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Improvement Grants

Volume 81: debated on Wednesday 19 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to make a statement on improvement grants for private housing in Scotland.

A comprehensive review of private sector house improvement policy in Scotland is virtually complete, and I hope to publish proposals for consultation fairly soon.

Is the Minister aware that there are 1,000 closes, that is 6,000 to 8,000 houses in Glasgow, which are subject to a section 24 order, which require immediate and urgent repairs to be carried out? Is he further aware that Glasgow district council will require £25 million extra on its budget to ensure that those improvements are carried out? Despite the fact that he is carrying out a review, will he ensure that Glasgow district council is given the money to provide more jobs in the building industry and to give people a decent home to live in?

I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I have heard those facts quoted before. I do not believe that that should have been the case, and I shall explain why. The capital allocation on the private sector non-HRA last year in Glasgow was £86·6 million, which was 50 per cent. of the Scottish total, or 11 per cent. of the Scottish total of private housing. Of those resources, £2 million was unspent, and the council chose to transfer that to its HRA block allocation rather than to augment this year's non-HRA allocation. This year the council has had about £8·5 million more than its forward commitment Indeed, the amount that has been made available to it is considerably more than its own estimate of expenditure on grants related to section 24 repairs and notices.

How does the Scottish Office justify a lower rate of housing improvement grant in Scotland than in England and Wales when more houses require improvement in Scotland and when we have a higher rate of unemployment among construction workers?

I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's question. The eligible houses in Scotland are on a much broader base than those in England. In England the eligible date is pre-1919, whereas in Scotland it is pre-1964. Obviously, considerably more houses are involved in Scotland. To suggest, as I infer from the right hon. Gentleman's question, that the Government's record on private housing is not good, is to fly in the face of the facts. During the past five years we have had 171,000 grant applications approved, compared with 41,500 approved in the previous five years under the Labour Government.

Can my hon. Friend give some indication of the scale of housing improvement grant support that the Government have provided in money terms during the past five years, and how that compares with the previous five years? Does he agree that at this stage we should be getting a better consensus between the Government and local authorities about the criteria that should be applied to improvement grant applications?

My hon. Friend asks for the figure for the past five years compared with earlier years. In cash terms, during the five years of the Labour Government £51 million was spent in this area, compared with £311 million under this Government. In real terms the Labour Government effectively spent £123 million compared with £329 million spent by this Government. Perhaps more indicative than that, is the fact that in each of the last two years this Government spent more in real terms than the Labour Government spent during their whole term of office.

On the subject of improvement grants to the private sector, will the Minister reconsider his policy for those who have had the cavity wall foam insulation process carried out in timber-framed houses, in that he will not at present allow them specific grants for it to be removed unless that process is part of a general improvement and repair process that qualifies for grant? Many of the houses in the Highlands where such work has been carried out are comparatively new, and therefore do not require other improvements. Will the Minister put pressure on the building societies, in the light of the Building Research Establishment report, not to take such a severe line on mortgages on the subsequent resale of property as a result of the process? Will the Minister reconsider his policy?

I shall obviously take account of what the hon. Gentleman said in the second part of his question. He and I have corresponded on the first part, and I have made clear to him the criteria for grants. When we publish our consultation paper, I think he will find that we are looking at the whole area of improvement grants on a much broader basis.