HC Deb 25 January 1977 vol 924 cc1158-60
10. Mr. Grocott

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will appoint a committee of inquiry to examine his Department's management of its housing stock.

Dr. Gilbert

No, Sir. I am satisfied that steps are being taken to dispose of surplus accommodation as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Grocott

Will the hon Gentleman reconsider his reply, in view of a number of disturbing facts that have emerged in response to questions that I have put to him in recent months? Does he agree that it is deplorable that it should be regarded as normal for 13 per cent. of Ministry of Defence houses to be empty at any given time? Does he further agree that it is an affront to the homeless that a number of the houses have been empty, on his admission, for over four years and that local inhabitants, whom I tend to believe, say that they have been empty for as long as eight years?

Dr. Gilbert

I think that my hon. Friend is slightly misinformed. It is right that 13 per cent. of the stock is vacant at present, but that is not considered normal. We consider about half that proportion to be adequate for normal management requirements. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that some MoD properties have been lying vacant for many years, but our problem is that some are in isolated situations and it is difficult to find purchasers for them, whether private individuals or local authorities.

Mr. Viggers

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way in which a small number of Service careers are ended by furniture being dumped on the street is nothing less than a scandal? I appreciate recent reassurances that only Ministers will give orders to take such action, but does the Minister accept that the only real way of dealing satisfactorily with the problem is to ensure that the local authorities of origin accept their responsibilities for families who come from their areas?

Dr. Gilbert

I have no difficulty in accepting the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. One difficulty is that sometimes a hiring has been taken over by the Ministry to meet a short-term shortage, and the owner of the hiring may want vacant possession, to which he may be legally entitled. In those circumstances there is no alternative, unfortunately, but to ask the people who are in the property to leave. I recognise the difficulty in these cases. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any particular cases, I shall be happy to look into them.