HC Deb 12 January 1978 vol 941 cc1844-5
10. Mr. Bradford

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much has been spent on housing maintenance in Northern Ireland over the past year; and how much is proposed to be spent in the forthcoming year.

Mr. Carter

In the financial year 1976–77 the Northern Ireland Housing Executive spent almost £19 million on the maintenance of its houses and estates, and for the current financial year, 1977–78, the Executive has an approved budget of almost £20 million. A budget for 1978–79 has not yet been agreed between the Department and the Executive.

Mr. Bradford

Does the Under-Secretary of State accept that all those figures could be greatly reduced if the repair work could be undertaken without months of delay and, secondly, if it were carried out by contractors who did not hold the Housing Executive to ransom by charging exorbitant prices which could not be subject to real competition? Does he further accept that if the repair work were properly inspected after completion, and before payments were made, money could be saved?

Mr. Carter

I am well aware, as is the Housing Executive, of our failings in the maintenance sector. It is, frankly, not good enough. As the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends will know, there is currently a DOCS investigation into the efficiency of these operations and other aspects of the Housing Executive.

If the hon. Gentleman has available information that he can pass to me to help find a speedier way of dealing with these problems, I shall be only too happy to look at whatever he provides and deal with the matter with the Executive.

Mr. Watkinson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is now the case that there is a surplus of housing in Northern Ireland—perhaps a crude surplus—which will enable him to spend more funds on such matters as repair and maintenance? Does he anticipate that there will be a major improvement in this area if the diminution of the troubles in the Province continues?

Mr. Carter

I hope it will be the case that, as a result of the decline in the security problem, we can improve the housing situation. But that is by no means certain, because, as my hon. Friend and others will know, there are attendant problems. It is true that, roughly speaking, there is a sufficiency of housing units in Northern Ireland; the trouble is that they do not always happen to be in the right places.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Shall we soon be informed of the terms of reference of the public inquiry, which the Housing Executive itself asked for, into certain very serious allegations about money going astray and even passing into the hands of the Irish Republican Army? Will Ministers now acknowledge the service of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who was among those who brought these allegations to public notice?

Mr. Carter

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has made no more than allegations, in company with a number of other people. These allegations, however, have now convinced my right hon. Friend that an early announcement should be made about the form of inquiry that should take place to ascertain the validity of the allegations.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can my hon. Friend say how much of the £19 million to which he referred was due to normal wear and tear maintenance and how much of it was due to the violence at present existing in the Province?

Mr. Carter

I could not give my right hon. Friend a specific or definitive answer, but I shall certainly let him know. My impression is that the majority of it—perhaps 99.99 per cent.—was due to normal wear and tear and had nothing what-so ever to do with violence.