HC Deb 03 December 1953 vol 521 cc1393-6

Order for Third Reading read.

7.24 p.m.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Wingfield Digby)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

There is little that I need say in commending the Bill to the House. It will, as hon. Members know, enable steady progress to be made with the building of married quarters for the Service Departments. All three Services will build quite a large number of houses under the Bill, but I should like to take this opportunity of saying a word or two about the special position of the Royal Navy.

Under the Bill, it is hoped to build 4,300 houses for the Navy, as against 2,087 which have been built, or are being or are about to be built, under the Act which the Bill is designed to extend. The great majority of the married quarters which have been built so far for the Navy have been for isolated stations that are rather cut off from the rest of the community and in places where there was special difficulty for Service families in obtaining houses.

It was announced to the House some months ago that married quarters were planned for the home ports. If the Bill becomes law, it is hoped to build the vast majority of the new married quarters—some 3,800 out of the total of 4,300—in the home ports. The House may be interested to know when it may be expected that the houses will be built. First, of course, the existing programme for the more isolated stations has to be completed, and this will take a little time. Furthermore, there is the difficulty of finding sites at the home ports. This is being looked into and we are endeavouring to find suitable sites.

It may be that for reasons of that kind it will be found desirable to build flats as well as houses. We are, however, pressing on with the work and we believe that during the next financial year we will be able to make a substantial start on the building of houses in the home port areas. They will be apportioned in relation to the number of establishments in each home port, so that in the result there will be considerably more houses in the Portsmouth area than at Plymouth or Chatham.

I know, from numerous visits to naval married quarters, how much they are appreciated by those who live in them and how well they are looked after. I therefore feel that the Bill will play a useful part in continuing the steady progress of the married quarters programme, not only for the navy, but for the other Services also.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)

It is not my intention to detain the House very long, but I thought it necessary to express our welcome to the Bill from this side of the House. Obviously, it will increase the number of married quarters available to those serving in the three Services. Important as other Bills appear to be, this is a very important one from the point of view of approximately the 14,000 families in the three Services. Obviously, anyone with any feeling for those who serve the country must welcome a Bill of this kind.

I am rather mystified by the Civil Lord's figures of the number of houses which the Admiralty are to get from the £35 million. In my view, as we have been able to build or to commence building 15,531 houses with the earlier £40 million, my rough calculations show that the £35 million which the Bill provides should allow for 14,000 houses. On the figures which were given to us by the Under-secretary of State for Air on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill, that there were to be 60 per cent. for the Air Force, 27 per cent. for the Navy, and 13 per cent. for the Army, I came to the conclusion that out of this £35 million the Air Force would get 8,400 places, the Navy 3,780 places and the Army 1,820 places.

Mr. Digby

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like me to answer that point now. In point of fact, we shall get rather more, partly because the houses will no longer be constructed in isolated places and will, for that reason, be cheaper to build, partly because we expect building costs to come down a little, and partly because we have £500,000 left over from the present Act, which will be brought into the programme.

Mr. Edwards

If there is to be money over it will naturally enable a larger number of houses to be provided. I think the hon. Gentleman is rather optimistic.

however, in thinking that building costs will come down at a time when all workpeople in the country are making applications for increased wages as a result of the rising cost of living. I should have said, on the contrary, that the amount per house might be even higher under this £35 million provision than it was under the £40 million provision in the 1949 Act.

I wonder what sort of committee dealt with this matter; I presume it was a committee of the Ministry of Defence. In the case of the £40 million, it was obviously decided by the three Service Departments that the 15,531 houses should be divided as follows: 2,087 for the Navy, 7,017 for the Army and 6,427 for the Air Force. According to these figures the Air Force must now get at least about 8,000—[Interruption.]—9,000—out of this £35 million and the Navy is to get 4,300, making a total of 13,300.

While I am not an advocate for the Army as against the Navy and Air Force, it appears to me that somebody in the War Office has been lacking in advocacy in enabling this £35 million to be spent in a way in which the Army will get scarcely any benefit. If we assume the number to be 15,000 houses as against my estimate of 14,000, that only leaves 1,700 houses for the Army, as there are to be 13,300 divided between the Navy and Air Force, which means that out of £75 million borrowed for married quarters for the three Services, the Army, with its very large numbers of men serving, will have fewer than 9,000 houses completed, while the Air Force, as I said, will have more than 15,000 houses, and the Navy, I am very glad to see, will have 6,300.

While I am not arguing against the £35 million in any way, I think that the question of allocations should be much more flexible than it has been stated to be at present. The Navy wants more houses, and I rather feel that the Army wants more. If an agreement can be reached, and we can be assured that there is to be flexibility with regard to the needs of the three Services, and that the Government are not to be dogmatic about the percentages announced on Second Reading, I am sure we shall be perfectly satisfied.

7.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)

The allocation between the Services has been carefully worked out between them on the basis of whose need is greatest. It is thought at the moment that the War Office is rather ahead of the other Services, but there is nothing in the Bill which lays down exactly how these sums are to be allocated. If there were any basic changes, it would be perfectly easy for there to be flexibility.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.