, he is practising a cruel hoax on tens of thousands of owner-occupiers and tens of thousands of tenants who live in premises with the minimum amenities and in the worst state of repair. Does he agree that some of the statements made by his right hon. Friend are worthy of the probity of a confidence trickster?

Sir George Young

I strongly reject the hon. Gentleman's latter assertion. I also reject the statement that he made at the beginning of his remarks. In cash terms, the provision that we have made for housing next year is comparable to that of this year.