HC Deb 02 March 1954 vol 524 cc1143-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Draft Civil Defence (Transport) Regulations, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th February, be approved.— [Mr. Molson.]

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

Surely we are to have an explanation of these Regulations.

10.11 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

I thought that perhaps these Regulations would be intelligible to the House and I hardly thought they would be controversial. Section 6 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, provides that a Minister designated for the purpose of the Act may make Regulations to secure the carrying out of such Civil Defence matters as are his concern.

The Minister of Transport has been designated for the taking of measures for securing the continued operation of railway, light railway, tramway, road transport, ferries, canals, waterway, inland navigation, dock, harbour and pier undertakings. These Regulations are, in effect, a revival of similar Regulations made under the 1939 Civil Defence Act with such modifications as the changed circumstances of the time require.

They involve no new points of principle or of policy. They fall into two parts. In the first place, they give the Minister power to require due functioning measures to be undertaken and, secondly, they provide for the grants to be made to meet all or part of the cost involved. The House may wish to know what are the different rates of grant and the reason why they vary. They vary according to the extent of work which the Government have been able to persuade the responsible authorities to undertake without Government payment.

The part which the Government undertake to pay is based upon what we have been able to obtain in negotiations and what is considered to be the contribution which the Government ought, in fairness, to make in respect of the various provisions against the danger of war. What is to be paid by the Government will be paid in the form of grant and the rest will be met by the users of the service.

In general, the grants will be 52.75 per cent. This somewhat meticulous calculation represents the relief from Income Tax and Profits Tax which would otherwise be allowed. In the case of the railways the grant will be 100 per cent. The reason for that is that the Transport Commission would not derive any benefit from the remission of Income Tax or Profits Tax and also because the transmission of the cost to the consumer, for reasons with which the House is familiar, is somewhat difficult. In the case of the docks and harbours a distinction is drawn. Due functioning under these Regulations will be grant aided 70 per cent. as compared with 50 per cent. under the Regulations of 1939.

In the case of the additional facilities which are required in order that in the emergency of war the docks and harbours shall be able to cope with greatly increased traffic, the grant on this occasion will be 100 per cent. as compared with 85 per cent. in 1939. This is the result of long-drawn-out negotiations between my Department, the docks and harbour authorities and the Treasury. It is thought that these increased contributions are not unreasonable in view of the fact that on this occasion it is a cold as opposed to a hot war.

In the case of the canals and inland waterways the grant will be 52–75 per cent., which is the same figure as the House recently agreed in the case of the gas and electricity undertakings. These Regulations are required in order to authorise instructions to be issued by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to those various public utility undertakings, and to authorise the payment of the grants calculated upon these different percentages. As these Regulations carry out the purpose of Parliament as expressed in the Civil Defence Act, 1948, I hope that they will prove to be acceptable.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining in such detail what lies behind these Regulations. When one asks for such an explanation it is not necessarily because one wishes to be unduly controversial or that the Regulations are unintelligible, but to ask that such Regulations be taken on the nod is going a little too far.

The hon. Member gave an explanation of the figure of 52.75 per cent. I wasted a considerable amount of time and mathematics on the subject. I thought that it must be a compromise figure—that someone had said 50 per cent. and some other person had given another figure, and that finally they had agreed on 52.75 per cent. But the hon. Gentleman has explained that it has to do with tax relief and I shall not question that.

I assume that the British Transport Commission and the Dock and Harbour Authorities Association have at all stages been in agreement with the Ministry in what has been done here. Otherwise, it would be nonsensical to impose this on them.

Mr. Molson

They were not in agreement at all stages, but they finally agreed on these figures.

Mr. de Freitas

I was thinking not so much of the grants, but of the carrying out of the Regulations.

The term "due functioning" was not defined in the previous Civil Defence Act or the present, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would explain, in a sentence or two, what it means. My last question is why has there been this delay in bringing the Regulations before the House?

Mr. Molson

With the permission of the House, I will answer the last two points of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas).

There have been protracted discussions as to what the percentages should be. The fact that I have had to explain and attempt to justify the different percentages in the case of these different public undertakings is an indication of the protracted negotiations which did take place.

I should hesitate on the spur of the moment to give an authoritative definition of "due functioning." Had there been time I might have been able to find such a definition. But I will in my own words attempt to do so, on the understanding that it is not an authoritative definition. It is to ensure that those public utilities which function in time of peace will still be able to render their services to the community in the exigencies of war.

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