HC Deb 06 March 1939 vol 344 cc1829-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £491,800, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for expenditure in respect of sundry public buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes, including historic buildings, ancient monuments, Brompton Cemetery and certain housing estates.

7.34 p.m.

Sir P. Sassoon

This is a large and somewhat miscellaneous Vote covering all services of Government Departments which are not accounted for under other Works Votes. The largest item, £486,075, is in respect of new works, alterations, etc. Of this sum, £150,000 is for air-raid precautions for Government buildings under this Vote, and it covers the provision of refuge accommodation for official staffs. The works being carried out are the outcome of the Government's policy and are on the lines laid down for the general public. The sum of £13,625 for the National Physical Training College is to meet the balance of the purchase money and survey costs. It is hoped to start building operations this summer and to complete in three or four years time. There are three items for the Stationery Office. The work at Harrow has already been authorised by Parliament, and the further sum of £19,000 now required is to meet additional requirements and modifications of the original scheme and acceleration of the building works. The large item of £254,000 for the Board of Trade Food (Defence Plans) Department is already explained to some extent in the Estimate. The cost is not a final charge to this Vote, but is recovered from the fund administered by the Board of Trade for which an initial grant-in-aid of £8,500,000 was voted in July last. The foregoing remarks cover the main items in the new works sub-head. The largest item on the other sub-heads is £120,000 for additional furniture, which is mainly due to the increases in the Government staffs consequent on the acceleration of the defence programme. Of the large sum under appropriations-in-aid £254,000 is in respect of the item appearing in subhead A in respect of the Board of Trade Food (Defence Plans) Department. The Committee will observe that the additional sum required is in the main connected with the Government's defence policy and programme.

7.37 p.m.

Mr. Edes

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can expect to get nearly £500,000 merely by asking for it, and he must not be surprised if we want to ask a few questions, but I have no doubt that, with his usual courtesy, he will be able to give us the information. With regard to the sum of £254,000 for the Board of Trade in connection with the purchase of sites and the erection of storage accommodation for certain essential commodities, it would be improper for me, in view of the nature of the service, to ask where these sites are. I should like some explanation, however, why it has been necessary to purchase sites and to erect buildings, because I understood, when the President of the Board of Trade was explaining the matter when the Act under which these sites have been purchased was before the House, that certain large dealers in various commodities had undertaken to store the commodities for the Government and that the country was under a great indebtedness to them for having saved us from this particular type of expenditure. Is this expenditure supplementary to that or was it contemplated when the Act was before the House? As far as I can recollect, no expenditure of this kind was foreshadowed. On item E can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the new ancient monuments are which have been brought under the control of his Department in respect of which this compensation is being paid? I am not criticising this item, because I think the work that has been done by the right hon. Gentleman's Department in recent years in safeguarding ancient monuments, not merely in making them accessible to the public, but making them interesting to the public, is in every way praiseworthy.

I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the site for the National Physical Training College is now acquired and that it is at Merstham, because it will be sufficiently near to London to make the college attractive to the students whom the Board of Education desire to go there. I am somewhat surprised to hear, however, that the college will not be completed within the next three years. When the Physical Training and Recreation Act was before the House the then President of the Board of Education alluded to this as one of the most important matters that the country had to face in its endeavour to provide a more physically fit generation. I know as chairman of one of the area committees under that campaign, the tremendeus difficulties we have to encounter in getting class leaders and persons properly fitted to give instruction in physical training. This institution was to provide us, and, I hope, will eventually do so, with a sufficient flow of that type of person, but if the building is not to start until the coming summer and not to be completed for another three years, it will put off for a long time any adequate flow of men for this purpose. It is men rather more than women who are required. The output of women from the existing colleges and from certain Continental colleges supplies fairly reasonably the needs of the country.

To have to wait for another three and a half years before we begin to take students in—and it will be some time after that before they are turned out properly qualified to give instruction and to lead classes—is to postpone for a substantial time the necessary work of getting ready to carry on this work. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something more reassuring. Can he tell us the acreage of this site and how much of the final figure of £385,000 is required for the lay-out of the ground and the provision of facilities for instruction in outdoor leadership? If there is one thing necessary, it is that a good deal of the leadership in this matter should be outside the gymnasium. The gymnasium services can be fairly well supplied from a good many of the existing colleges. I hope that this site at Merstham, which I know very well, and which admirably lends itself to training in outdoor recreation, will be fully used, and that the young men who come away from that place will be well fitted in that type of work as well as in gymnasium work, and the remedial exercises which on occasion have formed rather too much of the curriculum of these colleges. Reverting to ancient monuments, I know that the right hon. Gentleman is too much an expert in these matters to buy any fake antiques. When he takes over an ancient monument he is sure that it is an ancient monument, and it is to the credit of his Department that it remains one and that the people who go to see it have the advantage of seeing it in circumstances which make the antiquity apparent and interesting.

7.45 p.m.

Sir P. Sassoon

In answer to the question of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) regarding storage accommodation and whether we are buying the sites, I have to say that only in one case have we had to buy a site and that was because the concern upon whose land the storage is being effected had not sufficient land for what we need. The other sites have been let to us upon purely nominal leases. We are paying, of course, for the increased capacity which we need for storage.

Mr. Ede

Then the wording on page 28 is, probably unintentionally, misleading, because it speaks of the purchase of "sites," and it should be "site."

Sir P. Sassoon

Yes, we have made a purchase in only one case. In the other cases we have leases. As regards what the hon. Member described as the "new ancient monument," I think he will rejoice when I tell him that this sum is called for to protect the most perfect portion of Hadrian's Wall——

Mr. Ede

I am glad to hear it.

Sir P. Sassoon

——which was in great danger of being damaged or destroyed by the workings of a quarry. It caused us a great deal of anxiety, but by the arrangement which we have been able to make with the quarry owners and the mineral owners we are now able to protect this portion of the wall.

Mr. David Adams

Where is it? At Housesteads?

Sir P. Sassoon

The name of the place is Greenhead. With regard to the college at Merstham, I am afraid I cannot make any very hopeful prophecy that it will be built in a very short time. During the past year we have had long discussions with the Board of Education on this very important subject and are anxious that the college should be up to date in the best sense of the word. It is, as the hon. Member rightly said, to be put to a very important use, in training, to begin with, 180 resident students who are to be the instructors and the leaders in the whole of this important movement all over the country. I will not weary the hon. Member with the details of the scheme now, but I shall be delighted to give them to him if he would care to have them, and I think he will approve of our action. We shall start on the foundation contract this summer, I hope, and the hon. Member can rest assured that the building will be completed at the earliest possible moment consistent with its being the kind of building he wants.

Mr. Ede

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and on behalf of a north country constituency, express its gratification that the particular difficulty which had arisen in the case of Hadrian's Wall has been settled in the satisfactory manner indicated.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I notice that under sub-head G. "Cleaning, Custody, &c." there is an increased item of £4,000 for wages. Does that mean that the men now working are having an increase in wages or that additional workers are to be employed, and may we know what wage those men are getting?

Sir P. Sassoon

To begin with there are more offices to be looked after than there were previously, and therefore more people are required to look after them, and those people, the watchmen and the cleaners, are getting an increased wage. In the case of the watchmen the increase is 3s. 6d. a week.

Mr. Griffiths

What are the wages of the charwomen? That is what we call them in Yorkshire. In London they would be called experienced cleaners of offices, but in our county we call them "charwomen "—I mean the women who do the dusting of the furniture, etc.

Sir P. Sassoon

I have not the figures with me, but I will let the hon. Member know.

Mr. Griffiths

The reason is that we have some miners who have been thrown out of work—about 500 in our pit—and I believe their wives would like a job in order to help to "keep the wolf from the door." If there are any jobs of cleaning to spare we shall be glad if you will let us have them.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Benn

These Supplementary Estimates do repay study, not only for important details such as my hon. Friend has asked about, but in regard to wider issues. For example, under Sub-head A. II on page 27 appears the item of £150,000 for "Air-Raid Precautions— provision for protective works." Appended to that is the figure 27, but I cannot find an item 27 in the original Estimates. If I am right, what it means is that when, in July, there was all the talk about being ready for an emergency —because those Estimates would have been laid any time after July last year— not one farthing had been put into the Estimates for "air-raid precautions, provision for protective works." It is interesting, if my facts are right, to discover that when we had Ministers co-ordinating everything, and a whole array of eminent statesmen on the Treasury Bench, there was nothing in the Estimates for air-raid precautionary work, and that it is only now, in a Supplementary Estimate hastily brought in on 6th March, 1939, that this figure first appears. We are all glad to know that precautions are being taken against air raids, but we should have been in favour of the Government having thought of it a little earlier.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £491,800, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for expenditure in respect of sundry public buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes, including historic buildings, ancient monuments, Brompton Cemetery and certain housing estates.