Previous Section Home Page

Column 579

no longer active. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will have discussions with banks about whether some of those moneys can be applied to effective purposes.

That brings me to what is essentially a legal point--the so-called cy-pres doctrine. If one charity is no longer applicable or appropriate, the activity can be transferred to another. It is important that we interpret that widely and make the very best use of those funds. Just as over- regulation is a danger, slack money that is not being used is an insult to the donors and the rest of society. There are certain philosophical points in relation to charities. In the experience of our all-party group, and more generally, interest in charities cuts across party lines and is in no sense a matter of ideology between us. There might be few occasions on which I would wish to share a platform with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), but a charitable occasion might bring us together. We have many things in common in the House, and charities are among the strongest. We pay into and encourage our local charities, and that is an important part of our role as parliamentarians.

Equally, we share an interest in avoiding fraud on private funds that are given, or public funds that are added, to charity. Part of the area of fraud is street collections, but it is unfair to use that as a stick to beat the commissioners because local authorities often authorise collections, and the police should deal with local offences of people collecting money. It is particularly offensive when money is given by the generosity of ordinary people and is then pinched. It is important for us to take steps to regulate that area.

I could have discussed other aspects of abuse in relation to the structure of charities, but I will mention only two points of concern. The first is political activities. That area is well set out in the White Paper, and there is a reasonably acceptable balance. There will be areas of controversy, and they will appear when we see the scrutiny report. I regard the structure and approach that is set out--it is also included by the commissioners in their notes of guidance--as sensible.

The second aspect is that of certain kinds of religious cults. That is better treated by administrative means than by up-ending the whole system of the definition of charities. We could have done more in the past, in effect by saying that they are breaking the trusts for which they have been established. That should be explored before we use the sledgehammer of defining the unacceptable in legislation. The danger of defining the unacceptable is that we may also exclude some of the acceptable.

In terms of the role of charities, which is strictly the subject of this debate, it is clear that, however generous Government provision is and however important is the welfare state and the social budget, charities still have a role. There are few voices, even on the Left of politics, who now say that charities are in some sense a blot on the welfare state or are inappropriate in a modern society. Charities score by their greater flexibility. Anything we do and anything that is set out in legislation for implementation by officials must be done by defined rules, and that is now increasingly subject to judicial review. A Minister's decision, even if made with the best of intentions, which tends to favour one citizen over another, is almost bound to be flawed. It is better in cases of discretion to use the charitable vehicle, where the trustees can make their decisions quietly and responsibly on the basis of their judgment.

Column 580

It is significant, although there are no external charitable funds available to the trust, to record that in the aid to haemophiliacs, which I welcome, the Government have chosen the discretionary vehicle of the independent Macfarlane Trust rather than trying to hold it within the decisions of Government.

The most important point about charity is that it taps generosity well beyond taxpayer funding. Taxpayers may resent paying more, but few citizens are not prepared to put their hands in their pockets to some extent. Although it will be a matter for debate later, perhaps after the Budget, the more that the Government can be seen to encourage this the better. If the Government put in a bit by various means and if that is added to by the private citizen, the available resources will be increased.

It should be remembered that the contribution of the individual citizen is not restricted to cash. Anyone with experience of charities of all sorts realised that. To use the words of Christian stewardship, we are talking about time, talents and abilities. People are contributing the sweat of their brow for nothing, and that is extremely important.

That brings me to the final argument for charity, which is that it is as good for the donor as it is for the donee. It is good for people not to think that they have discharged their obligations when they have paid their taxes and kept the law, but to see what else they can do for the public good. As a Conservative, I believe that there is no clash between private enterprise, the coming together of individuals for their own profit but, because of the market system, serving the public, and what they do by means of private enterprise for the public good through charitable and public activities. I believe that people can identify much more readily with something in which they participate as volunteers and in which they have played a part rather than by being pressed men through the tax system or Government regulation.

An area of controversy--I have the privilege of being a member of the Committee that is considering the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, and I shall raise the matter in the Committee when it is appropriate to do so--is that we are bringing back to the Health Service the support of charitable fund raising and charitable activities generally. In my locality we have seen the acceleration of an accident and emergency department, which has been paid for by local fund raising. The cost has been about £600,000. In Northampton, which is on another edge of my constituency, a scanner has been provided at a slightly higher cost. These efforts have very much involved the local communities. My only concern is that in some sense NHS activities of this sort displace other funding. All of us with experience of these matters know that from time to time charities over-harvest the ground and there is no more. It is sometimes better to wait until another time or for another purpose.

In charity, we define our own view of humanity. We say something about ourselves as well as the people who we are trying to help. I do not think that it is appropriate for us in this Chamber to examine the motives of individual donors or to be sure what they could have been many centuries before. We all have mixed motives. Perhaps we are all uncertain about where we are going. It would seem that, in the activity of charity, which is of central importance, and growing importance, we bring together two great factors. There is human need, which continues, and human potential, which is great. We can fuse them and

Column 581

meet the need through the potential that then exists. That is the true message of charity, and I think that it goes somewhere towards being the true message of Christmas.

7.9 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : With the leave of the House, I shall respond.

I greatly enjoyed listening to the wide-ranging and

thought-provoking speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). He has a distinguished interest in charity matters, and as chairman of the all-party group on charity law he, with other members of the group, has given considerable advice and help to the Home Office and to others who are interested in charity law and its reform. My hon. Friend has ranged over the nature of charity, value for money and new forms of charity, and I intend to deal with as many of these as I can.

Whatever Government are in power, I see their role not as trying to control or direct charitable endeavour but as providing a framework for it and, by the giving of taxpayers' money, helping the voluntary sector.

The Government recognise the diversity and spontaneity of the charitable and voluntary sectors. We greatly welcome their ability to respond in a flexible and innovative way. We are certainly committed to encouraging the good work of charities in this country. It is my firm belief, which is hardening quite quickly, that entrepreneurship should not be confined to business and commerce and that it is extremely important to the charitable sector. It is vital in giving help to the community generally.

Although there certainly are services that only the statutory agencies can provide, the state cannot be expected to provide everything. It is extremely important that the different sectors work together in an effective partnership in which each complements the other's skills and experience.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry referred to the scrutiny of the voluntary sector. It will be published--in the immortal ministerial phrase- -in due course. I am sure that in due course there will be a debate on it in the House, but that is a matter for the business managers. My hon. Friend's interest is noted, and I know that his voice will be heard when the scrutiny is published. The voluntary sector can extend the scope of existing provision. It can spot gaps that had not been seen previously and it certainly can improve standards, in not only the charitable but in the state sector--in local government and central Government--by experimenting, innovating and introducing new techniques that sometimes those in the bureaucracies had not thought about. We learn much from the voluntary sector, and it learns from us.

The voluntary sector and the charitable world can move quickly to meet new needs or problems that escalate too quickly for bureaucracies to respond. That is particularly so with the close contact that charities have with the local communities which they serve. What closer contact could there be than that illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who spoke of the need to guard a new bridge a little way away from new development by the M40, which I hope in my lifetime will reach Oxford and complete the link to London ? My hon. Friend suggested

Column 582

that his community may be able to help with that. That is a very good example of the obviously close link between my hon. Friend and his constituents.

The Government do not regard the charitable world and voluntary services as an opportunity for providing a cheap alternative to public services. I said earlier that I felt that sometimes charities are good at spotting gaps, but there is a world of difference between that and their being used for gap- filling. I see the role of charities as adding value to the community by giving and volunteering and endlessly extending in ways that perhaps even a few years ago we should not have thought possible.

The charities White Paper formed some part of my hon. Friend's speech. He referred to it in a number of ways. The approach of the charities White Paper and, I guess, the overall approach of Government, is to modernise the existing machinery, to make greater efforts to curb abuse for the sector as a whole and to return a measure of responsibility to trustees, which is very important. We certainly want to protect funds and property given and held in this country for charitable purposes. We recognise that charities need the freedom to move with the times. We want to weed out the fraudulent and the ill-intentioned who feed off or betray the public's generosity and make life difficult for the charitable sector as a whole. We must also ensure that the charitable impulse is not suffocated by rules and regulations. That is very important. The Government's proposals in the White Paper attempt to balance those concerns ; they are particularly important for smaller charities, which may become bigger charities in the fulness of time. The hope is that graduated requirements, for example concerning smaller charities, will minimise unnecessary burdens. Graduated requirements for charity accounts would make it very much easier for smaller charities to develop and grow.

The British are terrific at disaster giving. Whenever there is a charitable apeal, no country in western Europe is more generous than this. However, we need revised public collection legislation which should be easier to understand and simpler to operate. At the same time, we must respond to new forms of fund raising which, a decade ago, were unknown in this country or were only developing. In that respect I can think of telephone campaigns and telethons. We should be looking towards self-regulation. The charitable world, above all else, is concerned with helping people to help other people and self-regulation is the best way to provide a framework for those helping other people. If legislation is necessary, the Government will respond.

The White Paper has been generally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and that is good. Many of the proposals are, to put it mildly, technical. The cognoscenti, like my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, will be able to appreciate some of the nuances which perhaps the generality of those concerned with charities--the foot soldiers of the charitable world, those who stick their hands in their pockets--will not be able to understand. None the less, it is critical that the technicalities are dealt with so that we can get things right in the 1990s.

I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's injunction to the Home Office to use a light touch. From time to time, Home Office Ministers have to encourage, exhort or provide a framework for others in society, like the police, to use a

Column 583

necessarily heavy touch. Using a light touch is perhaps something which the Home Ofice cannot do very often and for which it is not widely known. Any opportunities that Home Ofice Ministers can find to use a light touch should be grasped gratefully. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's injunction to copy the light touch model of the Government's broadcasting proposals.

With regard to the resources for the Charity Commission, I had never thoght of the commission as a next steps agency, but perhaps it may be one in its overall form. It is rather a good model for us to follow in many ways. We are certainly helping the commission with more resources. It was given £7 million last year, and it will receive £11 million this year and £16 million next year. Those considerable increases in resources are, rightly, devoted to the Charity Commission because it needs the extra cash to move towards new technology. For example, a computerised register is very important.

As the Charity Commission expands monitoring and carries out investigations, we hope that the service offered to charities and to the public will be improved. Although resources are an important element, the commission also needs new powers. I assume that it would be very happy to get rid of some of its present tasks and our new legislation should achieve that.

In passing, I should refer to the need to re-appraise and relaunch ancient charities. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry properly referred to the small sums of money which sometimes languish in bank accounts for small charities and which could be put to better use. I shall take into account what he says about the need to talk to the banks about that.

I note my hon. Friend's point about registration. I was particularly interested in his theme--I had not thought of it in that way before--about the shift to new forms of giving being a way of democratising charity in a way that, perhaps, charity had not been democratised 100 years ago.

Which groups of people give money in this country? Such data as exist, from the charities household survey and the charities aid fund--I praise the work of some of the bodies involved in collating those data--show a close link between charitable giving, socio-economic position, level of disposable income, and age. It is sad but true that young people contribute less than older people. That is a pity. They also offer less time to charitable and voluntary activity.

One estimate shows that nearly 80 per cent. of the adult population gives something to charity. However, although some people are very generous, on average, individual donations are about £2 a month. There seems to be a big difference between the British people's generosity in disaster giving --a famine revealed on the television screen or a lifeboat which turns over tragically at sea while trying to rescue people in trouble--and regular giving : that drip, drip from individuals of small sums of money which compound into large sums. We are better at the first than at the second.

People cannot be told to give more to charity, and it would be wrong for Ministers to exhort people to do so. We can create the right climate and encourage people to think about whether they can afford to give more, and provide tax-efficient and appealing mechanisms through which more money can be given. Payroll giving is an example of the mechanism through which sums up to £480 a year can be donated with tax reliefs.

Column 584

At the end of the day, it is for charities to promote their own causes. I have already referred to entrepreneurship. It is very important that charities enter into a form of coalition with employers and the Government to promote payroll giving. That is critical. I am not one of those people who look at the accounts of a charitable body and then say, "Oh, between 6 per cent. and 9 per cent. is given over to administration. Surely all the money should go to those in need." I entirely agree that money should not be spent on unnecessary bureaucracy in charity, any more than in local or national government. I would not mind charities spending quite a bit of money for a few years trying to promote their activities and on advertising to get more money to make the charitable giving cake grow larger. That is a perfectly proper use of charitable receipts, provided that the advertising and promotional activity produces, substantially greater sums than have been expended. That must be carefully considered, but charities need to be just as

entrepreneurial as business men or anyone involved in commerce. My hon. Friend had an excellent maxim, which I believe I took down correctly. No doubt Hansard will correct me tomorrow with its commendable accuracy if I got it wrong. He said that, if they want to give, people must be encouraged to do so. I entirely agree with that maxim.

The new forms of charitable giving concern advertising, telethons and other forms of promotional activity. Charities have been able to advertise on television and radio since September this year as a result of changes in the code of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, about which the Government were consulted. It is right that charities should themselves decide whether to advertise. This is not something that any charity will undertake lightly, given the substantial resources needed in terms of planning and costs. The content, tone and style of the advertising will be governed by IBA rules. There are safeguards against abuse, and the IBA is monitoring developments.

This is an interesting area. I understand and appreciate the fears in the charitable sector that the big charities with the financial muscle will be able to expend the money and thus generate more money. It will be easier to raise money for children than for confused elderly people. Those arguments are well made and we must bear such fears in mind at the same time as recognising that any techniques which increase the amount of charitable giving in this country should be considered and promoted.

Telethons have caused some concern as well as gaining a broad welcome. We agree that telethons and other public appeals should be more publicly accountable. It is especially important to find out what happens to the money that is donated to telethons. We need much more information to be made available by the broadcasting authorities about exactly what happens to the money coming from telethons, where it goes, in what sums and how quickly. We need to be able to question, "Has it been spent?" Those points have to be closely considered on behalf of the generous people who have raised phenomenal sums of money, watching television through the night. I am glad that I have the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry on this point.

Having said that, we shall look first to self-regulation as the best and most flexible way of dealing with this and other new forms of fundraising. I am encouraged to learn

Column 585

that the organisations involved in television appeals are already looking to set common standards. I encourage them to do so as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry has put his finger on an important point. The face of charitable giving and volunteering is changing fast. We have seen in the past decade, and I guess that we shall see in the next decade, more rapid changes in the charitable world than have been seen since probably the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a time of substantial change. The directions that the change will take were more than sketched out in my hon. Friend's admirable speech. I congratulate him on his fortune in obtaining the debate and on the admirable and succinct way in which he made his contribution.

Column 586

City Grant

7.34 am

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I am grateful for the opportunity of initiating what must of necessity be a curtailed debate and therefore my remarks will be brief. I know that in some respects the Minister may not be able to answer them as fully as he might wish, because negotiations are currently taking place.

City grant replaces urban development grant and urban regeneration grant. Paragraph 2.8 of the guidance notes published by the Department of the Environment states :

"Most schemes will use derelict land or empty buildings." Paragraph 2.12 states :

"By ensuring that derelict land is reused or buildings brought back into use schemes should improve the appearance of a rundown area and help to generate confidence."

There is therefore a general concentration of city grant on derelict land improvements.

According to information supplied by the Library, up to 13 June 1989 the largest grant appeared to be in Southwark, at the Alaska works. The grant was for £4.1 million to Charterhouse Estates Ltd. Currently discussions are taking place about a grant request for about £40 million for what is termed Bradford's west end scheme. Department of the Environment officials, Bradford local authority officials and the developers have been engaged in talks. That was confirmed in a parliamentary answer on 27 June and again on 12 December. The reply stated :

"Advice given to the developers and local authorities regarding any application for city grant is the standard guidance contained in the city grant guidance notes. For reasons of commercial confidentiality it is not our practice to comment on individual city grant proposals."--[ Official Report, 12 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 543-44. ]

More information should be available about discussions behind closed doors. Three parties are involved--the Department of the Environment, the local authority and the developers. We should be given information about the essential tenor and nature of those discussions. Between those two parliamentary questions, I suspect that there was a change in the negotiations because originally the main developers were a firm called Arrowcroft, but the current developers are a firm called 3Ds Limited.

I should like £30 million or £40 million extra for Bradford. Indeed, Bradford has asked for almost £30 million for capital expenditure in schools. The announcement yesterday, or today--I am not sure, but I think that in parliamentary terms it is still today--is for only £9.7 million. The Conservative ruling party has said that there is a great need for capital expenditure.

I can tell the Minister what sort of capital expenditure I want. I should like some replacements for the 600 temporary classrooms in Bradford. I have said on many occasions that the Buttershaw first school has had to close temporary classrooms because they were so old and worn out that they were unfit for use. The local authority is providing three new temporary classrooms, but a permanent extension is clearly required--indeed, it has been required for the past 14 years. They are also needed at Wibsey and the Queensbury upper and middle schools.

We are discussing the background of city grant to finance a lavish development scheme, yet, in the 20th century, Bradford is actually building an outside toilet block to service outside classrooms because the permanent school does not have adequate provision.

Column 587

On the Woodside estate in my constituency-- not an inner but an outer-urban area--there is great need for window replacement. The local authority admits that there is no insulation value in the current windows. However, with the present rate of replacement, it will take 15 years to complete that project. Capital is required for private street works. Some of them are mediaeval in character. More than 2,000 private street works are required throughout the metropolitan district, yet no capital is available. There is confirmation of that from the local authority.

City grant is designed to make an area more attractive to residents and businesses. However, in a recent local authority discussion, when Labour councillors tried to ensure that there would be low admission charges so that a wide section of the population both inside and outside Bradford could take advantage of some of the facilities that will be in the development--an electronic zoo and planetarium--the majority party said that the matter had to be left to the developers, and the provision requested was denied.

Bradford college students are protesting that their students' union building, Queens hall, will be closed and turned into an arts centre that will no longer provide the cheap live music facilities currently available to students and well used by them. Of necessity, because it will be a commercial venture, it will become a high-priced, high-admission-charge facility, which will prevent students from making much use of it. Part of the college has been closed because of dry rot.

The local evening paper of Friday 8 December said :

"The union may be offered another venue"--

that is, to replace the Queens hall--

"if the West End scheme goes ahead, but the students say they want to keep Queens hall as it is.

Councillor Dale Smith, Chairman of Bradford council's education committee, has asked for a meeting with council bosses over the plan. Councillor Smith wants to talk to Councillor Ronnie Farley, Chairman of the council's enterprise and environment committee, and council leader councillor Eric Pickles about the plans. He also wants to know what will happen to the Alexandra building, another part of the college, which was closed this year because of dry rot.

Councillor Smith, a governor of Bradford and Ilkley college, said : I feel I should have been brought into discussion at an earlier stage.

I want to know whether the people discussing the West End development with the commercial planners have anything at the back of their minds to deal with the matters the college governors and the education directorate want resolved.' "

My plea for more information about what is happening in the negotiations over city grant seems to be shared by Conservative councillors who are not being informed by other Conservative councillors about the negotiations.

It is a matter of deep regret that this year about £3 million has been diverted from housing and education capital expenditure to buy land to be leased to developers at some future date. I recognise that this a local authority matter, not a matter for the Minister. As I have already said, Bradford is urgently in need of capital expenditure in a number of important areas, including housing and education.

At least £18.5 million of local government money is involved in the west end proposal. The criteria for city grant centre on derelict land. Without question, there is such land in the west end area. I raise the issue of whether derelict land and city grant covers such institutions as the

Column 588

Odeon cinema. It is the last purpose-built cinema in the centre of Bradford. It is to be demolished and yet another shopping centre will be built in its place. It is not just any cinema. It opened in 1930 and had the biggest seating capacity in England, 3,318. It was closed for modernisation in 1968 and reopened in 1969 as the Odeon twin cinema, and it is now a triple cinema. It is a well used community building. There are 7,000 admissions a week to the bingo hall alone. The much vaunted Alhambra theatre immediately adjacent has 10,000 admissions a week and the local authority recently spent £9 million on renovating it. The Odeon has double that number of admissions. The cinema is highly profitable and at least the number of patrons as go to the bingo hall attend every week.

It is ironic that the proposal for the west end involves demolition of the only purpose-built cinema in Bradford which is in sight of the national museum of photography. The museum is devoted, at least in part, to treasuring objects connected with cinematography as well as with photography.

The city grant discussions will involve the demolition of the successful departmental store which is the flagship headquarters of the Yorkshire co- operative society. The directors want to demolish the present building and relocate 30 yards downhill. That does not seem to be the purpose of city grant. The building has a long connection with the Co-operative movement, which started in Bradford as early as 1860. Two separate Co-ops merged in 1869.

In 1935, the building to which I referred was constructed. It was known as the new co-operative emporium. It has a distinctive design with circular horizontal ribs that have considerable depth on corner pavilions. It is based on designs of Lewis Sullivan of the United States and Eric Mendelsohn of the United Kingdom. The Minister will no doubt be keenly aware the Eric Mendelsohn was an architect who fled from the Nazi purges in pre-war Germany. He developed a style of simple, functional architecture. One of his pavilions can be seen at Bexhill-on-Sea, and it is cherished as a building of important architectural value. Surely city grant was not designed to facilitate the demolition of buildings with such an architectural heritage. It is important to mention the curiosities attached to the development company that is now undertaking negotiations. The company that started the negotiations was Arrowcroft. It has a good track record, and it converted the Albert dock complex in Liverpool. From subsequent experience, however, I do not believe that the firm is a good landlord. I have no brief from Arrowcroft, but it has an issued capital of £12 million. That means that the company has demonstrated its capability. The local authority, however, has decided that Arrowcroft, which was formally in discussion about city grant, should not be chosen as the developer.

Another firm, 3Ds Limited, has been chosen as the developer. That company does not conjure up a convincing impression in the minds of most people. The company was formed as recently as 1986. On 13 February 1989 there were three directors and a relatively small number of issued shares--88. On 21 August those shares were increased to 97. I do not believe that 97 £1 shares represent the best basis for undertaking a £180 million development.

Column 589

The allottees of the shares include Mr. B. R. Peace, Mr. P. Malkin and Old Court Limited, PO Box 58, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands. Other shareholders include Michael Thorniley- Walker, Peter Francis Smith and Marguerita Smith. That group do not disclose their address, but they are care of Sugden and Spencer, Arndale house, Charles street, Bradford BD1.

The company does not appear to be satisfactory, nor does it have a well established track record. On 10 July 1989 the company took out a mortgage of £16,006, but in June 1988 the company had lost £4,856. I should be interested to hear the Minister's views on the criteria that he adopts for dealing with companies that are embarking on such huge developments. At a rough guess, the development represents the biggest development of its type undertaken in Bradford. Companies with such relative incorporation, such as 3Ds, must have a large question mark over them.

I ask the Minister to provide more information about the negotiations. If the Minister does not have time to provide all the information now, I trust that he will provide it in answer to future parliamentary questions. There is an unhealthy relationship between the local authority, the Department of the Environment and the developers. They are getting together behind closed doors. For city grant to be given, certain requirements and criteria must be met. Planning consent must either be given or clearly anticipated before that grant is made. Planning consent is an important process in local authorities' operations. Who will exercise scrutiny? The local authority is in agreement with the Department of the Environment and that Department will not give city grant unless planning approval is given. Giving city grant commits the Department of the Environment, which also has a planning function, to support that venture by virtue of giving a significant sum of money--I am sure that the Minister will accept that the sum is significant. The planning process is important, as it dictates the shape of buildings, their access to roads and their general position. Within that process, however, the relationship between the local authority, the DOE and the developer is unhealthy. There is little opportunity for scrutiny and checking, as all the bodies involved are, perforce, in agreement and tied together as planning consent is given on the one hand and city grant on the other.

Of necessity, I have had to curtail my remarks. I wanted to point out that, although road works will be necessary for the new west end scheme, there are 200 outstanding road safety schemes urgently required in Bradford, but no capital expenture required. The priorities for Bradford are education, housing and road safety, and they should be considered before embarking on such a grandiose scheme.

The scheme has a number of question marks hanging over it, particularly connected with the Minister's responsibility for city grant. The taxpayer is also involved to a considerable degree. The developers and the Department of the Environment are talking of a figure of about £30 million to £40 million. I should be grateful for the Minister's comments on that.

Column 590

7.51 am

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. David Hunt) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) on finding an opportunity at this late hour in the parliamentary day to raise the important subject of city grant. I also thank him for saying that he does not expect a detailed response so that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) may have a few minutes to speak on the next subject.

City grant is an important way in which central Government can assist private sector capital projects in the inner city. It replaced urban development grant, urban regeneration grant and private sector derelict land grant. Taken together over the years, those programmes have provided about 410 grants worth £253 million. In doing so, private investment of more than £1 billion--£1,060 million--has been committed, providing 45,000 jobs and 11,000 homes.

Following the introduction of city grant in May 1988, the number of applications has more than doubled, to about 120 a year. The level of grant approved has increased from £29 million in 1987-88 to £67 million in 1988-89, and is expected to remain at more than 60 million a year over the next few years. Since the hon. Gentleman got the information from the Library, there have been two further grants larger than the one he mentioned--£6.2 million in Birmingham Heartlands and £6.3 million in St. Helens. He is right to point out the level of grant now being awarded.

Real progress in our inner cities be made only by means of a close working relationship between central and local government, the private sector, voluntary organisations and local people. In central Government, we are determined to quicken the pace of inner-city regeneration. In the five months since I took over responsibility for inner cities, I have visited many inner-city areas, including Bradford and have been enormously encouraged by what I have seen. There is a spirit of optimism there, accompanied by a real determination by all those involved to see real progress made in the regeneration of our inner-city areas. In Bradford, we are fortunate to have an innovative and forward-looking local authority coming forward with exciting new initiatives.

The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), takes responsibility for working closely with, and advising, the city action team and task forces in Bradford and Leeds. We intend to give Mr. Eric Pickles and his council colleagues every possible encouragement in their imaginative plans.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South mentioned proposals to develop the west end area of Bradford city centre. Members of my Department's city grant appraisal team and other Department officials have had discussions with developers and Bradford city council about a possible city grant application to support a major redevelopment project in the city's west end area. The discussions have explored the possibility of a grant application, but as yet there is no application with my Department.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned emotive phrases such as "behind closed doors" and "unhealthy discussions," but it is necessary, for reasons of commercial confidentiality, not to reveal details of discussions with developers or their proposals. As the hon. Gentleman said, however, my Department will decide on an application for city grant only if the local authority has granted planning consent for

Column 591

the development. Listed building and compulsory purchase orders were required and also have to be granted before a decision can be made. Grant applications are not to be accepted for appraisal unless planning consent has already been granted or a date has been fixed for the appropriate council committee to decide, a planning application.

Any objections to proposed grant-aided developments--and any representations, for instance, about the future of Queens hall--have to be taken up with the local authority, because it is the democratically elected body responsible for planning and development control. I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the specific questions he asked about the project and attempt to deal with the points that he raised.

Looking at Bradford today, I am aware of all the different schemes coming forward. All the ingredients for success are present in Bradford--a dynamic and enterprising council determined to provide value for money and improved service, a healthy and strong private sector, good voluntary organisations and, especially, strong and vibrant local communities. It is to those local people that we look to ensure that there is adequate consultation before any of the schemes go ahead, and I shall watch progress with great interest.

Column 592

Elderly People (Nursing Homes)

7.55 am

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for the opportunity, if only for a few minutes, to mention this important subject. I thank the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and my hon. Friend the Minister for making that possible.

The level of DSS benefits for elderly people in nursing homes is wholly inadequate to meet the charges of nursing homes in the south-east. A typical nursing home's charges have risen from £212 to £248, not because of greed on the part of the proprietors, many of whom operate practically on the verge of bankruptcy, but because of the 15 per cent. nurses' pay award and the 25 per cent. increase in interest rates. By comparison, benefit increases have amounted to only 2.5 per cent.

Not only does this create a considerable problem for those operating the homes, but it acts as a major disincentive to building new homes. It is estimated that we shall need to build two 40-bed homes or extensions every week to cope with the increse in numbers of elderly people. That will generate considerable pressure in future. Current levels of benefit amount to about £190 a week for the very dependent elderly, who get £155 as a result of being thus categorised, plus £34.90 for higher-level attendance allowance.

Thus, a home with a high proportion of income-supported patients is viable only if the owner is a registered nurse and prepared to provide cover that she would otherwise have to pay others to provide. It is viable only if capital costs are already completely paid, so no interest is being incurred ; if no provision is being made for future capital expenditure ; if maintenance and small dignities such as newspapers for patients are kept to a minimum ; and if the staff are paid less than Whitley council rates. Moreover, because of the length of time involved in the period of assessment for benefit, homes often go without any pay for several weeks, thus incurring interest charges and problems of cash flow.

Florence Smith is 93 and until January she lived in a residential home. When her nursing needs became sufficiently acute for the home to decide that it could no longer cope, she moved to a local, popular and well- respected nursing home. When she did, DSS benefit plus higher attendance allowance equalled the charges levied by the home. However, within a few weeks the charges had been raised to £210 a week, which is extremely modest--one of the lowest fees in the south-east. Most homes in the area charge well over £300. Mrs. Smith's daughter is a pensioner herself, wholly dependent on the state pension, and although she is willing to provide the small necessities--clothes, toiletries and so on--she cannot regularly make up the shortfall, let alone the increased gap that will open up if the home is forced to increase its charges again.

When I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, she replied that it was never the Government's intention to cover the cost of residing at such homes, no matter how high. I contend that, the way things are, the Government are not covering the cost in the south-east at any rate, no matter how low. Another of my constituents has a wife aged 77 suffering from Parkinson's disease. She is now in a nursing home after years of being cared for in her own home by her

Column 593

husband. First, he had to wear down his capital to become eligible for benefit, and now he finds that the gap between the amount being charged to him and the sum that he can claim is so great that it is causing considerable problems, which are a source of worry to the wife as well as to the husband.

It being Eight o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to Order [15 December.]

Next Section

  Home Page