HC Deb 15 June 1978 vol 951 cc1159-61
4. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he remains satisfied with the rate of improvement in public sector housing in Belfast.

Mr. Carter

While the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is making encouraging progress in tackling the housing problems in Belfast, the scale of the work required is immense and every effort is being made to ensure more rapid progress.

Mr. Watkinson

Is it not the case that there are more houses available than are needed in Northern Ireland? Is any progress being made in bringing people back to those areas of Belfast which have been torn by sectarian strife?

Mr. Carter

My hon. Friend is right. There is a crude housing surplus in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast where the surplus is very real and where houses are available for people who need them. The trouble is that those homes happen to be in the wrong places. In private housing we have been able, through the use of public funds and building society funds, to make mortgages available to people who want to buy houses in the inner cities. I am pleased to report that more and more people are returning to the inner city and are buying properties which have lain derelict for some years.

Mr. Kilfedder

How can Housing Executive tenants throughout Northern Ireland be expected to tolerate a situation in which repairs are not carried out to their homes when demanded, or are badly carried out? Is the Minister aware that this happens even though tenants are being asked for further increases in rent, and yet food and heating cost more in Northern Ireland and wages are generally lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom, and there is grave hardship in many cases? Will the Government deal with that aspect?

Mr. Carter

That is the hon. Gentleman's usual jumbled question. The plain fact is that rents are significantly lower in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I should be anxious to receive a letter from the hon. Gentleman urging the Government not to go ahead with an increase in rents in Northern Ireland.

It is true, of course, that the Housing Executive does not meet the requirements placed upon it to maintain its properties to a decent standard. It has made its views on that known, and it is trying to meet the demand that I and my Department have placed upon it to improve the quality of its efforts in maintenance.

Mr. Carson

Does the Minister agree that many of the working class in Belfast, especially in North Belfast, the Lower Oldpark RD3 and North of the Shankill Road have been betrayed by his Department and the Housing Executive which promised that they would provide housing in that area? Is he aware that over the past few years they have received no instructions to rehouse people? Is he further aware that people there are now living in deplorable conditions? Many have been forced to leave the area and move to the outskirts of Belfast and other places. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will look at this matter and help those who are living in the Lower Oldpark and other parts of North Belfast to be rehoused in the area in which they have lived for many years?

Mr. Carter

The hon. Gentleman will be talking to me later today on this matter, but I ought to put the record straight now. We are to build 100 new houses in that area. It is untrue to say that we have reneged on any promise in that matter.

Mr. Madden

How much public subsidy is being devoted by the Government to housing in Northern Ireland? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the industry spokesman for the Conservatives, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), with whom so many Opposition Northern Ireland Members voted last night, is on record as saying that all grants and subsidies do great harm?

Mr. Carter

That is one of the strange facts of life, among many others, with which we have to live in Northern Ireland. Housing in Northern Ireland is subsidised to a far greater extent than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. But that is something that the Government and I in particular, as the Minister responsible, are prepared to live with because housing conditions there are so much worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The subsidy we have to maintain in Northern Ireland is consequently that much greater.

Mr. Bradford

Will the Minister encourage an increase in staff at district office level in the Housing Executive, because it is at that point that the work is certainly expedited? Will he try to encourage the return of the maintenance section to district office level because of the great delays and ineptitude of the centralised maintenance section?

Mr. Carter

As I have said, we are dissatisfied at every level with the maintenance effort in the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland. I am bound to point out, however, that once again the hon. Member is calling for public expenditure increases. He and his hon. Friends call for public expenditure increases in Northern Ireland and public expenditure cuts in Great Britain.

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