§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (Miss Jennie Lee)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend for a further three years powers which exist under the 1949 Act, as extended in 1953 and 1958, for the Treasury to raise money by loan for expenditure on housing for the Services in the United Kingdom and to increase by £45 million the total which may be raised and issued under these Acts. A new Act is needed as otherwise the powers under the 1958 Act would lapse on 31st March of the present year.
The purpose of the original 1949 Act was to ensure that provision of homes for married Service men in the United Kingdom would not be subjected to financial pressures because the capital expenditure involved had to be met out of current revenue. The Government at that time were determined that the Service man should have as good a deal as a civilian who, for instance, was seeking to rent a new council house.
As hon. Members who are expert in these matters know, the provisions of the 1949 and subsequent Acts apply only to married quarters built in areas where they could be taken over for civilian purposes if no longer required by the Services. Married quarters in Northern Ireland, abroad, and in isolated parts of this country were excluded from the terms of the Act.
I have read with interest the Report of the Advisory Committee on Recruiting under the chairmanship of Sir James Grigg and the comments of hon. Members from both sides of the House in previous debates, particularly some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I am bound to say that the Report and their comments proved that more could have been done with the money and materials available for building for the Services, in particular for building quarters for married families, than was 445 done. I do not want to pursue that point too far at present, because we are concerned about what is happening now and our future—
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
Would the hon. Lady elaborate on that statement? How does she think the money was spent? She has made quite a serious allegation, and I think that she should substantiate it.
§ Miss Lee
I shall be very glad to do so.
As I said, I do not want to pursue the point too far, but if the hon. Member reads the 1958 debate, and the Report of Sir James Grigg, he will see that some of the money available for building was not used. The argument was that it could not be used because of the movement of troops—that it was of no purpose to use it in town A because of troop movements to town B—but that was only partially true. There were other fixtures, such as the great barracks in London that were already slums. I only make the point in passing, because I am not convinced by arguments that we could not have made further progress by now in the provision of civilised accommodation for Service men than has been made.
I want, however, to turn my attention to what is happening now and to what we want to see happening in the near future. The level of annual expenditure in the past was around £10 million, but this year, on these homes for married Service men, we expect to spend £12½ million; next year, £16 million, and in the year after that, £18 million. At the same time, we are concerned about the standard of the design of the homes, and have set up a specialist housing directorate of professional staff to design houses for all three Services. A special study is also being made of industrialised and prefabricated methods of building houses, and we hope that those, too, will, in due course, add to the numbers built.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
Would the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to state the number of houses that will be built during the next three years for this increased expenditure?
§ Miss Lee
The important point is that the Bill proposes a three-year extension of the Act, but hon. Members will be interested to know that there is a rolling three-year programme of expenditure. The total for the current year and the next two succeeding years is £47 million. This expenditure includes the amount needed for some houses being built on the general Vote, as well as the £45 million set aside in the Bill. The fact that this is a rolling programme of expenditure is very important. It would be all wrong to say that we were embarking on a three-year building programme for the Services that was to run down at the end of the three years.
From the sums I have quoted, it will be seen that the plan is not to reduce the number of houses built, but to phase it so that we are increasing the number. Even now, discussions are going on with the Treasury in order to decide what it would be reasonable to spend in a fourth year. That means that at any given time the Ministry, which is now responsible for building homes for our Service men, will be able to plan fully three years ahead and will see how much money will be available. I know that it has been argued that it would be better to have a longer period, but such an argument does not have a great deal of substance provided that, at any given time, we are able to plan fully three years ahead.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) asked for figures, and here they are. We hope to build, in the next three years over 12,000 houses with this loan money, as well as another 3,000 financed under the normal Ministry Vote. The programme is still building up, and we expect that from next year onwards we shall obtain a completion rate of about 5,000 homes a year. We cannot be exact—
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
Can the hon. Lady break down that figure into how many homes are to be provided for Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force personnel?
§ Miss Lee
I have the figures relating to the three Services for the past 16 years, but I shall have to ask my right hon. Friend to give the hon. Lady the information she seeks when he winds up the debate.
The immediate and important point is that we are hoping to build 5,000 houses a year, and we will certainly not fall far short of that figure. This will still not satisfy the demand. It is not possible to get a precise figure, but it is probable that, on the basis of the present entitlement, 40,000 new homes are required.
We shall, however, be making more progress than was made in the previous three years—or for that matter, in any like period in the post-war years. Hon. Members might be interested in the following break-down. Between 1962 and 1965—the last three years of the previous Administration—under 10,000 houses were built—the exact figure is 9,092. It will, therefore, be seen that our proposal for the present year and the two following years is a considerable increase on that figure.
There are a few minor changes in the Bill, but they do not, of course, affect the principle. The loan money will be issued direct to the Ministry of Public Building and Works—this is simply to tidy up the present arrangement by which the money has to go through Ministry of Defence Votes—but repayment and interest will continue to be made from the Ministry of Defence Votes, since once the homes have been built, they are handed over to the Ministry of Defence and remain on its charge.
Although the purpose of the Bill is to provide finance for only a very small part of the Government's housing programme, it is, nevertheless, an assurance that the Government are determined to better the lot of the Service man. It will be an encouragement to those Service families which have either no quarters at all or live in sub-standard quarters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence attaches considerable importance to that.
I think that in my first few weeks in the Ministry of Public Building and Works I saw both the best and the worst that has been done in the country for our Service personnel. For instance, I was present at the opening of the Queen 448 Elizabeth Barracks for the Women's Royal Army Corps at Guildford. For both officers and other ranks, this accommodation is superb. It is comfortable, it is delightful, it is contemporary—it is the kind of accommodation that any educated young woman of today could feel pretty well content with. I was very much impressed with it.
I was not only very much impressed by it, but comforted, because my other early experience in this Ministry was to visit Knightsbridge Barracks. Although that is a barracks, it has accommodation for some married families. I can tell the House that I was angry, I was embarrassed, I was ashamed when I saw the conditions in which married families were living right in the heart of London.
That is why, although I do not want to labour the point, I must repeat that I was not convinced by the arguments advanced in those earlier debates, and subsequently, that the money allocated and the materials then available for this purpose had not been fully used because of the uncertainty involved in the movement of troops. Knightsbridge Barracks are not moved every other day. They are there. We knew that these were permanent quarters. I went into rooms where the walls were running with water and where the children had all to be cooped up together in one small space.
I have a great deal of material here. I do not want to use it. I want merely to say that nothing could be worse for the Armed Forces than a discontented and worried mother without proper accommodation for herself and for her children. I hope that some of the quarters I have seen were the exceptionally bad ones, and that I can take it for granted from reports that reach me that, although roughly 40,000 homes have been provided since the end of the war—33,000 under the Acts we are now discussing—the other 20,000 which make up our rough total of 60,000 contain quite a number that have been reconditioned and, therefore, provide fairly normal accommodation.
However, I do not think that we should blind ourselves to the fact that among those 20,000 there are far too many which are pre-war slums. In addition to the 60,000 homes we now have, which comprise 14,000 officers' quarters and 46,000 other ranks' quarters, we 449 require at least another 40,000 before we can feel that we have got the number necessary to meet the needs in this island.
I hope that the Bill will encourage Service men to feel that they are getting a better deal than ever before and that the rate of building has been stepped up. I do not think that they would want me to go into any elaborate argument about costs and income rates, whether we pay by loan or whether we pay by capital charges. I think that their attitude will be—"Cut the cackle and come to the kisses. How many houses are in this?" Under the Bill we propose to build roughly 5,000 houses in each of the next three years. It will be the Government's pleasure, if they can, to build even more than that.
I commend the Bill to the House, because it shows that the Service man is being given a higher priority where he has a wife and children in his care than ever he has been given before.
§ Sir E. Errington
Can the hon. Lady tell the House what proportion of the married quarters are built under the loan scheme and what proportion is built from other sources?
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The Bill is to providehousing accommodation … for married persons serving in, or employed in connection with, the armed forces".A vast number of men are employed in connection with the Armed Forces The hon. Lady referred only to Service men. Can she tell us the proportion of houses which will go to Service men and the proportion which will go to those employed in connection with the Services?
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
As the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary said, the Bill brings under review the whole problem of providing enough married quarters for Service families, in particular, in the United Kingdom. As she told us, it is proposed to add £45 million to the total funds available on loan and to extend the term for which those loans are available by a further three years up to the end of 1968.
I intend to discuss a little later how far what is proposed in the Bill makes an adequate contribution to the problem of housing Service families. What is quite clear is that, had they been left to themselves and by themselves, hon. Members opposite would not have introduced the Bill. It would not have occurred to them to bring it forward. There was nothing about it in the Gracious Speech.
§ The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)
This is minor legislation.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The right hon. Gentleman says that this is only minor legislation. I do not think that any Service family without a house could possibly agree with him about that. This is legislation to provide a very substantial sum of money to meet a very substantial need. Because there was no mention of it in the Gracious Speech, my right hon. and hon. Friends noticed the omission and at the earliest opportunity we had of asking the right hon. Gentleman about his Department's policy we asked him what his intentions were about the renewal of the Bill.
It appeared from what the right hon. Gentleman then said—
§ Mr. Ramsden
—that he had not made up his mind about whether any renewal of this legislation was necessary.
§ Mr. Ramsden
On the first Monday that Questions were taken in the Session. We had a temporising reply. I will say no more than that.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I want to develop my case. Pressure was exerted by my hon. Friends, and their vigilance for the interest of Service men and their families had a good deal to do with the Bill being brought forward. We now have the Bill. If I may hazard a guess at the reason for the initial delay, it was that possibly it was expected that the Government's legislative programme would be unduly crowded with some of the more controversial elements of Socialist legislation which we have been promised but which have not yet been forthcoming.
Because of unforeseen delays in bringing forward those Bills, which were promised in the Gracious Speech, there is now more time and it has—I am glad that it has—commended itself to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government to bring forward the Bill. I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a sensible Bill. It is one that I certainly would not advise my hon. Friends to oppose. However, I think that it is right, as the House has time, that we should spend an hour or two in discussing what is for the Services, as the hon. Lady has said, a most important and vital problem.
§ The Under-Secretary of State fox Defence for the Army (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman fully aware that one of the reasons why it could not be said for certain what the exact position about the Bill would be is that he himself, in the office he held in the last Parliament, failed to convince his Ministerial colleagues that such legislation was necessary? We had to 452 start from scratch. My right hon. Friends holding other Government posts are more amenable to this type of legislation than his right hon. Friends were when they were in office.
§ Mr. Ramsden
In view of the very minor points on which the Bill differs from any previous legislation, I cannot believe that it has taken the Labour Party from last November to now to get the Bill ready. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point carries much substance.
This is a question which is absolutely fundamental to the well-being of our Armed Services in several ways. It is fundamental, in the first place, to recruiting. More than once, standing at that Box, I have said that there is no single factor more important to the success of recruiting in any of the three Services than a satisfactory state of married accommodation for the families. I have been very glad to see recently that the picture of recruiting as it is going now is satisfactory. We are all pleased about that, but it is clear that two things are happening.
First, the Services are tending to take on fewer married recruits, that is, fewer men actually married at present. Secondly, they are taking in—and to this is attributable in large measure the recent improvement in the figures—a larger number than heretofore of 17-yearolds, the younger men. Those two things are happening now, and equally, I believe, two things will happen in the future.
The present bulge in the age-groups coming forward into eligibility for recruiting will die away and the Services may have to reconsider their policy about recruitment of married men. Secondly, the 17-year-olds who have recently been taken in in fairly large numbers will face the decision whether to re-engage in three or four years, at about the same time as they will, in the normal course of events, be facing the equally important decision on whether or not to get married. Whether they do decide to re-engage, and whether the rate of re-engagement is satisfactory for the Services to keep up their numbers will depend in large measure on the Government's success in providing a sufficient number of married quarters.
453 There is another point here which is not often made and which, though true, may be surprising at first sight. A satisfactory state of Service housing is a big factor in assuring full, flexible and effective use of Service units in their deployment around the world on operational commitments. One cannot, in conscience, take a unit from an unsatisfactory family station and, in the normal course of its rotation round the world, move it to another bad one. If this has to happen, the consequences for morale will be bad.
The posting of our units round the world is not an easy business. It has been discharged with notable skill and efficacy by the staff responsible during the past year in very difficult conditions, and I really need say no more about it than that the more bad family stations there are, whether in this country or overseas, the more difficult will it be for the staffs concerned to rotate units to the best advantage and secure the best operational use of the manpower and units which we have available. There is no doubt or disagreement between us and the party opposite, therefore, about the key importance of this problem of service housing.
The hon. Lady twitted my hon. Friends and myself about Knightsbridge Barracks. I say only this in reply, that the planning of the whole concept of Knightsbridge, to which she rightly attached importance, was a long, complex and difficult business, as she knows. As the Minister himself will agree, an outstandingly good design was produced. I was more than relieved when I learned that the right hon. Gentleman had resisted the suggestion from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the project should be reviewed and that it had been decided not to abandon it. It would have been a very grave blow to the Services had that decision been taken.
I wish now to remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House of a little of the background to the present position out of which has arisen the responsibility of his Ministry for the housing of Service families. In the old days, until April, 1963, tie Services had their own works departments, and very efficient they were. The right hon. Gentleman has in a leading and responsible position in his 454 Ministry Sir Donald Gibson, who was a leading light in the Army Works Department in the old days and to whom is due a great deal of the imaginative innovations in the design of married quarters and other Service buildings of which the benefits are being felt today.
When the change was made, and responsibility was placed on the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, it was done for good reasons connected with the policy of giving to his Ministry an element of domestic construction for which it would be directly responsible, in other words, some building to do on its own for itself, so that it would be enabled to be in some sense a pioneer for the rest of the construction industry, pointing the way and setting a good example.
I think that the change was, therefore, one which could be justified, but, inevitably, there was some concern among the Services that, when responsibility for their own building was taken away and put under a different roof, their interests might not be as efficiently served as when they had sole responsibility in their own hands.
My right hon. Friends did a great deal and worked very hard to ensure that those apprehensions were groundless, and I think that they succeeded in demonstrating that they were. They had, perhaps, two advantages over right hon. and hon. Members opposite, one that the Minister occupying the right hon. Gentleman's position, Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, was in the Cabinet at the time, the other that the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies), had a wide background of Service knowledge himself and could talk to members of the Services in their own language.
§ Mr. Ramsden
They were both at great pains not only to take a great interest, but to make perfectly clear to members of the Services that they were taking great trouble and interest, and in this they were very well supported by their officials.
I do not make too much of this, or of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Cabinet. He made a very good joke when the point was raised with 455 him at Question Time, saying that he would not have time, among his many duties, had he even been invited. But the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are absolutely right to take every opportunity to get about among the Services, to visit Service stations, to talk to people and to hear what they have to say. I hope that they are doing so.
The hon. Lady said that she went to the opening of the W.R.A.C. barracks at Guildford. I am very glad that she did. I hope that she and the right hon. Gentleman will, not just on official occasions of this kind, but, so to speak, on undress occasions, talk to commanding officers and to everyone concerned. Talking to commanding officers, one will find that at the root of almost every problem concerning discipline or welfare is the question of the separation of a husband from his wife and family. So I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give great attention to this matter.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions about the Bill. I should like him to explain—his hon. Friend has already said a little—the need and justification for the Bill. I put the question seriously because, frankly, I am puzzled about it. Certainly, we want the Bill, but I should like to be enlightened about this. It has been said, and it is accepted, that if we do not have the Bill it would still be possible to find the money for a programme of married quarters building from the Votes, and the Bill says that what is spent out of the loan shall not exceed the yearly provision made by Parliament in the Vote.
It would be interesting to know the real value of this method of financing by loan. I suspect that the answer is that when funds of this kind have the approval of the House and have been given effect to by Statute, it cannot then be said in any yearly review of future expenditure that the money is not available for the purpose for which the Ministry might want it. I take it that to the extent that we have passed an Act making these funds available the hand of the right hon. Gentleman is strengthened under each yearly review of the defence budget and that it increases the certainty with which he seeks confirmation of his yearly programme. I believe this to be true, and 456 I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will either confirm or deny it.
Whatever the answer is, this raises another, more fundamental question. Ought this kind of expenditure—on Service housing, or, for that matter, on the education of service families—to be reviewed year by year as part of the defence budget? Does it properly belong in the defence budget? Is it right that the claims of this type of expenditure should have to compete when the Government are making their yearly settlement of the percentage of the national income which they think they ought to devote to defence? Is it right that married quarters should have to compete with tanks, guns, ships and other equipment? After all, these houses are part of the national stock of houses and will be a national asset whatever happens to the size of the Armed Forces. If soldiers and their families do not live in them, they will be lived in by somebody.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman's view on whether this yearly programme about which the hon. Lady has told us should be seen in relation to the whole building effort, and the need for it weighed against the need for other types of social building—houses, schools and hospitals—and whether that would not be a more logical situation than the claims of these projects having to compete in the annual settlement of the defence budget with ships, guns and other Service equipment of a more martial kind. I should like to know what the Government think about it.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
There is great validity in the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I am rather ignorant of what goes on in this matter. Can he tell me how long he has held this view and whether, in the past, he attempted to have it established in his own Government? Instead of waiting for us to do it, why did he not attempt to get it done earlier?
§ Mr. Ramsden
The hon. Gentleman is right. What I am calling in question is long-established practice. I do not attempt to deny that. However, I think that it is a question which ought to be thought about, particularly at a time when the national resources available for defence are under pressure, as they admittedly are today.
457 Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the £45 million over the next three years is enough? On the face of it, it does not appear to be enough. We know that the money remaining from previous Acts is very nearly exhausted. We also know the programme for the next three years, partly because the hon. Lady announced it, but even more so because I announced it last year myself on the first day of the defence debate. I said that for next year Mr. Rippon had agreed a programme of £16 million and the year after £18 million, a total of £34 million. Assuming that for the year after that, which the hon. Lady told us was not yet decided, the Government wish to spend not less than £18 million—I do not think that they would wish to appear to do any worse than Mr. Rippon had planned to do—that comes to £52 million as against the £45 million over the three years proposed in the Bill. So, on the face of it, it does not look as though the Bill goes far enough.
I also wonder why it is proposed to extend the term of the loan for only three years. Previous Acts have made a five-year extension. I do not suppose that anybody believes that the need for a high rate of married quarters building will have disappeared at the end of three years, and I should have thought that a five-year term would have been much more appropriate. Although we welcome the Bill, it does not seem to represent the kind of bold reaffirmation of the right hon. Gentleman's intention to tackle and master the problem of Service accommodation which I thought he would wish the Bill to be and to which the programme established by Mr. Rippon and announced by the previous Government pointed the way.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question and then went on, from a completely false premise, to pose an argument. He asked whether this was enough. The answer is that in the next three years it is double what it was in the last three years. I do not know whether that is boldness or not, but the right hon. Gentleman had better put up an alibi for his own performance before he attacks ours.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The right hon. Gentleman misses the point. I am judging the amount of money proposed in the Bill 458 in relation to the programme announced by the previous Government and confirmed by the hon. Lady. It is in relation to the amount of building to be done over the period that we must judge the amount of money being made available in the Bill. On a simple calculation involving no more than adding together the three yearly figures, it does not look as though the right hon. Gentleman is asking for enough.
The hon. Lady did not refer to Clause 4, but it changes what has appeared in previous Statutes of this kind. Instead of saying that the rate of interest on the repayment of this loan shall be what is appropriate, it says that it shall be the rate as determined by the Treasury. Why is that altered provision being made? Is there any significance in it?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be concerned to get value for money out of this building programme. We should like to hear more about his detailed plans. He knows, better than I do, that when building resources in the country generally are at full stretch—and it is a good thing that they should be—there is upward pressure on prices and the only way out of the dilemma is to improve productivity. I know that that is the intention of the Government, as it was the intention of their predecessors. But we should like to hear more details about how the right hon. Gentleman plans to bring it about.
For example, one element in the building of married quarters must be the overheads of his Ministry. I do not know how they rate in the scale of costs or how they compare with building overheads in construction firms outside. Earlier this Session, I asked the right hon. Gentleman what he was doing to bring about the rationalisation and contraction in the number of staff in the Ministry which was looked to when the reorganisation of the Service Departments was first implemented. He was not able to give me a full answer then but I hope that he has given further study to the problem and will tell us more tonight. It is important to get the overheads as low as possible.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will also tell us to what extent in the building for which he is responsible he is employing new and industrialised techniques.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The hon. Lady says that 2,000 houses are involved. We shall be obliged for more details. I should like, in passing, to mention two ancillary ways of alleviating the shortage of married quarters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) was very anxious to encourage housing associations and it was suggested to the last Government that the Services might have housing associations of their own to help provide accommodation for Service families. It was suggested that the S.S.A.F.A. might help in their organisation. I believe that one has been in existence for the Navy in Portsmouth for some time. Has this additional method of providing married accommodation been examined further? If so, what was the outcome?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also tell us something about approved hirings. When married quarters are not available, hirings are an excellent means of finding homes for Service families and keeping them together. I have heard, however, that, as a result of the introduction of the Protection from Eviction Act, there is some anxiety in garrison towns as to the position when a house is let by a Service man temporarily for a hiring when he goes with his family on a tour of duty overseas. It would be of help if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some reassurance on that point.
We welcome the Bill in so far as it measures up to the immense problem that confronts the Government. Thanks to the measures taken by Mr. Rippon and the programme which he inaugurated, the Government are embarking on their responsibilities on a good wicket. They have a programme which gives real possibilities of improving standards and productivity and, providing that they take full advantage of this opportunity, they can be assured of our full support.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I dislike the idea of this being in any sense a party political occasion. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will not keep on interrupting from a sedentary position. My reason for hoping that it will not be party political is that everyone is agreed that this is something that wants doing and wants doing well and I am bound 460 to say that, as far as my knowledge goes, it is now being done extremely badly.
The expectations were considerable. Recently, Answers to Questions about the Army stated that, in 1964–65, the building programme was for 1,700 houses; for 1965–66, it was 2,400; and for 1966–67 it was to be 2,100. Until we get the breakdown between the Services it is difficult to know exactly what the position of the Army is, but I presume that these houses are for the most part the subject of loans of the type we are discussing in this Bill.
How much of the expected building has been achieved? I make no apology in saying that this is largely a constituency speech, though not entirely so. I was very disturbed to find in my constituency that many fewer quarters had been built than expected and for which finance had been provided. In these circumstances, it would appear that a substantial sum of money voted in previous years has been unexpended. We should be told about it. It is no good the House voting large sums of money, by way of loans or otherwise, unless we know what is being done about it. I understand that £45 million is to be spent on 15,000 houses over three years. That means over £3,000 per house.
No doubt I will be told that ground has to be bought, but any local council, building a much better type of house—I say that quite advisedly, because I shall refer to some of the difficulties—would be shocked to hear of such substantial amounts of money being spent. We should know why it is that it costs £3,000 to build each unit of married quarters. I do not know whether they be flats or houses, but it is a very substantial sum of money and we should have fuller information. There is substantial delay in the building of these houses, with the consequence of increased costs, both of materials and wages.
If the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary would like to visit Aldershot, we would be delighted to show her the houses about whose conditions I intend to give some details. Knightsbridge Barracks is not the worst place, because it has been in existence for some time while these Aldershot houses are new and were built by the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
Perhaps I ought strictly not to mention the fact that two of the sergeants' 461 messes collapsed during the course of construction. The ugliness of the layout of the buildings is shocking. I thought that when the Ministry of Public Building and Works came along, an artistic sense, instead of that of the brutal and licentious soldiery, might become clearer and more marked, but instead there are sheets of concrete which are now getting to that ugly, wet, stained stage which makes the whole thing unrelievedly gloomy. I hope that something will be done about that, which is why I invite the Minister as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to come and see.
The occupants of 12 houses had to be removed so that the houses could be partially reconstructed. At one time, the Service tenants had to go into new, hardly finished houses temporarily so that houses which had been supposed to be completed by the builders could be properly repaired. If that had happened to a private builder, or to an architect responsible to a private builder, there would have been a considerable fuss, and rightly so. Apparently, bad building is not the monopoly of a private builder.
Let us now consider the Talavera Estate, Aldershot, a very worthy name and, one would have thought, a very worthy place. My information is that a wet, grey-green mould which spreads over walls and ceilings, rots fabrics, eats holes in clothes and spoils food is creeping over the interior of the new Army houses and flats on this estate. Wives tired of the ceaseless battle to wipe, scrape and scour it away are nearing the end of their patience. It is said that the experts are baffled. They ought to be debaffled, if there is such a word, as soon as possible, and it is the job of the Ministry to see that they are. One wretched soldier whose responsibility it is to keep his uniform in order has to have a moth-proof bag to keep it wearable and free from mould.
Do not believe that the matter ends there, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The experts—I do not know whether they were employed by the contractor or the Ministry—treated part of the walls with two chemical substances and redecorated them with anti-mould paint. This was successful within its limits, but, unfortunately, where the paint was not and where the woodwork was there the mould went. That is not a very satisfactory state of 462 affairs. Speaking with the studied moderation of the Ministry, which is represented from top to bottom in the Ministry, a representative said that this was "excessive condensation", but nothing was said about how that was being dealt with except the rather mystic words, "We are looking into it". It would have been more accurate to say, "We are looking at it—and doing nothing."
The next bright idea of the experts, who are still puzzled, was to fit fan ventilators, which were not more effective than the inadequate treatment with chemicals to prevent the mould. This for the people whom the Parliamentary Secretary has described as worthy of the very best we can give. They have gas heating, but only downstairs, and gas heating is the most expensive form of heating. In the cold months it costs £11 or £12 a month, and then only for downstairs.
These worthy people are doing their best to survive the attacks of the mould and the condensation, but they cannot achieve anything because the mould is upstairs where there is no proper system of heating. Paraffin stoves have to be used because they cannot afford the more expensive gas heating arrangements. These Service wives are very good and try to keep the house hot while opening the windows to get rid of the condensation, but this is obviously beyond their capacity. This is something which should have immediate attention.
Some of the roofs have been very bad Within the last week a representative of the Ministry said:There have been no roof leaks as such. There was a defect in the gas warm air heating system caused by a faulty connection where the exhaust pipe meets the roof section This was causing vapour to seep through into the roof section. This faulty connection has now been put right by the contractors.This is a sorry story for the up-to-date place which we call Aldershot, the home of the British Army. Is this the sort of condition of affairs which we are to allow for people with families entering the Army and looking on it as a career? They must have a chance of satisfactory accommodation.
The problem is particularly difficult because it is almost impossible to find civilian accommodation. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is not here, because I have 463 had one or two letters already which have shown that people leaving the Army cannot find civilian accommodation. It is only natural that the Army should want, when it is short, the accommodation for personnel coming from abroad or elsewhere, but the ex-Service families who have to leave the accommodation and who are called illegal occupants—which is rather a shame—find it impossible to get alternative accommodation.
There is even a more important consideration. There is the difficulty of finding accommodation for wives who are left behind when their husbands are posted overseas and the accommodation is wanted for other people posted to the district. I wonder whether the Minister would consider the possibility of pointing out to local authorities the importance of providing accommodation in these cases. if they could help—and they are very helpful in many respects—it would ease some of the pressure caused by the fact that people leave the Army and have nowhere to go. Some years ago the former Administration wrote to local authorities inviting them to help in any way they could.
I sincerely hope—and I do not say this from a party political angle—that the present Government will improve on the present buildings. There appears a lack of knowledge about elementary things, such as how much buildings cost and how well they are built. I hope that my words tonight will lead to some improvement.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I echo the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) that this matter should be entirely devoid of party politics. That should be underlined three or four times.
Unfortunately the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), in opening the debate for the Opposition, began on a party political note. He attempted not only to make party political propaganda out of this issue, but was a little mischievous in suggesting that, because my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary reminded him of the contents of the Gracious Speech and drew his atten- 464 tion to the fact that the words "minor legislation" were used in it, we considered that the welfare of the Armed Forces was a minor matter.
The right hon. Gentleman entirely failed in his initial attempt to drape himself with real initiative in prodding this lazy and slothful Administration into doing something along the lines we are suggesting today. Not only was he badly briefed; he did not remember the date on which he put the Question down. He was not even able to say in substantiation of his claim, "On such and such a day I tabled a Question to the Minister and as a consequence the Bill was produced".
§ Mr. Loughlin
If I were making a claim of that kind, I should have given the date so that it could be verified.
What amazes me is this. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, "We have certain reservations about the Bill. We think that the matter might have been dealt with differently. More money might have been forthcoming. But we welcome the Bill. "If, as I believe, it is important now to do what the Bill proposes, why did not he do it when he had the opportunity? We get a little tired of this mock indignation about the slothfulness of an Administration which has been in office for three months when right hon. Gentlemen opposite had 13 years in which to do all the things, which they say we should do in three months, and failed to do them. It is sheer political hypocrisy for right hon. and hon. Members opposite to talk in these terms; and, frankly, the public know it.
The provision of houses for Army personnel, whether they be officers or in the ranks, should be a first priority. I do not know whether the cost should come within the defence lump sum. I do not know whether it should be lumped with tanks and guns. But if we want Army personnel to lead a decent, human life, they are entitled to think that accommodation will be made available for them because they are charged with the responsibility of defending this nation. We have a responsibility to ensure that every possible welfare service is provided for them. I do not care how 465 the provision is made. I do not care whether it comes within the province of the Armed Forces or of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. I believe that it would be better in the hands of the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
There has been criticism of the buildings erected in Aldershot. I admire the hon. Member for Aldershot for the trouble to which he has gone to obtain information about the building which he mentioned. When I say "building", I mean the sergeants' mess and the other buildings to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am not too sure about this matter and I do not want to appear to have knowledge which obviously I do not have, but the hon. Gentleman referred to private contractors and the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Am I to understand that these buildings were erected by private contractors or by direct building?
§ Sir E. Errington
I am not certain of the exact arrangements. However, my point was that the ordinary person who has a house built is entitled to complain, and does complain, if it is not satisfactory. There have been complaints by the tenants of the buildings which I mentioned, but as far as I know no complaint has been made by the Ministry.
§ Mr. Loughlin
There is a lot of bad building going on, and all sorts of people suffer from it. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I was the victim of some of this type of building. Fortunately, I knew what to do. I should have thought that if buildings in the state which the hon. Gentleman described were built by private contractors, the Ministry would have some method of dealing with those contractors. If that power has not existed, in any future contracts which are issued for this type of building I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that there is every conceivable opportunity—[interruption.] I will wait for my right hon. Friend to finish his conversation. I appreciate that he has to be given information. I was not being clever.
I will repeat briefly the request which I was putting to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member has referred to some shocking building at Aldershot. He re- 466 ferred to the fact that the sergeants' mess had collapsed twice and that there were considerable defects in certain houses which had been constructed. It is not clear whether they were constructed by a direct building department or by private contractors. I should have thought that if they were built by private contractors, the Ministry would have the opportunity to ensure that the contractors did the right thing in building. If the Ministry does not have that power, my request to the Minister is that in any future contracts that he puts out to private contractors, such conditions will be laid upon the builder that there cannot possibly be a repetition of this kind of thing.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I understand that these buildings were built by private contractors. The defects showed up within the guarantee period and money is being withheld.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It is gratifying to know that. I want, however, to develop the point a little further. I know that one cannot absolutely guarantee that any building contractor will produce the best quality work, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend, in view of what he has said, that he should ensure that these private contractors will in no circumstances receive further contracts from his Department.
I wish to refer to the number of houses which are to be provided for the sum of £45 million. I am not too sure that we are setting our target high enough at 15,000 houses. We should try to stretch it a little more. We should aim at seeing that as many as possible of the Service personnel can have the opportunity of having their wives with them, whether in this country or overseas. The £45 million is not such an exaggerated figure as the hon. Member for Aldershot thought.
§ Sir E. Errington
I suppose that the cost of most council houses which are built nowadays is between £2,000 and £2,500. My point was that in this case there seems to be an average of £3,000.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member, but there may well be some flats included in the figure of £45 million.
§ Mr. Loughlin
They are substantially more costly to build than orthodox houses. The average council house is of the two-or three-bedroom type with a few refinements. I should, however, qualify that remark, because some really beautiful council houses are being built, although a lot of them are the basic forms of housing with refinements absent rather than present. I should think that the figure of £45 million includes houses for officers as well as for other ranks. I know that one can make a lot of qualifications about this, but I would argue that the officers should be content with the same type of accommodation as the men.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I agree with the hon. Member. Strangely, we agree on most things. The figure of £45 million will, however, include varying types of houses larger than the normal council house and on balance I should have thought that an average of £3,000 would be a fairly reasonable figure.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take this part of his duties extremely seriously. I know that he takes all his duties seriously, but—and I hope that he will not mind my saying this—within his Department, with the overall responsibility which he has, there might be a slight tendency for this to be almost an adjunct to some of the duties which he has to perform.
I believe that this responsibility is now in the right quarter, as it has been for about three years, but I urge upon my right hon. Friend the need to accept the full seriousness of this part of his responsibility. We can easily fail in our duty to the Service personnel and it will only be by extra attention and vigilance that we give to our Service personnel the conditions to which they are entitled by virtue of the function which they perform in society.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I wondered whether I should preface my remarks by saying that I hope they will be non-party or violently party. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) is a bit thin-skinned. We all agree that this is a non-party matter, and surely we will not be inhibited 468 from trying to get something more or something different. My recollection is that in the last Parliament the hon. Member was never backward in applying that principle when we were sitting on the benches opposite.
I entirely agree with hon. Members that, basically, this is not a party issue. Certainly, I welcome the Bill. Since 1951 there has been an enormous increase in house building, and it is right that the Services should share in the increase in building capacity. I agree, however, with what has already been said from this side of the House. Why are we looking ahead only three years? The Parliamentary Secretary said that we need 40,000 houses for the Services, yet we are looking only three years ahead. I welcome the increase in numbers, but the last Act, I understand, involved a figure of £95 million and in that instance we looked ahead over a period of 15 years.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
It is five years. We might as well get our terms right. The first of these Acts was introduced in 1949 and it has been renewed at five-yearly intervals. In effect the legislation lapses. It will lapse this time, hence the Bill. Each time it has been five years.
§ Captain Elliot
I understand that, but it does not invalidate my point about looking further ahead than three years.
It seems to me perfectly logical that the money should be transferred to the Votes of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, and I personally see no objection to that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), speaking from our Front Bench, suggested that it should not be included in the Defence Votes. As I read the White Paper it is not going to be. I see that the Minister agrees with that, and I am very glad, because I think that this is absolutely right.
I would ask him not to underestimate this problem of the allocation of resources between the Services. I imagine there will be a battle here, not only a battle between the Services but probably between the categories of men and women, both those in uniform and those working for the Services. The hon. Lady referred only to Service men. I asked her about this and she said the Minister would refer 469 to it. The Bill does apply to those employed in connection with the Services and there are many hundreds of thousands of them.
From my experience when I was in uniform for a good many years I could say that it seemed to rankle—I may have got the wrong impression—that men and women not in uniform seemed to live in quite well-constructed, sometimes very big, houses, while the houses which were available for uniformed personnel were very much inferior. I think that times have probably changed since then, but I am sure that there will be problems there and I ask the Minister not to underestimate them.
Several hon. Members referred to both home and overseas. The White Paper seems to suggest that the building programme covers overseas as well as home. The Bill specifically speaks in Clause 1 ofmoneys provided by Parliament for those years for the provision of approved housing accommodation in Great Britain for married persons serving in, or employed in connection with, the armed forces".I wonder whether the Minister would care to confirm one way or the other which it is, because there are, as we know, a large number of Service men and civilians employed by the Services serving overseas, and it is just as important that they are properly housed as it is for people at home to be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) mentioned—although he may not have used the word—the question of entitlement. I would ask the Minister to look into that very carefully. Problems do arise. I have known, for example, of a family with no means giving up their house in this country and going into a quarter in Malta; the husband was in a ship based there. In these days of mobility of the Armed Forces he is suddenly moved to the other end of the world, and the wife and family are no longer entitled to a quarter on that station and have to come back to this country. That not only thoroughly upsets her, but it thoroughly upsets the morale of the men in the Forces.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I will deal with that straight away. The Bill refers to quarters in this country. The sentiments expressed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman are 470 unexceptionable, and we can agree with them, but they really ought not to be directed to me. They really must be directed to the appropriate Minister for the Navy or Army as the case may be.
§ Captain Elliot
I am glad the Minister has cleared up that point, but, again, I do not think it destroys the substance of what I have said.
§ Captain Elliot
It seems to me that if this remains under different Ministers that is a complication which might well be looked at and considered.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
I think we want to be quite clear over this question. The Minister has responsibility for the construction of married quarters overseas as well, although not under the terms of this Bill. I think that must be corrected.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not think there is any doubt about it. Of course, in effect, the clients are the Services, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am very much in the position of a building contractor. It does seem to me that the message is for the Armed Forces. I will use all the influence I can to pass it on, but the message is at the moment being put in the wrong letter box.
§ Captain Elliot
Perhaps this point has been laboured enough, but I think it has shown that there is something here which might create some difficulties.
Naturally, we on this side of the House, welcome this increase in the sum of money by £45 million over three years. There is no argument about that, but again I would ask the Minister, as I am sure he will because he is like that, to fight for the necessary resources for the Services to have their houses. We all know that building resources are strained to the limit, and it is going to be a struggle, even if the money is there, to get houses up. He will have all my support, as far as I am concerned, as, I am sure, he will have that of my hon. Friends, to see that the Services get their share.
My final point arises out of paragraph 4 of the White Paper. I feel that, rather ominously, these houses are only going 471 to be provided if they are approved by the Treasury. Paragraph 4 says:Further, the sum which may be appropriated in aid of the new Vote must not, without further Parliamentary authority, in the course of any financial year, exceed the sum shown in the Estimate …'.I must confess that I am not particularly expert in this machinery, but can we take it that if we are not going to get a longer term than three years building will not be held up—as it often is in the Services working on an annual budget—because the Estimates for that year are running out? Or, if they can go faster, that we can then get more money? I think that is an important point, because everyone concerned with the Services and the annual budget is driven mad repeatedly by the delays caused by those annual budgets.
With those remarks I welcome this Bill, and I wish it all speed, and I hope, too, for more money over a longer period of time.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very glad to be able to take part in this debate, and I am going to concentrate most of my remarks on the application of the Bill to the naval services. First, I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I think he is doing a great service by bringing forward this Bill tonight. The way in which this Bill is carded out will make the difference between heartbreak and happiness. It will bring a great deal of happiness to many people.
I was worried about the change-over of this matter of housing to the Ministry of Public Building and Works from the Services themselves. I think that it is, perhaps, a little too early to judge the results of the transfer, but it does seem to me that the transfer to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, which has so many ramifications, was bound to cause some disquiet.
Only the other day I happened to be in the Royal Marine Barracks, Stone-house, Devonport, and I really could not find out who was responsible for this or that. I have since put down a Question to him and I got some answer about the date of completion of the reconstruction. There were eight people in a room discussing plans. One seemed to come from Bristol, one from Plymouth, and so 472 on. I should like to be assured that there is proper co-operation in the question of dealing with this building.
How is the programming done? Who decides whether so many houses will be built for the Navy, so many for the Army, and so many for the Royal Air Force? Do the Services state what they want done, and the numbers they require? Suppose, for example, there was an easy site for the Royal Air Force, and a more difficult one for the Navy, and it was possible to get on more quickly with the development of the R.A.F. site? Would it be possible to progress more quickly with the R.A.F. site so as to avoid having to stop building? As all three Services now come under the Ministry of Defence, there should be co-operation between the Services in programming.
Is any consideration given to the type of house being built? Will the same type of house be built for the personnel of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force in the United Kingdom? If so, will there be a possibility of interchange of houses between the Services? Sometimes an Army unit is moved overseas and the houses remain vacant for a considerable time, but they could be used to house naval personnel. Will the Services co-operate in the allocation of houses? Can the Minister say how many houses will be built in the next three years, for the Royal Navy, the Army, and the Royal Air Force? I ask that because I presume that the number has been settled for the coming three years.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will break down the cost of building a house and building a flat. In previous debates on the subject I discovered that the Plymouth local authority could build a house for at least £100 less than the Admiralty Works Department was doing it. If the Minister can break down the cost of a house and a flat, we can get some idea of which is the most economic unit to build—a house or a flat and if it costs less than under Admiralty works.
I am delighted to see the hon. Lady in the Chamber. I am not a feminist, but in what I regard as a rather domestic subject it is an advantage to have a woman dealing with housing. I hope that as a result of her appointment we shall get better designs than we have had in 473 the past, particularly in regard to kitchens and other domestic accommodation. Many things could be improved by a slightly feminine touch, and these improvements would be of great advantage.
I know that barracks do not really come into this discussion, but the hon. Lady said that she had visited women's Army barracks. I hope that if she has time to do so she will visit H.M.S. "Dauntlesss", the home of the W.R.N.S., because this could do with considerable modernising.
I suggest that the Navy housing should be dealt with on a different basis from that of the Army and the Air Force. The provision of houses for naval personnel is fairly new in the history of the Navy. Paragraph 72 of the Grigg Report 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 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.The question of re-engagement is particularly important for the Navy, because recruitment is lagging behind that in the other two Services, and we are coming up to an important year when many people will be considering re-engagement. At the moment there are not enough Navy houses to go round, and I am sure that there will not be enough in the next three years and it is very important that men should be encouraged to re-engage for the Navy.
Paragraph 74 of the Grigg Report referred to a lot of old and damp buildings with a "D" for demolition. How is this demolition getting on? Does the Minister think that any of these houses can be repaired sufficiently to be useful for the present time until we get more accommodation? Can the Minister also tell us what is the anticipated life of the houses now under the control of his Ministry? He has told us the number he will be building in future, but I should like to know what replacements will be needed for those that are getting old and perhaps not worth repairing. This information is necessary in calculating future housing needs. We must know how many will go out of action each year, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this.
474 Is it possible under the provisions of the Bill for an individual to obtain a loan to build a house?
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Perhaps the money can be obtained under the Act which set up the housing corporations? Many Service personnel want to build their own homes.
There is a great difference between naval housing and Army and Air Force housing. It is possible to put the Army and the Air Force on one estate, because usually the families move together. The Navy, however, is in a different position. In many cases naval husbands are away from some time and have to leave their wives and families behind.
The plea I am making is not a new one. I have made this point before, and I should like it to be reconsidered.
I dislike what I call cantonments of housing, particularly for the Navy, because on a Navy estate one cannot get any form of neighbourhood community. People move in and go out at different times. Mrs. Smith may in one house, and Mrs. Harris in the other. One comes in one month, and the other goes out. Wives need to live in a neighbourly community while their husbands are away. In other words, they need a neighbour whom they can contact and sometimes get to sit in with the children. As the wives are often separated from their husbands for long periods, they need this kind of neighbourly help.
I have said before—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this—that we should provide certain local authorities, such as those of Plymouth and Portsmouth, with a certain sum of money and ask them to build houses for the Navy. They could do it more cheaply than is done by the Ministry, and naval personnel could be integrated in the existing housing estates. This would be of great advantage to the Navy.
If the Parliamentary Secretary could come to my constituency I should be very pleased to show her the housing estate at St. Budeaux. As it is at the moment with people coming in and going fairly regularly there is no chance of creating tidy gardens, and one often sees the grass growing two or three feet high and it is most unsightly. There are no flowers, and very few trees. There is nobody to do the gardening. I hope that it will 475 be possible, therefore, for naval houses to have a type of small, perhaps paved, garden which does not need a lot of upkeep. There are plenty of such types. This would save a good deal of ground and it would be very advantageous to the appearance of the whole estate.
Further, in order not only to save money but also to help individuals to feel more at home, I want to make a plea for the provision of unfurnished accommodation. Many of the young couples have their own furniture, and when they go into naval houses they have to have their furniture stored. When I raised this matter before I was told that this could not be done because a set pattern of furniture is provided and when it is moved marks are left on the wall. I suggest that since most families occupy these houses for approximately three years, when they leave the houses are due for some decoration—a brush of paint or some distemper. Therefore, it ought not to make any difference if they had different patterns of furniture. It would be more economical to these couples if they could use their own furniture, and it would make them feel more at home. I make this further plea for the provision of some unfurnished accommodation.
I would also make one point about people who are employed in connection with the Services. This is a particularly difficult point in regard to the dockyard towns. The "Dockyard Mateys", as they are often called, are provided with accommodation, for example, in Singapore, or Gibraltar or wherever they may be overseas, but when they return to this country there is no accommodation for them and they are very seldom on any housing list. Just outside Plymouth there used to be an estate called Lee Mill Estate, but it has recently been taken over by the Plympton authorities. At the moment, people who come back from abroad, having had accommodation provided there, and then go to work in the dockyards in Plymouth, Chatham or Portsmouth, have no accommodation whatsoever. Many of them have young children, and this presents a tremendous problem for them.
The main difficulty with the naval housing nowadays arises from the system of centralised drafting. Before this system was introduced the drafting 476 was done from Plymouth, Portsmouth, Chatham or Rosyth, but now it is all done centrally from Whitehall and the personnel are "nobody's children" on the housing lists. This means that the difficulties in the Navy are even greater than they are in the Army or the Royal Air Force.
Consideration should be given by the right hon. Gentleman to speeding up the building of houses for naval personnel, for this reason alone. Will he consider giving priority to this question, as it is one of the great worries in the Navy? When we think of a large ship like H.M.S. "Eagle" we find that a great deal of time is spent by officers in dealing with family affairs. It must be remembered that these ships carry nearly 3,000 people: they are like small villages or even towns. One of the main worries of the sailors is about their families and about their housing conditions, and if something could be done for them it would be a great advantage.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's Department deals with hirings. Is his Department responsible for repairing hirings or seeing that they are in order?
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Hirings do not come under the Bill. I shall have to find out about them in some other way.
§ Mr. Pannell
My Department is concerned, but not under the Bill. If the hon. Lady writes to me about it she will get an answer, but I have to bear in mind many points which have been raised during this debate and which I shall have to answer at the end. That is why I make the point that this matter does not come under the Bill.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
This is an important point, and I shall certainly write to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope to receive a reply which will enlighten me about the position.
I hope that I have said enough to ensure that the right hon. Gentleman will consider my points, and I particularly hope that I have been able to persuade him to appreciate the fact that there ought to be a different type of layout of buildings for the Royal Navy. I would once more remind him 477 that recruiting for the Royal Navy is worse than it is for the other Services, and I hope that he will see that the Royal Navy receives an adequate share of the allocations that are to be made in the future.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Perry (Battersea, South)
I welcome the Bill because I think that it will be a contribution to the housing situation for all in this country. While it only deals with Service men, for every Service man for whom accommodation is provided or is improved the civilian problem is helped considerably.
When I see that the Bill will introduce these proposals, I consider it to be a contribution which we have all been waiting for, particularly when considering that the human problems of Service men are far worse than those of civilians. If the civilian and his family live in poor conditions, they can sometimes stomach it for quite a long time, but when the Service man, separated from his family, knows that his family is living in poor conditions, it does not help his discipline, good conduct and all the other things which make up an efficient Service man.
I welcome the Bill because I think that it is a good contribution, both from the point of view of the Service men and from that of civilians. I thought that it was ungracious of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) to suggest that we had only introduced the Bill as a delaying tactic, while we were framing other legislation. I am quite sure that the Government Front Bench have had this idea in their minds ever since they have been in office. I am convinced that they have the interests of the Service men and the civilians at heart when it comes to housing problems. I am quite sure that everyone in this House wants to treat this as a non-party matter, because it is important that our Service men should have security of housing in their minds. The more we can do in this respect, the better it will be for the Services and the country.
The right hon. Member for Harrogate suggested that the Bill does not go far enough, and I am inclined to agree with him. However, let us be quite 478 clear about the fact that in the next three years twice as much accommodation will be provided as was provided in the last three years. I think that that is a considerable advance upon what has already been done. I am glad that there is a departure from the established procedure of this matter being treated on the Defence Estimates. The question of housing for Service men should be apart from Defence Estimates. As has been said, it should not be taken in competition with tanks or ships. Service men have a right to housing apart from the Defence Estimates. I welcome this change of procedure. In providing this for Service men, we are also doing civil life a good turn, because we are providing them with housing.
§ Mr. Sharples
I think it should be pointed out that this is not a change in procedure. This is an extension of legislation which has gone on for many years.
§ Mr. Perry
I thank the hon. Member, and I stand corrected. If it is not a change in procedure and has been going on for so many years, I am glad to hear it. I am glad that it is a procedure which will be continued.
In the London area there are many flats which are let out to Service personnel on a hiring basis at considerable rents of four, five, six, seven or eight guineas a week. If we can continue building more flats and houses for Servicemen, by an extension of the Bill, we shall be able, in the long run, to see that more flats and houses are allocated to civilians from that source of supply, instead of going to Service personnel. I am very glad to welcome the introduction of industrialised building, because I think that with that kind of production we can have a much more speedy process of erection of flats and houses, as has been proved in many localities in London.
I am not trying to introduce a political note on this, but the right hon. Member for Harrogate said that we came in on a very easy wicket. I consider that when we came into Government the wicket was not very easy. It was a bit sticky. We are having to play some very funny balls because of the state of the wicket. I suggest that the Bill will go a long way towards solving the 479 housing problems for Service men and civilians.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
I wish to welcome the Bill. Anyone who has had experience of the working of this housing legislation will agree that the success of the 1949 Act was perhaps among the greatest of the Measures introduced by an earlier Labour Government. Hon. Members on this side of the House were somewhat mystified when, on 9th November, the Minister—he is not present in the Chamber at the moment—said that this legislation might not be renewed. We were alarmed by that statement.
The Minister said that the provision of housing would go on by a different method and those who are aware of the problems could not understand what method would be proposed. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will provide an explanation when he winds up the debate.
The principle of loans for the Services is not new. It was in use a long time before 1949. The dockyard at Gibraltar—a place very much in the news at present—was built under a loan, something which may not he generally remembered by hon. Members. I think it a good thing that a project which competes with the day-to-day needs of the Services should be put on a loan basis. There is a case for extending loans in certain circumstances and certainly, when applied to housing, I think it a very useful idea.
I wish to know why the Measure is up to be renewed only for three years. Reference has been made to the fact that it is sometimes difficult to fit a Measure of this kind into the Government's legislative programme. That has happened in the past. When we are going to all the trouble of providing a new Act it seems a pity that it should not extend for more than three years. Surely it would be the intention of this or any other Government to continue with this procedure for a good deal longer than three years, but at the end of that time another Measure will be competing for a place in the Government's legislative programme and difficulty may arise.
We come to the question why a figure of £45 million has been fixed. From a 480 recent Parliamentary Answer we know that no less than £90 million has been spent under this legislation, and almost exactly the same figure is outstanding as a debt from the various Service Departments to the Treasury on account of it. According to the figure I was given the other day, 31,750 quarters have been built. I was a little surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary used a different figure of 33,000, which did not seem to correspond with the figure given in that Answer. No doubt there is a technical reason for that.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke about the theory that when married quarters are no longer required by the Services they will be taken over by local authorities. By now I suppose that a number of such cases have occurred. I can recall that in earlier cases it was sometimes difficult to persuade a local authority to take over the quarters when they were no longer required by the Services. I hope that we shall be given an assurance about this procedure. I imagine that it is a voluntary act on the part of the local authority concerned.
We are also aware from Parliamentary Answers that by 31st March only £2.8 million of the money previously voted under the legislation would be left. There is no doubt that there was urgent need to provide more money, either by loan or in some other way. When one realises that there are no fewer than 40,000 hirings in force in this country today one sees that there is a case for us to increase the number of houses to 40,000 more, at a cost of £135 million. Thus, it is a pity that the amount has been fixed at £45 million over three years, for we could have looked much further ahead. I may be wrong about this and perhaps there is a technical reason why that could not be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) made a number of good points in an extremely interesting speech. She pointed to the difficulty of siting because, even when one finds an adequate site, it is not always desirable to build a block of, say, 1,000 married quarters all in the one place. This form of building is not always best liked by the Service people themselves. In fact, some of them do not like living in married quarters at all. This particularly applies to officers, 481 many of whom would rather find their own accommodation. The siting of married quarters is a different problem to the siting of council houses and I hope that the Ministry will continue to give careful thought to this problem.
I turn to the question of the amount of work which remains to be done for the Royal Navy, which is very much behind the other Services in the number of married quarters at its disposal. I understard that there are 8,500 married quarters for the Royal Navy in this country within the terms of this Measure and that there are 4,500 hirings still kept. This shows that there is room for a great many more married quarters to be built for the Royal Navy.
The Parliamentary Secretary made great play of the fact that 5,000 quarters would be built each year; 5,000 next year, and more after that. If I have done my arithmetic correctly, I gather from the 1964 Statement on Defence that building is already running at the rate of about 4,300 so that there would appear to be an increase of 700, which is not as startling an increase as one might at first imagine.
I come to the whole question of the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Building and Works for the various works projects of the Services. I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that there is nothing personal meant in what I am about to say. When the Conservative Government had this idea of putting the works of the Services under the Ministry of Public Building and Works I was opposed to it. I still am, although if the Ministry does well enough in its tasks it may be able to convert me. I see the advantages of having a common design for building for the Services, but much of the day to day work of the Ministry is different from that of the Services.
Under the old scheme each of the Services' Works Departments had separate requirements. Just one example is that the Navy Works Department insisted that men had to be able to dive; to go down beneath the water to examine jetties, and so on. A great deal of the work of the R.A.F. and the Navy is in the constructing of airfields. I do not know whether the Ministry of Public Building and Works builds airfields for the Ministry of Aviation and whether the former 482 has any experience of doing this work. The construction of runways for modern aircraft is a very specialist business.
It is difficult to provide adequate and suitable married quarters and other personnel accommodation for the Services unless one lives in close proximity with Service people. I suppose that that could be overcome to a certain extent by insisting that officers of the Ministry live close to Service people, meeting Service men and members of their families each day so that they know more about their problems.
I see in this arrangement a very great difficulty. If my memory serves me aright, this arrangement was entered into before we had the new co-ordinated plan for the Ministry of Defence. Now that we have that plan, I think that the Works Department belongs there. The Services Lands Branch, which used to go in with the Works Department, has been kept by the Services—I believe that it is now under the War Office—but I have the greatest doubts whether this is the right course.
I believe that the Works Department should go back to the new co-ordinated Ministry of Defence, but, in saying that, I do not wish in any way to detract from the enthusiasm of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure that they will put a lot of enthusiasm into this tremendous task of finding married quarters for the Services, putting them in the right place, building them to the right design, and remembering the difference in taste there is between one Service family and another.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Anyone looking at the Title of this Bill for the first time might think that its purpose was to lend money to the Armed Forces to enable them to build their own houses, but we know that that is not so. We only wish that the Services had a greater opportunity so to do.
This Measure, which follows the pattern of what has happened in the past, gives the Minister of Public Building and Works an excellent opportunity to plan ahead, and to use the resources of his Ministry to the best of his ability. In this connection he has described himself, quite rightly, as a builder. He should not be ashamed to describe himself in 483 that way—I am sure that he is not—because it gives the Department the opportunity to carry out new and interesting experiments in building since, although the Department is the builder, it is virtually the builder-owner-client.
The Ministry has to satisfy the needs of the Services. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) has drawn attention to the different requirements of the three Services, and I will not go into details on the various occupations under this heading, because to do so would bore the House and would also be outside the scope of the Bill. It would, however, be most helpful to us if the Minister would indicate how the new ideas of his Department were operating.
The hon. Lady mentioned that there are 2,000 industrially-built houses for the Armed Services in the programme, but I recall that that was announced last May—over nine months ago. The gestation period is well past. Has any progress been made?
I should like some detailed information about interest rates. I am always suspicious of anything in a Bill that refers to a special rate of interest, particularly when the Bill is brought in by the present Government, which have confused us immensely over interest rates. What does subsection (4) of Clause 2 mean? Is it tied to the Public Works Loan Board, and why is there this special reference to the rate of interest? Does this Clause apply when the extended period mentioned in the Bill expires?
I have two points to make in relation to occupation and maintenance. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) spoke at some length about construction problems at Aldershot. I know that the Minister has adequate answers in this connection. I will not trespass on his prerogative of giving them. I am sure that he is sufficiently au fait with the situation to know that the buildings which collapsed were in an experimental stage and that the contractor on his own initiative undertook to pull them down entirely at his own cost. It would be wrong for any reflection to be made on the contractor concerned. In case anybody should think that I had an interest, I will say that it is not my own 484 company which did it, so I am free from either praise or blame on this score.
It is important that this money should be used by the Ministry to experiment on new forms of construction, because the Ministry has these opportunities to do so. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) that the siting of the accommodation is important. There are many examples of Army units which have been moved. It is vital that local authorities can take these houses over for their own use. I have in my own constituency of Folkestone and Hythe a great interest in Army buildings—Shorncliffe Camp, the School of Infantry and Lydd Camp. We are concerned about three things with regard to Army housing. One is that the War Office has large areas which are in normal housing developments. I should like to feel that this land could be guaranteed for local planning authorities so that it is used to the best advantage.
We have a second problem in relation to the number of soldiers who are stationed there with their wives and then reach retirement age. It is always a problem for the local authority housing committee to know what priority to give to these men. I should have liked the Bill to provide opportunities for the soldiers, or indeed for members of any of the Services, to have some right to purchase the houses—their homes. It would be much more satisfactory if they could take them over. I know that it is not directly the responsibility of the Minister of Public Building and Works, but I am sure that forward planning here would be of great value.
There is no reference in the Bill to other services. Could we have some clarification as to whether under this loan the Minister is allowed to build amenities for the stations? Houses are no good without the other necessary amenities.
§ Mr. Costain
I thank the Minister for his prompt reply, although it was a negative one. Perhaps he would tell us how those are dealt with, because they are essential amenities.
485 This is a Bill which we should welcime. We should realise that it is an extension of what has already been done. I cannot accept the statement made by the hon. Member who came in, made his speech and went out again, that this shows a big increase on the production—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is quite on the wicket when he reproves my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) for coming in, making a speech and going out. My hon. Friend is not the only one, is he?
§ Mr. Costain
I do not wish to make a political point. Unfortunately, I do not know the hon. Member's constituency. I could snot point to him: he was not there. That was the only way in which I could refer to him. I was not making any reference to the fact that he was not in the House. The Minister must not be so touchy. How else could I refer to a new hon. Member whom I did not know? He sat in the corner and went out. How could I refer to him otherwise? We all have to leave for many reasons.
I say no more about that, but I did wish to refer to the hon. Gentleman on one point. I am sorry that he is not here now because I do not like criticising someone when he is not present, but where does the hon. Gentleman get the story that there will be a big increase of Service housing under the Bill? I hope the Minister will explain how we shall get the increased number of houses which his hon. Friend has been led to believe there will be.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
My curiosity was aroused at the beginning of the debate about why we should have this Bill now, and, although he seemed to react rather sharply to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), the right hon. Gentleman did not adequately clear the matter up. On 9th November, one of my hon. Friends asked when we were to have an Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman answered that the matter was being considered and he was not yet ready to make a statement. So far so good. But, obviously, he was not seized with enthusiasm by the thought of being able to introduce a Bill. He was taking a long cool look at it.
486 Then I read that in another place my noble Friend, Earl Jellicoe, asked the Minister there what he proposed to do about it, and Lord Mitchison replied that he did not know either and that he was by no means convinced that a housing loans Bill was the best way to deal with the matter. Is it the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Government that this is not the best way of doing it? Is that why it has taken so long, and, if it is not the best way of doing it, what is? Everyone knows from a long and happy acquaintance with the noble Lord that Lord Mitchison knows what he is talking about on housing matters and he is a very hard working gentleman. If he says that this Bill is not the best way of doing it, this is something of which the Government should take notice and about which we should inquire. Why is the noble Lord so bothered that this is not a good Bill? I suppose that he will be responsible for introducing it in the other House. If the right hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity of meeting Lord Mitchison recently—I do not blame him if he has not because there are so many Members of the Government that, obviously, he cannot keep up with them all—the noble Lord will have to explain how it comes about that the Bill is a bad Bill, but, nevertheless, he must introduce it.
What is wrong with the Bill? Is it too expensive for the country to afford? Will it provide houses too slowly or, perhaps, too quickly? In what form would the right hon. Gentleman have preferred to bring it to the House on this first occasion when he proposes to deal with how the Forces should be housed in the future? Perhaps the reason for the delay is simply that the right hon. Gentleman needed time to acquaint himself with the details of the matter. No one will blame him for that. His very great knowledge of building has so far been exhibited in his great knowledge, much to the profit of this House, of the building in which we are now. He knows everything about the Palace of Westminster. For anyone wanting to know about the drains or the superstructure here, the right hon. Gentleman is the acknowledged expert, and we always ask him. It must have been quite a chore to work out exactly what to do for Forces housing.
487 The right hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying—he was quite pleased himself to disclaim any right to it—that he has not a seat in the Cabinet, as his predecessor had.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest. I hope that he will come to the Bill.
§ Mr. Kershaw
If I may say so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I believe that this is relevant because we must assess the importance of the Bill and the timing of its arrival in the House, since the need is so great, and we must inquire about the delay. In all these matters, a Minister has the opportunity, in the Cabinet or outside, to press for what he wants. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Cabinet militates against his being able to produce a Bill quickly, and it may have contributed—I ask whether this is so—to the delay over this Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman reads Hook in the Daily Mail; he may have seen it this morning. I think that up to now the right hon. Gentleman has known more about the corridors of this House than power.
The hon. Lady has told us the total number of houses that we hope to get by the Bill. I wonder what the annual rate is likely to be. I may have missed this, and I apologise if I did. It is of importance. We know there is a Backlog—
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am much obliged. If it had been possible to increase the rate to start with and tail off towards the end, it would have been very acceptable. I realise that there could have been administrative difficulties about that. Nevertheless, the need is now, and the sooner we could increase the pace, if increasing the pace is the question, the better it would have been.
This also raises a question which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will consider—that if there is any substantial redeployment of the Forcees back to this country during this period, we have no flexibility provided by the Bill. I do not make any complaint against the right hon. Gentleman for that, for, obviously, it will not be his decision that troops 488 should pour back to this country. The rate of house-building obviously cannot keep pace with a large number of troops suddenly coming back. That is why I say that it would have been a great advantage if it had been possible to increase the rate now and tail off towards the end, although the total would have been the same at the end. After all, there are proposals that very large forces should be brought back to this country, and I hope that when the proposal is made the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell his colleagues that, apart from any military, strategic or political considerations, the problem of housing the families would be insuperable and would be a very large bar to the return of large numbers of troops now stationed on the Continent, such as his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well) is constantly advocating.
I should also like to know what is meant by "appropriate rate" in Clause 1(4), which states:The rate of interest required to be paid under the said section 1(3) shall be such as the Treasury may determine instead of the appropriate rate as therein defined.That seems to argue that the Treasury will propose an inappropriate rate. In view of who is in charge of the Treasury today, that does not seem at all surprising. Perhaps Mr. Three Per Cent. will have some propositions to make about the rate.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The phraseology in this Bill with regard to the rate of interest is just the same as the phraseology in all the Measures of the previous Administration. Therefore, this imputation merely betokens a degree of ignorance on the part of the hon. Gentleman, and hardly deserves an answer.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I merely wanted to know whether the right hon. Gentleman himself understood this. Perhaps he will be good enough to give an explanation when he speaks. We have had a certain amount of argy-bargy about rates of interest. The question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) about the longterm effect after three years of the rate, whatever it might be, which had been charged from time to time was one of technical importance and certainly ought to be answered in the House.
489 I should also like to know whether in considering housing for the Forces the right hon. Gentleman takes into consideration the terms of the Protection from Eviction Act. There are many occasions when units go abroad, and then those concerned let their houses furnished for a year or so, knowing that they will shortly return. It would, of course, be very unfair and quite an impost upon the families concerned if they were not able to rent their houses without knowing whether they could get back into them if they were posted home.
As I understand the Protection from Eviction Act, it may well be that a court order would be necessary. It would take about three months if such unpleasantness had to be undergone and, therefore, families posted home suddenly might well find that they could not get back into their own homes. For that reason, they will be reluctant to let them and anything that the right hon. Gentleman can say to clarify the situation will be welcome.
A factory in my constituency made prefabricated housing. I am sorry to say that, three or four years ago, it closed down because it could not get the big cities of the West, with the exception of Swansea, to interest themselves in industrial housing and the firm decided that it could do all its work from a factory in the Home Counties. However, it now smells more success on the horizon and is to reopen Reema Factory at Tetbury in my constituency, which will be within the reach of many military establishments in the West. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to improve upon the figure of 2,000 industrialised houses, which are admittedly not very appropriate for the Cotswolds but are very appropriate elsewhere.
It has been said that housing is more necessary for the Forces than ever before. We welcome the fact that recruiting is going well. We must deal with the possibility that more of the Forces overseas will come home and that there may be a larger home strategic reserve than before. Thus, the provision of housing is absolutely essential if recruiting is to continue at a high level.
I am not trying to "knock" the Bill, but I feel, with the best will in the world, that it does not see far enough 490 into the future. It is to run for only three years. It will actually reduce the amount of money we thought was to be made available for housing. On the face of it, it is an interim Measure which will not alleviate the housing problems of the Forces.
I do not suppose that any Bill that the right hon. Gentleman could bring in could immediately alleviate those problems, but this Bill does not look beyond three years and at the end of that time I think that we shall find the housing situation of the Forces much the same as it is today. Any further prospects for the future about which he can tell us will be very welcome.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I am a little concerned, as are most hon. Members, to see that the Bill—and I should welcome a correction—appears to be reducing the amount of money available for the very important purpose of helping to provide married accommodation for the Services. I am sure that the Government would not wish to give the impression that they are effecting economies, however necessary, at the expense of the married Service men.
It would appear, however, that this is the interpretation to be derived from the Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has pointed out, is an interim Bill, to run for three years. It gives the unfortunate impression of being designed to effect economies at the expense of a class or group of our fellow citizens who are least well placed to bear them.
§ Miss Jennie Lee
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman was present when I gave the figures. They showed that the highest expenditure in any one previous year was about £10 million, while it was £12,500,000 for the current year and was to rise to £16 million and £18 million. I not only gave the actual amount of money being provided but the number of houses to be built. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, far from economising, while we may not talk about never having had it so good, or opulence, even with the financial period which we have inherited, very much better financial provision will have been made.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
If more money is to be available, I am very surprised that the hon. Lady did not feel it right to intervene in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who was obviously under the same apprehension, misapprehension or not, as I am. On the face of it, the Bill seems to be making things less good rather than better. If more money is actually to be spent—the words are "made available" and they could mean anything—on Service housing, I shall be the first to rejoice in this knowledge. We shall have to wait and see what happens.
Those hon. Members with practical knowledge of the position have in mind that if the policies so often advocated by Labour Members are implemented and large numbers of troops from any of the three Services are brought back to this country, there will be nowhere where they and their families can be accommodated. This is a serious problem which must be faced by the Government whose supporters are constantly advocating such a course of action. It is an attractive proposition in many ways, but we are sadly deficient in married quarters and other accommodation for married Service men in this country, and we are not over well equipped in any other part of the world.
I hope that the Minister will make clear what target of Service married quarters and other married accommodation he is aiming at within these three years. I am delighted to be told if more money is to be made available, but we ought to know what figure the Government think appropriate for the Services which total about 400,000 men of whom an ever-increasing proportion will be married. The married element of the three Services is as entitled to proper accommodation and other facilities for its families as any other section of the public.
What is being done? The Ministry of Public Building and Works now has this responsibility and hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed great hopes about what the Ministry will be able to achieve at home and abroad. Nobody wishes to suggest that the Ministry will fail in the great task before it, but we want to know how the Ministry proposes to set about discharging the obligation which now lies upon it. There is no doubt that more than one-third 492 of all Service men are married and I greatly question whether the total of available married accommodation, married quarters and hirings, at home and abroad reaches 130,000. There can be no doubt that even if the total is 130,000, that figure will be inappropriate in a year or two. The House is entitled to know what the Ministry proposes to do to help in this regard.
The Bill is, I suppose, a step in the right direction, but it seems to many of us that it is an ineffectual and insufficient step. There will be some dissatisfaction and, not alarm and despondency, but regret about the wording of subsection (4) of Clause 1, in particular, which says:The rate of interest required to be paid under the said section 1(3) shall be such as the Treasury may determine instead of the appropriate rate as therein defined.This wording may be perfectly proper, appropriate and suitable. The Minister said that it had been used in previous Acts by previous Administrations. But they were not Administrations which had gone some way towards forfeiting public confidence concerning low rates of mortgage interest which practical considerations have shown to be unfounded and unjustified.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
The hon. Member, speaking from a sitting position, says, "Wait and see". I will give way to him immediately if he wishes to intervene.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Nothing would give me personally or my hon. Friends greater pleasure than to see more favourable conditions arise for members of the Services. Speaking personally—and I think that I am not without support—as far as the public and myself are able to judge, the situation is tending to get worse rather than better. If there comes a time when the Government are able to astonish us by the beneficence of their administration of the Bill, it will 493 be greatly welcomed by my hon. Friends and myself, and, indeed, by everyone concerned with Service matters.
§ Sir E. Errington
Does my hon. Friend understand subsection (4) to permit a subsidised rate of interest? It is important that we should know whether the Government have in mind subsidising the rate of interest.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I am much obliged. I take the view that, unless the Government subsidise the rate of interest very substantially, it will be altogether beyond the means of the average Service family. The question whether the Minister is able to help us on this point or whether he has been able to use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to get permission to subsidise the rate of interest to a marked extent is important. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will let us know the answer. However, if he cannot do that, it seems to me that the current commercial rate of interest, which has been raised to such an alarming height by the Government, is likely to put the benefits which may stem from the Bill outside the means of the average Service family. This is most unfortunate.
I wish to sound a most definite note of dissatisfaction with the way in which the Bill has been presented, and I very much hope that the doubts which I have expressed will be allayed by the Minister. I hope that he will make it perfectly clear that the Government will do what I think everyone concerned thinks is right and proper and will ensure that, in spite of the wide power which they have reserved in subsection (4), the rate of interest to be paid is within the means of the Service personnel or that a substantial subsidy is made available so that the married quarter accommodation which is needed for all the Services is provided.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
I should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary on the clarity with which she moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I can only say, as one who held the position which the hon. Lady now holds until I was overtaken by events in October, that I hope she will 494 find her time at the Ministry as enjoyable and as interesting as I did.
We on this side welcome the Bill as far as it goes. We have a number of questions to ask about it, and they have been put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but, in general, we welcome the fact that the Bill has been introduced by the Government. My first question to the Minister, which has been put to him by hon. Members on both sides, is why is the Bill intended to last for only three years whereas previous Acts have continued for a minimum of five years?
The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, whom we are glad to see in his place, said in answer to a Question on 8th February that there was need for 40,000 additional married quarters and this figure was confirmed this afternoon by the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy went rather further and in his reply to the Question said that an additional 4,500 quarters in the United Kingdom were substandard. In the period covered by the Bill, the hon. Lady has told us that a total of only 15,000 married quarters are to be provided, leaving a gap of 25,000.
In criticism, perhaps, of the hon. Lady, I would say that she was somewhat ungenerous in her opening remarks about the work which was done by her right hon. Friend's predecessor, Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, when he held the post of Minister of Public Building and Works, to bring about a solution of the married quarters programme. The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy was much more realistic than the hon. Lady, because he said in the debate on 14th December:One of the follies of being polemical in these matters is that inevitably we have to take into account the ideas and started projects of our predecessors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 154.]
§ Miss Jennie Lee
Did the hon. Gentleman consider it ungenerous or inaccurate of me to have pointed out that in the last three years of his Administration fewer than 10,000 houses were built and that in the three years on which we are now embarking the programme is for 15,000?
Since the time when responsibility was transferred to the Minister of Public Building and Works, I am sure that the hon. Lady will have noted the steadily increasing programme of married quarters that were being built. It is true to say that every married quarter in the programme announced by the hon. Lady this afternoon up to at least 1966–67 was already in the pipeline when the present Administration took office.
Taking the figures which were given by the right hon. Gentleman in reply to a Question, the programme of the previous Government provided for the completion of 3,750 houses in the present financial year; next year the completions, again under the programme provided by the previous Government, were to be 4,500; and the year after that 5,400. Yet in 1967–68, that is, the final year of the period covered by the Bill, and the first year when the present Government can have any influence upon the number of completions, there is to be a drop of 300 in those numbers.
I want to turn for a moment to the question of cost. I again refer to a reply which was given by the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, who told us that the total cost of providing the number of married quarters required is in the region of £135 million at current prices. Yet this Bill provides over a three-year period for only £45 million, and, even allowing for the £28 million remaining under previous Acts, this will leave a gap of about £87 million at current prices before the married quarters programme can be completed.
The House would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman this evening how it is intended that the remainder of this programme is to be financed. The Bill only finances about one year's building over and above what has already been agreed in principle. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of a rolling programme three years ahead. It is difficult for the House to see how the Bill, which comes into operation on 31st March this year, is to provide for a rolling programme three years ahead at any time after 31st March.
One effect of the Bill is to transfer responsibility for the administration of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Acts to 496 the Minister of Public Building and Works. One reason, of course, for the transfer of responsibility for Service building to this Ministry was that responsibility for the co-ordination of research and development into modem methods of building should be concentrated in one Ministry. To do this, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was essential that the Ministry of Public Building and Works should have a sufficiently large building programme to be able to place development contracts, particularly for housing through the Services married quarters programme. I think that the hon. Lady, once again, was a little ungenerous in referring to the special arrangements which were being made inside the Ministry for the organisation of research and development in housing. The whole of that organisation was set up, as I understand, under the previous Administration. If there have been any changes or any improvements or any developments since the right hon. Gentleman took office, then the House, I am sure, would like to hear about them.
I think that the Minister, too, should use this opportunity of telling the House what progress has been made in the placing of development contracts for Service housing since he came into office. The hon. Lady spoke of 2,000 houses being built by industrialised methods. This fact was announced in a Press notice on 19th May, 1964, by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor.
Since the right hon. Gentleman came into office, has there been any addition to the number of houses being built under development contracts? I think that I am right in saying that the figure given by the hon. Lady was a slight underestimate, because in addition to the 2,000 houses being built under the programme to which she referred, 370 houses are being built under the 5M scheme at Catterick. The House would like to know whether any further development contracts have been placed, because the hon. Lady appeared to take some credit for the placing of these contracts which were in fact placed before she assumed responsibility for this matter.
The House would like to know, too, what progress has been made—these are the houses being built under the terms of previous Acts of this kind—with the scheme for 1,000 married quarters to be 497 built by factory methods for the Royal Navy at Gosport. Is that scheme going ahead? Has work actually started on the ground?
What thought is better given to the construction of isolated married quarters by methods of prefabrication? I was interested in this matter when I was at the Ministry, and I found some reluctance in the Service Departments to accept prefabricated houses, particularly where senior officers were concerned. What consideration is the Minister giving to this aspect of the matter?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and others referred to the effect of the Protection from Eviction Act on the demand for married quarters. I am certain that one effect of this Act will be to reduce the number of hirings. I am sure that it will reduce the number of people offering their houses as furnished accommodation for Service families.
Another effect will almost certainly be that those Service personnel who own houses arid who normally let them while they are serving abroad will find it more difficult to regain possession, and as a result of this Act there will be an onus on the Government to increase the married quarters programme.
En an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, the Minister said that the provision of interest rates was the same as in previous Acts. The previous Acts refer to the "appropriate rate". I think that the right hon. Gentleman will probably wish to check on that.
§ Mr. Sharples
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we welcome the fact that the Government have brought forward this Bill at all, but we wish that it went a great deal further than it does. We believe that it provides for too short a period—three years—to enable a continuing programme to be developed. We believe that it is too limited in scope to provide an adequate development programme on which the success of the nation's housing programme must depend to a large extent. We believe that it fails to lake into account the changed situation resulting from the introduction of the Protection from Eviction Act.
498 We welcome the Bill, but there are a great many questions to which we shall require answers either tonight or during the Committee stage.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)
Just to deal with the last point, I would like to point out that although those may be the side effects, the mere fact that in respect of Service tenancies the Crown is no longer relying upon its own position in evicting people will surely give large numbers of Service men a protection that they have never had before.
Listening to the debate tonight one would never have thought that this Government took office only on 15th October last. Every complaint that has been put tonight arises from an inquest on the administration of our predecessors. All the things that we are now examining arose from what happened under the previous Administration.
§ Mr. Pannell
No, I will not give way. The hon. Member came in late and made a speech in which he went over many points which had already been made by other Members. I do not intend to give way to him. I thought that his speech was peculiarly inept and that he could not have listened to the speech made by my hon. Friend at the beginning of the debate.
§ Mr. Kershaw
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Must this debate come to an end at ten o'clock, or can we go on all night?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
I understand that it was arranged that the debate should end at ten o'clock.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I understood that since the Bill originated in Committee of Ways and Means it was exempted business. We do not want to extend the proceedings, but it should be made clear that the right hon. Gentleman has ample time in which to reply.
§ Mr. Pannell
I was not disputing that. I was referring to the fact that there were the usual gentlemanly exchanges between the Front Benches, in which the hon. Member gave me the time at which he intended to rise and the time at which he intended to sit down. I know that it is exempted business.
§ Mr. Pannell
No. I think that since I have sat here all the time I am entitled not to be interrupted so early in my speech. Many things have been said, almost reaching contempt for the Chair, in connection with "phoney" points of order.
§ Mr. Kershaw
On a point of order. Is it in order for a Minister who blusters at the Box to say that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have been dealing with a "phoney" point of order? You gave a Ruling in a perfectly proper way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not a point of order. I was not in the Chair at the time, and did not hear it. I cannot give any Ruling on it.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am referring to the advice given not under your chairmanship, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but in a previous debate, when Mr. Deputy-Speaker on four occasions had to rebuke hon. Members opposite for interrupting speeches by putting points of order which he suggested were not points of order. I was saying that I am entitled to be allowed to get on with my speech.
Behind the Bill lies the question of the way in which we treat our Service men. Are we going to treat them as citizens? One thing that I have always admired about the United States is the terrific status enjoyed by the veterans. Generally speaking, any man who has put his body between his country and the enemy is entitled to rather better treatment than others, and not to worse treatment.
If we consider the conditions in some of the barracks that our Service men have had to live in—whether they he the naval barracks referred to by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) or the Knightsbridge Barracks—we realise that they are a reproach to this country. As regards the last 13 years at least, it can be said 500 in simple justice that this Government had nothing to do with the situation. So we are to a degree having an inquest on what has happened before.
At least, let us all agree upon this, that on both sides of the House we should try to do better in the future than has been done in the past. I went the other week to see the Invicta Barracks, at Maidstone, and I thought that they were probably among the best barracks in the world. I probably live nearer to Woolwich than any other Member of the House who is here tonight and I know the position there.
On the question of the Bill coming in earlier, it should have been noticed that there was plenty of time for me to make up my mind, because the operative date is 31st March, and, therefore, it was a matter of bringing in the Bill in good time. I answered a Question on the first day on which I ever answered Questions at all and the Answer which I gave to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) was:I am considering whether the Act should be renewed.I should have thought it reasonable that when any Minister came into a Department he should see whether the thing had to be financed this way or in another way. No Minister, especially in the present parliamentary situation, would lightly embark on legislation. I proceeded with a reasonable caution. It was not a matter of great urgency. There were other more urgent things on my plate when I arrived at the Ministry.
When I was asked again to give an assurance that the present considerable rate of building of married quarters would not be reduced, I said:That does not enter into the matter at all.I was considering whether there were other methods of financing this if we had wanted to use them. I explained this myself when I said:No, what we are considering here, as the hon. Member for Beckenham knows, is whether we shall proceed under legislation or by a different method. But, whatever happens I can give the hon. Member the full assurance that there will be no diminution, whichever way we run it, in the building of married quarters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 648–9.]That was the pledge at the beginning and I think that it is achieved as much under one system as the other. This is largely 501 a matter for the accountants. This Bill concerns three Ministries. Though I bring the Bill forward, I am the contractor. The client is the Ministry of Defence and the financing Ministry is the Treasury. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), with his experience of the War Office, would know full well that these are matters which have to be gone into by a new Administration.
I want to define the terms of the Bill. There was a great deal of misunderstanding in the debate about its scope and about what it does. It provides quarters—
§ Mr. Pannell
—almost entirely for Service personnel. The exceptions are such people as Army Department constabulary, who are civilians. In the main, it is Service personnel whom we are talking about.
§ Mr. Pannell
I think that, when there has been so much misunderstanding on this business, I must proceed in my own way. We had a long series of speeches, many of them from the other side of the House, so I shall be—
§ Mr. Pannell
That may well be so, but the hon. Gentleman made a speech and retired for a long time. I do not blame him, in the circumstances. Why should he listen to his colleagues? But he might listen to me while I attempt to give him the answer.
In reply to the question raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), the Vote by means of which these quarters will be financed will be one of the Votes of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, but it will be part of the Defence budget. I have never thought that one can ensure no reduction by this sort of accounting method, though the Ministry of Defence think that it is possible. I am not speaking now about whether this Government or another Government are in power. I have had experience of financial administration as chairman of finance committees of local authorities, and I know full well that in 502 any question of public expenditure this kind of thing is not decisive when it comes to a cut. I know that this is one of the sort of things in which the Ministry of Defence believes and it has been done in the way the Ministry want it. But I think that any Minister has the right at the beginning of his term of office to consider which way a project should be financed.
There has, of course, been a great deal said by hon. Members opposite. They have not been united on the question of the merger of the three former Service Departments' building organisations and the former Ministry. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) had something to say about this. I have seen letters from him in the files in my Department and I know of his doubts and misgivings on this matter. He will have to reconcile these with his own Front Bench.
I had previously been puzzled why this charge had been made in the way in which it has been made. I think it is understood better now that the thing has been in operation for some years and personnel are settling down. There has been an attempt to give the people in the Services the best things available in the civilian world. I do not think that it would be difficult to give them better barracks than under the old system. I know that there is discontent from time to time—
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman draws his inspiration—as Disraeli once said—from sources denied to Her Majesty's Government. Where has he been? He is very noisy.
I am sorry if I used the word "barracks" in this connection. I am speaking of married quarters. I was speaking about the organisation in the Ministry of Works by which we cater for the three Services. People are settling down. At first there was a great deal of unhappiness, which was inescapable because of the resentment of people and the loyalty of individuals to different Services. But anyone who thinks that we intend to unscramble the scrambled eggs 503 should think again. It will not happen. I do not wish to refer to the fact again—although the hon. Member said it as some sort of rebuke—that I am not in the Cabinet. The previous Minister was not always in the Cabinet, nor was the former Secretary of State for War. All sorts of people may consider themselves to have been demoted. I am sufficiently busy not to be in the Cabinet. This is a technocratic job.
§ Mr. Pannell
Does the hon. Gentleman mean this job, or the Cabinet? He will not have the chance. The previous Minister lost his seat and we are here to stay.
I ought to say why we are extending the legislation only for three years, because that is a cardinal point. If I cannot deal with all the points which have been raised I will see that those with which I do not deal are picked up within the Department.
This method of financing the programme has come to be well understood by the forces. To adopt a different method might cause disquiet. The alternative method of financing out of Votes is equally acceptable now that we have established a procedure whereby the Ministry of Defence, my Department and the Treasury work jointly on a programme in which we always look three years ahead.
There is no reason why capital expenditure by the Government should be met by loan rather than out of revenue. The Government normally finance their capital expenditure out of revenue. Whichever method of financing is adopted the sums in question have to be voted year after year in the Estimates. They are included in the total allotted for the Defence budget and have to be approved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for each year in the usual way.
These are largely questions of accounting. What is important is that a firm decision should be taken to build more married quarters and that the forward programme should look beyond the next financial year. I can assure hon. Members that we will take this matter up within the three years, in plenty of time. In this and the next two years £47 million 504 will be spent on building married quarters in the United Kingdom, nearly double the amount spent in the preceding three years. These are the only figures that matter in this argument.
The hon. Lady the Member for Devon-port asked about expected completions. Expected completions for the three Service are: for the Navy, 4,400, of which 4,000 come under the Bill; for the Army, 6,400, of which 6,000 come under the Bill and for the R.A.F., 4,200, of which 2,000 come under the Bill. I can assure the right hon. Member for Harrogate that married quarters for the Services will not be built unless the Services want them, for recruitment reasons and so on. They are, therefore, rightly, and have always been considered to be, a charge on the Defence Budget.
There is another misunderstanding here. I was asked whether this Bill would apply to the building of married quarters abroad. The Bill applies in Great Britain in areas where there is likely to be a long-term requirement of housing for the civilian population. If, as a result of Service redeployment, quarters become surplus, it would be possible to dispose of them, either to local authorities, which would be likely to be the main takers of whole estates, or to private individuals. In outlying and scarcely-populated areas and abroad the building of married quarters for the Services continues to be financed on the ordinary Votes.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Has there been any difficulty in the past with the disposal of married quarters to local authorities or other purchasers?
§ Mr. Pannell
These quarters and estates are, in the main, built in agreement with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. There is, therefore, a tie-up or liaison between the two Ministries. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman offhand or give him any specific examples of failure, but I will look into the matter and let him know the answer.
Several hon. Members expressed interest in the cost of building Service married quarters and how they compared with local authority housing. Other ranks' houses are similar in size, design and layout to local authority houses. The cost of construction of a soldier's three-bedroomed house is about £3,000, including roads, although the price also includes 505 certain other items, such as linoleum and standard lamps, which are not normally provided by local authorities. Officers' houses for the Services are built to a somewhat higher standard. All except senior officers' houses are semi-detached, with three or four bedrooms and a garage. The average cost for a four-bedroomed house for a commander in the Royal Navy, a major or a squadron leader is £5,200.
I think that I have answered most of the questions asked, except those put by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), who made out a considerable case for matters arising in his constituency at the Talavera Estate. Although this is not a complete answer, may I say that there has long been a serious scarcity of labour in the Aldershot area and that is why we have used, and still are using, industrialised systems to a great extent as against traditional building methods.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) referred to the failure of these houses, but I am sure that he will agree that what he said cannot be taken as an indictment of the present Government, for those houses were built at the time of the previous Administration.
§ Sir E. Errington
What I said was not an indictment of any Government. It is the responsibility of every Government to enable these people to live in decent comfort in these new houses. It has been said in the past that the best is hardly good enough for these people. I want that implemented, and I do not care which Government do it.
§ Mr. Pannell
That is quite all right. I hope that if the election had gone the other way the hon. Gentleman would have said the same—
§ Mr. Pannell
I accept the hon. Gentleman's case, and I did not take what he said as an indictment of myself. What was done happened under the previous Government, and I was mystified when I read of it in the Press. I will make the fullest inquiries—I know that the hon. Member is a good constituency Member. He will understand that one cannot go into these matters of detail in winding up a debate.
506 My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) expressed the hope that I would take my duties seriously. In the division of duties in my Department, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has a great deal to do with culture and the arts and things of that nature, and I have assumed prime responsibility for building. I take these things very seriously, indeed—
§ Mr. Loughlin
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the previous point to which he referred, will he deal with the faulty house construction mentioned by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), in connection with which I asked him to ensure that these contractors were not given future contracts by his Department?
§ Mr. Pannell
The answer is that I cannot necessarily condemn a contractor because something has gone wrong with a building. I have been long enough in the Ministry and in local government to know that all sorts of things can go wrong from time to time. We do, of course, insist that contractors are kept up to standard. It is in their own interests to see that they do, and I have explained the steps that have been taken.
The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport raised a lot of questions about the Navy. I can only say that I went to the department dealing with Navy works not very long ago, where we spoke about these sort of things in her constituency. We are trying to do rather better for the Navy. The hon. Lady knows full well that Navy building is almost an innovation. It has come up only very recently. I hope in due time myself to pay a visit when I go down there.
One of the things we are careful about on new estates is to lay out the gardens. We employ a landscape architect for that purpose. We are considering amenity as far as possible. I am quite certain that we build as cheaply as local authorities—
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Can the Minister tell us how the cost of flats compares with that of houses? We want that information in order to see how many units we can get.
§ Mr. Pannell
I cannot give that figure off the cuff, but the figure of £3,000 a bedroom for other ranks is averaged 507 out to cover both houses and flats. And, of course, the cost of the new quarters will be spread over a life of 60 years. If that is not specific enough, I will take it up in the Department tomorrow—
§ Mr. Pannell
If I said that, I am sorry. I have spoken of £3,000 for a three-bedroomed dwelling for other ranks.
I do not know that I have got very much left to reply to in this debate. Everybody here is concerned to ensure that the Services are better looked after—I am not making a political point here—in the future than they have been in the past. We must ensure that as we develop industrialised systems, and productivity rises, they get their fair share. They are people that deserve of us and of this Parliament the very best we can give them. To that end my Ministry will do its best.
§ Mr. Sharples
Will the Minister deal with two points? The first is the question of interest rates, on which he interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). The second is the question of development contracts under the terms of the Statute. This is a most important matter, but he has not touched on it.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not think there is much in the last point. The hon. Gentleman is probably on a better point about interest rates. We borrow money from the Treasury at the same rate as that at which it gets it. That is what we mean by the most favourable rates within the Act.
§ Mr. Sharples
The right hon. Gentleman said that the wording of the Bill was the same as that of the previous Acts. Will he correct that? I have the previous Acts before me.
§ Mr. Pannell
Of course, there is a technical difference. I will give the hon. Gentleman that point.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. lfor Davies.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.