asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many homeless people were housed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in Northern Ireland during 1981.
The precise figures sought by the hon. Gentleman are not available, but I understand from the chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that during 1981 the executive provided housing in 870 cases where the applicant was homeless, was under immediate threat of homelessness, or was placed in an extremely difficult or dangerous situation because of civil disturbance.
Does the Minister agree that there is strong feeling that these matters are being made more difficult because they are caught between two Departments? Will he consider placing statutory responsibilities on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to clarify matters?
A code of practice to clarify any areas of uncertainty is expected to be published by the end of March next year. It is a high priority of the Housing Executive to house the homeless.
I recognise the needs of Belfast in respect of the homeless, but will the Minister keep in mind the other urban areas outside Belfast, where there are also homeless people?
There are 10,000 re-lets a year available to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the Province outside Belfast as well as within it. This should ensure adequate opportunity for rehousing people in rural areas where the need arises, provided they are prepared to go to an area where accommodation is available.
Will the Minister confirm that there are at least 1,000 empty houses in my constituency, many of them built within the past 10 years? Is he aware that the Housing Executive, with his approval, would be happy to give them away?
I cannot comment on the wishes of the Housing Executive about giving the houses away. I can confirm the figure that the hon. Gentleman has given of the number of empty houses in his constituency. We are seeking to dispose of them. As they are public property, they are not available to be given away.
Will the Minister accept that the re-development programme taking place in the city of 13elfast means that those on the homeless register who have never had a home occupy low priority? Is he aware that some of these people have had their names on the homeless register for years? Cannot he make a more equitable allocation of houses in redevelopment areas to help those who have never had a home?
Absolute priority is given to the homeless by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind and writes to me, I shall take up the matter with the executive.