HC Deb 21 May 1992 vol 208 cc480-1
2. Mr. A. Cecil Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when Northern Ireland Housing Executive tenants may expect to have metal-framed tivewindows replaced.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Robert Atkins)

This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, but I have been advised by the chief executive that metal-framed windows are replaced when they can no longer be serviced or when they reach the end of their useful economic life. The executive expects that all remaining metal windows will be replaced over the next 15 years.

Mr. Walker

I thank the Minister for that informative answer. Is he aware of the great problems that the windows are causing for tenants, particularly in terms of maintenance and heat loss? Will he now grasp the nettle and order their replacement as a matter of the utmost urgency?

Mr. Atkins

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He will know better than I, at least at this early stage in my tenure of office, that this is a substantial programme which will take time to resolve and will cost a great deal of money. As I understand it, the Housing Executive has decided that, over a period of time and as and when there is refurbishment or renovation to be done, the windows will be replaced. I am mindful of what the hon. Gentleman said about the concerns being expressed throughout parts of Northern Ireland about the quality of metal-framed windows and the Housing Executive will act upon it as soon as it can.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister realise that it is unfair for all the metal windows to be replaced on one housing estate and for the equally rubbishy windows on another estate not to be touched at all? Will he inquire as to when a metal window ceases to be weatherproof and will he inspect the windows that arc causing the controversy now and reach his own conclusion, irrespective of the Housing Executive?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman has raised an entirely fair point. I have not yet been able to see all the windows in all the estates, but it is merely a matter of time before I do so. Clearly, the chairman of the Housing Executive is as concerned as the hon. Gentleman that this programme should be implemented as soon as possible. Clearly, we cannot do it all at once, but we will try.

Mr. McGrady

Does the Minister agree that this problem is a minor but important symptom of the Housing Executive's budget shortfall, which will he £14.1 million, £14.5 million next year and £12 million the following year? It is unable to fulfil the new-build programme, let alone tackle the unfitness problem in rural parts of Northern Ireland. My rural constituents' houses suffer from the highest levels of unfitness. Is that not symptomatic of the Government's not giving sufficient funding to enable the Housing Executive to carry out the job that it was given by the Government?

Mr. Atkins

The one thing that I have learned since I have been in Northern Ireland is how highly regarded the Housing Executive is throughout the Province. I know that the hon. Gentleman will share that support with me. Certain deficiencies need to be remedied, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for finance will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said about funds for the Housing Executive. However, it has done pretty well so far, and it is my intention that it should continue to do well.