§ 11. Mr. Rowlands
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is his latest estimate of the number of outstanding home improvement grant applications made under the provision allowing payment of 90 per cent. of the cost of the work.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
During the two-year period when 90 per cent. rates were generally available for repair and intermediate grants, 141,000 applications for grants of all types were submitted. Local authority returns indicate that 50,000 of these are still outstanding.
§ Mr. Rowlands
While most authorities are able to do something about statutory intermediate grants, are not thousands of elderly people—some of them in their 80s —who are awaiting basic repair grants receiving letters stating that they will have to wait two or three years? Will the hon. Gentleman think about a special additional fund to unlock repair grants for old people's properties before it is too late, or does he want to go down in history as the Minister who gave guarantees relating to grants but that people died before they received them?
§ Mr. Roberts
The rate at which this backlog will be cleared depends to a significant extent on the action of 620 individual local authorities. Considerable sums of money are being spent on grants—£80 million last year and £107 million the year before—and there is scope for substantial expenditure within this year's gross capital figure of £147 million. Over the last three years we have spent £230 million on private sector renovation—four times as much as the total spent during the whole period of the last Labour Administration.
§ Mr. Foot
In view of the huge backlog which has now built up in the home improvement queue, will the hon. Gentleman review the matter afresh? This is an immediate way in which some assistance could be given to deal with desolating conditions in the Rhymney Valley. Other valleys are similarly affected. At the same time as considering the possibility of a much larger house improvement scheme, will the hon. Gentleman also consider restoring the full housing programme to its 1979 level, which would mean many more houses and people in jobs?
§ Mr. Roberts
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that during the Labour Government's period of office the average spend was £29 million per annum over their five-year period, compared with our £72 million per ar num over the last five years. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. We are reviewing improvement grants and will be publishing our proposals shortly.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise respectfully and deferentially. You called each of the questions set down for the hon. Member answering for the Church Commissioners. However those questions began a minute late and finished a minute early, even though some hon. Members still wished to ask supplementary questions on that important subject. Will you take account of the fact that questions to the -ion. Member answering for the Church Commissioners are now held once every six weeks instead of once every three weeks? Will you also consider the possibility of allowing those questions to run full time on another occasion, because the spiritual health of the nation is important? I am not sure—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. The frequency of questions to the lion. Member answering for the Church Commissioners is a matter not for the Chair but for the usual channels. No doubt the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be conveyed to the Leader of the House. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that every hon. Member who tabled a question to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) had his question answered. There were many other questions on the Order Paper awaiting oral answer, and hon. Members were waiting patiently for their turn. I must have equal regard to their interests and rights.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
While in no way seeking to challenge the ruling that you have just given, I merely wish to point out that in our country a terrifying number of clergymen are now getting divorced—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not ask me the question that he would like to have asked the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee).
§ Mr. Frank Field
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A large number of hon. Members wished to ask supplementary questions to Question No. 25, and I wished to ask a supplementary question to Question No. 24. I do not wish to challenge your ruling, but is there not all the difference in the world between getting an answer and supplementary questions being asked by other hon. Members?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but he had one question answered, and for him to want two questions to be answered consecutively when other hon. Members have waited throughout the whole of Welsh Question Time without having a chance to have their questions answered is not reasonable.
I remind both the hon. Gentleman and the House that it is a matter for the discretion of the occupant of the Chair who is called to ask supplementary questions. I hope that hon. Members will not challenge my discretion. I am trying to do the job as fairly as I can to make sure that the time is shared out fairly. We should now turn to the main business of the day.