§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill prolongs the life of an Act passed by the late Government with the enthusiastic support of both sides of the House. Before the Act was passed in 1949, all expenditure on married quarters had to be provided in the yearly Service Estimates. The effect of the Act was to put the Services in the same position as the local authorities regarding the erection of married quarters: that is to say, they could borrow for the purposes of building married quarters for repayment over a term of 60 years. A married quarter is a capital asset, and there are disadvantages in having to pay the whole sum for a capital asset in the year in which the expense is incurred.
Before a married quarter becomes an approved house under the 1949 Act, certain conditions have to be observed. The house must be in the United Kingdom. Married quarters abroad have to be paid for through the Service Estimates in the ordinary way, as was the case before the Act became law. Secondly, the Services are bound to consult the Ministry of Housing and Local Government or, where appropriate, the Scottish Office. Expenditure can only be authorised under this Bill if the relevant Housing Ministry, after consultation with the relevant local authority, is in a position to advise the Treasury that if the houses are no longer required by the Services, they are so placed as to be suitable for habitation by the local civilian population. Steps were also taken to see that full Parliamentary control was retained. Expenditure under the Bill has to be shown under a separate head in the Service Estimates, and the money received on loan is shown as an appropriation-in-aid. Of course, overall, as ever, rules the cold, all-seeing eye of the Treasury.
The Act has been a great success, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) 113 and the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards). As Civil Lord, the hon. Gentleman was responsible for housing as far as the Admiralty was concerned, and all the Service Ministers at that time did all they could to get the Bill approved. They were successful, and we are grateful to them.
The number of married quarters which have been built or are now building under the Act are: Navy, 2,087; Army, 7,017; Royal Air Force, 6,427. In round figures, that is a total of 15,500, of which 91 per cent. are built or building in England and Wales, and 9 per cent. in Scotland. This is a subject which always excites the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but as he is not with us tonight I shall not enlarge upon it further.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
Is that the total number of houses which have been built since the passing of the 1949 Act?
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
The hon. Gentleman also referred to houses under construction. Can he define those that are completed and those that are under construction?
§ Mr. Birch
The bulk of them have been built. I will have the figures obtained for the hon. Member before the end of the debate. In addition, a number of houses which were started before the Act became law have been completed with money supplied under the Act. The money which we could borrow under the 1949 Act is not yet completely exhausted, but if we do not get this Bill before the summer, we shall have to hold up the work. That is why we have brought it in now.
I should like to say a few words about the necessity to prolong the provisions of the Act. We were in any event short of married quarters before the war, and none were built during the war. We have today larger forces in the United Kingdom than before the war, and this is most noticeable in the case of the Royal Air Force. A great many aerodromes were built either shortly before or during the war at which no married quarters were 114 provided. In the circumstances of the time, it would have been impossible to do so. To this day, at quite a number of aerodromes officers and other ranks are living with their families in caravans.
The main weight of the money for which we are asking will, therefore, be devoted to housing for the Royal Air Force. The needs of the Navy have also to be met. In the past, the Navy has not had many married quarters. In modern conditions, however, this works unfairly, and though the plan is to provide a lower proportion of married quarters in the case of the Navy, we have thought it necessary to build quite a number for that Service.
A further consideration is that a higher proportion of men are now entitled to married quarters than was the case before the war. As the House knows, the age of entitlement to marriage allowance has been lowered, in the case of officers from 30 to 25 years of age, and in the case of other ranks from 25 to 21 years of age. The opportunities afforded by lowering the age of entitlement to marriage allowance have by no means been neglected.
These are all substantial reasons for bringing in the Bill, but perhaps the most important reason of all is the general housing shortage of the country. We have, of course, made it our first care to try to mitigate this general shortage, but we are not under any illusions that the problem has been solved. We have a long way to go yet. Nobody has ever denied that.
Economists have often pointed out that one of the advantages of having more houses is that it confers the gift of mobility upon the population. Only too often today men are tied to jobs which they do not care for and which quite often it is not in the public interest that they should continue to fill, simply because, if they moved, they would have to give up their houses and they would not have much chance of getting others. But the Services are in a different position. The Service man has got to move, and he has got to move frequently. Service men have mobility thrust upon them, and the chances of an officer or an other rank being able to get a house of his own, other than a married quarter, in which he can afford to live are not very good today; in fact they are very weak indeed.
115 I would emphasise that the Bill covers the needs of officers as well as the needs of other ranks. Nowadays not many officers have much in the way of private means. Indeed, it has been the wish of this House that the career of an officer in the Services should be open to the talents. If that is to be so, officers are every bit as much in need of help from this Bill as are other ranks. As I have said the whole population is faced with housing difficulties, but the Services, owing to their frequent moves, are in greater difficulty than anybody else. I do not think that the House would wish to deny to the Services what we believe amounts only to justice. Hence the Bill.
The Bill is mercifully short. It consists of one operative Clause extending the life of the original Act for a further five years and giving power for a further £35 million to be borrowed. We hope that this sum will provide between 15,000 and 16,000 more married quarters for officers and other ranks. The distribution of the money among the Services has been based on a system of giving where the need is greatest. On present plans we propose to distribute the money as follows: the Navy, 27 per cent.; the Army, 13 per cent.; the Royal Air Force, 60 per cent. I have already given the House the reason why we consider that the Royal Air Force should have the lion's share of the money.
All the houses must fulfil the conditions of the original Bill. Therefore, the House need be under no apprehension that money will be wasted. The assessments we have made of our needs have been worked out on a very conservative basis, and I think it in the highest degree improbable that the houses will not be needed for Service men. If the improbable happens and the houses are not needed for the Services, they will have been so placed that they are suitable for occupation by civilians. Whatever Government were in power would want to see justice done to the married men in the Services. We believe that the Bill does no more than justice, and therefore I commend it to the House.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
Obviously this side of the House welcomes the Bill and supports the Motion for the Second Reading. As the hon. Gentleman 116 has told us, the original Bill was introduced in the time of the Labour Government, and we are all very happy to know that good progress has been made in the provision of married quarters for officers and men in the Forces since that Bill became an Act.
The Parliamentary Secretary has left the impression that the Bill provides quarters for officers and that the 1949 Act did not make such provision. Actually the Act made provision both for officers and other ranks in the same way as the present Measure will do.
§ Mr. Edwards
It is just as well to have that point clear. I am sure that a fair proportion of the 15,000 houses which have been erected or are in course of construction at the present time are for occupation by officers of the three Services.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
Is it clear what proportion of the houses already built have gone into the possession of the officers and how many into the possession of other ranks?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am afraid I cannot answer that question. I am on the wrong side of the House to answer it tonight.
§ Mr. Edwards
The question must be put to the other side.
From the Second Reading of the 1949 Bill we find that the Secretary of State for War and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who was Minister of Defence, said that the £40 million which we hoped to be able to use in the five years from 1950 would enable the Services to provide about 30,000 houses. It appears to me a little startling to hear tonight that instead of 30,000 houses coming out of £40 million—which sum I understand from the hon. Gentleman is nearly exhausted—there are no more than just over 15,000. I cannot understand whether it was over-optimism at the time or something which has happened since that has been the cause of that difference. It means an average of well over £2,000 per married quarter out of the £40 million provided 117 under the Act of 1949. While we welcome the proposal of the Government to add another £35 million to the £40 million for married quarters, it does not seem enough if the Services will get only 15,000 houses out of the £40 million, not enough by a long way. Even £75 million will produce fewer married quarters than we estimated in 1949 would be produced by the £40 million.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member may find a part of the answer to the problem which is worrying him in the Annual Estimates this year, which show that the Army spent £5,500,000 under the original Act in 1952–53 and will spend a similar amount in 1953–54.
§ Mr. Edwards
The 1949 Act was specially introduced for the purpose of providing married quarters for the three Services. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman looks into the expenditure of the three Services he will find that the Services have been using the Act to provide married quarters in the United Kingdom. They will obviously have something in their Estimates relating to married quarters, because married quarters abroad have to be found out of the Votes and could not be met out of the Act. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may have been getting expenditure under the Act confused with overseas expenditure.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
There are two Votes in the Estimates this year. One is under the old Service Estimates for work, and the other Vote specifically relates to the original Act. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the Act was for five years, and that there is another year to go on it.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is perfectly true, but we are told that the £40 million is nearly exhausted. On the hon. and gallant Gentleman's other point and so far as my knowledge of the Act goes, we have a Vote providing for works and services for married quarters outside the Bill. Everything outside the United Kingdom is outside the Bill, and everything provided in the United Kingdom for civilian people who are not key personnel is also outside the Bill. But the fact remains that, so far as the Admiralty is concerned, no provision outside Vote 15, which relates to the Armed Forces 118 (Housing Loans) Act, 1949, has been made for housing married Service men in this country. The only provision made in the Estimates is for something outside the purposes of married quarters within the meaning of this Act.
As I was saying before, the alarming thing is that it is quite feasible that we shall get less than 30,000 married quarters for £75 million. It appears to me that if we only get about 15,000 married quarters for £40 million, then, in the ensuing years, we shall get proportionately many less for the £35 million. If we are to carry out our promise of at least 30,000 married quarters—as I am sure was the intention of the Labour Government at the time—then the figure of £75 million ought to be greatly increased.
I do not speak tonight as the advocate of the Navy as against the other two Services. I hope to speak generally on the question of married quarters, but the figures which have been given to us so far concerning the use of the £35 million appear to be rather startling.
I hope the House will realise that when the 1949 Bill was introduced, the Navy had never had any married quarters in this country for its officers and ratings. There were some for the Marines, but none up to that date for the Navy. I know that since 1950 the Navy has been given 2,087 houses, either built or under construction, out of the 15,000 provided. Out of this additional £35 million, the Navy is to receive 27 per cent. of the money spent.
Why is the Air Force to have 60 per cent. as against 27 per cent. for the Navy and 13 per cent. for the Army? There are plenty of people in this House who have served in the Army who, I am sure, would be the first to complain about this very low percentage allowance to that Service. I can only presume that the Army has done well out of the first £40 million, and that therefore it is not to be given so much out of the additional £35 million.
But when we look at the figures, we see that the Royal Air Force has not received so very much less than the Army out of the original £40 million. It has only received about 600 places less than the Army, but the percentages are now going to be changed so that the Air Force will receive 60 per cent. and the Army only 13 per cent. of the £35 million.
119 I think that the Navy is entitled to a little more consideration than, it would appear from the statement made by the hon. Gentleman, it is going to receive. When the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) sat on this side of the House, he often used to speak about the need for married quarters in the home ports.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
I shall tonight, too, if the hon. Gentleman will permit me. It was then he who would not give them to us.
§ Mr. Edwards
It was then "he" who said that they were under consideration. It was "he" who said that we were giving priority to the naval air stations because of their isolated character. I think it can be said—although I am not sure of the facts at the moment—that, as a result of our policy, almost every naval air station in this country has been provided with married quarters under the 1949 Act.
The only point I wished to make was that if the Navy is only going to be allowed 20 per cent. of this additional £35 million, and if it is finally decided to have married quarters in the home ports, what will be left for married quarters elsewhere?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am sure that everybody welcomes this Bill, but there is one point to which the Parliamentary Secretary made no reference. Under the 1949 Act, it is provided that the £40 million—capital and interest—will be repaid over a period of 60 years. There is no provision in this Bill so far as the period of repayment is concerned. Does that mean that the £75 million will be repaid in 60 years, or that the period of repayment will be lengthened?
§ Mr. Edwards
It is true that so far as the original Act is concerned, this Bill alters the period from 1955 to 1960 and alters the sum of money from £40 million to £75 million. But under the 1949 Act the period of repayment was 60 years, and that period is not altered by this Bill.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree that the provision was based, more or less, on local authority procedure, but the net effect is that if the £75 million has to be repaid over a period of 60 years, then something more in respect of the Consolidated Fund must come out of the Service Vote in the form of repayment of capital and interest. I think that is perfectly logical, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to look into it. If the figure is altered from £40 million to £75 million, and if that sum has to be repaid within the same period of time, then, obviously, something more has to be paid each year.
I notice that on the Second Reading of the 1949 Bill we discussed the matter for something like two and three-quarter hours. I think that on that occasion it was well worth while, because, so far as the Navy was concerned, this was an innovation and something to which all hon. Members looked forward. I am sure that we are all gratified to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that 15,000 married quarters have been provided under the 1949 Act.
But, although I welcome this Bill, I feel that there is need for some clarification with regard to the number of married quarters which have been provided. Why is the number only 15,000? We need some clarification as to why there is only £35 million more, which, in my view, will bring the total down to less than that estimated in 1949 of £40 million, and also why it is that the Air Force, after having had their fair share out of the £40 million, are to have 60 per cent. out of this £35 million, as against 13 per cent. for the Army and 20 per cent. for the Navy.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I welcome the Bill, I wish it every success, and I hope that it is going to be managed in the most efficient manner.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), whom most of us regret not hearing more of at the present time, has made a very interesting speech. I think 121 that we all agree that he has been scrupulously fair in dividing attention between the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. I was a little confused at the beginning of his speech, because he suggested that good progress had been made and then he said that his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) had slated the target four years ago of 60,000 houses.
§ Mr. Wood
Perhaps I have not made myself quite clear. I accept the figure of 30,000 still to be built, but I thought that was going to bring the total up to 60,000. We will not argue about it, because the figure that is important is the one which the hon. Member mentioned, 30,000. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) suggested that that figure could be attained at a rate of 5,000 houses a year, and therefore it would take six years. From the figures which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence has given this evening, it seems that we have built just over one-half of that number in two-thirds of the time, and therefore, we are a year behind the schedule fixed four years ago.
The second point that I want to make is that the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who was then Undersecretary of State for War, gave some very interesting figures to show the percentage of married quarters to the whole number of civilian houses in the country. He suggested at that time that the Services were getting less than their fair share of all the houses built. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State for Air, if he is to reply, would be kind enough to tell us, if he knows, what percentage of all the permanent houses built in the last four years have in fact been married quarters for the three Services.
I do not want to take long because a number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, but I want to say one or two general things. Last week, on two different occasions there was general anxiety in this House to get rid of conscription as soon as possible. I do not think that there was any Member who disagreed with that sentiment. As we were told then, it depends on two 122 factors; first, the lessening of the international tension, that being much the more important factor, and, secondly, if the international tension does decrease in the future, on the increase of recruits into the Regular Army.
Although, sadly, there is relatively little that we can do to help to ease the tension in the world at large, we can certainly take steps to try to make the Regular Army more attractive by the provision not only of ample homes but of homes as good as those which Regular soldiers, sailors and airmen would be getting if they were not in the Services. We all know something of the human difficulties caused by the civilian housing shortage, but these are absolutely nothing as compared with the difficulties caused by the forced separation of husband and wife when the husband has to go abroad or to some other part of the country where he cannot have his wife with him. I think that most husbands would prefer living with their mothers-in-law as well as their wives to not living with either, and that is about the only alternative they have.
At the present moment, there are many areas—and there will probably continue to be—where, because of the military situation, the separation of husbands and wives seems unavoidable, but that, to my mind, is all the more reason why we should ensure where we can that husbands and wives can be together and that there is accommodation which is adequate both in quantity and quality. I hope that my hon. Friend will persuade his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to do something which is probably slightly outside the scope of this Bill, and I hope I maybe forgiven for mentioning it—that is to urge all local authorities to view sympathetically the very hard cases which very often arise when Service men are discharged from the Service and there is a long gap between the time of their discharge and the time when they are able to occupy a house provided by the local authority.
There is no doubt about the welcome for this Bill on all sides of the House, and while I am a little disquieted and worried about the falling behind schedule which there seems to be in the production of these houses. I give my support to 123 the Bill, and I hope that the provision of married quarters will go forward very quickly.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I agree with the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) in what he said about the progress made under the Act. Everyone who participated in introducing the original Measure will no doubt take credit for it, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who has spoken from the Front Opposition Bench.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bridlington that nobody can be fully satisfied with the progress that has been achieved. It was stated, when the discussion took place in 1949, that in the first year some 6,500 houses would be provided—that was the expectation—and thereafter there were to be provided about 5,000 per year. From the figures which have been given, it seems that that rate of progress has not been obtained, and therefore I hope that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he will give us an indication how soon the rate of progress will reach the rate which was hoped for when the Bill was originally introduced. As the Minister also said in his speech that the money had been nearly exhausted, perhaps he will also tell us a little more fully what is the present state of the finances.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The matter came up in 1949, when the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), in reply to a question which I had put, made it quite clear that the 5,000 mentioned at that time included not only the houses provided for in this Bill, but also the houses being built abroad under the Services Estimates.
§ Mr. Sparks
May I tell my hon. Friend that the then Minister of Defence, in the same debate, said:We hope…to complete an average over the next five years of about 5,000 married quarters in this country."—[Official Report, 22nd November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 276.]So my hon. Friend is correct.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I think it would be better to conduct this debate by the methods of debate rather than by interjection.
§ Mr. Foot
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. Whatever the figure may be, it is fairly clear that the rate of progress which it was hoped would be achieved has not been fully achieved, and in any case I do not imagine there is any dispute on either side of the House that we want to speed up construction as much as possible.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in introducing the Bill, said that one of the reasons it was necessary to have this Measure was the reduction in the age of entitlement to marriage allowance. Certainly, it was a reform when the last step was taken about the age of entitlement to marriage allowances, which I think was made under the Labour Government. Personally, I should like to see the age of entitlement in this respect abolished altogether.
It is very hard that the Services should lay down rules as to when marriage allowances are to be paid. If a person wants to get married at an early stage, as he is perfectly entitled to do, the Services should not have any say in the matter. If we proceed faster with the provision of married quarters, it may encourage the Government to abolish that restriction on the right of a man to marry when he wants to, which I should have thought was a principle that everyone would accept. I do not see why the Services should tell a man that he is not to have a marriage allowance because he happens to get married at an age when many respectable people get married but an age of which the Services do not approve. However, that is only a subsidiary point.
Reference has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) to the low proportion of these houses which have been supplied to the Navy. We have been told that when the Minister of Defence provides the married quarters, the percentages are going to be fixed according to where the need is greatest. I should like to know how the Service Departments determine where the need for married quarters is greatest. For instance, do they consult the housing managers in any of the 125 towns? Do they consult the housing managers in the big dockyard towns, like Devonport, Chatham and Portsmouth?
I should like to hear whether, before the decision was made as to the proportions to be given to the different Services, inquiries were made of the housing managers in Plymouth, Portsmouth and other naval towns. In many of these naval towns there is a very special problem, particularly in respect of the Navy. The housing authorities in those areas have very often to deal with numbers of people who are forced on to their lists at short notice. There was the case recently of the closing down of a dockyard in the West Indies. That meant that many of the dockyard towns had an extra number of people put on their housing lists from a different source to those who normally go on the housing lists of other cities.
If inquiries were made of the housing managers in these towns it would be found that, in fact, owing to the connection of the Navy with these towns, they have particular problems in their housing which ought to be taken into account by these Service Departments. I hope, therefore, that when the Service Departments decide where the need is greatest, they will make inquiries of the people who know about the problems, namely, the housing managers in the different areas. I rather suspect that the figures were determined more by a tug-of-war between the Departments in Whitehall than by a scrutiny of the problems that have to be faced in many of these areas.
There is a further factor in regard to the Navy which has been emphasised by my hon. Friend, namely, that there is a very much bigger leeway to be made up by the Navy, and it is because of this that the proportion allocated for naval married quarters should be increased.
The Minister explained that it is a condition of this Bill that the married quarters have to be provided in such circumstances that, if they are no longer required by the Forces, they can be handed back to the civilian authorities. Has it ever happened that married quarters provided by the Service Departments have been handed back to any civilian authority in any city in this country? If so, I should like to know the figures. It may be said that the Act has been running for only a few years, but if this Clause was so rightly insisted upon by my hon. Friend when 126 the 1949 Bill was going through the House, it would be encouraging to know that there was one such case, at any rate. From the experience I have had in my city, except for one example which occurred in the year 1880, I do not think there is another example of one piece of property held by a Service Department which has ever been handed back to the civilian authorities. If this Bill were to ensure that it happened, it would be quite a novelty in our affairs.
There are examples in the City of Plymouth—of which the Admiralty is aware—whereby applications have been made by that city for taking back Raglan Barracks and Granby Barracks, areas held by the Service Departments. If these were given to the city authorities they would be enabled to carry through their housing plans in a much more efficient and imaginative way than if those properties continued to be held by the Service Departments. So far, however, the Departments have found it difficult to agree to these proposals.
The Service Departments ought to look at these matters in a much more favourable light. They all owe a great deal to the work done by the housing managers and the housing committees of all these local authorities, who have an extremely difficult problem to face. It is easy enough to say that special provision must be made for people in the Services, but there are claims of other people as well, and the Service Departments ought to put themselves out to assist the housing managers. In the main, however, their rule is to hold on to anything they have ever been able to put their hands on. If today we can be told that there is one property in the whole of this country which, under the 1949 Act, has been handed back to a city authority, it will give us some hope for the future.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, let me say that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) has made several points which I endeavoured to make during the Second Reading of the 1949 Bill in regard to handing back houses to be built under it. At that time I was told by the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who was then Under-Secretary of State for War, that I was looking too far ahead and ought 127 not to start thinking of such things then. I do not know whether the time has yet arrived, but I should be surprised to learn that any of the houses built under the 1949 Act have been handed over to local authorities, since the purpose of this extending Bill seems to be to speed up the work rather than to diminish the results so far as the Services are concerned.
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) in his concern lest there should be a falling off in the number of houses built under the main Act but, as far as I can see, their cost is working out at between £2,000 and £2,500 apiece. I mentioned that figure during the Second Reading debate on the 1949 Bill and it was not contested. I understand that these houses are very similar in standard to those built by local authorities. In fact, their square footage is much the same. Various types are built, some of them larger than others obviously because some married couples have children and some do not.
Efforts are being made to keep in line with general local authority practice, particularly in the case of the Type IV house built by the Army, which is designed for officers with more than three children. Their square footage is about 1,500. Type V has a square footage of about 1,200. These compare not unreasonably with local authority houses, and I do not think that anyone could say that an undue amount of luxury is being provided in these houses, nor that they are not as good value for money as any other houses built today.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Has the hon. and gallant Member any information about the type of house built for ordinary ranks with three children?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I wondered if the hon. Member would raise that point, because I remember that during the Second Reading debate on 29th November, 1949, the then Secretary of State for Air, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), said:Building since the war has been almost entirely confined to the provision of other ranks'quarters, and it is now intended, I think rightly, to make a start in dealing with the arrears in the provision of quarters for officers."—[Official Report, 29th November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 992.]128 The main purpose behind the 1949 Act, as we understood it at that time and as put forward by the hon. Member's own Government, was that there was such a leeway to be made up in the provision of quarters for officers that something must be done to speed building for them first.
§ Mr. Hudson
Is the hon. and gallant Member telling me that all these houses were built for officers?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am not saying anything of the sort. I am saying that the housing needs of officers at the time when the 1949 Act was introduced as a Bill were far greater than that of other ranks. The then Minister went on to say that all cases were being dealt with in strict accordance with needs and that where other ranks needed more houses than did officers then obviously other ranks would get them. But the immediate problem facing the authorities was to deal with the back-log of need for officers' married quarters which had been neglected in previous years. Most of the houses built under the 1949 Act have been built for officers.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member can have understood the question originally put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). My hon. Friend's point was whether the dimensions quoted by the hon. and gallant Member for officers' houses could also be applied to houses for other ranks.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I beg the hon. Member's pardon if that was the point he was trying to make. The Type V house with a footage of 1,220 applies to other ranks. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air will confirm or deny that statement when he comes to reply to the debate. I am trying to make clear to the hon. Member for Ealing, North that when his own Government introduced the 1949 Act they were trying to deal with the back-log in housing for officers and were by no means ruling out the possibility of using the Act to deal with the needs of other ranks.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
A dangerous impression may go out from this House if that statement is not corrected. The 1949 Act was not designed to make up the leeway in officers' accommodation. It was 129 designed to provide married quarters for both officers and other ranks, but it was stated by the Minister at that time that we should give special consideration to officers then because most of the building since the end of the war up to that date had been for other ranks.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am not prepared to argue the distinction between "making up the leeway" and "giving special consideration to it." It all boils down to very much the same thing, that the first purpose to which the Act was put was mainly to catch up with the backlog of officers' married quarters, not in any way ruling out the possibility of using the Act in the future for other ranks. In fact both were to be affected by the Act, but it so happened that the officers' need at the time was considered to be the greater. That is all I am saying, and I cannot see that there is any dispute between us.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
The hon. and gallant Member said that the officers' houses were similar to those built by local authorities, but surely he is aware that it is the policy of his Government to produce houses of 1,000 square feet, or less. Therefore, it is not correct to say that 1,250 square feet or 1,500 square feet is typical of the local authority house. In fact, I do not believe it was typical under the Labour Government.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am only saying that to the best of my knowledge and from inquiries I have made, houses built under the Act are fairly comparable to local authority houses. Some of them may be larger and, for all I know, some may be smaller, but in general the square footage is much the same.
A particular aspect of the Bill I want to discuss is how much the building visualised for the Army is dependent upon certain very important decisions which have to be taken. We all know there are approximately 80,000 troops at present in the Canal Zone and a great many families are there also. We were also told in the Army Estimates this year that there is to be a cantonment built in Cyprus for about a brigade. Presumably in that cantonment there will be married quarters. We also find in the Army Estimates that approximately £1 million is being spent under Vote 8 for married quarters at home and presumably there 130 will be some abroad as well. Those built abroad cannot be covered by this Bill as this Bill amends an Act which applies only to houses built in the United Kingdom.
The reason why I want to raise this matter is that if any great alteration takes place in our garrisoning of troops overseas, it may be possible, desirable, or inevitable—I do not know which—that a great many families may have to come back to this country. It is clear from what my hon. Friend said that the Army are getting the least advantage from this amending Bill. Under the original Act I think my hon. Friend said the Army had a rather unfair advantage, at least compared with the Navy. I do not want to grind the axe of the Army any more than that of the other Services, beyond saying that one might draw certain conclusions from the amount the Army are due to get under this Bill.
I should be grateful for further elucidation to clear my mind on this matter. Is it the intention that the Army benefit under this Bill should not be so great as at present because families are to stay overseas, or, if they come back, they will not do so in large quantities? What we must do in the near future is something to improve the lot of many families, particularly those of our men in the Canal Zone.
If we are to send them to Cyprus and are not now to bring them back here, let us know. On the other hand, if they are to be sent back here, if many of them are no longer to stay in the Canal Zone, it seems to me that this Bill is inadequate to deal with the need which will arise. That is why I raise the matter at the moment. I realise how tenderly I am treading on the bounds of order, and I certainly do not wish to exceed the bounds of order.
It seems to me, however, that under this new Bill to continue the building of married quarters at home for another five years that the Army is to get the smallest number of the new married quarters. I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that that is because married families are to stay with their men when they are stationed overseas rather than be brought back home and the men have to be stationed overseas without their families. One of my hon. Friends raised this same point. 131 I hope that we shall try to keep the families with the men serving overseas.
I should be appalled if all the troops were withdrawn from the Canal Zone, but I am not now arguing the case one way or the other. All I wish to make clear is that should that happen and the married families are withdrawn from that area the need of the Army under this Bill will be far greater than the extent to which it appears to be catered for, judging by the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence tonight. I believe that the lot of many married families today, both overseas and at home, requires even greater attention than the House has given in the past.
At the same time it seems to me that every effort has been made in the operation of the original 1949 Act to make all the progress that can be made. If, however, the cost of housing does not tend to come down I should say that the original estimate, about which the hon. Member for Devonport, was speaking, of 5,000 houses a year can only be reached by lumping together the number of houses being built under the Services Estimates in the ordinary way both at home and overseas and the number of houses built under the 1949 Act.
I should like finally to confirm the point which the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) raised when you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, felt that it was not the right moment for me to follow it up. The hon. Member for Fulham, East, who was then Under-Secretary of State for War, made it quite clear in his reply to me. He said:The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely raised a point about figures to which the answer is that the figure of 5,000 mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence includes both what will be built with the help of this loan and what will be built by ordinary financial procedure."—[Official Report, 29th November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1040.]I assume that "ordinary financial procedure" meant the ordinary Defence Estimates of the three Services.
It appears that the number of houses being built is not quite coming up to expectations. I imagine that is very largely due to the fact that the cost of building has tended to rise in the interval. Assuming that we are to get 30,000 132 houses built during the term of the original Act—that is, built under the Service Estimates in the ordinary way and under the Act, I should have thought that this new Bill would have enabled us to build approximately another 20,000 or more houses. It is disappointing to learn that we are only to get 15,000 to 16,000. I think that is a disappointment to everybody.
I hope that that does not mean that we are not getting value for money because there is no question that there is still an enormous need for married quarters, and if we are to avoid putting the Army in a very difficult position indeed it will mean that more families then have been visualised will have to stay abroad with their men. Those houses will have to be built for them under the Service Estimates, leaving what is available under this Bill to be spent on housing at home being insufficient to meet the great need that exists at present.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I join with other hon. Members in welcoming this Bill, but I also feel that we need to know a good deal more about what has happened to the money already spent, and about the rather depressing progress made so far. A point which has been raised by other hon. Members is that during the past two or three years all three Service Departments have built married quarters in Britain under their ordinary Estimates, in addition to the special provisions under the 1949 Act. What we should know is how many have been built, not only under that Act, but under the ordinary Estimates of the separate Services.
It would seem to me that some pressure has been exerted by the Services to obtain permission to use any surplus on their ordinary Estimates to build these quarters, rather than to do so under the provisions of the 1949 Act. I know that there have been applications to the Treasury for permission to transfer certain expenditure to enable that to be done, and I can understand that the Service Departments would wish to do that, should they have a surplus, in order to avoid interest and other charges which would be involved. But we need to know a good deal more about how much has been done.
133 The Public Accounts Committee took a fairly strong line against any transfers of this kind. They considered that if the building of married quarters at home proceeded in that way, it should have the result of reducing the total amount of the £40 million loan under the 1949 Act. That has not happened. This year the matter has been investigated by the Public Accounts Committee of this House and, far from its being the case that the houses were strictly comparable with local authority houses, nearly all the houses built—in the past at any rate—seemed to have been considerably larger in size and also more expensive.
§ Commander Maitland
Can the hon. Gentleman be more specific and say during which years the bigger houses were built?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I was going on to the point that because the Public Accounts Committee raised this question, it was reviewed and at later meetings of the Committee we were assured that the matter had been reconsidered by the Service Departments and the size of the houses reduced, so that today the houses being built were more comparable with local authority houses, taking everything into account.
If we accept the figures of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) as being accurate, and if the average size of a house for a family built under this scheme is 1,200 square feet, it would seem to me that it is considerably larger than the type of house which has been forced upon local authorities, whether they liked it or not. If it is good enough to insist that a civilian should have a house of only 900 or at the most 950 square feet, is it right that we should automatically accept as proper these much higher figures for the Service Departments?
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that my hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State for Air, in the debate on the Air Estimates, said:…we have considerably reduced the size of officers' married quarters and more of them are being built semi-detached. Airmen's quarters are smaller, too, and we have a new two-bedroom design. We have used some terrace building and some non-traditional construction."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1522.]134 That makes it clear that this matter is seriously exercising the minds of those responsible.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I was aware that there had been that further consideration. I was suggesting that we might have been given a good deal more information. We have a right to expect information, when a Bill of this nature is introduced, about the use which has been made of these funds. One of the reasons more houses have not been provided under the 1949 Act is that the Service Departments have tried to squeeze out of their ordinary accounts a number of houses. We should be told in detail just what has been provided in that way.
I shall not go into the question of the division of future houses as between the Service Departments. I leave that to my hon. Friends and to the Minister who replies to the debate. We should have a reply, however, on the question whether Service Departments are being encouraged to use their ordinary Service Votes for the building of married quarters or whether they are urged to use to the full the provisions of the 1949 Act and this Bill. Also, I should like further information about the size and cost of houses built for the three Services to see whether or not they are comparable with those built by local authorities.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)
I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his comparison between civilian and Service accommodation, although I appreciate that it is an important point. A main feature of the debate is that the Bill has been welcomed by both sides of the House. I am glad that even hon. Members below the Gangway who were arguing last week against conscription can support the Government tonight. The very fact that we are providing more accommodation for the Regular Forces will encourage enlistment and re-engagement and will have the effect, one hopes, of ultimately making compulsory service less necessary.
I am sure we all agree about the need to stimulate recruiting. Nothing looms larger as a deterrent to a man who may be thinking of signing on than the feeling that there is such a lack of married 135 quarters near the camps and barracks at home. As the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, the great need is for mobility, but we cannot have mobility for a man's family if we are short of married quarters. I am sorry that the Army are getting such a poor proportion of the total amount of money to be spent. The Army is especially short of good warrant officer and non-commissioned officer material, and it is those very ranks—because the higher proportion are married men—which are most seriously hit by the lack of married quarters.
I am very glad that officers' married quarters are not to be overlooked—indeed, they were not overlooked under the original Measure—because there is a very real need to help the young married officer who is trying to live on his Service pay. The provision of more married quarters will do more to ensure a sense of stability, and to reconcile the sometimes conflicting claims of a man's private life with his public duty in the Forces, than any other single factor in the Armed Forces at present.
We know that some married quarters are very old and very unsatisfactory. Some date back to the Crimean War—or even beyond. Others, which are more modern, are scarcely more attractive. Hon. Members may remember the lines of Keats:Love in a hut, with water and a crust.Is—Love, forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust.No one suggests that the fare in the modern Army is as bad as a crust, but very often the accommodation is a hut, and that cannot possibly be conducive to either marital of military bliss.
Married soldiers, sailors and airmen are at least as entitled to decent housing accommodation as any other section of the community. Some people might say that they are even more entitled to it; certainly there is no argument that they are at least as entitled to it. When we consider the great success of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in providing homes for civilians, it is not at all surprising that we are tonight asked to authorise greater expenditure on married quarters for the Armed Services.
I am only sorry that the terms of the Bill do not go a little wider. I felt sorry that the 1949 Act was limited to this 136 country. Iunderstand the reason, but I still think it is a pity that, when such a large proportion of our Regular Forces are now serving in distant parts of the world for prolonged periods, the Act has not a wider application. One appreciates that married quarters overseas are provided for in the Service Votes, but there they have to compete with a great many other claims upon national expenditure, and it has been the experience in the past that housing items, being considered less important perhaps, are sometimes cut down, whereas if they were covered by the Bill that would be less likely to happen.
Another point is that many overseas stations are likely to be temporary, and so permanent quarters cannot be built there, and that makes separation of families inevitable. I do not want to do more than touch on this matter, because it is a little wide of the Bill, but I want to point out that when families are separated, the children probably have to be sent to boarding schools, whereas in other circumstances they would have gone to day schools. That imposes a very heavy financial burden on the Service man. I realise that this is beyond the scope of this Bill, but my object in raising it is the same as the object of the Bill—to ease the lot of the Regular and to induce him not to leave the Forces. I hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to my plea that a small education grant of, say, £50 a year should be given as a matter of practical assistance to Service men in this difficult position.
As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, the very shortage of accommodation overseas strengthens the general argument for more married quarters at home. When a man has been serving for a long spell of duty abroad and at length gets a home posting, he is, naturally, even more anxious to spend a little time with his family and not still be separated from them when he returns home. Subject to these few reservations, like other hon. Members from every quarter of the House, I wish the Bill well and hope that it will have a speedy, successful and safe passage to the Statute Book.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
While we all welcome the main proposal in the Bill to provide further housing accommodation for members of the Armed Forces, 137 I think we were all astounded at the case on financial grounds that was made by the Parliamentary Secretary in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. What the hon. Gentleman was doing was to ask the House for £35 million more to build half the number of houses for which we originally voted £40 million four years ago.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. But when the Money Resolution was discussed in Committee of Ways and Means on 22nd November, 1949, the Minister of Defence, in asking the support of the Committee for the Resolution, said:…we have need for about 59,000 to 60,000 married quarters for the three Services in this country. We have at the present time only about 29,000 houses, of which those of a permanent character actually provided since the war number about 3,000. The other 26,000 may be described as being of all kinds and conditions….We still have a need for 30,000 permanent houses in this country."—[Official Report, 22nd November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 274.]As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), the Minister went on to say that the £40 million was required to engage upon a housing programme which would provide 5,000 completed married quarters annually.
It was intended that the £40 million should cover the additional number of 30,000 houses required to bring the housing establishment near enough up to full strength. When the case for the Money Resolution was advanced, nothing was said that only half the 30,000 houses would be built during the period. I have read the debates very carefully, and the whole case was that the £40 million was required to finance the scheme of 30,000 houses at the rate of 5,000 houses a year.
In advancing that case, somebody must have estimated the average cost of houses and worked it out, on that basis, at £1,334 per house. The Parliamentary Secretary tells us, however, that only 15,500 houses have been built or are in course of construction and that the £40 million is nearly exhausted. If so, we are entitled to ask why the cost per house has worked out at approximately £2,580 per dwelling. That is an outrageous figure. Local authorities have been able to erect their 138 very decent type of dwelling at very much less than this sum. Now, the hon. Gentleman asks for a further £35 million to erect between 15,000 and 16,000 additional dwellings. This will work out at an estimated average cost of £2,188 each.
This House is entitled to far greater information about the financing of this scheme than we have yet heard. We know that the cost of living has soared rapidly since the Government have been in power, and that may be why they are asking for £35 million to build half the number of houses that could have been built four years ago. That may be the explanation which the hon. Gentleman does not want to disclose to us. The House is entitled to know why the cost of constructing these dwellings has nearly doubled in four years. £35 million is a lot of money to ask from the House without the Government's being able to state a sound and concrete case in their support.
While in general we support the principle of providing adequate housing accommodation for members of the Forces, I hope we shall direct our inquiry very minutely and carefully into the financing of the scheme. These questions must be answered by whoever replies to the debate, because they need an answer. On the basis of the case made for £40 million in 1949, we ought to be able to build nearly the same number of houses, because almost the same amount of money is being asked under the Bill.
Will the hon. Gentleman give the House information of the relative proportion as between officers and other ranks into which the 16,000 houses which it is estimated will be built are to be divided? The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said that in 1949 there was a need for married quarters for officers. Presumably to some extent that has been made good. Therefore we are entitled to know in what proportion the additional 16,000 are to be distributed. It is important that the maximum number should be built for other ranks.
There are wives of Service men in the constituencies of all of us, especially in London and the great cities, and we know that many of them have to live in furnished accommodation and to pay extortionate rents. I have had instances 139 recently in my constituency of wives of Service men with children having to pay such high rents that they had to go out to work to supplement their Service allowances, which are inadequate, and to leave their children in day nurseries. Some of those wives have been ordered by the Middlesex County Council to take their children out of day nurseries and they do not know what they are to do with them. That all helps to make life difficult for the Service man. When he is aware how his wife is being treated and how it is being made hard and difficult for her to manage and leave the children at school, a certain amount of unrest is created in his mind. The solution is to build additional houses quickly so that the families of Service men may be adequately accommodated.
Another problem arises from that, one to which I hope the Minister will pay some regard. It is essential that there should be adequate married quarters for married men during their period of service, but a real tragedy arises when the period of Service expires.
More than one hon. Member tonight has drawn attention to the case where a man and his family have had to vacate married quarters and then found themselves unable to get on to the housing list of any local authority because they possessed no residential qualifications for that purpose. I blame the Service Departments for that because I do not think that they are giving sufficient advice, first of all, to married men when they join the Forces that they should prepare for the day when their service has been completed.
They should be advised either to register with the local authority in the area from which they are being called up, or, some years before their Service period expires, to indicate to the local authority of the area in which they propose to live after their Service has been completed that on such and such a date they will have to vacate their married quarters and that they are making formal application to go on their housing list. This would give local authorities perhaps three or four years in which to do something for these men.
I also think it is necessary for the Service Departments to take up this matter with the Ministry of Housing and Local 140 Government in order that there might be co-operation between the Service Departments and that Ministry when Service men and their families have to vacate married quarters. It is a tragedy that a man who gives a period of service to his country should find himself at the conclusion of that service thrown on to the street and no local authorities able to put him on their housing list simply because he cannot comply with the necessary qualifications.
These matters ought to be considered in connection with this Bill because so much can be done to improve the conditions of life of the Service man and his family and to ease the period of transition from Service to civilian life.
I hope and believe that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this debate will be able to clear up some of the very serious financial discrepancies in the case which has now been made out for this additional £35 million as compared with the case made four years ago for almost the same amount of money with which to build twice the number of houses. There is something radically wrong with the financing of the scheme, and I think that we want to hear something much more clear and concise than we have yet heard to convince us that this £35 million is going to be spent in the best interests of all concerned.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
I hope that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his very interesting speech. My contribution to this debate will take only about a minute to make, and will be on one specific point. It is the question, which has been raised before, why the Navy should not have houses made available to it in its dockyard towns. As the hon. Member opposite will remember, I raised this point when the matter was originally debated, and it was then considered to be the intention of the Government not to grant these facilities. It is something that I really cannot quite understand.
As the House knows, the Navy is concentrated in three main ports, and yet those are the very places in which the Navy is told that none of this money will be available for housing its personnel. It means, of course, that the Fleet Air Arm is, very rightly, getting some houses 141 in the outlying parts of the country; but that does not mean that the Navy is getting married accommodation for its personnel in the home ports. That is a point, I understand, which can be dealt with under this Bill. It is a matter of administration and of Government decision, and I appeal to the Government to have a very serious re-think about this matter.
Incidentally, I should like to know whether in the home ports housing accommodation may be provided out of the Estimates. I am not quite sure on that point. Arising out of that, I should also like to know whether when the Marines left Chatham, which is something which we all regret, their married quarters there were taken over. I hope that the Government will give very serious consideration to these matters which worry all the men in the Navy today.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) expressed his dissatisfaction at the inability of the Government to find accommodation in the three main home ports of the Navy. I do not understand that either, but I am not interested in certain solutions in the way in which the hon. and gallant Member is. Like everyone else in the House, I think that when men get married it is better for them to have married quarters near to their work, whether it is civilian work or work for the various Service Departments. I am all in favour of seeing that this provision is made and that it is made as much for men of all ranks as for officers, who seem to have had the special consideration of the Government up to the present.
I go back to the question about the provision of accommodation in the home ports, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary why there should be so much provision for the Air Force in the proposals now before us. I imagine that in connection with the air stations to which married quarters are attached there would be the same objections on strategic and similar grounds as must have been advanced in connection with the home ports. I should have thought that from a military point of view it was thoroughly bad policy to build permanent houses and flats, which we now know have been costing an average of £2,500 or £2,800 apiece, in 142 places against which in war-time most devastating attacks would be directed by the enemy.
As I go about the country, I see the air stations and the building of flats and houses close to those air stations. I cannot imagine what sort of attention has been given to this problem by the Air Ministry, who ought to have taken into account the possibilities of war-time. I cannot imagine what the Government have been thinking about in insisting that there should be so little of the new money and the new accommodation provided under this Bill for the Navy and so much for the Air Force.
I want to ask a further question about the issue which I raised in a couple of interventions during the debate, because we have not yet had any information about it. It was the ipse dixit of somebody or other that there was a slack in the building of officers' quarters before the first Bill was brought in, and that the first Bill was intended to make up that slack. I do not gather that that is the intention now. I listened very carefully to the Parliamentary Secretary putting the case to the House, and I gathered that he has in mind the provision of houses on a half-and-half basis for officers and other ranks. The hon. Gentleman nods his head, but nobody knows; at any rate, I do not know, and nobody else in the House knows, except perhaps those who advanced the view that there was this slack in the provision of quarters for officers.
The main intention is to provide accommodation for officers. I should say that the provision of accommodation at the rate of 1,500 square feet for every flat, unit or house is not the sort of accommodation that is intended for the men. If they get their houses through the civilian authorities, and if it is a two-bed roomed flat such as those now being built in my division, they will get something in the nature of 700 or even less square feet. [Interruption.] Well, 750 square feet, as the former chairman of the London housing authority reminds me, and he may be expected to know something about it.
It will be something in the nature of 700 square feet, and, if it be a house, something between 930 to 980 square feet. If this proposition is worked out—and it is all that we have worked out in this 143 debate—at the rate of 1,500 square feet per house, it is a clear indication that the Government will continue to build mainly for officers the houses about which we are talking.
I should say that all the things that have been said about the necessity to provide houses for men in the Services, about the fact that nothing is being done for them by the local authorities, and about their being frozen off the local authorities' lists, are particularly good reasons why we should now make some strong effort to provide for men of ordinary rank much more accommodation than the Government seem to be contemplating.
I join with my hon. Friends in protesting against the lack of balance in the statement that has been made to the House, both about the financial proposals and the nature of the houses to be built, as well as about the extent to which officers will get their share and other ranks get theirs. These things have not been cleared up tonight, and the Government ought to be pressed far more strongly than we have pressed them so far to make clear their policy in regard to the matters of which I have spoken.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
Like the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who spoke first for the Opposition, I am most encouraged at the support which this Bill has received from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and by the welcome which it has received. I am also most encouraged and gratified by the obvious interest in it which has been shown by hon. Members on both sides and by the number of extremely interesting and important points which have been raised. I will do my best to answer as many of them as I can.
I think the first point made concerned how many houses have actually been completed and how many are still building, and the answer which I have been able to get is that approximately 12,000 out of the 15,000 have been completed. The hon. Member for Stepney, and, indeed, other hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), spoke about a figure of 30,000 houses which they mentioned as the number which it was proposed to build with the £40 million under 144 the expiring Act. In fact, that is a misunderstanding.
The 1949 Act was never intended to provide 30,000 houses. That number was stated at the time to be the full requirement for the Armed Forces. It was expected that only about 50 per cent. of these would qualify for loan finance under the conditions about suitability for transfer to local authorities when the houses ceased to belong to the Services. In fact, a higher proportion qualified, so that more quarters were financed by loan, and that is why we need another £35 million. This sum will be enough to meet the estimated requirements, but these, particularly for the Admiralty, are, of course, interim and not final.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) interposed at that stage and asked how many officers' married quarters and how many for other ranks had been provided. He repeated that question in the speech he has just made. The answer is that approximately two-thirds were built for other ranks and one-third for officers.
§ Mr. Ward
Yes, those that have already been built. That point was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) when he pointed out that even the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) admitted that there was a leeway to be made up in the provision of officers' married quarters.
The next question I was asked was, why has the Royal Air Force got the lion's share? The hon. Member for Stepney was worried about the Navy's share, and I was asked whether there were to be naval quarters built in the home ports. If I can deal with the last question first, the answer is that there are going to be married quarters built in the home ports.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the 23 per cent. includes all the married quarters which are to be built in the home ports?
§ Mr. Ward
No, I think not. The majority of them will be built in the home ports. The proportions were very carefully worked out taking everything 145 into consideration, and the points arising on that were dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. He talked about aerodromes that were built before or during the war without any married quarters to go with them, and that is the real reason why the R.A.F. get the lion's share.
Another thing which had a great bearing on it and which explains the apparent disparity between the Navy and the other two Services is, of course, that the policy for the provision of married quarters for officers and other ranks is not the same in the Navy as in the Army and the Air Force. Before the war there were no married quarters for the Navy. There will now be married quarters provided for 20 per cent. of entitled personnel, which is a step forward. The requirement for the other two Services have for some time been 90 per cent. of entitled officers and 100 per cent. of entitled men. That accounts for the discrepancy to a large extent.
The next point raised was in regard to the annual payments. The money will be borrowed as it is required and the 60-year period runs from the end of the financial year, that is 31st March of the year in which the moneyis borrowed. Therefore the 60-year period applies to the loans in the future exactly as it has done in the past. Perhaps I can make that clear by quoting from Section 1 (3, b) of the Act:the said aggregate shall be repaid by sixty equal annual instalments of principal and interest combined, the first of such instalments falling due at the end of the financial year next following that in which the sums in question were issued and one of the remainder falling due at the end of each of the fifty-nine succeeding financial years,".In terms of money, we estimate that the approximate payments by each Service Department which will be due from 1960 onwards will be: Admiralty £550,000, War Office £1 million, Air Ministery £1,355,000. These figures are based on the assumption that the three Service Departments will draw the full amount of their allocation under the new Bill and that the rate of interest will remain approximately as at present.
Before leaving that point I want to deal with the question of the rate of building which was raised by the hon. Members for Stepney and Devonport 146 (Mr. Foot). Doubt was cast upon the rate of building which, it was said, had not been as fast as it should have been. In fact, we built or have under construction about 15,500 houses, and we have done that in three and a half years since the Act of 1949 came into effect. Therefore, the rate is not greatly less than the forecast of 5,000 a year.
§ Mr. Ward
May I come back to that in a moment? I want to strengthen the point about the rate of building by giving an example of how this loan has accelerated the rate of building in the Royal Air Force. At the end of the war in 1945 the number of married quarters in the R.A.F. was only 6,785. By 1950 the number had risen to only 10,900 and by the middle of 1953 it was 18,000. So the rate of building has been almost doubled as a result of this loan. During the years 1950 to 1953 we spent only £2.2 million out of the Estimates. For the rest, £15 million came out of the loan money.
We still need about 13,000 married quarters in the United Kingdom for the Royal Air Force. The new loan, of which about £21 million will be allotted to the Royal Air Force, will give us about 9,000 quarters, leaving therefore 4,000 still to be provided. Those will have to be paid for out of Vote 8, because they will not qualify for loan money. I believe that that answers the point made by the hon. Member who asked whether we are encouraging the Services to spend this loan money to the full. The answer is that it depends entirely on whether the house qualifies or not for the loan money or whether the cost has to come out of defence funds.
The hon. Member for Devonport asked whether any married quarters have yet been handed back to local authorities. I cannot give a definite answer because I have not been able to check the point, but I hope that he will remember that 147 the Services are expanding and, of course, that the intention to hand the houses back to local authorities was meant to apply to a time when the international situation allowed us to contract and not to expand.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked what was the square footage of houses built for other ranks. The answer is 900 square feet for a three-bedroomed house. He also asked about building overseas. We have not been idle there by any means. Although this loan does not deal with overseas building we have provided quite a number of quarters overseas. The War Office has provided over 8,000 quarters overseas since the war. The Navy has provided 700 and the Air Force, between 1948 and 1953, has provided 4,100 overseas. I hope that hon. Members will not think that because we are concentrating on married quarters at home under this Bill we are neglecting the needs overseas.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to get back in due course to the question of cost, but it seems to me that so far he has not got down to that point. Since the Patronage Secretary is here, the hon. Gentleman might consult with him as to whether the debate can be deferred in order that hon. Members on both sides of the House may be able to put their point of view and the hon. Gentleman can come back to what he has agreed is an important matter. In all the circumstances might it not be very desirable that the Patronage Secretary should say a few words about adjourning the debate to another day?
§ Mr. Ward
I am coming to the cost in a moment.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) asked about the size of the houses. I have given a figure for married quarters for other ranks of 900 square feet. I should like to emphasise the reductions which have been made recently in the number of square feet in officers' married quar- 148 ters. In the Royal Air Force—and I think that much the same figures apply to the other Services—we have reduced the square footage of our married quarters Class V from 1,700 to 1,500, and we have reduced the square footage of Class VI houses from 1,500 to 1,220. Before leaving the question of officers' quarters, I ask the House to remember that generally speaking officers join the Services for a longer period than other ranks and probably, compared with their numbers, there is a larger proportion of officers on a Regular engagement than other ranks. We have only to visit any airfield to realise that we must see to the needs of the officers' families as well as airmen's families in this matter.
I come to the question of costs. Once again I must speak about Air Ministry quarters, but I am told that the considerations which I shall give the House on this matter apply with equal force to the other Services. The first thing is the isolation of the sites. Even though there may be a civilian housing need which would qualify the quarter for the housing loan, the local civil population may be much too small to supply a reservoir of labourbig enough to man a contract for a group of R.A.F. quarters. In that case it may be necessary to import labour, in which case the working rules provide for extra payments for travelling time, subsistence allowance, guaranteed time and so on. In addition, there is no doubt that contractors make an allowance in their tender prices to cover the fact that imported labour is less efficient and also for possible extra cost of materials in isolated areas.
Secondly, there have been site costs on abnormal sites. It may be exceptionally difficult to connect the married quarter with the water supply, the electricity supply, or the sewer. Those costs may be higher because we know we shall need to build more quarters later on the same site. Then there is the cost of fittings. Air Ministry costs cover cookers, curtain rails, light fittings and cupboards which a local authority would not necessarily supply but which we think should be put in because of the difficulty met by families frequently posted from one station to another. This factor applies equally strongly to the Army and the Navy.
Another factor is the size of the project. In the Air Ministry, and probably the 149 other Departments, the average size of the contract is smaller than the average size of the local authority contract and, therefore, more expensive. Allowing for these special factors, Air Ministry costs incurred up to 1949 compared closely, like for like, with those incurred on local housing programmes. There is no reason to expect that this did not apply to later programmes as well.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Has not the hon. Gentleman any later information than that of schemes carried out before 1949?
§ Mr. Gibson
The hon. Gentleman said that 13,000 houses have been built. Surely he knows what they cost and what the average would be.
§ Mr. Ward
A blotting-paper figure for an officer's-type house of 1,220 square feet with three bedrooms would, for example, be about £2,600; an officer's-type house for senior officers of 1,500square feet about £3,100; an other ranks-type house of 900 square feet with three bedrooms, approximately £1,800 to £2,000. I hope that I shall not be held to those figures in every case. They are bound to vary with the site and type of contract but that is the type of blotting-paper figure for which I was asked and which I have given.
I wish to reply to the hon. Member for Ealing, North who hoped that we were not putting married quarters in positions which were too vulnerable. The answer must be that we have to put them reasonably near the place of work of the people who are to live in them. There is another consideration which I am sure the 150 House will readily appreciate, namely, that we also wish to avoid taking good agricultural land. Therefore, we try as far as possible to put quarters on land which belongs to the Services.
When we must take more land we discuss the site very carefully with the local authority, and we select the most suitable site. We then make formal application to the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, and eventually the Treasury tells us whether that particular site will qualify for a housing loan. We have had no difficulty whatever with the local authorities in this matter, and happily little with the agricultural community.
I wish to remind the House that the married quarter programme which we have been discussing tonight in connection with this loan is included in the national housing programme. The Bill confers no priority for married quarters over ordinary civilian building, and experience of the working of the Act up to date has shown that there are no grounds whatever for fearing that the programme will interfere with the civilian programme.
The Services are entitled to parity of treatment. The recruiting problem has been pointed out to the House by many hon. Members, and we want to ensure that our officers and our men have fair treatment so far as housing standards are concerned. The object of this Bill is to try to ensure that they get it.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I venture to rise at this late hour because this matter is one which is a subject of great interest and concern to my constituents in one of the great naval ports. I rise also because it was the subject of my speech on the Navy Estimates this year. Like Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the Bill in general, but I felt that it was rather unfortunate that at one stage it seemed to be developing into a debate between the rival claims of other ranks and officers in the Forces for accommodation.
I hold the view, as do other hon. Members, that there should be no rivalry in this matter. This is a great human problem and officers and men should be treated equally and fairly. On the subject of cost, I felt that the case presented by my hon. Friend was not as good as 151 it might have been. I feel that the cost of building many of these houses, despite the fact that they are in remote areas is still too high, and I suggest that the Ministers responsible should consult the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who may be able to give advice about the manner in which the cost could be reduced.
§ Mr. Sparks
Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that the average cost is working out at nearly £1,000 more than a local authority house?
§ Mr. Burden
It is, of course, a fact which we must accept that many of these houses are built in remote areas. I know that in some cases the houses built for the Royal Naval Air Service are in remote and almost inaccessible areas, and the cost of them must be much higher; but in general I consider that the matter needs to be investigated.
I am interested to know that the Government are at last accepting the fact that members of the Forces are as much entitled to houses for their families as are the civil population. I suggest that the Government will fail in solving their housing problems if they do not accept that fact. All of us who live in the great traditional naval ports of this country, such as Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth, as well as the Scottish naval ports, know of the difficulties confronting married Service men because of the lack of accommodation. The housing authority in my own constituency has been very helpful, but in many cases it is extremely difficult to deal equitably with the claims of members of the Forces.
Hon. Members who represent constituencies in the great traditional naval ports will welcome the fact that at last houses are to be built in the home ports for married personnel. Until the end of the war the Navy had no entitlement whatever, but some have now been accepted. I should like to know how soon it will be possible to start building in the naval ports. So far as Chatham is concerned, I hope we shall receive a block allocation, and I have no doubt that the claims of Devonport and Portsmouth will be pressed. I hope we shall be given this information in the near 152 future, because it is an urgent matter. This applies particularly to the naval ports which are great centres of potential recruitment for the Navy. The housing problem has assumed such acute proportions that many men who might otherwise have taken Regular commissions in the Navy have failed to do so.
If the matter is pressed and it is made clear that we intend to build houses in the great ports, then naval recruitment will receive a fillip. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to give some information tonight about the building contemplated in the ports. In general I support the Bill, with other hon. Members. Any Measure that will alleviate the housing problems of our people, including members of the Forces, is one to be welcomed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Studholme.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.