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of the community, hence the mention of value for money to the taxpayer and the Exchequer in the new clause. I am not looking for a new pot of gold to spread around.

The new clause is another way of considering a problem that all hon. Members have experienced and provides another way of tackling it, given the financial and human cost involved. In that spirit I commend it to the House.

Mr. Trippier : I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on the amount of research that he has done. I confess that I found much of his speech compelling.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was unaware that I was once leader of Rochdale authority. Although I appreciate that it comes up with some innovative schemes, it was a darned sight better when it was Tory controlled. The hon. Gentleman would expect me to say that, but it does not detract from the main thrust of his argument. I should like to take away and study the hon. Gentleman's proposal. If he is prepared to do so, I am anxious to have a meeting with him. If he will seek leave to withdraw the new clause, we shall ascertain whether it is necessary to introduce further legislation, perhaps in another place.

Mr. Rooker : Had I known that the Minister had served on Rochdale authority, and had I foreseen his response, I might not have made my kind comments about Rochdale.

When I was a Front-Bench spokesman, I said that both Tory and Labour authorities were involved. The client is the community, not the officers or councillors. It is not a question of what we give people. Those days have gone. If people who hold such beliefs are hidden away in little corners of the country, the sooner their beliefs are swept away the better.

I am more than happy to meet the Minister to discuss the scheme in more detail. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 83

Duty to publish information

Mr. Matthew Taylor : I beg to move amendment No. 215, in page 81, line 29, after shall', insert

provide information, advice and assistance to individual house holders and shall'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 190, in page 81, line 31, at end insert--

(3) The Secretary of State shall consult with such representatives of local authorities as he sees fit prior to making any determination under paragraph (2) above.'.

Mr. Taylor : The amendment seeks to provide information, advice and assistance to individual householders. In Committee, the Government resisted a similar amendment to include specific mention in the Bill of the provision of free information, advice and assistance for householders in renewal areas wishing to improve their homes. The Government's view then was that in some circumstances local authorities could properly charge "some people" for certain services. They said that clause 83 placed a duty on local authorities to publish information about assistance available for carrying out works in the area and that clause 141 empowered local authorities to provide money, if necessary, to enable others

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such as the National Home Improvement Council to offer advice and assistance to home owners. On that basis, the Government concluded that the amendment was unnecessary. I am not convinced of that, and the National Home Improvement Council also is not convinced. Directly comparable experience in NHIC renewal area projects shows clearly that the provision of free information, advice and assistance is a crucial element in encouraging both the least well off and those ineligible for financial assistance due to means testing to take part in a community-wide improvement project.

Such assistance is not best given by simply producing leaflets, publishing booklets or lodging plans or proposals in town halls or libraries. There is a real need for face-to-face contact on a daily basis and for those responsible for the renewal area to be on hand and readily accessible to the residents, and preferably to be located in the area itself. It is not enough for unrelated parts of the Bill to give powers for such a service to be provided. The requirement for assistance should be clearly stated in the proposals dealing with the renewal areas, with references to those clauses which provide the necessary powers. The provision of advice has to be an integral part of the renewal area concept if it is to work properly. Frankly, I would rather no charges were made, but the suggestion of charging should be considered only in the most extreme circumstances. It should be the exception rather than the rule.

I accept, as the Minister may argue, that Department of the Environment guidance circulars may incorporate those points, but those circulars are subject to change with the passage of time. If the Government's intent is as clear as the Minister suggested in Committee, there is no reason not to incorporate specific provisions in the Bill for local authorities to provide information, advice and assistance, as suggested in the amendment. The amendment is not a radical departure but what the Minister says that he would like to see happening, so it is presumably not an expensive change. The amendment seeks merely to ensure that the Bill will achieve what the Minister says that he hopes will happen anyway. I hope that the Minister will accept the intent of the amendment.

Mr. Trippier : In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), I am prepared to look at the amendment again. Before I understood what lay behind the amendment, my initial response was that the clause was drafted deliberately so widely and so flexibly that the hon. Gentleman ought to leave the matter wholly to the local authorities themselves to determine how best to inform their tenants. Any Government in these circumstances cannot win. On the one hand, we are accused of interfering too much. On the other hand, we have been accused today by the hon. Gentleman of not interfering enough. So it goes on, and I suppose that it will never end.

I find little to quarrel with in the wording of the amendment, but I wonder whether I can persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it as I am prepared to meet him to see whether we can achieve something. We will give guidance, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I am always reluctant to include more provisions on the face of the Bill telling local authorities what they should do, but perhaps some form of compromise can be reached.

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Mr. Taylor : I welcome the Minister's comments. In view of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 89

Part VIII of Housing Act 1985

Amendment proposed : No. 163 in page 85, line 28, at end insert-- (4A) In the application of section 245 of the Housing Act 1985 (contributions by Secretary of State towards expenditure of local housing authorities relating to environmental works in housing action areas) in relation to expenditure--

(a) which was incurred on or after 14th June 1989, and

(b) in respect of which no contribution under that section was paid before the appointed day,

for subsection (2) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsection--

"(2) In the case of any expenditure, the contribution

(a) shall be equal to one-half of the amount of the expenditure ; and

(b) shall be payable in one sum or by two or more instalments, according as the Secretary of State may determine."

(4B) In the application of section 259 of the Housing Act 1985 (contributions by Secretary of State towards expenditure of local housing authorities relating to general improvement areas) in relation to expenditure--

(a) which was incurred on or after 14th June 1989, and

(b) in respect of which no contribution under that section was paid before the appointed day,

for subsection (2) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsection--

"(2) In the case of any expenditure, the contribution

(a) shall be equal to one-half of the amount of the expenditure ; and

(b) shall be payable in one sum or by two or more instalments, according as the Secretary of State may determine.".'.-- [Mr. Trippier.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to consider Government amendments No. 164 and No. 165.

Mr. Rooker : I want to make a few points about the amendments as they affect clause 89. My only case for raising this is the inter-reaction between the winding-up of housing action areas and the beginning of the housing renewal areas as outlined in clause 89. I want to make a plea about central Handsworth in my constituency. In central Handsworth, in Charles and Turville housing action areas, hundreds of homes remain untouched to this day. They are oases of disrepair and dilapidation surrounded by a sea of improved housing. They have always been left to the end of all the other improvement schemes, because they are the most difficult to improve due to the design and tenure mix. Just as Birmingham city council, through the urban renewal department and with Department of Environment approval, got going on improvements, along came clause 89.

8.45 pm

I am aware that zone 1 of the Charles housing action area will start in a few weeks--or I hope it will. I am told by officials in Birmingham that it is possible to rejig the housing action area into a housing renewal area for central Handsworth. Obviously, it would be done after today's date, as outlined in Government amendment No. 163. I hope that the Minister will answer the key question : if

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Birmingham local authority puts in a plan for central Handsworth by 1 April, will the Department of the Environment agree it and fund it?

I want to describe a little of the background to the Minister because it is crucial. I must point out that few Conservative Members of Parliament represent inner cities. They sometimes talk from briefings about the inner cities as though every inner city consisted of council housing and tower blocks. It is not like that, as people discovered four years ago when we had the disturbances in part of central Handsworth. I politely took the Home Secretary and others on one side, and the press less politely, and pointed out that the vast majority of homes in the area were owner-occupied and that the others were owned by bodies other than the local authority.

In Charles action area, owner-occupancy is 47 per cent., housing associations account for 39 per cent., the local authority for less than 5 per cent. and private landlords for 9.5 per cent. In Turville, 48 per cent. of homes are housing association properties. They are almost housing association estates--not the same housing association, because there are two large associations and four or five smaller ones. Some would claim that they are sink estates, such is the extent of the dilapidation. I know that money has been put in, but the properties are not good.

Worse still, one or more housing associations--and I will not give names because I have the information second-hand from the local authority--in inner Birmingham are about to pull out of rehabilitation work, which goes against the grain of the purpose for which the associations were set up, mainly as a result of the new financial regime.

The council could be putting together an alternative to what is presently proposed for central Handsworth but it could not go ahead because of clause 89. There are about 880 homes there. Of those, 43 per cent. are owner- occupied, 42 per cent. are owned by housing associations, 5.3 per cent. by local authorities, only 6 per cent. by private landlords and an odd 3 per cent. floating around which is "others or commercial". Of the homes, 80 per cent. were built before 1919. One of the reasons why the area is always left to the end is not only because the tenure and design mix is all over the place, but because 13.5 per cent. of the properties have rateable value above £225. Many years before I was born, the houses in that part of the city had quarters for servants. Judges used to live there and carriages used to arrive there. The rateable values there are high, compared with the generality. When housing improvement schemes of such a size come up against such rateable value limits, that presents difficulties.

Unemployment in that area is running at 45 per cent. Furthermore, the Minister and I are in the ethnic minority, which comprises 32 per cent. of the population. Pensioner owner-occupiers comprise 18 per cent. of the population of the area.

My constituents in that part of central Handsworth need a copper-bottomed guarantee that their treatment up to now as third-class citizens in relation to housing improvements will cease. When the consequences of the Bill became apparent to them earlier in the year there was much anger in the area. There are unscrupulous people in places such as central Handsworth who seek to exploit for other reasons the fear and the anger of the people that they would not have their houses improved. By and large, I use every opportunity to ensure that my constituents know that their cases can be raised legally and peacefully here in

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the House of Commons and in the Birmingham city council house and that there is no reason for taking any other action that other people might propose. I promised hundreds of angry constituents that one way or another I would raise their concerns about the Bill and try to put across their case for the equal treatment that is their right. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give me the assurances that I am seeking.

When, in an Adjournment debate on 14 July 1987--just after the general election--I raised the specific issue of the Charles and Turville housing action areas, the then Minister, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), gave a fairly helpful reply and subsequently agreed to visit the area. However, in the event, the declaration of the Charles housing action area was made and the Minister then saw no useful purpose in the visit.

It is quite clear--this has been notified officially--that because of the provisions of the Bill, the declaration of the Turville housing action area and of the Willmore, Wellington and Wellhead housing action areas which are close by will not be made. Therefore, some time between now and, say, the end of the long recess, I am asking the Minister to pay a short visit to the area to see it for himself. His regional office knows that is a difficult area because of some of the factors that I have explained. It would be useful if the Minister could see it for himself. In view of the Bill's effects on the area and of the fact that there appears to be a setback in the progress of improving those properties, my request for a visit is thoroughly reasonable and justified and I hope that the Minister will accede to that some time later this year.

Mr. Trippier : I am anxious to take up the kind invitation that the hon. Member for Perry Barr has extended to me and to pay an official visit to his constituency. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I genuinely believe that, as a result of his two most recent contributions, he deserves all the local publicity that he can get. I mean that sincerely, because I know that his purpose is to assist those people whom he is so anxious to represent.

However, the straightforward answer is that not only is it possible to transfer from a housing action area to a housing renewal area, but for those that are determined, acceptable and in the pipeline, it would be advantageous for them to do so. Therefore, I do not see any difficulty in giving the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. If I can pay the so- called official visit sooner rather than later, perhaps we can do whatever we can to improve the situation and the lives of the people living in those areas.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made : No. 164, in page 85, line 29, leave out subsections (1) to (3) above'

and insert

the preceding provisions of this section'.-- [Mr. Trippier.]

Clause 92

Grants for improvements and repairs

Amendments made : No. 39, in page 86, line 26, leave out where the improvement, repair or provision is to be by' and insert

if the person who would otherwise qualify as the applicant for the grant is'.

No. 40, in page 86, line 42, after conversion)', insert

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other than section 523 thereof (assistance for provision of separate service pipe for water supply)'.-- [Mr. Trippier.]

Schedule 11

Enactments Repealed

Amendment made : No. 41, in page 204, line 5, column 3, leave out 526' and insert--


Sections 524 to 526.'.-- [Mr. Trippier.]

Clause 95

The interest of the applicant in the property

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : I beg to move amendment No. 191, in page 88, line 4, at end insert


(d) in the case of an application for a renovation grant to improve a dwelling, the applicant is a tenant to whom Section 79 of the Housing Act 1985 applies.'.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that council tenants continue to be eligible for grants to improve their homes. Earlier today, the Minister said that he believed that his Government had done well by tenants. However, that is not the case with this part of the Bill.

The Government's position is indefensible. It was a Conservative Government who introduced the right for council tenants to get grants as part of their "tenants' charter" in 1980. Similarly, that right is now contained in section 463 of the Housing Act 1985. The Minister will remember that his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) said in Committee that she believed that responsibility for essential repairs and improvements rested with the landlord, not with the tenant. That clearly argues against council tenants having the right to improve, and takes away the individual freedom of council tenants to decide for themselves to what extent they want their property to be improved in a situation when, because of Government cuts, their landlord may not be in a position to help. Later during the Committee stage, at column 1052, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West stated :

"No, it is not right It would not be right for council tenants to be eligible for grants".

We know that housing association tenants will be eligible for grants although council tenants will not. The Government are taking away a right that they granted as recently as 1980 and which they confirmed in 1985.

In Committee the Minister also said :

"we have made it abundantly clear that we expect local authorities to make proper provision so there is no difficulty."-- [Official Report, Standing Committee G ; 25 April 1989, c. 1052-53.] The Minister may say that there is no difficulty, but Exchequer subsidies to local authorities have been cut from £1,393 million in 1980-81 to just £496 million in 1988-89. Local authorities' HIP allocations have been reduced from £5,266 million in 1978-79 to £1, 127 million in 1988-89.

If owners can improve and renovate with a grant, council tenants should be able to do exactly the same. The amendment does not extend to essential repairs. This is a debate about principles and about the Government yet again taking away a right that is enjoyed by council tenants.

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Mr. Trippier : Although I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) has moved the amendment, we went around that course many times in Committee. The hon. Gentleman quoted my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), accurately although his earlier quote may have been from myself. However, what he said about the Committee stage was absolutely true. If the amendment were to be accepted, it would mean that we would be giving preferential treatment to those in public sector housing as opposed to those in the private sector. That would never do. Even when a Labour Government were in power, they pursued a policy of housing improvement grants available in the private sector.

The whole purpose of the first GIAs that were set up in my own ward by Richard Crossman was to concentrate a considerable amount of funding on private sector stock through housing improvement grants. That is the sort of thing that we are continuing.

The new housing finance regime that we are introducing in the Bill for the public housing sector is expressly designed to tackle the problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified.

Renovation grants are essentially concerned with the repair and improvement of private sector stock. Local authorities and other public sector bodies have other sources of funding with which to meet their responsibilities as landlords. I accept that we could debate that issue at some length on a political platform, because the hon. Member for Torfaen would argue that we have cut the HIP allocation, and we would say that we have increased the amount of capital money available through the increased amount of money made available through the right to buy. That debate would go on endlessly. We have had many opportunities to debate that in the past and no doubt we will again in the future.

In the part of the Bill that we are now discussing, the housing improvement grants are specifically targeted at the private sector. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) wants that to continue, and so do I. I hope that, if the hon. Member for Torfaen will not withdraw the amendment, my hon. Friends will oppose it. Amendment negatived.

Clause 99

Owner-occupiers and tenants

9 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I beg to move amendment No. 317, in page 91, line 2, after then', insert subject to the exclusions by virtue of subsection (4) below'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : No. 193, in page 91, line 23, at end insert-- (4) This section does not apply where the application for a grant is made--

(a) by a person over pensionable age ; or

(b) for a disabled facilities grant ; or

(c) by any other person as determined by the Secretary of State.'. No. 318, in clause 99, page 91, line 23, at end insert

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(4) No evaluation shall be made of the financial resources of an applicant in respect of a disabled facilities grant or of an applicant for a renovation grant when a member of the applicant's household is a disabled person.'.

No. 195, in clause 104, page 95, line 26, at end insert (3A) If an application for a grant has been approved, the authority is satisfied that, owing to circumstances beyond the control of any person described in section 97(3) their income, assets, needs or outgoings have changed, the authority may increase the amount of the grant.'.

Mr. Morris : As you have indicated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, amendment No. 317, which I now move, is closely linked to amendment No. 318 and other amendments in the group.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) very much wanted to speak in this debate, but cannot do so for unavoidable reasons. Amendments Nos. 317 and 318 have their total backing, which strongly underlines the all-party nature of the amendments. They are very much the amendments, in fact, of the all-party disablement group in the House of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is the chairman and the hon. Member for Exeter, who raised on Second Reading, the problem the two amendments address, is the secretary.

This is a very important series of amendments, well deserving both of maximum public attention and support from both sides of the House. In support of amendments Nos. 317 and 318, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has said :

"While we recognise the desirability of directing financial assistance to those in greatest need and agree that the current rateable value limit is an inaccurate means for its achievement, we are not convinced that a test of resources based upon that devised for housing benefit is appropriate for assessing the requirement for a renovation grant."

Housing benefit can be changed as the circumstances of the applicant change, but an assessment of resources for home improvement may lead to considerable long-term financial commitment by the applicant. In many cases a household's circumstances are likely to change as, for example, when it includes a number of single adult children--non-dependants--who may well leave home before a loan for home improvements has been paid off.

The royal association accepts that renovation grants for general house repairs and modernisation of properties occupied by disabled people should be subject to the same test of resources as other households. They strongly insist, however, that any benefits arising from disability, such as mobility and attendance allowances, should be disregarded.

In some cases there may be a temporary accumulation of these benefits. Mobility allowance may be saved to purchase a car or a powered outdoor wheelchair. Attendance allowance may be put on one side to assist with the cost of respite care or back payment of delayed benefits may have been received for which there has been a long-standing need. Such sums should very clearly not be considered along with other savings.

The royal association can see no reason for the complete reversal of the Government's proposal in the November 1987 consultation paper that

" for adaptation work, however, applicants will not be subject to a test of resources".

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Nor can many other national organisations of and for disabled people that I have heard from in anticipation of the debate see any justification of the Government's volte-face.

Peter Large, CBE, whose work for people with disabilities, in the service of the Disablement Income Group and many other national organisations, is so widely respected on both sides of the House, has also drawn attention to the Government's abandonment of the proposal set out in the consultation paper. He states :

"If disability is acquired during the course of a working life and if it is so great as to require expensive adaptations to a house, the vast majority of those affected will suffer a significant financial loss when they become disabled. The same will be true in the case of a disabled dependant."

It must be remembered that the disabled applicants, or dependants, will probably spend the rest of their lives disabled. Few if any will be able to look forward to employment as a means of making good whatever they are forced to spend on adaptation.

Those with savings at the time when they become disabled can only look forward to seeing any savings they may have steadily depleted, having to spend them on aids and equipment not supplied through the NHS, on all minor and major repairs around the house, on upkeep of the garden, and on helping offset some of the extra costs of daily living as a disabled person. If the disability occurs before a person reaches working age, he or she is unlikely to be adversely affected by a means test, but many with a disabled dependant could be affected.

The recent survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys shows that the incomes of people with disabilities are substantially below those of the rest of the population ; that only 31 per cent. of people with disabilities under pension age were in paid work compared with 69 per cent. of the general population ; that the earnings of those who have jobs are substantially below those of non-disabled employees and decrease further with increasing severity of disability ; that 4.5 million disabled adults live in households in which there are no earners ; that three quarters of disabled adults are forced to rely on state benefits as their main source of income, with an average total income of only £65.20 a week ; and that the overall average income among all disabled people was only £82.20 a week. Means testing will, therefore, not save much money but would add to the severe financial stress that accompanies disability for most disabled people, not least owner-occupiers. In the circumstances, means testing hardly seems appropriate or cost-effective. It is particularly inappropriate when the proposed test of means is based on scales established for non-disabled people whose financial position is likely to improve, as opposed to disabled people whose financial position is likely to deteriorate.

While other people are rightly concerned about the greenhouse effect, an increasing number of disabled people have to worry about the "workhouse effect" of the Government's policies for social security, as the facts given by the OPCS so dramatically show. The purpose of amendment No. 193 is to exempt pensioners, as well as applicants for a disabled facilities grant, from the means-testing provisions of the clause. Exemptions would help target grants where they are most needed. The Government's aim in introducing these changes is better to target grants on those who need them most. Successive house condition surveys have shown that

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