Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,700,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Works, Buildings, Repairs, and Lands of the Air Force, including Civilian Staff and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I want to raise two points on this Vote. This is a very large sum of money, and I think we ought to scrutinize it rather carefully. The first point is with regard to the Cadet College at Cranwell to which the Minister referred earlier in the Debate. There is an item for £260,000. This is a provisional estimate, and I am told that the final amount is more likely to be £500,000. I am informed that the Treasury have to find this amount and that when the question went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer he decided that it must be a grandiose building for these cadets. I agree that you cannot keep these young men indefinitely in huts, but I should have thought that it would have been quicker and cheaper to have taken over one of the large empty mansions in this country as was done in the case of the new public school at Stowe. There are other private houses which the owners cannot keep up, and for 116 cadets you could easily have converted one of these large houses in a suitable locality, with a large surrounding park which would make a landing ground. There are plenty of these buildings which have been modernised, with central heating and electric light, and which, owing to the high taxation imposed by successive Conservative and Coalition Governments, the owners, who are impoverished, cannot keep up. The class which has
§ been most affected has been pathetic in their fidelity to the Conservative party which has ruined them. I should have thought that the Minister could have got hold of one of these country houses for very much less than £260,000. In fact, a great many could probably be taken as a gift if only the taxes and rates were paid by the Government. You would then have got a suitable building. If Stowe could be converted for the sons and parents who are able to pay public school fees, surely another of the large country houses could have been adapted for the Royal Air Force.
§ I resent this payment of £260,000 for another reason and that is that the Home Secretary the other day had to go on his knees and hold out his hat to some philanthropic person, because he had not enough Borstal accommodation. Young offenders have to be sent to prison because there is no Borstal Institute for them. They have to go into prison surroundings where there is no chance in many cases of reforming them. The Home Secretary cannot afford £100,000 for a Borstal Institute, but £260,000 can be expended on a Cadet College for the Royal Air Force. I think my plan would have been very much cheaper, and I would like to know why it was not adopted.
§ The other point is this. I would draw the attention of the Committee to page 48 of these Estimates where they will see that nearly £500,000 is to be expended in the construction of art air station at Singapore. I always thought it curious that there was no provision for an air force at Singapore. This cost of £500,000 gives some indication of what that naval base will cost in the end. Besides this amount, there is an undisclosed sum for fortifications. This is being done at the Singapore Base in connection with a scheme which the Labour Government dropped, and which the present Government are now continuing. We have been invited by the United States and Japan to enter into a treaty outlawing war between one another, and, if we joined in that treaty, we should not need the Singapore Base at all.1667
§ Sir S. HOARE
In my speech delivered earlier in the afternoon, I pointed out that this item of expenditure was urgently required. The permanent officers of the Air Force are living in very small huts. They require better accommodation, and we require this item as additional expenditure. We are providing £10,000 for this purpose, and hon. Members will have an opportunity of criticising this item in future years as the expenditure develops
§ Sir S. HOARE
The hon. and gallant Member asked why we had not bought a large country house to provide the extra accommodation needed for the cadets. The reason is that Cranwell is eminently suited for our purposes. It contains the finest aerodrome in the country, and the alternative suggested by the hon. and gallant Member would have been much less efficient. I do not propose at this period of the evening to embark upon a discussion as to whether the Government were wise in their decision to develop the Singapore base, but, assuming that we were right, we certainly require an aerodrome at Singapore.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I cannot give an answer to that question, because we have not decided yet whether we shall require a large or a small aerodrome. We are now asking the Committee to make a small provision for this purpose.
§ 12.0 m.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I hoped another Member of my party would have raised the matter of the provision that has been made for the personnel engaged in constructing this station at Singapore. A Member of my party has recently returned from there, and has stated at a meeting that the conditions for the workers, both European and native, are extraordinarily bad, the sanitary arrangements have practically broken down, there is sickness, and the temporary arrangements that have been made have proved insufficient.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I have not received any information to that effect, but if the hon. Lady has any particulars I will certainly look into that at once. Obviously, we have an obligation to the workmen and should try to make their conditions as satisfactory as may be.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
If we embark on these discussions at a late hour of the night it would be as well to get as much reality in them as possible. I support the right hon. Gentleman in his answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's first question, and I want to ask a question about his second. I had experience during the War of an attempt to make use of a building that had been built for a private residence as a training ground for air officers, and I am sure the expense that resulted, because it was not adapted to that use, from the additions and alterations of all kinds that had to be made, was in the long run greater than if a building ad hoe had been erected. I think the right hon. Gentleman was wise in getting a permanent building at Cranwell designed for the purpose for which it is to be used. My question with regard to Singapore is this. Here again it is almost impossible to discuss the question of the Singapore base and the air portion of the equipment without reference to the naval works because many of us who disagree heartily with the setting up of a large naval base might be prepared to go even further than the right hon. Gentleman is proposing with regard to the aerodrome. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has put these two questions earlier in the evening was taking the right hon. Gentleman to task because he was concentrating squadrons of aeroplanes for defence work instead of placing them where our shipping might be attacked in foreign waters. He instanced the Mediterranean, but it applies to far more distant parts of the world, and it may well be that we should want additional air accommodation. Is the air establishment which he contemplates at Singapore of a nature that is dependent upon large ships or is any part of it an independent air force that could be carried on without the use of large aeroplane carriers at sea?