HC Deb 05 December 1949 vol 470 cc1571-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—(Mr. Michael Stewart.)

5.14 p.m.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

I gather the last Debate lasted longer than was expected, so I shall not take up too much time in making the one or two points which I feel I must make before this Bill passes from us. The Under-Secretary will appreciate that this Bill is supported on all sides of the House, and I do not want the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), that this Bill will not be a very valuable contribution towards recruiting, to go on record without rebuttal. I spend a great deal of my time trying to recruit men for the Army. I do not mind admitting that I have not been particularly successful, but it has not been for want of trying. I know from my experience that this Bill will unquestionably be a great help in that respect by providing in a very short time a considerable number of houses for the Armed Forces.

As the hon. Member for South Ayrshire said, a new recruit cannot be offered a house right away. The Under-Secretary has never pretended that he could be. But I can assure the hon. Member that when every recruit knows that one day, if everything goes well, he will have the opportunity of getting a house when he marries, that will play a large part in inducing men to join the Army. We know that under this Bill 30,000 houses will be provided in five years instead of 10 years, which is a great step forward.

I have served for several years on the Middlesex Territorial Association Building Committee, which has entailed examining, perhaps once or twice every week, the building problems which have to be faced by, not only the Regular Army but the P.S.I.s, the permanent staff, the adjutants and other Regular officers, and the n.c.o.s who are now doing their level best to put the Territorial Army into working operation. I should like an assurance that this Bill will cover all those Regular personnel who are performing their service with the Territorial Army.

The Department at the War Office dealing with the provision of houses has to meet local authorities, so that there are two entirely different types of people dealing with the problem. Both want to make a success of their job, but they do not always quite understand each other, and when this Bill is put into operation I hope the Under-Secretary will take the greatest possible care to see that the right kind of people at the War Office are employed in getting into touch with local authorities, because upon that cooperation will depend the success of this Bill.

Time after time during the passage of this Bill it has been said that it is rather eyewash, and that not a great deal will be done under it. If the houses provided under this Bill are taken as part of the general housing provision for the country, local authorities will realise that this Bill does not mean a cutting down of their programmes, but is merely a means of solving part of their housing problem.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)


Colonel Dower

I appreciate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you do not want the Debate to go on too long, and I am nearly finished.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Gentleman misunderstands my reason for rising. He is now dealing with the question of administration and not with the contents of the Bill. That was the point to which I wished to direct his attention.

Colonel Dower

I thank you for your guidance, but I am so anxious that this Bill shall be a real success that I must appeal to the Under-Secretary to realise that only by co-operation can success be achieved.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Macpherson (Romford)

Before we leave this matter of the provision of additional married quarters for service personnel, may I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War if regard has been had to the housing position of soldiers in occupation of married quarters whose service has finished. By reason of their service in His Majesty's Forces, it often happens that many of these men spend most of their service overseas, and when due for discharge they cannot get houses anywhere because they have not the residential qualifications which the local authorities demand. At Warley barracks in my own constituency, there are seven ex-Service men all with long periods of service due to be evicted on 25th January on to the streets with their wives and families.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member appears to be dealing with a matter of administration and not with the primary purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Macpherson

I ask my hon. Friend if something can be done to deal with this situation.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I did not intend to intervene in the Debate but for the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower). I think that when he reminded us that there would be a great result from this Bill and that it was likely to stimulate his recruiting efforts he was under an illusion. I regard this Bill as a mouse that is not likely to bring forth a mountain in the way of additional houses for the soldiers. I wish that it would. During the Debates on this Bill, I have asked certain questions, and one was: How many houses is it going to mean for Scotland? Although I put that question very precisely both to the Minister of Defence and to the Under-Secretary of State for War, I have not yet had an answer. I do not expect an answer, because they do not know.

I support this Bill because the bait has been held out to me that when the Services have finished with the houses they will be handed over to the civilian population; but is this Bill really going to produce the houses? I would ask the Under-Secretary: Is it not a fact that the only way to get more houses is by providing more building labour and building materials, and where will he get the labour to build the houses for which we are to spend money under this Bill? I do not know. I see the building force gradually getting less, and I do not see any proposal in the Bill for putting workmen on to the job. If that is so, all the hopes that have been expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend are illusions, and I can only hope that I am not right in that prophecy.

5.23 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Michael Stewart)

The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth (Colonel Dower) spoke of the effect of this Bill on recruiting, and I would endorse his judgment of the usefulness of the Bill in that respect, and also express my admiration for the help which he has given us in dealing with this problem of recruiting, particularly with regard to the Territorial Army.

He raised the question of how this Bill would affect the members of the Regular Army employed on duties in connection with the Territorial Army. To answer that question, I must direct him to the provisions of the Bill. We can only build under its provisions houses which are of a kind and in a location where they can be handed over to the civilian authorities should we not need them at some future date. Provided that that condition is fulfilled, there is no reason why the houses should not be used for married quarters for members of the Regular Forces employed on duties with the Territorial Army. It is quite arguable that men doing these duties would be more likely to satisfy the condition with regard to married quarters than men doing other duties.

Colonel Dower

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. One instance which I have in mind is that of an adjutant of a regiment who has to travel 15 miles backwards and forwards every day. A great many of the permanent staff could be housed if houses were erected within a reasonable distance of where they carry out their duties

Mr. Stewart

The purpose of the Bill is to provide married quarters for members of the Regular Forces in the United Kingdom, subject to the condition which is implied in the word "approved" in the Bill. That, in time, will meet the needs of men engaged on Territorial duties and those engaged on other duties.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman also urged that we should try to seek good and harmonious relations between the War Office and local authorities. While I agree as to the importance of harmonious relations, I cannot agree that normally any difficulty arises. Our experience generally is that we are able to get most satisfactory working in these matters between the War Office and the local authorities, and if in any particular instance we have evidence to the contrary, my right hon. Friend and I will be only too glad to do what we can to remove any difficulty.

Colonel Dower

That is an important question.

Mr. Stewart

I would not dispute its importance. The hon. and gallant Member will remember that I dealt with it at some length on the Second Reading of the Bill, when I explained how the Bill would work administratively with the local authorities. I would commend to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) what I said then with regard to the provision of building labour and materials. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. T. Macpherson) was referring to a point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, which you did not judge to be within the scope of the Third Reading Debate, so I will not say more than that I am aware of the point he had hoped to raise, and I hope to be able, by giving it the most diligent attention, to produce some result which may be satisfactory to him, although he will appreciate that it is not primarily a War Office responsibility.

Although it is true that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has not been given an answer to the question about Scotland, it is also true that he has on two occasions had explained to him the excellent and convincing reasons why no answer could be given to that question. The overriding condition for any houses built under this Bill is that they shall be in a position to be used by the civilian local authorities, and we cannot, at this stage, say what proportion of the 30,000 houses to be built and approved under the terms of this Bill will fall in Scotland.

There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the need for married quarters for men stationed in Scotland will be met any less adequately than the need for married quarters for men in the forces in any other part of the United Kingdom. He must consider that answer in comparison with the total of 30,000 houses, and that is as far as I or my right hon. Friend can go at this juncture.

We have had, I think, support from every quarter of the House. I was a little surprised to learn from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that he supported the Bill, and I rejoice to hear it. I ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.