§ 10. Mr. Gunnell
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with local authorities about the transfer of Ministry of Defence housing.
§ Mr. Hanley
My Department has had discussions with local authorities on the leasing of properties that are not immediately needed for service families or that are awaiting sale.
§ Mr. Gunnell
Does the Minister share the view of his ministerial predecessor, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), that it was rather a waste of time talking to local authorities, because they did not have the money to pay for the married quarters that they might wish to possess? Given that one in seven Ministry of Defence houses is vacant, and that the total is therefore far greater than the number needed for any returning service personnel, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be sensible for the two Departments to get together? Would not it be sensible for the Department of the Environment to ensure that capital receipts are available for local authorities to spend on married quarters so that they can purchase houses that the MOD wishes to sell and which the local authorities would like to possess?
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman made several points, and I have sympathy with many of them. The Ministry of Defence is managing its housing estate. I said earlier that there are about 70,000 married quarters, of which about 10,000 are vacant. However, it should be remembered that most vacant properties are undergoing major works, many are being held for deployments, and many are already allocated to service families but have yet to be occupied. We have also been co-operating with the housing task force and trying to sell as many vacant properties as possible. We sold 2,000 vacant properties last year alone, and we intend to sell a further 5,000 over the next five years. We enter into discussion with local councils not only because we like to take their advice on what housing associations might be useful but because many of them are leasing properties from us on a short-term basis.
§ Mr. Viggers
Is my hon. Friend aware that the local authority in Gosport, which I represent, has found the Ministry of Defence to be helpful and imaginative in its housing policy, as best exemplified perhaps by the recent Rowner Heights development? Does he agree that the transfer of MOD housing stock to the private sector should result in more efficient management and a reduction in the level of vacancy, which has so annoyed my constituents over the years?
§ Mr. Hanley
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that in Gosport there has been a model of co-operation between the local authority and the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, returning service men are being housed properly. As for the housing trust to which my hon. Friend alludes, that has been welcomed by the housing task force and the report recently published by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and 10 Construction. Indeed, we look forward to the establishment of the housing trust so that the estate of MOD housing can be even better managed.
§ Dr. David Clark
Bearing in mind that the cost of an average house in the United Kingdom is £62,500, does the Minister consider that the price of £7,000 per house which he intends to offer the Ministry's housing to the housing trust is a fair deal to the taxpayer?
§ Mr. Hanley
I do not honestly believe that, when one is looking at the number of houses that we are talking about, and the people for whom the houses will be held, the hon. Gentleman is making a straight comparison. What he is doing is trying to deal with the 70,000 houses as though there was a bulk sale and exaggerating the price. It is a bulk sale, but it is for the benefit of people in the armed forces.