§ Mr. Henry Nicholls (Stratford)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 13, to leave out from "Treasury," to the end of line 27, and to insert:shall provide for and require the complete reimbursement by the designated Minister of the whole amount of any expenses incurred by local authorities or police authorities or statutory water undertakers, as defined in Section one of the Water Act, 1948, not being local authorities, in or in connection with the discharge of functions conferred on them or any of them under the last preceding section or in connection with Civil DefenceThe purpose of this Amendment is to secure, if possible, 100 per cent. reimbursement to local authorities in respect of Civil Defence expenditure—not for certain items but for all items. That would place local authorities on a par with the National Defence organisation. Certainly, Civil Defence will need to be a national organisation——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
On a point of Order. I should have thought that this Amendment, as explained by the hon.
1867 Member, would clearly have the possible effect of raising a charge upon the subject. I put it to you, Mr. Bowles, that complete 100 per cent. reimbursement in all cases, as he suggests, would have that effect.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Although the Amendment may seem to increase the charge, nevertheless, it is within the terms of the Money Resolution.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I looked at the matter rather carefully from that point of view. The Clause says:The said grants shall—(a) in the case of such expenses as may be prescribed … by the regulations, be grants by way of complete reimbursement. …I should have said that it was not compulsory here but, as I understand it, the hon. Member seeks to make it compulsory.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That may be so. Nevertheless, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will see that no financial limit is put in the Money Resolution. Therefore, I think that he is wrong. As no limit is set, I think the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. H. Nicholls) is in Order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
There is no limit, but I should have thought that the principle of complete 100 per cent. reimbursement must place a higher charge upon the subject than the principle of less than 100 per cent. reimbursement. That is how the matter appeared to me on reading the Amendment. If you Rule otherwise, naturally we bow to your Ruling.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Amendment would change the principle to some extent. Nevertheless, the limit is the sky, to use a colloquial expression. I think that the hon. Gentleman is in Order.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am grateful for your Ruling, Mr. Bowles. We back benchers have sufficient difficulties to contend with from our own Front Bench without the intervention of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. This matter was raised during the Second Reading when the Minister of Health replied to the Debate. He sought a suitable phrase and he had the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir Anderson) from the Front Bench 1868 opposite. Between them they seemed to be perfectly agreed that 100 per cent. would provide complete administrative subservience. That is a nicely rounded phrase which seemed to please them. We are getting near to Christmas time, the time of crackers, Yule fires, and bogy and ghost stories. Perhaps it is natural that we should be expected to be nervous of a bogy story of that description. In fact, we members of local authorities have lived so long with this bogy that it is now one of the family. One assumes that if 100 per cent. is complete subservience, then 75 per cent. merely produces grandmotherly interference.
I had an experience in this connection today when I passed a gang of men with two lorries who were busy taking away the remains of a badly blitzed church. Adjacent to it there was a brick-built surface shelter. Good sense would suggest that in clearing one, we should also clear the other instead of making special journeys for each. The truth is that we dare not shift the shelter unless and until the appropriate Department of the Government approves the project otherwise we lose any grant that might be payable. If that is not administrative subservience, I should like to know what is. The truth is that the Government Department concerned will not spend a penny until and unless they are fully satisfied about what will be done with the whole of the grant. Whether 75 per cent. or 100 per cent. is paid will not make any difference.
The Bill asks us as local authorities, to sign a blank cheque, to say that we will pay up to 25 per cent. of such expenditure as may be necessary for Civil Defence purposes. Many hon. Members claim business experience. I ask them whether it is good business for anybody who claims to be handling public money to have an arrangement such as this. Is it something that could be entered into in good faith on behalf of the burgesses of the borough? We are asked to sign a blank cheque to pay up to 25 per cent.—of how much? No one can say what the total bill will be. No one can assess the total amount. Yet we are asked to sign a blank cheque for up to 25 per cent. of the total. That is unreasonable.
There are other arguments, but I consider that that alone should be sufficient to persuade my right hon. Friend to give 1869 way on this point, or at least to offer to consider the matter further with the possibility of an Amendment being proposed on Report stage. If he is unable to do that, I suggest that the least he might do is to provide a ceiling beyond which the local authority should not be required to contribute. He must have in mind that the incidence of expenditure on Civil Defence will be far greater in some areas than it will be in others. Ten per cent. in West Ham would be far more than 25 per cent. in Bournemouth. Yet West Ham is far less able to bear a heavy rate demand of that description. Will the right hon. Gentleman fix a ceiling beyond which local authorities will not be asked to pledge public finance?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Upton)
I wish to support the argument put forward by my hon. Friend. A local authority which has no say in whether or not there should be a war, should be guaranteed the whole expenses of Civil Defence. This Amendment is one which could, and should, be supported not only by the Home Secretary but by every hon. Member, and particularly by those who have the privilege and the great difficulty of representing what are described as the blitzed areas. Hon. Members representing the blitzed areas know from their own experience how those areas suffered during the war, not only by aerial bombardment and its cost, but, what is more important, by the losses which they suffered after the war through not being able to recover rates from the devastated factories, houses and other establishments in their areas.
Let us take the case of West Ham, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend. It is a very important area in peace time, but more particularly is it so in war. It has very large docks, very large railway undertakings and I believe it has the biggest gasworks in the country. If there is to be a war, and we all hope that there will not be one, it is obvious that, immediately, an area such as West Ham would be one of the targets which the potential enemy would try to attack. We find that these areas are largely poor, working-class areas, and they suffer not only from aerial bombardment and damage to property, but, thereafter, as in the case of West Ham, they have to spend years and years 1870 in trying to find the money to pay for the damage which has been caused through no fault of their own.
The Home Secretary has suggested that, in some instances, he is going to pay 100 per cent. Why only in some instances? Supposing that the Government decided that, because of the vulnerability of areas like West Ham, they needed special anti-aircraft or radar equipment, would this House or the Government expect West Ham to find the cost of it out of the local rates? Obviously not. During the last war, around the coastal areas, there were many barbed wire entanglements and concrete pillar obstructions erected in order to prevent any attempted invasion. Hon. Members representing those coastal towns would have been the first to complain if the cost of those works had had to be found out of the local rates.
I cannot see how the Home Secretary can in any way logically uphold this suggestion that the local council shall have imposed upon it 25 per cent. of the cost of Civil Defence. I am hoping that some of my hon. Friends on this side will support me in this Amendment, and I am also hoping that we might have support from some hon. Members opposite. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has left the Committee, as he has taken a very active part so far in the discussion on this Bill. I should have liked him to say, on behalf of his constituents in Torquay, that he realised that, as they happen to be in a fairly safe area, they would be only too willing to bear half the cost, or, indeed, the whole of the cost, of Civil Defence so far as one of the more dangerous areas is concerned. We have a number of small areas which already possess all that they could desire in wealth and rates, and which are also in the position of being fairly safe areas, with none of the difficulties of the problems associated with aerial bombardment, and, in addition, do not have the worry and trouble of finding money like blitzed areas such as that which I have the honour to represent, together with my colleague.
We in West Ham, and I think other hon. Members also, feel very strongly that we ought to divide the Committee, if necessary, on this Amendment. I 1871 mentioned this point during the Second Reading Debate, and I hoped that the Home Secretary would put forward this Amendment. I understand that it is possible for him to change his mind on this question and make the necessary alteration on Report stage. If he can give us an assurance that he will do so, I feel convinced that my hon. Friends who are supporting this Amendment will not press it to a division, but, speaking for myself, and, I think, for some of my hon. Friends who support the Amendment, I must say that, unless we can get something in the way of what we feel to be a fair, reasonable and sympathetic understanding from the Home Secretary we most certainly will divide the Committee, because we feel that, here again, the blitzed cities which have been neglected in the past are, in fact, not only to continue to be neglected in the future, but will be penalised through no fault of their own.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (Plaistow)
I rise briefly to support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend. In the first place, I should like some elucidation from my right hon. Friend as to the exact significance, in Subsection (2, b), of the words "in other cases." It is not clear to me what is contemplated by those words, what expenditure is contemplated and for what activities the local authority is expected to contribute payments.
Whatever expenditure the local authority is called upon to meet, whether it be great or small, I submit that this Amendment raises a very important matter of principle. That is the question whether Civil Defence shall be a national charge, which the nation as a whole should bear, or whether there should be some part of it borne by the local authorities, and as events have proved in the past, borne unequally by blitzed areas. It is abundantly clear that the needs for Civil Defence in the blitzed areas in any future war will be greater than those in other areas and that the need for preparation will be greater. It is no accident that the blitzed areas are the areas of docks, factories, railways and power undertakings. In the event of another war, these same areas will again be the blitzed areas, and they will again be faced with disproportionate expenditure upon Civil Defence.
1872 Surely, this is a matter for the nation as a whole? This expenditure on Civil Defence, to which the local authorities are asked to contribute, may be necessary in the national interest, but it is surely unproductive economically and does not help the local authorities to meet their own problems. I do not think it is conceived in this Bill that there are to be more hospitals, more schools or provisions of that kind. This Civil Defence expenditure may be necessary from the point of view of the strategy of the nation, but it is economically unproductive to the local authorities concerned, and, in those circumstances, it is surely only proper that the nation should bear the burden of paying.
I submit that it is just as inequitable to expect West Ham to pay more for Civil Defence because it happens to have docks, factories and power undertakings within its boundaries as it would be to expect Aldershot to make a special contribution to the War Office because there happen to be a lot of soldiers there. It it inequitable, it is not logical at all, and I therefore ask why should West Ham and any other blitzed areas pay more than lucky areas like Weston-super-Mare, which happily avoided the catastrophe of destruction in the last war. I do not know whether I am right in what I say about Weston-super-Mare, and I am sorry if I am not, but there are other areas in the country which mercifully escaped destruction.
It is possible, in spite of the atom bomb, that in the future some areas in this little island may again escape destruction. If that is so, surely it is right that those areas should pay a proportionately equal part of the national burden. In the last war, West Ham—if I may be forgiven for again referring to the area which I have the honour to represent—paid dearly in life and property for its part in Civil Defence. Over 1,200 people were killed in West Ham and over 6,000 were wounded. Is it not a little bit sordid that, in view of that record, West Ham should now be asked to pay a special contribution for Civil Defence expenditure in preparation for a future war? Is it not somewhat squalid?
I ask my hon. Friend to give close attention to this matter. I am sure he is sympathetic towards us because blitzed 1873 areas throughout the country are in very serious financial difficulty at the moment owing to the war. If we want the morale of those areas to be maintained in the event of any other national danger, we shall not help to maintain it by measures of this kind. As a nation, we must squarely face the necessity of making expenditure on Civil Defence a national expenditure, chargeable upon the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)
I wish to support this Amendment because I believe that, in its present form, the Clause distributes the burden of Civil Defence inequitably among local authorities. It may, in fact, even lead to inefficiency, because its effect will be to discourage local authorities—perhaps even those in vulnerable areas—from entering into the necessary expenditure to safeguard against the likelihood of war. The last war established the fact that although the 1937 and 1939 Civil Defence Acts distributed the burden of Civil Defence equally among the various local authorities of the country, the actual burden of enemy attack was borne unequally by different areas.
Quite clearly, localities which are natural strategic targets, like the City of Coventry which I represent, are bound to be as attractive to a potential enemy in any future war as they were in the last war. What is more, those localities are still suffering from the disasters of the last war, and the ratepayers of those towns and districts are still paying for the damage caused during that war. Now they are asked to pay these added charges for Civil Defence arrangements in order to prepare against the possibility of another war.
If within those localities the actual rates paid were, in fact, such as to provide equal responsibility in those areas, then there might be less ground for complaint. In point of fact, however, we find that in districts like West Ham and in cities like Coventry, the ratepayers who pay the most, proportionately, are the small shopkeepers and the people who live in working-class houses and who are actually resident in the city. Those who probably derive most benefit from the industries of these cities—the people who live outside and who only come into the city to work, whose factories and business undertakings 'are in the city itself—pay, propor- 1874 tionately, less in rates as a result of the Derating Act than those citizens who actually live in the city, and who spend the whole of their working and non-working lives there. Therefore, the burden of this 25 per cent. expenditure envisaged in the Bill will fall most severely on the smaller people in the various cities up and down the country. For those reasons—because it is inequitable as between localities and as between individuals—I support this Amendment.
But there is another argument—the argument of efficiency. Before the war, there was a tendency to say that local authorities should not have power to engage in particular enterprises unless they also had the financial responsibility for those enterprises. I imagine that when, in 1937 and 1939, the Civil Defence Acts were passed, one of the ideas of imposing the 25 per cent. charge on the local authorities was to prevent them from engaging in too ambitious schemes of Civil Defence. In point of fact, the 25 per cent. charge was designed rather as a curb in order to check too ambitious expenditure.
But with the experience of the second world war behind us, we have some idea of how the cost of Civil Defence will have to be distributed. It is quite clear that the blitzed areas, where armaments were made and will be made again, will be the strategic targets in any future war. As those districts serve the national purpose, it seems to me that the Exchequer, and not the local rates, should be responsible for the cost of Civil Defence. I believe that a national burden should be nationally borne.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I naturally view this Amendment with a great deal of sympathy. I gather that while I was absent from the Chamber the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) said that he wished I were present, so that he could draw my attention to the Amendment. There was no need for him to do that. In the first place there is a good deal to be said in favour of those areas now suffering from the results of the war being helped as much as possible. In the usual absence of the hon. Members for Plymouth—those dumbbells who are rarely here, and whose constituents in the West Country have the misfortune of being represented by three most incom- 1875 petent Socialists, and have no one at the moment to put their point of view—I will put to the House what I think is the very difficult position of Plymouth. The people of Plymouth naturally feel that if there are to be new preparations for Civil Defence, everything should be done to help them.
I have studied this matter with great care. In my division—which, owing to the incompetence of the Government, is having its greatest trade and industry crippled through lack of materials—the actual death rate from bombing was double that of the average constituency of Great Britain. Over 10,000 houses were damaged by bombs, and, far from being, as some hon. Members have said, a town which escaped the bombing, it was one of the most heavily bombed towns, apart from Plymouth and special target areas. Therefore, on behalf of my own constituents and of my friends in the constituency of Plymouth, my sympathy is with the purpose of this Amendment. It was a purpose which I appreciated quite early in my studies of this Bill. long before the Amendment was placed on the Order Paper.
Having arrived at that point, I listened very carefully to the Minister of Health. I always look upon his speeches as instructive and interesting, but not necessarily accurate. On the other hand, when I found the Minister of Health, in dealing with this matter of payments on one occasion, actually becoming truthful, I realised that he must have a very strong case indeed, because if he could possibly have avoided it he would have done something else. What is his position on this matter—and it is for his reason that I shall be obliged to vote against the Amendment.
Already the distressed areas, or the comparatively poor areas, will get a very heavy percentage from the Government, many of the places built for them, and a large percentage of the money will come from the Treasury. I have no doubt that the Government Front Bench will be able tonight to give the same figures as those given by the Minister of Health on a previous occasion. I am glad to see the Home Secretary here; he will realise that his best supporters in making this a strong Bill are people like myself who take a real interest in it. I am now 1876 defending him against his own back benchers.
I say quite frankly that the defence of the Government's attitude by the Minister of Health himself was sound. The sympathy and all that kind of thing which I have probably in a much greater degree than the average hon. Member opposite, would almost compel me to vote for the Amendment, but I think in dealing with these matters there is a good deal to be said from the point of view of the Minister of Health, as expressed by him the other day. Where we give the civil authorities the power to carry out these things, the central Government—because this is really a national service—should make a very big contribution. That contribution they are making. Some contribution should be made, however, by the local authorities because they have such a large part themselves in the spending of the money. That gives them responsibility.
I think that will be the Government's argument against this Amendment. I had no intention of speaking on this point until I was informed of the attack upon my constituency. I think I have given adequately the reason why I shall not be able to support the Amendment, but want to emphasise again that if the position in my constituency is upheld as it was in the last war it will be one of the most vital areas of the country in many ways. I will not say why, but we shall certainly have to pay very heavily on that point.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
If the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) will permit me, I should like to explain that I did not attack him or his constituency in any way. What I said, and I repeat it, was that I wished the hon. Member for Torquay were present because he had taken a very active part in this Bill and I felt sure this Amendment was something he would support and deal with sympathetically. Now that he has returned to the House he has, in fact, outlined his sympathy with the Amendment.
§ Mr. Williams
I thank the hon. Member very sincerely. That is roughly what I thought he said. I am sympathetic with the Amendment, but I would say that unfortunately my division, owing to many of the things I would not dream 1877 of discussing now, far from being a wealthy division, has now become a poor division, and like the whole of the West country is vastly the worst-fed area in the country.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
I am surprised at the attitude of some of my hon. Friends, because I must tell the Committee that two of my right hon. Friends, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, had a full meeting with representatives of all the local authorities' bodies and explained the whole position to them most carefully. There was a general discussion. I was present and therefore can speak at first hand about it. At the end of the meeting the local authorities representatives unanimously accepted the Government's proposals as fair and reasonable. I hope the Committee will agree that we cannot possibly consult every individual local authority, but we have every reason to suppose that if we consult the recognised associations of local authorities and obtain an agreement with them without any dissent, we may be permitted to be surpised if we find that their view is now not upheld.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain whether that agreement was an agreement under protest, or whether the representatives were convinced of the justice of the case put forward by the Government and of the adequacy of the contribution?
§ Mr. Scollan
Before the hon. Gentleman replies to that question, could he also tell us whether the Secretary of State for Scotland met the local authorities of Scotland on the same point?
§ Mr. Nicholls
And before the hon. Gentleman replies to those two questions, will he say whether this meeting was with local authorities? I presume that he meant it was with the associations. If that is so, is he aware of any contact made with the local authorities at which they could express their views on this subject? I spoke on this subject on the Second Reading Debate and pointed out then that no contact had been made.
§ Mr. Edwards
I cannot go into a discussion on the contacts between associations and their constituents, but, as I said, the meeting was with the representatives of the recognised local autho- 1878 rity associations—the A.M.C. and other bodies. Those are the people we met. The Secretary of State for Scotland was there and, as I understood it, the Scottish associations were also represented. I have been asked whether the Government's decision was received with a protest. The impression I got was that the local authorities were somewhat relieved and, on the whole, thought we had done well by them. Certainly this was not accepted in a grudging spirit. There was a unanimous view expressed that the Government's proposals, as I put it in my opening remarks, were fair and reasonable.
I do not feel inclined to retract at all from the view put by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in the Second Reading Debate. I believe we must rely on the local councils for this work and I believe we must treat them in this, as in all matters, as free authorities within our multiform democracy and not follow a course which is likely to end by using them as simply servile agencies. I do not want to labour the point because it has already been made, but I think there is a good deal of misunderstanding about what is here intended. The first misunderstanding arises, I think, from the all-too-facile comparison with National Defence as we ordinarily understand it.
There is a difference between the Army, the Navy and the Air Force on the one hand and the kind of Civil Defence we are dealing with here on the other hand. After all, the ambulances we are using now; the fire brigades we are using now; our roadmen are engaged in road work now; our water engineers are engaged in water undertakings. All this is going on now, and it is quite a false parallel to suggest that Civil Defence is of exactly the same kind as military or air defence. It is not. In a very large measure it consists of preparing now for carrying on existing services in conditions of war. That is a different situation.
What has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary already told the House? He has already told the House that any expenditure on major capital works and any expenditure on major equipment or appliances kept as a reserve against the possibility of war will be borne wholly by the Exchequer, and that other expenditure will be grant-aided to the extent 1879 of 75 per cent. What does this mean in terms of the last war? It means that it is now the Government's intention to reimburse the expenditure that was reimbursable at the end of the war—there had been a slow progress in this matter—and to grant-aid at a standard rate of 75 per cent. aid what was then grant-aided on a sliding scale. Clearly, the items involving the greater part of the expenditure will be reimbursable, and the burden of the remaining items, the cost of 25 per cent. could reasonably be met by the local authorities, and is certainly not, I think, going to be a heavy one.
I point out again what has been pointed out already, that for a very large number of authorities there will be no question of meeting the 25 per cent. at all, because the expenditure on that account will rank for the purpose of equalisation grant under the Local Government Act. Therefore, there will I am sure be a very large number of authorities whose contribution will be very much less than that. It means that the bulk of the expenditure will be reimbursed, and that there will be a remainder 25 per cent. of which they will meet, though in a number of authorities' areas the Exchequer comes in as a ratepayer, so that in fact they do not bear the whole 25 per cent.
I am interested in the fact that the supporters of this Amendment are all hon. Friends of mine from the county borough of West Ham. West Ham has peculiar difficulties, because it is an area which was severely blitzed, but I do not think it would be right to let the suggestion go by that West Ham has been entirely neglected. After all, in the case of West Ham, as in the cases of some of the other blitzed towns, it has been recognised that there are special problems; and it has been recognised that special Government financial help should be forthcoming. I Think that should be borne in mind. But it is impossible to accept the view expressed in the Amendment. I would say to my hon Friends who are supporting the Amendment that we are not here asking the authorities to sign a blank cheque. We are not asking them to do anything of the kind. The broad categories of expenditure have been explained to them, and even explained 1880 to the House on the occasion of the Second Reading. Further, these classes are to be defined by regulation, and we have already given an assurance, which I now repeat, that in the preparation of these regulations local authorities and other bodies concerned will be consulted. So there cannot be any question of a blank cheque procedure.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
My hon. Friend says that hon. Members have already been informed of the categories of expenditure contemplated. However, there has been no explanation of the expenditure contemplated in these other cases. That is what I have been patiently waiting to hear from my hon. Friend. I should like him to give some kind of estimate, if he can, of what the financial responsibility will be on such an area as West Ham. If he cannot, he is asking West Ham to sign a blank cheque.
§ Mr. Edwards
One would be asking West Ham to sign a blank cheque if no kind of indication of the categories involving the 25 per cent. had been given. The Committee would not expect me tonight to say what the total overall cost of all this will be. I do not know. Nor do I want to go farther than my right hon. Friend did on the occasion of the Second Reading Debate in stating these categories, because we have told the local authorities' associations that we will discuss that in detail with them. Broadly, the categories are as at the end of the war—broadly, but we do not say that this is the last word on it. We want room in which to move.
§ Mr. Nicholls
If my hon. Friend cannot fix the upper limit of the blank cheque—and, surely, it is a blank cheque—can he say what is the upper limit in terms of how much in the £ it will be? Can he give us any idea at all? We are paying 23s. in the £ now, and that is a fairly high amount. Can he say whether it will be more or less?
§ Mr. Edwards
I cannot say anything of the kind. However, there is all the difference in the world between asking local authorities to agree to make a contribution in limits which are defined, even though they are not defined precisely in money terms, and saying to them, "Here it is, we can put anything we like into this category, and you have to pay 25 per 1881 cent." We have told them clearly that the big items of expenditure are to be in the reimbursable class. I cannot add anything more to what I have said, and I conclude by saying how surprised I am that this view should be taken on a matter on which we have been at infinite pains to get agreement and have been in complete accord.
§ Mr. Lipson
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not press too far the argument that because an agreement has been arrived at with representatives of local authorities, therefore we in this Committee have to rubber stamp the decision arrived at, and are not free to express our own views.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
Nothing I said could even remotely be construed in such a sense. I said I was surprised, because we had had these discussions. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to suggest that anything I said could be interpreted in the way he makes out.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am sorry if I misinterpreted the hon. Gentleman, but what he said gave me the impression that, as the matter had been settled by discussion with the local authorities, there was no reason why he should not express surprise because this Amendment has been moved. If this Amendment is pressed to a Division, I, personally, will support it in the Lobby, because I think the Amendment is justified from the point of view of equity and of common sense.
According to the Parliamentary Secretary, the Government are prepared to go a long way in meeting the expenditure of local authorities. However, he has given us no reason whatever why they should not go the whole hog. The arguments that justify their going as far as they have appear to justify their covering the whole of the expenditure. He has told us that, concerning these areas covered by the 75 per cent. grant, in cases where local authorities will have to pay 25 per cent., there will be regulations which, before they are issued, will be discussed with the local authorities. What is the value of those discussions when the final decision rests with the Government? Suppose the local authorities should object to these regulations; will the Government say, "We have deferred to the wishes of the representatives of the local authorities, and accept 1882 their view as to what is right and wrong with the regulations? "Or will they not do that, because the local authorities will not agree with them?
§ Mr. Lipson
I welcome that, of course, as a statement of fact. However, it seems to me that this Amendment goes to the whole root of the importance that the Government attach to Civil Defence. Civil Defence is every bit as necessary for victory in war as military defence, because in a modern war public morale plays so important a part in achieving, victory. It is essential that there should be Civil Defence readiness everywhere,. because nobody can say where Civil Defence will be required or what particular services will be required or in what degree. So it is essential that Civil Defence everywhere should be adequate, and that it should be ready in time. The only way in which that is likely to be achieved is through the Government's being prepared to admit that this is a national responsibility occasioned by national necessity, and that it is, therefore, necessary that the whole expenditure should be met out of national taxation.
How much money is actually involved in the dispute? What is the reason why the Government are not prepared to meet the comparatively small sum necessary by national taxation? All I ask, in reply to the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary, that part of the work will be in connection with services that are going on normally, is that all additional expenditure which the local authorities can prove to the satisfaction of the Ministry to be required for Civil Defence shall be met by 100 per cent. grant. I ask the Government how they can in logic or in equity refuse to agree to that. It would, of course, have to be approved expenditure, so that if the Government are afraid that the local authorities will be extravagant that will provide sufficient safeguard.
Already, all over the country, rates are a very heavy burden. I ask the Committee to remember that rates have to be paid by people whether they are financially able to do so or not. A good deal of taxation is only paid by those who are in a position to pay Income Tax or because they choose to drink or smoke.
1883 but in the case of rates they have to be paid anyhow; and, therefore, there is always much more argument when expenditure comes out of the rates than when it comes out of national taxation. The burden of rates falls so often on those least able to bear it. What is also unfair is that it falls more heavily on the married man with a family who has to have a larger house than the person with less commitments. Therefore, I ask the Government to view this matter much more sympathetically. I am quite satisfied that if they will do so, they will be able to achieve more promptly and efficiently the purposes of the Bill. The local authorities, without having to look all the time to the financial burden of their commitments on the ratepayers, will be able to concentrate on providing everywhere adequate Civil Defence for their people. One result of throwing this additional burden on the local authorities will be that possibly some of their other services will have to suffer. I do not want that to happen, and, therefore, I ask that this matter may be given further and more sympathetic consideration.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I want to urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider his attitude to this Amendment and if possible to accept it. The Parliamentary Secretary, when replying, made a point of the fact that the local authorities had been met and had agreed to the 25 per cent. contribution which they were expected to make under the Bill. He pointed out that they did not disagree with that. I want to ask him this question: If he had told them that the Government proposed to make 100 per cent. contribution and not 75 per cent., does he think that he would have found any disagreement among the local authorities?
I suggest that that point entirely wipes out the defence put forward on the expenditure side which my hon. Friend made. With regard to that point, I am surprised to find no complaint about the 25 per cent. contribution, because I am having complaints about there being certain other measures which the local authorities have to carry out which are making heavy obligations upon them. While, of course, they have been largely released of many other rating obligations, 1884 they realise that once again the rates are beginning to creep up. In view of these objections, I am surprised that no objection was lodged with regard to the 25 per cent. contribution which they have to make.
My hon. Friend also pointed out in his speech that, in any event, they would be largely reimbursed. If they are to be reimbursed, why make the charge at all? The other point which he made was that we cannot really strike an analogy between Civil Defence and the part which the Navy, Army and Air Force will be required to play if war should break out. I find it difficult to accept that point of view because, while we recognise that local authorities may make their own schemes to carry on existing services, all these schemes will require to be worked in with the national defence scheme. They must be integrated into some scheme of National Defence. In that respect, this Civil Defence Bill becomes a Bill for national defence. If such is the case, it ranks on an equal level with the Navy, Army and Air Force and, from the point of view of maintaining it, ought to be treated in exactly the same way as those three other aspects of National Defence. Because of that, I would urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider his attitude to the Amendment and, if possible, to accept it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I want to consider the point of view which has been put forward in connection with the local authorities of Scotland. I must confess some amazement—and Scottish Members will share my amazement—on hearing that the Association of Local Authorities in Scotland have agreed to this contribution without any question or criticism, because I believe that if the local authorities had been given any clear understanding of the bill they are likely to have to meet in these circumstances, the Scottish local authorities would protest. as they normally protest when anything like this comes along.
I believe that if, when the Parliamentary Secretary discussed this matter with the Scottish local authorities there was unanimous agreement, it must have been the most miraculous meeting in history between local authorities and a Minister. I speak with knowledge of the Convention of Burghs in Scotland and 1885 also of the Association of County Councils, and I believe that when it leaks out to local authorities what the position is, they will realise, as Scottish Members are beginning to realise, that the Secretary of State for Scotland has sold them another pup, and this pup is likely to grow into a rather formidable animal.
Last week I was lobbied by the Glasgow Corporation, who expressed great indignation about a matter involving much less financial burden than this. When the Glasgow Corporation realise that they may be called upon to meet 25 per cent. of the expenditure following, say, a bomb attack, which might wipe out three-quarters of the congested area of Glasgow, I feel sure they will lead a revolt against this proposal, if this Committee does not do so tonight.
Only one half-hearted attempt has been made to justify the argument of the Minister, and that has come from the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who even suggested that we Socialists who have been on local authorities are unmindful of our responsibilities to the people. Nothing of the kind. Although I, for one, have expressed the view that some of the proposals in this Bill are unrealistic and futile, we all agree that everything possible must be done to save the civil population in the event of war. I very much resent his remark that we are unmindful of our responsibilities. He even introduced the word "Communist" in an attempt to sneer at us.
Let us look at some of the responsibilities we shall be faced with under this Bill. One of the underlying arguments is that local authorities will say: "The Government will pay this bill, therefore we need not bother very much about the expenditure involved." The attitude of the Glasgow City Council, the Ayrshire County Council, or any other of the Socialist authorities in the West of Scotland, will be exactly the opposite, because far from being likely to rush into expenditure in preparing premises or building shelters they will look upon this activity to see how it may affect other local authority activities.
In Scotland we have never been accustomed to this 25–75 per cent. method; because our housing programme is worse we have been used to special consideration. Local authorities are not likely to rush into the building of shelters 1886 when they know they cannot even get the building labour and materials for housing. The point of view expressed by the hon. Members for Plaistow (Mr. Elwyn Jones) and Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) is reasonable, and coincides with that of those who have some knowledge of local authority work in Scotland and the rest of the country. The Government should yield to the Committee on this occasion. and do the reasonable thing in a reasonable way.
§ Mr. Scollan
I rise to support the Amendment and to express astonishment at the attitude taken up by the Government. We had a most interesting contribution from the Parliamentary Secretary, whose speech, if followed carefully, gave the impression that the whole matter had been gone into, right from the beginning, in consultation with representatives of the local authorities, who were perfectly well aware of the burden which was to be placed upon them and were quite agreeable to accept it without any protest at all.
If that is a fair assumption from what the Parliamentary Secretary told us, it is astonishing that a Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency containing several burghs should be bombarded by these burghs to raise in the House the question of the increase in their rates because of new housing schemes and the increased costs in house building. The two things just do not square. How the these local authorities meet the Parliamentary Secretary and say they are prepared to accept a new burden of 25 per cent. on a non-productive project—which is obviously speculative and may not be wanted—and at the same time ask Members of Parliament to get them relief on the increased rates necessitated by these new housing schemes? The two things simply do not tally.
Speaking especially for the local authorities in my county constituency, I do not think the local authorities realise that they may be let in for 25 per cent. of the cost of this scheme when it is put into operation. Strange as it may seem, my constituency contains a large portion of the Clyde Coast, right from Inverkip to Renfrew, including the whole industrial centre which was the enemy objective on the Clyde Coast in the last war. There are a number of little towns, 1887 and also the very large town of Greenock, which will incur enormous expense on Civil Defence for the purpose of defending these very vulnerable and very valuable areas. Suppose we, like the Government, base it on the last war and not on the atomic bombs of any future war. The Parliamentary Secretary tells us that the new services which have been taken over would function in the usual way, and that therefore we must consider them functioning as ordinary services.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
I must correct my hon. Friend. I did not say anything even remotely representing what he now says. I did not suggest that. I made it perfectly clear in every detail.
§ Mr. Scollan
Then my memory must be at fault. I thought I heard him say that the fire brigade services, the health services and the ambulance services would be carried on in the usual way. Perhaps tomorrow he will refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT, when he will find that I am right. He said they would be carried on in the usual way and would not cost anything extra. Everybody knows perfectly well that the usual services are of no use in war. The usual services have to be augmented, necessitating extra expense.
Suppose some local authorities say: "If we are to pay 25 per cent. we shall no do it." Under Clause 2, the Home Secretary has power to compel them to pay; he has power to have the work done and charge them 25 per cent. Does any hon. Member suggest that municipalities all over the country accepted that, or that it is not a blank cheque? Obviously, here the Home Secretary has power to say "We consider your town vulnerable and you must take certain steps. We order you to take those steps, and we shall charge you 25 per cent. of the total cost." No municipality, would accept that, if put in that way.
When the Parliamentary Secretary and others met local authority representatives this proposal must have been put over with the aid of a certain amount of soothing syrup, otherwise it would never have been accepted. One of the main Government arguments has been: "We told the municipal representatives that certain categories were laid down, and that 1888 everything in those categories would be paid for as to 100 per cent." I wonder whether the local authority representatives thought to ask whether there was any likelihood of the categories changing between now and any future war? I wonder whether they pointed out that the categories laid down were obviously for the last war and that in a future war a lot of things might be learned, requiring the categories completely to change and necessitating costly items for a new mode of defence? In that case, if it were agreed that the Government should pay 75 per cent. and the local authority should pay 25 per cent., it might make the rates of that burgh prohibitive.
The sensible thing is to regard Civil Defence as National Defence. If it is National Defence, obviously it should be a national burden with national co-ordination. Is anybody going to say that when the last war was on, the searchlights, the mobile guns which were moving up and down the Clyde Valley and the ordinary Civil Defence wardens were not as much a part of Civil Defence. Why should not the whole burden be borne by the State and the whole co-ordination of the services be carried out by the State? Did we not appoint regional controllers and regional commanders? The whole arrangement was co-ordinated from the centre, and, like the Army, Navy and Air Force, it ought to be paid for by the nation.
§ Mr. Ede
I think there is some misapprehension in the minds of some hon. Members as to the exact range of services which is covered by this Clause. For instance, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked whether Glasgow should be called upon to bear 25 per cent. of the cost of an attack upon Glasgow. This is nothing to do with what happens in times of hostilities. This is the way in which the expenditure incurred in making preparations for war shall be shared between the Exchequer and the local authorities. It is, therefore, quite wrong to introduce any point like that. I do not think that on the last occasion that kind of issue was or could have been raised.
I was present—in fact, I presided—at this conference with the local authorities, 1889 and the accredited representatives of all the local authority associations of Great Britain were present. In addition, there were the representatives of the London County Council who, as the Committee knows, is not a member of any of the associations and always attends independently. This proposal had been explained to them carefully in the course of negotiations which had been conducted over some months.
§ Mr. Ede
Why cannot I be allowed to deliver my speech in my own way? I do not interrupt the hon. Gentleman. His speeches would be much better if I did. I must ask him to allow me to stew in my own juice so far as speech making is concerned. What was considered was an account of the services and the way in which the expenses would be divided, and in the course of a few minutes I propose to give the same analysis to the Committee so that hon. Members will see exactly what was involved.
We were fortified very much by the fact that Glasgow was represented at that conference, and quite appropriately in a matter of high finance like this the Glasgow representative was the treasurer. I cannot be expected to be more zealous on behalf of the rates of Glasgow than the Glasgow treasurer. The local authorities had had an opportunity of studying this matter. It was carefully explained to them by me in detail. There were one or two representatives present who, when the question of 100 per cent. was ventilated, pointed out the danger of getting 100 per cent. for these running services, for they recognised, as I think the Committee will see when I come to it a bit later, that it would have been very dangerous for them, if they desired to maintain municipal autonomy, to accept 100 per cent. for some of the services for which 75 per cent. will be paid.
I think, therefore, that it may be a good thing if I indicate to the Committee the kind of services on which we shall pay 75 per cent. Let us take emergency water supplies. They consist of building connecting mains between the area of one authority and another, and perhaps providing an additional reservoir in some places. The constructional works 1890 are of considerable magnitude. They will all be paid for at the rate of 100 per cent. reimbursement. What the local authority will be asked to pay 25 per cent. towards is the maintenance of those works once they are established. Once they are established one can rest assured that it will be to everybody's advantage that they shall be used as part of the ordinary water undertaking in the area. The maintenance of a water main and of a reservoir is a comparatively trivial expense, and to pay only 25 per cent. towards the upkeep of constructional works of that kind for which the capital expenditure has been entirely reimbursed is a very advantageous arrangement indeed for the water undertaking or the municipality which may be in charge of the water service.
When we come to such matters as auxiliary fire appliances, the capital cost of getting additional fire appliances which are not required in the ordinary fire equipment of the borough or county will be defrayed 100 per cent.; but it is to be hoped that there again these fire appliances will not merely be examples of what can be done with a little spit and elbow grease but that they will be used from time to time in the ordinary work of the local authority. There again the maintenance cost is trivial as compared with the capital cost, but if the local authority is getting the advantage of having these appliances available and using them from time to time, I should have thought 25 per cent. of the maintenance cost of the machine was no very great payment to make for a very considerable improvement in the local municipal efficiency.
Then we have such things as fire hose. I cannot think that it is any serious imposition on a local authority to be asked to pay 25 per cent. of the cost of this material which they are using and wearing out in the course of their ordinary operations. When we come to such things as premises for training, which may involve very considerable costs in certain areas, they are entirely reimbursed. The kind of service, therefore, on which the local authorities are asked to pay 25 per cent. is the ordinary running service which has been augmented for the purpose of Civil Defence and will be used from time to time in the course of the local authorities' own operations.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The Home Secretary said that the central Government would pay 75 per cent. towards other equipment, such as additional fire engines. Does that cover the charge for additional buildings and personnel to maintain that equipment?
§ Mr. Ede
The Government pay 100 per cent. towards the capital cost of acquiring the new fire appliances, and if it involves additional housing which is a permanent work necessitated by the augmentation of the service for Civil Defence purposes, that also ranks for the 100 per cent. grant, but the maintenance, as the local authority is benefitting from the equipment every day, particularly in times when there happens to be a fire, will rank for grant at 75 per cent, instead of the normal 25 per cent.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Gentleman ought to be a little acquainted with the Fire Service before he says such a thing. I am astonished at the way in which fire appliances have developed in efficiency and usefulness during the past few years. There are many areas in the country, including the county of London, where in peace time the fire service need not be anything like as well equipped in numbers of machines as the war-time service ought to be. Anything that is required above the peace-time establishment ranks for 100 per cent. grant, but for the maintenance it will be 25 per cent. Let us now take the problem of shelters. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) said that they would not build shelters in Scotland.
§ Mr. Scollan
What I actually said was that if some town decided not to build these shelters and not to take part in Civil Defence, my right hon. Friend had power in Clause 2 of the Bill to compel them.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
What I said was that the local authorities were not likely to spend extravagant sums in that way because they would prefer to concentrate on housing, which would be quite right.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Member will now see that the local authority will not be asked to spend a penny on shelters, because that is a capital charge and will be borne 100 per cent. by the Exchequer where it is decided that these shelters shall be built. Once a shelter is built, the maintenance costs are practically negligible, but the local authority will for the maintenance receive a grant of 75 per cent. That is the broad distinction that I draw between the things that will be fully reimbursed and the things for which 75 per cent. will be available.
§ Mr. Lipson
Could my right hon. Friend give the Committee an assurance that the items he has mentioned which come under a 75 or 25 per cent. grant are the only major items, the local authority will be called upon to pay?
§ Mr. Ede
I have tried to give the Committee as complete a list as I can, because I am not going to prophesy that between now and the time when we need not trouble about Civil Defence, or, unfortunately, when Civil Defence passes from this preparatory stage into an active stage, certain other things might not have to come in—because I am not engaged in getting ready for the last war. I fought in the last war but one, and I am engaged now in trying to meet all the contingencies that research and science indicate to me may have to be met in the future. Therefore, there may be other things brought in, but the division between the two rates of grant of 100 per cent. and 75 per cent. will follow the general principle which I have laid down and which I believe to be a sound and defensible principle. I hope it will be seen that this 25 per cent. is not a serious charge, but is one which it is necessary to make in order that the running expenses, which will be partly for the ordinary municipal equipment of the town, shall be fairly shared between the Exchequer and the local rates.
From my experience of going on deputations I was a bit nervous when I went 1893 to receive this one, because I thought of some of the arguments that I had heard in the past might have been advanced but those responsible leaders of local government from the boroughs and counties of England, Wales and Scotland felt that the whole situation had been carefully and justly analysed by the Government, and that the arrangements we offered were appropriate to the situation that we find now. Let me repeat, so that there shall be no doubt about it, that these rates of grant apply only to preparatory work. They do not of necessity indicate what would be the appropriate way in which these services should be financed, if, unfortunately, we were involved in a war and if from passive Civil Defence we passed to what I might call combat Civil Defence. That obviously would be another matter.
I want to repeat the pledge given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and to assure the Committee that we shall consult the local authorities' associations in drafting the regulations and in allocating the various services. They will be brought before the House by Affirmative Resolution, and I believe that in the spirit of co-operation which we have established with the local authorities of Great Britain we shall find that this very vexed and difficult question has been amicably settled on a basis that both sides can accept as reasonable.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
If these additional services involve rather more substantial sums than my right hon. Friend contemplates, will he give us an assurance that he will not make those services a local charge at all, and if he finds the expenditure may become higher than he assumes, can he give us an assurance that he will not expect the local authority to bear it?
§ Mr. Ede
I cannot answer a hypothetical question of that kind. I believe that the relationship between the local authorities associations and the Government on this matter is one on which we can talk quite frankly to one another. There were some people on that deputation who used to come with me on deputations. They had no hesitation in talking frankly to me and we conducted these negotiations on a frank basis. Generally they start off by asking me whether I wish them to be frank and I 1894 say, "Certainly provided it is to be reciprocal."
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out "by way of," and to insert "which may amount to."
The object of this Amendment is to meet the point to which attention was called in the Second Reading Debate by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). It affects a phrase in Subsection (2, a) and makes it read not that grants shall be by way of reimbursement, but that they may amount to reimbursement. That covers the normal point that a grant is made up to the maximum amount, were it to be complete reimbursement as in this case or a percentage, dependent on the efficiency of the authority concerned.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 3, line 27, at the end, to insert:(3) Any grants under this Section towards expenses incurred by a police authority in England or Wales shall be paid into the police fund, that is to say, in the case of a combined police authority as defined in Section nineteen of the Police Act, 1946, into the combined police fund as defined in that Section, and, in any other case, into the police fund as defined in the Third Schedule to the Police Pensions Act, 1921.This Amendment is necessary because the police authorities in England and Wales have no funds of their own. Police expenses are paid out of funds with the raising of which the police authorities are not concerned. For instance, in the case of the ordinary county police authority. it is a standing joint committee which precepts on the county council for the money which it requires, and the county council cannot amend that precept by a single penny. In the case of the Metropolitan Police area, where the Home Secretary is the police authority, all expenditure comes out of the Metropolitan Police Fund which is fed partly by rates and partly by the Exchequer grant, and this money goes into a police fund. It is therefore, necessary to ensure that the money should be paid into the police fund, and this Amendment secures that.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.