Military Bases: Accommodation - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:13, 15 May 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the standard of accommodation at military bases.

Photo of Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, since 2021, Defence has invested £1.5 billion across its accommodation portfolio, with thousands of homes being refurbished in the last financial year and more to be upgraded in this financial year. Currently, 96% of all service family accommodation meets or exceeds the Government’s decent homes standard and, although there is no national standard or comparator for military single-living accommodation, we hold ourselves to the defence minimum standard, which spans key issues such as safety, water, ventilation and heating among other factors, as outlined in our defence accommodation strategy.

Photo of Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

I remind your Lordships’ House of my registered interests. Last year, the Labour Party commissioned an independent review of military accommodation. The Kerslake review was published last month and its findings were damning: flooded homes, collapsing walls, pests, mould and dangerous gas and electrical fittings are increasingly the norm. Some of the accommodation is in such a dire state that the MoD has been forced to reduce or scrap the rent for 4,000 serving personnel. The commission recommended that, as a first step, the MoD should commission an independent survey to establish a clear, current picture of conditions, setting out what is required to bring service accommodation up to standard. When can we have one?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the vital importance of accommodation as a central part of the wider package we provide to those serving within His Majesty’s Armed Forces, and we remain committed to getting this right. We recognise and accept that there is still more to be done, alongside ongoing work to refurbish and upgrade what is an increasingly ageing and difficult property estate.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I have not yet had the opportunity to read the Kerslake commission’s report, but I have seen the headlines from Inside Housing, which reviewed the report and commented on rats, mould and other problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, raised many of these issues, but can the noble Earl tell the House which bits of the commission’s report the Government would refute and, if they cannot refute it, what they are going to do?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the point about the report is that we consider it very carefully. What has happened in the last year is that we have spent £222 million on sorting out some of these issues: £53 million on damp and mould remediation in 4,000 properties, £134 million preparing empty homes for occupation in 1,000 properties, £10 million replacing kitchens and bathrooms in 1,000 properties, and £7 million replacing boilers—very important—in 1,500 properties, while in 3,000 properties we spent nearly £20 million sorting out their doors and windows. I say again: this is a very ageing and difficult estate, which in many cases goes back to the 1940s and 1950s. At the same time, we are spending quite a lot of money on acquiring new properties going forward.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench

My Lords, one of the most persistent problems with service accommodation is the quality of, and the response times for, maintenance. Last year, the continuous attitude survey indicated that satisfaction levels with the maintenance of single-living accommodation were below 30%, and for service families’ accommodation it was below 20%. What is being done to analyse the basic causes of this dissatisfaction and to put it right?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord raises a very good point. The DIO has a relationship with Pinnacle, which is effectively the customer service interface with the Armed Forces. It then passes that work on to Amey and VIVO to undertake it. The process has got much slicker; the response time has got much, much better. As I say, we are not where we need to be, but we are moving in the right direction.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, one of the recommendations of the Kerslake commission report, which is very exhaustive, was that the MoD should commission an external independent survey of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. My recollection is that the DIO did not lack information; what it was endeavouring to do was cultivate a much more muscular relationship with contractors. How is that progressing?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The DIO has all the information that it needs. This is about the implementation and requirement, through Pinnacle to the contractors, to ensure that they respond quite rightly to the issues raised by individual and family members of our Armed Forces.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, the Minister gave a long list of the work being undertaken, but I did not hear him mention the question of asbestos in these buildings. Can he give an assurance, therefore, that all the asbestos has now been cleared from the military estate—and, if it has not, when will that be achieved?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the whole question of asbestos is an ongoing issue and one which will take some time to complete. I will write to the noble Lord with full details, but I would like to remind noble Lords that, as they will know, if you do not touch asbestos it is absolutely fine; it is when you start messing around with it that things become dangerous.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

My Lords, is it not the case that a lot of the problems go back to the Tories’ privatisation of the Armed Forces’ houses, which they privatised without making sure the houses were maintained and repaired?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the benefit of hindsight is wonderful. At the time, in 1996, when the deal was done with Annington—originally with Terra Firma and then with Annington—it was considered a perfectly acceptable deal in the prevailing conditions. In retrospect, of course, property values have risen hugely. I am sure noble Lords will know that a number of cases are going through the courts about enfranchisement, about which of course I cannot comment.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, as someone who from time to time has occasion to stay in military accommodation at various camps, my observation is that standards have not kept pace with changing expectations—what was deemed acceptable in the 1970s and 1980s is no longer. This has a serious effect on the ability to recruit to the Armed Forces. Does my noble friend not agree that this is yet one more reason to increase defence spending without delay?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. One justification for the increase in defence spending we announced recently was to continue to invest in accommodation and bring it up to current acceptable standards. One has only to think back 20 or 30 years to what was an acceptable standard then, to realise that now we are in a very different world.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, could the Minister update the House on what basis housing is allocated? Is it continuing to be allocated according to rank or is it allocated according to need?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the way accommodation has been allocated is subject to a review. The Secretary of State has called in that review, as I am sure everybody is fully aware, and will report this summer with his findings.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, does the Minister have any views on the appropriateness or the proper use of resources in providing proper sanitation for young women in our Armed Forces? I certainly do not need to explain their needs, but they are very different from those of their young male counter- parts. Can the Minister say anything about that? My experience is that they are totally inadequate.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point. Particularly in single-living accommodation, this is absolutely critical. In the budget, £5.3 billion has been allocated in the next 10 years to invest in the existing single-living accommodation and acquire new accommodation. I can assure the House that the issues around female single-living accommodation are being well catered for.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, my colleague Helen Morgan in the other place put down an amendment to the Renters (Reform) Bill that would require the Government to bring military accommodation up to the decent homes standard. Will the Government bring forward such an amendment to the Renters Reform Bill, which is being discussed today?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, that is outside my brief, obviously, but I would say that the accommodation standards continue to improve. Our forces are paying only something like 15% of their salary for accommodation. If one thinks about that in wider market context, it is not an ungenerous situation to be in.