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.