I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is evident from the discussion which took place on the Money Resolution that the provisions of this Bill are not only acceptable but welcome to both sides of the House. None the less, it may perhaps be advantageous if I follow the usual rule and deal in a short time with the purpose and scope of the Bill and the reasons for supporting it.
As was explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in the Debate on the Money Resolution, the provisions of the Bill are largely financial. Its main purpose is, as a special and temporary measure, to put the provision of capital for Service housing more on the basis of the finance of housing generally, except where, as in outlying or overseas stations, Service housing is to be distinguished, as a separate defence need, from the general, ordinary housing needs of the nation. In other words, in so far as Service housing can be regarded as a part of and as a contribution to the national housing programme as a whole, we propose to put it more on the financial basis of the national programme itself.
To this end it is proposed under the Bill that the Service Departments shall be enabled to borrow money to provide approved married quarters in the United Kingdom up to a maximum of £40 million over the five-year period beginning 1st April, 1950. Any money so borrowed will be repaid by the Service Departments over a 60-year period. The annual repayments will be carried on the Service Estimates in the normal way. There is, therefore, no question of inflation of defence expenditure. It is merely that the Service Departments will be allowed under the Bill to finance a certain proportion of their housing on borrowed money, in the same way as local authorities do, rather than to find all the capital required from their current revenue. I suggest that this exceptional course is justified by the special needs of the Services to overtake the heavy arrears which have undoubtedly accumulated in the provision of married quarters.
It is the policy of the Government, and indeed I would imagine it is the common policy of both sides of the House, that the highest possible proportion of our peace-time defence requirements should be met by Regular Forces. It is therefore necessary, I submit, in the national interest that we should take all proper steps to stimulate recruitment to the Regular Forces; and in this connection the provision or absence of married quarters plays a part of very great importance. After all, those who have been in any one of the Services will agree with me when I say that in the nature of things the Service man's job requires him to be mobile. He and his family have to be ready to move from place to place during his Service as his duty may require.
In present circumstances, unless the married man can be provided with a married quarter, his position in searching for accommodation as he moves from one area to another at relatively short intervals—at least, that has been the case in recent years owing to the unbalance of the Forces following the run-down—has been one of almost intolerable difficulty. The difficulty is not merely that there is an insufficient number of married quarters. It is that the married Service man, by reason of the nature of his work, is in a special difficulty. Owing to the long waiting lists of permanent local residents, local authorities are often unable to help him. Until the problem has been tackled decisively, there is no doubt that the married Service man will remain at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the community. This is bound to be a grave deterrent to recruiting and to the re-engagement of our experienced men.
Speaking from my own experience since I have been at the Air Ministry, I am satisfied that the position of many Service men, both officers and other ranks, has become a real social problem. Many of them have been compelled to put their families in furnished rooms, for which in many cases they have had to pay exorbitant rents. This has placed a financial burden on them, occasioning them worry and anxiety which, in my view, is bad for them and also for the country.
It may be asked why it is that greater progress has not been made in the past in providing married quarters for the Forces, and perhaps I may enumerate one or two reasons. In the first place, there is the fact that, as far as the Army and the Royal Air Force are concerned, there is a greatly increased requirement over pre-war days. At this moment both are considerably greater than they were before the war. Furthermore, there is a higher proportion of young married Service men and officers. It will be remembered that before the war an officer had to attain the age of 30, and an other rank the age of 25, before qualifying for a marriage allowance, whereas the ages have now been reduced from 30 to 25 in the case of the officer and from 25 to 21 in the case of the other rank.
Another reason is a financial one. The Service Estimates, since the end of the war, have been necessarily the subject of drastic pruning, and I am afraid that the building programmes of each has suffered in consequence. We have found that the condition of providing all the capital required for Service housing out of current Service Votes has acted very restrictively on their housing programmes. There is no doubt that other housing authorities in the country would also have found their efforts handicapped if they had had to find their capital for housing requirements out of revenue. Under the Bill, the Service Departments will be able to plan their housing programmes on lines similar to those of the local authorities. The Minister of Defence gave an estimate on the last occasion when we discussed this matter, and perhaps I may be allowed to repeat it. The Services estimate that they need another 30,000 new permanent houses before their most urgent requirements can be met, and these we hope to provide at the annual average rate of 5,000.
No, Sir. The whole basis of the Bill is to deal with the problem of married quarters as part of the national housing problem of the United Kingdom. This average rate of 5,000 a year in the United Kingdom is about double the rate we have so far achieved in any year since the war.
I can speak only for my own Department. It is 4,000 for the Royal Air Force for the next three years.
As to the type of houses to be built, they will be financed by loans, subject of course, to the approval of the Treasury, and the only types so far approved are within the limits of size adopted in the case of houses built by local authorities. It has also been agreed that money should be advanced by way of loans only for Service housing likely to be of value for general housing purposes in the event of the accommodation no longer being required for Service purposes.
May I at this juncture give the noble Lord the assurance he asked for on the last occasion. It is certainly not intended to exercise the powers of approval in a narrow and unduly restrictive manner.
As far as the allocation between officers and other ranks is concerned, our plans are based on a careful census of demand for the various ranks of the three Services, and are intended to meet these demands equitably. As I said earlier, since the end of the war many officers have had great difficulty in finding suitable accommodation, except at exorbitant rents. Building since the war has been almost entirely confined to the provision of other ranks' quarters, and it is now intended, I think rightly, to make a start in dealing with the arrears in the provision of quarters for officers.
Finally, the House will perhaps expect me to say something about the effect of these proposals on the civilian housing programme. The Minister of Defence stated:
The total housing programme of the Services, whether financed from loans or from Votes, will continue to be provided for, as at present, within the total allocation for housing under the capital investment programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 2035.]
The magnitude of this programme is not, therefore, affected. On the other hand, it is clear from the figures I have quoted that the number of new houses necessary to make this vast improvement in the provision of married quarters for the Services is extremely small in relation to the housing programme of the country as a whole. As compared with the size of that programme, the Service man has certainly not up to now been allocated a fair share of the national housing resources.
Above all, I emphasise that it is wrong to think of the Services housing programme and the civilian housing programme as being distinct and as not reacting upon each other; in fact, the housing programme of this country is one problem and not two. The Services housing programme is part of the national housing programme, and to the extent that we can increase the number of married quarters in the Services, the demands on civilian accommodation will be correspondingly reduced, the problem of the civilian authorities to that extent therefore being alleviated. What we are doing is to leave the total size of the national programme unaltered, but to allocate what is only a slightly larger but more equitable share of that programme to the three Services. To sum up, the effect of this Bill will be to bring the Service man more into line with his civilian counterpart, and give him a fairer share of the nation's housing resources than he has enjoyed in the past.
This is not a party Bill. As the Secretary of State for Air knows, we gave it our blessing on the last occasion we discussed this matter, and we should have been quite ready, to use a vulgar phrase, to allow it to go through "on the nod." Without wishing to be effusive in any way, may I say that we have had a valuable speech from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has cleared up one or two points in connection with the Bill? I welcome this opportunity to say something which I did not mention in the previous discussion, because in the Debate on the Financial Resolution we were necessarily curtailed, as one is not allowed to raise matters except in relation to what is actually in the Resolution, whereas on the Bill we can speak more freely.
The point I want to raise is in connection with housing overseas, but before doing so I should like to withdraw a suggestion I made to the Minister of Defence on the previous occasion. I then suggested, on the spur of the moment, that priority should be given, or that the Minister or the Government should use their powers to insist on priority being given, to married Service men in the allocation of houses. It will be remembered by those who were present at the consideration of the Financial Resolution that it was made clear that the Government will have powers of requisitioning, and I suggested that they should, if necessary, requisition houses. However, I think that that would cause, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated at the time, a good deal of criticism and might do harm to the Services; though in justification of what I said I would quote from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just himself said, namely, that the Services had not been allocated a fair share of the housing programme.
This, as I say, is a non-party Bill, and I do not want to make too much of the point, but I would remind the House that we have constantly on this side of the House—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), who, I hope will catch your eye later on, Sir, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) particularly—said that housing for married officers and n.c.o.'s in the Army was disgraceful. We have made that point again and again over the last three or four years, and we cannot but say today that we regard ourselves as having been justified by the admission of the Government that exceptional measures have to be taken.
Now I come to the point about the comparatively narrow scope of the Bill. I should like to see the words "Great Britain "—and I am entitled, I think, to raise this point on Second Reading of the Bill—taken out; and I intend to use the word "military" in the proper, grammatical sense of the term as including all three Services; and I should like to see the term "military housing" applied, within, of course, the scope of the Bill more generally than as laid down. I will give my reasons for that. I hope I shall succeed in persuading the House through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that they are powerful reasons.
First of all, I would quote from what the Secretary of State said in justifying this Bill. He said that the circumstances of his profession—meaning by that, the profession of a Service man—"require him to be mobile, and the search for accommodation has been one of almost incredible difficulty." I hope that nobody in the House will be less favourable—it would be a wounding accusation to make, and I should hesitate to make it against any hon. Member, to say he was less favourable—I hope that nobody in this House is less favourable to the housing of the man who gives his services to the country in the Armed Forces than to housing civilians. The Service man has as much right to be considered as the most valuable civilians, whether miners agricultural labourers, or anyone else— just as much right; and that is putting it extremely mildly. So the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that "the search for accommodation has been one of almost incredible difficulty."
What happens now? After going through poignant anxiety, separated very often from his wife and children, the young married officer—and many other officers are married—or n.c.o. or private soldier—and I think that there are more marriages in the Services now than there were; and this applies to the airmen, as the Secretary of State knows—obtains accommodation, after months of waiting and going through poignant anxiety, near his station at home; then he is sent overseas. We have a far greater proportion of our troops overseas than we have ever had—excluding India; but the case of India does not arise really, because there was accommodation there. So he is sent overseas to find that he has not the slightest chance of getting a house for his wife and children. I quite agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the search for accommodation is one of almost incredible difficulty.
By a most happy chance the Secretary of State for War has given his views to a newspaper, and as one is entitled to refer to what a Minister says in an interview, I propose to quote from a report in the "Daily Mail" of today.
War Minister Shinwell now knows why he had to answer so many questions in the House of Commons about poor housing conditions for British Army families in the Suez Canal Zone. After 70 minutes visiting family quarters and private homes at Fayid today he declared: ' I had no idea accommodation was so bad'.
I shall not read the whole of the article, but it goes on later like this:
Mr. Shinwell had previously visited army quarters, including ' married families' villages,' which are run on holiday camp lines and consist of bed-sitting rooms with a communal social centre and are called 'The Butlins.' In the self-contained quarters of Colonel George Marc, to which they had been moved after the doctor said Mrs. Marc must leave 'The Butlins,' Mr. Shinwell looked round and said: 'This is disgraceful. The walls must be done up at once. They are damp.' Mrs. Mary Marc replied: 'They were done up a month ago.' Mr. Shinwell: 'This must be rectified immediately.' General 'Bobby' Erskine: 'There is no money.' Mr. Shinwell: 'Money must be found.'
I shall get myself in trouble, and eventually get the Secretary of State for War
into trouble, if I so constantly praise him, as I have done from this bench on several occasions; but I must say, as he has said what he has, that I for one trust the Secretary of State to carry out his promise to see that these things are remedied at once.
If I may be permitted to give a personal recollection of those conditions I would say that I know—or used to know—the Canal Zone and Fayid and what the conditions are like there as well as anybody in this House, because I was stationed there, and I know what it must be like in the heat of an Egyptian summer for families to live under such conditions—British families. No matter if anybody in the House objects to Service men as such, at least he will admit that these troops are British. They are being asked to live in what I can only describe as coolie conditions—conditions in which no wealthy Egyptian lives. Does the hon. Member see something funny in that?
Oh, I see. The hon. Member does not like my reference to coolies. Well, I will not make it. Perhaps it was an unfortunate one. However, they have to live under such conditions.
I quite agree. If I may say so, I am obliged for that very friendly interruption. The nomenclature coolies is rather out of date and might be regarded as offensive. However, I believe I shall have the whole House with me in this, in saying that those are conditions under which our men should not live. To be perfectly fair it is difficult unduly to blame the Government for this state of affairs in the Canal Zone—although it has taken them a very long time to find out—because the real trouble arose, the original trouble arose, from a demand by the Egyptian Government—and I am not entitled to go into that now, because it does not arise on this Bill—a demand to which the Government, unfortunately, agreed, that our troops should leave Cairo and go to the Canal Zone.
However, I could mention many other places besides the Canal Zone, and I would, therefore, contend with all the emphasis I can put on the point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that this Bill should be applied overseas. I can see no reason why it should not be. It would rest with the appropriate authorities to decide whether it was or was not possible from the economic point of view, in the circumstances of a particular station—to erect houses. For example, it may be said—it could hardly be said in public because it would be giving away State secrets—but it may be said that our troops may not remain in that particular quarter along the Canal for long. They may be accommodated better elsewhere, because the decision of the Egyptian Government is not, I imagine, irrevocable. But there are other places where it is quite obvious that our troops must remain—at least, I hope so—for a very long time—Hong Kong, for instance. This Bill should apply much more widely than it does.
There is another reason in support of my argument. I have recently visited the troops in Germany and had the advantage of seeing—I must admit through the kindness of the authorities at the War Office, including Ministerial authority—the conditions under which our troops, both married and single men, are living—conditions of comfort such as our troops have never lived under before. Whatever may be said against the Germans, they certainly knew how to build barracks, and they were determined to see that the comfort of the soldier was well looked after.
In those German barracks there are admirable living conditions, with excellent married quarters provided for a considerable number of the married men, which contrasts strikingly with some of the scandalous accommodation provided in this country. That seems to me to strengthen my contention that this Bill should cover a wider ambit. A unit may be sent to Germany and the men, many of them married, both officers and other ranks, will live in real comfort there for perhaps a year or less, and may then suddenly be moved to a place such as that I have referred to in the Canal Zone.
I am grateful to the House for apparently sympathising with my point of view. I make that suggestion to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Although I do not ask him to make any definite promise now, I do ask him to see, between now and the Committee stage, whether he cannot support my contention that this Bill should apply outside the United Kingdom. I ask him not to turn down the suggestion at once, but to consider it to see whether the scope of the Bill can be widened. Of course, I see the financial difficulty, but in my opinion the Bill has at present too narrow an ambit. Apart from that, although my hon. Friends doubtless have some other points to raise, I have nothing further to say except that we on this side of the House support the Bill.
The placid amity between the noble Lord and the Secretary of State for War was best summarised by a phrase used recently by the noble Lord himself—" Arsenic and Old Lace." Today we had the spectacle of "Old Lace" calling in aid the views of the Secretary of State as related recently in a newspaper. I do not complain of that, and I am very glad that in the latter part of his speech the noble Lord made the qualification that the accommodation conditions in the Fayad area are due, in the main, to the action of the Egyptian Government following the expiry of our Treaty in 1946, which of course meant that we had to Vacate the living accommodation in Egypt proper, and house our men in what is regarded as emergency accommodation in the Canal Zone.
The noble Lord seeks to widen the scope of the Bill. That is perfectly proper, and he is quite within his rights, and if I am fortunate enough to be appointed to the Committee I hope to be able to support him in that. It is a matter of great importance, because while we are concerned about the accommodation we provide for our men serving in this country, we must equally be concerned about the accommodation provided for the men serving overseas.
My main reason for intervening very briefly tonight is to invite the Civil Lord to take part in the Debate on this very interesting Measure which deeply affects the lives of men who are serving their country. The Minister of Defence spoke on the Money Resolution; the Secretary of State for Air has introduced the Second Reading of this Bill; and I think something ought to be said about the consideration that is to be given to the Royal Navy. As the Civil Lord is responsible for the naval establishments perhaps he will say something later on.
I would draw to his attention the fact that the structure of the Royal Navy has changed considerably since the war. Whereas normally there was barrack accommodation at various places such as Portsmouth, Chatham, Rosyth and Devonport, today the picture has changed, because the structure of the Royal Navy has been altered in this respect. Battleships have given way to aircraft carriers as striking weapons, which means that greater priority must be given to the training of those who serve in the Naval Air Arm. As I understand it, there has been possibly a 40 per cent. increase in the personnel of that branch of the Royal Navy known today as the Naval Air Arm.
If I remember aright, in the Debate on the Navy Estimates the Civil Lord said that priority was being given to the housing of Naval Air Arm personnel at remote stations. It is obvious that if we are to continue training Naval Air Arm personnel—not only flying personnel, but those who have to maintain the aircraft and all the others concerned—we must maintain these remote stations all over the country, in both England and Scotland, and the House ought to have some assurance that the men who have to live in these remote areas in the course of their training will not have their housing priority rights in any way affected by the provisions of this Bill. I therefore hope the Civil Lord will say something about that aspect.
As my noble Friend pointed out, the arguments on this Measure were largely canvassed at an earlier stage, but there are rather special reasons why I seek to make one or two observations about the Bill on its Second Reading. The real reason is that in or nearby the Division which I have the honour to represent in this House, the City of Chester, there are many Service establishments. It is the headquarters of Western Command, there are a depot and training establishments, a military hospital, and quite close by two Royal Air Force stations. As the House will appreciate, that involves the attraction to this area of a very large number of married Service men and their families, for whom it is only right that proper and adequate accommodation should be found; that is to say, suitable accommodation within proper reach of the establishment at which the soldier or airman is serving.
We have been told that this is a very substantial need. On the Money Resolution the Minister of Defence put the total number required at 59,000, and the number of new quarters which must be built at some 30,000 or 31,000. It is therefore a considerable need. It is also a very human need, because we all have well in mind the long family separations which the war involved, and it seems very hard that now, in time of peace, there should be separations necessitated by the difficulties of obtaining accommodation. Let me cite just one case which I have submitted to the Secretary of State for Air. A married couple returned from an overseas station five years ago; the wife is living in Chester, but the husband is stationed at an R.A.F. station in the south of England, and for five years they have necessarily been living apart, with a small boy of three who scarcely knows his father. That is a situation we are all anxious to put right if it is possible to do so.
In these circumstances, I very warmly welcome a Measure designed to help to provide more married quarters. I observe from the right hon. Gentleman's observations the other day that it is hoped to start 6,500 married quarters in the year 1950–51, and I suppose we must assume that that is the best that can be done. The sooner that these quarters are provided the less acute will become the shortage so far as civilian needs are concerned in certain areas. In that Division which I represent, the problem is a very real one, and if we can have more married quarters the civilian problem will be eased to some extent.
There is one further point to which I wish to refer, and I think that it is a matter to which I am entitled to make special reference as affecting Chester. In that area, the civilian shortage of houses is really very acute, as unhappily it is in so many other parts of the country. So acute is it, that the authorities are considering, I believe, seeking to acquire some of the hutted camps, or part of them, if they are no longer needed for Service requirements. Anything for a roof for many of these unhappy people. I hope that there will be some reciprocity in this matter, and that if more married quarters are to be provided or indeed before, the Service Ministers will be willing to permit, where it is really vital that roofs should be found in any part, hutted camps to be used for civilian housing, if they are not essential for Service purposes.
This is a rather special point, but I think that it is one of some importance in the problem with which we are concerned. I welcome this Measure, and I hope that those responsible will have listened, as I sure they have, to the plea of my noble Friend the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), that there may be some extension of the ambit of the Bill thereby an improvement may be made in overseas stations where, as we well know, many accommodation difficulties obtain.
I am sure that Members of this House, no matter what their point of view, will be delighted to give every facility for this Measure to be passed into law and to provide the necessary finances for the housing of the troops. I think that it is generally accepted in this country by those who know the barracks of either the Navy or Army personnel, that they are inadequate and crude methods of housing those who want to join the Forces to serve their country. After all, these men are entitled to a special measure of protection because they are giving their services to a greater extent than the ordinary civilian population, and are investing their lives in any difficulty in which the country is involved. To that extent we are entitled to afford them even greater protection.
I am rather astounded to learn of two cases of serving men whose wives qualified for houses under a local authority but who were refused the houses because their husbands were in the Forces, and were told that not until they came out of the Forces would they be given the houses. Under those conditions it is more and more important that the Service Departments and the House shall provide accommodation for these men. The right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) mentioned the housing of troops in Germany. I have a son serving in the Air Force, and he was glad when he was in Germany because the conditions there were so much superior to those in Britain. That is a strange contradiction.
I served at one time, when 17 years of age, for five months in the Royal Navy, and I was at the Chatham Naval Dockyard. The method of housing men there was the crudest that I have ever seen, and one not likely to give the men concerned a fine impression of the country's approval of their efforts. In 1938 I saw a number of the 'barracks provided at that time in and around Berlin, in Vienna and in Prague. It struck me when I saw the accommodation in one or two towns in Czechoslovakia and thought of the barracks at Maryhill, Glasgow, and at Chatham, what a strange contradiction it was that we were always asking people to go out and defend inferior conditions against the superior conditions of these other countries where the rulers were of a different brand from ours.
A drive should be made in housing. I have been prepared at all times since I came to this House nearly 20 years ago, to support any Government, no matter what its political colour, if it was prepared to devote its time to solving this terrible housing problem. It is a terrible thing not only for the civilian population but for the serving men. I have friends who are in the Forces and who have been waiting for accommodation. Some of them have got accommodation in my constituency, and they found that the accommodation provided was very much inferior to that which they were used to and brought up in.
It does not do for the country to expect men to be content to leave their wives and families and themselves to live in inferior conditions. Therefore, when we are making what we call a citizens' Army' in this country and are expecting to develop a higher ideal so that men will feel that they are prepared in an emergency to give their all in defence of that which appears to them of real value, we have to see that we not only appeal to men to serve, but in return we give them the best conditions that can possibly be given to men who are serving their country.
This Bill by the provision of some £40 million for that purpose will not provide a tremendous number of houses, in view of the amount which it takes to provide a satisfactory abode for any individual. I know quite well that the Secretary of State for Air will do everything in his power, in conjunction with other Ministers, to see that housing accommodation is provided for these people. I sympathise tremendously with the plea made by the noble Lord for men going out into a hot climate to which they have never been used and living in conditions which taxed their physical powers to the utmost. I would say, having served three years in the volunteers in the old days, that I would have preferred living in an ordinary tent to the conditions in which some soldiers had to live.
My experience has been that it has taken too long to come to a proper approval and a proper estimate of the value of these men. We are no longer in the days when we took unemployed men, gave them a shilling each, threw them into any kind of barracks and expected them in an emergency to defend their country. Democracy is on trial, and we must prove that it can not only put forward ideals from the platform and in the Press, but can translate them into action on behalf of those who are ready to defend democracy. I welcome the change of attitude both on the part of the public and the Government, and I trust that not only will the provisions of the Bill be carried into law but that the utmost effort will be made to improve the conditions of the men in the Services.
I am glad to join in the welcome that has been given to a Bill which is long overdue. I am sure that anyone who is aware of the inadequacy of the present provisions will agree with that statement. I am glad that the method by which the money is to be raised for the building of married quarters is likely to fee effective because it will mean that there will be a regular flow of new buildings. When in the past there has been agitation and attention has been drawn to bad cases, something has been done, but generally financial stringency has been put forward as a reason for calling a halt. Under the Bill, however, provision is made for the work to continue.
I am glad that we are providing married quarters not only on the grounds of decent conditions for those who are serving, but also because I am sure that the Service chiefs will find that it will assist recruiting. The type of man who is joining the Services now is one we are glad to have; he appreciates the value of family life more than was generally thought to be the case in years gone by. We hear a great deal about the value of family life as a basis for all that is best in our national life, and if that is true of civilian life, it applies equally well in the Services. Not only will the provision of more married quarters attract men to the Services, but I believe that they will be willing to stay in the Services longer than they otherwise would have done.
Everyone is agreed, except the Government, that the Bill is too narrow in scope. I would say that it is just as much or more necessary to provide married quarters overseas. There is considerable merit in the way in which it is proposed to raise the money for married quarters at home, and I believe that this is equally valid in connection with the provision of married quarters overseas. The Minister of Defence said the other day that this would offend Treasury regulations. I hope we shall not let a small matter of that kind, which savours to me of "red tape," stand in the way of a solution to a really urgent problem. If a man is serving in this country he is able to go home on leave occasionally to see his wife. He cannot do that if he is serving overseas.
A great many in that position, particularly those in Hong Kong, have been away from their families throughout the whole of the war, and their hardship is particularly great. It seems probable that these men will be kept overseas for some time to come. Difficult as it is to get alternative married quarters in this country, it is impossible for such men to get them overseas unless they are provided by the Service Departments.
I, therefore, ask the Government to meet what I believe is the wish of all Members in the House, and remove the blemish which confines the Bill to married quarters at home. Every argument in support of the provision of married quarters at home applies with same force, even greater force, to the question of the provision of married quarters overseas, and I hope the Government will take the earliest opportunity of extending the Bill in this direction.
I wish to join in the chorus of approval which is being given to the principle of the Bill. As has been said by hon. Members on all sides of the House, married quarters are absolutely necessary for all ranks in the Services. Frequent changes of station and the many new camps built during the war and afterwards, both for the Army and the Air Force, have made things especially difficult for married men in the Services. I am fully aware that conditions are equally difficult for married men in the Navy. I would not presume to make a suggestion as to where and how naval married quarters should be provided, but I am well aware that there is a great need and demand for them.
My only regret, like that of other hon. Members and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), is that the Bill does not provide for married quarters overseas. The difficult position abroad has already been pointed out, and I would only say that what has been said about the example of Germany is nothing new. All those who served in the Rhine Army in 1919 and subsequently, when the greater part of our troops were quartered in German barracks know how good those barracks and ancillary buildings were; they were an example to all of us. It is dreadful to read the account, which must be presumed to be accurate, of the Secretary of State for War's visit to the married quarters in the Canal Zone in Egypt. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that his directions—they seem to have been directions—will be carried out.
I wish the Bill could apply to married quarters abroad, because there must be great need for them. It may have escaped notice that in moving from the Canal Zone of Egypt we evacuated camps at Abassiyeh, Cairo and Alexandria where, during our occupation. the proportion of married quarters and accommodation for troops was quite good. We have now apparently moved troops into the Canal Zone in pursuance of the recent agreement with Egypt, where they are housed in huts which may—and I make the comparison—meet the needs of the natives of the country, which are not so great as those of Europeans, for anyone who has served there and in other tropical countries knows that the natives are often happy in conditions which are intolerable to Europeans. I nearly said that to put Europeans and European married people into what appeared to be huts and which might possibly be appropriate for the fellaheen to live in is very nearly cruelty for white people.
This Bill is putting the Services on the same footing as civil local authorities in regard to housing. The housing programmes of local authorities are financed by loan, and anybody who has ever had any experience of trying to get money allotted out of revenue for the purpose of the provision of buildings of any kind for the Services, however necessary, will realise how difficult it was. Buildings are always amongst the first things to be cut out when economy is necessary. If we can borrow money on reasonable terms there seems to be every prospect of the buildings materialising, and of our married people in the Services being well housed instead of inadequately housed as at the present time.
I should not go so far as to say that there are no good married quarters. There were some quite good ones before the war, but many of the old barracks have been evacuated, and these new camps have come into being in which it will take time to provide married quarters. I put forward as a suggestion—I do not know whether it is feasible or not—that where there are temporary huts in a camp prefabricated buildings should be erected because they can be moved more economically, and this a speedier way of getting the married quarters added to those camps. I do not wish to detain the House for any time. I merely join with other Members in welcoming this Bill and the method of raising the necessary money by loan. I should also like to express the hope that it may be possible later to amend the Bill so as to provide the necessary quarters for some of our married people abroad.
I want to add a few words of welcome to this Bill and to join in general support of it. I was interested to hear the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) talk of the old types of barracks and the slums which exist today and which the Army are occupying. These have existed for many years, and if by this Bill we can even seek to rectify that position, I am certain that Members in all parts of the House will be grateful. I should not like to cross swords with the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), but I remember visiting the barracks at Abassiyeh, and certainly parts of them left a good deal to be desired. There were parts which I would not like to live in, and I hope that that type of building will be reduced under this Bill.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of visiting the Army manoeuvres in Germany, and in the Sennelager in the Paderborn area, which was also visited by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham, I took the opportunity to talk to the troops about conditions in the Army. There were no general complaints about conditions in the Services, but there was on the question of housing. Regular Service men, including officers, N.C.Os. and other ranks, had one complaint—there was no housing accommodation available for their wives and families. I should like to see provided the type of accommodation which is available in Sennelager. A lot has been said against those who commanded the German troops, but at least they made proper and decent accommodation available for the men under their command.
The British troops said the only real complaint they had was not only that accommodation was not available in our own country or in Germany, but that when they were sent from Germany to some other theatre in which troops were required, it meant leaving their wives and families behind. That became intolerable from the point of view of family life, and added tremendously to the expenses of the men concerned, because they were expected to find accommodation for their wives and families at home, and they had to try to make suitable arrangements for themselves wherever they went. This was one point of real concern to the men in the Forces, and it was the one thing which would compel those to whom I spoke, to leave the Forces. We cannot overstress that aspect.
I want to say a word about the contribution which this Bill makes to solving the housing problem. On a previous occasion there was some criticism to the effect that any houses given to the Forces would be subtracted from the general numbers available for the civil population. That is not necessarily so, and while I should like to see the whole housing programme and house production stepped up to the very last limit, I do not think we should divide it into two classes—civilians and Service men. After all, they are all part of the same community.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would be better to have an increased allocation of houses and not have the allocation of houses for the Forces deducted from the numbers of civilian houses?
I do not disagree with that. What we have to think of is what can be obtained, and whether it is suggested that there should be 200 houses or 220 houses it does not really matter. The thing that does count is, how many houses can actually be built.
I do not think that that has anything to do with the Bill we are discussing. If the Army were dependent on houses to sell for housing accommodation, they would have very little of it. This has been a very amicable Debate, and I should not like an interjection of that kind to upset the harmony. This is a matter of concern for all of us whether we are out of the Forces or in them. I hope the Service Ministers will give consideration to the plea for accommodation for the Services overseas. It is the one thing which would bring happiness to the lives of these men. Along with other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to give my general approval to the Bill.
In welcoming this Bill, I too regret that its scope is not wide enough. It ought to be extended to include the Services overseas. With what has been said by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) I entirely agree, except on one point where he made a comparison with housing conditions before the war. My recollection is that there were more houses available in proportion to the numbers in the Services than there are today. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman voted before the war on the Service Estimates, but a great many of his friends voted against those Estimates and in so doing, voted against the building of married quarters.
I have only two points to put on the Bill. When these houses are being built I hope they will not be erected in little clumps nor, in the case of the Air Force, on the edge of the airfield. At the beginning of the last war houses had to be evacuated because they were dangerous where they stood. Houses were always built closely together. The married quarters were known as "Harmony Row." I would ask the Ministers responsible to get some real planning into the scheme, so that the houses will be widely dispersed over a fairly large area.
I also hope that the Air Ministry and the Admiralty will agree about the layout and the design of the houses in their respective Services. It may be that in a few years to come that there will be great integration between the Air Force and the Navy. We all hope that if we have to retain the fighting Services, we shall have one fighting Service. It may be a matter of policy that the Air Force will have to change their airfields, but I should like to feel that these quarters were laid out so that this could be done without inconvenience.
A lot of money, £40 million, is being voted in the Bill. This has been a very happy Debate, but we have not been told when the building is to start. I should like to know when the bricks and mortar are to be put on the site and when the houses are to be put up. How many are to be built in the next 12 months? How many in the second 12 months? I am afraid that I did not hear the whole of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech.
I only hope that the figure will be lived up to and perhaps improved upon. After the right hon. and learned Gentleman's visit to the Middle East, I hope that he will be able to devote some of his efforts to this matter before he goes out of office. I welcome the Bill and I want it to be on the Statute Book, but I should like to feel that it is a real Bill and not one introduced for the sake of having an attractive Bill in the next few months. I want to feel that it is a real Bill and that the houses are to go up. I ask the Minister to give us a definite assurance that plans are under way and that the matter is being considered in respect of sites and materials. If I can get that assurance, I shall go home feeling very happy indeed.
I want to make it perfectly plain that I am in complete agreement with all hon. Members who are seeking the very best accommodation for people in the service of the Government. On the Financial Resolution last week, and in the Bill also, all we have is the proposal to find the money. While many hon. Members have discussed pre-war housing conditions and have sought for an improvement at a very early date, we have had no evidence yet of how we are to approach the problem of building houses.
From my knowledge of previous Housing Bills I think it is customary to give us some indication, first of the understanding which has been come to with the local authorities, then about the method of building, the harnessing of the building labour and the type of buildings we are to erect. Surely the present Bill is sufficiently important for us not merely to discuss taking the money out of the Consolidated Fund but to be offered some practical evidence of how we are to approach the problem of building the houses. Everybody knows that housing is at least No. 2 priority in Britain. I accept the view put forward by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the finding of full employment and the building of industry are priority No. 1. If housing is even priority No. 2, it is nevertheless a very important problem to the people of this country.
I want to ask the Minister to give us some evidence about the relationship between the responsible authorities and the Defence Forces. Can he tell us how they are coming together to discuss this problem of housing? It is not sufficient for the Minister merely to come here and tell us we are going to build houses in Britain. Surely we should be told that there is some kind of plan for the building of those houses. No housing programme can be dealt with in this country without some kind of approach to the local authorities.
I want to know the intention of the Minister of Defence and those associated with him in the approach to the local authorities. Is it intended to have an understanding that these houses will be part of the ordinary housing scheme, but specially reserved for the Armed Forces? If members of the Armed Forces are to live in the community there should be no segregation of any kind, with Army houses here and civilian houses there. Have we any plan on those lines?
Secondly, I want to ask about the labour. It is an extremely important matter. I asked a Question about it fast week, but received very little satisfaction. If these houses were being built abroad—I agree with hon. Members who have pleaded for the Bill to be extended, because if we are sending people abroad, obviously they should get the finest accommodation we can provide—I make bold to say that we should ask the skilled men in the Army to engage in the building. I do not think there can be any doubt about that. We should ask the men in the Forces who have the necessary skill to engage in the erection of houses in addition to undertaking their Army responsibilities. I asked last week what was the Government's attitude to that problem, and there was no answer.
We are depleting the building industry every week because of conscription. Do not let any hon. Member take me up for having a pacifist attitude on this matter, because that would be quite wrong. The fact is that the number engaged on actual house-building is going down and the people concerned are going into the Armed Forces. Are they to be used to assist in the building programme, apart from their ordinary military duties? If they are not, can we be told why not? It is of the utmost importance. I would make this final observation on this point, that if the civilian population knew that we were decreasing the building industry by putting men into the Army and then not using them to assist in the building of houses for the Army but were actually taking away more men to build Army houses, they would feel that we were making the housing problem even more serious for the civilian population.
I make no apology for stating again that I represent a city that, even with its present building programme, cannot overtake for the next 20 years the claims of the civilian population, although it has the most deplorable houses that can be found anywhere in Great Britain. I have no desire to aggravate that feeling of discontent, but I think that we shall be bound to aggravate it if we deplete our building forces and do not utilise them to assist in building while they are in the Army I ask to be told what understanding we are to have with the civilian authorities in the building of these houses. Will the houses be built as part of a general scheme for house building in the community? Thirdly, how are we to utilise the labour of the building trade workers who have been transferred into the Army?
We have had a formidable array of support for the suggestion put forward by my noble friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that the Bill should be widened in its scope. I should like to support the plea that we make special provision for overseas housing. I make this important qualification in the support that has been given to my noble Friend's suggestion. He himself mentioned that there might be financial complications. I certainly would not like to see £40 million, which covers the total expenditure under the Bill, having to include also housing overseas. We must realise that there is plenty of work to be done with the £40 million inside this country without having to disperse it even wider, and therefore, if, as I hope, the Government extend the scope of the Bill, it will also mean increasing the scope of the financial provisions.
When we were discussing the Money Resolution to this Bill the other day, the Minister of Defence gave the figure of 6,500 houses to be started in the next financial year and 5,000 every year after that. It seems to me that if we are to build all the houses required by the Armed Forces—the Minister of Defence said it was 29,000 to 30,000—and each house costs about £2,000, which I believe to be an approximate figure, we shall be spending £63 million, whereas we are now making provision only for £40 million. I presume that the remainder are to be built within the Service Estimates. I do not know what those who are responsible for these matters have in mind as the total number of houses to be built within the Service Estimates. We have been told quite categorically by the Minister of Defence that there will continue to be a certain amount of building within the Service Estimates, and it seems to me that over the period covered by the Bill the Government ought to be estimating to build about 10,000 houses within the Estimates. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for War will give us an answer on this matter.
I want to put to the Under-Secretary another point relating to the financial aspect. The Secretary of State for Air did not touch on this matter, but I think he would agree with the Minister of Defence that one of the great benefits which will come from this Bill is that it will mean that if the houses are not required in future for defence purposes, they can be made available to the civilian population. That is highly desirable. There is one aspect which has been overlooked and about which the House ought to know before we part with the Bill, even if the answer cannot be given today. Under the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, two rates of Exchequer grant to local authorities are laid down, the general standard amount being £16 10s. and the special standard amount, in respect of houses let to agricultural workers, being £25 10s.
Probably most of the houses we are planning to build under this Measure will be in rural areas. If so, what will happen when they are offered to local authorities? Will the local authorities be given only the standard amount if they decide to purchase the houses or will they be given the agricultural rate where they are buying houses for the purpose of letting them to agricultural workers? That is an important point for the local authorities. Speaking on the Money Resolution, the Minister of Defence gave an assurance that very close liaison would be kept with the local authorities. I hope that that matter will receive attention and that we may have an answer at a later stage.
I was interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) and my noble Friend the Member for Horsham about Germany. About a year ago I had an opportunity of visiting another somewhat outlandish spot—Tripolitania—and seeing the conditions in which troops were living there. I sincerely believe that there has been undue hardship there owing to difficulties about married quarters. We must face the fact that wherever our troops go, we must try to make the best possible provision for married quarters. I do not believe that this Bill has the necessary financial capabilities, although I believe that its provisions could be applied to this if the total amount available were increased. That is a Treasury matter and the Under-Secretary cannot be responsible for it, but I hope that every possible pressure will be brought to bear on the Treasury by the Service Departments to see if something can be done to increase the provision from £40 million to, I suggest, something like £60 million so that we can at least get some building done, on the same basis as this building is to be done, for troops overseas.
The Bill emphasises one thing which many of us have stressed for some time, that one of the best ways in which to ensure an adequate supply of manpower for any Service, undertaking, trade or industry is to provide adequate housing accommodation. I attach more importance to the provision of adequate housing accommodation for men in the Services than I do even to pay and allowances. I am convinced that if we were in a position to tell any married man joining the Services that we could provide him with married quarters, the recruiting problem would be solved.
We have gone as far as we can reasonably expect to go in regard to pay and allowances—I speak in the broadest possible sense—and I welcome the Bill because it at least makes a specific contribution towards the provision of married quarters which cannot be tampered with by this House, with all due respect to this House, when the Service Estimates come before us each year for consideration. When we are balancing one claim against another, it is so easy to cut expenditure on this very important item of the provision of married quarters.
I shall not look a gift horse in the mouth and plead for greater expenditure. I am not even going to add such little weight as I can to the appeal which has been made for additional expenditure for the purpose of housing our troops overseas. The need for the Bill was very forcibly brought home to me the other day when one of my constituents, a Regular soldier, came back to this country on embarkation leave after some two years in Germany, where he had been living with his wife and family in what I gather was quite reasonable accommodation. He is to be posted from Germany to Hong Kong and he came back to this country on embarkation leave. His wife and family had to return to this country as well, giving up their accommodation in Germany. There was no easy way of ensuring that his wife and family would be given a home.
We know what the circumstances are. We know the pressure which is brought to bear on local authorities. This regular soldier had only another two or three years to serve. He felt very strongly and bitterly about this, and told me, "I am not going to report for duty and I am not going to embark for Hong Kong unless I know that before I go on the ship there is a roof over my wife and child." That was the human reaction in one case which came to my notice. When I brought it to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, he dealt with the matter most sympathetically and said it would be possible to provide some kind of accommodation for the wife and child in one or other of the married hostels. That is better than nothing, but it is not the same thing as the soldier knowing that he has a home for his wife and child.
Such a case would be covered by the provisions that we hope will soon be made under this Bill, and I know there must be quite a number of other cases of a similar character, the needs of which will be met in the same way. I do not wish to cross swords with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), who raised points which, in my respectful submission, were dealt with by the Minister of Defence at an earlier stage. This Bill merely means that we are allocating a section of the housing accommodation provided in this country at the present time to the specific needs of Service men.
We should all like to see the global figure of housing accommodation much greater than it is, but hitherto it has not been possible, generally speaking, to persuade local authorities to give very high priority to the needs of Service men over the needs of other people. The attitude of some local authorities has been "As soon as your husband is released from the Forces or comes back to this country and the family is reunited, we will consider your application. Until then, there are other much more urgent and distressing cases than yours." Therefore, without introducing any necessary or unnecessary qualifications or additions or improvements, this Bill is valuable because it is a new method of dealing with an important problem, a method which in the fight of the figures given by the Minister of Defence will provide 6,500 houses in 1950–51 and somewhere in the region of 5,000 houses a year thereafter. That is a good start, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, in this sphere of activity, will not weary in well doing.
I rise only in the hope that I can remove any fears from the minds of His Majesty's Government that the attitude taken or the questions put by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) will be taken too seriously. I feel quite sure that he was alone, and is permanently alone, in this House in putting fears into our minds that we should be filching labour from a declining labour force in the building trade and that, having done that, we should be cutting down the number of houses supplied for the civil population. I do not believe that represents the feeling of the majority of hon. Members.
I was merely staling what is a fact, that if we reduce the number of people engaged in building for the civil population, by building for the Army, without using the building labour already in the Army, we are bound to reduce the number of houses built for the civil population because we reduce the number of workers.
The hon. Member has disclosed the fallacy under which his mind is working. I look upon the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force as part of the population of this country. If they are not housed in houses which will be built for them under this Bill, their families will have to be housed elsewhere. It is the basic fallacy of those who follow the line of thought of the hon. Member for Bridgeton that the moment a man joins His Majesty's Forces, to serve for any term of years, even if he is married and has children he remains segregated from the rest of the population. That is far from being the case. Far from being segregated from the rest of the population, I would say that that man and his wife and family should be right at the top of the tree as regards fair and decent consideration of the way in which they should live.
I have in my own constituency a case which has called for some time for the kind of help which can be given under this Bill if it is properly used. It concerns the housing of officers and n.c.os. on the permanent staff of the Royal Air Force camp at Locking. Those married officers and n.c.os., with their wives and small children, have been living, not for a few weeks or months but some for several years, in caravans, because they could not find accommodation within reasonable distance of that camp. Others have been living under conditions of overcrowding in the nearest village, so that it is not only the officers, n.c.os. and men, who will be assisted but also the local inhabitants.
There is one aspect of the matter which is sometimes forgotten. In the R.A.F., which treats these matters in the most humane manner, actual postings are being affected by the housing problems of married officers. Nothing could be more serious than that an officer, n.c.o. or man should dislike being posted to a station simply because no married quarters are available there. In one sense that is affecting the efficiency of the whole of the Service, quite apart from discouraging recruitment.
Arising out of that, I hope that we can have some assurance that there will not be long delays in reaching decisions as to which camps are to be permanent and which are to be temporary. A camp which I know has been up and down, first on one side of the seesaw and then on the other. If a camp like that, which is only one of many, is to be under consideration for a long time, it will not benefit, and those who serve in it will not benefit, under the terms of this Bill. It is vitally important that immediate decisions should be taken about the permanency of these camps. It may be that under this Bill prefabricated houses could be erected near certain long-term temporary camps and that more permanent houses could be built nearer to the permanent camps of long standing, but some sort of decisions will have to be taken quickly if some of the most difficult camps in this respect are to be properly dealt with.
The total number of houses which it is planned to build is only a fleabite in the total housing programme of the country. Therefore, I do not share the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Bridgeton. I believe that the decline in the building labour force has been brought about by the uncertainty of the building programme. I do not say that offensively. The greater the vigour which is devoted to, and the progress obtained in, increasing the numbers of houses, the more we shall attract people into the trade and keep those already in the trade fully occupied. I hope that no excuse will be found for delaying the implementation of the powers which the Bill contains.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) into the quarrel which he sought to pick with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) by placing on the speech of the hon. Member an interpretation which was not borne out by my hearing or that. I think, of most hon. Members.
The Bill is welcome not only in itself, but also for the valuable opportunity which its various stages have provided for a discussion on the general question of the provision of married quarters for the Armed Forces. In particular, it has provided a valuable opportunity for the unanimity of the House to be shown upon the desirability of an extension of the provision of married quarters overseas. I do not intend to embark upon a discussion of the extent to which that provision can properly be brought within the terms of the Bill, but I should like to add my remarks to those of hon. Members on both sides about the importance of the recognition by the Government of the urgent need for securing more married quarters for those of our Forces who are serving in various places overseas.
An extension of the Bill may not necessarily be the most effective way of achieving that end. If, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) said, the sole obstacle to using the Bill for that more extensive purpose is a Treasury regulation, then I sincerely hope that the Government will make short shrift of that Treasury regulation. Whatever method the Government choose to adopt, however, there can be no doubt that the provision of additional married quarters overseas is a matter of great urgency. Some months ago I received from the War Office the information that at all overseas stations except one there were waiting lists for married quarters. The one exception, I believe, was Bermuda. This is a matter which, as hon. Members on both sides have said, requires urgent attention from the Government. In its present form, however, the Bill deals primarily with the provision of additional married quarters in this country.
Since I am one of those who desire to see the conscription system brought to an end as soon as possible, I welcome especially the additional provisions which the Bill proposes. There can be no doubt that, as a number of hon. Members have said, the additional accommodation for families which the Bill contemplates will provide a valuable incentive for men to come into the Forces and will be a first-rate aid to the recruitment of Regular Service men.
Any hon. Member who represents a constituency with large service installations, whether naval, military or Air Force, will echo the remarks the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) about the heartbreaking cases, which are by no means infrequent, of young men serving on Regular engagements who have been married perhaps seven or eight years but who, because of the exigencies of war and of post-war service, may not have been able to live a family life for more than 12 months during all that period; and who, because of the shortage of married quarters, are very often, even when stationed in this country, unable to live with their wives. This situation has imposed a very heavy strain upon the families of many men of all three Services. It is very welcome, therefore, that steps are to be taken to improve the provision of married quarters and thereby enable more families to be united.
The shortage of proper facilities has confronted the Service Ministries with some particularly difficult problems in the last two or three years. It has enforced upon them decisions which were very unpopular and which must have been very unpalatable to the Ministers concerned. I was, however, obliged, after taking up a number of individual cases, to agree that in all the circumstances those decisions were the right ones. I have in mind such steps as that, which has already been referred to, of the provision of hostels for the families of men serving overseas for whom accommodation in married quarters at their overseas stations could not be made available. There have been instances of regiments moving from this country whose men had been in occupation of married quarters and whose families could not accompany them overseas.
Owing to the shortage of married quarters it has not always been possible for the Army, at any rate, to allow wives to remain in occupation of married quarters when their husbands have gone overseas. It has been necessary, therefore, for these wives, faced already with the deprivation and difficulty which the absence overseas of a husband inevitably entails, to face in addition a journey of a hundred miles or, perhaps, more, and the problem of resettlement away from their friends and, very often, from their relations and all the associations and contacts which they had built up whilst in occupation of their married quarters.
I hope that as a result of the Bill, when regiments proceed overseas and it is not possible, either immediately or even after an interval, for wives and children to accompany the Service men, that they will at least be enabled, should they so desire, to remain in occupation of their existing married quarters. The wives of Service men so placed have difficult enough problems already without the necessity of the War Office to enforce upon them—and this is a decision which has arisen from necessity and certainly not from any choice of the Service Ministers—the obligation to move to a new home, perhaps a hundred miles or more from the home to which they are accustomed.
Then there is the further very difficult problem of what the War Office, with their customary gift for choice phrases, term the "irregular occupants of married quarters," men who have occupied married quarters and whose time in the Services has expired but who have not been able to find alternative accommodation. In this direction also the War Office have been faced with difficult and unpalatable decisions. The small group of people who are classed as "irregular occupants" are deserving of particular sympathy. I have no doubt that their problem receives sympathy from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and those associated with him, but the provision of additional housing accommodation will enable my right hon. Friend to treat these cases with even more sympathy.
I have in mind the particular limited type of case of the widow of a man who dies whilst in the Service. These cases, happily, are not numerous, but again we have the situation of a woman, very often with children, deprived quite suddenly of her husband; and I am sure that it is most repugnant to the War Office for them to have to class such a woman as an irregular occupant of a married quarter. I hope that these additional married quarters which it will be possible to provide will assist the War Office in dealing with some of these difficult problems.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) raised points of substance, which have already had some discussion, about the relationship with the local authorities. It is of great importance that the Defence Ministers in these matters, in respect of planning, siting, timing, construction and design, should make sure that they are fully in touch with all the appropriate civilian authorities which are handling this housing job—on a much larger scale, of course—on the civilian side. Many married quarters which at the moment are being occupied are, quite frankly, museum pieces, and I hope that under this Bill we shall not only have a more speedy provision of married quarters but that we shall ensure that the high standard of married quarters which are now being constructed in the post-war period is thoroughly maintained and that proper attention is given to the problems of siting, planning and construction.
I agree with the Minister's statement that the housing problem cannot be separated between various sections of the community. It exists in the Forces both in this country and overseas. Throughout the whole of the Forces, as well as. in the civilian population, the housing question creates a tremendous amount of difficulty and trouble for many people.
I should like to get clear the phraseology of the Bill. The Bill states that its whole purpose is to provide houses for married people in the Forces, and it then goes on to say:
… or employed in connection with, the armed forces.
I should like to emphasise that point, because I am concerned with one section of the population which I think ought to be, and probably is, included in the Bill. I refer to persons serving in the Meteorological Office. I should like to know whether it is clear that those people are brought within the ambit of the Bill. That section is attached to the R.A.F., and I expect that they are covered by this Measure. The troubles of these people are just the same as those in the other Forces. They have just the same difficulties. They constantly have to move about from place to place; they have to get furnished rooms, and they have various other difficulties. My
remarks apply also to these people who serve overseas.
From information that I have received, I believe that there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction among this body of men because of the housing problem. There is a serious difficulty in getting recruits, and very often when recruits are obtained they leave because of the housing difficulty. So much is this so that people engaged in this activity feel that they are almost the Cinderellas of both the Civil Service and the Forces. While they are a Civil Service body, they are also under the Secretary of State for Air. They feel that insufficient attention is given to them, and I believe that some of them feel that a new Department should be set up particularly for the Meteorological Office. However, I do not wish to go any further into that subject, because it would be out of Order. I conclude by expressing the hope that the difficulties of personnel in the Meteorological Office will be taken into consideration and that something will be done for them.
I wish to ask one or two important questions and to make a suggestion. I was much impressed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Charles Smith), and I hope that as a result of his observations his own particular problems in his garrison town will be eased in the not too distant future. Because the Forces are equating their system of financing house building to that of local authorities, I think there are two responsibilities which the Forces must have in mind and which all local authorities now have in mind. The first is that the houses when they are built should be let where the need is greatest. That is a cardinal point with all local authorities. They have their points systems and their systems of allocation.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War what considerations are taken into account by the Service authorities when they are allocating married quarters both to officers and to other ranks. Is there anything which could be equivalent to the housing committee of a local authority to whom the soldier or airman, whoever he is, can make application and can be assured that his case is being dealt with on its merits and that there has been no undue influence or queue jumping by people who happen to have more influence or perhaps a senior position? If my hon. Friend could give me some assurance on that point it would be most helpful.
Local authorities are empowered to charge a reasonable and economic rent, and I should like my hon. Friend to give me some indication as to how the rents of these new houses will be fixed. Will it be according to rank, no matter what kind of unit of accommodation the applicant has—whether it is a pre-Crimean war one, or one of the very fine modern houses which are now in existence? Or will the rent be fixed not according to rank but according to the type of accommodation which is allocated?
The demand of the Service Departments for married quarters is going to be irregular all over the country. It is obvious that in a large industrial area the Service Departments will not make much call for married quarters, but in areas such as Catterick, Aldershot and other large military concentrations they are going to make a disproportionate demand for married quarters as against the ordinary civilian population. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) was quite right when he stressed the point that we must be certain of the contact between the military authorities and the civilian authorities in allocating these houses.
I understand that the civilian needs are met by a regional conference conducted by the Minister of Health, in which all the conflicting demands of local authorities are weighed and then allocations are made. I should imagine that the Service Departments in future will take part in some similar kind of conference in which their demands will be put forward, discussed side by side on their merits with the civilian demands, and an equitable solution arrived at. It is quite clear that in those areas which I have mentioned, where there is this heavy military concentration, in order that justice shall be done both to the military and the local authorities, there must be some increased allocation of houses as against the other areas where there is little demand for married quarters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester raised the question of what is to happen now when the husband is posted away. Is the War Office or the Service Department concerned to continue its present scheme of putting the families into hostels many miles away, or is there some ray of hope that because of these new arrangements families can be left where they are so that when the husband's tour of duty is over, and it is now three years, he will return to his own home and will not have to go on a waiting list somewhere else and make his arrangements all over again. This is a burning problem which has caused great anxiety, and I hope that this Bill will enable it to be solved in a reasonable way.
On the question of overseas houses, arrangements can be made for them through the usual Estimates. Although it has been urged that such houses should be included in this or some similar Bill, it would be clouding the issue too much if we tried to bring it forward at present. I would rather wait and see what it is proposed to do about overseas housing in this year's Estimates, which will be coming along fairly soon. If we are dissatisfied about the matter we can raise a storm on those Estimates, and I suggest 'that that is a more practical way of tackling the problem.
I believe that at home we can go much further with conversions. I have seen some of the fine large houses near Alder-shot which have been converted into flats and other accommodation for officers. We can still continue with that under the present Estimates: My final word is to express the hope that these new married quarters will not be built in barracks or anything of that nature, because they will have to revert to the civil population after a time. I hope these houses will be detached or semi-detached where possible. What is more important, I hope that they will not be segregated from the normal housing requirements of the population, but they will be intermixed with ordinary civilian housing so that we shall not look on our military personnel as a class apart, that we shall still regard them as part and parcel of the ordinary population. Above all, I hope that when these houses are built they will be good, well planned and fit to live in.
I should not like it to be thought that the voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) was a Scottish voice crying in the wilderness, as suggested by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing). I feel that the hon. Member did my hon. Friend less than justice and neglected entirely the very great housing problem which we have in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow. We must take that problem into consideration when we consider a Measure like this. I say at once, however, that although I sympathise with, and in many ways support, the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton, I feel that on balance I must support the Bill.
The point is—do we or do we not need an Army, and if so, have we not a responsibility, when we get young men to join as Regulars, to give them decent housing conditions and security and peace of mind when they are going from place to place and are posted away from home? Anyone who has any knowledge of the present married quarters in salubrious places such as Maryhill Barracks will recognise that they are far from being worthy of this nation, which prides itself on doing so much for its fighting men, and that certainly there are not at present nearly enough of them.
That state of affairs can be applied to every section of the community, and that is why the feeling arises that this Measure, which we recognise to be an emergency Measure, is only that, and that unless this matter is properly handled and controlled it will cause resentment among all the other sections of the population, because of this division and sub-division of the population into special categories. There are special houses for agricultural workers, special houses for miners who are being moved from one locality to another; we have heard suggested tonight that there should be special houses for meteorological workers, and in. this Bill provision is made for special houses for soldiers.
It will cause resentment if these houses are to come out of a fixed global number of houses, and that is the point to which I wish to refer, because what has troubled me most of all about this Bill was the admission by the Minister of Defence last week that these houses will not be additional houses but will come out of a fixed global total. The point about the houses for miners and agricultural workers in Scotland is that when the local authority has permission to go ahead with such houses, they are additional to the normal allocation. If the houses with which this Bill deals could be additional to the normal allocation, I do not think there would be anyone in this House who would be prepared to voice any opposition to the Bill.
I urge the Minister of Defence to do his part, in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, to build up a labour force, because we are told that that is what limits the number of houses which can be built in Scotland. The Minister can do a certain amount by delaying for a time the call-up of a sufficient number of young building workers to build this additional number of houses in Scotland. If he did that, I think that the critical voices from Scotland would certainly be silenced on that point.
I do not want to emphasise a point which one or two hon. Members have made, but when these houses are built they must be built in co-operation and close contact with the local authorities. Otherwise we shall have a clash between the local authorities and the Army, and I do not think it desirable that we should have that kind of friction, particularly between those two bodies, which ought to get on quite well together. I repeat that the one point which has troubled all hon. Members for Scottish constituencies is that while we are not concerned about this emergency favouritism for people in the Army, we are concerned that these houses are, at least so far as Scotland is concerned, to come out of a global figure which is already inadequate for ordinary civilian needs. We want these houses to be additional to that global figure.
During the last Debate that we had on this question, I said that unless the Bill added to the number of houses that are to be provided, it really meant very little. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that it does not mean very much because it does not add to the total number of houses to be built. All that the Bill does is to create yet another priority. All that it means to the person who has been waiting 10 years for a house is that he or she will have to wait another year. That is not very desirable from the point of view of the person who has been waiting for a long time. We have priorities for the miners and for the agricultural workers, and now we are to have priorities for the men in the Forces.
The soldier is at least employed. There are many people in Scotland today who cannot get employment, because they cannot go to a district and get a house in which to live. Who is to decide what is a priority occupation today? I should have thought that a man who was working in the export industry and earning dollars was equally deserving of priority, because our bread and butter depend upon him.
I have every sympathy with the men in the Services; in fact, many of my best friends are serving people; but we have this problem that we are doing something for the Service men only at the expense of the civilian population. This is exceedingly hard in Scotland, with the housing problem which confronts us today. It is much harder in Scotland than in England. I often think that the Englishman does not realise to the full just what that problem is. It is true to say that as a result of it we have one of the highest tuberculosis rates in Europe. We have people in Scotland who are living in far worse conditions than some soldiers are living today. We have people who are seeing the health of their children undermined. There are people in my constituency who in some cases attribute the early death of their children to the housing conditions in which they have to live. Now I have to go back and say to them, "I am sorry, but you will have to wait a little longer for a house, because the soldier must get a house." That is exceedingly difficult.
I agree that we need houses for soldiers, but this is not the way to meet that need. This is a piece of financial jugglery, and that is all. It does not add a single house. The way in which the situation could be met would be by building houses additional to the existing programme. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could convey to his right hon. Friend the possibility of using builders in the Forces to build their own houses. We are informed that in Scotland it is not the lack of materials which is stopping the building of houses, but the lack of labour. Much of that labour is in the Forces. Could not the builders in the Army be used to build houses for the Army so that we should not take from our present scanty labour force? That would be a much better way to tackle the problem.
I can hardly welcome this Bill. I sympathise with the men in the Services who require accommodation, but that is as far as I can go. I can only ask the Minister to consider the possibility which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock suggested of making the houses additional to the existing programme.
The last three speeches have brought an air of reality into a rather well-meaning but confusing Debate. All hon. Members who have spoken have agreed that the married soldier is just as much entitled as any other person to a roof above his head and a decent home. But that is not the object of this Bill. As the hon. Member for South Edinburgh has said, it is a pure piece of financial jugglery.
I apologise to the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling). Are the Government really serious in saying that, at this time of day, in the year 1949, we need new powers to build married quarters for the Services? The Government have all the powers already. They have had all the money. We have given it to them. Nobody has refused them a penny for the last four years. All that this Bill provides is a new method of paying the bill. The cost is to be spread over 60 years in the same way as municipal houses have hitherto been built.
Under previous arrangements the Services have come forward and said, "Here is what we require for married quarters," and the house has unhesitatingly given them every pound and every penny for which they asked. I submit that it is humbug to make the excuse that this is a Bill for speeding up the provision of married quarters for Service men. All that it does is to spread the cost over 60 years. That is not building one more house for a soldier or a sailor or an airman.
The Secretary of State for Air put forward a rather unconvincing argument that this was meant as a stimulus to recruiting. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) followed that up, and rather simplified it, by saying that if houses were available for people who wished to join the Forces, the recruiting problem would be solved. There is something in that argument, but it is not quite so simple as that. It does not follow that a recruit joining the Forces is automatically given a house. I understand that the houses are for the long-period Servicemen who are in key positions. I have similar cases in my own constituency and in the adjoining town. We do not automatically give the soldier a house under this Bill; so there is no stimulus to recruiting. If we are honest with the soldier we say to him, "You may get a house, or"—as the Minister of Defence said—" you may have to wait 10 years for a house."
I submit that the soldiers, sailors or airmen at present serving in the ranks and who have been in for five, six, eight or ten years will be more entitled to a house than the new soldier who enlists. We shall not say to the airman, "Join the Air Force and you will get a house the day after tomorrow." The man who joins the Services today will have to wait. It is the same problem as we have to face with regard to civilians. There is absolutely no prospect in civilian life for the newcomer on the housing list. He may have to wait 10, 15 or 20 years. We are wanting recruits by hundreds of thousands for the Army, and the maximum number of houses we are likely to get in 10 years is 30,000. So there is not much in the argument advanced by the Secretary of State for Air.
From the financial point of view, it is more sensible to spread the capital cost over 60 years. I have been wondering how the Services have got away with it before, because the local authorities have long adopted this manner of paying their interest and their sinking fund. Under the present arrangement there will be a smaller amount allocated in the Defence Estimates. The Defence Ministers will say, "Look what good boys we are. Look how we have economised, and look at the contribution we have made to national recovery." But it is illusory.
I suggest to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who I know feels very keenly on this question, that he should support those of us who argue that if we want to get increased housing accommodation for the Services, the first thing to do—as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh—is to use the labour force in the Services. Yesterday I obtained some new figures which emphasise this point. I put a Question to the Minister of Works:
… how many men were employed on building married quarters for the Forces in October; and how many on other building works for the Forces.
At the end of October it is estimated that 5,300 building workers were employed on building married quarters for the Forces …
… and that 27,100 building workers were engaged on other building work …
As the hon. Gentleman called me into question in this matter in a perfectly friendly way, I would point out that it seems to have escaped his notice and that of his hon. Friends that, though it may appear strange, it is a fact that men are put into the Services to learn to defend their country and not to build houses.
I will proceed to show presently how the noble Lord is in a dilemma. Let me finish the statistical evidence. The answer continued:
… 27,100 building workers were engaged on other building work for the Service Departments, of whom 13,100 were in the direct employment of the Service Departments These figures do not include any Service personnel engaged on building work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1949; Vol. 470. c. 194.]
The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) rightly
stressed that the last thing in which the Service chiefs have been interested in the past is married quarters for soldiers.
The hon Gentleman misunderstood me entirely. I said that the most difficult thing for a commander to get approved, not by the Service chiefs but by the Treasury and the finance branch of the War Office, was any provision for building of any kind.
That amounts to the same thing. Building is the very reverse of first priority. When any economy is to be brought about, there is a cut in building, which includes married quarters. I submit that in these figures we have got precisely the same process. There are only 5,300 building workers engaged in building married quarters for the Forces. All sections of the House agree that those quarters are necessary. There are 27,100 building workers doing other kinds of work. If one asks what these 27,100 building workers are doing—which I am sure is a point of interest to the House—down comes the iron curtain and one is told, "You cannot be told that for reasons of security."
I suggest that if the Ministers concerned are to carry out the desire of the House and get married quarters built, they will have to do it in other ways than by juggling over the period of 60 years. They must get the labour and the materials. I was disappointed at the speech, presumably made on behalf of the Government, by the Minister of Defence. I am perpetually arguing that building workers would be doing more useful service to the Forces and to the community if they—the plumber, the plasterer and the bricklayer—were using their skill and experience in the building of houses and married quarters. I submit to the noble Lord that logically, if he wants married quarters, he should agree with that proposal.
I do not agree with the noble Lord when he wants this Bill to apply overseas. I read with interest the remarks of the Secretary of State for War, to whom the noble Lord referred. The Secretary of State for War need not have gone to the Suez Canal to find bad housing conditions. He need only have gone to the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Manchester Canal or the Birmingham Canal. He would discover bad housing conditions there. The noble Lord said that we should build houses overseas. One hon. Member even went so far as to suggest that we should build houses in Hong Kong. I do not think that would be a very popular item in any appeal from any party.
Because there are plenty of establishments in Hong Kong—luxury hotels and buildings—which could be taken over first. Another reason is that from the point of view of national economy it would be far cheaper to bring the soldiers home than to build houses for them over there.
My information is not the same as that of the noble Lord's. He has forgotten the priority. I can hardly conceive that in a place like Hong Kong there are only two hotels.
If the hon. Gentleman was referring to me, I would say that various members of the Forces, not all of whom are Tories—some are Socialists—would be most interested to learn that this representative of the Labour Party wishes not to see them provided with houses overseas. Men separated from their wives will like the hon. Gentleman.
I think that the people in the Services will listen to me. I am far more popular with the Forces than the noble Lord thinks. I am sure that if a plebiscite were taken in Hong Kong asking the men whether they would prefer to remain there or go home and join their wives, the overwhelming majority would be on the side of the person who is in favour of bringing them home. This Bill is designed to build houses, and the interest and sinking fund are planned over 60 years. Do hon. Members think that we shall be in Hong Kong for 60 years? Do they think that we shall be in Hong Kong in the year 2,010—the last of the 60 years?
I submit that if hon. Members are interested in the housing conditions east of Suez or west of Suez, or in the other outposts of the Empire which hitherto they have kept by military force and some of which fortunately we have had to abandon, they will find in these places buildings that can be temporarily taken over as billets. We should use these places as billets. When we are faced with a dollar crisis and imminent bankruptcy, we should not talk about building permanent houses overseas for married soldiers.
No, I have not been to Hong Kong, and I have no intention of going to Hong Kong. I am more likely to go to Sing Sing. But I have been in Germany and I know that there the problem was solved by billeting. I do not think that the generals in Germany have had any reason to complain about the billets they have had. If there is an urgent need to house families in married quarters in this country, I suggest that we have not yet exhausted our billeting arrangements. I know a little about this, because I had an officer billeted on me during the war.
I learned a lot of military information: it was splendid for his morale.
In this country, have we exhausted the possibilities of billeting even now? Within two miles of this House, I know a very big building, which I will not name because I do not want to hurt the feelings of the noble Lord, and which could be used for married quarters. [Interruption.] I am not referring to the Savoy. If I am pressed, I will mention it, but it is one of the Royal palaces. I do not see any reason—
On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman has suggested that Buckingham Palace should be requisitioned. Surely, it is not in Order to bring into this Debate such a reference to the Crown?
If I made a wounding reference to anybody, I withdraw it. I was merely taking up a remark of the noble Lord, but I have no wish to hurt anybody's feelings in this respect.
I merely suggest that, if the Government are keen about solving this problem of married quarters, they should use these powers of billeting, and that in doing so, they would ease the problem of the civilian population. The civilian population of our country are looking upon every Bill which concerns housing with great anxiety and with great envy. Those of us who speak for Scottish constituencies—and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) was the first who spoke about this—know of places where people are appallingly housed and we have in our constituencies cases where there are eight or nine persons of mixed sexes in one room. We see the possibility of a home for everybody receding and receding and that colours our outlook. We believe that these views should be expressed and we hope the time will come in this country when it will be said that the father of every family, whether serving in uniform or not, is entitled to receive what is needed by every person in a civilised society—a home for his wife and children.
Throughout this Debate, which has, as you, Mr. Speaker, have just pointed out, ranged fairly wide, there has been general recognition of the value and importance of this Bill, a Bill which, despite the speech to which we have just listened, will have the effect of causing us to reach in some five years our objective of a figure of married quarters which otherwise would have taken some 10 years to reach. As to the suggestion of its being a piece of financial jugglery, let us ask any civilian local authority which at present finances its housing operations in this same way whether it regards the difference between doing that and being compelled to meet that expenditure out of current revenue merely as an arrangement of financial jugglery.
There has been a constant danger going back for many years, that the amount proposed for Service housing is one of the things which hon. Members have tried repeatedly to whittle down in the Estimates. The effect of this Bill is to safeguard an increase, and that is why we can ensure that it will provide an increased number of houses for the Service population. That will be of assistance to Regular recruiting, it will assist in the question of the proper posting of men, and—and this is a point upon which I think we all feel keenly, and which has been emphasised by my hon. Friends the Members for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and Colchester (Mr. Charles Smith)—it will as time goes by steadily relieve the War Office of the necessity of making decisions with regard to sending what are known as "grass widows" into family hostels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) made reference to that last problem, but of course it does not follow that, shortly after the passage of this Bill, we shall be able to make an immediate revision of our policy with regard to the wives and families of Service men overseas. We must still regard as first priority the using of married quarters to unite a Service family, but with every additional married quarter that is provided the possibility of being able to solve this problem of the so-called "grass widow" more reasonably than we are able to solve it at present improves.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and many other hon. Members laid great stress on the position of Service married quarters overseas. I should not wish to dispute with them, and if I did wish to do so I could not, the urgency and seriousness of the married quarters position in many of the overseas Commands, but I would invite their attention to this problem, so far as this Bill is concerned. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) expressed what is I think the feeling of many hon. Members when he said that he did not consider that the £40 million provided for in this Bill would meet both overseas and home needs. Therefore, if this Bill were to extend to overseas theatres, we should have to go outside the terms of the Financial Resolution to which this House has already agreed.
There is, too, a further point that, even if this obstacle could be overcome, which could not lightly be done, we should be facing something quite different from the nature of this Bill, which is based on an analogy between the provision of Service married quarters and the financing of civilian housing. Consequently, the arrangement has been made that the houses to be provided under this Bill should be in such places and of such a nature that if, at any time, the Services cease to use them, they would be suitable for use as civilian housing.
If we were to go beyond that, as we should if we tried to bring in overseas housing, we should be considering a different order of Measure altogether, which is why I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees was right when he suggested that hon. Members who are concerned about married quarters overseas will have an opportunity on the Estimates of expressing themselves very vigorously on whatever provision is there made, but to try to do it in this Bill, quite apart from the procedural difficulty about the Financial Resolution, would upset the whole character of the Bill—
The hon. Gentleman has already half persuaded me on this point, but I should like to ask if he can give some sort of assurance that it will be possible to accelerate, under the ordinary Service Estimates, the provision of houses where they are notoriously needed, such as at Fayid?
I could not answer that question with a definite affirmative at this stage. I feel that, important as is this problem of married quarters overseas, what we should be doing if we tried to extend the terms of this Bill to that purpose would be something quite different.
I should have added, and I intended to do so, that hon. Members may be assured that the Government will be studying very carefully what has been said in the Debate on the problem of married quarters overseas. I must confess quite frankly—and I think this was the opinion of a number of hon. Members interested in this Bill—that I did not expect it to give rise to a very long Debate, and one of the significant things in it has been the great emphasis which hon. Members in all parts of the House have laid on this particular problem.
Returning to the problem of the provision of married quarters in the United Kingdom, which is the express purpose of the Bill, I wish to comment on some points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael). They were both concerned with problems of planning and location. On location, I might perhaps say at once that hon. Members will realise that this Bill can only apply to what are known as "approved quarters"; they have to be quarters so allocated that they can, if necessary, be used at some possible future date for civilian housing. That is a big pre-condition which goes a long way to answering the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield.
With regard to planning and actual building, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton felt that more should have been said about what was intended on these lines, and I think he also mentioned the type of buildings to be put up. I think that the reason why the terms of this Bill are purely financial is because all the other apparatus is there. In the Service Departments the decisions have already been taken as to the type of quarters to be provided, and gratifying reference was made by one hon. Member to the quality of Service building in the years since the war. Further, it is already the regular practice, when any of the Service Departments are building, for them to consult on planning matters with the local authorities and with the Ministries of the central Government affected, notably the Ministries of Town and Country Planning, Education, and Agriculture. That is already recognised and accepted procedure. When the planning stage is over and one comes to the question of actual permission to start building, there, again, the principal housing officer of the region, the representative of the Ministry of Health, considers the applications from the Service Departments together with all other applications for permission to start building in that area. Therefore, all that machinery is there already, and is not altered by this Bill.
It is true, of course, that one effect of this Bill will be that the Service Departments will be coming forward with somewhat larger bids, and the problem of the reconciliation of the different requests by the regional officer of the Ministry of Health will in some areas, therefore, be a more difficult one than before. But I am bound to say that I think that the question of difficulty over the supply of labour—which is really the only point on which any difficulty could arise—has been over-estimated. Hon. Members should bear in mind that although this Bill envisages what will be a very great increase in married quarters from the Army point of view, it deals with only a very small percentage of the total provision of housing in this country. That is why I am bound to say that I think hon. Members are tending to exaggerate the nature of that problem.
I ought perhaps to add that in some cases, more particularly where the houses to be built are of a non-traditional type, it may be possible in some localities—I cannot say more than "may" at this stage—to deal with the difficulty by using labour that comes in from elsewhere. That is one expedient by which the particular needs of the Services in certain areas can be met, although, of course, it would not be one of universal application, and it would be rash to prophesy how far it will be a solution of this labour difficulty.
In general, I wish to assure my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgeton, Stockton-on-Tees, and for Colchester, all of whom were concerned with this problem, that from the very inception of this scheme we realised the very great importance of the closest co-operation with the local authorities and with the Ministry of Health if this scheme was to become effective and if what was planned and intended was really to turn into bricks and mortar. We shall see that the administrative arrangements between the Service Departments, the other Government Departments concerned and the local authorities are of such a character that the programme is pressed on with, and that the needs and requirements of local authorities are given proper consideration.
I will now refer to one or two points—important, but perhaps of lesser detail—raised by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) raised a precise and detailed point affecting the Navy. I am assured that the Admiralty both have given and will still give priority to the Naval Air Service in respect of the provision of married quarters, which was, I think, the point on which my hon. Friend wished to be assured. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely raised a point about figures to which the answer is that the figure of 5,000 mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence includes both what will be built with the help of this loan and what will be built by ordinary financial procedure. That. I believe, was the point he wished to get clear.
In that connection, I would draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to the fact that if it had really been the intention of the Minister of Defence or of any Member of the Government to deceive the House as to the real size of the Estimates, then, indeed, they would very seriously have underestimated the perspicacity and ingenuity both of my hon. Friend and, indeed, of almost everybody in the House, because it has been clear from the start that in future the Service Estimates will inform Parliament of the total amount of married quarters to be built, both under this loan and under the ordinary financial procedure.
It is true that if we were going to build this number of married quarters without this loan it would make a difference, but my point is that anyone looking at the Service Estimates will immediately see that there is this special item. If after having seen it, anyone is not prepared to go a little further and work out for himself the total amount being spent on Service needs, I really do not think we can bother further about it. There will be no deception in this matter.
The other point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely was the financial position of local authorities who take over these quarters when they become superfluous to Service needs. May I put this to him? Is he not really looking a great deal too far ahead? We are most anxious to get on with the building of these quarters, but, after all, they are not built yet. I do not think that at this stage we can answer questions with regard to the financial arrangements of the local authorities at a time when these quarters have not only been built, but when they have been used by the Service Departments and when something has occurred to cause those Departments to require them no longer, and when, therefore, they become available to the local authorities. We do not know what changes might occur between now and such a time in the housing position or in housing legislation, or what changes may have occurred in the powers and duties of local authorities. I think that we should be binding the future much too much if we attempted to answer that question.
I quite agree that generally that would be true, but does the hon. Gentleman realise that, particularly as far as the Air Force are concerned, if they decide to start some buildings somewhere near an airfield which then becomes redundant, those houses will become useless to the Service and may be allowed to go to the local authorities far sooner than the hon. Gentleman indicates?
Before we finish with this Bill, I will consider if a more definite reply can be given to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, although, for the reasons I have given, I think that doubtful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walls-end (Mr. McKay) pleaded the cause of the men in the Meteorological Service, but I am afraid they would not be covered by this Bill. I only hope that another more favourable occasion will arise when he will be able to put forward their cause. The phrase in the preamble referring to those connected with the Armed Forces refers to the War Department Constabulary and certain key civilians, for whom we are required to make provision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees pursued the analogy of civilian housing and asked about the method of allocation and the rents chargeable. In general, it is the practice for Commands, whether they use the actual phrase or not, to have what is in fact a points system which allows for all the relevant factors to be brought into consideration in determining the waiting list for such married quarters as are available at any particular place and how that list should be compiled. It is always possible for any soldier to have explained to him both the principle on which the list is compiled and his position on it.
In regard to rent, the ideal at which we would aim is that rank, type of quarter and rent should all be connected, and the faster we are able to go in the provision of an adequate number of married quarters the more shall we be able to reach towards that position. At present we have to make certain deviations from that where quarters are occupied by men of ranks who do not normally occupy quarters of that kind and where men are occupying sub-standard accommodation. but the faster progress is made the more we shall free ourselves from those complications.
I wish to call the attention of the House to one general consideration, the way in which this housing provision is linked with the whole problem of civilian housing—a point which was not fully appreciated, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) or my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). At present many of the families of Service men who would be very glad indeed to occupy married quarters are occupying civilian accommodation and, as we provide the married quarters for them, they will vacate premises which will then become available for occupation by civilians. That will happen in a very great many cases and it is one of the reasons for regarding this as a contribution, not only to the particular problem of the Services, but to the civilian problem as well and it is part of the justification for the fact that this 5,000 a year comes out of and must come out of the total allocation for the building of houses.
The hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) laid stress on that and asked if, as a matter of reciprocity, we could make service camps available. As I pointed out in the House a little time ago, we have done that on a great many occasions and if in any locality, in the opinion of any hon. Member, there is a camp which we are not using and which could be properly handed over to the civilian authority, I should be very glad to listen to any representations about it. The hon. and learned Member also mentioned parts of camps, but he will appreciate that that is administratively a much more difficult problem than handing over a whole camp.
Reference has been made to priority. May I draw the attention of the House to these figures? Since the end of the war some 570,000 permanent houses have been constructed and 3,000 Service married quarters have been constructed. The reasons for that comparatively slow rate were fully explained by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air at the beginning of this Debate. It is not a reproach to the Government that the figure is so low, but it is low, about half of 1 per cent. of the total, whereas, if the Services had what one could regard as a fair share, probably it would be between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent., instead of one half of 1 per cent.
If we are able to build as we hope, it will be no more than a remedy for that falling behind. We are not granting a priority but, to coin a phrase, remedying a posteriority in the matter of housing in the years since the end of the war. If I may borrow a phrase from the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), we are at last showing that we are making a proper estimate of the value of the men in the Services.
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I ask whether he would consider the question of direct labour in the Forces so as not to draw away building labour from building contractors in districts where much housing is needed?