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Rent Rebates

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence how how many private soldiers and aircraftmen are still on rent rebate after the recently announced changes in pay scales.

No figures are yet available for numbers of Service men receiving rent and rate rebate which would reflect any changes in financial circumstances resulting from the recently announced increases in Service pay. Moreover, eligibility for the rebate depends on many different factors and any change in the numbers receiving it would be only partially attributable to changes in Service pay scales.

In view of an answer that I was given on 26th April by the Minister of State, to the effect that there were 4,000 soldiers and 59 airmen receiving rent rebates, is the Secretary of State saying that he does not know whether those personnel are receiving rent rebates? Can he not be more specific, and tell us what sort of money would have to be paid in order to take all Service men out of what I would describe as the national assistance category?

The only reason we cannot give up-to-date figures is that it is only a short time since we had the report and the new pay scales and charges came into force. We shall not give up-to-date figures affecting individual circumstances until July. It is wholly wrong to view rent and rate rebates as a form of national assistance or social security. When the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter introduced the scheme they sang a different tune about its purpose. The key element in the entitlement to it is family circumstances. While it would be possible—although it would cost a lot of money—to have a scale of pay so that it would be inconceivable that someone with even the largest possible family would be included in the scheme, it would mean that unless the payments were differentially means-tested, two soldiers serving alongside each other could be receiving different rates of pay. The problem is not as simple as the hon. Member suggests.

Is the Secretary of State aware that some Service wives go out to work in the same way as civilian wives in order to pay the righ rents, but on the other hand other Service wives abroad cannot get jobs now and therefore, unlike their civilian counterparts, they cannot help to pay the rents?

This is an important matter, and a factor at which we are looking very carefully in the Northern Ireland situation. I am glad that the hon. Member raised this, because it enables me to point out that a rent rebate depends on the income not only of the husband but also of the wife.

Will the Secretary of State do something to help soldiers who are serving in Northern Ireland and who have to pay charges for accommodation that compare very unfavourably with council rents and general circumstances in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in view of the fact that their wives cannot earn money?

I am very conscious of that, but there is a Question about this on the Order Paper later from the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Without wishing to anticipate that answer, I can tell the House that we are conducting an urgent review of all these problems.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that as a result of the latest pay award the net increase for many Service men is 3p a week, or less? If that is so, will he do something to deal with this scandalous situation?

I think that the sum of 3p is an exceptionally low estimate, but I would not dissent from the argument that the net increase is small. Following the analogies for charges for accommodation and food that we inherited from the previous Government, and the pay policy that we are obliged to follow, it means that charges that the rest of the community pay separately to a council, a landlord, or a building society are separate from their pay, while in the forces these charges are deducted before the pay is received. This is why the problem arises.

I hope that the right hon. Member can correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand Opposition housing policy, the intention is to increase council rents, thus increasing the charges that Service personnel would have to pay for quarters. Any Service man who votes Conservative will be voting to put his married quarters' charges up by £3 per week.

As the Secretary of State has asked me a question I can confirm now that under a Conservative Government Service men will not suffer.