LETTERS: Sale of MoD married quarters will bring benefits

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was astonished to find myself reported in your columns (report, 26 June, first edition) as a former defence minister who had "rejected" the MoD's plans for the sale of the married quarters estate to the private sector.

The truth is the exact opposite. While Minister of State for Defence from 1992-94 I strongly championed the scheme which has since been refined, safeguarded, and improved by Michael Portillo. The sad fact of this matter is that the management of Service housing has been poor for many years.

The status quo is virtually indefensible because of the unacceptably high number of empty houses, houses in poor condition, and dissatisfied occupants complaining of inadequate maintenance and service.

The Portillo plan benefits both taxpayers and Service families. The latter will gain because pounds 100 million from the sale proceeds will be spent on upgrading married quarters. The result will be that the living conditions of most Service houses will be raised to Grade One standard within about five years, an achievement which would be unattainable without the sale.

So far as the wider defence interest is concerned, it is important to emphasise that cohesive Service communities will be preserved and that a Ministerial veto is being retained to prevent the sale of any properties which might impair operational effectiveness. Like the Chiefs of Staff, I supported the proposal when a defence minister because it satisfied the interests of the Services.

Backbench opponents of the scheme may have axes of their own to grind, but they will be doing no favours for Britain's Services or taxpayers if they vote against Michael Portillo's admirable plan.

JONATHAN AITKEN MP

(Thanet South, Con)

House of Commons

London SW1

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