HC Deb 19 March 1934 vol 287 cc951-7

"to provide during twelve months for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and the Air Force," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 82.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

7.39 p.m.


I think I may be in order if I raise now the point about marriage allowances which I raised on the Committee stage. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War if there can be no reconsideration of the marriage allowances to soldiers who at the present time for one reason or another are refused. It is extremely unfortunate that a man in the Service with a wife at home and sometimes a child should be in this position. I know that they get married outside the rules that govern allowances, but one must take into account certain human considerations that ought to arise, and I think it is bad for the prestige of the Army, because the wife and child have to be maintained and usually at the expense of some public fund or other.


As the hon. Member is aware, we grant marriage allowances to soldiers who marry at the age of 26, but we do not consider it advisable, from the point of view of the Army, apart from the expense, to encourage men to marry sooner. I think this applies to some extent to civil life; 26 is perhaps a very suitable age at which to begin to entertain thoughts of that nature and it would be undesirable to lower the age. Of course, cases occur, as the hon. Member has suggested, in which hardship is suffered owing to this regulation, but I seriously think, if we adopted his suggestion and gave allowances to all men who are married, it would be an encouragement to very young men to marry thoughtlessly. Men who join the Services do not want to take a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, and they should not be encouraged to undertake this obligation without due thought. Therefore, I cannot undertake that the Army Council will give it reconsideration, for it has been considered very carefully and decided against, both on the ground of the expense involved and the considerations I have mentioned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

7.42 p.m.


In the Debate last Thursday, I drew the attention of the Financial Secretary to certain items on page 195 dealing with works, buildings and lands. I drew the hon. and gallant Member's attention to the fact that for some years we have had an estimate of something like £1,500,000 for the great new camp at Catterick. Now there have been considerable criticisms of that camp as the years have gone on, but anyone who knows the camp with its exposed position in the north, a long way from the ordinary centres, will not dispute that money must be spent to provide accommodation for the men, including proper recreational facilities. This year, instead of having a lump sum, there seems to be an expenditure broken up into several parts, I think in 10 different sections. Altogether it means something like an expenditure of £62,000 next year, and we are told, under 10 different headings, that we have to have an expenditure of £139,000 in future years. Maybe this is necessary, but I think we ought to have some explanation. There seems to be almost interminable making of roads in that great camp. There has been so many made that one might think they keep on making them afresh.

There seems also to be repeated notice of renewal of certain hutments. I should not like unnecessarily to criticise the arrangements for troops in such an area as this. Everyone knows what it was during the War, when because of its exposed position, it had, to say the least of it, not a good reputation. It has been very well laid out and the troops have been well catered for. The amenities are a credit to those who have been responsible for the playing fields and dry canteens and arrangements of that kind. It does seem, however, that the expenditure upon this particular camp is almost interminable in large sums of which there does not seem any possible end in the near future. We ought to be given some reason for the expenditure, particularly as we are now promised an expenditure of £139,000 in future years.

On page 192 of the Estimates an increase of something like £663,000 is shown this year for works and buildings generally. Most of that is to meet the needs for accommodating units, and we are certainly the last people to criticise that provision. The House, however, will be interested to learn that one of the big items of expenditure nowadays is for the shelter and upkeep of tanks and tractors. As a matter of fact, it looks as though the mechanised Army will take more looking after than the horses did. There are several great blocks of expenditure for this purpose. There may be an explanation for it, but the fond hope that there was to be increased power in the mechanised Army for a similar expenditure, or even less, is not likely to develop in future years, for it looks as if the housing of the tanks and tractors will be as expensive as the housing of horses and troops, and that the charges for maintenance will be on an almost similar scale.

7.49 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I should like to ask the Financial Secretary how the provision of married quarters for those who are married on the strength is getting on. When the Labour party was in office, I asked how many men who had been married on the strength had not got quarters, and the Government were unable to say. Eventually they ascertained that there were something over 1,000. I understand a considerable building scheme has been put forward, and I shall be glad if the Financial Secretary can tell us how it is getting on. A good many of the married quarters were old-fashioned and had the most objectionable system of common latrines, and the War Office, I understand, were determined to get rid of them. Can the Financial Secretary say how that improvement is getting on? On page 189 of the Estimate there are some useful paragraphs showing that the War Office are changing the old barrack room accommodation and that they are dividing off the dining rooms from other quarters. I congratulate the War Office on that provision and also on certain provisions showing that they are bringing up to date the old hutted quarters. There is an idea that in certain of the hutted quarters disease like meningitis is more prevalent. Has the War Office found out whether at a station like Borden it is owing to their having only wooden barracks that there is a greater prevalence of meningitis than at any other station? If so, will they do all in their power to get the wooden barracks replaced by permanent brick ones?

7.52 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member has fired off a number of queries without previous notice, and I am afraid I cannot answer them in detail immediately. We are endeavouring to do what we can to make improvements in the various directions he has suggested and to deal with various matters to which he has referred. How they stand at the present time I cannot say without notice, nor can I give him the information that he asks on the question of health. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked about Catterick. I am sorry I omitted in replying to the Debate last week to deal with this point. The main cause of the continued expenditure at Catterick is that when it was first set up it was done in a hurry as a temporary war camp, and, when you do things in a hurry, unfortunately they cannot be done on a sound economical basis. The quarters were scattered in various parts of the land that was available, and that is why it has been necessary to spend money year after year on the camp. The ideal would have been to take a large sum one year and to do the whole thing properly from the beginning, but that has not been possible. We go on improving the camp and, as the hon. Member is well aware, there is still room for improvement. We are doing our best all the time to make it a more suitable place from the point of view of the troops who are compelled to live there.

When the hon. Member deals with the large increase on the Vote this year for works, he has forgotten the point that I made in the Debate last week when I explained that the increase is principally due—I might say almost entirely due—to the increased work at Singapore. I explained then that we are spending £450,000 on one item at that station alone. Otherwise, I do not think there is any general increase. Some Votes are up and some are down, and the new sheds for the protection of tanks, etc., are not a very large item. I do not think it costs more to house these mechanised vehicles than to house men or horses, and the greater part of the money we are taking this year is going rather to provide housing for men and improving the huts and so on than for building shelters for tanks. When you have a big new invention like tanks, it means that you have to erect suitable buildings for them as the stables that were available are not suitable.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


May I ask you, Sir, on which Vote I can raise the question of promotion? I have looked at each of these Votes, and I cannot find one that is suitable.


The hon. Member should raise it on the Minister's salary.