HC Deb 16 December 1959 vol 615 cc1436-40
36. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he is aware that a large number of airmen stationed at Aden, and their families, are living in conditions of squalor, and that in particular thirty-seven families are still living in a dirty and dank hotel that has been condemned as unsuitable by the housing and medical authorities, and whose proprietors are in some cases charging £22 10s. per week for one small room occupied by a corporal, his wife, and three children; and, in view of the detrimental effect on morale and on British prestige, if he will take immediate steps to provide suitable accommodation for these and other families.

37. Mr. John Hall

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he has now studied the report submitted by the team of officers sent out to inquire into conditions at Aden; and if he will make a statement.

38. Mr. Monslow

asked the Secretary of State for Air how many complaints he has received about Royal Air Force conditions in Aden; and what is being done to expedite improvements.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)

There have been some thirty complaints this year about conditions in Aden. I am well aware that present conditions there leave a lot to be desired.

As the House knows, we are already going ahead with a very substantial programme of new building. We are doing all we can—including using prefabricated construction—to get this programme completed as quickly as possible; but it will inevitably take time.

Meanwhile, we are taking immediate steps to raise the minimum standard of approved family accommodation. If necessary, some men nearing the end of their tours will be posted home early to make room in acceptable accommodation for families now living below the new standard.

To reduce pressure on married accommodation until new quarters and hirings are available, we are considering urgently the possibility of offering more frequent air passages home to officers and airmen whose families remain in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Fletcher

Does the Minister realise that, according to the recent Parliamentary delegation to Aden and other visitors, a large number of R.A.F. families are living in conditions which are so sordid and degrading as to be a national scandal, and that some families are living cheek by jowl with Arabs on the lowest Arab standards? [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] I said "on the lowest Arab standards." Does the Minister realise that the steps which he has announced today should have been taken long ago and that the present situation is the result of complacency, delay and neglect on his part? Will he take every possible step to remedy these appalling conditions?

Mr. Ward

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the population of Aden has increased by four times in the last three years. We have done our best to keep pace with this increase, but it is absolutely physically impossible to keep pace with it. We have a very large building programme in hand and we shall do all we can to press on with it. Meanwhile, the scheme that I have announced today should. I think, help quite considerably.

Mr. John Hall

While paying tribute to the efforts of those on the spot and of the authorities in Aden in trying to overcome the problem, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that he has not answered my Question? Do the steps that he has described arise out of the report of the officers he sent to visit Aden, or has he not yet had time to study their report? Further, is not it possible for the Government of Aden to take action against those in Aden who overcharge for accommodation and, indeed, perpetrate frauds on airmen and officers?

Mr. Ward

Of course I have seen and studied the report, and it was very helpful to me in considering what to do. On the second part of the supplementary question, I hope the scheme which I have outlined to raise the standard of approved accommodation will very largely solve the other problem.

Mr. Monslow

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into consideration the possibility, until the improvements which he suggests are effected, of reducing the period of service of R.A.F. personnel in Aden?

Mr. Ward

I have already said that, where necessary, I would bring home early Service men nearing the end of their tour so that when they come home there will be more room for everyone else.

39. Mr. Mason

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he has now given consideration to the possibility of arranging that a posting to Aden should be a oneyear unaccompanied tour for Royal Air Force personnel, with a view to solving more quickly some of the difficulties prevailing there.

Mr. Ward

A one-year tour in Aden would mean a considerable loss of productive service. Men would be continually in the process of getting used to the climate; and twice as much time would be lost in embarkation and disembarkation leave and in transit. In addition there would be a large increase in "turbulence" not only among those directly involved in Aden, but also elsewhere. I consider, therefore, that these disadvantages outweigh the merits of the proposal.

Mr. Mason

While recognising that it might interfere with the operational efficiency of the station, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would agree that it is a fact that, as well as the families of airmen living in deplorable conditions, the airmen themselves are living in shocking conditions; and therefore, if we are to think of the morale of the forces there, and of their state of health, would not a twelve-month unaccompanied tour be better than two years in these hot, humid and deplorable conditions?

Mr. Ward

I have already said that I realise that the conditions in Aden at present leave much to be desired, but I do not accept that on the whole morale is bad. I have no reason to believe that a one-year tour would produce so spectacular an improvement in morale as to offset the very solid disadvantages which I have enumerated.

Mr. Strachey

If the Secretary of State proposes to continue with the longer tour, which involves families going out to Aden, will he restrain his officer who is reported as having said that he could not care less about what were the conditions of the families out there, which was a most unfortunate thing to say?

Mr. Ward

I have, of course, asked for a report from Aden on the facts. The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment until I have received that report. But I can say that no one has worked harder or more wholeheartedly to improve the conditions for Service men and their families than this particular officer.

Dame Irene Ward

As to all intents and appearances it seems as though the Air Ministry is being extremely slow in this matter, would not my right hon. Friend think it a good idea to send out to Aden a woman who does know something about it?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Dame Irene Ward

May I please have an answer to my question?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the Minister desire to answer the supplementary question put by the hon. Lady?

Mr. Ward

We shall always be delighted to see my hon. Friend if she likes to come to Aden.

Mr. de Freitas

If it is not possible for the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne- mouth (Dame Irene Ward) to go—there may be certain points about which I do not know—will the Secretary of State consider sending the Under-Secretary of State to Aden, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot go himself, because for over a year now most serious allegations have been made and there is evidence of quite unnecessary suffering?

Mr. Ward

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is going to Aden during the Christmas recess, and so is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War.

40. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for Air why certain hotels and restaurants in Aden, formerly available to officers and other ranks, have recently been placed out of bounds to other ranks.

Mr. Ward

The proprietors of two restaurants asked us to do this since there had been misbehaviour on their premises. We shall review the position in a few months' time.

Mr. Lipton

Is not this a very unsatisfactory state of affairs? Why does the Air Ministry add insult to injury by putting out of bounds two restaurants formerly available to other ranks, while allowing officers to visit them? Is it not highly undesirable that local restaurant proprietors should be able to operate this kind of class distinction involving the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Ward

The proprietors asked us to put the restaurants out of bounds temporarily. I am afraid that this sort of situation is inevitable if a minority let down the Service and their colleagues by unruly conduct, but we shall keep the matter under review.

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