HC Deb 20 February 1941 vol 369 cc335-7

Order for Second Reading read.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small Measure, which deals with the financial review that was expected to take place between the Government and the local authorities, as to expenditure on Civil Defence. Section 10 of the Air-Raid Precautions Act, 1937, provides that the Secretary of State, whose functions have since been transferred in this respect to the Minister of Home Security should,

before the expiration of a period of three years from the passing of this Act"— which was on 22nd December, 1937—

in consultation with such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned and with any local authority with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable, cause an investigation to be made into the working of the financial provisions of this Act with particular reference to the expense failing to be born by local rates. A report of the result of the investigation has, under the Section, to be laid before Parliament. It was genuinely intended by my predecessor, now the Lord President of the Council, that that financial review should take place, and, for all I knew, I should have been leading the local authorities in those financial negotiations. But when the time arrived the "Blitz" occurred, with the result that it would have been inconvenient both to the local authorities and to the State that that full financial review should take place. I met the local authorities and discussed with them a number of points which they wished to raise apart from the big financial review, and certain of those discussions are still proceeding. The local authorities agreed with me that it would be impracticable to comply with the terms of Section 10 and that as soon as possible we should go on with that financial review, but that in the meantime I should ask Parliament to be good enough to postpone the operation of that Section. Consequently, this Bill provides that the financial investigation, which will involve the collection of a good deal of detail, should be further postponed. We expect to complete that investigation within the next 12 months, and indeed, it is hoped to proceed with it as opportunity occurs. We would like to get it completed well before that period if it is possible but it must depend upon the physical conditions under which we are all working. The Bill is agreed to by the local authorities, and I am sure that it will commend itself to the general feeling of the House.

Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)

No one wishes to detain my right hon. Friend from securing the Second Reading of this small Measure, but I wish to make one general comment. I am a little concerned at the shortness of the view taken by those responsible for deciding on the period for which the Bill shall be in operation. For example, we had the War Damage Bill, which gives cover only until the end of August; we had the Prolongation of Parliament Bill, which gives a small extension; and now we have this Bill, which gives an extension for only one year, an extension long enough to enable my right hon. Friend to say that he expects to get the financial investigations completed. Nobody can foretell the diffi- culties which will fall upon us during the next 12 months, and I hope that in applying their minds to the term for which these Bills shall be extended, my right hon.Friend and any other Ministers who will be concerned will take into consideration the fact that perhaps a longer period would save the House of Commons much trouble during the next 12 months or two years. I do not think it would be going too far to suggest a period of two years. However, if my right hon. Friend is satisfied with one year, I know that the House will be content.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.— [Mr. Munro.]