HC Deb 17 February 1977 vol 926 cc697-9
Q2. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment on the arrangements being made for rehousing Service men on their retirement or discharge from the Services.

The Prime Minister


Mr. Lloyd

Since the House may safely assume that the Prime Minister is familiar with the heavy concentration of Service families in Hampshire, may I ask whether he is also aware that in one local authority area alone there are 78 Service families in irregular occupation of military accommodation? If the problem is to be handled on a more realistic basis, does it not require a more realistic approach to the rate support grant for the county?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of this question, particularly in places such as Gosport, Portsmouth and Rushmoor, Aldershot. I am told that there was a meeting a short while ago between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence on the one hand and the local authorities on the other to deal with the problem. The situation is not satisfactory, although Circular 54/75 was intended to deal with it. I hope that local authorities everywhere will do what they can, within their overall responsibilities, to assist the resettlement of ex-Service men when they have finished their term in the forces.

Mr. Newens

Does not the Prime Minister regard it as an appalling insult to a Service man who has saitsfactorily completed his term of service that he should be taken out of a Defence Departmentowned house by a bailiff acting on a court order? Does the Prime Minister realise that this is exactly what is due to happen to one of my constituents, Mr. Wood of North Weald, next Monday morning be cause the local Epping Forest Council is unable to offer anything better for his family than bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Is it not time to stop this state of affairs, not only for my constiuent but for all such people?

The Prime Minister

Now that my hon. Friend has brought the matter into the daylight, I am sure that it will be looked into, if that has not been done before. I shall not undertake any action myself but I shall draw the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Churchill

Does the Prime Minister realise that only this week the Secretary of State for Defence admitted in a Written Answer that more than 125,000 jobs have been deliberately destroyed in the Services and defence industries as a result of the Socialist defence cuts? Does the Prime Minister realise that there will be further cuts involving another 218,000 jobs by 1979? Is not this the biggest job destruction programme ever undertaken by any Government, and how does the Prime Minister excuse his callous complacency?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member should not confuse whirling words with cogent argument. The Question is related to the rehousing of ex-Service men. I have dealt with that Question, I have been into it thoroughly and I shall continue to investigate it.

Mr. Pavitt

As one of the most imaginative schemes of the Government has been the promotion of co-operative housing in the ordinary sector, though it is having to be held back a bit because of public expenditure cuts, would my right hon. Friend consider as a possible solution to the housing problems of ex-Service men that the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment might pursue the formation of housing co-operatives?

The Prime Minister

I shall draw my hon. Friend's suggestion to the attention of the Department of the Environment and the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Nelson

Does the Prime Minister know about the serious housing difficulties that are faced by widows of Service men who have been killed, by invalided Service men and by Service men who face risks in settling in Northern Ireland but who have family connections there? Although local authorities do not have any priorities forced upon them, will the Prime Minister give priority to these special groups to whom we all owe a particular responsibility?

The Prime Minister

I should not want to see a widow turned out of a Service house if that could be avoided. I speak from personal experience of this matter. When my father died, we were living in a Coastguard cottage and we had to leave. That was many years ago and I hope that we have moved beyond that situation now, but that is why I am taking a personal interest in the matter and I shall try to do everythting that I can to overcome it.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does the Prime Minister remember from his days as a divisional officer the haunting problem that housing posed for his sailors? Does he realise that with the turbulence that there now is in Service life, many ex-Service people have either no home towns to which they can return or insufficient residence qualifications in dockyard and garrison towns? The present Department of the Environment circular is not proving very effective. Therefore, can the Prime Minister help and have a personal word with the Secretary of State for the Environment to see whether something more effective can be persuaded upon local authorities all over the country?

The Prime Minister

Much information and advice is given to Service men at all stages in their careers. Not all of them take advantage of it, but many do. The Secretary of State for the Environment is prepared to consider an application from any local authority that can make a case for allowing priorities for areas of housing stress or pockets of housing stress. That is the best way to proceed. I am, however, willing to look at any other matter and to ask the Secretary of State to investigate it.

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