Before I turn to Question 1, on behalf of the Government I wish to pay tribute to Sergeant Gavin Hillier of the Welsh Guards, who tragically died in an accident during live-firing exercises in Wales earlier this month. Sergeant Hillier’s distinguished service throughout his career was a tribute not only to his own dedication to duty but to his family and to his regiment, who continue to prepare for operations in Iraq later this year.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) for his close interest in this issue, which is also actively pursued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), my hon. Friends the Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger), and other colleagues. The Ministry of Defence longer has any ongoing military requirement for the homes, which we therefore intend to hand back to Annington, thereby helping to meet obligations under our agreements. I regret that, despite the MOD’s producing a significant package of support that we hoped might assist Annington to allow our tenants to remain in situ in many, although not all, cases, that was not a course that Annington felt able to pursue.
I join the Minister and, I am sure, the whole House in expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Sergeant Hillier.
A number of my constituents in Biggin Hill are keen to remain in their homes; is there no way that Annington Homes can facilitate that? If not, given that we are still battling the covid pandemic, is there any way in which the Minister can provide for a longer notice period to help to provide my constituents with greater certainty at this very difficult time?
I am pleased to say that I have some good news for my hon. Friend and his constituents. I am pleased to confirm that, mindful of the representations made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, of the fact that we are talking about packages of houses rather than single units and of the ongoing covid restrictions, we will be extending the notice period to 31 March 2022. That will mean that civilian tenants will have received more than 18 months’ notice in total. Furthermore, Annington has confirmed that it has no in-principle objection to selling the properties to local authorities or other social housing providers. I stress that any such deals would be a commercial proposition between the social housing providers and Annington, but I hope that the additional time provided may help to enable such transactions to be progressed. I shall write to my hon. Friend and other affected MPs on this subject today.