asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the working of the scheme to purchase the houses of owner-occupiers in troubled areas; and if he will now review the operation of the scheme to cover a wider range of cases of hardship.
1,176 applications have been received in connection with the scheme. The 903 cases dealt with have included 659 recommendations to purchase. The scheme is kept under constant review, as a result of which a more favourable basis for valuation was recently introduced. The advisory committee, which considers all applications, recently recommended further changes in the scheme and these are being considered.
Is the Minister aware that we welcome the fact that there has been an increase in activity in the scheme in the last two months, and that we also welcome the promise of a continuing review? Will he say a little more about the new basis of valuation in terms of valuation of property before it was vandalised rather than at current market values? Will he also say a little more about the position of building societies?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's keen interest in this scheme since its inception, which has been greatly welcomed. As to the basis of valuation, the change which has now taken place is that many of the houses considered had been vandalised and consequently had been lowered in valuation. It was thought fairest not to include damage due to vandalism when offering a price. As for building societies, the Building Societies Association has been most helpful in its efforts at co-operation in this scheme. We are currently further considering certain aspects with the building societies, and when there are any developments on that front I shall let my hon. Friend know.
That is a much wider question, affecting all sorts of factors, such as security, the general atmosphere, and land values in Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me on this matter I shall do my best to give him answers.
That, again, is another question. These issues have to be considered in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, bearing in mind particular housing needs and the security situation. If the hon. Gentleman tables a Question or writes to me on the matter, I shall do my best to meet his point.
It is not possible to say. The answer depends on the number of houses finally purchased by the Housing Executive and the values fixed. It will not be a large sum, but it will bring a great measure of relief to some hard-pressed and desperate people.