HC Deb 01 March 1955 vol 537 cc1886-9

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

62. Mr. Dodds

To ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he can yet state what action is to be taken to deal with the unsatisfactory position of Regular Service men at the end of their engagement in the matter of housing.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I will, with permission, answer Question No. 62, which was not reached.

I have been considering the difficulties confronting Regular ex-Service men, who wish to apply for council houses in areas where a residential qualification is required by the local authority. Sailors, soldiers and airmen, returning to civil life after a period of years in the Forces, as often as not possess no fixed abode anywhere at all. To insist, in such circumstances, on a residential qualification is to make it quite impossible for many of them to get their names put onto the housing list, however great may be their need.

That these men should be penalised in this way, solely by reason of the fact that they have been serving their country, is a most grievous injustice, which should not be allowed to continue. I consider that an application for a council house, made within one year of his leaving the Forces, by a Regular ex-Service man, who has found employment in or near the district, or has family connections with it, should be considered exclusively on the basis of his housing needs, without any regard whatsoever for the length of his residence in the locality.

I have decided to address a circular to all housing authorities, recommending the general adoption of this principle; and I am asking any authorities who do not feel able to do so, to let me know their reasons.

Mr. Dodds

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the welcome announcement which he has just made, may I ask if he and his right hon. Friends will bear in mind that if this country is to get the Armed Forces it needs, without conscription, the rest of the community must be prepared to do more for the human problems of those who are willing to go into the Armed Services?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether this will extend to Scottish housing?

Mr. Sandys

I can only communicate with authorities in England and Wales, but I am in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Wigg

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has read the Report of the Select Committee on the Army Act and will have noticed the Committee's recommendation that legislation should be introduced. If local authorities do not respond freely, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to give an undertaking to consider introducing legislation?

Mr. Sandys

I believe that the action I am taking, and the generally favourable response in the House, will probably have the desired effect. I am determined that we shall get a square deal for the ex-Service man by one means or another.

Mr. Elliot

As the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland is in his place, may I ask if he would consider making a similar statement with regard to housing conditions north of the Border?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)

My right hon. Friend is of opinion that local authorities were given ample guidance in 1950 and 1952. Recent inquiries show that there are no serious difficulties on this score in Scotland.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in most parts of the country the residential qualification has not been insisted on in respect of many of these people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said that in most parts of the country it has not been insisted upon—and that in the past it has always been found preferable to secure the co-operation of local authorities in this matter, as in the last analysis they are the people who decide the tenancies of their houses?

While I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I have said the same thing myself from that Dispatch Box, may I ask if he is not also aware that there are other individuals who suffer hardship as a result of the residential qualification, and that the hardship to an individual is just the same, whether he be an ex-Service man or a civilian?

Mr. Elliot

May I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State to look again at the statement which he has made, because I think that it is within the experience of many hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies that similar cases have arisen in Scotland, and I think that it would be a great pity if this direction which is being issued in England should not also apply north of the Border?

Mr. Usborne

If this principle is to be applied to retiring ex-Service men, may I ask whether a similar principle ought not to be applied, say, to retiring colonial civil servants who are also, by the same token, ending a period of service for their country? What is the difference between the two—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or civilian workers."]—or civilian workers?

Mr. Sandys

I am certainly prepared to consider other hardship cases. But this was a crying need. I think that if we can deal with ex-Service men that will be something achieved.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I ask whether the statement of the right hon. Gentleman covers Regulars in the strict sense of the term, or only Regulars with a minimum service of three years?

Mr. Sandys

It applies to all Regulars.

Sir I. Fraser

May I ask my right hon. Friend if it is not a good thing to follow the very long-established custom in Britain of giving some small preference to ex-Service men?

Several Hon. Members rose


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss this matter now.