HC Deb 13 March 1958 vol 584 cc690-3

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £26,830,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works, buildings and lands, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Strachey

I have two questions to put on this Vote. One is about the civilianisation of works and the civilianised directorate, which I welcome. That seems a good idea, but what occurs to me in this connection is the question of a "common user" with the Royal Air Force. The Royal Air Force has had this form of organisation—a civilianised works directorate—for many years and now that the two Services have the same form of organisation, there is a good deal to be said for a directorate to serve both. That would be a step towards integration and an economy at the top and it would be a common user service which would have very considerable advantages. I should like to know whether that has been considered and, if so, whether there are any great objections to it.

My second question concerns married quarters. In page 134 of the Estimates, there appear to be some disturbing figures about married quarters. The money which we are asked to vote this year is considerably less than that for last year. In round figures, the sum is down from £1,200,000 to £853,000. I realise that that is not the whole story and that the figure of £750,000 in Vote 11 is the same this year as last, but, therefore, that does not affect the comparison one way or the other. On the surface, at any rate, it seems that we are being asked to provide a very considerably smaller sum for married quarters this year than for last year, and that seems disturbing.

If we are to succeed in our recruiting drive, progress with married quarters is an important factor. I realise that it may be argued that the reduction in numbers will reduce the need for new quarters, but that argument is specious. After all, although the reduction in numbers is very considerable, a considerably higher proportion will be in this country and the demand for married quarters in this country is not likely to diminish at anything like the same rate as the reduction in the numbers in the forces.

I am concerned and alarmed about this apparent drop in the sum voted. We are told that substantial new works are to start this year—£1,400,000—but the actual amount to be spent this year is estimated to be less than that for last year and that is disturbing. The Army still seems to lag behind the Royal Air Force in the provision of married quarters and I should be grateful for reassurance on this topic.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. J. Amery

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we could have a common user service with the Royal Air Force. He will appreciate that I have not sufficient knowledge of the Royal Air Force to give an objective and balanced view on the matter. I doubt whether it would be possible or desirable to have as big an organisation as would be required to cater for the building needs of two Services. I suppose it should be spread. in the right hon. Gentleman's view, to all three Services. I do not know, but that is my first reaction.

I emphasise that a more fruitful line of progress may be that which we are adopting at the moment. There are certain theatres where one Service accepts responsibility for the building requirements of all three. For example, in Aden the greater part of our building is undertaken, in accordance with our requirements, by the R.A.F. organisation.

Mr. Strachey

As I understand it, almost all the physical work is being done by civilian contractors. I am referring merely to the question of the directorates who let the contracts. I should not have thought that the size of the matter was necessarily a prohibitive factor. It would be if the work were to be done by the Services, but in the matter of letting contracts I should have thought that there would be an advantage.

Mr. Amery

This is hardly the occasion to debate the vexed problem of the optimum size of an organisation. I was merely giving my reaction to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I believe that the present system, under which one Service often carries out the building requirements of all three, is progressive. It may be possible to develop it still further.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to married quarters and to what he regarded as the rather meagre provision that we are making for them in the year ahead. The real reason is that until the planning of the reorganisation of the Army is completed it is impossible to decide exactly where the married quarters should be built. From that point of view last year was a poor one. The whole problem was in a state of flux, and we were not in a position to say definitely where married quarters should be built. The position is improving this year and we shall build considerably more married quarters than we did last year. But the full results of present planning will not begin to take effect until 1959.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

I should like to ask one question with regard to Subhead F, in page 140 of the Estimates. I did not give the Under-Secretary notice of this, and if he cannot answer I shall understand. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for War is present. I repeat what I said last week. We should have another look at the question of accommodation. We are spending millions of pounds upon improving married quarters, and I appreciate that; but since we are talking in terms of a much smaller Army hon. Members on this side of the Committee believe that if we could give the men the chance to buy their own homes through the Army, with 100 per cent. loans and cheap, fixed interest rates, it would help recruiting.

Subhead F refers to the repayment and interest charges under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Acts. I may be wrong about this, but is it not possible within that Act for the Army to make these loans? I should imagine that there would be no greater advertisement for attracting young men into the Army than to say to them, "You will be given an opportunity to buy your home, where you want it, with a 100 per cent. loan and low fixed interest charges." I believe that that attitude would do much good.

Mr. Amery

I am sure that the hon. Member will understand if I do not give any answer to his question at present, but I do not think that I shall be revealing any official secret if I say that what he mentioned in the debate last week was the subject of a discussion in which I took part in the War Office today.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £26,830,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works, buildings and lands, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.