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Homes Insulation Scheme

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 29 January 1981

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that difficulties are being encountered by local authorities in administering the Homes Insulation Scheme 1980.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I assume the Question addresses itself to the availability of funds, in which case the position is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment recently allocated £24·6 million to authorities for grants under the scheme in 1981–82, an increase of 30 per cent. in real terms on 1980–81.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I recognise that the majority of the excess was, of course, for the special needs and I compliment the Minister on that. But would he agree that the success of his department's advertising campaign has encouraged more applicants than can be provided with a grant from the money made available for local authorities to distribute?

Yes, my Lords; I think that that is a fair observation. It is one of the reasons why we have allocated more money this time than we did previously.

My Lords, the Minister says that more money has been allocated this time than previously, but can he say whether, in view of the heavy restrictions on public expenditure, especially that of local authorities, he is satisfied that in every authority those people in special need are getting what they are entitled to under the legislation? Secondly—and I do not expect an answer to this question now—can he say how the ways in which local authorities are dealing with those who are not in special need, but for whom home insulation is very important, vary in different parts of the country? I remind the Minister, although I am sure he knows it, that this scheme also is an economy because it is a method of energy conservation.

Yes, my Lords, it is a method of energy conservation and it is also a matter of great importance. I think that we have shown that we feel that way about it by the introduction of the home insulation scheme which we introduced in 1980 with the various adjust- ments. I cannot tell the noble Baroness the position in each authority, because I just do not know what that is. But if at any time she, or any other of your Lordships, would like to bring to my notice any particular areas where there is a problem, we would always be glad to look at them.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us the average length of time between the application for a grant and its receipt?

My Lords, I cannot give the exact time, but I can say that the time lag between applications being made for an allocation and the firm application for the grant itself has been one of the problems that have caused administrative difficulties. That is why we have now introduced what we call the four-month rule whereby if you apply and are given an allocation but do not take it up within four months, the money is made available elsewhere.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us, although we know that there are financial constraints on local government, still hope that the Government will continue educating the public? I hope that the noble Lord, and the department which he represents so well here, will agree that when the public want something they are half way towards getting it?

My Lords, in that respect, is the Minister satisfied about the extent to which this scheme is being publicised? Can he give the House some idea of the steps which the Government are taking to publicise it?—because many of us must fear that a great many people do not know the details, or possibly even of the existence of the scheme.

My Lords, there is a current advertising campaign to give publicity to what is available, and we are continuing with that campaign. If the noble Lord would like me to let him have details of the whole of the spending and of the direction in which it is going, I would be very glad to let him have them.

My Lords, in view of the need to conserve energy and to obviate the difficulty that the Government might be accused of misleading advertisement, may I ask whether I heard correctly that the Minister said that if there are local authorities which have waiting lists of applicants who want to benefit under the scheme, he would give consideration to them?

No, my Lords; what I said was that if anyone wishes to draw to my attention any authority which is in particular difficulty at present, I would be glad to take the matter up.