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Ministry Of Works

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 18 May 1954

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Political Resident, Bahrein (New Compound)


asked the Minister of Works why it is necessary to spend £557,000 on the provision of a new compound for the Political Resident and his staff in Bahrein during the present financial year.

In 1946 the decision was taken to move the headquarters of the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf from the Persian side of the Gulf to Bahrein Island on the Arabian side. This has meant building a compound because no suitable permanent accommodation was available. The total cost is estimated at £557,000, spread over several years.

Does the hon. Gentleman remember that his right hon. Friend, before the Election, promised that a Conservative Government would make a saving of £600 million a year, and, as the present Government are spending £100 million more than the Labour Government were spending at that time, can he not make a modest saving here, if not of £600 million, of at least £600,000?

I presume that the decision which was taken in 1946 by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin was taken, for good reasons. The scheme approved by the previous Administration under-estimated the cost of building and other difficulties on the site.

The decision to spend this money in the present year was taken by the present Government.

No, Sir. The figure of £557,000 is spread over seven years. The right hon. Gentleman has misread the Estimates.

While not questioning the need for suitable premises for the Political Resident, may I ask my hon. Friend whether a sum of over £500,000 is really necessary?

That is a matter of opinion. The view of my right hon. Friend and of Her Majesty's Government is that British prestige and parsimony do not go together.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what makes this compound so exceedingly expensive? Its cost is about that of a whole housing estate.

Can my hon. Friend say whether the increase over the original Estimate is higher than the normal increase in building costs?

In answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I would point out that we are building on this site a house for the Political Resident himself, four for the senior staff, a block of flats, six bungalows, an office block and servants' quarters. The fact of the matter is that building in that particular area has proved to be much more expensive than was originally anticipated.

Will the hon. Gentleman read his own Estimates and note that £129,000 is to be spent in this financial year alone on the scheme?

High Commissioner, New Delhi (Accommodation)


asked the Minister of Works why it is necessary to spend £1,500,000 on residential and office accommodation for the High Commissioner in New Delhi in the present financial year.

The figure of £1,500,000 is a provisional total estimate of the cost of building offices and residential accommodation for the High Commissioner and his staff in Delhi. It is not the amount to be spent this year.

Even if that is so, are there no offices and residential accommodation in Delhi already, which have been occupied by British officials in the past, and why is it necessary to have this scheme, in addition?

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have known that when India became an independent State it was necessary for us to start from scratch.

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that there were no officials already in residence and that there was no office accommodation before India became an independent State?

I did not say anything of the kind. When India became an independent State the accommodation which was occupied by the British authorities was taken over by the India Government.

Will my hon. Friend represent to his right hon. Friend that his Department should approach the Treasury with a view to putting some of these capital items below the line in the Government's accounts, as there would not be half the fuss about them that there is?

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the two large expenditures referred to in these Questions are only two of many which are giving serious concern to Members of this House, and that the recent decision of Her Majesty's Government with regard to another matter raised on the Floor of this House this week is making it even more difficult for this House to exercise proper control over the £200 million being spent abroad out of the Vote of Supply?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to emphasise in fairness to Her Majesty's Government that all we are doing is to give effect to decisions which were taken before this Government came into office.

Was it not the basis of the present Government's attack on the last Government that they were spending far too much money? Why go on doing it?

Lancaster House (Pictures)


asked the Minister of Works if he will make arrangements for Lancaster House to be used as an additional gallery, at suitable times, for the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery.

My right hon. Friend is discussing the possibilities with the Trustees of the National Gallery.

While I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, may I urge upon him the desirability of finding extra accommodation for some of the pictures of the national collection?

I will convey that suggestion to my right hon. Friend. As a matter of fact, the National Gallery Trustees have already offered to lend suitable pictures to Lancaster House under certain conditions which are under discussion now.

Hm Embassies (Expenditure)


asked the Minister of Works the total sum expended on improvements and additions to Her Majesty's Embassies and their surroundings last year.

It will take a little time to assemble this information. My right hon. Friend will write to the hon. Member when he has it.

Can the hon. Gentleman give some idea of the figure involved? The impression given is that while a great deal has been spent on some of the major embassies some of the lesser embassies and consulates have been allowed to fall into comparative disrepair.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be happy to give the hon. Member all the information he can, as soon as he has it. The difficulty is that there are still many accounts to come in for work done overseas in the last quarter of last year.

Would my hon. Friend give the figure of at least what was provided in this connection in last year's Estimates, because that has already been published, and might help us?

That is another Question, but I am sure that my hon. Friend knows the answer already.

Is it not a fact that the hon. Gentleman's Ministry carries out these works to the orders of the Foreign Office and would he remind his right hon. Friend, as I sought to do last week, that the Public Accounts Committee is also disturbed about this enormous expenditure on these embassies overseas, and would he consider having a conference with the Foreign Office on the whole matter?

What the hon. Member says is very largely true, and my right hon. Friend is critically examining these estimates all the time.