I am guided by your remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but all of us who have been in the Chamber throughout the evening have been dazzled by the traffic between the Front Bench and the Box, to which I am not supposed to refer. Clearly advice has been streaming to Ministers on the many points made tonight.
I emphasise that I should like tonight to have information from the Minister as to whether it is possible for local authorities to make ex gratia payments to those who are either tenants or owners of defective buildings, designated under the provisions of the Bill, before the Bill is given Royal Assent and implemented.
I was told several weeks ago by officials of the Department of the Environment—who at that time were in Marsham street rather than in the Box to which I am not supposed to refer — that it was possible for local authorities to make ex gratia grants. I should like to have either confirmation or a denial by the Minister in replying to the debate.
Earlier in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) asked what help local authorities, such as mine in Bradford, are to be given to meet the considerable bill that they will have to meet if the Bill is given Royal Assent. Like many other inner city areas, Bradford is facing acute housing deprivation. We had a debate last evening about public expenditure on housing, and the Minister for Housing and Construction is well aware of the considerable anxiety about the housing crisis. We know that 1¼ million houses in England and Wales are unfit for habitation, and that there are 2½ million houses in the United Kingdom which are seriously affected by dampness.