asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many representations he has received from local authorities concerned at the reduction in loan sanction for the improvement of local authority dwellings under Section 105 of the Housing Act 1974; and if he has anything to add to his statement of 14th March.
I discussed this and related matters with the local authority associations on Monday 5th May. As already announced, I propose to reallocate funds from other housing programmes to provide some additional help under Section 105 for certain authorities facing severe problems in 1975–76. I also proposed a joint study group under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to assess needs and priorities for the municipalisation and improvement programmes in subsequent years.
I thank the Minister for that comment. I am sure we are all grateful to hear that he has had a change of mind on this matter. Can he tell us exactly how many authorities have made representations to him to date—a point I raised in my Question—and can he say whether authorities such as the Medina Borough Council in my constituency in the Isle of Wight will be looked at again for a higher allocation?
An exceptionally large number of authorities made representations to us. This was one of the things that caused me to change our policy on this matter. The hon. Gentleman's authority has been in touch with the Department, as he knows. I cannot give any categorical pledges this afternoon, but that is one of the authorities that we know has serious problems.
That is being given particular attention at the moment. The position of all the authorities which have been in touch either with the Department or with our regional offices and which have shown that they have specially difficult problems will be looked at sympathetically again.
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position concerning local authorities which have acquired private property in order to effect improvements and modifications and which find that because these have come under the heading of "local authority property" they no longer qualify for aid under the changed system?
One of the major objects of the switch of resources that I have announced is to ensure that no property that has been taken over by a local authority should, because of shortage of money, fail to be improved.
Does the Secretary of State agree that notwithstanding the partial restoration of the cuts—because that is all it is—improvement grants are still running at about £250,000 per annum less this year than they were this time last year? Is not that a most alarming situation for our housing stock? Does he not think that it is madness to spend so much money on municipalisation while our housing stock is running down in this fashion without any real help from the Government?
No, Sir. The question relates to local authority improvement. Although we have not fully restored the position as it would otherwise have been, nevertheless the fact is that this year in real terms the amount of money spent on local authority improvements will have gone up from something like £50 million a year five years ago to £300 million a year. Therefore, we are talking about a much larger programme. As far as municipalisation is concerned, particularly in parts of London, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Given the high proportion of unfit housing in the private rented sector and given the danger of loss of rented property from that sector, this programme still remains a very high priority.