HC Deb 30 July 1954 vol 531 cc903-23

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

I wish to raise a question which has been raised in the House on many occasions. I make no apology for the fact that it is a question of which the House is well aware, nor do I make any apology that I am aware that the Ministry has the matter in hand. But I cannot help feeling that it is one of those things that has been in hand for rather too long.

The Minister, in May, indicated that he was asking local authorities to look into the requirements that they made for qualifications for applicants to their housing lists. I am also aware that my right hon. Friend has subsequently asked the Housing Management Sub-Committee to go into this matter and that the Sub-Committee has had a number of meetings. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is here today, will be able to say, if it is not premature, what has happened at those meetings and whether any conclusions have been reached.

The question is that of the members of Her Majesty's Forces who, on return to civilian life, find that they cannot get even a place on the waiting lists of local authorities. That is a serious predicament for anybody. The reason that people leaving the Forces cannot get a place on a waiting list is that local authorities will not accept anybody who does not have a residential qualification extending over a number of years. These qualifications vary, but generally speaking the average is about three years. It must be obvious to everyone concerned that if a man is involved in an organisation like the Regular Forces, with commitments all over the world, to have a residential qualification of any period of time before he leaves the Service is an impossibility.

My main object on this occasion is to ventilate the problem and to bring out some very clear difficulties which confront members of the Forces. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to say in his reply how he stands and what action he thinks can be taken. I am fully aware that it would be out of order on the Adjournment to discuss legislation, but it will do no harm to review this whole problem and to see whether there is any hope of an early solution. This has been going on since 1945 and it is now very nearly 1955. That is a very long time for an obvious problem to go unsolved.

The nature of Regular service in Her Majesty's Forces makes it quite impossible for any Regular members of those Forces to have residential qualification for inclusion in any local authority housing list. We cannot change that situation because that is the nature of the service, so that we are up against a special case right away. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has remarked on numerous occasions, the Government and the previous Administration have been very much concerned at the situation which is created by our widespread commitments all over the world which involve our Forces being great distances from these shores, with very few of the Regular Forces here at all. So the situation is aggravated even more than it would be if we had our forces established here and there were some chance of the families being able to claim residential qualifications through the serving man living at home and going to the barracks to do his service.

Again, because of the nature of their service, many members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force cannot know until they almost retire when they are coming out of the Forces. In many cases they are likely to need further employment and often they cannot estimate at a sufficiently early date for them to register on the housing lists where they will live or when they come out.

From the cases which have come to my notice—and I can only go on cases which have been sent to me; I have had one or two from hon. Members opposite, to which I will refer in a moment—it seems that even if it were possible to make a decision to retire at an early date and put in an application for a house, the local authority will not take any notice of the application. It says in effect, "You have not got any residential qualifications, and we cannot entertain your application." So a situation arises where members of the Regular Forces have no prospects for housing when they come out of the Forces. That must have a very serious effect upon recruitment.

I do not want in this debate on this day to go into that aspect of the case at any length. Most hon. Members will agree with me when I say—this is no party point—that if we are going to have any weakening of the Regular element in our Forces upon which the whole of our defence system is built, then that system is going to be in jeopardy. Therefore, it is a national responsibility to see that the Regular element, which is the basis of the whole system because it encourages voluntary recruitment and is responsible for training the National Service element, is given a life in the Service which is as satisfactory in every respect as are conditions and prospects in other forms of civilian occupation.

That is the fundamental principle upon which we must insist in this House, because if that state of affairs does not exist it will be found that the Regular Services are unable to attract men to serve in them because of the attractions of competing activities. Once that happens we shall have a very serious problem before us. I hope my hon. Friend will realise—as I am sure he does—the problems facing the Service Ministers in this regard.

Under certain circumstances it has been possible for families to obtain housing qualifications, but again that depends on the decision of the local authorities and often of the wife and family remaining at home while the soldier goes abroad. That is not a satisfactory situation, because it splits the family. Here are two clear objections to the present position of Service life. It may not bring any future housing prospects for the Regular Service man; or, alternatively, to get any such prospects he has to be prepared to split his family. I am satisfied that those are not conditions which ought to be tolerated and certainly they are not conditions which are conducive to encouraging men to join the Regular Forces.

The Regular Forces can do very little to solve this problem out of their own resources. As everyone knows, the married quarters situation is very serious indeed. I have studied this since the question was first raised, and I find that in the Navy only 10 per cent. of the personnel can obtain married quarters by reason of the fact that the Navy does not normally live on land.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Harvey

I note the applause of my hon. Friend at my statement, but something which has escaped the attention of his Department is just how large is this problem in the Navy. There is a tendency to suggest that it is not so great because there are not so many people in that Service. I hope that, in my simple way, I have disposed of that argument.

There is another matter with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is concerned, as is my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air, and that is when families have been occupying married quarters and it is necessary for them to get out of the premises because the serving man has either died or left the Service. In some cases they cannot do that because there is no, alternative accommodation available, and so an eviction order has eventually to be served to get possession of the married quarters.

The evicted people are then thrown upon the mercies of the local authorities, who generally state, "These people are the responsibility of the Service Departments and we can do nothing for them." That means the family is thrown out into the gutter. That is no way to treat people who have given their lives to the service of their country.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not here seeking any form of privilege or asking for exceptions to be made, but merely that we should create the conditions which are appropriate to the particular type of life that our Regular Service men have to live. It is not a good thing for Regular Army recruitment or for any of the Services that there should be publicity given to a series of eviction cases of people occupying married quarters, even though the Services have got to regain possession of these premises for those who need them more than those who are being evicted.

I should like now to turn to the position of Her Majesty's Government and of the previous Administration. They have both had to face this problem. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government appointed a sub-committee, of which the chairman was my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke). Here may I say that I am very pleased to see him in his place on the Treasury Bench, where he is sitting in view of his merited promotion. I assume he will now have to relinquish the chairmanship of that sub-committee and I hope his successor will bring to it the knowledge and the enthusiasm which I know my hon. Friend must have done.

That sub-committee has been dealing with a problem which has existed for a long time. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is aware of it and he sent to the local authorities Circular 8/52 in which he asked them to co-operate by making a relaxation in dealing with the problem. It was a well-worded and diplomatic circular, but it has not had any effect, and that is why I am raising this matter today.

I can understand the point of view of the local authorities who have a considerable housing problem on their hands. It is true that my right hon. Friend, through his admirable record, has improved that situation to a certain degree, but the local authorities have people on their very doorstep who can worry them every day, and so they are a little inclined to give those people more attention than the regular service man who is not in a position to come personally.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman also bear in mind the special position of boroughs, such as Woolwich, which are garrison towns and which obviously cannot cope with the problem of the ex-Service man requiring a house?

Mr. Harvey

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Now I want to read to the House a letter sent to me by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I quote this because it shows clearly that this is no party issue and I am glad that it is not. This letter typifies the problem and the atttitude of the Service man leaving the Services. This man writes: I have just finished with the Army after serving 21 years Regular service. I applied for a house … and I was told that I could not be considered as I had not lived in the place for the past five years … I am beginning to wonder if it was worth staying in the Army. That is typical of letters which we all receive. That man has obviously been a keen soldier and an asset to the Army. It is not healthy that men of that calibre should have such a reaction or that conditions should exist to cause such a reaction.

I have another letter here from a local authority which reads: In reply to your letter of the 22nd ultimo, I can confirm that service in the Armed Forces is not now awarded points under the Council's points scheme. There was also a very good letter recently in one of our national newspapers by a member of a local government housing committee which confirms everything I have been saying this morning.

The Government have taken certain action but very little has been done for the men in the Forces and they are still suffering from this problem. There is a saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I am told that it does not apply in Whips' offices and it certainly does not apply to men serving overseas or in the Regular Forces as far as local authorities are concerned; in fact, the more appropriate phrase so far as they are concerned is "out of sight, out of mind." These men are subject to that age-old activity of "passing the buck." From my experience of dealing with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and with local authorities, I am satisfied that this is part of that game, because they can tell these men that they have the Services to look after them.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is in a predicament because he, quite rightly, believes that the local authorities should have autonomy and that housing should be a local government responsibility. That is a correct attitude, but if there is such rigidity on the part of local authorities that it penalises a certain element in our society which cannot look after itself, something must be done. I would like to have an indication from my hon. Friend that something other than committee work is being done. It is easy to set up a committee to deal with a difficult problem and then it is shelved for several months or even years and everybody's conscience is satisfied. Well, my conscience is not satisfied and I hope that my hon. Friend will say clearly that the sub-committee, of which the hon. Member for Hampstead was the chairman, has not been engaged in a major shelving operation, but that we shall see the same expedition applied to this problem as was shown by the committee which was concerned with Members' salaries.

I realise fully that there are other competitive elements in society who have just as good or even better claims than the people in the Forces. However, they have an opportunity of getting on to the housing lists and some hope eventually of getting houses. That is denied to members of the Forces. It is no good saying that they chose to be Regulars and that therefore they must take what they get. That is an idiotic approach and I am certain that my hon. Friend will not adopt it, although it is adopted by certain people with whom the Armed Forces are not particularly popular except when they are needed, and then they are very popular.

It is essential that the Services should be in a healthy and effective state, and the morale of the troops cannot be good if they are worried by the conditions in which their families are living. I know that that is not the responsibility of my hon. Friend who is to reply to this debate, but it is the responsibility of my right hon. Friends the Service Ministers; but they, in their turn, are told that housing is not their problem. Therefore, ob- viously, we must have agreement and action.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Does not the hon. Member agree that the need for action is still more urgent in view of the thousands of men and their families who will come back from Suez in the near future?

Mr. Harvey

It does not necessarily follow, because in certain respects they may well be involved elsewhere, but the hon. and gallant Member makes a good point and, of course, there will be an accentuation of the problem.

We do not ask for any particular privilege. We are not suggesting that because a man is in the Armed Forces he should have priority. That would not be suggested by members of the Armed Forces themselves. It is admitted that under certain conditions Service men, certainly in the early years of their lives, often have a better time than do civilians. It is a good life, but it is no use having a good life at the beginning and a bad life at the end. We do not ask for privilege or preferential treatment of any kind. What those of us who are concerned with the interests of the Forces demand is that there should be justice. We do not look upon this as a mechanical, military problem, but as a human problem. Members of the Forces are human beings just as much as are their civilian colleagues.

I earnestly hope that my hon. Friend will indicate that he not only recognises the problem but, with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, will do something to bring all those concerned together at an early date to produce some action, in order to ensure that those who serve in the Regular Forces of the Crown, who are essential to the basis of all our defence system, should have the same rights and opportunities as their fellows in civilian life.

1.42 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

I am sure that both sides of the House feel indebted to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) for raising this important question in such a clear and convincing way. I should like to expand one section of the hon. Member's speech, with reference to the position of ex-Service men who are evicted from married quarters at the expiry of their term of service. I have raised this serious problem with more than one Ministry from time to time and I share the hope of the hon. Member that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will be able to give us some concrete facts as to what he is doing to overcome it.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East read us a letter. I should like to read a similar letter, one of several which I have had recently from my own constituency which, being a garrison town, is in a special position. My constituent writes: On behalf of my five children, wife and self, I take this liberty of appealing to you with the utmost urgency on the question of housing. I am an ex-Regular soldier having served 22 years 75 days in the Royal Artillery. … I am registered for housing purposes with Woolwich Borough Council and the L.C.C. Though registered as above, neither council will assist me where accommodation is concerned until my five children, wife and self are evicted from War Office Married Quarters at the above address. We (my wife and self) have tramped and cycled hundreds of miles in the London area and suburban districts, spending also a huge amount of money, fares, shoe leather, etc., with no success in any quarter. Therefore, Sir, this is my humble request to consider whether you can help us in our plight and so prevent my family becoming homeless, unwanted and a parted family with 100 per cent. disillusionment in front of us.

Woolwich Housing Department have told my wife and self that they cannot do anything for us, and that we come under the County Social Welfare. My wife and I went to the Social Welfare and were eventually given the address of Ladywell Institution (Workhouse). We were told of the various charges, the way of living, etc. (communal) and eventually advised very strongly to avoid going to such an institution by the acting Senior Officer because it is not a fit place for people like ourselves … I make no comment about this, but he concludes by saying: After serving my country honourably for 22 years and 75 days my family and I are to be degraded. This is typical of several letters that I have received in recent months.

Woolwich is in a special situation and it cannot be expected that one borough council can tackle the problem in an area where there are huge barracks to which ex-Service men are brought as their con- tracts expire. Hundreds of them come to Woolwich and they necessarily have to be evicted in due course from married quarters. It is absurd to say that I must persuade the council to do something about this problem.

In fact, Woolwich Borough Council has been more generous than the council which the hon. Member for Harrow, East quoted. Woolwich Council has on its lists and has accepted responsibility for a man whose only connection with the borough was that 20 years ago he joined the Army at Woolwich. Ever since then he has been in India. In spite of that, Woolwich Council takes the liberal view and accepts responsibility for rehousing him. A large number of councils do not go anywhere near as far as that.

It is false to blame local authorities. This is a difficult question on which the Government must make up their mind and have a policy. I want to put one suggestion to the Minister. What about the new towns in this connection? I cannot help feeling that there is a case where the Government have control over the allocation of housing. I should like the Minister to say whether it is not possible to give ex-Service men who are evicted from married quarters some extra possibility of going into a new town.

There is no question that at the moment ex-Service men who have been evicted make great efforts to find houses. I have had the following letter from another of my constituents who has been evicted: It might be of interest to you that I visited four new towns before I was released from the R.A.F. In all of them I got the same reply to my inquiries. The substance of the reply was that if I obtained employment from one of the firms which had opened in the new town I would be allocated a house within a limited period of time. This period varied from three months at Stevenage to nine months at Crawley and Welwyn Garden City. I was, however, unable to find suitable employment at a new town and so could not qualify for a house. It is true that at the moment ex-Service men who have connections with Greater London are admitted side by side with any other citizen to the new towns if they have a job. That is not nearly enough. A man whose family is evicted from married quarters places a special responsibility upon the Government for his rehousing.

There are many tradesmen in the Army. Many who are evicted from married quarters are skilled in a trade. Would it not be possible for the Minister of Labour to take a register of skilled tradesmen in the Army so that automatically they should be registered in the new towns and when they are evicted from married quarters they should automatically have a chance of going into the new towns with a job and thus overcome what is a very serious problem at the present time?

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

My hon. Friend is putting forward a very interesting argument, but I should like him to deal with the fact that in the case of the new towns as a rule it is a question of transferring from the old areas in which there is overcrowding to a new town and transferring certain industries. Therefore, we have to cater more or less for key workers in those industries before dealing with others. I should like my hon. Friend to deal with that aspect of the problem.

Mr. Mayhew

I appreciate the point of view of the new towns, but what I am suggesting is that among the ex-Service men evicted from married quarters there will be many tradesmen who, if registered by the Ministry of Labour earlier, could on their eviction automatically be found work and housing in the new towns suitable to the key industries to which my hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams) referred.

It might be possible to go further and find some system to help ex-Service men who had not had the same chances as civilians for qualifying for homes in the new towns, for the reason given by the hon. Member for Harrow, East, as the timing of their eviction is such a problem for them. If a civilian wants to move into a new town he can choose his time and fix everything, get his house and new job, and then leave his old job. For the ex-Service man it happens the other way round; he has a hard date fixed for the end of his work. It is infinitely more difficult to get a new job and a new house when one's present job comes to an end on a specified date.

For all those reasons the ex-Service man is in a difficult position. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give an assurance about this difficult matter, which is worrying people in Woolwich. I hope that he will give a satisfactory answer to what has been said.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

I had no intention whatever of intervening in the debate, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) will pardon me making one or two observations which appear relevant to the matter. There is no need for me, as an old ex-Service man, to say that I have very great sympathy with the case which has been put forward. I believe it is time that local authorities looked at the problem in a practical commonsense way. They should not show bias in one way or another but recognise the simple fact that these meritorious people, who have been away for a number of years, must be rehabilitated in some way or other. Part of that rehabilitation is the provision of houses where they can settle down with their families for the rest of their working lives.

I cannot follow my hon. Friend all the way in what he said. I think what he suggested would create many problems in the new towns if we sought to mix the various issues concerned. I cannot agree that whenever civilians move from one part of the country to another they automatically find new jobs and new homes. One of the big problems today is that we would be able to get workers to go to industries where they are needed if at the same time we could assure them of homes.

Mr. Ian Harvey

What the hon. Member is now saying is absolutely right, but would he agree that if a man is in possession of a home, and wishes to move to another area, there is something to be said for the local authority concerned arranging an exchange and that that is quite impossible in the case of the Service man?

Mr. Williams

I would only go part of the way with the hon. Member because, obviously, the amount of exchanging of houses is very limited indeed. Perhaps, in a big problem like this, it is quite negligible. The suggestion of my hon. Friend that civilian workers, in a miraculous way, find houses whenever they move from one part of the country to another does not coincide with my experience—

Mr. Mayhew

In the new towns?

Mr. Williams

In the new towns, old towns, or anywhere else. This is not only a problem for Service men but for workers in almost every industry. I should like to get to grips with this problem by suggesting some preparatory work on the part of the ex-Service man himself, on the part of the unit to which he belongs and of the Army as a whole.

In the first place, one has to be careful to see that an ex-Service man is not making application for a new house in 101 different towns. I have seen plenty of evidence when dealing with cases of ex-Service men that a man puts down his name for five or six different towns. Obviously, that is quite unfair because no ordinary civilian is entitled to put his name down except in the area in which he is working and has been residing for a number of years.

I think that within a matter of two or three years from when the man is to come out of the Service the Service authorities ought to interview him. The welfare officer in the unit in which he is serving should approach the man and ask what provision he is making to accommodate and rehabilitate himself and his family. The man should then make up his mind, if he can, as to what area he is desirous of living in at the end of his service. If he goes to town A the Minister ought to enforce—by regulation if necessary on the local authority—that the man should have the same right of having his name on the housing list of that authority as anyone permanently residing in that area.

Mr. Mayhew

That would throw such a burden on towns and councils, such as Woolwich Borough Council, which are garrison places as they would have far more than their share of applications.

Mr. Williams

No, I think my hon. Friend has rather mistaken the position, if I may say so with respect. As a rule he is dead right, and I hesitate to cross swords with him, but I think that on this matter I am fairly sound. I should imagine that, although Woolwich is a place from which people are discharged and to which they may come for the last few years of their service before actually being discharged, normally the bulk of those people come from places distributed all over the country. A number may wish to retire there for sentimental reasons, although I could not find a sentimental reason for remaining in Woolwich.

However, some people have a sort of emotional feeling like that, but I imagine that the bulk of these people would go elsewhere. If I were one of them I would go to Wales, or Droylsden, as places in which I am more interested. There must be an obligation somewhere to put these people on to some housing list and to put them on that list with the full rights enjoyed by everyone else on it. In so far as the hon. Member for Harrow, East has something like that in mind, I agree with him entirely. I cannot see why any local authority or local residents anywhere should take serious exception to a suggestion like that.

Mr. Ian Harvey

The suggestions of the hon. Member are most helpful and sympathetic. He ought to know that military authorities go a very long way, in various instructions to the troops, to make sure that they know what they can do in regard to getting on to housing lists. Whether the men do it or not is another matter. Would not the hon. Member think that a fair consideration would be that every Service man should be entitled to be put on the housing list either of the town of his birth or the town from which he enlisted?

Mr. Williams

No, dealing with the second point first, I do not think I would want to limit the Service man in that way. My experience is that in nine cases out of 10 during the course of his service in the Armed Forces a man pairs up with a young woman. Possibly he is a Welshman, who meets a girl from Scotland and, for reasons best known to himself, decides to go to Scotland to live. Therefore, the proposition that he should live in the town of his birth is no good to him.

When these ex-Service men are making application to the local authorities during the time they are serving in the Forces, their applications should go to the commanding officer. Not only should the commanding officer take an interest; he should convey the application of the Service man to the local authority of the man's choice. So far as I can see that will have two effects: first, it will ensure that the local authority takes notice of the application and that until the commanding officer is assured of that he will not leave the authority alone; and, secondly, it assures the local authority that a Service man is not registering himself for housing accommodation in various parts of the country at the same time.

2.1 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I am sure that the House will be most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) for raising this subject and for dealing with it in such a persuasive and lucid way. He began by saying that he made no apology for raising it, and I do not think that anyone would ask him to do so. This is, as everyone who has spoken in this brief debate has said, a great human problem; indeed, anything connected with homes is a great human problem.

May I say that it was as agreeable to me as it was astonishing to discover that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East had on this occasion found something on which they could agree. I never thought that I should see the day when that would happen, but curious things happen in this House. It is probably even more surprising that I find myself largely in agreement with both of them.

I think that my hon. Friend has raised this topic in order to give publicity to the particular cases he mentioned. Before I answer him I should like to answer a point made by the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams), who was born in Wales and represents an English constituency. He made sensible suggestions as to what the War Office ought to do. I should like to tell him what is the system adopted at present.

The position is explained to soldiers, who are advised and helped in making applications to local housing authorities, and unsuccessful applications are followed up. My hon. Friend, who follows all that is happening about the Army Council with great interest, will probably know, from Army Council Instruction No. 273 of 1951, that all the staffs—commands, districts and units—were given the task of assisting soldiers in making applications to local housing authorities.

In March, 1954, an Army Council letter was issued to all commands asking commanders to ensure that all married soldiers should be made aware of the difficulty of the problem, the correct method of application to local housing authorities and the assistance available to them through the officers of the R.A.E.C. District and command staff have the duty to follow up all the applications made by soldiers to local housing authorities which are refused. Cases of hardship or difficulty are referred to the War Office which, in turn, sends them to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is our duty then to take up the individual cases with the local authority concerned. To reinforce what I have just said, I would say that if any hon. Gentleman has a case which he thinks is one of hardship he should write to me, and I will make absolutely certain that it is gone into.

Having said that, I would say that I have to answer, usually in these Adjournment debates and on Motions, about many facets of housing. A few days ago there was the question of requisitioned houses. Sometimes there is great hardship to the owner of requisitioned property and sometimes to the tenant who has to move. If there are thousands of families who want homes, and there are not sufficient homes to go round, there are bound to be some cases of hardship. It is relatively easy to pick out a case that deserves sympathy and to say that the person concerned should have a house. What is required is to say in which case a person should not have a house.

I think that the local authorities, which I have criticised on many occasions, and which I hope I shall continue to criticise if I think it necessary to do so, have by and large operated their housing lists with scrupulous fairness according to local circumstances. They may not have worked out their points system as we think best, but I know that some local authority housing committees sit late at night discussing what is best and, by and large, they have hammered out systems which give reasonable satisfaction.

The problem which we are now discussing arises in this way. Local authorities are, by statute, responsible for the management and control of their houses, including the selection of tenants. They are required to give reasonable preference to persons who occupy insanitary or overcrowded houses, and also to those who have large families or are living in unsatisfactory conditions. Local authorities have to look at all these cases as well as those of ex-Service men, and they have to adopt some form of selection.

In the early days after the war most local authorities insisted on a residential qualification, partly because of the pressure of the people at home, who said, "We must have houses first." I can say, from my experience at the Ministry, that many modifications have been made giving greater preference to ex-Service men than existed in those days. I do not say that the position is perfect, and I agree with all that my hon. Friend said about ex-Service men.

He said that this question has been in hand for too long a time, and he quoted a circular which my right hon. Friend sent out, and asked what was the attitude of the Ministry. From that circular it is quite clear that the Minister is anxious that ex-Service men should be given an equal but not better chance than the local residents. That is the policy which we in the Ministry want local authorities to adopt. We do not say that ex-Service men should be given preference over local inhabitants; we say they should not be prejudiced by reason of their service. I think that is a fair statement of policy.

In paragraph 2 of circular No. 8 of 1952, issued to local authorities on 31st January, 1952, it is stated: Many of these serving men have no established association with any particular district. If, therefore, a rigid residential qualification is imposed by the local authority of the area in which they wish to settle after discharge they would, because of their service, be prejudiced in their applications for housing accommodation. The Minister"— I underline this sentence— is confident that this is a position which local authorities will be anxious to avoid and that they will agree that these applicants should be given equal priority with others for consideration on the basis of relative housing need. I think that the policy which my right hon. Friend has tried to get over to the local authorities will command general agreement in the House.

My hon. Friend said that not all local housing authorities are following that policy. I will come to that point in a moment. A large number of local authorities have amended their points schemes as a result of this circular, and in written evidence given to the Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, local authorities have quoted cases in which they have altered their system. The circular has, therefore, had some effect. I think that in most cases, but perhaps not in all, that hon. Members would like, they have responded by waiving residential tests for ex-Service men altogether, or by waiving the normal test provided that the man or his wife has had some previous connection with the area. That type of relaxation is quite common, particularly in London.

What further action can the Minister take? First, we in the Ministry would like any Member to send us the details of difficult individual cases which are not satisfactorily dealt with. It is then our job to get in touch with the local authorities on a friendly basis to see whether we can ask them to right the wrong, if wrong there be. I have never yet—speaking from memory—known of one case in which the local authority has not gone some way towards meeting the wishes of the Ministry, even though the local authority is autonomous.

Mr. Mayhew

I do not wish to be controversial, but I have here a note about an R.A.F. case. I do not wish to mention the authority, because I think that would be invidious, but this local authority refused point blank to waive their residential qualification.

Mr. Marples

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I deal with a considerable volume of correspondence on this matter. I was quoting from memory when I said that though I could quote hundreds of cases where local authorities had acted, I could not remember any case where a local authority had refused.

But I stand corrected about the particular case which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. If he will send the particulars to me we will have another look at it. Although it might have been turned down the first time, there is no reason why we should not try again. There may have been an alteration in the circumstances or in the composition of the elected representatives, which may be for the better—or possibly for the worse. But my right hon. Friend would like hon. Members to send to the Ministry details of individual cases.

Having sent out a circular which had some effect, but still meeting a number of difficult cases, my right hon. Friend decided that he would like the backing of the Central Housing Advisory Committee before taking any further action. The Committee is a statutory body, which has been set up to advise the Minister. It has a Housing Management Sub-Committee which has been meeting under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), who has now been appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and whom I should like to congratulate on his appointment. He has rendered great service on that Sub-Committee for a number of years. The Sub-Committee includes among its members representatives of local authorities—Mr. Stamps, the Chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee, a housing manager from Swansea, and others, all of whom are experts in this matter. A unanimous report from the Sub-Committee would carry great weight.

The Sub-Committee has started work on its inquiry. It is collecting evidence from local authorities and organisations representing Service men and ex-Service men, including the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association and the British Legion, and it is also in touch with the Service Departments. I will send to the Sub-Committee a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT of this debate so that the suggestions made today may be considered. The Sub-Committee is trying to work quickly.

In one of his—I will not say dogmatic statements—but in one of his rather over-emphasised statements, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said that you go to a committee if you want a thing shelved. I do not think that my right hon. Friend can be accused of shelving decisions about anything. This Committee was not set up so that the matter should be shelved, but rather so that the evidence might be sifted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead told me this morning that the Sub-Committee held its third meeting yesterday. On that occasion he called the Sub-Committee together, but then had to resign because of his new appointment. I do not think that the House would expect my right hon. Friend to decide what he will do until the Committee has reported. I hope that we shall receive the report in the near future, and I am sure that the conclusions of the Committee will be well worthy of study.

The hon. Member for Woolwich. East (Mr. Mayhew) referred to the difficulties of ex-Service men who were evicted from married quarters and I agree that it is a hardship. He wanted to know if the new towns would give preferential treatment to ex-Service men. The hon. Member for Droylsden dealt with some of the objections to that suggestion. The new towns were designed to meet an entirely different purpose. The London new towns were designed to take people from the London region who cannot otherwise be housed, as an alternative to allowing Greater London to sprawl still further. That is the policy of the present Government, as it was of the previous Government. The first essential, therefore, is that only Londoners should be able to move to such new towns where work is available for them. Any encroachment on that principle would wreck- the original purpose.

Since 1951, arrangements have been made to enable Regular ex-Service men previously living in London, who secure employment in a new town, to be eligible for a house there. I think that my right hon. Friend replied to that effect to a Question put by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East on 6th July. It would be impossible for the new towns to take in a large number of ex-Service men since the bulk of the housing accommodation there must go to people who come from London with their own firms. But if an ex-Service man can find work in a new town he would be considered for a house by the Development Corporations sympathetically.

Mr. Mayhew

When the Army welfare authorities interview these men and draw attention to the problems of rehousing, will they also draw the attention of the soldier to the necessity of registering and finding work in the new towns well in advance?

Mr. Marples

I cannot speak for what individual welfare officers will do, but I will send a note to my opposite number in the Service Departments advocating that the suggestion be carried out. Perhaps it could be included in the next instruction sent out from the Service Departments. I agree that Service men should be warned well in advance of the difficulties and the alternatives. They must be given time to consider these, because if they are told at the last moment they tend to get into difficulties and do nothing because of the shortage of time.

I hope that I have been able to assure the House that my right hon. Friend intends to pursue this matter vigorously, and that, short of taking over the allocations from local authorities—which is a matter to which I cannot now refer—he has done everything which he could be expected to do.

Mr. Ian Harvey

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the trouble and care that he has taken over this matter, and also for the assurance he has given that the evidence is being sifted. But it would seem from what has been said today that one thing is obvious, and does not require the attention of a committee. It is that so long as the residential qualification applies, the position of ex-Service men is impossible. Will my hon. Friend commend to the Minister that he should negotiate with local authorities to eliminate the application of this residential qualification to ex-Service men?

Mr. Marples

That is what my right hon. Friend hoped that local authorities would do—

Mr. Harvey

But they have not done it.

Mr. Marples

Not all of them have done it, but if this Committee, which includes representatives of local authorities will reinforce that suggestion it will place the Minister in a very strong position. I think that the conclusions of the Committee should be closely studied, and I can assure the House that we shall take all steps possible to see that local authorities deal fairly with ex-Service men, who rank equal with local residents.