HC Deb 10 March 1960 vol 619 cc697-700

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £37,770,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works and lands, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1961.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Ross

Having regard to our agreement, we have very little time left.

Major Legge-Bourke

The hon. Member has said that for the second time. Between whom was this agreement made and what right have the Front Benches to make any agreement depriving back bench Members of the right to question Votes on Supply?

Mr. Ross

I do not think that it is anything more than a gentleman's agreement about dividing the time available among the three Services. The hon. and gallant Member is interested in the Army, and if only half an hour were left to discuss the Army Estimates, I think that he would be the first to complain, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to carry on like that, it is entirely up to him.

First, I should like to deal with Subhead A, "New works, additions and alterations amounting to £10,000 each and upwards", both at home and abroad. Here we are hampered by the form of the Estimates, because we are given a total Estimate of new works to be started and an Estimate of what is to be spent in the next year. We are also given what is to be voted towards work started in previous years. However, unless we know what is outstanding from that work started in previous years, we have no idea whether the Estimate is adequate. I think that we can well invite the Under-Secretary to try in future so to arrange the Estimates that he will be able to give a proper picture. Estimates that have been made in previous years have a way of inflating themselves, and it becomes quite meaningless to state that we shall spend £1,200,000 on married quarters at home if we do not have an indication of how much work is outstanding. We cannot decide whether the Estimate is adequate.

We have accepted with considerable tolerance during discussions this year and in the past Estimates about work being done or said to be done with regard to married quarters. I was considerably upset when I read the Supplementary Estimate and found that what we proposed to spend has not been spent and that there has been a scaling down of effort in relation to building married quarters at home and abroad. I sincerely hope that we shall have a much better picture next year when we are told what has been achieved with regard to married quarters.

One thing that struck me about married quarters to be built abroad was this. It is proposed that we should spend over £3 million, but this year we are to spend only one-tenth of that— £365,000. This figure of over £3 million is for the construction of 600 married quarters. That means that married quarters will cost £5,300 each. This is a quite large sum. When we weigh it up in these terms it means that what we are providing is cash enough for 70 new married quarters and for less than 100 that were started in previous years. We thus begin to get into proportion exactly what we are achieving.

Can the Under-Secretary estimate what will be the waiting list for married quarters in Aden at the end of 1961? During the debate, somebody spoke of temporary difficulties. The trouble is that they are far from temporary for the people who are serving there for two years.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I am sure that the hon. Member wants to be fair. He should recognise that many of the married quarters are built in outlandish places, a fact which puts up the cost considerably. In addition, the houses are graded according to the rank of the N.C.O. or officer, and the shortage of materials as a result of the successful Government programme for industry and housing means that the Services have to take their turn.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member will appreciate that we are not dealing with questions at home, but are talking about matters abroad. I could have given some of the answers myself, but these are the kind of things which people reading the Estimates pick out and we are entitled to an explanation from the Minister. That is the purpose of an Estimates debate.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

Concerning the building programme for married quarters in Aden, I hope that by the end of 1961 the programme as at present laid down will be completed.

Mr. Ross

That does not answer my question about the waiting list.

Mr. Taylor

It means that I hope there will be no waiting list either.

Mr. Ross

I hope so, too, but we will see when the time comes.

Concerning the schools abroad, can the Parliamentary Secretary say something about the school at Khormaksar and about technical storage facilities? Additional cold storage facilities were certainly required in Aden also. Is this covered in the Estimate? Will something be done?

Equally, concerning Item (d), "Work shops and technical buildings", for certain signals and technical facilities, there has been an urgent need and the Air Ministry has been pressed for a long time concerning technical and storage buildings in Aden. We have valuable electronic equipment out there which deteriorates unless it is under the right sort of cover. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would give us some information that, at least, there were hopes of making a start on the kind of buildings that are required for this purpose.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

Concerning storage and technical facilities in Aden, I am glad to be able to say that not only has a start been made towards overcoming the problem, but that work is going on very well. I have seen the situation for myself. The hon. Member for Kil-marnock (Mr. Ross) is quite right in saying that the lack of accommodation and storage facilities for extremely complicated and expensive equipment is a serious problem in Aden. We are, however, taking active and rapid steps to put this matter right.

Work is well under way on the building of the new primary school at Khormaksar and also on a secondary school. The primary school, for 680 children, is expected to be completed and in use very shortly. The secondary school, for 270 children, should be ready by the end of this year. These buildings were being roofed when I was there and they should now be completed quickly. Work on them was started in the middle of last year. It may be of interest to the hon. Member to know that this year we plan to start work also on a new school at Bahrein.

The hon. Member also mentioned that we had not started to build schools in previous years. It is difficult to estimate what the requirements will be when there are so many changes in strategic policy which involve numbers of men moving about from one place to another and altering the general scheme of things. We do what we can to anticipate these requirements, however, and I assure the hon. Member that the question of progress in education abroad is very much in our minds.

Question put and agreed to.


That a sum, not exceeding £37,770,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of works and lands, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1961.