HC Deb 09 March 1978 vol 945 cc1581-4
3. Mr. Carson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the light of the fact that sitting tenants of properties acquired by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for the purposes of housing action areas are suffering substantial rent increases, which have no relation to the condition of the properties involved, what action he proposes to take to relate rents to housing conditions.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

Northern Ireland Housing Executive rents are normally related to the condition of the dwellings and the amenities provided, and where dwellings are acquired with a view to their improvement or rehabilitation existing private rent levels are retained until the work has been completed

Mr. Carson

I am grateful for that reply. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the tenants of these houses had their rents tripled when they were taken over by the Housing Executive? Will he ensure that they are charged the right rent which they were paying before the houses were taken over? Will he see that the rehabilitation of these houses is speeded up? They are in a deplorable condition.

Mr. Carter

We shall move as fast as we can. I am disappointed if some people are being charged rents above that war-rented by the condition of the houses. It is our intention not to increase rents on former private property until standards are improved.

Mr. Fitt

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is simply not true that the rents of Housing Executive dwellings are normally related to the condition of the properties? Thousands of Housing Executive tenants are living in deplorable conditions and paying the same rent as is paid for houses which do not need repairing.

Mr. Carter

If my hon. Friend has evidence, let him provide it. We hear a lot of hot words about housing matters in Northern Ireland, but rarely do we get the evidence. If my hon. Friend has it, let him provide it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On the second part of the original Question, may we be assured that a public inquiry will be held into the allegations first made in early 1976 by a number of us on the Conservative Benches, including my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) about mismanagement of contracts and excessive payments beneficial to the IRA in Andersonstown and elsewhere and to other para-military groups? We were at that time brushed off by the then Secretary of State. We had an announcement on Christmas Eve. We now want to be told that there will be a public inquiry and that it will speedily get down to work.

Mr. Carter

I had hoped to make a statement in the Northern Ireland Committee this morning about the investigation into the Northern Ireland Housing Executive but I was unable to do so. If it will suit the convenience of the House, I shall have the text of the statement placed in the Official Report. I have already placed copies of it in the Library.

My right hon. Friend has decided to appoint an Investigatory Commission with the following terms of reference: To inquire in the light of allegations affecting the Northern Ireland Housing Executive into the placing and management of contracts and the payment of grants by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Mrs. Knight

Since the police report on the allegations which I originally made about two and a half years ago was finally completed last March, will the hon. Gentleman now inject some urgency into the whole question? While he is doing so, will he also look at some of the practices of the Housing Executive—for instance, the directive that before tenants leave an old house they must completely wreck it?

Mr. Carter

I do not know whether the hon. Lady was listening to my statement, but I would have thought that it was a complete answer to the first part of her question.

As for the circumstances in which people leave houses and are transferred to other property, the Housing Executive has an excellent record on that. It may have defects elsewhere but on the humane treatment of tenants its record is second to none.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the inquiry to be a public, sworn inquiry? Will it have power to send for persons and papers, including former Ministers in the North- ern Ireland Office who were, in consultation with the Housing Executive, engaged in the contracts which are now under scrutiny?

Mr. Carter

That will be a matter for the chairman, Judge Rowland, to decide. It is not for us to pre-empt the scope or depth of his inquiry, but we hope that everyone in Northern Ireland from the Government through to Members of Parliament and councillors, and anyone else dealing with housing, will give complete co-operation to the judge.

Following is the statement:

Statement on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter) When, just before Christmas, the Chairman of the NIHE asked for an inquiry into various allegations which had been made about the affairs of the NIHE my right hon. Friend said that, while he agreed in principle to the desirability of an investigation he wished to consider carefully the form that it should take and the terms of reference. My right hon. Friend has studied the nature of the allegations that have been made, the reports of the internal inquiries made by NIHE and a report which he called for from the Chief Constable on some of the police investigations. In the light of this my right hon. Friend has decided that what is required is a thorough and detailed investigation into the way in which the NIHE has placed contracts and has controlled the work and payments made under them and also into the way in which payments are made by NIHE to private individuals—particularly in the form of improvement grants. My right hon. Friend has therefore decided to appoint an Investigatory Commission with the following terms of reference: To inquire in the light of allegations affecting the NINE into the placing and management of contracts and the payment of grants by the NIHE. I am glad to say that, with the agreement of my Noble Friend, The Lord Chancellor, my Right Honourable Friend, the Secretary of State has invited his Honour, Judge Rowland, QC, to serve as Chairman and he has accepted. Judge Rowland will be assisted by an accountant and a quantity surveyor. The latter has yet to be appointed but the accountant will be Mr. J. C. Nicholson, Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the district auditor for the metropolitan audit district. The way in which the Commission proceeds with its business is entirely a matter for Judge Rowland and his colleagues. I can say, however, that, where the chairman is satisfied that, in the interests of justice, a witness ought to be represented by solicitor or counsel and wishes to be so represented the reasonable costs of such representation will be borne from public funds. I am sure that the board and staff of the NINE and all those engaged with them in relevant matters will co-operate fully with the Commission.