asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for increasing the rateable value means test limit of £175 per annum, both for improvement grants and for grants to improve the homes of disabled persons.
I have no proposals for immediate increases. But if a suitable legislative opportunity occurred I should be prepared to consider sympathetically the case for giving housing authorities wider powers to pay grants to the disabled in hardship cases.
I am grateful for that answer. I shall try to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill straight away. Does not the Minister agree that, if we must have a means test, rateable value is not a good form of means test because it is no way of measuring the ability of the disabled and others to pay for improvements to houses? I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for offering the facilities for legislation, and I shall seek an early opportunity to bring in a Bill.
We have had some correspondence on this subject dealing with the situation in various parts of the country. Our judgment is that the rateable value and the limits we have placed have enabled limited resources to be applied where they are most needed. We see no case for a general increase.
Is my hon. Friend aware that some local authorities are reluctant to give grants for improving the homes of disabled people on the deplorable principle that the weakest cannot shout the loudest? Would he care to reexamine the record of these local authorities to ascertain what he can do to change both their minds and their attitudes?
Does the Minister agree that a two-thirds slump in the number of building improvement grants is not very welcome? Is he aware that it is having an effect on employment in the construction industry and that the possibility of maintaining our existing housing stock in a satisfactory condition calls for something further than having no further intention at the present time of doing something about it?
Yes, it is true that there has been a reduction, but originally a great amount of the money was going to those who were well able to pay for their own improvements. When cash is limited it is necessary for us to get our priorities in order, and the rateable value limit does just that.