§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend for another five years the powers which exist under the 1949 Act, as extended in 1953, to raise money by loan for expenditure on housing for the Services in the United Kingdom. In addition, it provides that if any Service houses built under the provisions of this Act are sold the proceeds of sale may be applied to the premature repayment of the loans incurred to build them.
I want to say a word about the original Act, its terms and conditions, and the story of what has been achieved under it and under the 1953 Act which extended it. As I understand, it was conceived by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), and the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards). I hope that they realise how much it has been appreciated by the Services, and how successfully it has worked out.
The purpose of the original Act was, broadly, to free building houses for married Service men in the United Kingdom from the financial pressures of providing for capital expenditure out of current revenue, and thus to put the Service man as nearly as possible on the same footing as the civilian in respect of the provision of his housing. This principle was universally supported in 1949 and again in 1953, and I do not believe that anyone doubts its wisdom.
The main condition of the original Act is that a married quarter can be approved as suitable for financing by loan only if it is in a situation in the United Kingdom where, if it should ever come to be sold by the Services, it could be used by the civilian population. Married quarters abroad, or those in isolated parts of this country, must still be financed by the ordinary Services building Votes. Whether or not a particular block of 745 married quarters is eligible for finance under the loan is decided between the Service Ministers, on the one hand, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the other. It applies to quarters both for the Active and the Auxiliary Forces.
The 1949 Act provided for loans up to £40 million in the period 1st April, 1950, to 31st March, 1955. By the end of 1953, when it had to be decided whether the Act should be extended, a total of 15,500 quarters had been built or were building under the Act, besides those provided from the normal building Votes. But still more were needed, so the Act was extended for a further five years and the total authorised amount of the loan increased from £40 million to £75 million.
We now have to review the position once again. We expect that by the end of March, 1960, when the Act at present on the Statute Book runs out, approximately £67 million out of the £75 million authorised will have been spent on housing approved under the Acts, leaving a balance of £8 million. For this money—that is, for £67 million over a period from 1950 to 1960—about 24,500 quarters will have been provided; that is, up to what we think we will have finished by 1960.
To date we have spent £61 million, but we think that by the end of 1960, by the time the Act runs out, it will be £67 million. Apart from this, about 7,900 quarters have been built since the end of the war in the United Kingdom for which provision was made out of the Service works Votes. In the United Kingdom, we now have in all about 13,000 officers' married quarters, and 44,000 for other ranks. Some of these are in places where the Services will not need them when they are redeployed on a more Regular basis. Others are sub-standard and not worth modernising, and the net result, as far as we can see at the moment, is that we are still short of what we will need in the long term.
The House will appreciate that I cannot give exact figures of the number more we will need for five years. For one thing, we cannot be absolutely certain what proportion of the men in an all-Regular force will be married, but on a reasonably conservative estimate we shall want, in the 746 years 1960 to 1965, to build in places where houses can be approved under the Act—and I am talking now of all three Services—about 11,500 married quarters at a total cost of £28 million. This works out at less money per quarter than the 24,500 built up to now, which cost £68 million.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the need now is for a higher proportion of married quarters for other ranks than for officers, and the second is that a larger proportion of them will be built in already existing estates, which is cheaper than if we had to build a new estate, with all the roads and services that go with it.
It may well be asked—indeed, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) gave me notice last Friday that he would ask—why there has been a shortfall in the amount spent on building quarters compared with what has been voted by Parliament. Out of the total of £75 million, which was the figure which the Services were authorised under these Acts to borrow up to April, 1960, from the Treasury, £8 million will not have been spent. Over and above that, there has been a shortfall in the capital works Votes of the three Services in past years, a proportion of which would have been for married quarters.
There are two important reasons for this. Firstly, there are the constant and shifting commitments which the Services have to meet. When the Estimates are drawn up at the time of the year, and when they are passed by Parliament in March, there is a commitment, and, for instance, I take Kenya as an example, when the Army was deployed to meet the Mau Mau emergency in Kenya. At that time of the year, when the commitment is there and the emergency is on, it looks as if we will have to keep troops there, and we plan the forces accordingly.
Later, it looks more as if that particular emergency will subside, and we shall not require the troops, so the money is not spent. It was so in Kenya, Malaya, in the Suez Canal, and in Cyprus and Jordan, to which the hon. Gentleman referred in our debate on the Army Act. One cannot foresee what the commitments are. One only gets the Vote in March, and, naturally, as the commitments change later in the year, it is not 747 possible to be a soothsayer and say exactly how things will go in any country, so that the Estimate can be considerably out.
The next point is that the decision announced in the 1957 Defence White Paper that, when the present National Service Acts ceased to be effective, we would depend on all-Regular forces, was not arrived at from one day to the next, as hon. Members will appreciate. Thought, discussion and argument as to what should be the size of our forces from 1962 onwards began seriously many years earlier, and this raised all kinds of doubts about the deployment of our forces, both in terms of location and in terms of numbers.
This, naturally, had its effect on the building policies of the three Service Departments, which were anxious not to start building in 1955, 1956 and 1957 only to find that they had built accommodation where it might be found later that it would not be needed. It acted as quite a brake upon the building policies of all three Departments, and I think that the House will agree that, broadly speaking, until it was clear what the position in regard to deployment would be, it was right that it should have acted as a brake. The short answer is that the 1957 Defence White Paper cast its shadow before it, and brought about a slowing down of the building programme as it had been envisaged in 1954 when the Act was extended.
The Bill is primarily a financial measure to make it easier for the Services to find the money to build the houses that we need. It in no way, I hardly need say, involves any relaxation of control by Parliament or the Treasury over the activities of the Service Departments. The amounts of money which we propose to spend annually from the loan are presented in the appropriate Votes in the Service Estimates—Vote 11 for the Army and Air Force and Vote 15 for the Navy. Where control and scrutiny are concerned, there is no difference between the houses built under the loan and those built from revenue under the quite normal building Votes of the Services.
While on the subject of finance, I must refer briefly to virement between the works Votes and the loan, although my 748 hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury went into this aspect of the matter in some detail in Committee last Friday. The amount of £67 million, which will, we think, have been spent by 1960 on houses built under the Act, does not, in fact, represent the total of issues on loan. This total will be approximately £40 million. The balance of £27 million has been found by virement from the normal works Votes of Departments which were under-spent for the reasons I have given. It would obviously have been a foolish financial exercise to borrow under the Act money that could have been found from within the under-spent works Votes, and this was agreed by Parliament when this particular virement was authorised.
The effect of this is that issues under the loan have been correspondingly reduced, and the burden of repayment and interest removed from future defence Budgets, but, of course, any building done out of virement which was planned to have been financed by the loan had to count against the loan and against the total number of quarters to be built under the loan. Therefore, although we have borrowed only £40 million, we have used up our entitlement, and have built houses to the value of £67 million, the difference having been found by virement from the works Votes. It is for that reason that we are now seeking authority to extend our total money for building approved quarters between 1950 and 1965 to £95 million; that is, £20 million above the present allocation, although, in fact, even if there is no further virement, we will not have borrowed by the end of the day more than a total of £68 million.
I now turn to Clause 2 of the Bill, which deals with the financial aspect of the sale of quarters. Under the original Act, repayment can only be made by 60 equal annual instalments of interest and principle combined. Up to now, the question of selling any of these quarters has not arisen, but, with the contraction of forces, we will be giving up certain barracks and installations, and with them will go the quarters that have served them.
For instance, the Army expects, during the next five years, to have for sale about 1,500 quarters which were financed under the Acts. As the Act now stands, we should have to go on repaying the principal and interest on these houses up to the 749 end of the 60-year term, even though we had realised their capital value; but the proceeds of their sale would, like cash received from the sale of any other Army asset, be taken as appropriation-in-aid for the year in which we got the money, and that would be a most inconvenient way of handling our affairs.
Clause 2 provides for the commonsense solution that when a quarter is sold the proceeds of sale may go to pay off the capital debt incurred for its building. The Clause has to be complicated by a technical financial provision to allow for the fact that repayments are not made at par. Interest rates may have gone up or down between the date when the loan was made and the date of repayment. If they have gone up, the value of the loan will have been correspondingly reduced, and if they have gone down it will have increased. This procedure ensures what is patently right, that the full benefit or cost of the operation accrues to Service Votes and is not absorbed in the charge for interest on the National Debt.
An aspect of this point was raised by the hon. Member for Bermondsey, and also by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) last Friday, when they said that they feared that the Service Departments would not get the benefit of any profit that might be made as a result of the sale of married quarters whose value had increased over and above what it cost to build them. I can set their minds at rest. This is not so. We will obviously sell the houses for as much as we can get for them, and the money will go to reduce our debt to the Treasury once this Bill is enacted, whether it be more or less than it cost us to build the married quarters in the first place. We pay back the capital sum to the Treasury which goes to reduce our debt to it.
I have covered some of the points raised last Friday by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and about which he gave notice that he would like to talk today, but there are two more points which I have not yet mentioned. The hon. Gentleman asked what had been spent on new married quarters and on modernisation between 1st April, 1950, and 31st March, 1958. On new married quarters we have spent £61 million from the loan Vote, that is, up to 31st March, 1958—the figure of £67 million takes it on to 750 1960—plus £15 million from normal works Votes, making a total of £76 million, and on modernisation we have spent £2 million.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what interest the Treasury had been charging. The answer is that when Service Departments borrow these sums from the Exchequer, the Treasury must fix rates of interest in accord with the rates current at the time for loans of a 60-year life—that is the life for which we are borrowing—for the Treasury, in turn, is borrowing from time to time at rates of interest which accord closely to current market rates for the period of the loan which it is raising. So the rate which the Treasury has been charging over the years is the same as that which it has been charging to the Public Works Loan Board. It has varied from 3 per cent. to 6¼ per cent., and the average, I am told, is 4.39 per cent.
I hope that the Bill will have the support of both sides of the House, as its predecessors have. Many opinions are held as to what militates for or against a high level of Regular recruiting, but no one doubts that one essential factor is that the married Service man should be able to be united with his family at his station for as high a proportion as possible of his service.
The Bill, like the other Measures before it, will make a considerable contribution towards that. Without the Act which the Bill extends we could not have provided anything like the number of married quarters that have been built, and we are sure that it is right to continue in the same way for a further period.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I am sure that the House is indebted to the Secretary of State for War for the very clear and lucid statement which he has made in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I, personally, am obliged to him for the information he has given in answering the questions I have raised, and I can give him and the House the assurance that we on this side shall give the Bill a Second Reading. Of course, we have a number of criticisms to make about the provision in past years of married quarters, and I shall deal with that matter in a moment.
751 First, I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for the tribute which he quite rightly paid to hon. Members on this side of the House when we were in Government and were responsible for the 1949 Act. Going back on the history of that Measure, it was introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), who was then Secretary of State for Air. I remember that at the time it was supported on behalf of what was then the Opposition Conservative Party by the noble Lord, Earl Winterton. It received from him a rousing reception.
May I say, in passing, how much we miss the noble Lord in our debates, because although, personally, I did not agree with much that he said, except on the 1949 Measure, he was a great character, and we certainly miss him very much. I am sure that the noble Lord would have been present here today were he still a Member of this House and would have joined with me in some of the criticisms that I have to make about the way in which the legislation which Parliament passed in 1949 has been dealt with.
Of course, the Secretary of State for War quite properly glossed the picture which he painted, a picture which conveyed the impression that there had been tremendous energy, drive and determination in building as many married quarters as possible. But the fact is that this is a unique situation. This is a story of where Service Departments, as a consequence of legislation introduced by a Labour Government, have since 1949 had all the money they wanted with which to provide the married quarters required. The grave doubt which was raised in 1949, and which was symptomatic of that day and age, was whether the men and materials would be available for building the married quarters. Shortly after the 1949 Act was passed the Labour Government departed and the present Government took their place.
I can only say, looking back, that the record of this Government, who had all the money possible, and the necessary resources of materials and manpower, is a pretty poor one. I intend to show why, and to bring in as evidence not only my own personal point of view but also the 752 point of view of others who have studied the matter.
The first aspect of the matter to which I wish to call attention is that the Select Committee on Estimates has already criticised the Service Departments for the manner in which they have spent some of the money which they had on the married quarters. Parliament, as the Secretary of State said, voted in 1949 the sum of £40 million. We said, in effect, that they could borrow the money in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman stated. The amount was extended to £75 million in 1953, and now we have been asked to vote an additional sum, making a total of £95 million. One would believe, therefore, that all this money was spent on additional married quarters.
I will quote what the Public Accounts Committee of the House say about this. It says:Expenditure by the three Service Departments charged to special Married Quarters Votes up to 31st March, 1957, amounted to £53 million. Of that sum about £23 million or almost half was met by the application of savings on ordinary works Votes under the virement procedure mentioned above. Indeed, over the years 1953 to 1957, the whole of the War Office expenditure on additional married quarters, which amounted to some £9 million, was met by virement out of moneys voted for ordinary works services.In other words, all that the Service Departments did was to steal from Peter to pay Paul. They took money from a Vote which had been allocated by Parliament on the annual Estimates, the works Vote.
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this was money agreed by Parliament for the provision of barracks and for improving the conditions of the men. The Service Departments badly underspent on that subhead and, therefore, they transferred money from that subhead for the building of these additional married quarters. That was at a time when Parliament said to them that there was all the money they needed to do a first-class job. I would not mind so much if the Secretary of State were able to say with pride that the back of this problem had been broken and that the position was now first-class, or if he could say that we have the married quarters now.
753 After all, the Government have had seven, or, rather, eight, years in which to do the job. I should not mind were it the case that we had built all the married quarters required and also improved our barracks to such an extent that the Government might well be proud of themselves. But it is not anything like that sort of story. I propose to quote in support—
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman seems to be complaining that we have not spent the money under the loan. The reason why we have not spent more is that the Public Accounts Committee took the view, which, evidently, was a correct view, that any money we used from virement from the works Vote to build houses would have to be approved under the loan and counted against the number we built under the loan whether or not we got the money from the Treasury.
Whether we get the money from the Treasury or by virement we can only build a certain number of married quarters within that ceiling of £75 million. In fact, I would agree that we are £8 million down on the figure of £75 million, which is a 10 per cent. drop, and I agree that it would have been better had we been plumb level. But it is not the miserable, sordid picture which the hon. Member is trying to paint.
§ Mr. Mellish
I will produce evidence in an endeavour to show that it is a sordid picture which I am trying to paint. I repeat that the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the other Service Departments took money from Vote 8, the works Vote, and used some of it to build additional married quarters. I say that the money under that Vote should have been used for the purpose for which Parliament intended, the improvement of barracks and things of that kind. It is not as though there was not a clear field for a tremendous drive and for first-class planning for the improvement of barracks and the provision of additional married quarters which we still lack.
This is not a repetition of the state of affairs in 1953. Then there was some excuse for what was said by the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). Incidentally, the trouble about the right hon. Member for Flint, West is that he moves about so much. He was at the 754 Air Ministry and then at the Defence Ministry. Later, he appeared on the Treasury Bench and now, of course, he has retired from the Government Front Bench and is just a back-bench Member. In those days he was associated with the Air Ministry and he admitted that the story of progress was not very good. But he gave us a glowing report of plans yet to come and how the Government would drive on and improve these matters. No indication was then given of the fact that the Government would borrow money from Vote 8 and were going to lose money on that account in the building of barracks.
Let me quote from the Report of Sir James Grigg, the Report of the Advisory Committee on Recruiting. The Minister says that I am painting a gloomy picture. Let us see whether my picture is more gloomy than that painted by the Report. I recognise that we shall have a full day in which to discuss the Grigg Report, and I wish now to quote only items from it which concern the matters we are discussing in this debate. On page 15 of the Report, in paragraph 72, it is stated thatTo the married man serving in the ranks, it is of the utmost importance that he should be provided with a quarter or hiring when he is posted to a new station. If this is lacking, the probability is that he will have to be separated from his family, with disastrous effects on his willingness to re-engage. Yet at the moment there are simply not enough to go round; nor will there be enough in 1963.Paragraph 73 states:As with barracks, married quarters vary enormously in quality. A large number have been built since the Second World War, and these, while they may be open to criticism in detail, are of course adequate. But we were shocked by the condition of some of the older quarters we saw.Paragraph 74 it states:We have seen married quarters created by converting temporary hutting put up forty years ago. Others have stood condemned so long that the big 'D' painted on the side to mark them for demolition has grown almost indecipherable. The ceilings of others were green with growth as a result of damp. A man faced with the decision whether or not to re-engage is often decisively influenced by his wife; if she has been living in a quarter like one of these, she is not going to urge him to stay in the Service.We have had millions of pounds available for the Armed Forces, to be used to get rid of these sort of quarters, and that has not been done. Therefore, hon. Members on this side of the House, while 755 congratulating the Secretary of State on what has been done, are entitled to ask why there was not first-class planning, and why we did not do as much as was practicably possible. We should have borrowed more money under the 1949 legislation, but the fact is that even today the Minister has told the House that, in the estimation of the Government, we need at least another 11,000 new married quarters.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
May I add one thing to the argument being advanced by my hon. Friend, although I am not blaming the Secretary of State for War for this? The right hon. Gentleman has the particulars of the case in hand, I have sent them to him. But it is important that the House should know this. A young man aged 20, married and with two children, decided to leave the pits and join the Army as a Regular. He was turned out of the Coal Board house which he occupied and for six or seven months efforts have been made to find him a married quarter. It may be said that a man of 20 is too young to be the father of two children. But if he is allowed to fight at 18, he should be provided with married quarters when he is 20, if he happens to be a father. It is important that we get young men into the forces, but we should not disrupt their family life.
§ Mr. Mellish
If the Government, over the last few years, had provided sufficient married quarters, I believe that they could have reduced the age at which a man becomes entitled to occupy married quarters. Under the present regulations, as will be known by my hon. Friend, a man cannot qualify for married quarters until he is 21. It is an anomalous situation if a soldier aged 20, who is married and has children, cannot be considered eligible. But the eligibility of such people is determined by the number of married quarters available and that is the burden of my case against the Government.
I wish now to quote again from the Grigg Report. Paragraph 144 states:We realise that a good deal of building (especially of married quarters, with the assistance of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Acts) has been carried out during the last few years, and that in the 1958 White Paper (Cmd. 363) the Government expressed their intention of spending £90 million on this work over the next five years. If however, 756 this money is to be spent (in the past the Forces have not always managed to use all the money voted for housing) and to be spent sensibly, then the Service Departments must regard themselves as under an obligation to reach such policy decisions as are necessary to allow a reasonable building programme to be implemented.This is the trouble. What are regarded as the best purposes of the Government in this matter? There has been no real policy. As I said earlier, the situation is unique. All of us have some measure of responsibility for the running of one thing or another. I am chairman of a hospital management committee which controls a staff of 1,000. Our greatest problem is that we are never allowed sufficient money to do what we want to do. But here we have the Armed Forces given all the money necessary, and provided with all the materials and resources, and those responsible have not measured up to what I believe to be the task they were required to perform. That is the main burden of my criticism.
§ Mr. Soames
I wish that the hon. Member would face the remarks which I made about the difficulties inevitably created in Service life by shifting commitments. These works Votes which have been underspent do not apply only to married quarters or barracks in the United Kingdom. Alas, an all too high proportion applies to the building of temporary accommodation the world over, to meet the influx of troops to certain places on certain occasions. I think that here there exists a fundamental misunderstanding between us.
I cannot readily forget what was said by the hon. Gentleman when we were discussing the Draft Army Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958, on 6th November. I think it brings out the disagreement between us. Referring to the troops which we sent to Jordan, the hon. Gentleman said:When our men were serving in the heat of the desert, what arrangements were made to get them decent living conditions? In this atomic age, was imagination used in an effort to provide the men with air conditioning?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1958; Vol. 594, c. 1175.]To provide air conditioning it is necessary to have permanent buildings. Air conditioning cannot be provided in tents or temporary accommodation. A fairly permanent structure is required. But had the War Office built that sort of accommodation in Jordan, in Amman, to house 757 the battalion that was sent there, and the troops had left a couple of months later, we should, rightly, have been open to considerable criticism for incurring that kind of expenditure.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
If the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to make another speech, will he—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that this debate will not develop into an argument between the Secretary of State for War and hon. Members opposite. Let us conduct it by speeches.
§ Mr. Mellish
Personally, I think it fair that the Secretary of State should, quite properly, defend what has been done, but on this very issue he has raised the point to which we object. How can he be proud of the fact that he has underspent on Vote 8? It is not as if, in this matter of better accommodation in married quarters and barracks, there is not an enormous amount needed. That was the point of the argument about Jordan.
I really do not think that a single hon. Member would have criticised the spending of any money to improve the conditions of our troops in Jordan. If the Secretary of State for War had any inhibitions about that, I am sure I can speak for all my hon. Friends and say that we should have said that money spent in trying to bring comfort and improved conditions to our troops there would have been money well spent.
Returning to the main argument, I think that I have shown quite clearly that we have every right to say that, while accepting the Bill and giving it a Second Reading, we must record our profound dissatisfaction with the fact that there has been no genuine planning here for the urgent needs we all know about in the matter of married quarters. The right hon. Gentleman, who was Secretary of State for Air, as I have said, gave figures which have not been exceeded even now, in 1958, and that was in 1949. He said that 30,000 married quarters were needed, as he put it, as a matter of urgency. This is not modernisation; it is new quarters which are required. We have not reached that figure yet.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, quite properly, says that, as far as he can judge, we need at 758 least another 11,000, and it is against that background that we have the story of Parliament voting all the money the Departments have needed, providing them with the resources and manpower to undertake the task. It is on that count that we criticise the Government.
I hope that we shall have from the Under-Secretary of State for Air some more details about these 11,000 quarters, and how the number is to be broken up between the Services. I understand that, in the Navy, the need for married quarters has, by and large, been fulfilled. The main criticism, according to what I am advised, has been in regard to the R.A.F. and the Army. We wish to know how this proportion is to be spent and how the Government see the plan. Is this figure of 11,000 a final figure and does it mean that, after the task is completed, all the bad quarters of the type referred to in the Grigg Report will be removed? Can we be assured that, at least by 1965, if we are then asked to vote any more money, the representative of the Government, whoever it is then—I hope that it will be somebody from our side then—will be able to paint a true and impressive picture of what has been accomplished? These are some of the things that we shall want to know about.
I gather that it is proposed that properties no longer of use are to be handed over to local authorities. Is this necessarily to be only to local authorities? Have we no imagination in this matter? One of the biggest problems I find, as a Member of Parliament dealing with Regular soldiers, is this. When a man is due to leave the Army or Royal Air Force, he very often just has not got a home to go to. It is a very sad problem. Local authorities have been asked, by the usual letter which is sent, whether they will be good enough to include Regular soldiers leaving the Service on their housing lists. Of course, no local authority does, or at any rate, very few do.
I have no wish to become involved in an argument about housing, but it is an indication of the nature of the Government's policy that almost every general waiting list in the country has been closed and that local authorities are concerned only with slum clearance. This means that the Regular soldier coming 759 out of the Army after, let us say, twelve years' service, has no home to go to. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we often receive most pathetic letters from men in this position.
I know that the Secretary of State for War has looked at the matter himself, but I believe that one of the finest things which could happen for recruitment would be this. We should be able to say to the soldier, upon his coming into the Army, that we will help him to buy a house, with a 100 per cent. loan, on the lowest possible interest charges. In other words, we should try to settle the soldier while he is in the Armed Forces. I do not accept the idea that the soldier has to have his family with him all the time. He does not necessarily want to take his family wherever he goes. He is much happier if he knows that his wife and family are living in decent conditions even though they are not with him.
When families trail around the country, in and out of married quarters, going from one good lot to a bad lot, tremendous dissatisfaction is caused, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. The best recruiting sergeant of all is the satisfied Regular soldier. If he can go to his local "pub" and say to his friends, "The Army life is first-class. We have first-class conditions, good food, and I am getting settled as regards the future", the difficulties indicated by the map we find in the Grigg Report, showing where manpower is available and recruiting is possible, would go. I wish that we could make the Regular soldier the best agent for recruitment, but we shall not do that until there is a first-class drive energetically directed towards improving the things we are talking about this morning. Of course, the Government are to be congratulated on what they have built. I concede that at once. We are very glad to see any new married quarters. The burden of my complaint, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman now fully understands, is that not enough has been done.
I end as I began. The Act introduced by the Labour Government of the day was welcomed by everyone. It made possible the building of whatever additional married quarters have been built. The present Government have been in 760 power for about seven years, and if they had had the drive and initiative required we should have had a far finer story to tell than we have today; and the Grigg Report would not have been able to speak as it does of really bad accommodation. We shall not stop the Government borrowing more money, of course. We only hope that, when the next amount of money is asked for, there will be a far better record to tell.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I hope that I shall be excused if I make some reference to affairs in my constituency when discussing this Bill. Everyone will appreciate that the importance of the Army for Aldershot is very great. Before I make the particular comments I have in mind, I wish to say how much I have been impressed by the new buildings which have been erected in my constituency, both ordinary barrack accommodation and married quarters.
One matter which gives me great cause for worry has been accentuated now because it has been decided that, for a time at any rate, families will not go to Cyprus. I refer to the case of a soldier who is posted overseas who is doubtful whether his wife and family will be able to find accommodation when they leave the married quarters. I constantly receive letters from the War Office pointing out that, in the difficult situation as regards accommodation, it is prepared to allow a certain time to elapse before the family which is left behind when a soldier goes abroad has to leave an Army house. This is one of the worst things which can affect recruiting, and it should be realised that it is vital to try to meet these cases. I believe that every effort is being made, but in a place like Aldershot, where this sort of thing happens due to frequent postings overseas, a special effort should be made by the Government to deal with this type of problem.
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in any detail into the question of local authorities dealing with housing for those people who leave the Regular Army. My experience in my constituency is that they do the very best they can to fit in people in the Services. It is very difficult for local authorities to decide the priorities as between Service men and those who 761 have other claims to accommodation. I think the temporary provision of accommodation in these circumstances is another angle which should be in the minds of the Government in building accommodation. It cannot be perfect, but there is a problem which must have some effect upon the individual who is making the Army his career.
The other matter to which I want to refer is this. As I have said before, we are very glad to see these buildings going up in Aldershot. We are glad to see that they are of a very good type, but we have still got the old horse barracks of the Crimea which are not particularly liked and which I do not think are particularly good from the Service man's point of view. I hope that the rebuilding will be thoughtfully considered and that there will be consultation with the local authority.
It seems to me that the local authority has a great interest in this matter. My constituency is proud to call itself, accurately or otherwise, the home of the British Army, but from the point of view of commerce it may well be that it is desirable to have secondary industries in addition to the Army. I hope that when the War Office is considering these matters it will have full consultation with local authorities about rebuilding and planning. It would be very unfortunate if it were not realised that we in Aldershot are most anxious that secondary industries should develop; the Army should not keep land which it intends to use only in the unforeseeable future. Some of us believe that that land can be better used in attracting commerce and industry to Aldershot than by being put to virtually no use at all.
In conclusion, I think that at last—and it has taken a little time—we are getting a programme which will produce a much more satisfied body of people in the Services. I am most anxious that particular attention should be paid to the points that I have raised, because I believe that they are more important than some of the more obvious points of building.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The operative words in the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) seemed to be "at last." At last, perhaps there is a hope that we may get some- 762 thing a bit better, but what we have failed to get anything like a satisfactory account of is why we have not had it before. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has pointed out, it has not been because the money was not available. That was made clearer and clearer the more the Secretary of State for War sought to intervene and explain. He first explained that the houses were not available because the money which he had taken from the Vote was required for barracks. It was pointed out that the barracks were not there either, and he then intervened to say, "But we required temporary things for Jordan." The only trouble was that temporary buildings were not there either.
So that, the Grigg Report pointed out, we had a period in which recruiting became a problem, and for that reason the Grigg Committee was appointed. The Grigg Committee reported that both married quarters and barracks were in many instances a scandal. I do not know if the Government really required the Grigg Report to tell them that. We on these benches have been telling that for a long time. With the money available, the Government were not doing and have not done for a period of eight years that which Parliament intended they should do by providing the money.
The money provided under the Vote was not used for the barracks not because temporary stuff was wanted. It was not used for temporary stuff either. But the houses could have been provided by means of the loan. The Government could not have it both ways. Even the loan did not take them up to the limit. The houses still were not available. We have not had any kind of satisfactory explanation for this.
§ Mr. Soames
The only money used from virement and from the work Votes, so far as the Army is concerned, Votes 8 and 11, was money voted for the building of married quarters. It was not taken from any surplus from other works Services, which ranged from barracks to runways and every other conceivable kind of works services.
§ Mr. Paget
Let us see. Either the money was used for building married quarters, as it should have been, or it was not. Which was it? These are the oddest statements that we keep on 763 hearing. Our complaint is that when Parliament provides money for married quarters, those married quarters are not built, and the money is not used.
However much the Government may squirm over this matter, one comes back to that simple question. We on these benches do not propose to be fobbed off by long words or talk about virement. Money was provided for these houses, they have not been produced and no explanation has been provided. Probably the original explanation was the 300,000 houses programme into which the Government got bounced by an earlier Tory Party Conference. That disrupted other building programmes and the Army, among other things, had to pay, because the building materials and building labour could not do two things at once. A purely political advantage threw a programme into confusion.
That, however, was only an old excuse. When they got into a mess with their programme, the Government had not been building any houses for years. For years, there had been an unemployed element in the building industry and the building is still not being done. It is a lamentable story and I much regret that on this Friday there are not more Members on the Government benches to hear the Government's explanation.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill, but, at the same time, I must express my disappointment that it does not go nearly far enough to provide what may be regarded as a decent standard of accommodation for those who are serving in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.
I am quite sure that most hon. Members, at some time in their career here, have had brought home to them very vividly the difficulties of the married soldier or of the married recruit who has a family. We all know of the difficulties of finding accommodation for such a man's family in married quarters, in whatever branch of the forces he serves. It is obvious that there is a serious shortage of housing accommodation for those who serve in the Armed Forces. Two types of accommodation are required for this purpose: namely, barrack accommodation for single men 764 and married quarters for married Service men.
I was privileged, a few years ago, to serve on the Select Committee on Estimates. The sub-committee upon which I served examined the War Office Vote on works and buildings. We paid some interesting visits to Army establishments. In some cases, the housing problem was the worst, and the housing was probably the worst, to be found anywhere. We visited also other establishments where new construction had been undertaken. While I should like to express my satisfaction with the new construction, which was equal to any new construction anywhere by local authorities, nevertheless we must not be complacent about the dreadful places that can still be found in some parts of the country.
I vividly remember going into some old rickety huts, some of them called Nissen huts, in which a wife and her children were trying to eke out a civilised existence. It was deplorable and shocking to see the standard of housing accommodation in which many families of serving men had to live.
I am ready to accept that the position today is not as bad as it was a few years ago, but there is a considerable backlog to be dealt with. That is why I am disappointed that the Secretary of State has not used, or is not using, all the resources which this House has placed at his disposal to try to reduce the backlog. We all know that there are difficulties in organising a housing scheme to satisfy all the men serving in the forces wherever they may be. It is practically impossible to say that every man in the forces, wherever he may be, at any time, can expect to have the new accommodation or married quarters, or even the existing barrack accommodation that meets requirements.
I agree that there is force in what the Secretary of State has said. Emergencies arise and troops may remain at one place only temporarily. Therefore, the question of economy must he borne in mind. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman should not he reluctant to come forward, whenever it is clear that a need exists, simply because he is afraid that in a few years' time he will have Houses—for instance, married quarters—on his hands and nobody to put in them in the area in question.
765 I would have thought it possible for the Secretary of State to have an arrangement with the Minister of Housing and Local Government. There is a serious shortage of civilian accommodation throughout the country, despite what hon. Members opposite may say. It should be possible to transfer a great deal of this redundant housing to local authorities, who have power to raise loans to acquire it. It should be merely a bookkeeping transaction, easily effected, to transfer this redundant housing accommodation to local authorities. I do not say that it could be done in every case, but I am sure that in a good many cases it could be achieved.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
My hon. Friend will, I think, find that the original scheme envisaged the transfer of such houses to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government if they were not wanted by the Armed Forces. This strengthens the case that my hon. Friend is now putting.
§ Mr. Sparks
I had in mind the statement during the Minister's speech that he has 1,500 redundant houses which are being offered for sale, from which I rather thought that he would put them on the market and sell them to anybody who came along. He did not indicate that there was any tie-up with local authorities in the disposal of these houses.
§ Mr. Sparks
If there is a tie-up, I am glad to hear it.
We all know the problem, for example, of rural housing. Many of these dwellings are situated in remote areas in rural districts, where there is a serious shortage of housing accommodation. I would have thought it possible, through the Minister of Housing and Local Government, to make arrangements with local authorities to take practically all the redundant houses that were no longer required for the purposes of the Armed Forces.
One other aspect which struck me forcibly in my visits to Army establishments was that many of the establishments of the Army, and, presumably, of the other Services, too, are situated in isolated areas, where there does not seem to be enough community spirit. Even 766 though the living accommodation may be fairly good, more should be done to organise the life of the community in these isolated establishments or depots.
A consequence of this lack of community spirit is that life becomes depressing, especially for the women and children. This does not apply so much to the serving man, because he may go away on other duties, but if the women and children have to remain long in residence in an isolated area without any active community life, all kinds of emotional problems and difficulties arise.
As I said in the beginning of my speech, I am sure that the House will welcome the Bill, but, at the same time, hon. Members will want to show clearly that they do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is going far enough in the provision of adequate accommodation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, probably that can be dealt with in Committee, but I feel that there is far wider scope for increasing barrack accommodation and married quarters for an ever larger number of serving men and women. Now that the Armed Forces of the Crown are to become a voluntary professional body very soon, and people are to be encouraged to serve for long periods, the question of decent housing accommodation will became far more important than in the past.
When a man is in the Services for only a year or two, or even for four or five years, he does not bother much about this problem, but if we are to rely on professional long-service men it is much more important that they should have a reasonable standard of comfort, either in barracks or married quarters. If we can get that, our professional Service men of the future can be built up into a very fine body of men in all branches of the Armed Forces. If we have contentment on the matter of home accommodation that will go a long way to build good morale, which we all want to see among all sections of the Armed Forces.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be hesitant in coming forward and saying that he wants a bit more money to achieve that ideal. A number of problems will face us if we are to end National Service and to rely on voluntary professional forces. The House has to face the responsibility of deciding what 767 is to be done in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman ought not to shirk any effort in securing from the House the maximum financial assistance to provide the very basis of what then will be a loyal, contented and efficient service in all parts of the Armed Forces.
Another point arises with reference to housing of Service men at the end of their period of Service. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey pointed out, there is difficulty then. Too many Service men are told while they are in the forces that it is all right, that they will get priority when they leave the Service, that local authorities will have places ready for them. It is quite wrong to lead Service men to believe that that is the case, because, after all, the civilian population has to be taken into consideration.
No one denies that when he leaves the forces the Service man should have the same opportunities and facilities as any civilian for obtaining accommodation through a local authority. That can be done in the main only if before he leaves the serving man has his name on the housing list of the local authority in his home area. If he has got his name on that list he has a good claim, or, if he is a married man, he has a good claim to have his name on the list of the authority in whose area his wife's home was before he joined the forces.
I am sure some arrangement could be made between the right hon. Gentleman and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to have it recognised that a serving man while in the forces should have credit for residential purposes in the district in which he is registered for housing accommodation. Where the housing problem is serious, local authorities, when they allocate vacant accommodation, must base the qualification of the applicant—not wholly, but largely—upon the period of residence in the district. They cannot undertake to rehouse people who have not lived in an area for more than twelve months when, perhaps, others have lived there for fifteen or twenty years. If the Services could follow up this matter by advising married Service men to have their names put on housing lists of local authorities—preferably in the areas where their homes or their wives' homes are situated and credit given for service in the forces, it might 768 not be quite so difficult for them to obtain accommodation.
I see that you are about to rise from your seat, Mr. Speaker, so I had better not say anything more on that line, but the future of the Service man is an important factor which ought not to be forgotten. If we could give Service men a feeling of security that when they complete their service for the State they are not to be thrown on the scrap heap, it would help to encourage men and women to join the forces and serve their country.
I wish the Minister good luck with the Bill, but I can assure him that no one on this side of the House will be at all disappointed if, in Committee, he asks for a little more money and tells us that he intends to develop and extend the housing services of the Armed Forces. I am sure that we shall all be delighted, because we want our serving men to serve under the best possible conditions.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
It is not my intention to keep the House for very long, but I want to raise one matter with the Minister. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman in advance for possibly having to disappear quickly after making my speech. That will not be because I want only to hear my own voice, but because I have to catch a train, as I have an engagement in my constituency later today.
I do not blame the Minister for the present position. He is a kindly, capable, intelligent man. Nevertheless, it is one of the factors of government that Ministers have responsibility.
§ Mr. Davies
Ministers have responsibility and I want the right hon. Gentleman to use his responsibility and his power to do something about the case I mentioned when I interrupted the speech of one of my hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman has a letter from me about a man of 20 years of age. I do not want to reveal the man's name. He has been a collier and a seaman and came into the Army. He has two children. When he went to the recruiting office he was told that it was all 769 right, he would get married accommodation. That should not be said to our men unless it is known in recruiting offices that accommodation is available. He signed on as a Regular soldier. He lives in the Leek constituency, in a village called Baddeley Green, and at the moment he is in a highly nervous state. He occupies a National Coal Board house and the Board has given him six months' notice because it is a tied house and colliers are wanting to take such accommodation.
This man was told by the welfare officer that he would do his best to help him, but it was found that because of the Regulations accommodation could only be obtained for men aged 21 or over. With speed, alacrity and purpose, the House could do something in ten minutes to alter all that. I suggest, therefore, that this is something which should be done rapidly. Whether it can be done under the Bill in Committee is another matter. It certainly cannot be done today.
§ Mr. Davies
I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for that advice.
We are living in a very different kind of world today from that of a couple of generations ago. When I attended a little school in Wales I used to be called out to recite sometimes. Among the poems, the wonderful language of which used to thrill me to the core, was this:Last night among his fellow roughs,He jested, quaffed, and swore,A drunken private of the BuffsWho never looked before.That is not the kind of Army we have today.
The modern Army comes from highly intelligent families. The old recruiting sergeants of poverty, misery and disease, thank God, are not very much in evidence now. It does not matter which side of the House achieved the change. This is a social revolution which has taken place all over the world. We are bringing into the Army men and women 770 who are refined and cultured, and many of them are much more intelligent than their officers. These people want accommodation which at the least bears comparison with a modern, decent council house. They want their wives and children to live in dignity and their families to be brought up in a healthy atmosphere of social life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) for the benefit of his vast experience in this matter derived from his service on an important committee. He made the important point that when we establish these quarters there should be a community or social centre and that we should try to develop the social and cultural life of these people. Service in the Armed Forces must no longer be looked upon in the same way as it was regarded forty or fifty years ago.
The Minister says that there are 1,500 redundant houses. I appeal to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton to say whether he thinks that there is some means whereby a redundant house could be made available for a young married man and his wife and children before the house is sold to a local authority. I hope that the Minister will take this as a serious appeal to him. It is important to both sides of the House and to the nation that we have well-housed and contented, young and capable men in the Forces.
The young man to whom I have referred is a collier. We are very proud of our miners. This young man was not earning as much in the pits as he is now earning in the Army. I do not think that the public, who know nothing about mining, understand that for every man at the coal-face earning, if he is lucky and in a good pit, £20 a week, there are others working on haulage, earning between £8 and £9 17s. 6d. a week. The young man to whom I referred was working hard underground and risking life and limb, but he is now, as a married man with two children, getting better pay in the forces than he was when he was working in the coal mine. He came into the Army, but he is now frustrated. He may become delinquent and be subjected to all kinds of punishment unless something is done for him.
771 That example can be multiplied very many times, and I appeal to the Minister and his colleagues to see that a quick answer is found to this problem, which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton has pointed out, should be easy to answer.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)
I should like to deal first with a point raised by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). He always speaks with such charm that I find it difficult sometimes to refute the suggestions he makes, but I notice, on reading his speeches in HANSARD, that they are put not only with charm but with pertinence, and I have often wondered whether they do not have a certain amount of political effect. In that context, I hope that the hon. Member will not mind if I point out some of the facts on record.
The general burden of his complaint was that the Government had acted too slowly and that we ought to have acted very much more quickly in supplying married quarters both under normal Votes and under the Act. This matter was dealt with by the then Under-Secretary of State for War when he wound up the debate on 29th November, 1949, on the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Bill.
This is what he said, after four and a half years of Labour rule:May I draw the attention of the House to these figures? Since the end of the war some 570,000 permanent houses have been constructed and 3,000 Service married quarters have been constructed. The reasons for that comparatively slow rate were fully explained by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air at the beginning of this debate. It is not a reproach to the Government that the figure is so low …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1043.]In fact, in building 3,000 married quarters in those four and a half years, the Labour Government achieved an average of 700 married quarters each year.
Let us look at the results achieved in a comparative period. In the eight years since this Measure was first introduced, we have built 22,000 married quarters under the Measure and over 5,000 under Works Votes, an average of 3,500 a year. I am not pretending that any Government is perfect, but I think that it will be agreed that these figures are a consider- 772 able improvement on those achieved prior to the change of Governments in 1951.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman says that some of the points which I made are not too logical, but even Lord Winterton, in the debate to which he has referred, was mostly worried whether there would be materials and men available to build married quarters. No one suggested then, and I should not have thought that anyone would suggest now, that the Labour Government between 1945 and 1949 had all the material resources available. The present Government have, because we have moved further away from the war.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am glad the hon. Member recognises that we have the materials available not only for houses in general but for building a large number of houses for the Services as well, and that we have done.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
When the 1949 Act was amended in 1953 we were then informed that 15,500 houses were either built or being built. Therefore, a large number of those must have been built between 1949 and 1951 when the Labour Government left office, and they were built under an Act passed by that Labour Government. The criticism which we are now offering is that the Government now in power have not taken advantage of the legislation which we produced.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but I think, and I shall quote more figures, that the House and the country will recognise that the comparison is very favourable to the present Government and not to their predecessors.
I will quote the global figures, because we might as well put the whole thing in perspective. The quarters available to the Armed Forces on 31st March, 1950, were about 30,000. During the period from 1st April, 1950, to the present date, 22,000 new houses have been built either under the Act or under virement. In addition, 5,000 houses have been built under the Works Vote. That is 27,000, so in that period we have almost doubled the number of married quarters available to the Services.
In opening the debate for the Opposition, the hon. Gentleman the Member for 773 Bermondsey asked what was our eventual target. It is difficult to make a firm plan because it depends on the deployment of the Services, and that deployment depends on the weapons which the Services have. In the Air Force there are places where the new weapons and new techniques make it impossible to use some of the old married quarters, and we have to start our plans again. For instance, as aerodromes go out of use and guided weapons stations come into use, we have to start new construction processes. This further Measure will not expire until 1965, so since we are considering some seven years ahead it would be wrong if I set a firm target, because we cannot foresee the weapons or the shape or deployment of our Forces that far ahead.
In the global context, even at the end of this period we shall be short of the ideal number of married quarters. It is, however, the intention of all three Services to meet to the greatest possible extent the needs of men and officers for married quarters. This, I think, was the sentiment underlying a large number of the contributions that have been made to this debate. We do not in any way underrate that, and I believe that at the end of this period we shall meet 70 per cent, or 75 per cent. of the need, but that is affected by the age of marriage, a social change which is going on all over the world, and therefore the figures must be adjusted accordingly.
§ Mr. Sparks
Is the hon. Gentleman in a position to tell us the proportion of the existing Service men who are married? I am not saying that married Service men all want to live in married quarters, but if the Minister could give the House an idea of that proportion and relate it to the housing accommodation already available, it would give us an idea of the gap between the two.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I could not give those figures now, but if the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question my right hon. Friend or myself will do our best to reply to it.
I will now deal with another question raised by the hon. Member for Bermondsey about the surplus. Another hon. Gentleman asked how we would dispose of the surplus. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend said that the Army 774 expect to have 1,500 houses surplus. In all three Services as at present envisaged, it looks as if there will be 6,000 surplus married quarters which will be made available either to the local authorities or, if they are not interested, can be sold in the open market for what they will fetch.
Coming to the point made by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), I would add that when a soldier, an airman or a sailor goes overseas, his family is not immediately turned out of their house, some period of time always being given In addition, where surplus married quarters become available, all three Services try to make these available to divided families.
§ Sir E. Errington
Can my hon. Friend tell me what is the position in Aldershot about surplus accommodation?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I cannot reply to that question off the cuff, but my right hon. Friend has already told me that he would like to deal with a number of aspects raised by the hon. Gentleman in a personal letter to him, rather than by way of question and answer across the floor of the House.
So 6,000 houses appear likely to he surplus in the coming years. Some of them will be sold privately, some will go back to local authorities in accordance with the principles of the Bill, and some will be made use of by divided families.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Before my hon. Friend leaves this point, may I ask a question? In the case of the surplus houses which are to be sold privately, will it be possible for them to be offered first—if I may put it that way—to men inside the Services?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
My right hon. Friend and I would like to consider that sub-gestion. We must also bear in mind the fact that when a man leaves the Service—I imagine this is what my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind—he wants a house near his eventual place of employment. That is not always near the place where he has been stationed.
I was also asked how the target of 11,650 houses would be divided. The figures I have before me show that the Navy will have 3,000, the Army 6,250 and the R.A.F. 2,400, making that total. 775 In considering these figures, I could make the point that in addition to these houses there are also officially approved hirings which are made use of by all three Services. The number of hirings in this country amounts to 16,700 in total, and that should be added to the total figures I have already given.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) accused us of under-spending. I think we have come within a reasonable measure of spending our full entitlement. Certainly it would not be true to say that the achieved target of 300,000 houses built for five consecutive years has in any way mitigated against the progress being made with the housing of our Service families, because in both respects there has been a tremendous expansion, as my figures show.
The hon. Member for Acton made a most sympathetic speech. He always shows sympathy for the Services and those of us in the Service Departments appreciate it. The hon. Gentleman said there was a tremendous backlog, going back almost 100 years, in some barrack accommodation. My right hon. Friend recognises that, but even this Government cannot correct 100 years backlog in a few years. The drive with which modern barrack accommodation is now being erected, and married quarters being supplied, shows how sympathetic we are to the need, and I have no doubt that in due course the old barracks will be abolished.
The hon. Gentleman also asked some questions about the local authorities. I ought to make it clear that houses can only be built under the Act, and amendments of it, when they have the approval of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government; that is to say, they fall in with the eventual needs of civilians. So, when the Services have to build remote houses—and often Service stations are remote—it would not be done under this Bill but under the normal works Vote. So the remoter houses in rural areas will not in general come within the gounds of this Bill, and therefore will not become surplus, as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) has been able to stay with us in spite of his 776 apologies. He made the point that we ought to reduce the age at which married Service men are entitled to a house. There are two views on this point. Although we have made great progress in providing married quarters, by virtue of the changing form of the Services we shall never really have all the married quarters we want.
That being so, surely priority should go to the senior people and to the people over the age of 21 rather than giving a youngster a priority which he would certainly never achieve in civilian life. In the case quoted—I have not seen the full figures—it seems that in one year the hon. Gentleman's constituent would qualify for a married quarter. I do not say that he would immediately get one, but he would qualify. I wonder how many people waiting for council houses could go to some area and in one year get on the list and have a hope of getting a house in two years. Every hon. Member who has constituency problems must know the size of the problem of those waiting for council houses. Service men are immeasurably better off than their civilian equivalents at present, and I doubt whether there would be an advantage at this stage in lowering the age at which people become entitled to married quarters.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
I do not want to become involved in the cut and thrust of debate on the issue. I am very grateful for the sympathetic attitude which is displayed, for I know that there is a different point of view. However, I suggest that welfare officers and others might increase their efforts to help to find houses in the transition period for young men who will within, say, 12 months be 21. For such a man the most important problem in the world at that time is that he will be put out of his house and in another year he will be able to qualify. Could we increase our efforts with local authorities to provide some temporary accommodation for men in the transition stage?
§ Mr. Sparks
The Under-Secretary of State has just told us that he expects to have about 6,000 redundant dwellings soon. Cannot they be sorted out and a few earmarked in cases as temporary shelter for families which are put out 777 such as my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) has mentioned. I believe that it could be done if the matter were looked into.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
My right hon. Friend and I will certainly look at the proposal, and perhaps we may discuss it if the opportunity occurs at a later stage.
I hope I have dealt with the main points which have been raised in the debate. We are not stating that we have achieved everything that we set out to achieve—that is never done—but we have got very much closer to it than our predecessors did. Our results and the figures which I have given prove that. No hon. Member will under-estimate the value of having an adequate number of married quarters. This was brought out by the Grigg Committee, which said in its Report:We have been left in no doubt that the availability and quality of Service acommodation … is a very powerful factor in the morale of members of the Forces.It also said:To the married man serving in the ranks, it is of the utmost importance that he should be provided with a quarter or hiring when he is posted to a new station.If the House approves it, the Bill will help us to meet these needs, and it will, we hope, have a substantial effect not only on recruiting to our Services but on the contentment of all those who are serving.
§ Sir E. Errington
Will my hon. Friend say whether he is prepared to consult local authorities on certain common building problems that may arise?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Very close consultation always takes place with the local authorities concerned on all problems of building Service accommodation. I say this in the case of the Air Ministry, and I am sure the same applies to the War Office and the Admiralty. If my hon. Friend has any other specific issue in mind with which I have not dealt, perhaps he will write to my right hon. Friend, who will no doubt deal with it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Committee upon Monday next.