HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc665-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £17,950,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works, buildings and repairs at home and abroad, including the cost of superintendence, purchase of sites, grants and other charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

Miss Vickers

I should like to draw attention to Subhead B relating to new works, additions and alterations, and to ask the Minister some questions about accommodation. Quite recently there has been an excellent suggestion that hirings should be taken by the Navy. It would be of great value to families coming back from overseas. It is very difficult for them to obtain any quarters unless they are provided by the Navy, as they have to be for a certain period on the housing lists of local authorities before they become eligible for accommodation. It would be excellent if unfurnished quarters could be taken.

Many people coming from overseas are stationed in an area for at least three years. I have been in communication with an officer in charge of married quarters. He says that it is quite impossible to find accommodation other than furnished accommodation unless it is in permanent buildings built by the Navy for the purpose. Therefore, there are many families with furniture of their own who have no chance of obtaining a place in which to live. This suggestion would also mean a considerable saving for the Navy. In places like Plymounth there are 500 empty houses, many of which could be made available for this purpose.

The other matter about which I am concerned is the use made of blocks for the accommodation of chief petty officers. Quite recently in Plymouth, a block of this kind was built for the large sum of £750,000. What is to be the policy in future? Since the block was opened it has not been used to capacity and, with centralised drafting, what use will these blocks be in future? I feel that a considerable reduction could be made in this Vote if blocks of that kind were not built in future. At present they are not serving any very useful purpose.

Mr. K. Robinson

I also have a question to put concerning married quarters. This is a matter which has always concerned my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who probably would have been at this Dispatch Box but for the state of his health. What effect will the capital cuts announced recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer have on the construction of married quarters for the Navy and also on the modernisation of barracks? We are in a slight difficulty over married quarters because some of them are constructed, as it were, under Vote 10 and some by loan under Vote 15, but I hope that we shall have a comprehensive reply about the extent to which they have been cut back as a result of the Chancellor's policy.

Under Subhead B of Vote 10 there has been a very considerable increase in the amount to be voted. A sum of £210,000 is to be voted for accommodation for personnel. There is another considerable increase in Item (g) for dockyards and factories—from £154,000 to £360,000. I should be glad if the Minister could give the House some idea of in what part of the world the greater part of that money will be spent.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the two items which he has picked out, because under the works programme in Vote 10 we are putting more emphasis on personnel accommodation, and we are endeavouring to make it very much better. In the earlier debate some remarks were made about accommodation afloat, and it was generally realised that it is very difficult to have a very high standard of accommodation afloat. Therefore, we are particularly anxious that the standard of shore accommodation should be improved.

To deal with married quarters, although it is quite true that many of them—in fact, nearly all of them—come under Vote 15, there will be no question of cutting our married quarters programme. That is in full swing in the three home ports and in other places. We have had certain difficulties in finding sites, but we are now going ahead with that programme. We are also going ahead with other living accommodation for single men.

The question of the barracks at Devonport and of the new block for chief petty officers has been mentioned. I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) that it is incorrect to say that this has not been fully used. From the moment the block was completed it was 69 per cent. full. In addition to that, there were a very large number of chief and petty officers living out who came in there during the day. I was down there the other day, and I think the standard of accommodation is good, but we have to face the fact that much of the shore accommodation that we have is not very satisfactory and that it is desirable to improve it. That is why, in Vote 10 next year, we are placing increased emphasis on our personnel accommodation and also on dockyard buildings, which were mentioned in the earlier debate. That is where the money is going.

There is another point I should make in this connection: we are putting a great deal more money into care and maintenance to try to raise the standard of repairs. We have also been putting more money into minor works: small items which have tended in the difficult years since the war to get squeezed out.

The hon. Gentleman asked me if I could say where this money was being expended abroad. I am afraid that I could not say for certain without notice. I would suspect that a certain amount of it is being spent in Malta, but I can assure the hon. Member that both at home and abroad we have comprehensive plans for improving service accommodation. A special survey was made a few years ago by a rear-admiral, who went round all the establishments and tried to decide which were those that most needed improvement to their accommodation. Although there have to be changes from time to time, because of a new emergency arising, we have attempted to stick to our plans, and I hope that we shall get the best possible value for money in the improvement of this accommodation.

There is one further point which the hon. Member for Devonport mentioned in regard to hirings. She asked whether hirings could be unfurnished as well as furnished. I will look into that matter, but I am told that there are considerable difficulties in doing that, and that there is a danger that the civilian population might feel that the Royal Navy is taking more than its share of accommodation in the home ports. We are, however, trying to obtain more furnished accommodation, and I will look into the point which the hon. Lady has raised.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I notice that under Subhead C, relating to minor new works, the figure has gone up by £236,000. We do not want to build minor new works like castles, and I think that we should make some use here of modern technique in semi-permanent buildings. After all, these places have not got to last a very long time, and we should try to economise in new works. I notice that the amount under the heading of "Ordinary Repairs and Maintenance" has increased by a considerable amount, and I suppose that in some cases that means renovation. Looking through all these Estimates relating to new works, I suggest that the time has arrived when we ought to look at them with the utmost care, because we do not want more capital expenditure or a greater call on our manpower and materials than we can afford.

It being half-past Nine o'clock, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply) to put the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £17,950,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works, buildings and repairs at home and abroad, including the cost of superintendence, purchase of sites, grants and other charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put severally the Questions, That the total amounts outstanding in such Estimates for the Navy Services for the coming financial year as have been put down on at least one previous day for consideration on an allotted day, and the total amounts of all outstanding Estimates supplementary to those of the current financial year as have been presented seven clear days, and of all outstanding Excess Votes, be granted for the Services defined in those Estimates, Supplementary Estimates and Statements of Excess: