HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1139-40
12. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost of paying, housing, servicing, training and arming a British private soldier.

Mr. Hayhoe

It is not practicable to produce meaningful figures in the form asked for by the hon. Gentleman. The cost of a typical infantry battalion of some 650 officers and men stationed in the United Kingdom, at 1979–80 estimates outturn prices, was £6.2 million, of which £0.8 million was capital expenditure on weapons, equipment and accommodation, and £5.4 million annual running costs.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that those are staggeringly high figures? Does he therefore agree that conscription would be an inefficient and expensive option? Does he further agree that if conscription were used to cure teenage vandalism and crime, that would prove to be expensive? Will he accept that there are cheaper ways of dealing with that problem?

Mr. Hayhoe

We get good value for the money that we spend on the Army and on the other Services. The subject of conscription was debated recently, and I made it clear that the Government have no plans to return to conscription.

Mr. Wall

What action will my hon. Friend take about the disgraceful film that was broadcast on Sunday by BBC 2, entitled "Gone for a Soldier"? It depicted the Army as being a strike-breaking, civilian-bashing mob, commanded by incompetent officers.

Mr. Hayhoe

I saw part of that programme. It was a highly personalized —some might say prejudiced—and sharply selective use of material that was offensive to many people. However, I imagine that the film has been widely recognised for what it was.

Mr. Newens

As we spend so much money on looking after the British soldier while he is in service, should we not ensure that he has a proper opportunity to find a house when that service has been completed? Is the Minister aware that those who occupy Service tenancies are frequently refused houses by the local authority of the area in which they live? Is it not scandalous that those who have done such a job should be treated in that manner?

Mr. Hayhoe

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support. We appeal to all local authorities to give proper consideration to applications that are made by retired Service personnel. If local authorities behave reasonably and fairly, as most of them do, adequate provision is then made.

Mr. Burden

Will my hon. Friend reinstate the circular that was sent to local authorities some years ago, which brought this subject to their attention? It suggested that if an ex-soldier wished to live in a certain area within a year of leaving the Service, he should be put on the housing list and given priority.

Mr. Hayhoe

That circular was last sent out in 1975. I shall consider whether it would be wise to send it out again.