§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I have now verified the amount of the £95 million which was left unspent. The answer is that by the end of this month between £2 million and £3 million only will be left unspent. I thought that I would correct that for the Record.
My Lords, if the noble Lord is departing from the question of the adequacy of the proposed programme, may I ask him about one point? I mentioned that the criteria governing the eligibility of Service men for married quarters were at present pretty restrictive. This applies particularly to the Navy, but also, I understand, to the other two Services. Can the noble Lord tell us whether the Government are prepared to examine the possibility of liberalising these criteria as the rolling programme gathers momentum?
§ LORD MITCHISON
Not under this hat, I am afraid. I am speaking on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, and I do not think that he is concerned with the question of eligibility. I will, however, make inquiries about it and will let the noble Earl know. My right honourable friend builds the houses. He does not deal with the other matter.
I speak subject to correction, but I think that he is very much involved in this matter, because it affects the size of the programme. I am sure the noble Lord will find from his right honourable friend the Minister that this is a matter on which the Treasury are very much exercised.
§ LORD MITCHISON
That may well be, I would not dispute it; and I see the effect of it on the estimate given of the total requirements. On the other hand, any annual programme is almost bound to fall short of the total requirement, and I am afraid that for some foreseeable time it is sure to do so. Therefore, one cannot very easily link the two together; but I will make inquiries 566 and let the noble Earl know if there is anything I can add to that.
The houses are built substantially to local authority standards. One reason is that if there is a reduction in the local Service demand, it is the local authorities who are likely to take them over. In fact, they have some additions beyond what a local authority house would have—in the fittings and equipment which are provided: items such as cookers, boilers, electric fires, even lampshades, and I have still not exhausted the list. The result is that what would cost a local authority about £2,350 comes out, with the fittings and so on, and including some external works, at over £3,000. The figure I have been given is about £3,100. Therefore, the substantial answer is that these quarters are fully up to local authority building standards; indeed, because of additions to them, they are rather better.
The other point raised concerned the provision of community services and housing estates. This is rather a difficult matter. I am sure that the noble Earl will appreciate the difficulty, because, as he himself pointed out, one is dealing largely with a floating population in these cases. If I may say so, and speaking personally (because I have not sought information on this matter), it seems to me in trend with modern developments in New Towns and settlements of various kinds of housing, to have something of the sort. Again, I will inquire whether any plans are under consideration and, if so, whether any progress has, so far been made.
My Lords, in that respect could the noble Earl also put to his right honourable friend the Minister the suggestion that some provision should be made or considered for Service men to buy their own houses on these estates? It seems to me that it would add a permanency which is otherwise lacking.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am not sure that I can follow the noble Earl to the extent he would like. I can see serious difficulties in arranging for privately owned houses in the middle, as it were, of married quarters, most of which will not be privately owned. I can see difficulty, too, in using a housing association for this particular purpose, though I took note of the point that the Victory Housing Association had done useful service in this respect. I think the 567 best thing I can say to the noble Earl about both of these matters is that, again, I will make inquiries and let him know. But, if I may say so, I think it is pushing a prejudice in favour of privately owned housing rather far to apply it in this case—and though I use the word "prejudice", I would observe that it is about the only nasty word I have used in the course of this debate. I hope that I have now satisfied the noble Earl and other noble Lords on this matter.
My Lords, I was not speaking from any prejudice in favour of, or against, private ownership. I had in mind merely the need for getting what are likely to be very mobile communities as permanent as possible. I had also in mind, of course, the precedent of the New Towns which do make provision for the purchase of a certain number of houses by owner-occupiers.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.