HL Deb 12 December 1979 vol 403 cc1138-40

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for making the Northern Ireland Housing Executive more responsive to the housing needs of the people.


My Lords, the Government are encouraging the Housing Executive to complete its internal reorganisation which will help improve the services it provides for the people of Northern Ireland. The Government have also indicated to the executive the priorities which it should follow; these include giving greater emphasis to the management and maintenance of its existing houses. For the last couple of years it has been involved in a major reorganisation based on devolving responsibility on six regional controllers. These controllers have already been appointed and their supporting staff are now being allocated. It will, however, be some months yet before regionalisation is complete.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that quite full reply. While I would not wish to complicate the reorganisation which he mentioned, may I ask whether he would consider giving some role to district councils to act as a channel for grievances, for suggestions even, from the people to the Housing Executive and in relation to individual district or area offices?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me an indication of the direction of his supplementary and I can tell him that the 26 district councils each has a representative on the Northern Ireland Housing Council, which advises the Housing Executive and makes representations on behalf of the district councils. The council also nominates three of the members of the Housing Executive's hoard. The Commissioner for Complaints has responsibility for investigating complaints against the Housing Executive and it is open to any local councillor to approach a district office of the executive directly. I understand that the executive encourages such contacts. I doubt, therefore, that a further formal channel would be useful or indeed necessary.


My Lords, again I am grateful to my noble friend for those remarks, but may I ask whether the Government will give some publicity to the arrangements which he just outlined so they can be known rather more widely than they perhaps are at present?


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord's intervention will have that effect in part, and I will pass his views on to my honourable friend in another place as to publicising the matter further. I think it is worth noting that the executive has made commendable progress in the face of the most difficult housing problems in the whole of the United Kingdom. Many of its problems arise from the legacy of the former authorities and of the years of civil disturbance.


My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the main reasons why the Housing Executive is not held in higher esteem by the public is its failure to have built more houses in areas where they are desperately needed, the fact that it has not brought up to modern standards a greater proportion of old housing stock, and the delays which occur in carrying out essential repairs? Will he further accept my assurance that I have always found the local officials of the Housing Executive to be extremely helpful and prompt in answering inquiries?


I am glad to accept the noble Lord's assurance on the latter point, my Lords. On the former, I think it worth mentioning that the Housing Executive's programme has increased from 250 million in the current year to 300 million in 1980–81 and that, for the first time, more money will be spent on maintenance than on new building, yet the figure provided for building itself will have increased. It is a good programme and noble Lords will wish to welcome it and expect that the reorganisation which it is now undergoing will also meet the points the noble Lord raised.