HC Deb 06 February 1985 vol 72 cc920-2
2. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for the future of improvement grants.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)

We intend to issue a consultation document on private sector housing improvement policy, including the future of the home improvement grant system, as soon as possible.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister recognise the great anxiety caused by the fact that many councils have already stopped giving improvement grants? The Government must produce not only a new policy, but the essential cash for councils to do this work. Will he carry out his earlier promise to the Government and resign if that cash is not forthcoming?

Mr. Gow

Not all that we read in newspapers is true. As to the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, it comes ill from a Labour Member to talk about improvement grants. During the last financial year spending on improvement grants was £900 million, compared with £90 million in the Labour Government's last year of office. In this financial year we expect — we cannot give a final figure — spending on improvement grants to be about £750 million.

Mr. Latham

When the document, which is already rather late, appears, will it address the fact that improvement work is especially labour-intensive—the most labour-intensive in the construction industry—and that it is a cost-effective way of repairing urban decay?

Mr. Gow

I agree with both parts of my hon. Friend's supplementary question.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister aware that many unemployed people who own small terraced houses in cities such as Leeds cannot find the capital sums needed to maintain their homes? Is it not within the Government's brand of Conservatism to assist a property-owning democracy? Do they realise that their schemes would become much more favourable if they made more money available for private sector grants?

Mr. Gow

The primary responsibility for maintaining and repairing a home rests with the owner of that home—

Mr. Straw

Is that what the Minister said before the election?

Mr. Gow

I wish that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen would not shout from a sedentary position, but would listen to the answer. A major part of the review of our home improvement grant policy is that we should achieve a better targeting of available resources. We shall try to ensure that resources from the public sector go to assist those who cannot afford to carry out improvements and repairs, and to the houses in the greatest need of repair.

Mr. Hargreaves

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical of Labour Members to condemn the Government's record on improvement grants when one considers that in my constituency in 1978—the last year of the Labour Government—the local authority spent £233,000 on improvement grants, and that this year it is spending £1,800,000? Does my hon. Friend further agree that unless we spend even more we shall end up building more council houses?

Mr. Gow

My hon. Friend's point is a vindication of the Government's policies and an indictment of the policies of their predecessors.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the Minister stop his smug, braggart boasting about the generosity of the election bribe of £900 million, which to many people amounts to little more than telling a man about to be executed that he is having a good breakfast? [Interruption.] It is all very well for the smug Minister to smirk as well. Does he not realise that 250,000 home owners have had applications for home improvement grants in for over a year, and that his cuts in the housing investment programmes and freezing the use of capital receipts mean that they are still waiting in anxiety and distress and are now unlikely to get their grants? This is an act of treachery by a Tory Government towards many poor and anxious owner-occupiers.

Mr. Gow

Some of that synthetic anger—

Mr. John Fraser

It is not synthetic anger. Come to my advice bureaux.

Mr. Gow

The hon. Gentleman is not the only hon. Member who has advice bureaux. When my right hon. and learned Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the exceptional measures for improvement grants in his Budget of March 1982, he made it clear to the House that it was a temporary measure, partly in response to the 1981 English house condition survey. In fact, the exceptional measures for improvement grants were twice extended beyond the period that my right hon. and learned Friend had originally announced.