Labour offer on MoD sale

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Labour last night exploited the intense frustration of Tory backbenchers, kept in the dark about detailed plans to sell off Defence housing, with an offer to provide them with copies of a leaked sale brochure.

Pressed by Tony Blair in the Commons on Tuesday, the Prime Minister refused to reveal details contained in the brochure obtained by shadow defence spokesman David Clark.

But a Labour leadership source said last night that Dr Clark would today offer to provide copies of the brochure to Tory MPs.

Seething with indignation, one Conservative critic of the policy said last night that it was a disgrace that the terms of the offer were known to a privileged few. Another MP said: "As matters stand, we do not know whether we are getting the best price for the public because we have no idea of the prospective yield offered to the purchaser."

Using the outline provided by the brochure, handed out to potential bidders under terms of complete secrecy, Dr Clark is putting down questions asking for the the level of guaranteed Ministry of Defence payment to be given to the purchaser; the number of houses the MoD was offering to vacate each year; and the proportion of sales revenue that is going to be recycled back into defence.

But last night, as the Secretary of State for Defence,Michael Portillo, sought to head off backbench rebellion, it was revealed that pounds 4.4m was spent on consultants' fees for the controversial pounds 1.6bn sale of the armed forces married quarters.

Dr Clark said: "This is an absolute disgrace. This money would have been better spent on forces families than [on] consultants."

Senior officers said yesterday that the plans to lease the 58,000 MoD homes would not disrupt service life, as MPs and families have feared. "The plans have changed a great deal from the original proposals," one officer said.

The changes to the plan have concentrated on preserving the unity of the married-quarter "patch" - the housing estates on which service families live, and the modification of the "site exchange" provision to prevent the buyer developing and selling off the most desirable chunks of real estate in areas like Surrey, in exchange for less desirable sites elsewhere.

This provision has been the main cause of anxiety among Conservative backbench MPs.