HL Deb 28 November 1972 vol 336 cc1101-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to reduce the waiting period for Army married quarters in Germany, and what target period they have in mind.


My Lords, we plan to eliminate the waiting period for Army married quarters in Germany. To this end, we are not only acquiring additional long-term hirings under a programme which is planned for completion by 1976, but we are also taking on short-term hirings wherever possible which will greatly ease the situation in the shorter term.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that very satisfactory reply. May I ask him whether full account is being taken of the fact that families cannot be together in Northern Ireland and that, very often, the husband is then posted out to Germany? Also, can the noble Lord assure me that there is no overall financial ceiling put on expenditure on quarters and on hirings, which is applied regardless of any local situation which may arise and which may prove unsatisfactory from a soldier's point of view?


My Lords, there is no doubt that the Northern Ireland situation has aggravated the problem, and the noble Viscount is quite right. But I can assure him that there is no question of finance being a handicap in this matter. There are, as I think he knows, considerable difficulties about building houses in Germany because of the Status of Forces Agreement, which means that we ourselves cannot build them. It has been suggested that we should get that Agreement altered, but I think that would require a great deal of re-negotiation. Although my Department is looking at the matter, I think it is arguable that it is better to do it in this way.


Finally, my Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can also assure me that the money which can be paid for hirings is realistic, bearing in mind the local market for houses in Germany?


Yes, my Lords; I think it is.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, this question? If there is likely to be a limited withdrawal—not a complete withdrawal, which would be objectionable—of American Forces from the Zone, will it be possible for British Forces to utilise the accommodation left by American Forces?


My Lords, I think the difficulty about that suggestion would be geographical, because the British Army would still remain in their present barracks, and of course it is necessary to have the houses near the barracks. But if there are any places where that is possible, should the Americans reduce their Forces—and President Nixon has said that they will not—I will certainly look at that suggestion.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House—and we accept that he is doing all he can in this matter—when this programme will be completed?


My Lords, the programme will be completed in 1976, but I hope very much that the problem will have disappeared before then by reason of the short-term hirings. But of course short-term hirings are rather more difficult to get. One does not quite know how many one will get, because of the circumstances of the people letting the houses, but we are doing our best. I appreciate the difficulty and I am anxious to do all that I can to solve it.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether, on married quarters, Germany is making any contribution to the three Powers in Germany at the moment, under the Agreement which was originally drafted for the defence of Western Germany


No, my Lords. This is a matter between ourselves and private developers in Germany, and the German Administration does not come into it. What we seek to do, arid the way we seek to do it, is to get private developers interested in building blocks of flats and houses and letting them to the Services. That is the way it has been done under the Status of Forces Agreement.


My Lords, will my noble friend say whether, while this situation exists, concessionary vouchers will be given to wives and families so that they may visit their husbands in Germany on very reasonable terms?


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will give me notice of that question. I do not think I can answer it without notice.


My Lords, will the noble Lord consider buying houses in Germany? In the event of a withdrawal or a reduction of British troops, it would then be possible, because of the increase in the price of houses, to sell them at a profit and offset that against costs.


My Lords, it is really a question of the availability of houses more than anything else, and I do not think that that suggestion would help the total supply.

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