Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Wellington Barracks

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 8 October 2008

My Lords, usage of the Defence Estate is reviewed continuously. However, under current plans, Wellington Barracks will remain the key location in London for the execution of state ceremonial and public duties for the foreseeable future. There are no plans to dispose of Wellington Barracks.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that a number of us visited the barracks in the summer and were quite appalled at the conditions we found there? The sports hall had been out of use for eight weeks because 300 beds had been set out there for the extra troops required. Those 300 troops had the use of only 13 showers and lavatories and there were three washing machines for 500 soldiers. In the basement area, which often floods, cars that had to be parked there had been affected by limescale. Is this not an utter disgrace?

My Lords, there are problems at Wellington Barracks, which are part of the legacy of difficulties on accommodation generally which have been around for many years. The MoD does want to improve the situation at the barracks, but it is not easy, partly because of the configuration of the buildings and the size of the site, and because some of the structures are Grade II listed. Improvements are in train at the moment. Band practice rooms are being brought up to standard, a general health estate improvement plan is in place and nearly £10 million has been spent this year, but clearly more needs to be done. The MoD is spending a great deal of money on improving accommodation generally and on trying to deal with the significant backlog of work that has been necessary for many years.

My Lords, on the rationalisation of barracks in London, with the expiry of the lease at St John’s Wood, I understand that the King’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery is being moved to Woolwich. Would it not make more sense for the King’s Troop to be based more centrally at, say, Regent’s Park Barracks, which I believe it would prefer? What is the future of the Regent’s Park Barracks?

My Lords, it is correct that the King’s Troop is moving from St John’s Barracks to Woolwich. The intention is to spend a great deal of money improving the situation at Woolwich and to build new accommodation with en-suite single rooms for those people who are transferring. There will be 422 new units of such accommodation at Woolwich. It is a suitable site, not least because there will be better conditions for the animals that will be going there and good facilities for riding. Overall it will be a better situation. On Regent’s Park, it is well known that the US Embassy was considering acquiring that site from us. That is not going to happen now but it is still possible that we might sell that site.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s question, can the Minister confirm that money raised from the sale of the Chelsea Barracks site is ring-fenced for spending on military accommodation renovations and will not be appropriated for other purposes by the Treasury?

My Lords, I am pleased that we have raised so much money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks. As someone pointed out to me a few minutes ago, had we not sold them at that time we might not have got quite as much money. The Government have gone on record as saying that we will spend £8 billion over the next 10 years on the legacy issues surrounding accommodation for our Armed Services, which has been neglected over many years. The amount of commitment we have shown since 2003 includes the provision of 29,000 new or upgraded single living spaces. That £8 billion over the next 10 years is a clear example of our commitment. The money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks will help in providing extra accommodation.

My Lords, many Members of the House will be shocked by the statement made by my noble friend Lady Sharples about the conditions at Wellington Barracks. I do not know whether the Minister has been there but, in view of their particular significance to any visitors to this country—not least in the ceremonial role, where soldiers have to emerge spick and span on parade from those barracks so regularly—would it not be excellent if she visited Wellington Barracks and then came out and said, “Action this day”?

My Lords, I have spent the whole of September visiting accommodation and units as well as industry up and down the country. There is a lot to see. I have seen some of the difficulties we have with accommodation but also some of the many significant advances that have been made. I mentioned earlier that there are now 29,000 units of en suite accommodation for single people. That was unheard of in our armed services not too long ago. The Government’s record is clear: the backlog is very severe, but significant steps have been taken to improve the situation.

My Lords, can the Minister imagine what the first Duke of Wellington, if he were still in your Lordships’ House, would have said about the conditions that my noble friend described in her supplementary?

My Lords, is there some general policy of moving the accommodation for the forces out of London? The Minister mentioned St John’s Wood and Chelsea Barracks. Are there any plans to change Knightsbridge Barracks?

My Lords, we are trying to ensure that the best use is made of the accommodation that exists so that those of our Armed Forces who are involved in ceremonial state occasions or some of the public duties are based as centrally as possible. Those who are not so involved can manage well on the periphery of London. That is what some of the discussion has been about. Overall, at the end of this procedure, we will end up with better accommodation across the board and with people situated in places that are most convenient for them.

My Lords, with that in mind, can the Minister confirm that action is indeed being taken at Wellington Barracks? I paid a visit on the same day as my noble friend Lady Sharples. I understand that funds are actually in place—“this day”, as my noble friend Lord King put it—to replenish unit showers and some of the accommodation that we saw. I understand that it should not be too great a step for the Minister. Would she be kind enough to push further?

My Lords, I mentioned in my earlier reply that £10 million, a significant amount of money, is being spent this year on some of the general improvements that will have a direct impact on some of the problems that noble Lords have referred to.