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Volume 210: debated on Thursday 25 June 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many units of housing are now administered (a) by local councils, (b) housing associations and (c) other bodies; and if he will make a statement.

At 31 March 1992, 11,543 units were administered by registered housing associations and 162,371 were administered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is the sole public housing authority in the province. Local councils and other public bodies administer a few houses for their own employees, but the figures are not available.

Are those units of housing sufficient to meet the housing needs of the people of Northern Ireland? Will my hon. Friend comment on the outstanding achievements of the Housing Executive, which has worked to the satisfaction of all sections of the community? Should not those efforts be warmly supported and encouraged?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. The Housing Executive in Northern Ireland is probably the most effective of its type anywhere in this country and probably in Europe. It is certainly true to say that the reduction in recent years of the waiting list for urgent housing illustrates the important achievement that the Housing Executive has made. I am particularly grateful to the distinguished chairman and members of the Housing Executive for the work that they do.

Given that one of the greatest strengths of housing associations in Northern Ireland is the local people involved in them, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House and the people of Northern Ireland that he will maintain the distinct identities of each such housing association and steadfastly resist any efforts to amalgamate them into a private version of the Housing Executive?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I was present at a recent function that all the housing associations attended. As one who was formerly actively involved in housing matters on a local authority, I know only too well the importance of small local housing associations. They fulfil a particular need in a particular area. At this stage I am not prepared to give an unequivocal assurance to the hon. Gentleman along the lines that he requested. However, I understand the sentiments that he expresses and I am, as they say, minded to agree with him. [Interruption.]

Order. The House is very restless. I hope that it will settle down. It is disconcerting for hon. Members who have the Floor.