HC Deb 22 April 1993 vol 223 cc497-8
3. Mr. Clifford Forsythe

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many complaints have been reported in the past year regarding glass-fronted fires in Housing Executive dwellings.

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

This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, but I understand from the chief executive that between 1 April 1992 and 31 March 1993 there were approximately 35,200 requests for repairs to glass-fronted fires in Executive dwellings. Over 97 per cent. were of a minor nature, such as a cracked or broken pane of glass.

Mr. Forsythe

In view of the great concern about those appliances and their flues and the fear that many tenants, particularly the elderly, have about them, will the Minister take the initiative and set up a committee or a consultative group—to include members of his Department, the Housing Executive, the manufacturers of the appliances and any other interested parties who have the expertise—to sort out this problem once and for all? Will the Minister give an assurance that he will do that?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking the question in the way he has. I know that he has given a great deal of attention to this problem over some years. The Housing Executive is responsible in the first instance. It has told me that it is aware of the concerns and is doing all that it can to ensure that proper training in the use of the fires is given, and that tenants understand what they are required to do to keep the equipment efficient throughout its lifetime. I shall, of course, communicate the hon. Gentleman's concern to the Housing Executive.

Dr. Hendron

With regard to glass-fronted fires and the fumes—including carbon monoxide—that can be associated with them, will the Secretary of State make a statement detailing the number of people in my constituency and elsewhere in Northern Ireland who, in the past 10 years, have taken the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to court on the ground of damage to their health, including the number of cases that were successful or settled out of court? A number of people in Northern Ireland have died as a direct result of the fires—one recently in the constituency of Newry and Armagh—and probably many hundreds more have died as an indirect result of the fumes, even though the words "due to glass-fronted fire" were not on the death certificate.

Mr. Atkins

I think that the hon. Gentleman would be astonished if I were able to give the answer on the Floor of the House. I will ascertain the answer and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Budgen

On a previous occasion when a question of this sort was asked in the House, I suggested that what was required in Northern Ireland was not constitutional arrangements by which America or the south was invited to offer impertinent advice, but that the sooner the Government got on with instituting a proper system of local government in Northern Ireland the better. I recollect that on that occasion the Secretary of State nodded in agreement. What is happening about that?

Mr. Atkins

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend's question and will doubtless find ways to tell my hon. Friend exactly what is going on.