HC Deb 01 May 1940 vol 360 cc851-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn,"—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)

The question I wish to bring before the House arises out of a Question which I asked of the Secretary of State for the Home Department on Thursday, 18th April. It was in the following terms: whether he will make provision for the local education authorities, as such, to be consulted when the revision of grants under the 1937 Act relating to air-raid precautions is taking place, in view of their peculiar position and the dispute which has arisen between these authorities and his Department?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1940; col. 1102, Vol. 359.] The answer was that he referred me to the reply which he gave on 4th April. As that answer was in the negative, I gave notice to raise this Question on the Adjournment. The dispute arises out of the decision to differentiate between the grants to local education authorities for air-raid precautions purposes, and the provisions of the Act of 1937. I would remind the House that from 1935 to 1937 representatives of local authorities were in negotiation with representatives of the Home Office with one object in view, to determine on an equitable basis the charges for air-raid precautions.

Agreement, after a time, was reached, and the payments to be made are set out in the Schedule to the Act of 1937. There are two things that I would ask the House to note with regard to these agreements. They are, first, that Section 7 of the Act states that any local authority may incur expenditure for the purpose of making provision for the protection of persons and property from injury or damage in the event of hostile attack from the air, whether or not such expenditure is incurred in pursuance of an air-raid precautions scheme. There, the authorities referred to are known as scheme-making authorities; they are boroughs and counties which are called upon to submit schemes, not local education authorities. That needs to be kept in mind. The second fact to be noted is that in these negotiations there was not suggested at any time any differentiation between the responsibility for taking air-raid precautions for school children and the duty of taking precautions for the community generally. Nowhere, I submit, in the text of the Act itself is there any differentiation made, neither in function nor in grant. In July of last year owing to the trouble that had arisen as a consequence of differentiation having been made, an influential deputation from the Association of Education Committees, of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils' Association, waited upon the right hon. Gentleman to make representations to him, in the light of this Act of Parliament, suggesting that a breach of undertaking had taken place inasmuch as the provisions of the Act were not being carried out.

The right hon. Gentleman has suggested on two or three occasions, in answer to Questions, that local education authorities were under a misapprehension inasmuch as they were not parties to those negotiations, which had taken place between 1935 and 1935, and, therefore, could not be expected to know what exactly had taken place. May I remind him, however, that one of the individuals present when that deputation waited upon him was Sir Miles Mitchell, who took a leading part in those negotiations and, at the end of the case made by the Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, made the following comments: I can only emphasise on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, that we agree with everything Sir Percival Sharpe has said. Might I just mention one point he has made. I was in all the negotiations and all the discussions with the Government on air-raid precautions, beginning in this room in 1935, and at no time was it suggested or did it come within our knowledge that a distinction was to be made between the protection of children in schools and the protection of the general public, nor was any suggestion ever made that there should be a difference in the financial arrangements. It was strange to us; we were surprised that this distinction should be made and we do not understand why it should be made. That was the statement of a man who had taken part in all the negotiations, and he, at at any rate, felt it was not an overstatement of the case to suggest that a breach had taken place or that a mistake had been made. What he said on that occasion was confirmed by a gentleman who had also been present on the previous negotiations, Dr. Gurney-Dixon, on behalf of the County Councils Association.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I do not think Dr. Gurney-Dixon was in the previous negotiations.

Mr. Tomlinson

At any rate he said: We do not propose that everyone of us should put forward our own argument; had we done so we should have emphasised as strongly as possible the arguments and considerations that Sir Perceival Sharpe has put forward. In any case the County Councils Association, through their spokesman, said that a case had been made out for equal treatment as between local authorities. That is all we are asking for. I submit that a case has been and can be made out for equality of treatment. It was clearly understood by local authorities at the close of the negotiations that all expenditure on air-raid precautions designed for the safety of persons referred to expenditure on schemes which received the assent of the Government and there is not a word in the Act of 1937 or in the Schedule which gives rise to any other understanding. Yet within three months of the passing of the Air-Raid Precautions Act embodying this undertaking, powers were exercised under which instead of 75 per cent. being granted about 50 per cent. was granted for this purpose. We contend that whatever maybe the attitude of the Minister, whether or no this has been a breach of an undertaking, there is no possible justification for the differentiation which has taken place between these respective authorities and the work they are carrying out. I know that it can be said, and probably will be said, that between 1935 and 1937 the Board of Education, in consultation with education committees, were considering this question of air-raid precautions. Circular 1461 was sent out by the Board stating that money spent on air-raid pre- cautions would rank for grant, but it cannot be assumed that the authorities imagined that the grant would be anything less than that suggested for other services. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to keep in mind that so far as education authorities are concerned there is quite a number of variations in the grants that are paid for different services, and it was assumed that the same rate of grant would be paid in this respect. It is impossible to justify this differentiation. I have a letter from a director of education in a Northern town pointing out the futility of trying to put public shelters in one category for expenditure purposes and school shelters in a different category. He quotes the case of his own town, where certain of the schools were in capable of being provided with adequate shelter accommodation of their own, but where they were situated near to, and in some cases practically adjacent to, public shelters. He says: If the children had remained out of school, they would have been members of the public, and in the event of an air raid would have had a right to and would have made use of these public shelters as ordinary members of the public. To keep their school closed, therefore, because there was no shelter accommodation for them seemed to us merely stupid, so we opened the school, saying quite frankly that we intended to make use of the public shelters. The Air-Raid Precautions Emergency Committee got worried, but they could neither close the schools for us—and,by the way, they did not want to—nor could they forbid our use of the public shelters. They had no power to do so. Our proposed use of the public shelters had to be accepted. At the same time, we gladly put at the disposal of our Emergency Committee all our school shelters outside school hours, and even such part of them as we may not need for our own use during school hours. This kind of mutual overlapping and helpfulness does seem to show the futility of the exclusiveness of classification. It certainly does. I cannot visualise a situation in which the shelters that are provided in the school yards would not be used by the general public in the event of an air raid taking place in the district, if they were not being used by the school children. Therefore, I submit that, now that the revision is taking place under the 1937 Act, the education committees have a real grievance in this matter. I know it will be suggested that the local authorities are the financing authorities, and that, therefore, in dealing with the local authorities, we are in effect dealing with the education committees; but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that what an education committee does depends largely upon the amount of money which it has to spend. The money that has been spent on air-raid precautions owing to the differentiation in the rate of grant has meant an extra expenditure of £1,000,000 to the education authorities of the country. That will inevitably have a crippling effect upon their work, unless some alteration is made. This question is now before the bodies which originally discussed it. I hope that some alteration will be made by the right hon. Gentleman. If there has been a misunderstanding, and if the Department have not broken faith with the education authorities, it seems to me that the matter can be put right by dealing in a fair and equitable manner with those authorities now. I hope that not only will the right hon. Gentleman listen to this plea, but that he will go into the question of the position of the education authorities with a view to straightening out the anomaly that has arisen.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) always speaks on these matters with great knowledge and great moderation. I am sure the case he has put before the House is one that must receive the very careful attention of all of us, and I hope the sympathetic consideration of the Minister as far as the point of principle is concerned. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have never shared my hon. Friend's view that there was any breach of faith in this matter. I think the right hon. Gentleman has been very wrong, but he remains honourable. He is not right in this matter; he is merely honourable. In view of the general air with which he always rises in the House, I am not sure that I would not perhaps have found it rather more acceptable to find him both wrong and dishonourable; but at any rate, in my view he has escaped being dishonourable. In the first place he did not make the bargain, and in the second place, as my hon. Friend has very fairly put it, the record is silent on the matter. It may be that a difficult position has arisen, which is not uncommon when two people who have made a large bargain and have been silent about details while striking the bargain, take different views about what the large bargain means when applied to a particular detail. I rather sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in that he has been landed now with the recollections of people of negotiations which started five years ago and were conducted by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Air. The shorthand notes have been examined most carefully by the local authorities, and no doubt by the Home Office, and it is impossible to find a word in the record of those negotiations dealing with the point.

Therefore, I make no charge that the right hon. Gentleman has departed from the letter of any bargain that was made, and I think it would be stretching matters a great deal too far to suggest that the final decision represents any breach of any understanding arrived at in regard to the matter. But when one comes to deal with the merits of the case, one is bound to say that one is inclined to the belief that the Government Departments themselves have taken refuge in subterfuges which it is difficult for plain people to appreciate. I know the right hon. Gentleman says a child in school is not a member of the public as far as shelter is concerned, because, presumably, a shelter has been found for him at the school. As regards the greater part of the country, I doubt whether shelter has been provided for the ordinary population on a scale sufficient to justify that line of argument. There is not room in public shelters for every inhabitant of the country. But the State compels these children to attend school and by bringing lare numbers of children together on particular sites, completely reverses the Government's general policy, which is one of dispersal.

From the first, the Government have told us that their line is one of dispersal, but as regards neutral areas—and now evacuation areas by allowing the schools to be reopened—they have reversed that policy. They are compelling large numbers—in many cases several hundreds—of the most defenceless section of the population, the children, to come together and to be exposed to the risks attendant on air raids, should any take place. It therefore appears very anomalous that local authorities, when they deal with the ordinary population, should get a percentage grant towards the erection of shelters, which rises very high, but when they deal with the most defenceless section of the population, they get a much lower percentage. In my borough, which is one of the poorest in the country, the figure will be 59 per cent. In Surrey, which is one of the richest counties in the country, the local authority get 50 per cent. If they got the proper percentage, it would be far less than 50, but the Government have agreed on a minimum of 50 per cent. for this purpose. The anomaly is all the greater because the poorest districts have the largest number of children in proportion to the population, for whom to make provision. In proportion to the population three times as many children have to be provided for in my constituency as have to be provided for in the county of Surrey. The proportion of children to the population and the number of children attending elementary schools is higher in the poorest districts. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will listen to the plea which has been made by my hon. Friend for a reconsideration of this matter.

I know that a committee has been appointed—I have the best of reasons for knowing that the committee has been appointed—to deal with these matters, and I hope that the instructions of the Minister to the representatives of his Department who will meet that committee will be so drawn that this matter shall be generally open to argument. It would be a great pity if, when we arrived at the committee, we were told that the matter was not open for discussion. I am bound to say, and I am speaking only for myself, that I do not share my hon. Friend's view that education committees as such ought to have representation apart from education authorities. In this matter I am very much an authority man as opposed to a committee man. After all, no education committee can have delegated to it the power of raising a loan or levying a rate. When we get to these questions of finance which involve the levying of a rate, the matter has been withdrawn from the purview of the committees. In saying that, I hope that the Minister will recognise that this matter stands in a different category altogether. I have heard the argument from his Department, but I am not sure I have not heard it from his own lips, that there are other local government services in a very similar category, like police stations and public-houses. I mean public hospitals. I wonder what made me think about public-houses; it must be the proximity of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). It is true that on occasions people are compelled to go to police stations, but no one is yet compelled to be a policeman or to go to a public hospital, whereas a child is compelled to go to a public elementary school. That, I suggest to the Minister, is the fundamental distinction between elementary schools and the other forms of local authority activities where shelters have to be provided.

It is fortunate that Sir Miles Mitchell will be a member of the committee. He will represent the Association of Municipal Corporations. I think that the point of view he expressed at the conference alluded to by my hon. Friend will be represented on the committee. The Urban Councils' Association speaking for another block of education authorities, will be represented. The County Councils Association will also be represented. I hope that when these representatives meet the Minister's Department, they will find on this matter that it will be possible to make sufficient headway to remove what I am sure the Minister must recognise as a deeply-felt grievance on the part of education authorities. If this grievance can be removed and these services can be treated at the same percentage as the normal percentage given for shelters, he will find his relationship with these authorities considerably improved.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

I have a matter to raise, and I thought it would be for the convenience of the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland if I raised it now. I speak in association with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood). It is a complaint of the Stirling and Clackmannan A.R.P. Joint Authority, and it deals with the question of first-aid posts. The complaint is that stone hot water bottles were demanded for the treatment of shock cases to the extent of five bottles per person. The chief medical adviser has specified this, and the authority complain that in the furnishing of these posts the Department will not allow them to purchase rubber hot water bottles, although stone bottles are not being supplied in sufficient numbers. The request has repeatedly been made for permission to purchase rubber hot water bottles, and there is a serious feeling of grievance because the Department will not give the permission.

The second complaint is about the equipment of first aid posts. It consists only of one small box containing a limited number of bandages and dressings. No stretchers or blankets or hot water bottles are provided at essential points. Complaints have been coming in from all the people in the districts concerned with A.R.P., and they are supported by the officer in charge and other members of the authority. They have been greatly impressed by the arguments which have been put forward by the people who come from what are termed rural areas, but which are densely populated. In the event of an air raid it would be impossible for any service to reach these people within half an hour, and sometimes three-quarters of an hour. It is suggested that, though the central points may be the most important, other points should be supplied with stretchers and blankets within reasonable reach of these thickly populated areas in Stirlingshire and Clackmannan. Up to now the only reply one has been able to give these people is that the Government have not provided these things.

I would like to ask the Minister to look into these complaints and see what can be done. I have been in communication with the Secretary of State for Scotland for some time with regard to first-aid posts in Edinburgh. The doctors at these posts have not yet been supplied with helmets or gas masks, yet they are supposed to make their way to first-aid posts immediately an air raid takes place. If a gas raid occurred, these doctors would be unable to reach the posts where they are expected to treat the patients.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)

I think I explained to the hon. Member that two doctors per post had been supplied with this equipment and that other doctors who had been attached to the posts had not yet been supplied, but that I was looking into the question of whether equipment could be made available for them.

Mr. Woodburn

I am glad to be assured of that, because there is some feeling in Edinburgh, and throughout the country generally, that doctors would not be able to reach their points of duty in the event of an air raid. I hope that the Minister will look into the whole question of our air-raid precautions in Stirlingshire and Clackmannan, because it is a densely populated industrial area, and it is felt that the present precautions are not adequate.

10.45 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)

I do not know whether it was the inadvertent reference by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to public houses which led his hon. Friend so suddenly and unexpectedly to open up the whole question of bottles in this Debate. I know that I am sometimes considered to have some sort of responsibility for what are called "bottle parties," but the particular aspect of the bottle question which was raised by the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Woodburn) is one which I feel bound to leave to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I am sorry that any controversy should have arisen between hon. Members opposite and the Government regarding the question referred to by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). I am still more sorry that that controversy should have led to suggestions, as I think wholly unfounded suggestions, of breach of faith. I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields for his intervention for the purpose of making it perfectly clear that he, at all events, does not associate himself with the allegations which have been made. I have known for some time of the view which he took of the matter, and I am grateful to him for having stated that view publicly to-night. I hope the House will believe that if I, in the discharge of my responsibility as the Minister primarily concerned with Civil Defence, had thought that there was any ground whatever for the suggestion that a breach of faith had been committed, I should have been the first to try to put the matter right. I have been a public servant for a very long time, and to me a suggestion of breach of faith by a public Department is a very serious matter indeed. I recognise that the hon. Member who raised the matter did his best to deal kindly with the Department, that he did not suggest that there had been a deliberate breach of faith, but thought there might have been some inadvertence. Nevertheless, it is the fact that I and my colleagues have received numerous, I might almost say innumerable, communications from local education authorities showing that they are labouring under a sense of grievance in this matter, and I welcome the opportunity—the first I have had, though there have been rather oblique allusions to this question from time to time—of making a considered statement on the subject.

The negotiations on which reliance is placed culminated in a conference held at the Home Office on 26th October, 1937, the purpose of which was to settle, if possible by agreement, the rates of grant to be paid in respect of certain entirely novel responsibilities which it was proposed to place upon local authorities in connection with air-raid precautions. It was because those responsibilities were wholly distinct from the normal duties and responsibilities of local authorities that the view was taken that the circumstances justified the payment from the Exchequer of rates of grant far beyond those normally payable in respect of grant-aided services undertaken by local authorities. The record shows that the discussions proceeded on that footing. As a result, rates were eventually fixed varying from 65 per cent. to, I think, 85 per cent.—wholly exceptional rates of grant.

It is not quite true to suggest that the special cases of services for which local authorities are normally responsible, in connection with which Civil Defence expenditure might have to be incurred by local authorities, were left entirely out of account. It is not the case that the problems that might arise in connection with those services were overlooked. There was, in the course of the discussion on 26th October, 1937, a specific reference to such services—police, fire brigades, hospitals, water supply and drainage—and there might have been, in that connection, a reference to schools. But it was clear at the conclusion of the discussion that the cases of local authority services for which local authorities are normally responsible were left for separate negotiation and settlement. In fact, such separate negotiation and settlement did follow in due course.

I said a moment ago that schools might have been included in that category of special services. They were not so included. There was a reference, very brief, to the problem of schools. It was made by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who put the case for the local authorities to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who was then Home Secretary. The reference was in these words: As to schools, they will, of course, be closed. It was obvious, so far as the negotiations with which the right hon. Gentleman was concerned, that the question of grant in respect of air-raid precautions in schools was not in the minds of the negotiators on either side.

Confining myself, for the moment, to the question of breach of faith, I think it is clear that, if the case rested where it is now, in the course of my argument, my answer to the charge would be complete, but that is not the whole story. Strange as it may seem—in view of the suggestions subsequently made, but first made, let me point out, by a deputation that waited upon me at the Home Office as recently as 31st July, 1939, and that was the first occasion on which any suggestion of breach of faith were made—there were separate discussions in regard to the question of air-raid precautions in schools which overlapped the general discussion, about rates of grant under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. It was at the time that a memorandum was drafted in the Board of Education dealing with precautions in schools. That memorandum was brought before a conference at which the County Councils Association, the Association of Education Committees, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Federation of Welsh Educational Committees, the London County Council, the National Union of Teachers, a Joint Committee of the Four Secondary Associations, and, I think, the Scottish authorities were represented. That memorandum was discussed by the conference in April, 1937, to which I have referred, and contained this statement: The Board of Education are prepared to recognise for their grant expenditure incurred by local education authorities in the incorporation of protective measures in suitable cases. That memorandum was issued—

Mr. Tomlinson

May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? When he says "their grant," I presume he means the Board's grant?

Sir J. Anderson

That is right.

Mr. Tomlinson

I think the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Board's grant can refer to three or four different varieties of grant.

Sir J. Anderson

I will deal with that point in a moment. It referred to the Board's grant, whatever that grant might be—not to any special grant under some Statute passed to deal, not with educational matters, but with matters connected with air-raid precautions. That memorandum was issued to the local education authorities in January, 1938. No question of any sort or kind, according to my information, was raised by the local education authorities in regard to that grant until January, 1939—long after the Air-Raid Precautions Act had been brought into operation and the process of considering and approving air-raid precautions schemes was well under way.

Mr. Tomlinson

I do not wish to interrupt, but it is as well that we should have this straightened out. I do not wish to be unfair, and I do not wish to be misunderstood. If there has been a genuine misunderstanding I think it ought to be cleared up. The point I have in mind is that when the Board's grant was being referred to it meant that the expenditure would rank for grant, but surely the authorities who would be concerned with A.R.P. were entitled to assume that it would rank for the same grant as that which had been paid for other A.R.P. services? That has been the opinion held all through.

Sir J. Anderson

That may have been the opinion held all through, but I am concerned now to show how mistaken that opinion was. I am pointing out that the discussions which resulted in the issue of that memorandum were under-taken independently—

Mr. Tomlinson

Yes, but I was interested in those discussions and there was never a discussion with a view to fixing a grant.

Sir J. Anderson

I am dealing with the issue whether there was any ground for the suggestion that there was a breach of faith, which was the serious suggestion put forward. In view of the history of the whole matter it passes my comprehension to understand how a suggestion of a breach of faith can possibly be put forward.

Mr. A. Jenkins (Pontypool)

May I ask one question? Were there any estimates submitted by the Board of Education for the payment of these grants in respect of air-raid precautions?

Sir J. Anderson

I do not know. That is a Departmental matter for the Board of Education. The point I am making is that the Board of Education were dealing with the problem of air-raid precautions for schools as a Departmental matter, and were issuing their communications in the usual course of business to the local education authorities, and in their communications had made no reference to the rates of grant under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. They referred to their rates of grant which, it may be truly said might be different rates.

If I have made the position clear as I see it may I pass to what I may call the merits of the case? It has been suggested again and again that the Government ought to have taken the view that, because air-raid precautions expenditure might have to be incurred in connection with schools, such expenditure should be held to qualify for the special rate of grant provided under the Air-Raid Precautions Act.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]

Sir J. Anderson

The first point I want to make is that schools are not the only special case that has to be taken into consideration. The local authorities, at one time or another, have had to bring before the Government Departments concerned all sorts of special cases of services for which they are responsible, in connection with which Civil Defence or Air-Raid Precautions expenditure has had to be incurred. There was the case of the police, the case of the fire brigades, the case of hospitals, and the case of public utility services for which local authorities were responsible. There was the case of their own air-raid precautions for their own establishments. In all these cases, the general principle on which the Government proceeded was that, if the service was a grant-aided service, expenditure should attract grant at the rate appropriate to that service. The case of schools was not one case standing apart from all the others. It was a particular case of a service for which local authorities are normally responsible. In the case of air-raid precautions in connection with the police services—in the case of shelters, for example, at police stations—the rate of grant payable is not the exceptional rate allowed in the special circumstances which I explained a moment ago, because of the exceptional nature of the service undertaken, it is the police rate—50 per cent. In the case of services for which no grant is ordinarily payable negotiations were entered into in certain cases—the cases of public utility services for which local authorities are responsible, such as water, gas and electricity. In those cases where an authority was called upon to undertake special expenditure, the rate of grant agreed on after negotiation was 50 per cent. In the case of shelter provided for the ordinary staffs of local authorities, towards which ordinarily no grant was payable, local authorities were placed in exactly the same position as other employers, and although they are not an Income Tax paying section of the community they were given the grant under the Civil Defence Act at a rate equivalent to the standard rate of Income Tax.

All these were special cases, in regard to which a rate of grant was fixed which was suitable to the particular circumstances of the service in question. The provision of shelter in schools was, in the view of the Government, an essential part of the educational service. That fact was brought out very clearly when, after the schools in vulnerable areas had been closed for several months, it was decided that they might be reopened, and, in order that they might be reopened, as an essential condition of their being reopened, shelter had to be provided by the local authorities. That shows how inseparably the provision of shelter was linked up with the responsibility of the local authorities for that particular service. It was held, therefore, that the appropriate rate of grant was that con- sidered appropriate to education as a grant-aided service. Considerations of financial propriety seem to indicate clearly that the cost of shelter in schools should be brought to account as educational expenditure. I do not think anyone has ever suggested otherwise. If the grant were to be paid as a grant under the Air-Raid Precautions Act, presumably it would have been brought to account quite differently, and the Public Accounts would, to that extent have been misleading.

When this matter was first brought to my notice, I gave it my best consideration, as the Minister responsible for Civil Defence. I was not the Minister responsible for educational services. It was not my business to negotiate rates of grants for educational services; I had to look at the matter as the Minister responsible for Civil Defence. It seemed to me that the operation of the financial arrangements which the Government were making might result in anomalies, for the reason that the expenditure which local authorities were being required to incur in connection with air-raid precautions in schools might weigh most heavily upon the poorest local authorities. For that reason I felt justified in urging upon the Treasury that such expenditure by local education authorities should be taken into account in the review which I, as Civil Defence Minister, was under an obligation to carry out in due course under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. I take full responsibility for that decision. It appeared to me that that was a reasonable method of approaching what I recognised to be an important financial problem, and I had thought that local authorities would have welcomed that approach to the subject.

The result is that in the course of the discussions which are about to take place, in the course of the review which will be carried out to cover all expenditure by local authorities on Civil Defence we shall take account of expenditure on air-raid precautions in schools in exactly the same way as we take account of expenditure under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. If we find that there are anomalies which ought to be smoothed out and burdens which ought to be alleviated, it will be open to the local authorities to put forward their claim, and that claim will have careful and sympathetic consideration. I want to make this clear. This is not a question of reopening the subject of the rate of grant for air-raid precautions in schools. It is a question of reviewing the general burden of expenditure falling upon local authorities, and we shall take into account in that connection the expenditure incurred in the provision of shelter in schools and any adjustment which may appear reasonable can be made just as if expenditure incurred was part of the expenditure incurred under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. That seems to me to be a reasonable method of meeting any grievance which may arise in this connection, and I hope that local authorities, including local education authorities, now that the matter has been explained, will no longer labour under a sense of grievance.

This Debate has arisen out of an answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Farnworth in which he asked me why I had not included, among those with whom these negotiations are to be conducted, representatives of the local education authorities. It was in respect of my answer to that question that the hon. Member said that he desired, because he considered the answer unsatisfactory, to raise the matter on the Adjournment. The point of principle that arose there has been dealt with quite effectively by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I have in this connection to deal with the bodies constitutionally responsible for local authority finance. It is not for me to include in those discussions representatives of committees not so responsible. I must negotiate with the authorities responsible constitutionally for local authority finance, but if it should happen that there are among their representatives gentlemen who are specially qualified to put the point of view of education committees, I shall certainly have no complaint to make.

Adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.