This is a simple Bill to extend the time for the completion of works in respect of which grants are payable under the Housing Acts. These works comprise the erection, reconstruction or repair and improvement of dwelling houses and the provision of private water supplies and sewerage facilities.
The effective provision of the Bill is contained in Section 2 which provides for an extension from the 1st April, 1960, to the 1st April, 1962, of the date for the completion of work so as to qualify for payment of any appropriate grant. No changes in the amounts of the grants are proposed.
A comprehensive housing measure, consolidating the provisions of the Labourers Acts and the Housing of the Working Classes Acts in a single code and including amendments of the existing codes is in course of preparation. The grant and other relevant provisions appropriate to private housing are also proposed to be consolidated in a single measure when a suitable opportunity presents itself. I have therefore decided to limit my immediate proposals to a simple continuing measure which, from the very beginning of the new financial year, will enable private persons to plan for the carrying out of house-building and house-improvement works in the next two years, with the knowledge that grants will be available at the rates and on the conditions that have prevailed for the last two years.
The Housing (Amendment) Act, 1958, provided for increased scales of grants for the reconstruction, repair and improvement of existing houses and for the provision of sanitary facilities in houses. It also provided for the payment of an additional sum in respect of the erection, of a new house provided with private sanitary facilities. The stimulus given by the increased grants has resulted in a remarkable response. The numbers of grants approved during the financial year 1959/1960, as compared with the year 1958/1959, showed increases of 52.3 per cent. for new houses, 42.9 per cent. for reconstruction, repair or improvement of existing houses and 57.2 per cent. for water and sewerage grants.
While the emphasis has, in recent years, tended to be on the conservation or improvement of existing houses rather than on the erection of new houses, nevertheless, there is still evidence of a need for new houses. The impetus given to the meeting of that need by the improved facilities made available under the 1958 Housing Act has been clearly indicated by the increase in the numbers of grants approved in the past year. The number of new houses completed during the financial year 1959/1960 was 3,190, as compared with 2,626 in the previous year. The numbers of new house grants approved in the same periods were 3,868 and 2,539 respectively.
The work of reconstruction, repair or improvement of existing houses is a very important aspect of private housing activities. These houses represent an important national asset and much has been done with the aid of grants to maintain and improve them. It is essential that these activities should be encouraged and, indeed, that the pace should be accelerated. There is enormous scope for work of this kind and the generous facilities provided by way of grants and advances are proving to be a very desirable form of encouragement. During the financial year 1959/1960 the number of grants of this type finally paid was 7,851, as compared with 6,517 in the previous twelve months. The numbers of grants approved in the same periods were 13,312 and 9,314 respectively.
A scheme of grants which is of special interest to the rural population is that which assists the provision of piped water supply and sewerage facilities in dwelling-houses. Generally, in the less densely populated areas, piped facilities have not been available hitherto and the residents have been largely dependent on drawing water from streams or wells. The broad improvement in the economic level, the spread of rural electrification and the amount of mechanisation on farms have combined to bring the amenities which town dwellers have long enjoyed within reach of many who reside even in quite isolated parts of the country. The response to the increased grants which were provided by the Act of 1958 has given evidence, if such were needed, of the urge to improve the rural environment.
A most welcome development and one which gives proof of the community spirit in rural areas has been the co-operation of groups of persons in the provision of private water supply schemes in the outlying rural areas. These co-operative schemes will prove to be of immense benefit in the more isolated parts of the country, and particularly in areas which would not normally be served by public water supplies. The formulation of these schemes is still only in the early experimental stage. Our experience to date, however, has been that group communities are quick to appreciate the very real benefits that accrue by co-operative effort and I look forward with confidence to a wide extension of this type of scheme in the near future.