HC Deb 13 May 1924 vol 173 cc1305-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kennedy.]


I rise to call attention to the curtailment of housing in Darlington and Teesside by the Government using large quantities of bricks to build a military camp at Catterick. I do not raise this question in any carping spirit. I am satisfied that if attention is called to the facts of the case the Government will pause and consider their procedure.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present,


I do not wish to deal with this question in any carping spirit. But the bricks are needed for the supply of dwelling-houses for the working classes. Every Member of the House emphasised this matter at the last Election. By the supply of decent houses we will help to satisfy the great uneasiness and unrest that prevails. The facts are that 5,000,000 bricks have been ordered by Government inspectors to rebuild the camp at Catterick, a camp that housed 80,000 soldiers during the War, and is quite big enough to house the soldiers to-day. But new married quarters are projected at a cost of £400,000 at a time, too, when bricks are so necessary for housing purposes. A Government inquiry was held in Darlington last week, and the town clerk, in reply to the inspector, said that they could not complete the waterworks in bricks because the Government had secured all the available bricks to rebuild the camp, and these were now available for houses. At Redcar bricklayers were turned off last week because no bricks were available. On Teesside, contractors have to wait to see if they can get bricks, and they are often told that they will have to come back again a week later; and all building is held up there. This camp is a bleak, desolate spot, and, if hon. Members would go there, they would be satisfied that in constructing this camp they were on the wrong track, and would not carry out the scheme of the late Government.

I put this forward as a matter of policy to the Prime Minister, and I was referred to the Secretary for War. The question is whether it is to be camps or houses, and we regret that camps have been preferred. I also put a question to the Minister of Health and he referred me to the Secretary of State for War. I want to know whether it is the policy of the Government to take over the schemes of the late Government, and carry them through, whether they agree with them or not. I want to know whether the Minister of Health wants to get houses or whether he is prepared to allow the War Office to use these 5,000,000 bricks. We are told, when houses are so necessary, that it is imperative that the Government should interfere and take 100,000 bricks weekly from this locality to build this Camp. I think the Government should make a full inquiry and send Members of the Government to see the camp for themselves.

I have been to this camp, and I have no hesitation in saying that it is quite unsuitable for the purposes for which it is intended. If they would do that, I would be satisfied, but I shall raise this question on every opportunity if the Government decide to build camps rather than houses. Camps can wait and houses cannot wait. I raise this question to-night because of the unsatisfactory answer of the Government, and I hope they will pause now in this matter. Part of the scheme means £400,000, but we cannot afford to spend that money and waste all this material. Houses are wanted, and I hope that this will be regarded as a matter of policy and that we shall hear from the Front Bench to-night whether they like camps better than houses.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Walsh)

I do not think that anybody can complain of the very fair statement which has been made by the hon. Gentleman, but really what the Government is asked to do is not discriminate between camps and houses, but to revoke entirely and overthrow a contract entered into very many months ago. It was in 1923 and 1924 that this House consented to the scheme, one part of which is now in process, I will not say of completion, but of being carried out. This work is being done under a Vote which has been agreed to by this House. It was under those circumstances that the contract was given by the late Government, involving an expenditure of practically £400,000, and the contract came into operation as from the 6th November last. It is very serious to ask a Government to go back on the considered policy of its predecessors and overthrow contracts of that character. Apart from the merits of camps or huts, one can easily see that the evils of such a course would be greater than those it is now proposed to remedy. The scheme of the Government is a scheme for the housing of married men with their wives and families, and they are citizens of this nation, just as much as the people for whom my hon. Friend professes, quite rightly, to speak. I do not in the least dispute his bona fides, but people seem to get into the habit of dealing with soldiers and their wives and children as though they had no citizen rights, and as though they were something distinct from the vest, of the population.

It is just as necessary to house the wives and children of soldiers. We have taken them into our service and the State is under an obligation to them, just as it is to house its other citizens. The obligation is just as substantial in the case of the Army as of the rest of the population, and this House has gone fully into the whole policy and recognises, as it must have done, the grievous shortage of barrack accommodation and of training and manœuvring grounds. The Curragh has now reverted to the Free State Government, and we have, in that area alone, lost over 30,000 acres of training and manœuvring grounds; and in addition, other large areas not so substantial, but still large, which did provide training and manœuvring grounds for large bodies Of the troops, have passed into the possession of the Government of Northern Ireland. We have, therefore, been placed in a serious position, so far as training and manœuvring grounds are concerned. This ground at Catterick was taken over by the Government in the early days of the War for training and manœuvring purposes, and a large number of concrete houses were erected there. It was only fixed upon as a permanent camp after considerable inquiry, extending over three or four years, and it was fixed by the deliberate decision of the House of Commons. Contracts have been entered into, the work has been undertaken, and the most urgent portion is the housing of the soldiers with their wives and families. Putting it on the domestic and social ground alone, the soldier, with his wife and family, has as good a claim as any other person, and the money has been voted by Parliament for this particular purpose.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.