HC Deb 19 December 1995 vol 268 cc1336-7
9. Mr. O'Hara

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representation he has made to the Secretary of State for Defence over the planned privatisation of the Ministry of Defence's married quarters estate. [4883]

10. Mr. Jamieson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has made to the Secretary of State for Defence over the planned Ministry of Defence's married quarters estate. [4884]

Mr. Curry

We have made it clear that we wish to see genuinely surplus property used to provide homes for people. It will help to create sustainable and mixed communities if homes are available for both purchase and rent.

Mr. O'Hara

Does the Minister share my concern that those perfectly good homes are being sold off like so much Army surplus stock when social housing, which is his Department's responsibility, is desperately needed?

Mr. Curry

The important thing is to ensure that people live in the surplus houses that are available. There are about 70,000 MOD homes, of which 14,000 are empty. That is 14,000 too many. We must ensure that people can live in them. Whether that goes for social housing or for low-cost starter homes appears to me to be much less important. What matters is that they are used.

Mr. Jamieson

Does the Minister recall that in July 1994, his Department's task force report described the MOD policy of having thousands of homes standing empty as short-sighted and anti-social? Is not it clear to the Minister that Defence Ministers have totally ignored the advice of his Department by having 14,098 empty properties—552 of them in the Prime Minister's constituency? When will he take firm action to ensure that the MOD releases those properties for social housing, as he has said repeatedly that it should?

Mr. Curry

That is precisely what the MOD now proposes. It is manifestly the case that the programme of disposal has not proceeded quickly enough in the past few years. The MOD has had to cope with "Options for Change", which has meant much shifting of personnel and many changes in personnel in the armed forces, so it needs to ensure that houses are available. What matters now is that we ensure that those houses are used. Regardless of whether those houses are made available for rent, the eventual purchaser will have no interest in holding on to empty stock. He will want to dispose. It is immaterial whether he disposes into the private rented sector or the home ownership sector. What matters is that those houses are used.

Mr. Ian Bruce

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that tomorrow—I am sorry, on Friday—on Thursday—[Laughter]—I shall present the keys to some MOD homes to new tenants from Magna housing association in my constituency. Many of those MOD properties will be sold to the private sector. However, where housing associations exist in districts where an enormous number of homes become vacant as a result of MOD changes in constituencies such as mine, will he ensure that they have the funds to recycle those homes into super housing association homes, and to get the very many people on the waiting list into them?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend has always been a stickler for terminological exactitude. [Interruption.] In other words, he knows what day of the week it is. He will know that some housing associations have already shown considerable interest in acquiring that stock and some of them, such as the North housing association, can do so with their own funds and do not need to apply for funding.

I am sure that the purchaser of the properties from the MOD will have no interest in holding on to the stock but will want to dispose of it, some of it to housing associations, who are natural purchasers.