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Local Authorities (Discretionary Grants To The Disabled)

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

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3.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to raise the upper limit on rateable value of premises above which grants may not be made for the adaptation of the premises to meet the needs of disabled persons; and to empower local authorities at their discretion to make grants within the raised limit.
The purpose of the Bill is simple, and I shall not detain the House for more than a very short time. At the moment, a local authority is barred from giving a discretionary grant for the improvement of a dwelling in which a disabled person is living by the installation of ramps, lifts and so on if the rateable value of that owner-occupied house is over £175. The local authority can give a small grant of up to £255. In this day and age, however, inflation having taken place to the extent that it has, that grant can achieve little in meeting the needs of the disabled.

Several cases in my constituency which have been brought to my attention show that there is a need for this matter to be looked at yet again. What is needed is for discretion to be given to local authorities to raise that limit.

Is it not a pity that neither Department is represented in the Chamber?

Order. It is not customary to interrupt during a Ten Minutes Rule application.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for interrupting and drawing the attention of the House to the fact that—I am quite certain through pressing business—Ministers in the Departments concerned are not present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Bring them here. Where are they?"] I am sure that they have pressing needs elsewhere. But I have been in correspondence with the Minister with responsibility for the disabled and he has said that he will support this proposal. The hon. Gentleman agrees that a change is needed in the existing law—Section 61 of the Housing Act 1974.

As I have said, all that is needed is for discretion to be given to the local authority, particularly in hardship cases, to raise the rateable value limit under which a worthwhile grant can be given to an owner-occupier who is looking after a disabled person, be it wife, husband, child or someone else who is living with him. I suggest that the limit should be put up to £1,600. That would be a realistic and sufficient figure. The Under-Secretary has signified to me that he would be prepared to support the application, as would, I understand, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I shall not detain the House longer. I know that there is important business to be discussed. I concluded by hoping that this proposal will be acceptable to the House.

My local authority, the West Derbyshire District Council, has had several hardship cases which, unfortunately, it has been unable to help. No one else in Derbyshire can help either, because the social services have run out of money. I am sure that this situation applies in many constituencies throughout the United Kingdom. Therefore, I hope that the House will give me permission to bring in the Bill to give this discretion to local councils.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Ministers responsible for the matter covered by my hon. Friend's Ten-Minute Bill have not even bothered to come to the House to listen. Are there any means by which you can notify Ministers whose departmental responsibilities are being discussed that they should be present during debates on the subjects for which they are responsible? Otherwise, it makes a mockery of our proceedings. There is no point in Parliament raising or discussing matters if those who are in a position to take action are not present at least to listen, let alone to respond.

There is a growing malpractice that, when a Ten-Minute Bill or any other matter is discussed, the Minister responsible does not even bother to come along to listen. How else can the Minister be responsible to this House or discharge its business?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection that last week we debated certain problems relating to the disabled. Indeed, you may remember that I came in for a fair amount of flak, if I may so describe it, from Government supporters who somehow considered that it was an insult to their sense of compassion that I should raise a question of interest to the disabled. Does it not compound the offence when, my hon. Friend having raised an important matter, not one Minister from either of the two Departments concerned has the courtesy to turn up and listen to what he had to say.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) have made their points in their points of order. But I take the opportunity to remind the House that many courtesies that we have observed for years in this House are in danger of disappearing. I believe that we shall be the poorer if that happens.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Scott-Hopkins, Mr. Maurice Macmillan, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Ralph Howell, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. George Park, Mr. David Price, Miss Betty Boothroyd, Mr. George Young, Mr. R. C. Mitchell and Mr. Emlyn Hooson.

Local Authorities (Discretionary Grants To The Disabled)

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins accordingly presented a Bill to raise the upper limit on rateable value of premises above which grants may not be made for the adaptation of the premises to meet the needs of disabled persons; and to empower local authorities at their discretion to make grants within the raised limit: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20th May and to be printed. [Bill 115.]