HC Deb 09 January 1996 vol 269 cc9-10
9. Mrs. Bridget Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his Department's policy concerning the sell-off of the married quarters housing stock. [6347]

Mr. Arbuthnot

We propose to take forward the transfer to the private sector of the married quarters estate in England and Wales.

Mrs. Prentice

Having already wasted £6 million of taxpayers' money on a previously ill thought out housing sell-off, will the Minister now give the House some assurance that further taxpayers' money will not be wasted in that way, or is he convinced that, with David Hart as the adviser in this sale, he will get it right this time?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I have considerable confidence that we are getting it right. We have made it clear, however, that the sale will go ahead only if both the price and the terms are right. There are tremendous benefits to be obtained. We want to improve the management and the quality of the married quarters housing estate. I hope that that is an objective that the hon. Lady shares.

Mr. Whittingdale

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in some cases, the quality of the married quarters housing stock, such as that at Colchester garrison, leaves something to be desired? Will he confirm that the sale of the housing stock will release resources that can be used to improve the properties, and may also make available surplus properties for use by the local community?

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is quite right. The purpose of the sale is to achieve a number of benefits, including an investment in upgrading service homes, but also genuinely to transfer risk to the private sector, which is best placed to take that risk. It will help us to dispose of surplus properties more effectively and, as I said in answer to the previous supplementary question, it will improve the management and quality of service housing.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Minister accept that the disposal of Ministry of Defence property, including service housing and other property, can raise considerable anxiety, as evidenced by the description by Lord Hill-Norton, Admiral of the Fleet, of the Minister's right hon. Friend as "a little creep"—a description that one certainly could not apply, for many reasons, to the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames)? There are, of course, considerable apprehensions in the minds of many people about the future of Greenwich, about the future of the old Admiralty and 'of Admiralty arch itself. What assurances can the Minister give the House that those properties will be properly dealt with?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I am a little disappointed in the hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps he was not here earlier when I answered a question about Admiralty arch. I have made it plain that the Government have no intention, and never had any intention, of disposing of Admiralty arch. The question of Greenwich has been raised and dealt with in the House on many occasions; it is clear that the facility needs to be used properly, to the nation's best advantage, and it will be so used.

Mr. Dykes

How many married quarters will be relinquished during the gradual phasing out of RAF Stanmore Park? Can my hon. Friend confirm the good news that the combination to form RAF Bentley Priory will eventually create more civilian jobs?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I can answer yes to the second question, on the advice of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I am afraid that I cannot answer the first without notice, but I will write to my hon. Friend.

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