HC Deb 22 October 1946 vol 427 cc1448-50
7 and 8. Brigadier Low

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that a recent A.C.I. deprives an officer, living with his family on service abroad, of his liberty to choose how much of his income he will spend on his house; and whether he is considering cancelling that A.C.I.;

(2) if he is aware that the effect of a recent A.C.I. is to impose a tax upon officers serving in Austria and living with their families, in that they are forced to pay to the Paymaster sums by way of rent, fuel and lighting charges far in excess of the actual charges for rent, fuel and light made by the Austrians concerned; and what steps he is taking to refund to all the officers who have been affected the full difference between the sums paid to the Paymaster by the officers and the sums received by the Austrians from their Government for rent, fuel and light.

Mr. J. Freeman

In general, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply given on 9th October to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards), a copy of which I am sending him. The arrangements are similar in Austria and Germany. Any restriction in the choice of residence is due to the fact that quarters can only be provided at the public expense on the basis that the officers for whom they are provided will occupy them. This is not a new policy and does not arise out of the instruction referred to.

Brigadier Low

Does the Financial Secretary realise that in many cases the Austrian charge for the house is approximately £30 rent per year, whereas a major is forced to pay £100 and a colonel £135, the sum being proportionately larger for higher ranks? What happens to the difference between £30 and £135, and where does it go?

Mr. Freeman

As the hon. and gallant Member will realise if he reads the previous reply, the difference is to some extent illusory. On the general question, the principle has been accepted that there shall be a standardised rate for quarters, and there are great advantages in it. It is a method of administration, devised by hon. and gallant Members opposite when they were in the War Office, which has stood the test of time, and we think that it should remain.

Earl Winterton

Can the hon. Gentleman say what possible moral justification the War Office have for making a profit out of the lodging of officers and men in occupied countries?

Mr. Freeman

There is no question of the War Office making any profit out of them at all. As part of reparations, enemy countries provide a certain amount of accommodation for the use of our troops, and the War Office charges the ordinary quartering rate which is applicable in those circumstances. There is no question of direct profit being made by the War Office.

Sir Ralph Glyn

Would the hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of making a distinction between ordinary quartering, and quartering in an occupied country? Would he send out a commission to inquire into the position on the spot?

Mr. Freeman

No, Sir, we have thought the matter over, and have come to the conclusion that the dangers of allowing irregularities to arise in occupied countries are so great that it is far more important to maintain the usual method.

Brigadier Low

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that as a result of the new system of allowances previous practice does not apply in this case at all? Will he look into the question of excess charges made for electric light and fuel? Does he realise that in the case of electric light an officer is forced to pay 1½d. a unit, whereas an Austrian who lives next door to him pays only ¼d.? What is the reason for that?

Mr. Freeman

The last part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's supplementary is a totally different question, and as for the first part, I have said that we propose to maintain the old principle which, we think, applies.

Mr. Frank Byers

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is a feeling that there is considerable unfairness to the individual in this matter, and will he undertake to investigate it once more?

Mr. Freeman

I will always undertake to investigate something once more, but I hold out no hope that we shall take a different view at this moment.

Brigadier Low

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the hon. Gentleman's replies, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.